Mar 16 2011

On This Day in History March 16

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 16 is the 75th day of the year (76th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 290 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1802, The United States Military Academy, the first military school in the United States, is founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science.

Colonial period, founding, and early years

The Continental Army first occupied West Point, New York, on 27 January 1778, making it the longest continually occupied post in the United States of America. Between 1778 and 1780, Polish engineer and military hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko oversaw the construction of the garrison defenses. The Great Hudson River Chain and high ground above the narrow “S” curve in the river enabled the Continental Army to prevent British Royal Navy ships from sailing upriver and dividing the Colonies. As commander of the fortifications at West Point, however, Benedict Arnold committed his infamous act of treason, attempting to sell the fort to the British. After Arnold betrayed the patriot cause, the Army changed the name of the fortifications at West Point, New York, to Fort Clinton. With the peace after the American Revolutionary War left various ordnance and military stores deposited at West Point.

“Cadets” underwent training in artillery and engineering studies at the garrison since 1794. Congress formally authorized the establishment and funding of the United States Military Academy on 16 March 1802,. The academy graduated Joseph Gardner Swift, its first official graduate, in October 1802; he later returned as Superintendent from 1812 to 1814. In its tumultuous early years, the academy featured few standards for admission or length of study. Cadets ranged in age from 10 years to 37 years and attended between 6 months to 6 years. The impending War of 1812 caused the United States Congress to authorize a more formal system of education at the academy and increased the size of the Corps of Cadets to 250.

In 1817, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer became the Superintendent and established the curriculum still in use to this day. Thayer instilled strict disciplinary standards, set a standard course of academic study, and emphasized honorable conduct. Known as the “Father of the Military Academy”, he is honored with a monument on campus for the profound impact he left upon the academy’s history. Founded to be a school of engineering, for the first half of the 19th century, USMA produced graduates who gained recognition for engineering the bulk of the nation’s initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads. The academy was the only engineering school in the country until the founding of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1824. It was so successful in its engineering curriculum that it significantly influenced every American engineering school founded prior to the Civil War.

The Mexican-American War brought the academy to prominence as graduates proved themselves in battle for the first time. Future Civil War commanders Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee first distinguished themselves in battle in Mexico. In all, 452 of 523 graduates who served in the war received battlefield promotions or awards for bravery. The school experienced a rapid modernization during the 1850s, often romanticized by the graduates who led both sides of the Civil War as the “end of the Old West Point era”. New barracks brought better heat and gas lighting, while new ordnance and tactics training incorporated new rifle and musket technology and accommodated transportation advances created by the steam engine. With the outbreak of the Civil War, West Point graduates filled the general officer ranks of the rapidly expanding Union and Confederate armies. Two hundred ninety-four graduates served as general officers for the Union, and one hundred fifty-one served as general officers for the Confederacy. Of all living graduates at the time of the war, 105 (10%) were killed, and another 151 (15%) were wounded. Nearly every general officer of note from either army during the Civil War was a graduate of West Point and a West Point graduate commanded the forces of one or both sides in every one of the 60 major battles of the war.

 597 BC – Babylonians capture Jerusalem, replace Jehoiachin with Zedekiah as king.

37 – Caligula becomes Roman Emperor after the death of his great uncle, Tiberius.

1190 – Massacre of Jews at Clifford’s Tower, York.

1322 – The Battle of Boroughbridge takes place in the Despenser Wars.

1521 – Ferdinand Magellan reaches the Philippines.

1621 – Samoset, a Mohegan, visits the settlers of Plymouth Colony and greets them, “Welcome, Englishmen! My name is Samoset.”

1660 – The Long Parliament disbands.

1689 – The 23rd Regiment of Foot or Royal Welch Fusiliers is founded.

1792 – King Gustav III of Sweden is shot; he dies on March 29.

1802 – The Army Corps of Engineers is established to found and operate the United States Military Academy at West Point.

1812 – Battle of Badajoz (March 16 – April 6) – British and Portuguese forces besiege and defeat French garrison during Peninsular War.

