3761 BC: The “epoch reference date” for the modern Hebrew calendar.
680: Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Mohammad, is decapitated in battle against the army of Caliph Yazid I. Ali’s death is one of the defining events in Islam’s great Sunni-Shi’a split. The core of the dispute centers on who rules as the legitimate successor to the prophet himself: blood heirs (Shi’a position) or political-scholarly leaders (Sunni position). The death is commemorated as the feast of Ashurah.
732: A Frankish army of 30,000 under the command of Charles “The Hammer” Martel, decisively defeats the invading Muslim army of Abdul Rahman al Ghafiqi at the Battle of Tours (also known as the Battle of Poitiers (pronounced “pwat’-teeaay”)). The Battle of Lepanto was one of three- many would say it was the most important- engagements that halted the militant spread of Islam and ensured that Europe would continue to develop as a collection of explicitly Christian kingdoms. The conventional wisdom over the last century or so is that had Martel’s army not been successful here, the tallest towers in the cities of Europe would have been minarets instead of church steeples.
1492: Five weeks after heading west from the Canary Islands, Christopher Columbus makes landfall near Samana Cay in the southern region of the Bahamas Islands. He spends the next three months exploring primarily along the north coast of Cuba and the island of Hispaniola, trading with the natives and taking careful soundings and locations of the harbors and provisions available for follow-on exploration. This is a story of vision and courage and endurance against unknown and often fatal odds. Today’s discovery was the trigger for the Great Age of Exploration and the scientific revolution that swept into its wake. It is also not much of a stretch to credit the Reformation and the Enlightenment to the exploratory impulse of this great mariner, whom the Spanish Crown named “Admiral of the Ocean Seas.”
1571:Battle of Lepanto– The last exclusive galley-versus-galley naval battle, fought between the navies of the Ottoman Turks and a Christian coalition formed by Don Juan of Austria. The lopsided victory stopped the Ottoman coastal surge in its tracks, and is considered one of the three great battles that ensured the continued development of a Christian Europe under the spiritual guidance of the Pope, as opposed to a Muslim Europe under the political and spiritual control of the Caliphate of Ottoman Turkey.
1600: The tiny principality of San Marino, which looks like a small Tuscan city tucked on the side of a cliff, adopts a written constitution, making it the first republic of the modern age.
1604: A star in the constellation Ophiuchus explodes in a paroxysm visible to the naked eye, the brightest star in the night sky, rivaling even Venus. The astronomer Johannes Kepler observes the star for over a year, detailing its intensity and movement in such detail that it was named Kepler’s Supernova. Located ~20,000 light-years from Earth, it is the most recent supernova to have occurred in our own Milky Way galaxy.
1691: Great Britain issues a Royal Charter establishing the Province of Massachusetts, ‘way across the sea in the New World, where the Plymouth Plantation was continuing to prosper.
1701: Connecticut colony issues a charter to the Collegiate School of Connecticut, located in Old Saybrook. You would probably recognize the school as Yale University, alter-ego to that older institution up in Massachusetts.
1739: Birth of Grigory Potemkin (d.1791), Russian nobleman, military leader, and lifelong “favorite” of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. The idiom that now bears his name came from his time as Governor-General of the newly annexed Crimea region. On the eve of renewed war with the Ottoman Empire, the Empress made an “unannounced” visit up the Dnieper River with her Court, multiple ambassadors and a disguised Austrian Emperor Joseph II to show them the strength of her new territories. Potemkin painted up actual riverfront villages to make them look better, and also created a kind of mobile village that could be set up quickly and populated with members of his army and staff dressed up as peasants as the royal flotilla went by. It could just as quickly be knocked down and moved to the next location. There is, naturally, some controversy about the degree to which Potemkin was trying to deceive, although he was quite frank about wanting to put on the best front for his exalted guests.
