What happened this month in history?

July 1st 1863

The Battle of Gettysburg begins with a Confederate invasion of the North.

 It is often said that the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War began almost by accident when a limping Confederate division set out in search of shoes. It encountered two brigades of Union cavalry and over three days, from the 1st July to 3rd July, 1863, the two sides fought. Its outcome, a critical defeat to the Confederates, which turned the war’s tide in the Union’s favour.

An invasion of the north, was planned by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, in the hopes of gaining an important victory and discouraging the Union from continuing the war. Lee possibly hoped his push north might perhaps also induce European nations to recognize the Confederacy. With this in mind, the Confederacy made a positive start on the first day. They had outnumbered the Union causing then to retreat through the town of Gettysburg. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, the Confederacy eased up on their attack, allowing the Union time to dig in and set up their defenses in the southeast of the town.

On the second day, fighting had intensified with huge numbers of men involved on both sides. Despite the Confederacy applying immense pressure, Union defensive lines withstood the onslaught of attacks. Most notable was the brave downhill bayonet charge of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his men at Little Round Top, which forced the Confederates to scatter and retreat.

By the third day, General Lee was convinced that his men had worn down the Union troops (despite the stalemate of the 2nd day) enough to launch an all out massive assault. After an initial barrage of cannon fire upon Union positions on Cemetery Ridge, the single most acclaimed attack of the war took place known as “Pickett’s Charge”.

In the chaos that played out on Cemetery Ridge, around 12,500 Confederates charged Union positions. General Lewis A. Armistead who helped lead the charge, actually succeeded in raising the Confederate colours, with a small number of men, above Cemetery Ridge, before being overwhelmed, shot and captured. Armistead would die a few days later in a Union field hospital and in all over half of the 12,500 Confederates were injured or killed during Pickett’s Charge.

Forced to retreat from the battlefield around Cemetery Ridge from sheer exhaustion and loss of life, the Confederacy agreed to observe a truce, once they realized the Union wasn’t going to counter attack.

In the aftermath of the third day at Gettysburg, the combined total of casualties (roughly equal on each side) stood at over fifty thousand. Lee’s invasion of the North had also been derailed and the Confederacy would never again regain the initiative. However, it would be another two years before the Confederacy would be reeled back into the Union by signing the articles of surrender.

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 July 5th 1996

Dolly “the world’s most famous sheep” is born.

Dolly the sheep was born on this day at the Scottish Roslin institute, near Edinburgh. Her birth was not made public until the following year in February 22, 1997. What is fascinating about “Dolly’s” birth is that she was created from a mammary cell of a six year-old sheep and an unfertilized egg of another sheep and then implanted into a surrogate ewe.

For ten years, lead researchers, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell worked on perfecting the cloning process. Many scientists believed it was not possible to clone an animal from anything other than embryonic material. Dolly’s birth proved everybody wrong, and she became an instant celebrity. Interestingly, issues arose around her successful birth, when religious leaders, ethicists and politicians worldwide began debating the case for and against human cloning. Time magazine ran a special report in 1997 on cloning with the interesting slogan of “Will there ever be another you?” giving its readership more food for thought on the subject. Still even today, human cloning remains a very volatile issue.

Since Dolly’s birth, cloning has been successfully carried out with mice, pigs, horses and other animals. It has even injected enthusiasm into preserving endangered species and bringing back extinct species, such as woolly mammoths.

Dolly, who had ignited so much interest and debate into cloning was euthanized in 2003, after doctors discovered she had progressive lung cancer.


July 10th 138 CE

Death of Roman Emperor Hadrian

Relatively early in the complex state that was the Roman Empire, a man named Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus), became the fourteenth Emperor of Rome. He inherited a healthy empire from his predecessor Trajan, and built on Rome’s success as a capable administrator in his own right, in all aspects of order and good governance. To achieve this, one of the first things he did was abandon Trajan’s conquests of Mesopotamia and Assyria, which he considered far too expensive to maintain. With one eye on the treasury, and the other on overseeing the maintenance of the vast state, he is remembered as the first emperor to extensively travel the empire. But his building projects are arguably his greatest enduring legacy. Apart from his affection for the Greece east of the empire, where he dedicated many sites, to his tragic young lover Antinous, Hadrian is best for building his long continuous defensive land wall in the north of Britain, simply known as Hadrian’s Wall. However, possibly his greatest achievement was the temple of all the Gods, better known as the Pantheon.

For some twenty years, Hadrian successfully ruled the empire in a state of relative peace, but by 10th July 138 CE, one of the best of emperors to rule Rome, died of natural causes in Baiae, Italy. To his credit, he left the empire in the safe hands of Antoninus Pius, who continued Hadrian’s peaceful foreign policy.


July 15th 1606

Birth of Rembrandt van Rijn

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in 1606 in The Dutch Golden Age (1585-1702) where the Dutch Republic was the most prosperous nation in Europe. It led the way in trade, science and the arts. Rembrandt was this periods most dominant figure.