1815 – Prince Willem of the House of Orange-Nassau proclaims himself King of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, the first constitutional monarch in the Netherlands.

1818 – Second Battle of Cancha Rayada – Spanish forces defeat Chileans under José de San Martín.

1861 – Edward Clark becomes Governor of Texas, replacing Sam Houston, who was evicted from the office for refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy.

1865 – American Civil War: The Battle of Averasborough begins as Confederate forces suffer irreplaceable casualties in the final months of the war.

1900 – Sir Arthur Evans purchases the land around the ruins of Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete.

1912 – Lawrence Oates, an ill member of Scott’s South Pole expedition leaves the tent saying, “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

1916 – The 7th and 10th US cavalry regiments under John J. Pershing cross the US-Mexico border to join the hunt for Pancho Villa.

1924 – In accordance with the Treaty of Rome, Fiume becomes annexed as part of Italy.

1926 – History of Rocketry: Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fueled rocket, at Auburn, Massachusetts.

1935 – Adolf Hitler orders Germany to rearm herself in violation of the Versailles Treaty. Conscription is reintroduced to form the Wehrmacht.

1939 – From Prague Castle, Hitler proclaims Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate.

1939 – Marriage of Princess Fawzia of Egypt to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran.

1942 – The first V-2 rocket test launch. It explodes at lift-off.

1945 – World War II: The Battle of Iwo Jima ends but small pockets of Japanese resistance persist.

1945 – Ninety percent of Würzburg, Germany is destroyed in only 20 minutes by British bombers. 5,000 are killed.

1950 – Communist Czechoslovakia’s ministry of foreign affairs asks nuncios of Vatican to leave the country.

1952 – In Cilaos, Rèunion, 1,870 millimetres (74 in) of rain falls in one day, setting a new world record.

1958 – The Ford Motor Company produces its 50 millionth automobile, the Thunderbird, averaging almost a million cars a year since the company’s founding.

1962 – A Flying Tiger Line Super Constellation disappears in the western Pacific Ocean, with 107 missing.

1963 – Mount Agung erupts on Bali killing 11,000.

1966 – Launch of Gemini 8, the 12th manned American space flight and first space docking with the Agena Target Vehicle.

1968 – Vietnam War: In the My Lai massacre, between 350 and 500 Vietnamese villagers (men, women, and children) are killed by American troops.

1968 – General Motors produces its 100 millionth automobile, the Oldsmobile Toronado.

1976 – British Prime Minister Harold Wilson resigns, citing personal reasons.

1977 – Assassination of Kamal Jumblatt the main leader of the anti-government forces in the Lebanese Civil War.

1978 – Former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro is kidnapped and is later killed by his captors.

1978 – Supertanker Amoco Cadiz splits in two after running aground on the Portsall Rocks, three miles off the coast of Brittany, resulting in the 5th-largest oil spill in history.

1983 – Demolition of the radio tower Ismaning, the last wooden radio tower in Germany.

1984 – William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, Lebanon, is kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists and later dies in captivity.

1985 – Associated Press newsman Terry Anderson is taken hostage in Beirut. He is released on December 4, 1991.

1988 – Iran-Contra Affair: Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and Vice Admiral John Poindexter are indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

1988 – Halabja poison gas attack: The Kurdish town of Halabjah in Iraq is attacked with a mix of poison gas and nerve agents, killing 5000 people and injuring about 10000 people.

1995 – Mississippi formally ratifies the Thirteenth Amendment, becoming the last state to approve the abolition of slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment was officially ratified in 1865.

1998 – Pope John Paul II asks God for forgiveness for the inactivity and silence of some Roman Catholics during the Holocaust.

Holidays and observances

   * Christian Feast Day:

         o Abbàn

         o Heribert of Cologne

   * Latvian Legion Day (Latvia)

   * Saint Urho’s Day (Finnish community in U.S. and Canada)

   * The first day of the Bacchanalia (Roman Empire)