1779 – Stephen Decatur, American naval hero during actions against the Barbay pirates and the War of 1812, is born.
1781 – A British naval expedition led by Benedict Arnold burned Richmond, Va., causing Governor Thomas Jefferson to flee as the Virginia militia, led by Sampson Mathews, defended the city. It was Arnold’s greatest success as a British commander. Arnold’s 1,600 largely Loyalist troops sailed up the James River at the beginning of January, eventually landing in Westover, Virginia. Leaving Westover on the afternoon of January 4, Arnold and his men arrived at the virtually undefended capital city of Richmond the next afternoon. Virginia’s governor, Thomas Jefferson, had frantically attempted to prepare the city for attack by moving all arms & other Military Stores and records from the city to a foundry five miles outside Richmond. As news of Arnold’s unexpectedly rapid approach reached him, Jefferson then tried to orchestrate their removal to Westham, seven miles further north. He was too late–Arnold’s men quickly reached and burned the foundry and then proceeded towards Westham, which Jefferson had asked the formidable Prussian military advisor Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben to guard. Finding von Steuben, Arnold chose to return to Richmond, burning much of the city the following morning. Only 200 militiamen responded to Governor Jefferson’s call to defend the capital–most Virginians had already served and therefore thought they were under no further obligation to answer such calls. Despite this untenable military position, the author of the Declaration of Independence was criticized by some for fleeing Richmond during the crisis. Later, two months after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, he was cleared of any wrongdoing during his term as governor. Jefferson went on to become the leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, and his presidential victory over the Federalists is remembered as The Revolution of 1800. After the war, Benedict Arnold attempted and failed to establish businesses in Canada and London. He died a pauper on June 14, 1801, and lays buried in his Continental Army uniform at St. Mary’s Church, Middlesex, London. To this day, his name remains synonymous with the word “traitor” in the United States.
1782 – The British withdraw from Wilmington, North Carolina as part of their plan to evacuate from all the towns they have occupied during the War for Independence.
1795 – France announces its awareness of Jay’s treaty between the US and Britain.
1838 – President Martin Van Buren issues a neutrality proclamation forbidding US citizens from taking part in the Canadian insurrection. The privately owned US steamship Caroline, leased by Canadian revolutionaries, has been destroyed by Canadian militiamen on 29 December. President Van Buren orders General Winfield Scott to post militamen along the Canadian frontier.
1846 – Boldly reversing its long-standing policy of “free and open” occupation in the disputed Oregon Territory, the U.S. House of Representatives passes a resolution calling for an end to British-American sharing of the region. The United States, one congressman asserted, had “the right of our manifest destiny to spread over our whole continent.” In different circumstances, such aggressive posturing might have led to war. The British, through their Hudson Bay Company at the mouth of the Columbia River, had a reasonable claim to the disputed territory of modern-day Washington. In contrast, the only part of the Oregon Territory the U.S. could legitimately claim by settlement was the area below the Columbia River. Above the river, there were only eight recently arrived Americans in 1845. Nonetheless, the aggressively expansionistic President James Polk coveted Oregon Territory up to the 49th parallel (the modern-day border with Canada). Yet Polk was also on the verge of war with Mexico in his drive to take that nation’s northern provinces, and he had no desire to fight the British and Mexicans at the same time. Consequently, Polk had to move cautiously. Some of his fellow Democrats in the Congress pushed him to be even more aggressive, demanding that Americans control the territory all the way up to the 54th parallel, approximately where Edmonton, Alberta, is today. For five months, debate raged in Congress over the “Oregon controversy,” but the House resolution in January made it clear that the U.S. was determined to end the joint occupation with Great Britain. Luckily, the British agreed to abandon their claim to the area north of the Columbia and accept the 49th parallel as a border. The Hudson Bay Company already had decided to relocate its principal trading post from the Columbia River area to Vancouver Island, leaving the British with little interest in maintaining their claim to area. Despite the cries of betrayal from the advocates of the 54th parallel, Polk wisely accepted the British offer to place the border on the 49th parallel. The new boundary not only gave the U.S. more territory than it had any legitimate claim to, but it also left Polk free to pursue his next objective: a war with Mexico for control of the Southwest.
1855 – USS Plymouth crew skirmish with Chinese troops.
