1724 – Benjamin Franklin arrived in London.
1809 – Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson, one of the most celebrated heroes of the American West, is born in Richmond, Kentucky. Shortly after Carson was born, his family moved west to Howard County, Missouri, an ideal spot for a future frontiersman to learn his trade. By the early 1820s, nearby Franklin, Missouri, had become the starting point for the newly opened Santa Fe Trail. As an apprentice to a Franklin saddle maker, Carson spent three years watching the covered wagons head westward for Santa Fe. Finally, the yearning to follow overwhelmed young Carson, and he ran away from home to join a trading caravan. Intelligent and resourceful, Carson made a new life for himself once he reached Santa Fe. He learned enough Spanish to serve as a translator, and soaked up information about frontier knowledge and skills from the many mountain men who came to town. When Carson was 22 years old, he met the famous Irish mountain man Thomas Fitzpatrick, who offered to take Carson on a trapping expedition in the northern Rockies. Carson jumped at the chance, and soon became a skilled trapper and a cunning tracker. In January 1833, when a band of Crow Indians stole his party’s horses, Carson trailed the Indians for 40 miles and his party was able to recover the stolen steeds. Possessed of an uncanny ability to remember geography and topography, the illiterate Carson gained international fame after he served as a guide for John C. Fremont’s 1842 western mapping expedition along the Oregon Trail. Fremont was so impressed with Carson’s frontier and guiding skills that he rehired him to guide his 1843 exploration of the Great Salt Lake and the Sierra Nevada. When Fremont published his reports on the two expeditions, he wrote glowingly of the young scout, and Carson had his first taste of national fame. After serving with Fremont in the Mexican War, Carson gained even greater renown as an Indian fighter in New Mexico, and the authors of popular dime novels began featuring him in their western tales. Literally a legend in his own time, Carson had the bizarre experience of colliding with his own mythic self. Late in 1849, Carson led the pursuit of a band of Jicarilla Apache who had kidnapped Mrs. J.M. White and her child from an emigrant caravan. Carson and a company of Taos soldiers tracked down and defeated the Apache, but they were too late to save Mrs. White, who was found with an arrow through her heart. Carson discovered a dime novel lying near White’s body-the novel featured Carson as the hero of a story where he single-handedly fought off eight Indians. Although he spent much of his life fighting Indians, Carson apparently had great sympathy and respect for them–in 1867 he became the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Colorado Territory. Despite his failing health, Carson made a strenuous trip to Washington with delegates from the Ute tribe to argue on the Indians’ behalf in treaty negotiations. Shortly after he returned to his home in Boggsville, Colorado, he died at the age of 58, but his legend continues to grow, thanks to countless novels and movies celebrating his life and adventures.
1812 – Joel Barlow, aged 58, American poet and lawyer, died from exposure near Vilna, Poland [Lithuania], during Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. Barlow was on a diplomatic mission to the emperor for President Madison.
1814 – The Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America is signed by British and American representatives at Ghent, Belgium, ending the War of 1812. By terms of the treaty, all conquered territory was to be returned, and commissions were planned to settle the boundary of the United States and Canada. In June 1812, the United States declared war against Great Britain in reaction to three issues: the British economic blockade of France, the induction of thousands of neutral American seamen into the British Royal Navy against their will, and the British support of hostile Indian tribes along the Great Lakes frontier. A faction of Congress, made up mostly of western and southern congressmen, had been advocating the declaration of war for several years. These “War Hawks,” as they were known, hoped that war with Britain, which was preoccupied with its struggle against Napoleonic France, would result in U.S. territorial gains in Canada and British-protected Florida. In the months following the U.S. declaration of war, American forces launched a three-point invasion of Canada, all of which were repulsed. At sea, however, the United States was more successful, and the USS Constitution and other American frigates won a series of victories over British warships. In 1813, American forces won several key victories in the Great Lakes region, but Britain regained control of the sea and blockaded the eastern seaboard. In 1814, with the downfall of Napoleon, the British were able to allocate more military resources to the American war, and Washington, D.C., fell to the British in August. In Washington, British troops burned the White House, the Capitol, and other buildings in retaliation for the earlier burning of government buildings in Canada by U.S. soldiers. The British soon retreated, however, and Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor withstood a massive British bombardment and inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the “Star-Spangled Banner.” On September 11, 1814, the tide of the war turned when Thomas Macdonough’s American naval force won a decisive victory at the Battle of Plattsburg Bay on Lake Champlain. A large British army under Sir George Prevost was thus forced to abandon its invasion of the U.S. northeast and retreat to Canada. The American victory on Lake Champlain led to the conclusion of U.S.-British peace negotiations in Belgium, and on December 24, 1814, the Treaty of Ghent was signed, ending the war. Although the treaty said nothing about two of the key issues that started the war–the rights of neutral U.S. vessels and the impressment of U.S. sailors–it did open up the Great Lakes region to American expansion and was hailed as a diplomatic victory in the United States. News of the treaty took almost two months to cross the Atlantic, and British forces were not informed of the end of hostilities in time to end their drive against the mouth of the Mississippi River. On January 8, 1815, a large British army attacked New Orleans and was decimated by an inferior American force under General Andrew Jackson in the most spectacular U.S. victory of the war. The American public heard of the Battle of New Orleans and the Treaty of Ghent at approximately the same time, fostering a greater sentiment of self-confidence and shared identity throughout the young republic.
