202 B.C.: At the Battle of Zama, deep within the (now)Tunisian territory of Carthage, Roman General Scipio Africanus engages with and decisively defeats the great Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca, who, for the last 16 years, had occupied Roman colonies in the Iberian Peninsula, and after his crossing of the Alps, Italy itself. Hannibal’s domination of the battlefield turned not only the colonies, but many of Rome’s Italian city-states into Carthage’s vassals, and led to both periodic armistices and more aggressive military resistance to the hated North Africans. By 202 B.C., Hannibal was recalled to Carthage to shore up the ruling party’s position. Almost simultaneously, the Senate dispatched Scipio Africanus to effect a landing in North Africa and bring Carthage to heel once and for all. The battle broke the back of the existing Carthaginian state. The brutal Roman terms against Carthage ushered in a period of peace lasting over 50 years. In the case of the Roman Senate, the fact of Carthage’s continued existence, however weakened, was unacceptable. It lead to continued agitation to solve the problem once and for all, and motivated the great orator Cato the Elder to end every one of his speeches with the phrase, “CARTHAGO DELENDA EST” translated as “Carthage must be destroyed!”
70 BC: Birth of Roman poet Virgil (d.19 BC), author of the Ecolgues and the Aenid, among other works.
1066: The last successful invasion of the British Isles takes place at the Battle of Hastings, where an invading French army under the command of the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy demolishes the army of England’s King Harold II. The victor changes his moniker from William the Bastard to William the Conqueror, and assumes the throne of England as William I. The victory was a credit to the discipline and morale of William’s army, aided by severe fatigue in Harold’s army, which had just recently force-marched themselves from the coastal north, where they repelled a Norse invasion on the 25th of September.
1322: Robert the Bruce defeats the Earl of Richmond at the Battle of Old Byland– yet another nail in the coffin of British King Edward II’s subjugation of Scotland.
1356: An earthquake estimated as strong as magnitude 7.1 hits the Swiss city of Basel, with the structural damage exacerbated by massive fires caused by falling candles and torches. It remains the strongest seismological event in Central European history.
1448: The Second Battle of Kosovo ends with the Christian armies of Hungary depleted to the point where they were no longer able to mount a credible defense, let alone any offensive operations against the victorious Ottoman armies of Anatolia. The defeat gave the Ottoman’s junior commander (and later Sultan) Mehmed II the military breathing space for his eventual conquest of the Christian capital of Constantinople n 1453.
1512: Augustinian monk Martin Luther is ordained Doctor of Theology, two days later to be received into the faculty of the University of Wittenburg.
1529: End of the first Siege of Vienna, where the heretofore unstoppable armies of Suleiman I (The Magnificent) were stopped after an exhausting march through the Balkans by the combination of Vienna’s walls, an early snowfall, and the determination of the German Landsknets– a powerful mercenary force well trained in the use of halberds, pikes and long swords.
1540: At a location thought to be only a couple miles southwest of present day Selma, Alabama, a 600 man Spanish army of conquistadores, led by Hernando de Soto, is led by Mississippian chief Tuscaloosa to an open field abutting an enclosure of stucco-covered log palisade, filled with a collection of around 3,000 young men, all daubed with war paint and armed with longbows. Tuscaloosa lured the Spanish to his “town” of Mabila so the Spanish could trade for food and supplies in order to continue their long march through what we now know as the southeast of region of the United States. It did not take long for the trade negotiations to reach an impasse, at which point one of the Spaniards pulled an Indian’s loincloth off over his head, triggering the first of several volleys of arrows to avenge the insult. After several abortive attempts to fight back and breach the walls of Mabila, the Spanish finally organized themselves as a functional army and waded into the Indian fighters, protected by their armor, laying waste to the Braves with furious swordplay. They set fire to the “village,” took what loot they could, and moved on leaving over 2,000 dead and dying Braves, including Tuscaloosa himself, to be burned in the ruins of the fort.
1776: Just weeks after his victory at the Battle of Brooklyn, British General Sir William Howe opened the next phase of his campaign to capture New York by crossing to the mainland to trap General George Washington’s army on Manhattan Island. After being thwarted from an initial attempt his first landing attempt at Throg’s Neck, Howe re-grouped and landed a force of 4,000 Redcoats on the mainland side of Long Island Sound at Pell’s Point, at what today is Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. An American force of about 750 under the command of Colonel John Glover established themselves in defensive positions behind a series of stone walls. Using a tactic that would be used at the Battle of Cowpens, Glover exploited the American expertise at sharpshooting to attack the advancing British with continuous fire until their position was very nearly overrun. They would then make an orderly retreat to the next stone wall and re-attack the same way. After repeated repulses, the British finally halted their advance, which gave Washington time to evacuate the bulk of his Manhattan force to White Plains, where the final tactical loss sealed the fate of New York, but allowed Washington to withdraw the intact Continental Army across to New Jersey.
1777: Ten days after his defeat at the second Battle of Saratoga, British General John Burgoyne surrenders his army to American General Horatio Gates. The American victory proved to the French that the Americans actually had a chance to prevail against the military and naval superiority of Great Britain.
1781: In Yorktown, Virginia, with supplies running low, and the combined American and French armies under General George Washington closing their siege lines inexorably closer to the faltering British positions, British General Lord Cornwallis sends out a party under flag of truce to ask for terms of surrender. This event was the direct result of the French naval victory at the Battle of the Virginia Capes, which diverted Cornwallis’ replenishment fleet from delivering its supplies.