Early on, Rembrandt decided that academic life wasn’t for him and he left university to become a painter’s apprentice. This was only a stepping stone for him as he had greater ambitions of becoming an artist himself. In 1631, he moved to Amsterdam where his career took off. Interestingly, his paintings would offer art lovers today an insight into the Amsterdam of his day. He painted portraits for wealthy families and organisations, as well as scenes from history, mythology and the bible. Many of these paintings or portraits were known as ‘impasto’, owing to the fact that they were created on thick, lumpy paint. His technique also made dramatic use of light and shade. (The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq, better known as ‘The Night Watch’ was one of his finest examples of effective use of light and shade. It is also famous for showing Cocq’s company of civil guard about to march into action, rather than in a formal posed state.)

While his career flourished, his private life was clouded by tragedy. He would lose his wife, his son and later in life his lover. Bankruptcy would almost also cripple him, but despite his troubles his later years would be a prolific period artistically. His life work included hundreds of paintings and prints, and interestingly some 90 self portraits, leaving us a record of how he looked throughout his illustrious life, until his death in 1669.


July 20th 1960

Jerry Lewis’ madcap The Bellboy is released. 

The most incredible thing about The Bellboy is that it was hurriedly put together for release in the summer of 1960. Lewis wrote a 160+ page screenplay in eight days, directed and filmed it in twenty days and edited it amazingly in less than four weeks! Paramount studio originally wanted Jerry Lewis to release his recently finished Cinderfella, as the summer of 1960’s comedy hit, but Lewis argued that it would be better received as a Christmas holiday film. So Lewis came up with a madcap idea about Stanley, a non-speaking, bumbling idiot, bellhop. Set in the expensively stylish Fontainbleu Hotel in Florida’s Miami Beach, the camera follows Stanley around during his day-to-day duties. Essentially it is a plotless film, one that works well with a compilation of staged gags. (In many ways the film pays homage to Stan Laurel, a hero of Jerry Lewis.) The best gags are unexpected, especially the scene where Lewis takes a photograph with his camera at night. As the huge camera’s light globe flashes, the night sky turns into day.


July 26th 811 CE

The battle of Varbitza Pass and the death of Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros.

There have been many Byzantine Emperors who had died in battle – Emperors Julian, Valens and famously Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last emperor who couldn’t hold back the might of the Ottomans in 1453. But not many are familiar with the story relating to the death of Emperor Nikephoros and the desecration of his dead body by the Khan of Bulgaria, Krum.

Emperor Nikephoros came to power in 802, with the aim of restoring the Byzantine Empire to its former glory. He deposed Irene and immediately worked to resolve the empire’s running battle surrounding the recognition of Charlemagne as Western emperor. He tacitly acknowledged Charlemagne as Western emperor, probably only so that he could concentrate on the dire state of the empire’s treasury, and the growing concern of the expansion of Bulgarian territories, that had encroached upon on Byzantine sovereignty, north of Constantinople. This was no more evident than by the Khan of Bulgaria’s brazen attack that sacked the city of Sardica and massacred the garrison stationed there in 808.

Spurred on by his angry subjects in Constantinople, Nikephoros sacked and destroyed Krum’s capital of Pliska (which was practically undefended) in retaliation and even had time to pause and rebuild Sardica without further exerting himself. However, with Krum having successfully steered clear of the Byzantines, this made Nikephoros more determined to crush him, launching an all out new assault in 811, with an enormous army.

Marching into Bulgar territory, the Byzantine army advanced into Pliska and destroyed the city again. Know one knows why, but if we are to believe the historian Theophanes, Nikephoros lost his composure and ordered everyone in the city to be be slain without mercy.

Gaining the upper hand, Krum sued for peace, but the emperor would not listen. Krum was forced to retreat and grabbed every man at his disposal, setting up a trap in the high mountains, which the Emperor would inevitably have to pass through to get home.

On July 25th, without making any attempt at reconnaissance, the Byzantines fell into the Bulgars trap. Krum’s soldiers had built a wooden wall across the pass at each end. Escape was impossible and to make matters even more stressful, the Byzantines were felt to ponder their fate for an entire day, as Krum reinforced his fortifications.

It was in the early morning of the 26th, that the Bulgars finally struck. Nikephoros apparently cried out, “Even if we were birds, we could not hope to escape”. The slaughter continued throughout the day and into the night, as soldiers tried in vain to escape by climbing over the wall. Many unfortunately fell to their death into the huge ditch on the other side filled with burning logs.

The Battle of Varbitsa Pass (also often referred to as Battle of Pliska) was one of the worst defeats in Byzantine history with casualties and losses of almost the entire army including its emperor. Krum turned out to be no more merciful in victory than the emperor. He ordered that the dead body of the emperor be brought before him, where he next beheaded the emperor and stuck the head on a spike. Once the flesh had rotted off, he had it fashioned into a drinking goblet lined with silver. Legend has it that Krum apparently drank from it until the day he died.

This series aims to take a look at many of the important events or memorable moments that shape our history month after month. It will be on occasions updated to include additional material, giving you the reader a rough guide to what happened this month in history! *This particular article was originally published on July 1st 2016. 

Photo Credits: All images are in the public domain except the image of ‘Dolly’ the sheep which is used and licensed under Getty Images embedding service. The movie still image of the film The Bellboy (1960) is courtesy of Paramount Pictures. I make use of the images under the rational of fair use to highlight an example of Jerry Lewis’ work. It also enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone.