1431: In the final act from her February trial, Joan of Arc is this day burned at the stake for heresy. In the years that follow her execution, the French peasantry attribute scores of miracles to her and she is eventually canonized as Saint Jean d’Arc.
1740: Birth of French author Marquis de Sade. De Sade is best known for his erotic works, which combined philosophical discourse with pornography, with an emphasis on violence, suffering, crime, and blasphemy against Christianity. He was a proponent of absolute freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion, or law. The words sadism and sadist are derived in reference to the works of fiction he wrote which portrayed numerous acts of sexual cruelty.
1763: A month into the vicious war between colonial British forces and a coalition of Indian tribes led by Chief Pontiac of the Chippewa Nation, the warring tribes begin to sequentially capture five small forts in the upper Ohio valley and Michigan. The fifth to fall is Fort Michilimackinac, captured by Indians who entertained the British garrison with an exhibition game of lacrosse outside the walls of the fort. One player then lobbed the ball through the gates, and the rest of the “team” rushed through to get it, collecting weapons stashed just inside the gate by native women. 15 of the 35 defenders were killed outright and five more died by torture. The Indians kept control of the fort for over a year until the British negotiated them out with promises of regular supplies of goods.
1779: Colonel Benedict Arnold, hero of the attack on Quebec and multiple engagements throughout New England, is court-martialed for “malfeasance” including misuse of government wagons, illegal buying and selling of government goods. The trial is interrupted until December but the seeds of resentment are planted for his ultimate treason the following year.
1808: Birth of Jefferson Davis (d.1889). The West Point graduate served with distinction in the Mexican-American War, was later elected Congressman and Senator from Mississippi, and served as President Franklin Pierce’s Secretary of War 1853-57. Best remembered as the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. Captured by Union troops after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, he was held two years as prisoner in Fort Monroe, released on $100,000 bail raised by prominent citizens of both the North and the South. His indictment for treason was dropped in 1868. He died in New Orleans and was buried in Richmond after a funeral cortege that was attended by a continuous stream of mourners spanning the entire distance between New Orleans and his final resting place.
1813: In a short, sharp naval battle just offshore from Boston harbor, HMS Shannon decisively defeats and captures USS Chesapeake. Chesapeake’s mortally wounded Captain James Lawrence is evacuated from the battle in a small boat. As he is lowered from the ship into the boat he utters what quickly becomes the Navy’s motto: “Don’t give up the ship!” But, they did.
1819: Birth of American poet Walt Whitman.
1846: Birth of Russian goldsmith, Peter Carl Faberge (Faberge Eggs).
1854: In a bid to kick the slavery question down the road, Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, splitting the central portion of the Louisiana Purchase into proportional slave and free territories. One may question whether this compromise was reasonable and effective.
1864: First day of the two week long Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia. In the summer of 1864, the Union Army of the Potomac was fighting its way south toward Richmond, Virginia. In a series of battles collectively known as the Overland Campaign, the Federals had suffered more than 50,000 casualties but had also forced Robert E. Lee’s Confederate veterans to abandon much of northern Virginia. The small crossroads of Cold Harbor, just 10 miles north of Richmond, became the focal point of the action in late May. From May 31–June 3, Ulysses S. Grant ordered repeated attacks against entrenched Confederate positions, culminating in an enormously bloody repulse on June 3. Both armies held their ground and kept up a withering fire between the lines until June 12, at which point Grant withdrew but continued to move east and south. The Army of the Potomac crossed the James River and, by June 16, was in position to directly threaten the manufacturing and rail center of Petersburg—a critical gateway to Richmond.
