1502: Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Christopher Columbus, departs Spain on his fourth and final voyage to the New World.
1647: Peter Stuyvesant arrives in Nieu Amsterdam to serve as governor of the Dutch New Netherlands colony.
1655: The island of Jamaica captured by a 50 ship British fleet under Admiral William Penn.
1664: Louis XIV, France’s “Sun King,” opens the Palais du Versailles, originally the site of a small royal hunting lodge about 20 km (99.419 furlongs (3,976.79 rods (10.7991 nautical miles))) outside of Paris. May 7th was the first day of a week-long fete (i.e., a massive party) that doubled as not only a fund-raiser but also foreshadowed the opening moves in Louis’ concentration of political power by bringing the regional nobility quite literally under his roof. During this first use of the palace, it was large enough to comfortably house all 600 (!) of his invited guests.
1752: American Benjamin Franklin tests his first lightning rod.
1775: Led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, American militia crosses Lake Champlain to capture Fort Ticonderoga from the British.
1775: The Second Continental Congress names Virginian George Washington as Supreme Commander of the newly formed Continental Army.
1824: World premiere of Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphony Number 9, in Vienna.
1840: Birth of the Russian composer Pytor Ilych Tchaikosvsky (d.1893). Composer of Swan Lake.
1861: In recognition of Virginia’s late– but decisive– secession from the United States, the Confederate States of America name Richmond as its capital.
1862: As the War Between the States gets more active, the United States Naval Academy moves from Annapolis, Maryland to Newport, Rhode Island.
1863: Stonewall Jackson dies of pneumonia, contracted subsequent to his Confederate-inflicted wounding. When he first heard of Jackson’s wounds, General Robert E. Lee said, “Jackson has lost his left arm; I have lost my right.” His loss will be particularly felt when the Army of Northern Virginia begins its northward march next month.
1864: The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the third sequential battle in U.S. Grant’s Overland Campaign to capture Richmond. Coming a week after the Wilderness fight, the battle was characterized by horrific bloodletting and unprecedented firepower that flattened the landscape and destroyed every tree and bush in the battle area. The battle’s climax occurred at the Bloody Angle, where hand-to-hand fighting occurred back and forth across trench lines and muddy fields completely filled with the corpses of the fallen. The mud was so thick that men who lost their balance were trampled and drowned before they could get back up. Because Lee was able to hold his position, and because the number of casualties was heavily weighted against the Union, it was technically a Confederate victory. But the battle was so costly to Lee that he was never able to re-gain the initiative against Grant, who continued to shift his army to the left and continue to probe and plunge against Lee’s ever-weakening right flank, eventually leading to the establishment of the siege line around Petersburg.
1865: U.S. Army soldiers capture Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Irwinville, Georgia. He spends two years in custody at Fortress Monroe in Hampton. His cell is still located in the Casemate Museum inside the fort.
1869: Meeting at Promontory Point, Utah, the nation’s first transcontinental railroad is completed with a golden spike. The ceremonial hammer and spike are connected to telegraph wires that relay the historic impacts back to Washington, DC. The three-year project of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads was largely financed by generous federal land grants.
1871: The Treaty of Frankfurt am Main ends the Franco-Prussian war. In addition to ceding to Germany the German-speaking French provinces of Alsace and Loraine, France is saddled with reparations of 5 billion Francs. German forces remain in strategic occupation positions across the north of France, right up to the outskirts of Paris, until September of 1873 when the last payment is finally made. The crushing German victory at the Battle of Sedan triggered the overthrow of the French government and set the stage for the onset of the Great War in 1914.
1879: Death of John Stuart Mill (b.1806), the brilliant English parliamentarian and philosopher of individual liberty against the “tyranny of political rulers.” He was an outspoken advocate of free markets and free speech, among other causes, and became an early proponent of women’s rights.
1884: Birth of Harry S. Truman (d.1972).
1884: Death of inventor Cyrus McCormick (b.1809). McCormick is best known as the inventor of the mechanical reaper, which enabled viable economic growth for the huge farms of the Great Plains. His company formed the foundation of today’s International Harvester.
1888: Birth of Irving Berlin (d.1989). The Russian immigrant became the quintessential American songwriter, producing over 1500 pieces over a 60-year career, including Alexander’s Ragtime Band (his first song (1911), Easter Parade, White Christmas, and God Bless America (1938).
1889: Death of John Cadbury (b.1801), English grocer whose temperance beliefs led him to explore cocoa and chocolate as an alternative to the alcohol he saw ravaging the lives of the poor. Cadbury PLC is now one of the world’s premier chocolate manufacturers.
