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. This was the first day of a week-long fete 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 Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin tests his first lightning rod. He survives.
1775(a): Led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, American militia crosses Lake Champlain to capture Fort Ticonderoga from the British.
1775(b): 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 masterpiece, Symphony Number 9, in Vienna.
1840: Birth of the Russian composer Pytor Ilych Tchaikosvsky (d.1893).
1862: As the War Between the States heats up, 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 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. The battlefield is located about halfway between here and Washington, DC, near the Ashland exit on I-95.
1865: U.S. Army soldiers capture Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Irwinville, Georgia. He spends two years in custody at Fortress Monroe in Hampton. You can visit his cell today 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 simmering resentment and thirst for revenge that exacerbated the onset of the Great War in 1914.
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.
1919: Birth of Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, better known as Eva Peron.
1925: Birth of Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (d.2015), the great 18 season catcher and All Star slugger for the New Yawk Yankees. He was Navy Gunners’ Mate during WWII, and served on a rocket firing landing craft during the Normandy invasion. In addition to his superb skills as a baseball player, he is perhaps better known for his linguistic gifts, leaving us with such legacies as, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” and “90 percent of baseball is mental; the other half is physical.”
1937: Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his alter-ego Charlie McCarthy make their radio debut.
1941: A Royal Navy corvette (a naval corvette is a high-speed, lightly armed warship optimized for anti-submarine duties), 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. The code-breakers at Bletchley Park were busy for the rest of the war.
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.
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.
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.