1864(b): Union General U.S. Grant orders a third day of direct assaults against the fortified Confederate breastworks at the Battle of Cold Harbor near Mechanicsville, Virginia. The results are similar to the futile Union assault on Fredericksburg two years earlier, with multiple waves of uphill Union assaults repulsed by artillery, musketry, and in the end, vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Toward the end of this day Grant orders yet another push, but his Corps commanders Hancock and Meade resist, having witnessed firsthand the slaughter and complete lack of progress. Grant relents and allows for a strategic pause, and as the Union soldiers entrench for the night, many of them dig into the skeletal remains of their comrades who fell at the Battle of Gaines Mill, fought over the same ground during the Seven Days campaign in 1862. The next two weeks saw no further massed attacks, but settled into sniper fire and random artillery exchanges. The numbers are telling: Union casualties over 12,700 (1,844 dead) versus around 4,500 (83 dead) for the Confederates. Coming so late in the war, the battle provides a singular shock to the country, including to Grant himself: “I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made… At Cold Harbor no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.” [Note: Lee, too, recognized the magnitude of the Union losses at Cold Harbor, but he also recognized the fragility of the Confederate’s strategically defensive positions, as he and Grant over the preceding months leap-frogged their positions in an ever-tightening knot around the Richmond-Petersburg corridor. After two weeks of entrenchment at Cold Harbor, Lee quietly withdrew his army making a retreat into Petersburg to establish a more secure defense perimeter around the city. At the same time, Grant was making his own move across the James River to City Point (now Hopewell), where he began massing the Army of the Potomac for its eventual siege of Petersburg.] Sorting through the aftermath of the battlefield was particularly poignant. Anticipating what was to come that morning, many of the Union troops pinned their names and addresses of their next of kin to the inside (and sometimes outside) of their uniforms. One soldier’s diary entry for June second closed with: “June the 3rd: I am dead.”
1878: Birth of Barney Oldfield (d.1946), pioneer automobile racer and protégé of Henry Ford, he was the first to drive faster than 60 miles an hour. He became something of an automotive barnstormer all across the country, prompting the expression used by frustrated parents of teenage drivers, “Who do you think you are, Barney Oldfield?”
1886: President Grover Cleveland marries Miss Frances Folsom in the White House. The wedding is a social sensation and remains the sole presidential WH marriage to date.
1888: The San Francisco Examiner publishes the baseball classic: Casey at the Bat. “But there is no joy in Mudville, Mighty Casey…”
1889: The Johnstown Flood- After several days of heavy rains, the privately maintained South Fork Dam collapses, releasing over 20 million tons of water down the narrow Conemaugh River valley. A 30 foot wall of debris-laden water tears through the northern half of the central Pennsylvania city, demolishing everything in its path. 2209 people are killed and tens of thousands are left destitute.
1902: The Peace of Vereeniging is signed, ending the Boer War. Southern Africa endured a century of simmering resentment beginning in 1806 when Great Britain seized the Dutch Cape Colony during the Napoleonic Wars. The native Dutch population, Afrikaners and Boers, eventually made a mass migration north to get away from British rule and settled in the Transvaal and Orange Free State, creating the capital of Pretoria. A tenuous peace existed between the British and Dutch until diamonds and gold were discovered in the Boer lands in 1867. By 1899 increasingly deadly skirmishing broke out into open war; British forces quickly captured all major Boer cities and strategic sites, but the Boers kept fighting in a vicious guerrilla campaign. In 1901 the British shifted their strategy to a brutal search-and-destroy campaign against the guerrillas, reinforced by rounding up Boer families and holding them in concentration camps, the world’s first use of that method to control an enemy. The treaty signed this day ceded control of the Boer provinces to British military rule and established a political confederation known as the Union of South Africa.
1911: Roy Harroun wins the inaugural Indianapolis 500 mile race, driving his Marmon Wasp at an average speed of 74.6 mph. As a point of reference, this year’s winner, Brazilian driver Helio Castroneves , finished with an average speed of 190.690 mph, a new record. Scott Dixon won the pole position with a speed of 229.992, still not up to the pace of Arie Luyendyk’s record-smashing 236.986 in 1996.
1913: A peace treaty is signed ending the First Balkan War. The conflict aligned Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece against the Ottoman Turks in a successful attempt to separate Macedonia and Albania from Turkish control. A second Balkan war began a month later with Russian support. In response to Austrian moves designed to counter Russian influence in the region, Serbia increased its agitation against Germanic rule in favor of a pan-Slavism promoted by Russia. Strategic cooperation treaties begin to align the Great Powers into blocs. Serbia’s strategic planning for a third Balkan war looked to the summer of 1914 for its beginning.