1763: King George III issues the Royal Proclamation of 1763 stating, among other things, that aboriginal lands north and west of the Appalachians and Alleghenies were closed to white settlement. The edict came on the heels of the Treaty of Paris that ended the 7 Years War (a.k.a. French and Indian War), which ceded to Britain all French claims to the eastern drainage of the Mississippi River. The king and Parliament reasoned that by keeping white settlers out, it would not only stabilize relations with the Indian tribes of the Ohio Valley, but would inhibit the rampant land speculation that was sure to get worse as the new territory was surveyed. British colonists along the seaboard did not see it quite that way, helping set the conditions for further unrest and dissatisfaction with the Crown in the years to come.
1780: At the Battle of Kings Mountain, near Blacksburg, South Carolina, an American Patriot militia, loosely organized as a collection of scores of smaller militias from “over the mountain” regions, and under the nominal command of ten different colonels, decisively defeat a superior force of Loyalist militia under the command of British Major Patrick Ferguson. The Loyalist force was part of Lord Cornwallis’ Southern Strategy, which attempted to exploit Loyalist sentiment in the coastal regions by creating local militias that would take the fight to- and thence out of- their Patriot-leaning neighbors inland, led and supported by British Regulars. The previous months saw repeated vindication of this strategy with the capture of Charleston, the Battle of Camden, the Battle of Waxhaws, and Tarleton’s Massacre. Major Ferguson expected to make a short, violent thrust inland from the Waxhaw area to put down the last of the Patriots. What he didn’t know is that the news of Tarleton’s Massacre inflamed Patriots hundreds of miles away, and the intervening weeks gave the distant militias time to gather and loosely organize a defense. Ferguson finally learned of the gathering force, and took a strong defensive position atop Kings Mountain. When the Patriot attack started, Ferguson rode up & down the line, fully exposed to fire, blowing commands with a silver whistle. The Patriot militias, meanwhile, broke into 20 separate groups and charged screaming up the hill, pausing behind rocks to load their rifles, carefully aiming at and picking off individual Loyalists, and eventually Ferguson himself. It was a terribly lopsided victory, completely unexpected by either side, but it unleashed Patriot momentum throughout all the colonies, and most especially in the Carolinas, where Cornwallis’ Regulars were on the cusp of an even more strategic defeat at Cowpens.
1780: A massive hurricane tears through the Lesser Antilles, creating a swath of destruction from the Grenadines to Bermuda that leaves 23,200 souls dead and no fewer than 65 naval vessels from France, the Netherlands and Great Britain lost at sea or smashed to splinters on a lee shore, to say nothing of the devastation ashore, where thousands of homes and business were swept away by the storm’s surge. The Great Hurricane of 1780 remains the single most destructive weather event in the history of the Atlantic Ocean.
1799: HMS Lutine founders and sinks in off the Frisian Islands in the North Sea, taking with her to her watery grave 240 souls and £1,200,000 pounds in gold bullion. Lutine’s bell was recovered in 1858 and is displayed in the central hall of Lloyds of London, where until 1986 it sounded a single toll on news of a lost ship, and two when a missing ship was reported safe. No fewer than 14 salvage attempts have been made to recover the treasure. The most successful was the 1857-58 expedition, which brought up 45 gold bars, 64 silver bars, and over 15,000 coins of various denominations, yielding the investors a return of 136%. The last salvage attempt was in 1933.
1812: In the Battle of Lake Erie, an American squadron of 9 ships under Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry achieves a decisive victory against a fleet of 6 British gunboats, ensuring American control of the entire southern coastline of the Great Lakes for the remainder of the war. Perry’s formal report of the battle is brief: “Dear General, We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry”
1844: Birth of Henry J. Heinz (d.1916). The logo on his ketchup bottles says “57 Varieties.”
1845: The first class of The Naval School is seated in Annapolis, Maryland; 50 midshipmen and 7 instructors begin the process of formalizing the training of nascent officers of the U.S. Navy.
1871: Three days after “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow” knocked over the lantern in the barn, The Great Chicago Fire finally burns itself out. The cataclysm took over 300 lives, left nearly three and a half square miles of the city center in cinders, and displaced over 100,000 people from their homes. The cow story, by the way, was fabricated by a journalist, knowing it would play well against the latent anti-Irish sentiment that infected much of Chicago society.
1879: At the Battle of Angamos, the Chilean Navy defeats the Peruvian navy in a crucial action that opened up the Bolivian port of Antofagasta to eventual occupation and annexation by Chile. I count myself among those of us Norte Americanos whose knowledge of South American history ends somewhere in the early 1800s when Simon Bolivar forced Spain to begin breaking up their centuries-old overseas empire. “And what happened then?” we ask. Well, without Spain to enforce colonial borders, the newly independent states resorted to the traditional methods of inter-state war to settle competing claims and boundary disputes. In this case, the issue at hand was the lucrative mining regions of the central Pacific coast, nominally under Bolivian control, but claimed as well by Peru and Chile. The naval battle this day provided a huge strategic advantage to Chile, which was eventually codified in the treaty that ended the 1879-83 War of the Pacific, also known colloquially as “The Saltpeter War” or “The Guano War,” due to the nature of one of the mining products in the region.
1884: Under the tutelage of Commodore Stephen Luce, the United States Naval War College is established in Newport, Rhode Island. The school nurtured among it first faculty Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of the most brilliant intellects ever to don a Navy uniform, and developer of the seminal theory of naval warfare that holds naval fleets as the key to controlling events ashore. A “Mahanian Navy” is one comprised primarily of capital ships that can duke it out on the high seas with other capital ships, after which they can turn their attention to the land campaign, if necessary.
1889: American inventor Thomas Edison publicly displays his motion picture device for the first time.
1908: The government of Austria-Hungary annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina into their polyglot empire. The two provinces are normally always mentioned in tandem, although those of you who have been over there know that the people who actually live in the places would rather not be connected with each other. Think back to DLH 8/12 Addendum, and the multiple threads of conflict that led to the final outbreak of open war.
1910: At Kinloch Field just west of Saint Louis, Theodore Roosevelt climbs aboard a Wright Model B aeroplane with pilot Archibald Hoxey and becomes the first (ex-)President to go flying.
1912: Opening guns of the 1st Balkan War, where the Balkan League (Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria) initiated combat in a bid for independence from the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were no match for the multi-front armies of the four allies, who relatively swiftly defeated their Turkish overlords and then settled into their own rounds of territorial squabbling, aided and abetted by the Great Powers of Europe. You are correct to assume that the formal cessation of hostilities only shifted the focus of long-simmering regional anxieties.
1919: The Chicago White Sox throw the final game of the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, cementing for themselves the opprobrium of the nation, and the permanent moniker of the Black Socks.
1928: Three years after the death of his long time mentor, Sun Yat Sen, General Chang Kai Shek becomes Chairman of the Republic of China
1939: Flush with a victory over the Polish army, Nazi Germany annexes western Poland into the Third Reich, conveniently setting the conditions, per the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty, for the Soviet Union to occupy the eastern half of that country.
1940: Publication of a secret memorandum by LCDR Arthur H. McCollum, in which he outlines the depth and breadth of the Japanese Empire’s advance throughout “the Orient,” and offering a prescription for what the United States should do about it, namely, generate enough of a confrontation with Japan that they will attack U.S. interests somewhere. Such an attack would ease the U.S. entry into the burgeoning World War, and free us up to materially and overtly support Britain in her life & death struggle with Germans. The McCollum Memo is often bandied about as a “smoking gun” that proves Roosevelt knew about the Pearl Harbor attack in advance and did nothing to stop it, among other flawed theories. McCollum worked as an analyst at the Office of Naval Intelligence on the desk that monitored the Orient.