1826 – The Eggnog Riot at the United States Military Academy begins that night, wrapping up the following morning. The Eggnog Riot, sometimes known as the Grog Mutiny, was a riot that took place at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, on 24–25 December 1826. It was caused by a drunken Christmas Day party in the North Barracks of the Academy. Two days prior to the incident, a large quantity of whiskey was smuggled into the academy to make eggnog for the party, giving the riot its name. The riot eventually involved more than one-third of the cadets by the time it ceased on Christmas morning. A subsequent investigation by Academy officials resulted in the implication of seventy cadets and the court-martialing of twenty of them and one enlisted soldier. Among the participants in the riot—though he was not court-martialed—was future Confederate States President Jefferson Davis.
1851 – A devastating fire at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., destroys about two-thirds of its 55,000 volumes, including most of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, sold to the institution in 1815. The Library of Congress was established in 1800, when President John Adams approved legislation that appropriated $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.” The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801 and were stored in the U.S. Capitol, the library’s first home. The first library catalog, dated April 1802, listed 964 volumes and nine maps. Twelve years later, the British army invaded the city of Washington and burned the Capitol, including the 3,000-volume Library of Congress. Former president Thomas Jefferson, who advocated the expansion of the library during his two terms in office, responded to the loss by selling his personal library, the largest and finest in the country, to Congress to “recommence” the library. The purchase of Jefferson’s 6,487 volumes was approved in the next year, and a professional librarian, George Watterston, was hired to replace the House clerks in the administration of the library. In 1851, a second major fire at the library destroyed about two-thirds of its books. Congress responded quickly and generously to the disaster, and within a few years a majority of the lost books were replaced. After the Civil War, the collection was greatly expanded, and by the 20th century the Library of Congress had become the de facto national library of the United States and one of the largest in the world. Today, the collection, housed in three enormous buildings in Washington, contains more than 17 million books, as well as millions of maps, manuscripts, photographs, films, audio and video recordings, prints, and drawings.
1861 – The USS Gem of the Sea destroyed the British blockade runner Prince of Wales off the coast at Georgetown, S.C.
1862 – A Christmas present arrived a day early for the Federal troops at Columbus, Ky., in the way of artillery on board the USS New Era.
1864 – A Union fleet under Admiral David Dixon Porter begins a bombardment of Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Although an impressive display of firepower, the attack failed to destroy the fort; a ground attack the next day did not succeed either. Fort Fisher guarded the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the approach to Wilmington. Throughout the war, Wilmington was one of the most important ports as the Confederates tried to break the Union blockade of its coasts. By late 1864, Wilmington was one of the last ports open in the South. The massive wood and sand Fort Fisher was built in 1862 to withstand attack by the most powerful Federal cannon. Even though it was an important city, the Union leaders directed more attention to other targets, such as the capture of the Confederate capital of Richmond. Not until late 1864 did the Union turn attention to Fort Fisher. Now, 60 ships attacked the fort on Christmas Eve. Inside the stronghold, 500 Confederates hunkered down and withstood the siege. Although buildings in the fort caught fire, there were few casualties. The next day, a small Yankee force attacked on the ground, but reinforcing Confederates from Wilmington drove them away. The Union fleet sailed back to Hampton Roads, Virginia, with nothing to show for their efforts. The Union tried again to take Fort Fisher in January. After two days, a Union force overwhelmed the fort and the last major Confederate port was closed.
1864 – Rear Admiral Lee, commanding the Mississippi Squadron, arrived off Chickasaw, Alabama, in an attempt to cut off the retreat of Confederate General Hood’s army from Tennessee. At Chickasaw, U.S.S. Fairy, Acting Ensign Charles Swendson, with Lee embarked, destroyed a Confederate fort and magazine, but even this small, shallow-draft river boat was unable to go beyond Great Mussel Shoals on the Tennessee River because of low water.
