312: At the Battle of Milvian Bridge (crossing the Tiber), the Emperor Constantine sees a Vision of the Cross, which inspired him to victory in the battle and began the process of his subsequent conversion to Christianity.
1415: An English army under the command of King Henry V decisively defeats a larger and better equipped French army at the Battle of Agincourt. The battle is notable for the effective use of English longbows and the high number of casualties among the French nobles who fought there. It was also the central scene in William Shakespeare’s play Henry V, and gave us one of the greatest inspirational speeches in history:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother
be he ne’er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.”
1628: After 14 months of siege, the Huguenot seaport of La Rochelle surrenders to the forces of King Louis XIII and his Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu. La Rochelle was the center of French Protestantism, and despite having formal permission under the Edict of Nantes (1598) to worship as they chose, the Catholic restoration under Louis put the city- third largest in France at 30,000- in direct opposition to His Most Catholic Majesty. Richelieu’s determination to crush the Huguenots was the main force that consolidated central political power in the hands of the King, creating the concept of a strong, centralized state that defines nationhood to this day. The British, no surprise, made three significant attempts to intervene on behalf of La Rochelle, but were unable to sustain it by sea after the French fortified all the seaward approaches to the city.
1634: The legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony establishes the charter for Harvard College, with the specific injunction later noted in a 1645 brochure: “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministery to the Churche.”
1648: Final ratification of the Peace of Westphalia, which brought to an end the Thirty Years’ War. It is no stretch to call this the first “world war” in history, as it wracked the continent of Europe from one end to the other.
The fighting centered in what is now Germany, but what was then the Holy Roman Empire, which was actually 255 fiercely independent city-states and territories, nominally confederated under the Holy Roman Emperor, of the Austrian House of Hapsburg. The initial fighting was itself a spillover from earlier Catholic-Lutheran conflicts, made more complicated by the growth of Calvinism in many Protestant districts. All this unrest in the East held the attention of the Bourbon dynasty in both Spain (with its not-quite adjacent holdings in the Netherlands and northern Italy), and France, with its long Rhineland border with the fractious Germanic states. Because of the huge political undertones of the religious fighting, the emphasis shifted during the course of the war from the rights of Protestants and Catholics, to the general balance of power on the continent, especially as it played out between the Bourbons and Hapsburgs. Even Sweden- who held extensive lands on the northern tier- and England, whose mercantile economy was intimately tied in with Continental trade, were pulled into the seemingly perpetual conflict. The whole point here is this: when the diplomats were finished negotiating this treaty, the sovereigns of Europe found themselves functioning within the concept of the State System: a system of recognized sovereignty and law, for which the sovereign was the custodian, not the arbiter. What we understand today as “Poland” or “Switzerland” or “Sweden” did not exist until Westphalia. The Peace drastically curtailed the already tenuous hold of the Emperor on his German states, focusing his core attentions on his Austrian domains. For France, the Peace consolidated its position as the major power in western Europe, giving it a relatively free hand to disabuse Spain of any continuing influence east of the Pyrenees, and ensuring that the German states would never become a unitary power of their own, at least within the lifetime of the Westphalia diplomatic corps.
1704: Death of English philosopher John Locke (b.1632), whose writing on the nature of government, property, price theory and the life of the mind set the foundations for the Scottish Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Thomas Jefferson considered Locke as one of the three “…greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception…”
1728: Birth of the great British explorer James Cook (d.1779).
1760: Upon the death of his father, George II, George III becomes King of Great Britain.
1776: Philadelphia printer and inventor Benjamin Franklin departs as the United States’ first Ambassador to France. His mission is to secure France’s support for the fledgling republic across the water, and he uses his utmost charm to engage the Crown on our behalf. For some reason, Franklin’s wry, rustic charm makes him tres populaire with the denizens of Court.