1781: Two days after asking for surrender terms, the British army at Yorktown marches out of their bivouacs with their muskets shouldered and flags furled. The British band plays the tune “The World Turned Upside Down” as the men stack arms and colors and go into custody as prisoners of war.
1793: French Queen Marie Antoinette is tried and convicted by a revolutionary court of “justice.”
1793: Death of Marie Antoinette (b.1755), widow of the late King Louis XVI. After her trial a couple of days before, the now-former queen maintained her composure during the hour-long ride in an open oxcart between her jail cell and the guillotine erected in the Place de la Revolution (now the Place du Concorde). Her final words were, “Pardon me monsieur, I did not mean to do it, ” having accidentally stepped on the foot of the executioner on her way across the platform.
1812: Five weeks after entering the flaming remains of Moscow with his army already depleted by the Battle of Borodino and there being virtually no remaining supplies to plunder, Napoleon Bonaparte orders the Grande Armee to turn around and begin the long retreat back to France. The losses suffered by this force are staggering, and remain a central focus for students at American war colleges to this day.
1814: The London Beer Flood. At a prominent brewery on Tottenham Court Road, a huge vat of beer ruptures, splitting open several other vats that suddenly disgorged over 323,000 Imperial Gallons of beer into the street. The frothy surge kills 8 souls, one of whom was crushed in the wreckage of the brewery’s collapse, and five others who drowned in the basement of a home where they were conducting a wake.
1834: The Palaces of Westminster, home of the Kings of England since Medieval times, and of the Houses of Parliament since 1295, burn to the ground, with only a couple portions of the original structure remaining usable.
1859: Abolitionist John Brown leads a team of 18 men on a raid of the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, planning on capturing the 10,000 rifles and ammunition in storage there with the expectation of leading a slave revolt in the southern states. They captured the arsenal but when a regularly scheduled train arrived, one of them shot Hayward Shepherd, the Baggage Master who was trying to hail them about something else. The train continued on its way and telegraphed to the B&O RR headquarters about Harper’s Ferry.
1863: The Confederate submarine CSS H.L. Hunley sinks during a test dive, drowning its inventor and the entire rest of the crew. After being raised and refurbished one more time, the 7-man submersible eventually makes the world’s first successful submarine attack on another warship. Hunley is currently on display in its restoration lab on the site of the former Naval Station Charleston.
1884: American inventor George Eastman receives a patent for a paper-strip photographic film.
1901: Birth of Arleigh “31 Knot” Burke (d.1996), American naval officer renowned during WWII for the aggressiveness of his destroyer squadron in combat.
1908: The Chicago Cubs win the World Series. The next Series win was in 2020.
1912: Former President Theodore Roosevelt, campaigning in Milwaukee as the head of the new Bull Moose party, is shot in the chest by a local saloon keeper. The bullet penetrated his steel eyeglass case and a 50-page copy of his manuscript before lodging in the muscle of his chest wall. Since he was not coughing up blood, TR knew that the wound was not mortal, so he gave the speech while bleeding under his shirt and coat. He opened his comments with, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose…the bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.” Afterward, the doctors decided it would be safer to leave the bullet in place rather than remove it, and TR carried it with him until he died.
1914: Birth of Mohammad Zahir Shah (d.2007), the last King of Afghanistan.
1916: Margaret Sanger opens the nation’s first contraception clinic in Brooklyn, for which she was promptly arrested and put on trial.
1923: Cartoonist Walt Disney incorporates the Walt Disney Company with his brother Roy Disney.
1926: British author A.A. Milne introduces Winnie-the-Pooh.
1926: Birth of American guitarist Chuck Berry (d.2017). The rock and roll guitar solo changed forever.
1928: The massive rigid airship Graf Zepplin completes its first Trans-Atlantic crossing.
1931: The Chicago gangland crime boss Al Capone is convicted of tax evasion and sent to prison for an 11-year sentence.
1933: Physicist Albert Einstein flees the burgeoning Nazi unrest in his native Germany, arriving in San Diego, and eventually settling in Princeton, New Jersey.
1934: The Soviet Republic of China– the nascent communist workers’ organization collapses as the Kuomintang army under Chaing Kai Shek enters Ruijin, forcing the communists under Mao Tse Tung to begin their “Long March” to the mountain fastness of the interior, where they will re-organize and plan their eventual return to power.
1938: First flight of the Curtis P-40 Warhawk, the mainstay fighter of the Army Air Corps in the early years of WWII, with 13,738 produced before production ceased in 1944.
1940: The Nazi government of Germany establishes a closed ghetto in the heart of Warsaw as a place to concentrate the extensive Jewish population of the country.
1947: USAAF ace and former POW Captain Chuck Yeager, flying as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base out in the Mojave Desert, makes the world’s first supersonic flight in the Bell X-1 rocket plane. After this flight, Yeager continued to set altitude and speed records in an ongoing competition with fellow test pilot Scott Crossfield.
1962: A USAF U-2 reconnaissance plane returns from a flight over Cuba with photographic proof that the Soviet Union was installing ballistic missile launching facilities on the newly communist island.
1966: Huey Newton and Bobby Seals form the Black Panther Party.
1973: The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposes an embargo on oil sales on countries suspected of aiding Israel in its decisive victory in the Yom Kippur War. The shock of the oil cutoff drove the price of a barrel of crude from $3.00 to over $12.00 in a matter of weeks, triggering a major stock market correction, and multiple policy decisions designed to lessen our dependency on external oil.
1984: Long-time anti-apartheid activist, the Reverend Desmond Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
1997: The Thrust SSC, driven by British fighter pilot Anthony Green, sets a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, marking the first time a wheeled vehicle passes the supersonic threshold.