1865 – In Pulaski, Tennessee, a group of Confederate veterans convenes to form a secret society that they christen the “Ku Klux Klan.” The KKK rapidly grew from a secret social fraternity to a paramilitary force bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive Reconstruction Era-activities in the South, especially policies that elevated the rights of the local African American population. The name of the Ku Klux Klan was derived from the Greek word kyklos, meaning “circle,” and the Scottish-Gaelic word “clan,” which was probably chosen for the sake of alliteration. Under a platform of philosophized white racial superiority, the group employed violence as a means of pushing back Reconstruction and its enfranchisement of African Americans. Former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was the KKK’s first grand wizard; in 1869, he unsuccessfully tried to disband it after he grew critical of the Klan’s excessive violence. Most prominent in counties where the races were relatively balanced, the KKK engaged in terrorist raids against African Americans and white Republicans at night, employing intimidation, destruction of property, assault, and murder to achieve its aims and influence upcoming elections. In a few Southern states, Republicans organized militia units to break up the Klan. In 1871, the Ku Klux Act passed Congress, authorizing President Ulysses S. Grant to use military force to suppress the KKK. The Ku Klux Act resulted in nine South Carolina counties being placed under martial law and thousands of arrests. In 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Ku Klux Act unconstitutional, but by that time Reconstruction had ended and the KKK had faded away. The 20th century witnessed two revivals of the KKK: one in response to immigration in the 1910s and ’20s, and another in response to the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.
1904 – Herbert D Riley, US vice-admiral (WW II, Guadalcanal, Okinawa), was born.
1905 – Howard Hughes, the manufacturing magnate, Hollywood mogul, and record-setting aviator, is born. Born in Houston, Hughes entered the business world at age seventeen, taking the reigns of his family’s Texas-based tool company after his father passed away. However, Hughes wasn’t long for the Lone Star State: in 1926 he headed to Hollywood to become a producer of gritty classics like Hell’s Angels and Scarface. In 1948, Hughes snapped up a “controlling interest” in RKO Pictures, though a few years later he relinquished his shares in the company only to buy the studio outright in 1954. However, in 1955 Hughes reversed course again and sold RKO. Along the way, the eccentric millionaire indulged his passion for aviation, establishing the Hughes Aircraft Company and later buying a majority stake in Trans World Airlines. During the 1930s, Hughes flew his own custom-made plane into the record books, breaking various speed and flight-time records. Despite his glittery achievements and hefty bankroll, Hughes was never one for publicity. As the years wore on, his reclusive tendencies increased: Hughes eventually sequestered himself away in an ever-rotating series of luxury hotels, where he would toil on end for days, surviving on a diet that leaned heavier on drugs than food. Hughes died in 1976 while on a flight back to his hometown of Houston.
1906 – Canadian physicist Reginald A. Fessenden became the first person to broadcast a music program over radio, from Brant Rock, Mass.
1941 – About 7000 troops of the Japanese 16th Infantry Division land at Lamon Bay in southeast Luzon. In northern Luzon, the Allies have taken the first of five defensive positions designed to delay the Japanese movement toward the Bataan Peninsula. General Douglas MacArthur still commands the forces.
1941 – The 1st ships of Admiral Nagumo’s (Pearl Harbor) fleet returned to Japan.
1943 – President Roosevelt appointed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower supreme commander of Allied forces as part of Operation Overlord. Almost everyone had believed the position would go to American Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.
1943 – An American task force of cruisers and destroyers bombards Buka Island and the Japanese base at Buin on Bougainville. These are diversionary attacks from the imminent landing on New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago.
1944 – The German Ardennes offensive is exhausted by the end of the day. The furthest advance has been achieved by elements of the German 5th Panzer Army. The 2nd Panzer Division has reached the outskirts of Dinant with the 116th Panzer Division on the right flank near Hotten and the Panzer Lehr Division on the left flank to the west of St. Hubert. American forces in Bastogne continue to resist; some 260 Allied transports drop supplies to the defenders. Allied fighter-bombers fly over 600 sorties in the Ardennes.
1944 – All beef products are again being rationed. New quotas are introduced for most other commodities as well.
1946 – US General MacNarney gave 800,000 “minor Nazis” amnesty.
