In 1716 – (301 years ago) – thirty-three thousand soldiers died and untold thousands more were wounded when forces of Austria’s Habsburg monarchy met an army of the Ottoman Empire at Petrovaradin, in what is now Serbia. The Ottomans had been driving toward the heart of Europe when they ran smack into a massive encampment ordered on the banks of the Danube by the Austrian military commander, Prince Eugene of Savoy. After three days of minor skirmishes, and in just a few hours of unspeakable carnage, the Ottoman troops were outmanuevered, overwhelmed, and wiped out. Barely one-third of them managed to escape with their lives after their leader, the Grand Vizier Damat Ali, was captured and killed. His tomb is in Belgrade.
In 1858 – (159 years ago) – having already failed in several attempts, oceangoing engineers from the United States and Great Britain finally completed laying the first-ever telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. The 2,500-mile-long cable was made of five copper wires wrapped in a casing of gutta-percha, tar, and hemp. It lay on an undersea plateau two miles under the waves, and connected a station in Newfoundland with another one in Ireland. After a few days of testing, Britain’s Queen Victoria sent the ceremonial first message to US President James Buchanan. The technology was so crude that her ninety-eight-word message took sixteen hours to send. Within days the transmission quality grew even worse, and engineers argued about how to fix it. The English chief electrician, Wildman Whitehouse, finally chose to pump an extra charge of two thousand volts into the cable to get it working. But instead of fixing the problem, the shock burned the cable out, rendering the hugely expensive project worthless after only three weeks in service. Whitehouse’s reputation was ruined, though he would spend the rest of his life defending his decision. Many people suspected that the whole cable project had been a big hoax, and six years would pass before it was attempted again.
In 1962 – (55 years ago) — near the town of Howick in South Africa, police arrested Nelson Mandela, leader of an armed wing of the banned African National Congress that had been classified as a terrorist organization by South Africa’s white minority government. Mandela was arrested along with a group of associates who were charged with sabotage, treason, and violent conspiracy against the apartheid regime. After a trial in which he acknowledged his illegal activity, including several bombings, and stated his willingness to die for the cause of abolishing apartheid, Mandela would spend eighteen years in the notoriously brutal Robben Island prison near Cape Town, followed by nine years in another prison and under house arrest, during which time he would become world-famous and turn down a series of government compromise deals for his release. Not until 1990, at the age of seventy-one, would he finally be freed.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi