274 – Emperor Aurelian imported into Rome the cult of Sol Invictus and made its Dec 25 festival a national holiday.
336 – The first recorded celebration of Christmas on this day took place in Rome. By this year Dec 25 was established in the Liturgy of the Roman Church as the birthday of Jesus.
1776 – During the American Revolution, Patriot General George Washington crosses the Delaware River with 5,400 troops, hoping to surprise a Hessian force celebrating Christmas at their winter quarters in Trenton, New Jersey. The unconventional attack came after several months of substantial defeats for Washington’s army that had resulted in the loss of New York City and other strategic points in the region. At about 11 p.m. on Christmas, Washington’s army commenced its crossing of the half-frozen river at three locations. The 2,400 soldiers led by Washington successfully braved the icy and freezing river and reached the New Jersey side of the Delaware just before dawn. The other two divisions, made up of some 3,000 men and crucial artillery, failed to reach the meeting point at the appointed time. At approximately 8 a.m. on the morning of December 26, Washington’s remaining force, separated into two columns, reached the outskirts of Trenton and descended on the unsuspecting Hessians. Trenton’s 1,400 Hessian defenders were groggy from the previous evening’s festivities and underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories throughout New York. Washington’s men quickly overwhelmed the Germans’ defenses, and by 9:30 a.m. the town was surrounded. Although several hundred Hessians escaped, nearly 1,000 were captured at the cost of only four American lives. However, because most of Washington’s army had failed to cross the Delaware, he was without adequate artillery or men and was forced to withdraw from the town. The victory was not particularly significant from a strategic point of view, but news of Washington’s initiative raised the spirits of the American colonists, who previously feared that the Continental Army was incapable of victory.
1779 – A court-martial was convened against Benedict Arnold. He defended himself successfully on 6 of 8 charges but was convicted of illegally issuing a government pass and using government wagons to transport personal goods.
1821 – Clara Barton (d.1912), the founder of the American Red Cross, was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts. She worked as a volunteer nurse during the Civil War, distributing food and medical supplies to troops and earning herself the label “Angel of the Battlefield.” She later served alongside the International Red Cross in Europe–however, she could not work directly with the organization because she was a woman. In 1882 she formed an American branch of the Red Cross. Barton lobbied for the Geneva Convention and she expanded the mission of the Red Cross to include helping victims of peacetime disasters. Clara Barton died at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12, 1912, when she was 90 years old.
1837 – In the Battle of Okeechobee US forces defeated the Seminole Indians.
1862 – President and Mrs. Lincoln visited hospitals in the Washington D.C. area on this Christmas Day.
1862 – John Hunt Morgan and his raiders clashed with Union forces near Bear Wallow, Kentucky. Fighting also occurred at Green’s Chapel.
1864 – On the 24th Naval forces under the command of Rear Admiral Porter and Army units under Major General Butler launched an unsuccessful attack against Fort Fisher. Transports carrying Butler’s troops had retired to Beaufort in order to avoid the anticipated effects of the explosion of the powder boat Louisiana, and fleet units had assembled in a rendezvous area 12 miles from the fort. At daylight on 24 December, the huge fleet got underway, formed in line of battle before the formidable Confederate works, and commenced a furious bombardment. The staunch Southern defenders, under the command of Colonel William Lamb, were driven from their guns and into the bombproofs of Fort Fisher, but managed to return the Federal fire from a few of their heavy cannon. Transports carrying the Union soldiers did not arrive from Beaufort until evening; too late for an assault that day. Accordingly, Porter withdrew his ships, intending to renew the attack the next day. Most of the casualties resulted from the bursting of five 100-pounder Parrott guns on board five different ships. By taking shelter the defenders, too, suffered few casualties, despite the heavy bombardment. At 10:30 the following morning the ships again opened fire on the fort and maintained the bombardment while troops landed north of the works, near Flag Pond Battery. Naval gunfire kept the garrison largely pinned down and away from their guns as Butler landed about 2,000 men who advanced toward the land face of the fort. eanwhile, the Admiral attempted to find a channel through New Inlet in order to attack the forts from Cape Fear River. When Commander Guest, U.S.S. Iosco and a detachment of double-ender gunboats encountered a shallow bar over which they could not pass, Porter called on the indomitable Lieutenant Cushing, hero of the Albemarle destruction, to sound the channel in small boats, buoying it for the ships to pass through. Under withering fire from the forts, even the daring Cushing was forced to turn back, one of his boats being cut in half by a Confederate shell. Late in the afternoon, Army skirmishers advanced to within yards of the fort, supported by heavy fire from Union vessels. Lieutenant Aeneas Armstrong, CSN, inside Fort Fisher, later described the bombardment: “The whole of the interior of the fort, which consists of sand, merlons, etc., was as one eleven-inch shell bursting. You can now inspect the works and walk on nothing but iron.” Union Army commanders, however, considered the works too strongly defended to be carried by assault with the troops available, and the soldiers began to reembark. Some 700 troops were left on the beaches as the weather worsened. They were protected by gun-boats under Captain Glisson, U.S.S. Santiago de Cuba, who had lent continuous close support to the landing. By 27 December the last troops were embarked; the first major attack on Fort Fisher had failed. Confederate reinforcements under General R. F. Hoke were in Wilmington and arrived at Confederate Point just after Union forces departed. The Army transports returned to Hampton Roads to prepare for a second move on the Confederate bastion, while Porter’s fleet remained in the Wilmington-Beaufort area and continued sporadic bombardment in an effort to prevent repair of the fort.
