March 29, 1912 — Scott of the Antarctic writes the final entry in his diary

It’s really not clear when exactly Robert Falcon Scott – better known as Scott of the Antarctic – actually died. Certainly, he, Henry Bowers and Edward Wilson were all still alive, albeit in rather poor shape, when his previous diary entry was written six days earlier. It is possible that Scott survived writing this last entry for as much as a day – from the positions of the three men in the tent when their bodies were recovered, he seems to have been the last one to die.

The three were found in their tent in November that year, after the long the southern winter had abated. Scott and his men became martyred heroes to the British empire. Amundsen, whose team had beaten Scott’s to the south pole by five weeks, stated that he “…would gladly forgo any honour or money if thereby I could have saved Scott his terrible death”. Later, as Antarctic exploration slowly transformed into colonisation, Scott’s reputation suffered as historians examined the records of his journey.

June 25, 1876 — Custer is defeated and killed at Little Big Horn

General George Armstrong Custer went into battle at Little Big Horn under a number of false impressions.

He was under the impression that he would be facing no more than 800 Native Americans, rather than more than twice that number – Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse had recruited assiduously, knowing that a battle was coming. He was under the impression that his major challenge would be preventing the escape of the enemy forces, rather than defeating them. And finally, he was under the impression, based on these assumptions, that the force under the command of his subordinate Major Reno would be far more effective in battle than it proved.

But with Reno’s forces isolated and routed, Custer’s forces were outnumbered and surrendered. More than 200 men in Custer’s army, including Custer himself, were killed.

January 21, 1793 — Louis XVI of France is executed

The last king of France was not even a king at the time of his execution. He had been arrested the previous August and stripped of all his titles and styles when the monarchy was abolished a month later – his name at the time of his death, according to the newly formed French republic, was Citoyen Louis Capet. Louis faced his beheading bravely, and spoke to the onlookers, forgiving those who called for his execution.

The tragedy of it all is that Louis had been one of the greatest reformers in the history of the French monarchy, and had repeatedly instituted (or attempted to institute) policies that would help the common people of France. However, his reforms were repeatedly blocked by a nobility jealous of its privileges – especially those reforms that would have harmed them financially. The reforms they did allow through often proved economically disastrous – Louis and his advisers were poor economists. As king, the ultimate responsibility rested with Louis, and as a man, he paid the ultimate price for it.

August 3, 1492 — Christoper Columbus sets sail on his first voyage

Columbus was not the brightest of navigators. His math regarding how far away Asia was by the western route was off by more than double the actual distance. In fact, he expected to sight land even earlier than he actually did, let alone that it was the wrong land. But he sailed out of Palos de la Frontera on the evening tide, leading his tiny fleet of three ships, and quite confident in his own abilities as captain and navigator. Whatever you may think of his mathematics, you cannot deny his courage.

In the course of his first voyage, when searching for Japan, he landed instead in the Bahamas a little over two months after leaving Spain, where he introduced the natives to such European specialties as Christianity, firearms and diseases they lacked immunity to.