202 B.C.: At the Battle of Zama, deep within the 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 and systematically raided Roman colonies in the Iberian Peninsula, and after his dramatic crossing of the Alps, Italy itself. Hannibal’s domination of the battlefield (cf: Cannae (DLH 8/2)) turned not only the colonies, but many of Rome’s Italian city-states into Carthage’s vassals, a fact that drove the Senate to distraction 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 this day broke the back of the existing Carthaginian state. The brutal Roman terms against Carthage ushered in a period of peace lasting over 50 years. But as we’ve seen over the course of many DLH years, just because the fighting stopped, doesn’t mean the motivation was gone. 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!”
1097: Opening moves of the First Crusade’s Siege of Antioch, the ancient Greek and Roman metropolis that dominated the trade routes of the upper Levant, and which was distinguished in the New Testament as being the city where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.” Although the city was in commercial decline during the Crusader period, it remained a singular strategic prize during the centuries of warfare between the Latin Crusaders, the Byzantine and Seljuk Turks, the Saracens of Syria and the Mongols of the Asian Steppes.
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.
1632: Birth of the great English architect, Christopher Wren (d.1723).
1720: The notorious actual pirate of the Caribbean, John “Calico Jack” Rackham, is captured by a Royal Navy pirate hunter after terrorizing multiple small craft and fishermen along Jamaica’s north coast. He was brought to Spanish Town, Jamaica, where he received a fair trial and was found guilty, then hanged by the neck until dead, his corpse thence suspended in a gibbet for several months at the entrance to the bay.
1777: Final surrender of British General Burgoyne’s army to American General Horatio Gates. The American victory was crucial proof to the French that the Americans actually had a chance to prevail against the huge military and naval superiority of Great Britain.
1781: In Yorktown, Virginia, with supplies running low, and the combined American & French armies under General George Washington closing their siege lines inexorably closer to the faltering British positions, British General Lord Cornwallis sends a party under flag of truce to ask for terms of surrender. This stunning 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 crucial stores.
1781: Two days after asking for surrender terms, at 2:00 this afternoon 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.
1797: In Boston, the Joshua Humphrey designed 44 gun frigate USS Constitution is launched. She remains afloat to this day, having just completed a major overhaul and renovation at the old Navy Yard graving dock
1803: After a relatively short debate, and fully aware of what some argued was the tenuous Constitutionality of the purchase, the U.S. Senate on this day ratifies the Louisiana Purchase as a treaty, essentially doubling the land mass of the United States without firing a shot.
1805: Just off the SW coast of Spain, the 27-ship strong Mediterranean Fleet of the Royal Navy, under the command of the Viscount Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, engages the larger 33-ship Allied combined French & Spanish fleets under the command of French Vice Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve in the pivotal naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars. The Battle of Trafalgar was the culmination of months of British blockades, French breakouts, a trans-Atlantic sea chase to the Caribbean and back, and an ultimately futile attempt by the Allied fleet to break free from their blockaded anchorage at Cadiz in order to make a run back into the Mediterranean for re-arming* and replenishment.
Having finally weighed anchor and cleared his fleet for sea, Villeneuve realized almost immediately that Nelson’s fleet lay in wait below the horizon. He formed up his ships into the conventional and powerful line of battle, significantly outnumbering and out-gunning his British foes. Nelson, for his part, correctly anticipated Villeneuve’s move, and at dinner with his captains the night before, laid out an audacious plan to split his fleet into two lines of battle set up to run perpendicular to the Allied line in order to crash through it and break the powerful battle line into a general melee of individual ship actions, of which Nelson was confident that the morale, discipline, seamanship, and marksmanship of the British would carry the day. He was explicit with his captains that night: “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.” The next morning Nelson, aboard his flagship HMS Victory, ordered a flag hoist message to all ships: “England expects that every man will do his duty,” and led his line straight into the middle of the Allied line just ahead of Villeneuve’s flagship. Nelson’s second commander, Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, crashed his line about halfway back between Villenueve’s ship and the rear of the line, thus separating the Allied fleet into three parts, and creating havoc as the British gunners pummeled the French and Spanish ships into charnel houses while the vanguard of the Allied line worked vainly for over 90 minutes in the light winds to bring their lumbering ships back into the fray. Allied losses: 21 ships captured, one sunk; 4,393 sailors dead, 3,800 sailors wounded, over 8,000 sailors captured. British losses: no ships lost; 488 sailors killed, 1,208 wounded. Prominent among th
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 once omnipotent 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.