1902: Mount Pelee, on the Carribean island of Martinique, erupts, killing over 30,000.
1914: Birth of the heavyweight boxer Joe Louis (d.1981), known popularly as The Brown Bomber. He was heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949, successfully defending his title 26 times.
1919: Birth of Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, better known as Eva Peron (d.1952). Also, known by her nickname Evita, she was an Argentine actress, politician, activist, and philanthropist who served as First Lady of Argentina from June 1946 until her death in July 1952, as the wife of Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón.
1925: Birth of Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (d.2015), the 18-season catcher and All-Star slugger for the New York Yankees. He was a Navy Gunners’ Mate during WWII, and served on a rocket-firing landing craft during the Normandy invasion. In addition to his skills as a baseball player, he is known for his quips, such as, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” and “90 percent of baseball is mental; the other half is physical.”
1933: Mohandas Ghandi begins a 21 day fast against British rule in India, done in the name of the Untouchable caste, whom he named “Harijans, the Children of God.”
1933: Birth of Johnny Unitas (d.2002), often regarded as the first modern-day NFL quarterback, Unitas’ record of throwing TD passes in 47 straight games (1956-60) stands.
1940: The German Wehrmacht crosses the Muse River into France, bypassing the vaunted Maginot Line and underlining the brutal reality that the war in the west was not going to end with the occupation of the Netherlands and Belgium.
1941: A Royal Navy corvette, HMS Bulldog, captures the German submarine U-110, including its current code books and most importantly, its Enigma coding machine. British intelligence is able to keep the capture secret for over seven months; Prime Minister Churchill did not disclose it to President Roosevelt until January, 1942.
1941: Nazi Deputy to the Fuhrer, Rudolf Hess, parachutes into Scotland to attempt peace negotiations with the government of Great Britain. The flight, staged just prior to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, continues to stir controversy over whether this was an official, but clandestine attempt by Hitler to make peace with his “natural ally” in England. Hess remained in British custody throughout the war, and was convicted at Nuremberg for crimes against the peace and conspiracy. After the 1966 release of Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach, Hess remained imprisoned at Spandau- the only prisoner in the facility- at the insistence of the Soviet Union- until his death in 1987.
1945: German Field Marshall Alfred Jodl signs unconditional surrender documents in Reims, France, formally ending the Second World War in Europe.
1947: Scuderia Ferrari makes its independent racing debut with the revolutionary V-12 powered Tipo 125 sports car. The car leads the race until the fuel pump failed with two laps to go. Enzo Ferrari is very pleased, and creates a Formula 1 derivative for the 1948 season. The company continues its exceptional success in racing including sixteen Formula 1 World Championship titles, including four in a row (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004) with German driver Michael Schumacher, and more recently in 2007 with Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonan.
1949: Frustrated and embarrassed by the stunning success of the nearly year-long Berlin Airlift (where air deliveries of food and supplies eventually surpassed pre-blockade rail shipments) the Soviet Union ends the Berlin Blockade, which is now recognized as the first battle of the Cold War. The success of the airlift compounded the political failure of the Soviets to intimidate the Western powers and led to the establishment of a separate West Germany on the 23rdof May.
1954: Final day of the 8-week Battle of Dien Bien Phu, a catastrophic French defeat that sealed the loss of their colonial holdings in Indo-China.
1955: West Germany joins NATO, answering conclusively, at least for the time, the lingering question of post-war German reunification.
1974: The House Judiciary Committee opens formal impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon.
1981: Death of Jamaican icon Bob Marley, the Father of Reggae (b.1945).
1981: Pope John Paul II survives an assassination attempt by Turkish terrorist Mehmet Al Agca, part of a plot that originated in Bulgaria. The Pope forgave Agca and visited him on a number of occasions in his prison cell. Those of you with a conspiratorial bent could sniff around for Soviet involvement, via their stooges in Bulgaria, beginning with an alleged quote from the Politburo that echoed Henry II’s lament about Thomas Becket: “Can no-one rid me of this troublesome priest?”
1988: Death of Kim Philby (b.1912), British spy who served the Soviet Union as a mole in the British government from the mid-1930s until his eventual defection to Moscow in 1963. He was the infamous “Third Man” at the heart of the mid-50s spy scandal that exposed compatriots Donald McLean and Guy Burgess as Soviet agents. Among the positions he held in British Intelligence (MI-6) was the head of “Section IX,” from which he had access to the names and locations of all British intelligence agents operating abroad, and hundreds of classified documents from the Foreign Office, the War Office and the Admiralty. He was honored by the Soviet Union in 1990 on a stamp.
1994: Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as the first black President of South Africa.