06 December 2007

This day in history: 6 Dec

1790: The US Congress began its first session in the new temporary capital, Philadelphia. Senators Philemon Dickinson (NJ) and James Monroe (VA), and Representative William B Giles (VA), who had been elected to replace members who had died, took their seats this day.

1864: The single-turret monitor USS Neosho led a small convoy down the Cumberland River from Nashville and engaged Confederate batteries near Bell's Mill, Tennessee. During this fierce action, Quartermaster John Ditzenback and Pilot John H Ferrell, seeing Neosho's ensign shot away by the concentrated Southern fire, left the pilothouse and, despite intense fire raking the ship's decks, took the flag, which was drooping over the wheelhouse, and made it fast to the stump of the highest mast remaining. Ditzenback and Ferrell were awarded the Medal of Honor.

1865: Georgia ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, thus completing the ratification process.

1884: The Washington Monument, in Washington DC, was completed.

1916: David Lloyd George became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

1917: The French munitions ship SS Mont-Blanc exploded after colliding with the Norwegian freighter SS Imo in the harbour at Halifax, Nova Scotia. More than 1900 people were killed, and part of the city of Halifax was destroyed.

That same day, Temporary Second Lieutenant James S Emerson, 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, led his company in an attack on the Hindenburg Line, taking some 400 yards of German trench. When the enemy counterattacked, Emerson, with eight men, left the trench and met the enemy in the open. During the next three hours, although wounded, he refused to be evacuated since he was the only remaining officer in his company. He eventually fell mortally wounded, whilst repelling yet another attack, but his men were inspired to hold out until reinforcements were able to relieve them. Emerson was awarded the Victoria Cross.

1941: Submarine HMS Perseus (Lieut Cdr Edward C F Nicolay DSO) hit an Italian mine off Cephalonia and sank, coming to rest on the bottom at a depth of 170 feet. Four men, trapped in an aft compartment, attempted to escape using the 'Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus, but only Leading Stoker John Capes made it to the surface. Despite exhaustion, he managed to swim to Cephalonia, where he was found and sheltered by the residents. After eighteen months, they succeeded in smuggling him to safety in neutral Turkey.

1947: Everglades National Park, in Florida, was dedicated.

1957: Vanguard TV3 exploded on the launch pad, putting an end to the first US attempt to launch a satellite into orbit around the Earth.

1973: The US House of Representatives voted 387 to 35 to confirm Gerald Ford as Vice President of the United States, making him the first person to hold that office who had not been elected to it. (The Senate had confirmed him, 92 to 3, on 27 November.)

Anthony Trollope (1815–1882), Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924), Janet Munro (1934–1972), Roy Orbison (1936–1988), Don Ameche (1908–1993) and Werner Klemperer (1920–2000) died on this date.

And happy birthday to George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, KG (1608–1670), John Singleton Mosby (1833-1916), August von Mackensen (1849–1945), Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898–1995), Agnes Moorehead (1900–1974), "Baby Face" Nelson (1908-1934), Eliane Plewman (1917-1944), John Brunt VC MC (1922-1944) and Wally Cox (1924–1973).

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