1795: After six years of political turmoil, intentional terror against its own citizens, regicide and war against virtually all of Europe, France dissolves its National Convention (its third legislature since the revolution began) and establishes a bicameral legislature consisting of the Council of Ancients (upper house) and the Council of 500 (lower house), both of whom will today appoint a 5-member Directory as the Executive agency. The Directory system will last for four years, after which that fiery Corsican general Napolean will overthrow the toothless executive and replace it with a Consulate, headed by himself.
1810: The United States annexes the Republic of West Florida from Spain. What we now know as the Panhandle (between the Apalachicola and Perdido Rivers) was originally settled by Spain, was taken by Britain during French and Indian War, given back to Spain as part of the negotiations that ended the Revolution, and was briefly declared by its American settlers as an independent Republic in early 1810, under the “Bonney Blue Flag.”
1825: Opening of the Erie Canal, connecting Albany, NY (and hence the port of NYC) to Lake Erie (and hence the agricultural riches of the Ohio valley). Not only did it eliminate the need for portage, it also cut shipping costs by 95%, which fueled an economic boom in western New York and points west.
1854: In a crucial decision during the Crimean War, FizRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, orders an unnecessary attack on Russian positions of unknown strength. It lead to the debacle of the Charge of the Light Brigade, who rode under the direct leadership of Lord Cardigan, who survived the battle* but who remained furious at the tendentiousness of the original order. The battle is best remembered, of course, by another brilliant bit of English poetry, this time from Alfred Lord Tennyson:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d & thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred
1858: Birth of Nobel Laureate, scholar, author, Rough Rider, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt (d.1919).
1861: Completion of the United States’ first transcontinental telegraph line, effectively killing the more romantic but hopelessly archaic 18 month run of the Pony Express.
1870: France suffers a second crippling defeat at Prussian hands at the siege of Metz, during the Franco-Prussian War. The collapse was a direct result of the earlier capture of an entire French army with the Emperor at Sedan in early September.
1881: Birth of artist Pablo Picasso (d.1973).
1881: Doc Holliday and the Earp Brothers (the Good Guys) kill 3 of the 5 Bad Guys, led by Ike Clanton, at the famous Shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
1891: Birth of radio preacher Father Charles Coughlin (d.1979), whose fiery populism originally supported, but later turned on the New Deal and the Roosevelt administration. His on-air and public shtick descended steadily into virulent anti-Semitism, which eventually led to an increasingly bitter battle between himself and broadcast regulators, finally causing him to be silenced from radio ministry in 1939.
1901: Annie Edson Tyler becomes the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She was 63 at the time, and when she was finally uncorked from the almost-coffin, she declared: “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat… I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.”
1911: Reprising the brothers’ 1903 success with their flying machine, Orville Wright returns to Kill Devil Hill, NC with a newly designed glider that incorporates many of the lessons they learned during their Huffman Prairie flights** back in Dayton. The new machine uses a now-conventional elevator and rudder combination at the rear of the plane, and the pilot sits upright with hand controls, as opposed to lying prone in a hip cradle. On this day, with 40 knot winds blowing up the hill, Wright and his team get the machine airborne and remain aloft, under complete control, for 9 minutes 45 seconds, a record for non-powered flight that will stand for ten years.
1914: Birth of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (d.1953), author of the evocative lament on his father’s death: “Do not go gentle into that good night…rage, rage, against the dying of the light…”
1914: Birth of Jonas Salk, the medical researcher who developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. (d.1995).
1917: A Russian mob, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks, storms and captures Tsar Nicholas II’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, thus creating the opening battle of the “October Revolution” phase of the larger Russian Revolution.
1912: Birth of Grande Old Opry superstar, Minnie Pearl (d.1996).
1926: Birth of NFL great Y.A. Tittle (d.2017), quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers (1950-1960) and then for three championship years with the New York Giants (1961-63). [Himself, in one of the NFL’s most iconic photographs, dazed and helmetless after a brutal hit by two Pittsburgh Steelers in 1964.
1929: Wall Street suffers the original Black Monday, which put the exclamation point on two weeks of already-sagging stock prices that failed to rally from two earlier interventions. This one day’s losses amounted to a 13% drop in market value. On Tuesday, the market dropped another 12%, and the week ended with total losses of over $30,000,000,000.00 in 1929 dollars (approximately $440,538,304,093.56 today).