1868 – President Andrew Johnson granted an unconditional pardon to all persons involved in the Southern rebellion that resulted in the Civil War.
1896 – “Stars & Stripes Forever” was written by John Philip Sousa.
1925 – U.S. troops under Admiral Latimer disarmed Nicaraguan insurgents in support of the Diaz regime.
1926 – Hirohito became emperor of Japan, succeeding his father, Emperor Yoshihito (Hirohito was formally enthroned almost two years later). This marked the beginning of the Showa Period (1926-1989).
1941 – Admiral Chester W. Nimitz arrives at Pearl Harbor to assume command of U.S. Pacific Fleet.
1941 – The US defensive strategy in the Philippines continues with their withdrawal to the second line of defense at the Agno River. Japanese attacks continue.
1942 – The Japanese base at Rabaul is attacked by bombers from Guadalcanal.
1943 – US Task Group 50.2 (Admiral Sherman) raids Kavieng with 86 aircraft. There are 2 carriers and 6 destroyers employed in the operation but they succeed in sinking only 1 Japanese transport ship.
1944 – Allied forces surrounding the German-held bulge begin counterattacking. The US 4th Armored Division, an element of US 3rd Army, aims at relieving the Americans surrounded in Bastogne. Meanwhile, German attacks are halted by American armor at Celles, about 6 km east of the Meuse River, after having advanced about 80 km since the beginning of the offensive in mid-December.
1944-On Leyte, part of the US 77th Division makes an amphibious move from Ormoc to San Juan, on the west coast of the island, north of Palompon, where the Japanese forces are concentrated. The landing is unopposed. General MacArthur announces that the Leyte campaign has ended with Japanese losses totalling 113,221.
1950 – Chinese forces crossed the 38th parallel.
1962 – The Bay of Pigs captives who were ransomed, vowed to return and topple Castro.
1966 – Harrison Salisbury, assistant managing editor of the New York Times, files a report from Hanoi chronicling the damage to civilian areas in North Vietnam by the U.S. bombing campaign. Salisbury stated that Nam Dinh, a city about 50 miles southeast of Hanoi, was bombed repeatedly by U.S. planes starting on June 28, 1965. Salisbury’s press report caused a stir in Washington where, it was reported, Pentagon officials expressed irritation and contended that he was exaggerating the damage to civilian areas. On December 26, the U.S. Defense Department conceded that American pilots bombed North Vietnamese civilians accidentally during missions against military targets. The spokesman restated administration policy that air raids were confined to military targets but added, “It is sometimes impossible to avoid all damage to civilian areas.”
1972 – After a 36-hour respite for Christmas, the U.S. resumes Operation Linebacker II. The extensive bombing campaign was resumed because, according to U.S. officials, Hanoi sent no word that it would return to the peace talks. On December 13, North Vietnamese negotiators walked out of secret talks in Paris with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. President Nixon issued an ultimatum that North Vietnam send its representatives back to the conference table within 72 hours “or else.” The North Vietnamese rejected Nixon’s demand and the president ordered Operation Linebacker II, a full-scale air campaign against the Hanoi area that began on December 18. During the 11 days of Linebacker II, 700 B-52 sorties and more than 1,000 fighter-bomber sorties dropped an estimated 20,000 tons of bombs on North Vietnam–half the total tonnage of bombs dropped on England during World War II. Also on this day: U.S. headquarters in Saigon announces that American military strength in South Vietnam was reduced by 700 men during the previous week. The reduction brought the total U.S. forces in South Vietnam to 24,000, the lowest in almost eight years.
1973 – Skylab astronauts took a seven hour walk in space and photographed the comet Kohoutek.
1979 – In Tong-du-cheon, Korea, two US soldiers, David Medina and Reinaldo Roa, approached an MP station under cover of darkness. Medina and Roa had earlier been arrested for beating up an elderly Korean store owner. They tossed a hand-grenade through the front door and several MPs were injured by shrapnel and other debris. In the ensuing confusion, the suspects escaped. Roa and Medina were later caught after they bragged about their feat.
1987 – Authorities recaptured Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who had escaped two days earlier from the federal prison in Alderson, W.V., where she was serving a life sentence for her attempt on the life of President Ford.
1992 – U.S. Marines delivered wheat to a refugee camp in Bardera, Somalia, setting off a small riot among the Somalis; American and French troops also took control of Hoddur.
1997 – Richard Bliss, a field technician for Qualcomm Inc. accused of spying in Russia, arrived in San Diego after Russian authorities were persuaded to let him return home. (However, Russia says its investigation of Bliss continues).
1998 – In Serbia US diplomats in Kosovo persuaded army officers to pull back some of their forces.
1999 – Space shuttle “Discovery’s” astronauts finished their repair job on the Hubble Space Telescope.
2001 – From Mazar-e-Sharif to Kandahar in Afghanistan and the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea, American forces celebrated Christmas with carols, touch football and turkey dinners.
2003 – In Iraq leaders of Sunni Muslim groups agreed to form a State Council for the Sunnis in order to speak with a unified voice during the transition to Iraqi governance.