April 12 – On this Day in History

This article explores a collection of significant historical events that occurred on April 12th, presented in chronological order.

From pivotal moments in ancient and modern wars to breakthroughs in space exploration and significant cultural milestones, each event reflects a unique aspect of global history.

Whether it’s the geopolitical shifts following the annexation of territories, the technological advancements marking the space age, or the complex socio-political ramifications of military errors, these events collectively paint a vivid picture of human progress and the recurring themes of conflict and innovation.

April 12th Events in History

238 – The Year of the Six Emperors

This tumultuous year saw the Roman Empire ruled by a rapid succession of emperors, starting with Emperor Maximinus Thrax, who was considered a tyrant. His harsh policies and heavy taxation led to widespread dissatisfaction.

In response to a revolt led by the landowning class in Africa, the Senate declared him an enemy of the state and chose two of its own members, Pupienus and Balbinus, to rule jointly.

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This event is a striking example of the political instability that plagued the Roman Empire during this period, contributing to the Crisis of the Third Century.

Fourth Crusade sacks Constantinople

1204 – The Fourth Crusade sacks Constantinople, marking a significant event that contributed to the weakening of the Byzantine Empire

Initially intended to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem through an invasion of Egypt, the Fourth Crusade was diverted to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

On April 12, 1204, the Crusaders breached the walls and looted, terrorized, and vandalized Constantinople, marking a significant point of no return in Byzantine-Western relations.

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This event significantly weakened the Byzantine Empire, paving the way for its eventual fall in 1453, and is often cited as a major cause of the schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

1606 – The Union Flag is adopted as the flag of English and Scottish ships

The Union Flag, also commonly known as the Union Jack, was adopted on this day following the union of the crowns of England and Scotland under James VI of Scotland (James I of England) in 1603.

The original design combined the red cross of Saint George (England) with the white saltire of Saint Andrew (Scotland). This flag symbolized the unity between the two countries, laying the groundwork for the future United Kingdom.

1633 – The trial of Galileo Galilei begins before the Inquisition in Rome for his support of heliocentrism

Galileo’s trial by the Roman Inquisition is one of the most famous episodes in the history of science. The trial began on April 12, 1633, due to Galileo’s advocacy of the heliocentric theory, which posited that the Earth revolves around the Sun, contrary to the geocentric view supported by the Catholic Church.

Galileo was eventually found “vehemently suspect of heresy” and forced to recant his views, spending the rest of his life under house arrest. This event underscores the conflict between emerging scientific evidence and established religious doctrines during the Scientific Revolution.

Galileo Galilei

1861 – The American Civil War begins as Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina

The first shots of the American Civil War were fired when Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. The fort was a symbolic target, being one of the few remaining federal outposts in the South after the secession of the Confederate states.

The attack followed months of rising tensions over issues of slavery and states’ rights, and the bombardment marked the official start of the conflict. The war would go on to become the deadliest in American history and fundamentally reshape the nation.

1864 – The Fort Pillow Massacre: Confederate forces kill most of the African American soldiers who surrendered at Fort Pillow, Tennessee

During the American Civil War, one of the most infamous and brutal acts occurred at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, where Confederate forces, led by General Nathan Bedford Forrest, attacked the fort on April 12, 1864.

The fort was defended by a mixed garrison of around 600 Union troops, including both black and white soldiers. After overpowering the fort, Confederate soldiers committed atrocities against the surrendering troops, particularly the African American soldiers, many of whom were massacred after they had surrendered.

This event caused widespread outrage in the North and was used as a rallying point for Union forces, intensifying the resolve of the North to see the war through to its conclusion.

1877 – The United Kingdom annexes the Transvaal

he Transvaal, a region in what is now South Africa, was annexed by the United Kingdom on April 12, 1877. This was during a period when the British were expanding their control over Southern Africa.

The annexation was justified by the British government as a means to ensure stability in the region and to manage the escalating conflicts between the Boers (Afrikaans-speaking farmers) and indigenous populations.

However, it sparked significant resistance from the Boer community, eventually leading to the First Boer War in 1880-1881. The conflict and subsequent wars reflected the intense colonial competition and racial tensions in Southern Africa during this period.

1917 – World War I: Canadian forces successfully execute a massive assault on Vimy Ridge, overcoming German defenses

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of the larger Battle of Arras during World War I, was a significant engagement for Canadian forces. On April 12, 1917, the Canadian Corps successfully captured Vimy Ridge after four days of intense fighting against the German Sixth Army.

The battle is notable for its use of creeping barrage tactics and meticulous planning, which allowed the Canadians to achieve a breakthrough where previous Allied attempts had failed. This victory was a defining moment for Canada, fostering a sense of national pride and identity.

1927 – The Shanghai Massacre: Nationalist troops kill a large number of Communists in Shanghai, which begins the Chinese Civil War

On April 12, 1927, during the Chinese Civil War, the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), led by Chiang Kai-shek, launched a violent purge against the Communists in Shanghai, killing thousands of Communist Party members and labor activists in a single day.

This event, also known as the April 12 Incident, effectively ended the First United Front, an alliance between the Nationalists and the Communists, and led to the further militarization of the Chinese Civil War.

The massacre solidified Chiang Kai-shek’s control over the Kuomintang and intensified the animosity between the two major political forces in China.

The Shanghai Massacre

1934 – The strongest surface wind gust in the world at 231 mph, is measured on the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire

On April 12, 1934, the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire recorded a surface wind gust of 231 mph, the highest wind speed ever observed by man at the Earth’s surface.

This record-setting gust occurred during a severe storm and stands as a testament to the extreme weather conditions that can occur in mountainous regions.