1950 – In a major feat of naval arms, the U.S. amphibious fleet, Task Force 90, commanded by Rear Admiral James H. Doyle, completed evacuation of X Corps from Hungnam. Supported by the Seventh Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Arthur D. Struble aboard the battleship USS Missouri, TF 90 evacuated 105,000 U.S. and ROK Marines and soldiers, 17,500 vehicles, 350,000 tons of cargo and 91,000 Korean civilians in just over 190 ships. This enormously complex operation has been termed “Inchon in Reverse.”
1950 – In a daring helicopter rescue, the U.S. Air Force’s 33rd Air Rescue Squadron snatched 35 U.S. and ROK soldiers from behind enemy lines.
1952 – The McCarren-Walter Act takes effect and revises America’s immigration laws. The law was hailed by supporters as a necessary step in preventing communist subversion in the United States, while opponents decried the legislation as being xenophobic and discriminatory. The act, named after Senator Pat McCarren (Democrat-Nevada) and Representative Francis Walter (Democratic-Pennsylvania), did relatively little to alter the quota system for immigration into the United States that had been established in the Immigration Act of 1924. The skewed nature of the quotas was readily apparent. Immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany were allotted two-thirds of the 154,657 spots available each year. However, the act did specifically remove previously established racial barriers that had acted to exclude immigrants from nations such as Japan and China. These countries were now assigned very small quotas. The changes that were of more concern for many critics centered on the act’s provision of much more strenuous screening of potential immigrants. It banned admission to anyone declared a subversive by the attorney general and indicated that members of communist and “communist-front” organizations were subject to deportation. In defending the act, Senator McCarren declared, “If this oasis of the world should be overrun, perverted, contaminated, or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished.” President Harry S. Truman took a very different view, calling the legislation “un-American” and inhumane. When the bill was passed in June 1952, Truman vetoed the bill. Congress overrode his veto, and the act took effect in December. The McCarren-Walter Act set America’s immigration standards until new legislation was passed in 1965.
1955 – NORAD Tracks Santa for the first time in what will become an annual Christmas Eve tradition. The program began in 1955, when a Sears department store placed an advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper which told children that they could telephone Santa Claus and included a number for them to call. However, the telephone number printed was misprinted and calls instead came through to Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center. Colonel Harry Shoup, who was on duty that night, told his staff to give all children who called in a “current location” for Santa Claus. A tradition began which continued when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) replaced CONAD in 1958. Today, NORAD relies on volunteers to make the program possible. Each volunteer handles about forty telephone calls per hour, and the team typically handles more than 12,000 e-mails and more than 70,000 telephone calls from more than two hundred countries and territories. Most of these contacts happen during the twenty-five hours from 2 a.m. on December 24 until 3 a.m. MST on December 25. Volunteers include NORAD military and civilian personnel.
1963 – New York’s Idlewild Airport was renamed JFK Airport in honor of the murdered President Kennedy.
1964 – Two Viet Cong agents disguised as South Vietnamese soldiers leave a car filled with explosives parked at the Brinks Hotel in Saigon. The hotel was housing U.S. officers. Two Americans were killed in the blast and 65 Americans and Vietnamese were injured. Ambassador Maxwell Taylor, Gen. William Westmoreland, and other senior U.S. officials tried to persuade President Lyndon B. Johnson to respond with retaliatory raids on North Vietnam, but Johnson refused. In his cable to Taylor explaining his decision, he indicated for the first time that he was considering a commitment of U.S. combat troops.
1968 – The 3 Apollo 8 astronauts (James A. Lovell, William Anders and Frank Borman), orbiting the moon, read passages from the Old Testament Book of Genesis during a Christmas Eve television broadcast. The first pictures of an Earth-rise over the Moon are seen as the crew of Apollo 8 orbits the moon.
1972 – Hanoi barred all peace talks with the U.S. until the air raids are stopped.
1972 – Comedian Bob Hope gives what he says is his last Christmas show to U.S. servicemen in Saigon. Hope was a comedian and star of stage, radio, television, and over 50 feature films. Hope was one of many Hollywood stars who followed the tradition of travelling overseas to entertain American troops stationed abroad. The 1972 show marked Hope’s ninth consecutive Christmas appearance in Vietnam. Hope endorsed President Nixon’s bombing of North Vietnam to force it to accept U.S. peace terms, and received South Vietnam’s highest civilian medal for his “anti-communist zeal.” Although some antiwar protesters criticized Hope for supporting government policies in Vietnam, the comedian said he believed it was his responsibility to lift spirits by entertaining the troops.