1914: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels issues General Order #99, prohibiting alcohol aboard naval vessels, navy yards and stations. He substitutes traditional spirits with mass produced coffee, giving rise to the angry (at the time) expression to “have a cup of Joe.”
1916: The Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the Great War and the last naval battle conducted solely by gunfire, begins at 2:20 pm when the British Grand Fleet under Sir John Jellicoe and Vice Admiral David Beatty sights the German High Seas Fleet under Vice Admiral Franz von Hipper. Both fleets begin to maneuver to gain a firing advantage, and at 4:43 pm both sides open fire and continue the opening exchange for 55 minutes. Two British battle cruisers are destroyed in this first engagement, killing over 2000 sailors. Maneuvering and firing continues through the evening and into the next morning with a general engagement continuing throughout the next day. At 6:30 pm the German fleet executes a pre-planned disengagement back to Williamshaven. The German press exults and the British press sulks. But as with many naval battles, the difference between the bean count of ships lost and the strategic effect are inverted: German losses were 11 ships sunk, including a battleship and battle cruiser and 3,058 casualties. British losses were 14 ships sunk, including three battle cruisers and 6,784 casualties. However, because of damage sustained during the battle, on June 2nd the Germans would have only been able to sortie 10 of the participating ships against 23 available to the British. The German high command further recognized that their capability to conduct major fleet operations was now severely constrained, which led to the conscious decision to concentrate their efforts on unrestricted submarine warfare, the doctrine which did more than anything else to induce the United States to enter the war on the side of the Allied Powers.
1940: First flight of the German Focke-Wulf FW-190 Würger (D-OPZE) fighter. Although the Messerschmitt Bf-109 gets most of the press (like the Spitfire in Britain), the FW-190 was produced in numbers that nearly overtook the Bf-109: 29,001 to 30,480.
1940(b): Completion of the Allied evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk (DLH 5/25 has the numbers).
1940(c): The Luftwaffe makes its first bombing raids on Paris, killing over 500 civilians. The attacks were carefully calibrated to create a sense of impending panic without causing a complete collapse of order in the city.
1941: Death of Lou Gehrig (b.1903), the New York Yankees’ great first baseman and slugger, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the wasting neurological disease that now bears his name. Nicknamed “The Iron Horse” for his consistency and perseverance on the field, he held the record for most consecutive games played (2,130) until surpassed by Cal Ripkin in 1995. Over seventeen seasons he maintained a career batting average of .340, and he still holds the record for the most career grand slams (23). On the day of his emotional retirement ceremony in 1939, the Yankees retired his number 4, the first such retirement in baseball.
1953: In Westminster Abbey, the 27 year old Elizabeth II is crowned Defender of the Faith and Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories & Head of the Commonwealth.
1965: Launch of Gemini 4, NASA’s first multi-day (4) mission, and the first extravehicular activity (space walk) by an American astronaut. Mission Control had to call him back in multiple times, and after over 20 minutes, White relented, “This is the saddest moment of my life…”
1966: NASA’s lunar probe Surveyor 1 makes a controlled descent to a soft landing on the Moon. The spacecraft broadcast live television from the surface, albeit at an exceptionally slow data rate. During its active life it transmitted over 10,000 images from Moon’s surface, finally going dormant at the beginning of its second lunar sunset on 14th July, 1966.
1967: After two years of PLO attacks and a continuing buildup of conventional forces along Israel’s border, King Hussein of Jordan and Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt sign a joint defense agreement. At the signing, Nasser was characteristically blunt: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”
1980: John Paul II makes the first papal visit to France since 1814.
1986: After six weeks of student protests that grew increasingly assertive against the government, China’s communist leadership orders the Peoples Liberation Army to enter Tienanmen Square to decisively break up the demonstrations. Two days of violence result in the deaths of thousands and trigger virtually universal condemnation by governments around the world. The iconic image from the final days of the protests was taken on the 5th as the PLA was completing its encirclement and occupation of the square. The unidentified Tank Man intentionally stopped in front of the column of tanks, climbed up onto the lead machine and spoke to the driver. He then climbed down and defiantly remained in place until hustled away by police. He was never seen or heard from again. His identity remains unknown.
2008: Death of the great blues guitarist and musical innovator, Bo Diddley (b.1928).