30BC: Roman rebel general Mark Antony, in a desperate battle to save the breakaway province of Egypt with its Queen and his lover, Cleopatra, ekes out a brief tactical victory against Octavian in the Battle of Alexandria. This ends up being the last battle of the hundred-year-long Roman Civil War. At the end of the day, Antony’s army deserts en masse to join the strategically victorious legions under Octavian.
30BC: Death of Mark Antony (b.83BC). After his Pyrrhic victory in the Battle of Alexandria and the subsequent mass defection of his army to Octavian, Antony does the noble Roman thing and quite literally, falls on his sword. He does not die immediately, and works his way to Cleopatra’s chamber, where he explains the reality of the imminent collapse of their Eqypto-Roman mini-empire. In her grief, she clutches a poisonous asp to her breast, and both of them die. Octavian, meanwhile marches his army into Alexandria and establishes a new Roman administration reporting only to him. With the century-long Roman Civil War thus suppressed, Octavian changes his name to Augustus, and his role from Proconsul of the Republic to the first Caesar of the Roman Empire.
216BC: Continuing his invasion into the heart of the Roman Republic, Carthaginian general Hannibal meets and defeats in detail a massive Roman army nearly twice his strength in the Battle of Cannae, on the lower Adriatic coast of Italy. This is the third major engagement since his winter crossing of the Alps. After his first two victories, Hannibal’s army systematically pillaged their way down the Italian peninsula, creating a rising sense of panic in Rome itself. In response, the Senate ordered two proconsuls to combine their armies to stop the Carthaginians. On the field of battle, the Romans formed into a deep infantry wedge with supporting cavalry on the flanks. For his part, Hannibal stretched his infantry across a wide front, inviting a direct attack against his center. Two African divisions were held in reserve on both flanks, not connected to the basic line. When the attack began, Hannibal began carefully withdrawing his center until the Roman force became concentrated en masse deep inside a crescent of Carthaginian troops. As the Romans’ positions began to collapse from the rear, Hannibal ordered attacks from both flanks, essentially surrounding the entire Roman army, which degenerated into panic as the Carthaginians then reversed their withdrawal and began to slash their way through a Roman mob who had nowhere to go. Of the 86,000 Romans and their allies who began the battle, over 45,000 were killed outright, in addition to 4,500 captured infantry and cavalry. Of Hannibal’s 56,000 troops, his losses were between 5-7,000. The battle was remains a classic in the study of leadership and tactics, as Hannibal himself fought from the center, maintaining close control over every movement of his forces. The double-envelopment “pincer” movement remains a time-tested goal of ground combat (and air and sea for that matter) to this day.
70AD: Culminating their relentless Siege of Jerusalem, the Roman army under the command of Titus (later to be Titus Ceasar) loots, burns, and completely demolishes the Temple that had been the center of Jewish worship for a thousand years. The destruction is mourned annually as the fast of Tisha B’Av. Note: in the name of accuracy, the actual structure that fell this day was the Second Temple (also known as Herod’s Temple), which was a complete on-site rebuilding of 10th c. BC Solomon’s Temple eighty years prior to the Roman siege. The famous Western Wall which remains today is part of the retaining wall built by Herod to consolidate the entirety of the Temple Mount summit, and includes within its perimeter much of Solomon’s original foundation stones, as yet not exposed to daylight these two thousand years later.
781: The earliest recorded eruption of Mount Fuji. Still active, the beautiful mountain’s last eruption was in 1707-08. In more recent news, the mountain in 2001 was host to an earthquake swarm deep underground beneath its magma pool. In 2011, in likely consort with the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, seismologists detected a 5.9 earthquake directly below the mountain, causing some level of changes in both its stress field and overall magma pressure.
1291: Foundation of the Swiss Confederation with the signing of the Federal Charter, which established rules for the facilitation of free trade throughout the mountain trade routes in the Alps. Note: You’ll see the letters CH or CHE in those oval stickers on European cars from Switzerland. It stands for Confoederatio Helvetica, Latin for a confederation of the Helvetii, a tribe of Gauls living on the Swiss plateau in pre-Roman times.