The observatory, located at the summit of the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, has since become a center for weather research and education, highlighting the importance of studying atmospheric phenomena.

1945 – U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies while in office; Vice President Harry S. Truman becomes President upon Roosevelt’s death

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945. He was in his fourth term, making him the only U.S. president to serve more than two terms. Roosevelt’s death came at a critical time during World War II, just weeks before the surrender of Germany.

Vice President Harry S. Truman, who had been Vice President for only 82 days and had not been deeply involved in war policies or briefed on the atomic bomb, suddenly became President. Roosevelt’s death marked a significant transition in American leadership during a pivotal moment in global history.

1961 – Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to travel into space and orbit the Earth, aboard Vostok 1

Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, made history on April 12, 1961, by becoming the first human to travel into space and orbit the Earth. His spacecraft, Vostok 1, completed one orbit around the Earth, lasting about 108 minutes. Gagarin’s famous words upon launch were “Poyekhali!” (“Let’s go!”).

This historic flight marked a significant achievement in the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States, showcasing Soviet space technology and dramatically advancing human space exploration. Gagarin became an international hero and a symbol of Soviet prowess in space.

1980 – Samuel Doe takes control of Liberia in a coup d’état, ending over 130 years of democratic governance

On April 12, 1980, Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe led a military coup in Liberia, overthrowing the elected government of President William R. Tolbert Jr., who was killed in the process. This coup marked the end of over 130 years of political dominance by the Americo-Liberian elite, descendants of American freed slaves who had established the country.

Doe’s regime started with populist support but later turned authoritarian, leading to two decades of political instability, including the brutal Liberian Civil Wars. Doe’s rule was characterized by widespread corruption, human rights abuses, and economic decline.

1981 – The first Space Shuttle, Columbia, is launched on its maiden flight, STS-1

Columbia, the first space shuttle, was launched on April 12, 1981, on mission STS-1 from the Kennedy Space Center. Piloted by astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen, this was the first manned spacecraft to be used for more than one flight. The shuttle completed 36 orbits around Earth before landing at Edwards Air Force Base on April 14.

The Space Shuttle program represented a new era in space exploration by introducing reusable spacecraft, which carried out numerous missions including satellite deployments, science experiments, and construction and servicing of the International Space Station.

1990 – The Soviet Union admits to the Katyn Massacre of 1940, where over 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals were killed by the NKVD

On April 13, 1990, the Soviet Union officially acknowledged its responsibility for the Katyn Massacre of 1940, in which approximately 22,000 Polish officers, intellectuals, and prisoners of war were executed by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police.

The massacre had taken place in the Katyn Forest and other locations. For many years, the Soviets had blamed the Nazis for the atrocity, a claim that strained Polish-Soviet relations.

The admission was part of the broader glasnost policy implemented by Mikhail Gorbachev and was a significant moment in the post-World War II history of Eastern Europe, leading to a reassessment of historical narratives and Soviet wartime conduct.

1992 – The Euro Disneyland (now Disneyland Paris) opens in Marne-la-Vallée, France

Euro Disneyland, later renamed Disneyland Paris, opened its doors on April 12, 1992, in Marne-la-Vallée, France. It was the first Disney park to be built outside of the United States and marked a significant expansion of The Walt Disney Company into the European market.

The opening was not without controversy; there were cultural and operational challenges, as well as protests from French citizens who felt the park represented cultural imperialism.

Despite these issues, Disneyland Paris has grown to become one of Europe’s most visited tourist attractions, celebrating European heritage alongside classic Disney themes.

1994 – Canter & Siegel post the first commercial mass Usenet spam

Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel, two attorneys, posted what is considered the first widespread commercial spam message on the Usenet newsgroup system on April 12, 1994.

Their advertisement, which promoted their services for the U.S. Green Card lottery, was highly controversial and led to a massive backlash within the nascent online community. This event is often cited as a turning point in the online world, leading to increased awareness and eventual legislative and technological measures to combat spam.

1999 – NATO mistakenly bombs a convoy of ethnic Albanian refugees – Yugoslav officials say 75 people were killed

During the Kosovo War, on April 12, 1999, NATO aircraft mistakenly bombed a convoy of ethnic Albanian refugees near the town of Gjakova, believing it to be a Yugoslav military convoy. According to Yugoslav officials, 75 people were killed.

This tragic incident highlighted the risks of high-altitude bombing campaigns and raised significant concerns about the accuracy of NATO’s intelligence and the effectiveness of its targeting during the conflict. The incident prompted further scrutiny of NATO’s operations and its humanitarian impact during the intervention in Kosovo.

2009 – Zimbabwe officially abandons its currency, rendering the Zimbabwean dollar obsolete and legalizing foreign currency

Facing an unprecedented economic collapse and hyperinflation that had rendered its currency virtually worthless, Zimbabwe officially abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar on April 12, 2009. The government legalized the use of foreign currencies, such as the US dollar and the South African rand, for all transactions.

This move was part of broader measures to stabilize the economy and restore confidence after years of economic mismanagement and political instability. The abandonment of the national currency marked a significant moment in Zimbabwe’s ongoing economic challenges.

2013 – Two human skeletal remains are found in the backyard of a house in Leicester, England, confirming the discovery of King Richard III’s remains

The skeletal remains of King Richard III, who ruled England from 1483 to 1485, were confirmed to be found under a car park in Leicester, England, on April 12, 2013. The University of Leicester, along with other collaborators, used DNA from descendants of Richard III’s family to confirm the identity of the bones, which showed signs of battle injuries and scoliosis.

This discovery ended a long search for the monarch’s final resting place, ignited widespread public interest in Richard III, and prompted a reevaluation of his role and reputation in English history.