Tuesday, February 28, 2023

September 2, 31 BC - Octavian Defeated at the Battle of Actium

The War of Actium became the final act in nearly a century of political instability in Rome. The latest war, spurred by senators assassinating the previous war's victor, Julius Caesar, in the Forum itself, had been won by the Second Triumvirate of Caesar's great-nephew and adopted son Octavian and two of his most trusted generals, Marcus Lepidus and Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony). The alliance soon collapsed with Lepidus disgraced, and Octavian sought to defeat his rival Antony, who had grown to legendary status with victories in the East. He had even taken up with Cleopatra, Julius's former love, in Egypt despite being Octavian's brother-in-law. Anthony divorced Octavia, married Cleopatra, and wrote a new will that all of his possessions would go to the children he had with Cleopatra as well as granting Julius and Cleopatra's sixteen-year-old son Caesarion huge realms to rule from the Roman conquests. Octavian stirred the senate with propaganda to declare war on Egypt to win the lands back legally. Antony and a large faction of senators took up arms in Cleopatra's support.

The battleground for Octavian's Rome and Antony's Egypt proved to be Greece, where many of Anthony's allies from the senate had secured a broad region of support. Octavian moved his troops on the peninsula north of Actium in western Greece to counter Anthony's armies while harassing Anthony's waterborne supply lines with his navy, superior in numbers and speed. Octavian avoided a major land battle directly with Anthony, instead winning a gradual war of attrition as Antony's army stagnated on the opposite side of the Ambracian Gulf. With Antony's support disintegrating, Cleopatra suggested falling back to Alexandria for the winter with garrisons for their allies and launching a fresh campaign the next year. Antony determined he would use his quinqueremes and quadriremes, the largest battleships of the day, to smash through Octavian's smaller Liburian patrol boats on the north side and gain open sea. While Octavian was busy with Antony, Cleopatra's support fleet could slip away. Antony would then disengage and cover the retreat.

Much like all best-laid plans, they quickly went awry. Facing a choppy sea, Antony's large ships were barely maneuverable, especially with the plague of malaria that had reduced them to minimal rowers. Octavian brought his ships up to bottle-up Antony's fleet, and Cleopatra escaped through the gap in Octavian's lines. At first a promising wind blew to support the Egyptians, but then it abruptly turned against them. Seeing it as a sign from the gods, Cleopatra turned her ships about and attacked Octavian's fleet from the flank and behind.

Although Octavian had superior numbers, his ships were surrounded with many of them caught uselessly in the middle. Those on the outermost edges fought to a gradual standstill, and then it was Antony's battleships that won the day. They served as floating fortresses, moving slowly but surely, to annihilate ship after ship. What of Octavian's forces could escape did so, but Octavian's body was found after the battle so badly burned that it had to be recognized by Julian family amulets.

Instead of falling back to Alexandria, Antony hurried to capitalize on his surprise victory by moving on Rome itself. Many of Octavian's former allies swarmed to his side. Others felt it was best to flee, and Antony repeated his previous venture with Julius Caesar hunting down those who resisted them through Octavian's holdings in Hispania. Antony restructured Roman nobility by rewarding those loyal to him, establishing a generational dependence on the wealth of Egypt, particularly its bountiful harvests of grain that fed what essentially became a client state.

Cleopatra was hardly welcome in Rome the first time she came in 46 BC with Julius Caesar, but this time the Romans were too afraid to displease her. She soon returned to Egypt, and Egyptian culture flooded Rome with cults of Isis and Osiris. In 12 BC, Gaius Cestius completed as his burial chamber the first pyramid in Rome, one of many more to follow. Caesarion, Antony's chief heir and adopted son, was not only considered the son of deified Julius Caesar but also deified himself. Though Caesarion would only have four extended visits to Rome during his lifetime, one was to dedicate his own temple to himself on the Palatine Hill.

Instead, Caesarion dedicated his life to formalizing the new Egyptian empire. He inherited a firm hand over Rome itself as well as a sizeable personal empire that stretched from Greece to Armenia in the Donations of Alexandria that had started the War of Actium. Caesarion's half-brother Alexander Helios became ruler of Parthia through a marriage orchestrated by Mark Antony, while his half-sister, Selene, married King Juba II of Numidia and Mauretania. Caesarion dispatched his younger half-brother, Ptolemy Philadelphus, to Rome to serve as pontifex maximus and manage affairs in the northwestern side of his empire.

Egypt began a new era as a naval empire. Its western fleet roamed west of the Pillars of Hercules sailing north to Britannia for tin and south for African gold. The eastern fleet sailed for trade with India and a sea route to southern Parthia. Dreams of joining the two through a canal would require centuries to realize; until then, eastern Egypt remained the focus of the flow of goods unloading and reloading. Egyptian Thebes (once Luxor) and Antinoopolis became two of the largest cities in the world as transition sites along the Nile. Large trade fleets circumnavigated the continent of Africa, repeating the three-year journey along the route commissioned by Necho II six centuries earlier. Even after Egypt's empire splintered and fell away from rebellion and barbarian incursion, Egyptian-founded port cities still traded from Africa to Indonesia.


In reality, Octavian won the Battle of Actium, much in thanks to Quintus Dellius deserting Antony and turning over his battle plans and Antony missing the signal from Cleopatra to retreat and misinterpreting it as a rout. Antony and Cleopatra did fall back to Alexandria, where they committed suicide after Octavian laid siege. Octavian became Pharaoh and held Egypt as a personal possession, adding it to further legal powers that established him as Augustus Caesar, the first of a long line of Roman emperors. Egyptian grain continued as a key economic force behind the emperors for centuries to come.

Friday, February 24, 2023

September 11, 1777 - Washington Shot in Ambush

Britain hoped to strike a blow to the Revolutionary cause by marching up from Chesapeake Bay to seize Philadelphia, the young nation's capital. Near Brandywine Creek, Patrick Ferguson, a Scot sniper captain, came upon a small patrol of American soldiers. Rather than expected ragtag scouts, it was a handful of soldiers alongside two officers, one in a blue coat with a "high-cocked hat" and another in an outrageous continental cavalry uniform.

Although only 33, Ferguson was already a seasoned veteran from the end of the Seven Years War and numerous military actions since. He had handpicked his command and armed them with breech-loading rifles of his own design following cutting-edge firearm technology. While firing on officers was considered dishonorable, Ferguson had heard the stories of American troops doing just that, "fighting like natives." Ferguson gave the order to shoot.

The American officers proved to be none other than Commander-in-Chief George Washington and his Polish adviser, Count Casimir Pulaski, famed for his flamboyant dress as a hussar. Washington had decided to personally survey the landscape and British movements in anticipation of a stand at Brandywine. His zealousness proved to be his undoing, though historians argue it may have been better for the British to have captured Washington than killed him outright.

As news spread of Washington's death, the Revolutionaries' response was vengeance. The ferocious Battle of Brandywine was initially in favor of the Americans as the British fell back from a vigorous assault. The unconditioned American troops, however, overextended themselves and soon were forced to retreat. It nearly became a rout that could have cost the Americans their largest army along with their highest ranking leader, but General Nathanael Greene brought forward the reserves under his command to cover the retreat. Soldiers soon added "Hero of Brandywine" to Greene's nickname as "The Fighting Quaker" who had joined the cause despite his family's background in the Society of Friends.

Congress fled Philadelphia, and the American army fell back to Valley Forge. Britain hoped this would bring an end to the war, but the rebels proved resilient. Congress continued its efforts from York, PA, confirming Horatio Gates as the new Commander-in-Chief. Although not as popular as Washington, Gates did prove to be an effective organizer. Newly drilled through the winter and with much improved supply lines established, the new American army impressed France enough to win an alliance in 1778. With Americans receiving French naval support and widespread popular support, the British gave up trying to make headway in the northern colonies and ultimately abandoned Philadelphia. They even offered a peace commission, which was rejected. Instead, the British decided upon the Southern Strategy of focusing their efforts in the Tory-filled southern colonies where loyalists could be readily found for information or supplies.