1305: Scottish patriot and nationalist William Wallace is captured near Glasgow and hauled off to London, where he is accused, tried, convicted and executed for treason against Edward I. As he faced his accusers, Wallace declared: “I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.”
1419: The First Defenestration of Prague. A Hussite procession headed by the priest Jan Želivský attacked the New Town Hall in Prague and threw the king’s representatives from the windows into the street.
1492: Genovese mariner Christopher Columbus departs westward from Palos del la Frontera, Spain to prove a new ocean route to the Spice Islands of the Indies. His crew and his three ships- Nina, Pinta and the flagship Santa Maria– are financed by Queen Isabella I of Spain, who believed Columbus’ sales pitch that the earth was round and small enough that Spain would profit mightily from a new route to the riches of the east. He was partly right, but the riches and power would come from the west.
1588: In May the Spanish Armada set sail from Lisbon on a mission to destroy the heretic Elizabeth I and re-take England as a vassal of Catholic Spain. During the intervening 8 weeks, the ships of the massive fleet worked their way toward the English Channel, making two sharp but inconclusive engagements with the Royal Navy. They finally made anchorage near Calais, where the fleet was expected to embark 50,000 pre-positioned soldiers for the invasion of England. It should come as no surprise that they weren’t ready: the army was indeed waiting, but it was was reduced to fewer than 16,000 by disease and desertion. Beyond that, they did not yet have the barges needed to move from shore to ship. The English, on the other hand were ready: at midnight on the 28th, with the wind at their backs, Sir Francis Drake launched 8 fire ships against the tightly packed Spanish fleet. The main Spanish warships held their positions, but the majority of the armada cut their cables and scattered in confusion. No Spanish ships were burned, but the Spaniard’s defensive formation was broken and Captain General Medina Sidonia was forced to attempt to re-form the armada downwind in the unprotected waters near Gravelines, a small seaport at the border between France and the Spanish Netherlands, beyond which were extensive shoals, recently and intentionally un-marked by their Dutch enemies.
This week the English fleet, maintaining the weather gauge (i.e. upwind) and mindful of the lessons from earlier battles*, pounced on the Spanish, destroying five ships outright and badly damaging many others, before halting fire at 4:00 in the afternoon as ammunition ran low throughout the fleet. The Battle of Gravelines thus ruined any further Spanish attempt to join with Parma’s army. The Armada itself, though, remained a threat-in-being to the English coast, and as the wind backed to the south, Medina Sidonia was able to leave the French coastline and make his way northward. He was pursued by the English fleet through the 12th of August, when they were near the Firth of Forth in Scotland. As Sidonia led his increasingly bedraggled Armada around the stormy coast of Scotland and Ireland, Drake and Howard returned to England as heroes.
1619: In Jamestown, Virginia, the House of Burgess meets for the first time. It is the first representative assembly in the English colonies.
1620: The chartered merchant ship Mayflower, in company with the Speedwell, departs Southampton, England on its first attempt to reach North America with its Puritan passengers, who plan on colonizing “North Virginia” near the mouth of the Hudson River. After a very short day at sea, Speedwell develops severe leaks and the two ships return to port for repairs.
1704: As part of the War of Spanish Succession, the Spanish peninsula of Gibraltar is captured by an Anglo-Dutch fleet commanded by Sir George Rooke. Eventually annexed into the British Empire.
1789: As their reform movement continues to gather momentum, the French National Assembly takes an oath to “end feudalism” and “abandon [their own] privileges”. France accelerates toward revolution.
1792: Birth of Percy Bysshe Shelley (d.1822), the English poet widely regarded as the greatest lyricist in English history. His most famous poem, Ozymandias, posits the inevitable decline of even the most powerful institutions of men. Shelley lived an “unconventional life” with and around fellow Romanticists Byron and Keates. His uncompromising idealism helped fuel the intellectual “-ism” movements of the mid-19th century, including Thoreau’s Transcendentalism and Marx’s Communism, among others. Shelley drowned under mysterious circumstances while sailing his schooner between Leghorn (Livorno) and Lerici in northern Italy. His second wife, Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was a noted author in her own right, best remembered for her Gothic novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.
1803: Birth of John Ericsson (d.1889), Swedish engineer, inventor, and designer of USS Monitor.