1861 – The “Star of the West,” a Union merchant vessel, leaves New York with supplies and 250 troops to relieve the beleaguered Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina. This incident came during the sensitive days following the secession of South Carolina on December 20, 1860. The primary cause for secession was the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln to the presidency the month before, but it was President James Buchanan, a Democrat, who had to deal with the first crisis after South Carolina’s departure. Inside of Fort Sumter were Major Robert Anderson and 80 Federal soldiers who were surrounded by hostile South Carolinians, who were demanding evacuation by the Yankees. Anderson informed officials in Washington that he needed supplies within a few weeks. Buchanan was reluctant to make any provocative moves but felt that some attempt to save Sumter should be made. The “Star of the West” was chosen because a civilian vessel was less likely to agitate South Carolinians. It left New York on January 5, but it did not complete its mission. Arriving on January 9, the “Star of the West” encountered an alert South Carolina militia. Word of the mission had leaked to everyone, it seemed, except Anderson. He had received no notification of the mission and was surprised when cannon from the shore opened fire on the approaching ship. One shot hit the “Star of the West,” and the ship turned around before taking any more damage. Anderson withheld his fire on the hostile shore batteries, and the standoff in Charleston Harbor continued until April. Then, the South Carolinians opened the massive bombardment that started the Civil War.
1861 – Alabama state troops take possession of Forts Morgan and Gaines at the entrance to Mobile Bay.
1861 – Secretary of the Navy Toucey ordered Fort Washington-on the Maryland side of the Potomac– garrisoned “to protect public property.” Forty Marines from Washington Navy Yard under Captain Algernon S. Taylor, USMC, were sent to the Fort-a vital link in the defense of the Nation’s Capital by land or water.
1904 – American Marines arrive in Seoul, Korea, to guard the U.S. legation there.
1933 – President Calvin Coolidge passes away at age 51. John Calvin Coolidge Jr. had been born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, on July 4, 1872. His father, John Coolidge, was a successful farmer who served in the Vermont House of Representatives and the Vermont Senate, ampong other positions. Coolidge’s mother died when he was 12 years old, and his teenage sister, Abigail Grace Coolidge, died several years later. Coolidge attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, and later apprenticed at a law firm in Northampton. In 1897, he was admitted to the bar, opening his own law office in 1898. In 1905, Coolidge married Grace Anna Goodhue, a teacher at a school for the deaf. The two were nearly opposites: While Grace was talkative and social, Calvin was stoic and serious. In 1896, Coolidge campaigned locally for Republican presidential candidate William McKinley. In 1898, he won election to the Northampton City Council, and then to the offices of city solicitor and clerk of courts. In 1906, Coolidge was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a Progressive Republican. He went on to serve as mayor of Northampton before returning to the state legislature, this time serving in the Senate. After his election in January 1914, Coolidge delivered a speech entitled Have Faith in Massachusetts, which summarized his philosophy of government. His reputation grew with the publication of his speeches. He was elected lieutenant governor and then governor in the 1918 race. A crisis during Coolidge’s tenure as governor brought him national attention. In 1919, many Boston policemen went on strike after the city’s police commissioner tried to block their unionization with the American Federation of Labor. Coolidge took control of the situation, calling in the National Guard and speaking candidly with AFL leader Samuel Gompers. His actions, while discouraging to supporters of organized labor, made Coolidge a favorite among the nation’s conservatives, and laid the groundwork for his presidential run in 1920. After 10 ballots, Republican delegates settled on Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio as their presidential nominee in 1920, and Coolidge was nominated as vice president. Harding and Coolidge beat opponents James M. Cox and Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide, taking every state outside of the South. Coolidge was the first vice president to attend cabinet meetings, in addition to giving speeches and performing other official duties. The Coolidges attended Washington parties, where guests remarked on the terse and quiet demeanor of “Silent Cal.” On August 2, 1923, President Harding died while traveling in California. Coolidge was in Vermont visiting his family home, which had neither electricity nor a telephone, when a messenger brought word of Harding’s death. Coolidge addressed Congress in December, giving the first presidential speech to be broadcast to the nation over the radio. His agenda mirrored Harding’s to a large extent. Coolidge signed the Immigration Act later that year, restricting immigration from southern and eastern European countries. President Coolidge was nominated for the presidency in 1924. Shortly after the convention, however, he experienced a personal tragedy. Coolidge’s younger son, Calvin Jr., developed an infected blister and, several days later, died of sepsis. Coolidge became depressed. In spite of his subdued campaigning, he won a popular vote majority of 2.5 million over his two opponents’ combined total. During Coolidge’s presidency, the United States experienced the period of rapid economic growth that characterized the “Roaring Twenties.” With the exception of favoring tariffs, Coolidge disdained regulation. Coolidge was also suspicious of foreign alliances, discouraging American membership in the League of Nations. Like Harding, Coolidge refused to recognize the Soviet Union. Coolidge spoke out in favor of civil rights. He refused to appoint any known members of the Ku Klux Klan to office, appointed African Americans to government positions and advocated for anti-lynching laws. In 1924, Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, granting full citizenship to all Native Americans while permitting them to retain tribal land rights. In the summer of 1927, Coolidge traveled to the Black Hills of South Dakota. During his vacation, Coolidge issued a short statement indicating that he would not seek a second full term as president. The statement read: “I do not choose to run for President in 1928.”