1945: In the aftermath of the Japanese surrender, the Communist Chinese under Mao Tse Tung and the Kuomintang of Chang Kai Shek sign an agreement on the post-war future of China. The “Double Tenth” agreement confirmed that the Kuomintang was the de facto ruling party of China, but that the Communists were a legitimate opposition party.
1962: Pope John XXIII convenes the Second Vatican Council, the first “summit conference” of the Roman Catholic Church since the First Vatican Council of 1878, and only the 21st Council since the beginning of Roman Christianity. Called with the specific intent of better aligning Catholic practice with the modern, post-World War II world, it remains a flashpoint of principled dissent within the traditional wing of the larger church body. Two primary arguments against the Council assert that: 1) since there was no formal doctrinal statement supporting the dilution of longstanding traditions of the Church, those changes were therefore not binding for faithful Catholics, and; 2) building even further on this thought, a small but intense school of thought believes that since the leadership of the Church broke with tradition with the work of the Council, the subsequent Popes have no canonical standing and cannot legitimately claim the papacy, thus legally rendering the office vacant. Of particular note is the post-John XXIII fate of four of the participants of the Council: Cardinal Giovanni Montini (Paul VI), Bishop Albino Luciani (John Paul I), Bishop Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), and Father Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI).
1967: Communist warlord Che Guevarra, having worn out his welcome in Cuba, is finally captured in Bolivia. A day after his capture by the Bolivians, Che Guevara is executed.
1967: The Outer Space Treaty goes into effect. The parties to the treaty agree to not place nuclear weapons into orbit, and to refrain from using the moon or other celestial bodies as military testing or staging areas. The treaty is often misconstrued as prohibiting the “militarization” of space, but this is not the case. It does provide a framework for consultation and non-interference between spacefaring nations; it considers space part of the global commons, and the moon and other celestial bodies as part of the “common heritage of mankind”.
1972: A race riot breaks out aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) while conducting Operation Linebacker in the Gulf of Tonkin. With resentment simmering from a recent racial incident on shore leave in Subic Bay, Philippines, nearly 200 black sailors assaulted and injured a number of white crewmen, several of whom had to be evacuated to shore-based hospitals for treatment. Post-event investigation exposed resentment at perceived assignment of black sailors to menial and degrading duties, and the perception that white sailors got more lenient treatment at Captain’s Mast (non-judicial punishment under the UCMJ). CDR Benjamin Cloud (who was black), the Executive Officer of the ship, helped diffuse the situation and got most of the malcontents back to their stations prior to the next day’s flight operations. Nineteen sailors were eventually found guilty of charges related to the riot. It does not take much linguistic imagination to call this event a mutiny, but you won’t hear the word from official Navy sources. What the event did trigger was hair-trigger awareness of any perceived racial slights between black and white sailors. A second, eerily similar mutiny occurred within a month aboard USS Constellation (CVA-64).
1975: First broadcast of Saturday Night Live, with hosts George Carlin and Andy Kauffman.
1977: The Supreme Soviet adopts the 4th Soviet Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
1981: Death of Anwar Sadat (b.1918), President of Egypt, at the hand of a core of Army officers egged on by an Islamist fatwa issued by Omar Abdel-Rhaman, a.k.a. “The Blind Sheikh” who also was also convicted for the first attack on the World Trade Center. Sadat’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel negated in Islamist’s eyes any gains he made by launching the 1973 Yom Kippur War against the Jewish state. Abdel-Rhaman finally died last year in a New York prison, to the end issuing fatwas against the West and any Muslim who would dare to resist the Islamist movement.
1985: The Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro is hijacked by terrorists of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The cretins who captured the ship took wheelchair-bound American tourist Leon Klinghoffer to the upper deck, shot him in the head, and then rolled him and his chair into the cold Mediterranean. [Lauro, in happier days; Klinghoffer on board at the start of the voyage RIP] Personal note: I had the privilege of being part of the team that forced the hijackers to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella during the wind-down of this event several weeks later.