1815: Birth of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (d.1882), Harvard-trained lawyer, author and politician. After a sickly junior year in the Harvard Yard, he decided to take a sea voyage as a seaman aboard a cargo vessel, where he would learn to work and live in the harshest conditions. His memoirs, Two Years Before the Mast, describe in vivid detail a life at sea, sailing from Boston around Cape Horn and up and down the coast of Alta California, gathering and tanning hides aboard the ship Pilgrim, which would eventually return them to Boston. One phrase spoken by a Master’s Mate who joined him on the bowsprit one moonlit night while Dana was intently studying the well-trimmed jibs, immobile as the ship surged through the Pacific swell: “How silently they do their work…”
1819: Birth of Herman Melville (d.1891), author of Moby Dick, or The White Whale.
1864:Battle of the Crater. In an innovative effort to break the ever-hardening Union siege of Petersburg, Lt Col Henry Pleasants, a mining engineer in his civilian life, and Commanding Officer of the Pennsylvania 48th Infantry, proposed a scheme to dig a long tunnel to a point under a Confederate hard point, where they could detonate a huge underground mine to create a breach in the defenses. The plan was approved by his Corps commander, General Ambrose Burnside, and eventually by Grant himself, who figured if nothing else, the digging would keep the men occupied for a time, even if it came to naught. The Pennsylvanians completed the tunnel and packed the gallery under the Confederate Elliot’s Salient with 8000lb of gunpowder in 320 kegs, set the arming fuses and back-filled the tunnel to prevent blow-back. At 4:44 this morning, the charge was detonated, creating a massive plume of men, debris, weapons and dirt; at the time it was billed as the largest man-made explosion in history, which it probably was, and it worked as advertised, immediately killing over 300 Confederate defenders and turning the defensive works into a massive crater 170 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep Burnside had two divisions designated to make the assault through the breach, the primary being a division of well-trained US Colored Troops (USCT) under BG Edward Ferraro, who planned to go around both sides of the crater’s rim to the Confederate rear before they could mount a defense. The reserves were an un-trained division “led” by a drunken commander who gave them no briefing at all on what to expect. General Meade, lacking confidence in the plan from the start, ordered Burnside not to send the USCT in the first wave, since the expected failure would look like they were sacrificing the black troops to no good end. This command-level dithering allowed the coming of daylight to expose the Union force and also gave the Confederates time to get their collective act together and assemble the beginnings of an organized defense. Burnside then sent forward the un-trained division, who promptly walked into the crater itself, thinking it would be a good rifle pit, but the walls were too soft to climb back out. The Confederates quickly brought artillery pieces and hundreds of muskets to the rim and began to systematically slaughter the Union soldiers. Burnside, watching the debacle from a mile away, then ordered the USCT division into the fight, and they too went into the hole, never to come out. Union losses were 3798, including 504 killed, 1881 wounded, and 1413 captured or missing. Confederate losses were 1491, most of whom were from the initial blast. Grant finally cashiered Burnside from command after this debacle.
1864: Rear Admiral David Farragut leads a US Navy flotilla into the fortified confines of Mobile Bay, with the mission of permanently closing the port to further trade and blockade running. During the previous year, while Farragut’s attentions were earlier turned to returning the Mississippi River to Union control, the Confederates fortified Mobile with three forts ashore and a minefield guarding the main channel into the bay. Farragut’s flotilla entered the bay at dawn, guns blazing, and overwhelmed the shoreward defenses. When one of his captains slowed his ship due to the threat of the mines (“torpedoes”), Farragut responded with “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Of note from the Confederate perspective was the single-handed fight of the ironclad ram CSS Tennessee against the entire Union fleet, which took three hours to finally force its surrender.
1892: The parents of Lizzie Borden are found murdered in their Fall River, Massachusetts home. Lizzie is acquitted of the murders in the sensational trial that follows, but her notoriety remains to this day in the words of the famous jump-rope song: “Lizzie Borden took an axe…”
1900: Birth of war correspondent Ernie Pyle (d.1945), whose personalized reporting from the European Theater of Operations and later the Pacific Theater made him the most well-known name in journalism. He was killed by a burst of Japanese machine gun fire on Ie Shima, near Okinawa.
