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, leaving Antony and Cleopatra alone and defenseless.
30BC(b): Death of Mark Antony (b.83BC). After his victory in the Battle of Alexandria and the subsequent mass defection of his army to Octavian, Antony does the noble Roman thing and falls on his sword. He does not die immediately, and finds his way to Cleopatra’s chamber, where he explains the reality of the imminent collapse of their Eqypto-Roman mini-empire to the real deal, who is marching into town as they speak. 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.
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. The letters CH or CHE in those oval stickers on European cars from Switzerland stand forConfoederatio Helvetica, Latin for a confederation of the Helvetii, a tribe of Gauls living on the Swiss plateau in pre-Roman times.
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 un-marked by their Dutch enemies. On this day 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 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.
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. He saw not only the harshness of the seaman’s life, but also its beauty; one phrase was 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.
1890: Death of Vincent van Gough (b.1853). The Dutch painter’s work defines the beginning of the post-impressionistic movement. He is known not only for his bold colors and brush strokes, but for his increasing despondency, which eventually led to his suicide this week.
1907: Sir Robert Baden-Powell sets up the Brownsea Island Scout Camp on south coast of England. The Boer War hero kept it open the entire month of August; the opening is considered the birth of the Scouting movement.
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.”
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 day 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 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. In October, 2000, Congress passed and President Clinton signed a resolution stating that his record should confirm “[Captain McVay] is exonerated for the loss of the Indianapolis.”
1948: After a twelve-year hiatus since the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the XIV Olympiad opens in London.
1954: First ascent of K2, the second tallest mountain in the Himalayas, by an Italian team led by Ardito Desio.
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.
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.
1966: The Communist Chinese government initiates a purge of “intellectuals and imperialists,” beginning five years of legal- think about that for a minute- government directed bloodletting and social chaos officially known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
1967: At 10:50 in the morning aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59), while conducting Vietnam combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin, a 5” Zuni rocket from a just-starting F-4 Phantom aircraft suddenly fires from its launching tube and streaks into the full external fuel tanks of two A-4 Skyhawks on the other side of the fantail. The fuel bursts into flame under the aircraft, one of which is piloted by LCDR John McCain, USN. In the tense minutes that follow, the entire aft section of the flight deck becomes an inferno of burning jet fuel and detonating ordnance. 131 sailors are killed, 161 injured, and the ship suffers $73 million in damage, not counting the loss of the aircraft. Nine bombs exploded in the flames, the ones under the A-4s ripping gaping holes in the armored deck. The flight deck fire was finally brought under control at 12:15; the fires below decks continued until 13:45, and flare-ups continued until 04:00 the next morning.
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. Martin Scorcese’s new film The Irishman is about the rise of Hoffa.
1981: Charles, Prince of Wales, marries Lady Diana Spencer in a televised wedding estimated to have been watched by 750,000,000 people worldwide. Believe it or not, the British press had lip readers in place to record the comments of the royals while they were on display at Buckingham Palace prior to a little wedding banquet inside. The crowd along the fence began chanting “Kiss her!” as soon as they came out. Charles looked at her: “They are trying to get us to kiss.” She looked back, “Well, what about it?” After a pause, Charles relented with, “Why ever not?” The crowd goes wild.