316 A.D.: Consecration of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in the outskirts of Rome. The building was a classical Romanesque structure, heavily timbered, and built over the tomb of the relatively recently martyred Apostle Peter (who was crucified upside down).
1307: Traditional date when Swiss patriot William Tell refused to bow down to the hat of Hermann Gessler, one of the functionaries of the Hapsburg Empire who was trying to cow the Swiss confederation into submission. Arrested for this disrespect, Gessler promised Tell his freedom if he could shoot an apple off his (Tell’s) son Walter’s head. With Walter tied to a stake, Tell drew out two bolts to his crossbow, and successfully split the apple. When Gessler asked why he drew two arrows instead of one, Tell replied defiantly that if he failed his shot at his son, the next one would be into the heart of Gessler himself. Tell remains a potent symbol of resistance to capricious authority, and has been the subject of numerous plays and books on the nature of freedom and patriotism.
1421: The Saint Elizabeth’s Day Flood inundates a huge section of Zeeland and Holland as the storm-driven Zuider Zee breaks through several dykes and floods the surrounding lands. Casualty estimates range from 2000, to 10,000, and the ruined villages and farmlands in the flooded polders remained underwater for decades. Most of the flooding concentrated in the areas of Dordrecht and North Brabant.
1533: Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro and his army arrive in the Inca Empire. As with his more famous (in the U.S.) compadre Hernando Cortez (DLH 11/8), he is not scouring the Andean empire for its archeological treasures per se, but for its incredible treasures, period. The Incas are particularly rich in silver, and the quantity of plunder that makes its way back to enrich the coffers of Spain also sets in motion an inflationary spiral that nearly wrecks the economies of Europe.
1626: After 120 years of construction (begun in 1506) the new Basilica of Saint Peter is consecrated in Rome’s Vatican City, replacing the crumbling 1300 year old original basilica. The complications of its design and construction, being built over and around the original while leaving key sections of it in place, set the scope and scale of this project above and beyond anything that had been planned before. In the end, it is a magnificent piece of work, host to some of the most beautiful and famous artwork in the world, to say nothing of the staggering Christian heritage resident within its walls and catacombs. It was also breathtakingly expensive, and the “creative financing” it took to complete its construction set the stage for a train of corruption and abuses that led to the Protestant Reformation.
1719: Birth of Leopold Mozart (d.1787), father and “Chief Agent” of his child prodigy son, Wolfgang Amadeus.
1763: Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon begin surveying the line that now bears their name. The survey was a Crown solution to a long-simmering border dispute between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Its primary goal was to clearly define the demarcation between Maryland the Pennsylvania in the western watershed of the Chesapeake, and to separate out the “south counties” of Pennsylvania that then became the separate colony of Delaware. When Pennsylvania abolished slavery, the Mason-Dixon Line and the Ohio River became the de facto border between slave and non-slave states.
1775: American Revolutionary hero and Colonel of New Hampshire’s Green Mountain Boys, Ethan Allen leads a night attack against Montreal. Unfortunately for Allen, not only did the commander of the British garrison get early word of the attack, but half of the American force fails to cross the St. Lawrence River in execution of their plan. Outnumbered, out-gunned, and out-foxed, Allen was compelled to surrender, remaining imprisoned through 1778.
1777: 16 months after declaring independence from Great Britain, the Continental Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation as its governing document.
1850: Birth of British author Robert Louis Stevenson (d.1894).
1851: Publication of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick.
1855: Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone becomes the first European to see Victoria Falls. He becomes “lost” a decade and a half later. The falls themselves, over 5,000 feet wide.
1862: Acting in his legal capacity of Commander and Chief, but ‘way out of his depth as a military commander, President Lincoln personally approves General Ambrose Burnside’s plans to capture Richmond; in particular, Burnside’s line of attack across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg.
1865: Mark Twain publishes in the New York Saturday Press the short story that put him on the map: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
1869: Inauguration of commercial shipping traffic through the Suez Canal.
1871: The National Rifle Association is chartered by the State of New York.
1884: The Berlin Conference opens. Beginning as a forum to establish trade regulations in Africa, it quickly turned into a scramble to define Europe’s burgeoning colonial interests in the continent. The conference’s General Act focused on the territories in and around the Congo River and marked out distinct spheres of influence and control for the colonial powers. By the end of the 19th Century, only Liberia, Orange Free State, Transvaal and Abyssinia remained independent from direct colonial rule.