1940: First flight of the P-51 Mustang, widely considered the ultimate propeller-driven fighter plane. [Early prototype of an A-model; Later -D model, with its revolutionary bubble canopy and the magnificent Packard/Rolls Royce Merlin engine- 12 cylinders of double-supercharged 1,570 horsepower.
1944: Battle of Leyte Gulf, Day 2– The torpedo shot in Brunei yesterday should have given the Imperial Japanese Navy pause as they sortied toward the central Philippines, but it didn’t. As the American invasion fleet continued its offload in Leyte Gulf, two of the six carriers of the US Third Fleet intercepted Admiral Kurita’s Japanese Center Force of battleships and cruisers in the Subuyian Sea east of Leyte, making a furious and continuing attack on the Japanese super-battleship Musahsi in particular, which eventually sank after taking direct hits from at least 17 bombs and 18 torpedoes. The IJN Yamato and Nagato also took several hits, but remained operational as the Japanese fleet turned around for several hours to get out from under the American attackers. Late in the afternoon they reestablished their course for San Bernardino Strait. During the ensuing melee, land-based Japanese fighters swarmed toward the American striking aircraft, but were completely overpowered by the supporting American fighter aircraft. Commander David McCampbell distinguished himself this day with 9 confirmed kills. As the day wound down, the Third Fleet Commander, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, acting on intelligence about the discovery of the Japanese Northern Force, withdrew the two carriers to join with his other four carriers and their associated battleship forces to dash north east to intercept and destroy Japan’s remaining carriers. The American surface fleet that expected to be guarding the San Bernardino Strait was included in the run north, leaving the entire northern approaches of Leyte Gulf un-monitored and un-protected by the US Navy.
1944: Battle of Leyte Gulf, Day 3. There are three climactic actions this day: 1) Battle of Suriago Strait, the world’s final all-gun naval battle. Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf positioned himself at the northern end of the passage with a massive blocking formation of 6 battleships (five of which were Pearl Harbor survivors), 4 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 28 destroyers and 39 PT boats, creating a gauntlet of fire that would, for six hours on this night, destroy the Japanese Southern Force in detail, sinking both of its battleships, two heavy cruisers and at least three destroyers outright, with several more surviving Japanese ships sunk by aircraft later in the morning as they tried to escape back south through the strait. 2) Battle off Samar. Admiral Kurita’s still-potent Central Force slipped through San Bernardino Strait unopposed overnight, making its way down the eastern coastline of Samar Island with what appeared to be a clear run to General MacArthur’s invasion fleet. Kurita’s four battleships, including the massive Yamato, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eleven destroyers carried enough firepower to systematically obliterate the American landing force, which would be ranged by their guns in mere hours. Nothing now stood between Kurita and his targets except a handful of startled escort carriers (CVE) carrying only ~30 planes each, and another handful of destroyers, armed with 5″ guns and torpedoes. Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague ordered all of his planes- about 90 total- to launch as the CVEs scuttled toward rain squalls to the east. The old Wildcats and Avengers attacked with such fury that Kurita believed he had roused the large carriers of Third Fleet rather than nearly hopeless escorts of the Seventh Fleet. When the planes ran out of ammunition, they kept making dry runs to try to force the Japanese out of ammo. The destroyer squadrons also ran at flank speed into the Japanese formation, firing their little 5 inchers into the huge armored targets before them. The CVEs themselves came under direct Japanese gunfire, with USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73) the particular object of IJN Yamato’s 18″ artillery, which crippled and sank the thin-skinned carrier, the only carrier in the war to be sunk by naval gunfire. Then suddenly, when the American position looked doomed, Admiral Kurita fired one last salvo at the American ships and turned around to the north to retire from the fight, a stroke of luck in the famous “fog of war” that no-one anticipated. May I recommend a book, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors (2004) by James D. Hornfischer. It will give you a mesmerizing insight into the reality of this nearly point blank David-and-Goliath slugfest. 3) Battle of Cape Engano. The Japanese Northern Force of four aircraft carriers and old battleships, the decoy fleet designed to draw off Halsey’s Third Fleet from the main event, actually did decoy Halsey and his five fleet carriers, five light carriers, six battleships, eight cruisers and forty destroyers to chase them several hundred miles away from the main fight at Leyte. But they paid for it, as they expected. Admiral Ozawa’s 108 aircraft were no match for Halsey’s 7-800, and after his planes were swept from the skies, the virtually undefended ships came under withering attack from the Americans, who sank three carriers and a destroyer, and heavily damaged the two light carriers. Despite these important victories, the main story of this battle was the fact that it happened at all, epitomized by the message to Halsey from Fleet Admiral Nimitz at the height of the crisis off Samar: “Where is Third Fleet? The World Wonders.”