1940 – FM radio is demonstrated to the Federal Communications Commission for the first time.
1942 – U.S. and Filipino troops complete their withdrawal to a new defensive line along the base of the Bataan peninsula.
1943 – USS Helena (CL-50) fired first proximity fused projectile in combat and shot down Japanese divebomber in southwest Pacific.
1943 – General Clark’s Fifth Army becomes operational in Tunisia.
1943 – On Guadalcanal the Japanese begin their planned withdrawal. US forces fail to take note of the evacuation. Japanese resistance on Mount Austen is maintained despite growing American pressure.
1944 – Elements of the US 32nd Division at Saidor encounter Japanese forces while patrolling westward from their positions. Australian forces advancing westward along the north coast of the Huon Peninsula capture Kelanoa.
1945 – Admiral Smith leads a force of cruisers and destroyers to shell Iwo Jima, Haha Jima and Chichi Jima. There is a simultaneous attack by USAAF B-29 Superfortress bombers.
1945 – Admiral McCrea leads three cruisers and nine destroyers to bombard Suribachi Wan in the Kuriles.
1945 – The Soviet government gives formal recognition to the Polish Lublin Committee as the Provisional Government of Poland. The USA and Britain declare their continued recognition of the Polish government in exile, based in London. On the eve of a major offensive into Poland, the Soviet Union decides to recognize the pro-Soviet Lublin Committee as the Provisional Government of Poland instead of the government-in-exile that was temporarily being headquartered in London. On September 1, 1939, a massive German army invaded Poland. Sixteen days later, the USSR invaded Poland from the east. During this tumultuous period, Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski became leader of a Polish government-in-exile in London. He developed a good working relationship with the Allies until April 1943, when Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin broke off Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations after Sikorski requested that the Red Cross investigate the alleged Soviet slaughter of Polish officers in the Katyn forest of eastern Poland in 1942. As the war progressed and the Soviets battled the Germans in western Poland, the Polish government-in-exile began to fear that Soviet domination might follow if the Soviets defeated Germany for control of the Polish territory. Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, Sikorski’s successor as the provisional government head, pleaded with the Allies to secure Poland’s postwar borders and sovereignty, but no such assurances were granted. In August 1944, the Polish Home Army, fearful that the Soviets would march on Warsaw to battle the Germans and never leave the capital, led an uprising against the German occupiers. They hoped that if they could defeat the Germans, the Allies would help install the anti-Communist government-in-exile after the war. Unfortunately, the Soviets, rather than aiding the uprising that they encouraged in the name of beating back their common enemy, stood idly by and watched as the Germans slaughtered the Poles and sent survivors to concentration camps. With native Polish resistance eradicated, and in anticipation of one last offensive against the Germans, the Soviet Union created its own pro-communist Polish provisional government to counter the anti-communist government-in-exile. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Allies agreed that an interim government would be formed from both the pro- and anti-communist sides, with free elections to follow. The Soviets had other plans, though, and promptly turned the exhausted and battered Poland into a nondemocratic satellite country, which it remained until 1989.
1945 – In the Ardennes, the US 3rd Army reports reduced activity on its line while US 1st Army continues its attacks. There are German attacks just north of Strasbourg. Eisenhower’s decision to divide command responsibility for the Allied defenses around the bulge between Montgomery in the north and Bradley in the south is made public.
1951 – Fifty-nine B-29s dropped 672 tons of incendiary bombs on Pyongyang. The 18 FBG staged its final missions from Suwon. U.S. ground troops burned the buildings at Suwon’s airfield before withdrawing.
1953 – Twelve B-29s of the 307th BW bombed the Huichon supply areas and railroad bridge.