1972 – President Nixon suspends Operation Linebacker II for 36 hours to mark the Christmas holiday. The bombing campaign against North Vietnam had been operating since December 18, when Nixon initiated the campaign to force the North Vietnamese back to the Paris peace negotiations. On December 28, the North Vietnamese announced that they would return to Paris if Nixon ended the bombing. The bombing campaign was halted and the negotiators met during the first week of January. They quickly arrived at a settlement–the Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 23, and a cease-fire went into effect five days later.
1979 – Russia sent airborne troops into Afghanistan in a surprise attack.
1980 – Americans remembered the U.S. hostages in Iran by burning candles or shining lights for 417 seconds — one second for each day of captivity.
1987 – In Lebanon, the kidnappers of Terry Anderson released a videotape in which The Associated Press correspondent told his family he was in good health, and said to President Reagan, “Surely by now you know what must be done and how you can do it.” Anderson was freed nearly four years later.
1989 – Charles Taylor, a member of the Gio tribe and a former cabinet minister under Samuel Doe, led a small group of fighters across the border from the Ivory Coast into Liberia. Within a few months he had looted and terrorized much of the countryside and reached the capital. Taylor led the NPFL or National Patriotic Front. The NPFL was composed mainly of the Mano and Gio tribes from northern Nimba County.
1989 – Ousted Panamanian ruler Manuel Noriega, who had succeeded in eluding U.S. forces, took refuge at the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Panama City. It took weeks of negotiation and loud rock music played incessantly outside the embassy by American forces before Noriega agreed to give himself up.
1992 – Pres. Bush had the US Embassy in Belgrade read to Pres. Milosevic the “Christmas Warning” cable: “In the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian action, the US will be prepared to employ military force against Serbians in Kosovo and in Serbia proper.
1992 – President Bush pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five others in the Iran-Contra scandal.
1997 – From California it was reported that the Air Force agreed to sell McClellan Air Force Base to Sacramento County for a maximum of $90 million. Payments would begin in Dec 2008 and continue over 45 years.
1997 – In Afghanistan the Taliban launched an offensive at Kotel Toopkhana in Badakhshan province and by the next day claimed to have driven out the soldiers of Ahmed Shah Massood.
1997 – It was reported that Iraq completed a 150-mile canal to supply water to Basra.
1998 – In Podujevo, Yugoslavia, Serb forces used tanks and armored vehicles against separatist guerrillas breaking a 2-month cease fire. Ignoring NATO warnings, Serb tanks and troops struck an ethnic Albanian stronghold in Kosovo.
1999 – In Nepal 5 Sikh men, members of the Kashmir Harakut ul-Mujahedeen, hijacked an Indian Airlines A-300 Airbus with 189 people onboard. After 3 stops for refueling it landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where it was surrounded by Taliban militia. 26 passengers were released in Dubai. They called for the release of Maulana Massood Azhar, a Pakistani religious leader and other Kashmiri militants. They later raised their demands to $200 million, the release of 35 jailed guerrillas and the exhumation of a dead comrade buried in India.
1999 – Ignoring NATO warnings, Serb tanks and troops struck an ethnic Albanian stronghold in Kosovo.
2001 – In Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim named Gen. Rashid Dostum as deputy defense minister.
2002 – Saddam Hussein said in an address read on television that Iraqis were ready to fight a holy war against the United States.
2002 – Israeli PM Sharon said Saddam Hussein had transferred chemical and biological weapons to Syria.
2002 – North Korea ratcheted up its standoff with Washington, starting repairs at a long-frozen nuclear reactor and warning that U.S. policy was leading to an “uncontrollable catastrophe” and the “brink of nuclear war.”
2003 – Several Air France flights to Los Angeles were cancelled stranding hundreds of people in Paris on Christmas Eve amid fears of a terrorist attack.
2003 – It was reported that U.S. and Russian experts recovered 37 pounds of weapons-grade uranium, enough to develop a nuclear warhead, from a closed atomic facility in Bulgaria.
2003 – Pakistan’s Pres. Gen. Pervez Musharraf agreed to step down as head of the armed forces by the end of 2004, part of a deal with the hardline Islamic opposition to end a long standoff that has stalled this nation’s return to democracy. Musharraf also agreed to scale back some of the special powers he decreed himself after taking power in a 1999 military coup.
2004 – US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, bearing gifts of praise and encouragement, paid a surprise Christmas Eve visit to US troops in some of the most dangerous areas of Iraq.
2004 – A suicide bomber blew up a gas tanker in Baghdad in an attack that killed at least nine people.
2013 – Two NASA astronauts at the International Space Station complete a series of spacewalks to replace a faulty ammonia coolant pump.
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