1887: Birth of Bernard Montgomery (d.1976), British Field Marshal during the Second World War, hero of El Alamein, Sicily, Normandy, and the British drive against the German army across the northern tier of Europe.
1889: Birth of Jawaharlal Nehru (d.1964), first Prime Minister of India. Much of the leadership of today’s Congress Party are direct descendants of Nehru.
1891: Birth of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (d.1944), the Desert Fox.
1901: The Riker Torpedo Racer sets a world speed record for electric cars at 57 mph.
1910: Aviation pioneer Eugene Ely makes the first takeoff of an aeroplane from a ship, launching off of a specially constructed wooden platform over the forward turrets of USS Birmingham (CL-2) right here in Hampton Roads, in the anchorage just off of the Hampton Bar.
1916: Commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Flanders, Field Marshall Douglas Haig, orders a halt to the First Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1st “when the barrage lifts…” The four and a half months since of nearly continuous combat yielded for the combined Anglo-French force a total of six miles over the ground, without having gained any of the originally planned objectives, at a cost of over 146,000 dead and just under 624,000 wounded. For their part, the Germans lost 164,000 dead and 465,000 wounded defending their earlier gains.
1920(a): First General Assembly meeting of the League of Nations.
1920(b): The “Free City of Danzig” is formed under the protection of the League of Nations. The Free City of Danzig was a semi-autonomous city-state that existed between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) and nearly 200 towns and villages in the surrounding areas. It was created on 15 November 1920 in accordance with the terms of Article 100 (Section XI of Part III) of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles after the end of World War I. The Free City included the city of Danzig and other nearby towns, villages, and settlements that were primarily inhabited by Germans. As the treaty stated, the region was to remain separated from the post-war German Republic and from the newly independent Polish Republic, but it was not a sovereign state. The Free City was under League of Nations protection and put into a binding customs union with Poland.
1928: Walt Disney releases into movie theaters his third animated short, Steamboat Willie, which combines synchronized sound with the dancing images of his soon-to-be famous mouse.
1933: After sixteen years of opposition to the entrenchment and bureaucratization of the Bolsheviks into Russian society and government, the United States finally recognizes the Soviet Union. The intelligentsia in the United States had been lobbying for this recognition for years, epitomized by muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens visiting Russia in 1921 and coming back gushing, “I have seen the future and it works.” Pretty much a test case for Stalin’s amusement at the “useful idiots” in the Western press. Steffens recanted his enthusiasm as the New Deal took hold in the States.
1940: The Coventry Blitz– over 500 Luftwaffe sorties throughout the night pulverize the ancient factory town of Coventry, including its famous Cathedral.
1945: Working under the cover of secrecy, mostly to avoid the awkwardness of having formerly mortal enemies working for the US Government, 88 German rocket scientists are spirited from their cells in occupied Germany and into the United States. US officials remain cagey about where they went, saying things like, “They volunteered to come here,” and avoiding mention that they remained in “protective custody” while they performed work on technology of “vital national interest.” The scientists were specifically tasked to develop a rocket program faster, farther and better than the Soviets could get with their captured Nazis.
1960: USS George Washington (SSBN-598) submerges to begin her first Polaris deterrent patrol. She rises to the surface again 66 days later, having not fired a shot.
1961: President John F. Kennedy, in order to avoid an open-ended commitment of combat forces, orders an increased contingent of military advisors to aid the government of South Vietnam.
1961: President John F. Kennedy, signs off on his order of two days ago, assigning 18,000 U.S. Army advisors to South Vietnam.
1964: Birth of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Somali refugee, Dutch author and Legislator, target of a continuing Islamist fatwa; Dutch refugee now resident in the United States; active lecturer and author, whose firsthand knowledge of the Muslim world’s abuse of women provides an important corrective to the blandishments of our academic intelligentsia and the PC police. Her first book, Infidel, paints a searing and unblinking picture of the depths to which Islamist thinking infects normal human relations, to say nothing of its effect on larger questions of governance.
1969: Launch of Apollo 12, with astronauts Pete Conrad, Richard Gordon and Alan Bean. The Saturn V rocket was hit by lightning during the ascent phase, tripping a circuit breaker and leaving the command module without power for a short time.
1990: Newly reunited Germany signs a treaty with Poland confirming the post-WW2 Oder-Neisse Line as the permanent border between the two countries.