Today is Thursday, Dec. 13, the 348th day of 2012. There are 18 days left in the year.
On Dec. 13, 1862, Union forces led by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside launched futile attacks against entrenched Confederate soldiers during the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg; the soundly defeated Northern troops withdrew two days later. (It was during this battle that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is said to have remarked: “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”)
On this date:
In 1642, Dutch navigator Abel Tasman sighted present-day New Zealand.
In 1769, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire received its charter.
In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson arrived in France, becoming the first chief executive to visit Europe while in office.
In 1928, George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” had its premiere at Carnegie Hall in New York.
In 1937, the Chinese city of Nanjing fell to Japanese forces; what followed was a massacre of war prisoners, soldiers and citizens. (China maintains as many as 300,000 people died; Japan says the toll was far less.)
In 1944, during World War II, the U.S. cruiser Nashville was badly damaged in a Japanese kamikaze attack that claimed more than 130 lives.
In 1962, the United States launched Relay 1, a communications satellite which retransmitted television, telephone and digital signals.
In 1978, the Philadelphia Mint began stamping the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which went into circulation in July 1979.
In 1981, authorities in Poland imposed martial law in a crackdown on the Solidarity labor movement. (Martial law formally ended in 1983.)
In 1994, an American Eagle commuter plane crashed short of Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, killing 15 of the 20 people on board.
In 2000, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore conceded to Republican George W. Bush, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court shut down further recounts in Florida.
In 2003, Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces while hiding in a hole under a farmhouse in Adwar, Iraq, near his hometown of Tikrit.
Ten years ago: Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as Boston archbishop because of the priest sex abuse scandal. President George W. Bush announced he would take the smallpox vaccine along with U.S. military forces, but was not recommending the potentially risky inoculation for most Americans. The U.N. Security Council condemned “acts of terror” against Israel in Kenya and deplored the claims of responsibility by the al-Qaida terror network. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stepped down as chairman of a panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, citing controversy over potential conflicts of interest with his private-sector clients.
Five years ago: Democratic presidential hopefuls meeting in Johnston, Iowa, called for higher taxes on the highest-paid Americans and on big corporations in an unusually cordial debate. Shareholders of Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, approved a takeover by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Major League Baseball’s Mitchell Report was released, identifying 85 names to differing degrees in connection with the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.
One year ago: Early sound recordings by Alexander Graham Bell that were packed away at the Smithsonian Institution for more than a century were played publicly for the first time using new technology that read the sound with light and a 3D camera. (In one recording, a man recites part of Hamlet’s Soliloquy; on another, a voice recites the numbers 1 through 6.) In the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky waived a preliminary hearing on the charges, which he denied. (Sandusky was later convicted of abusing several boys, some on campus.) In Liege, Belgium, six people were killed when a 33-year-old man threw grenades and fired on a crowd of people in the city’s main square before committing suicide.
Today’s birthdays: Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz is 92. Actor-comedian Dick Van Dyke is 87. Actor Christopher Plummer is 83. Country singer Buck White is 82. Music/film producer Lou Adler is 79. Singer John Davidson is 71. Actress Kathy Garver (“Family Affair”) is 67. Singer Ted Nugent is 64. Rock musician Jeff “Skunk” Baxter is 64. Country musician Ron Getman is 64. Actor Robert Lindsay is 63. Country singer-musician Randy Owen is 63. Actress Wendie Malick is 62. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is 62. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is 59. Country singer John Anderson is 58. Singer-songwriter Steve Forbert is 58. Singer-actor Morris Day is 56. Actor Steve Buscemi is 55. Actor Johnny Whitaker is 53. Rock musician John Munson (Semisonic; Twilight Hours) is 50. Actress-reality TV star NeNe Leakes is 46. Actor-comedian Jamie Foxx is 45. Actor Bart Johnson is 42. TV personality Debbie Matenopoulos is 38. Rock singer-musician Thomas Delonge is 37. Actor James Kyson Lee is 37. Actress Chelsea Hertford is 31. Rock singer Amy Lee (Evanescence) is 31. Country singer Taylor Swift is 23.
Thought for today: “My theory is to enjoy life, but the practice is against it.” — Charles Lamb, English essayist (1775-1834).