Gates dispatched Greene to the South, soon followed by another hero, Benedict Arnold. Arnold had been wounded at Saratoga and only returned to service in May 1778. Despite Arnold being considered a national treasure, Gates did not trust him as Arnold had disobeyed orders when attacking and routinely questioned his strategies to the point of shouting matches. The odd pair of a forge-owning Quaker's son and a would-be merchant, both Connecticuters fighting in the South, surprisingly proved to be successful. Greene followed a path of "unconventional warfare" that was decried by the British for its effectiveness in protecting and striking out of rebel hotspots, such as the famous raid in the Battle of Camden that tied up British troops enough that Arnold was able to lift the Siege of Charleston, which had already fought off an earlier British attempt in 1776. It was a bitter humiliation to the British that prompted the removal of Henry Clinton, the British Commander-in-Chief of troops in America, who had determined to lead the Charleston expedition personally. Arnold proved popular among the elites in Charleston and was granted his request of military command of the city. Greene was content with his revenge of Washington through Virginian Colonel William Campbell, who led the charge that killed Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain, NC.

Britain was increasingly frustrated in its efforts to raid by the French navy, which bottled up the British troops at the last major foothold in the colonies, New York. In the enormous Battle of New York of 1781, Gates led the Americans to victory in taking the city before Clinton's replacement, Guy Carleton, famed defender of Quebec, could arrive. The damage, particularly to the property of loyalists, many of whom fled with only the shirts on their backs, would be legendary, but it was the last of the major battles of the war, which would end officially with the Treaty of Paris 1783.

Though the war was over, the question of how to govern the United States continued. Congress remained controversial, and there was major concern for the rights of the former colonies, especially from South Carolina where Arnold had remained and grown into a wealthy merchant and politician. Greene, who had returned to Connecticut facing substantial debt, sold off his Southern plantations awarded for his service and took up a position with the United States government negotiating with Native Americans. When the Articles of Confederation proved unable to manage the states together, a Constitutional Convention was called. Gates's offer to serve as president was politely declined due to the bad taste in many New Yorkers' mouths his name brought, and ultimately Nathanael Greene won the position with his experience in managing negotiations.

The Constitution ratified in 1788 brought about a system of checks and balances along with a much stronger Executive branch. Though Arnold continued to voice his concerns about federalism, the office of the president proved to be a great enticement to him. Although inherently self-motivated, it proved to be a unifying matter that drew support from liberal Jeffersonians. Arnold would beat out the legally mind John Adams to become the first national president with promises to maintain balance. He worked alongside the economically minded Alexander Hamilton to establish a shared-branch form of national bank that begrudgingly satisfied both federalists and those fearing federal tyranny. Its success at minimizing speculation while supplying a steady stream of investment would soon lead Hamilton to the Executive Mansion himself.


In reality, after Ferguson had given the order, he recalled it, feeling disgust at the ungentlemanly action of ambushing an officer. Ferguson shouted at Washington, who glanced up and then merely rode on. After being wounded, the doctor mentioned Washington and Pulaski, and Ferguson noted, "I could have lodged half a dozen balls in or about him." Ferguson later participated in raids and then in the British Southern campaign, dying under a volley of at least eight shots at Kings Mountain.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Guest Post: Ivy League Nixon treats JFK as Alger Hiss

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History, answering the question posed by Bill Whalen in his LA Times article, "The many what-ifs of Richard Nixon."

Richard M. Nixon, ace student of Whittier High, was tested with a prodigious I.Q. score of 143 and recognized as one of the most promising and accomplished high school seniors in California. He graduated third in his class of 207 and was deservedly offered a tuition grant to attend Harvard University.
Proving to be an outstanding student with an encyclopedic mastery of the law, he repeated this academic success again graduating third in his class. However, like many of his student colleagues, his budding legal career was suddenly interrupted by the outbreak of World War Two. Some astutely legal-minded fellows strongly encouraged him to exploit his status as a birthright Quaker and seek a military deferment.

Instead, Nixon applied for and received a Navy commission and was assigned to duty in the Pacific. In that theatre, he first met John F. Kennedy in the wake of the disastrous sinking of patrol torpedo boat (PT) #109. As a self-made man from a poor family, Nixon was left unimpressed by the embarrassing command failure of this scion of the American mandarin class. Kennedy escaped censure apart from a scolding letter from his elder brother. Disgusted, Nixon made a derisory off-hand comment to a naval colleague, "I call them spoiled rotten. And I tell you what would cure them. A good, old-fashioned trip to my Ohio father's woodshed."

Twenty years later, their paths crossed again, and this time Nixon would prove to be Kennedy's nemesis. Nixon gained national attention as a leading member of the brilliant legal team behind the impeachment of President Kennedy that followed the Vietnam fiasco and multiple personal indiscretions. During this lengthy period of the so-called "Camelot twilight" era, Nixon stayed at the Watergate Hotel. Wire-tapping and later a break-in to his room was widely blamed on Attorney General Robert Kennedy but never proven. Appalled by this extra-judicial action, Nixon had the opportunity to reflect upon his own destiny. It was following the political earthquake of Kennedy's resignation that Nixon retired from the U.S. Navy Reserve and began to consider his own political future.

Author's Note:

In reality, Nixon remained in his hometown and enrolled at his local Quaker college of Whittier because he was needed at the store because of his father's continued illness requiring his mother's care. Nixon famously once said "None of those Harvard b*st*rds!" despite choosing Harvard professors Henry Kissinger and Daniel Patrick Moynihan as his principal foreign and domestic advisers. Kennedy and Nixon were actually good friends; indeed, JFK even made a contribution to Nixon when he was running against Helen Gahagan Douglas for the Senate.

Provine's Addendum:

The downfall of the Kennedy family set the stage for a narrow Republican win in the 1964 elections. Lyndon Johnson distanced himself from as much of the political damage as possible, though even his long stint in Congress proved forgotten by many in the wake of Nixon's attacks. The Democratic Party was further divided by the loud voice of George Wallace, who cried for states rights in the face of the Civil Rights Act passed in the wake of Kennedy's impeachment, though not removal. Many saw the act as a great unifier for the country to heal old wounds, but others found it divisive. Thanks to the strife as well as Nixon's vehement campaigning in California, narrowly turning the state as Nixon made a public mockery of the "Daisy" television campaign ad, Barry Goldwater came to the White House with Nixon as his vice president. Historians would later comment on it being one of the dirtiest elections in American history, rivaling even the outlandish 1800 election, after which the Jeffersonian hatchetman James Calendar went to prison for slander against Adams, whose own campaign spread the rumor Jefferson would work to legalize and promote prostitution.

Nixon set about to continue his perceived role as the nation's watchdog. With Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover as his right-hand man, Nixon fanned the flames of a new Red Scare on top of uncovering corruption scandals at seemingly every level of government. Goldwater, who promise to "clean up the mess" in Vietnam, focused most of his attention on containment using US air and artillery support without boots on the ground and restructuring the social welfare system in the country to more align with his policies of state-based action. At the 1968 Republican national convention, Goldwater felt pressure to step aside for a Nixon presidency, leading to Nixon's alliance with the growing conservative elements such as California governor Ronald Reagan and the surprising upset that put Nixon at the top of the ballot. Goldwater, betrayed, returned to the senate and later called Nixon "the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life."

Nixon won handily in 1968 as the Democratic Party still struggled to realign itself in recovery from the Kennedy implosion. In 1972, he won again by an even wider margin, though there were growing factions upset by his methods of publicly destroying targets such as corporate polluters to great aplomb while secretly destroying opposition from within. As the nation's bicentennial approached, rumors spread of Nixon looking to overturn the Twenty-second Amendment that disallowed a third term of presidency. When several leaders in Congress and even the Executive branch came forward to reveal it was true, it was a moment those who wanted to derail Nixon had waited for. Nixon denied everything, but his cracked public image soon shattered, and he gave an embittered speech at the 1976 Republican national convention commenting on his victimhood, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." Ronald Reagan won the candidacy, but he would lose out to Democratic dark horse James Carter of Georgia, whose two terms built a transparent federal system of social welfare and began the model of taxation on the wealthy like Roosevelt's Revenue Acts that would be followed for decades.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Guest Post: Charles I Dies after Failed Escape Attempt

This article by Allen W. McDonnell first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

On November 11, 1647, while attempting to escape custody at Hampton Court Palace, Charles I falls, striking his head and going into a coma. Under care of the staff , he is given water and broth by using a hollow quill to dribble drops of liquid into his mouth. The nurse is quick to discover that by timing the drops to when the king is exhaling through his nose, his body automatically swallows the drops. Because of the feeding of liquids, the king lingers in his coma until February 14, 1648, when he expires from malnutrition without ever regaining consciousness.Parliament enacted a Council of State rather than a Regency a week after the king lost consciousness. Having seized control during the second Civil War, the Long Parliament decided that removing Charles I and his descendants might be necessary for their very survival and the good of the country. By act of the Council of State following the funeral of Charles I on February 14, 1648, his wife and surviving children along with the captured members of his Privy Council and their families are exiled to the uninhabited island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic. Along with the elites are sent a number of crown loyalist small farmers and the supplies needed for raising food crops and clearing land and the necessary poultry and livestock to support a self sufficient population.

In preparation for the nobles' arrival, the first fleet departed in February 1648 with two navy guard ships and six transports carrying 200 New Model Army soldiers as guards and 1,200 crown loyalist colonists to build New Edinburg and lay out the farms, plant the crops , and construct storehouses for the supplies on the cargo ships of the fleet. By the time Charles II, his mother, and siblings arrive in September, the Stanley Palace is built and furnished for them. Along with the royal family are 423 crown loyalist nobles and an additional 800 farmers. The main crops are root vegetables like potato, beets, and turnips. The main sources of protein are the wild birds and mammals for the first two years while the farmers expand their poultry flocks and livestock herds to become completely self sufficient.

Back on Great Britain, the Long Parliament begins the arduous process of writing a new constitution, changing the nation from a monarchy into a republic. In place of the king, the new government will be under the Lord Protector elected from the House of Lords with a Privy Council heading each department with half the members coming from each house of Parliament headed by the Prime Minister. To prevent a new monarchy from developing, the Lord Protector serves for life but his own near relatives are ineligible to serve as the next Lord Protector. Every member of the House of Lords who is not closely related to the current Lord Protector is eligible to seek the office upon his death and to be appointed they must win a majority of votes in both houses of Parliament forcing the choice to be widely acceptable.

By the time the new constitution is negotiated and written ending the second English Civil War, years have passed, but in 1651 with the surrender of the last Scottish crown loyalists the new constitution goes into force. The victorious leader of the New Model Army, Oliver Cromwell, is elected first Lord Protector. With Cromwell's unexpected death in 1658, John Paulet, 5th Marquess of Winchester, is elected the second Lord Protector and serves until his death in 1675.

Author's Note:

The Republican constitution is loosely based on the Scandinavian system in use during this period. In Denmark, Sweden, and Norway of this era, when a monarch died or was deposed, the council of nobles would meet and elect a new head of state. Sometimes they would elect the son of the outgoing monarch, but this was not always the case. Also on some occasions, the three sets of nobles would elect the same 'King' and the three Scandinavian nations would be united under one crown; at other times, they would be completely independent of one another in their highest office. The Republican constitution precludes passing authority down a single family tree and keeps the leadership distributed over time throughout the nobility.
Provine's Addendum:

As England's empire continued to grow, the constitution would be tested and transformed with the needs of time. Maintaining a class of nobles infuriated many, but it proved a stabilizing agent while everyone aspired to the wealth of such magnitude that they would merit a seat in parliament. Over the eighteenth century, many planters from overseas in the West Indies, Americas, India, and West Africa joined the House of Lords, following the model of Scottish lords being incorporated back into office after the civil wars. The House of Commons grew in a similar suit to represent colonies, creating an extensive network that resolved some of the issues of citizens being so distant from London.

The growth of industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries changed the scope of government. People whose wealth was in corporations rather than land called for their own seats, giving rise to an oligarchy that changed radically in mere based on fortunes in steel, oil, rubber, media, or whatever the product in demand at the moment was. Policies remained vastly pro-business, ultimately leading to revolution for workers rights.

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