1914: Backing up their Austrian ally’s recently declared war on Serbia, Germany declares wa on Serbia’s ally, Russia.
1914: Germany declares war on France.
1914: After receiving a negative Belgian response to their request to cross their territory to attack France, the Imperial German army crosses the border anyway, meeting stiff resistance from the Belgian army. With their guarantee of Belgian neutrality at stake, not to mention their alliance with France in the Entente Cordiale, Great Britain declares war on Germany. The Wilson administration in United States declares an official policy of neutrality.
1930: Birth of Neil Armstrong (d.2012) X-15 pilot; Gemini-8 Commander; Apollo-11 Commander; Moon-explorer.
1934: Death of Paul von Hindenburg, hero of the Great War (victor of the Battle of Tannenburg), and twice elected President of the German Republic. The old war horse helped legitimize Adolf Hitler’s electoral rise to power in 1932. When he died, Hitler assumed the office of the Presidency in addition to the Chancellorship, formally assuming the powers as dictator of the German state.
1936: American Jesse Owens wins the 100 meter dash at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
1941: Under direction of Adolf Hitler, Reichmarschall Hermann Goering orders SS General Reinhard Heydrich to submit a plan for “the final solution to the Jewish question.”
1943: In the South Pacific, PT-109 is sliced in half and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Its skipper, Lt John F. Kennedy, rallies his stricken crew to swim to a nearby island, saving all but two of them.
1944: Final diary entry of Anne Frank.
1944: Opening guns of the Warsaw Uprising, in which somewhere between 20,000 and 49,000 members of the underground Polish Army rose in revolt against their Nazi occupiers who were growing increasingly desperate from the accelerating pressure of the Red Army’s advances on the Eastern Front. The Polish rising was carefully timed to complement the entry of the Red Army into the eastern outskirts of the city, with a plan designed around expelling the remaining Germans and establishing a functioning Polish government in the city before the Russians had the opportunity to impose a communist interim government of their own. After a startling initial rollback across multiple fronts in the city, the Nazis began a furious counter-attack, obliterating entire blocks with artillery and dive-bombing in an attempt to snuff out what they realized was an organic Polish army that had grown up right under their noses. The Poles, anxious to establish real coordination with Red Army, failed repeatedly to make radio contact with their putative allies. As the fight wore on it became clear that the Russians were studiously ignoring any and all Polish attempts for help* and coordination. In fact, the Soviet leadership, aware of the Poles’ overall plans, realized that their own plans to install a communist puppet state could be thwarted by a functional Polish government brought to power by the force of Polish arms. The Red Army therefore, at the direction of Joseph Stalin, halted their offensive into the eastern portions of the city, took up defensive positions on high ground, and watched passively for the next 63 days as the Wehrmacht systematically bombed, shelled, burned, and crushed virtually the entirety of downtown Warsaw. With the final capitulation of the Polish army on October 2rd, and the subsequent evacuation of Warsaw’s entire civilian population, both the Germans and the Russians reasoned that there was little to be gained by fighting over the rubble, and there was no ground movement around the city until the final Russian overall offensive in January, 1945. The Polish army suffered over 16,000 deaths and 25,000 wounded. 15,000 were rounded up by the Nazis and interred as POWs until war’s end. Over 200,000 Warsaw civilians were forcibly displaced from their homes or killed during the fighting. The German army is estimated to have lost 6,000 dead and 9,000 wounded.
1944: Death of Antoine de Saint-Exupery (b.1900), French pilot and author of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), and two beautiful aviation books: Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars. On this week he launched from Corsica in a P-38 on a reconnaissance mission from which he never returned. His aircraft and personal effects were discovered in 1998.