1818: The United States and Great Britain sign The Convention of 1818, setting the southern Canadian and northern U.S. boundary starting at the northwest shoreline of Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, due south to 49 degrees latitude, all the way to the Pacific Ocean: a) The Northwest Angle, created by that southward excursion at the east end of the line, a holdover from the 1783 Treaty of Paris, and; 2) Point Roberts, Washington, a tiny peninsula of British Columbia that pokes into Puget sound for a mile or so south of the 49th. It makes for a convenient place for Canadians to buy staple supplies at American prices, not to mention providing a nominal U.S. address for U.S. relatives to mail packages without all the annoyances of clearing Canadian customs. Both the U.S. and UK had to cede prior claims on both sides of the line, and both sides agreed to joint governance of the Oregon Territory (present-day OR, WA, ID, and part of western MT).
1824: Briton Joseph Aspdin obtains a patent for Portland cement, which you may recognize as quite possibly the most important construction material ever invented. It derives its name not from the lefty city in Oregon, but from its similarity to stone quarried in the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England.
1833: Birth of Albert Nobel (d.1896), Swedish chemist and physicist, inventor of dynamite, whose bequest funds the ongoing Nobel Prize competitions.
1873: Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and Rutgers Universities agreed this day to set up a set of consistent rules for intercollegiate football play.
1882: Birth of Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasco a.k.a. Bela Lugosi (d.1956), Hungarian-American actor best known for his defining characterization of Count Dracula in the 1931 movie.
1892: Opening ceremony for the World’s Columbia Exposition, the enormous world’s fair built on the south side of Chicago in Jackson Park. Construction of the neo-classical display buildings was driven as much by schedule as by engineering, but with the exception of a fire in one of them, all were completed in time for the public opening the following May. The exteriors were painted white with dark trim accents, and the entire park was illuminated at night by electric light, earning it the moniker of “White City” for its perpetual gleam.
1917: Birth of American trumpeter and Big Band leader Dizzy Gillespie (d.1993).
1931: The notorious Chicago gangland murderer, crime boss Al Capone is convicted of tax evasion and sent to prison for an 11-year sentence.
1931: Birth of the great NY Yankees slugger, Mickey Mantle (d.1995).
1933: Physicist Albert Einstein flees the burgeoning Nazi unrest in his native Germany, arriving in San Diego, and eventually settling in Princeton, New Jersey.
1938: Birth of motorcycle daredevil Evil Kenievil (d.2007).
1947: Opening gavel for the House Un-American Activities Committee, a multi-administration exercise in detecting and black-listing Communists in the entertainment industry, the State Department (ibid.), and other influential public and quasi-public organizations.
1956: British colonial forces capture rebel Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, effectively collapsing the brutal Mau Mau Rebellion that terrorized Kenya from 1952 until this day. The insurgency was effectively crushed by the end of the year. Kimathi was tried and executed for war crimes in February, 1957.
1956: Birth of actress Carrie Fisher (d.2016)
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.
1994: The United States signs the “Agreed Framework” with the regime of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) in which the DPRK agrees to shut down its nuclear program in consideration of the US delivering annually 500,000 tons of heavy petroleum, making arrangements for construction of two light water reactors, providing a formal “no first use” of nuclear weapons statement, and moving toward full diplomatic and economic recognition of the DPRK. The NORKS, for their part will “freeze” their graphite modulate reactors, remain within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, “take steps” to implement the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and dismantle the graphite reactors after the LW reactors are completed.