1957 – In response to the increasingly tense situation in the Middle East, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers a proposal to Congress that calls for a new and more proactive U.S. policy in the region. The “Eisenhower Doctrine,” as the proposal soon came to be known, established the Middle East as a Cold War battlefield. The United States believed that the situation in the Middle East degenerated badly during 1956, and Egypt leader Gamal Nasser was deemed largely responsible. The U.S. used Nasser’s anti-western nationalism and his increasingly close relations with the Soviet Union as justification for withdrawing U.S. support for the construction of the Aswan Dam on the Nile River in July 1956. Less than a month later, Nasser seized control of the Suez Canal. This action prompted, in late October, a coordinated attack by French, British, and Israeli military on Egypt. Suddenly, it appeared that the Middle East might be the site of World War III. In response to these disturbing developments, President Eisenhower called for “joint action by the Congress and the Executive” in meeting the “increased danger from International Communism” in the Middle East. Specifically, he asked for authorization to begin new programs of economic and military cooperation with friendly nations in the region. He also requested authorization to use U.S. troops “to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations.” Eisenhower did not ask for a specific appropriation of funds at the time; nevertheless, he indicated that he would seek $200 million for economic and military aid in each of the years 1958 and 1959. Only such action, he warned, would dissuade “power-hungry Communists” from interfering in the Middle East. While some newspapers and critics were uneasy with the open-ended policy for U.S. action in the Middle East (the Chicago Tribune called the doctrine “goofy”), the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate responded with overwhelming votes in favor of Eisenhower’s proposal. The “Eisenhower Doctrine” received its first call to action in the summer of 1958, when civil strife in Lebanon led that nation’s president to request U.S. assistance. Nearly 15,000 U.S. troops were sent to help quell the disturbances. With the Eisenhower Doctrine and the first action taken in its name, the United States demonstrated its interest in Middle East developments.
1967 – 1st Battalion, 9th U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese Marine Brigade Force Bravo conduct amphibious operations in the Kien Hoa Province in the Mekong Delta, located 62 miles south of Saigon. This action, part of Operation Deckhouse V, marked the first time that U.S. combat troops were used in the Mekong Delta. The target area, called the Thanh Phu Secret Zone by the Viet Cong guerrillas, was believed to contain communist ammunition dumps, ordinance and engineering workshops, hospitals, and indoctrination centers. During the course of the operation, which lasted until January 15, seven U.S. Marines and 21 Viet Cong were killed.
1968 – U.S. forces in Vietnam launch Operation Niagara I to locate enemy units around the Marine base at Khe Sanh.
1968 – First Male Nurse Corps officer in Regular Navy, LT Clarence W. Cote.
1969 – President-elect Richard Nixon names Henry Cabot Lodge to succeed W. Averell Harriman as chief U.S. negotiator at the Paris peace talks. Lawrence Edward Walsh, a New York lawyer and former deputy attorney general, was named deputy chief negotiator to replace Cyrus R. Vance. Marshall Green, an Asian affairs expert and ambassador to Indonesia, was assigned to assist the negotiating team. The peace talks started on May 10, 1968, but had been plagued from the beginning by procedural questions that inhibited any meaningful negotiations or progress. Unfortunately, the change in personnel had no effect in fostering more meaningful negotiations.
1972 – United States President Richard Nixon orders the development of a Space Shuttle program.
1979 – Vietnamese troops occupy Phnom Penh and the Cambodian ruler Pol Pot is ousted from power.
1989 – Lawrence E. Walsh, the special prosecutor in the Iran-Contra case, asked for a dismissal of two charges against Oliver North, citing the Reagan administration’s refusal to release material sought by North.
1991 – President Bush met at Camp David, Maryland, with UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to discuss the Persian Gulf crisis. The same day, a pretaped radio address by Bush was broadcast in which the president warned Iraq: “Time is running out.”
1994 – The Clinton administration said North Korea had agreed to allow renewed international inspections of seven nuclear sites.
1999 – Four U.S. Air Force and Navy jets fired at Iraqi MiGs testing the “no-fly” zone over southern Iraq in the first such confrontation in more than six years. 6 missiles fired by 2 US F-15s missed the 4 MiG 25s of Iraq.
2002 – Singapore reported that authorities had arrested 15 suspected militants between Dec 9-24, some of whom were al Qaeda trained in Afghanistan.
2005 – Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, a Marine charged with desertion in Iraq after mysteriously disappearing from his post was again declared a deserter, this time for failing to report to his U.S. base.
2005 – The head of the IAEA said Iran has agreed to give U.N. inspectors access to a huge military site that the United States alleges is linked to a secret nuclear weapons program.
2005 – Iraq’s intelligence chief said as many as 30,000 well-trained terrorists are actively operating throughout Iraq at the behest of former regime leaders based in Syria.
2007 – United States President George W. Bush will nominate Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to replace Alejandro Daniel Wolff as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. If Khalilzad is confirmed by the Senate, he will be the first Muslim to serve in the position, and he will continue to be the highest serving Muslim American official in the U.S. government.
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