1945: The Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58 torpedoes and sinks USS Indianapolis (CA-35), which took only 12 minutes to go down. Of her crew of 1,196, only 317 survived the attack. Approximately 300 sailors went down immediately with the ship, while the other 880 endured an ordeal of exposure, dehydration and near-continuous shark attacks* for four and a half days before a patrol plane inadvertently spotted the wreckage and began a frantic rescue attempt. Although the ship sent out a distress signal, it was never received by the Navy command, and the fact that it overdue from her scheduled arrival in Leyte passed unremarked. The CO, Captain Charles McVay, survived the sinking and was court-martialed for “hazarding his ship by failing to zig-zag” his course after leaving Tinian** a few days earlier. Several attempts were made over the years to rehabilitate his reputation, beginning with Fleet Admiral Nimitz remitting the sentence of the Court-Martial and restoring him to active duty, from which he retired in 1949. However, the personal guilt he carried with him after surviving the ordeal eventually drove him to suicide in 1968, using his Navy-issued revolver.
1947: Birth of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
1948: Former journalist and communist fellow-traveler Whittaker Chambers publicly accuses former State Department official Alger Hiss of being a Soviet spy.
1954: First ascent of K2, the second tallest mountain in the Himalayas, by an Italian team led by Ardito Desio.
1958: USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the world’s first nuclear-powered vessel, crosses the North Pole during its historic under-ice transit of the Arctic Ocean. The ship is now on permanent display in Groton, Connecticut.
1961: Birth of 44th President of the United States Barack Hussein Obama.
1962: Birth of right-handed pitcher Roger “Rocket” Clemens, winner of seven Cy Young awards and one of only four pitchers to achieve more than 4,000 strikeouts in their careers.
1962: Death of Marilyn Monroe (b.1926).
1964: The Ranger-7 lunar probe transmits the first close-up photographs of the moon- four minutes of live television as it crashed into the lunar surface. [Itself; What it saw- the final image, made at 488m above the surface.
1964: On patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam, the US destroyer USS Maddox (DD-731), operating 28 miles offshore, is attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The boats launched several torpedoes but were driven off by US gunfire, including strafing by F-8s from the USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14). Two days later, Maddox and USS C. Turner Joy (DD-951) were back on station around 11 miles offshore in heavy weather when they were allegedly attacked again by North Vietnamese gunboats. The second attack is dubious, mostly due to heavy weather and the understandably heightened alertness of the radar and sonar crews after the earlier attack. Fighter aircraft that launched immediately in defense of the ships saw nothing in the vicinity and reported as such. This fact did not dissuade President Johnson from asking Congress for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing him to use whatever conventional force necessary to assist any Southeast Asian state subject to communist aggression.
1964: In the first response to the now-notorious Gulf of Tonkin Incident, aircraft from the carriers USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) and USS Constellation (CVA-64) launch 60 sorties against the North Vietnamese patrol boat base and oil storage facility, destroying 25 boats and eliminating their entire stock of fuel.
1965: Just days after doubling down on the US military commitment to South Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson demonstrates to the country that we can have both guns AND butter by signing the Social Security Act of 1965, which, among other things, institutes COLA provisions to SS payments and establishes Medicare and Medicaid programs.
1971: Apollo 15 lands on the Moon near the famous Hadley Rille, a prominent valley in the lunar landscape. The flight is the first to use the Lunar Rover vehicle to expand the astronauts’ radius of exploration from the Lunar Excursion Module. The landing site was chosen not only for its scientific potential (which was very high, given the geography of the Hadley highlands) but also because it was likely to be the most beautiful region to be visited by the Apollo program. The all USAF crew was particularly well-trained in geology, with Dave Scott and Jim Irwin undergoing months in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, learning not only how to identify key geologic indicators, but also how to communicate their findings verbally through their interaction with fellow astronaut Capsule Communicators. The Command Module Pilot, Al Worden, also received geology recognition instruction, not from the surface, but in an airplane flying at an altitude that replicated the track crossing angular rates of the LM orbit around the moon. Worden operated a highly complex remote sensing package that made detailed surveys of the lunar surface using a panoramic camera, gamma ray spectrometer, mapping camera, laser altimeter and mass spectrometer. Scott and Irwin spent three days on the surface of the moon, logging over 18 hours of extravehicular activity in three separate excursions. Before climbing back into the LEM for their ascent, Scott proved Galileo’s theory that a feather and a hammer will drop at the same rate in a vacuum, which indeed, they did. Worden performed a deep-space EVA to retrieve the camera packs from his science package during the transit back to Earth.
1975: Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa disappears from a parking lot in suburban Detroit and is never heard from again.