1946: Birth of Hillary Rodham.
1958: Pan American World Airways makes the first commercial flight of the new Boeing 707 jetliner from New York to Paris.
1962: Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announces the withdrawal of Russian SS-3 nuclear missiles from their new launching sites in Cuba, effectively ending the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States, for its part, agreed publicly to not invade Cuba or allow anyone else to invade the island via U.S. assistance. Secretly, President Kennedy also agreed to withdraw our Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy, deployments that the Soviet leadership used to justify their installation of SS-3s in Cuba. In Soviet circles, Khrushchev was seen as having been disgraced by Kennedy, a situation that led to his dismissal as Party Secretary two years later.
1972: Death of Los Angeles Dodger, Jackie Robinson (b.1919)
1973: Last day of the Yom Kippur War, which didn’t turn out as expected for Egypt and Syria.
1973: A UN-imposed ceasefire ends the 19 day Yom Kippur War, which opened on the 6th October with a stunning surprise attack by the Egyptian Army to re-capture the east bank of the Suez Canal, which had been rolled up along with the entirety of the Sinai Peninsula by Israel during the 6 Day War in 1967. A coordinated attack by Syria on the Golan Heights was designed to put Israel into an Arab vise, and in the early days of the attacks the strategy looked viable. But t hree days of counter-attacks by Israel in the north pushed the Syrians back to their pre-war lines of departure, and another four days of Israeli offensive operations put their army within artillery range of Damascus.At the canal, Egypt’s Second and Third armies crossed via pontoon bridges at three breached sections of Israel’s Bar Lev Line, having used water cannons to erode the 80 foot tall sand berms Israel built between reinforced concrete hard spots on the canal’s eastern shoreline. By the 9th of October the Egyptians had established stabilized defensive positions between 5-10 km inland from the canal in mountainous terrain. The initial Israeli armored counter attack was thwarted by the unexpected appearance of Soviet provided RPGs and the very lethal Sagger wire-guided anti-tank missile. Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) quickly established a hard-fought air dominance campaign, including deep strikes against both Egyptian and Syrian reinforcements and strategic air defense nodes, close air support to their armored forces, and a stunning air-to-air posture that essentially destroyed the air forces of both Arab antagonists. The IAF kill ration was shattering, ending with 334 Arab shoot downs to only 5 Israeli losses. Note: Israel did lose 90 aircraft to airfield attacks and some level of surface-to-air missile activity. Similar Arab aircraft losses added approximately another 150 to the accounting. The final week of battle saw Israeli armored forces lunging through the gap between Egypt’s Second and Third armies, re-crossing the canal in force, and occupying most of the western shoreline of the canal all the way to Suez, with vanguards continuing westward to within 40 miles of Cairo. More importantly, the Israeli army now completely encircled Egypt’s Third Army, their backs to the canal on the eastern shoreline. Israel armor completely blocked any ground communication into the Sinai, and Generals Sharon and Adan held all potential water crossings on the western bank. To say the ensuing peace negotiations were tense would an understatement. The negotiated disengagement lasted over two years, but eventually led to the 1978 Camp David Accords that formalized a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
2002: Arrest of Washington, D.C. sniper terrorists John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo at a rest stop in Maryland.