Damn The Torpedoes!

Allegedly (but doubtfully) uttered by Admiral Farragut of the Union navy as he besieged the entrance to Mobile Bay.  The full (alleged) quote is “Damn the torpedoes!  Full speed ahead!”

I’m not much interested in military or naval history, but for reasons that will become apparent later, this morning I’ve been immersing myself in the history of the Battle of Mobile Bay.

One of the more interesting facts about the battle is that the entrance to Mobile Bay, guarded by Fort Gaines and her sister fort, Fort Morgan, was heavily mined with “torpedoes”.  At the time, torpedoes were anchored underwater mines.  Prior to the use of torpedoes, explosive devices were floated toward enemy ships.  These could be seen above water and were therefore avoidable.  The Confederacy was the first to use torpedoes, which disgusted Admiral Farragut.  He said (for real) that no “chivalrous” nation would make use of such things, although he eventually had to himself, in self-defense.

What’s fascinating to me is the parallel to today.  Think:  drone aircraft, which our enemies consider cowardly.  Yeah, well.  I’m not sure all is fair in love, but all is fair in war.  What’s also interesting is contemplating the ultimate outcome of superior technology.  When your enemies get it too, then what?  Will we have, eventually, a no nukes/no torpedoes/no drones policy?   I’m not taking sides on this, but I find it also interesting that the world’s powers who do have nuclear technology are hell-bent on preventing anyone else from getting it (think: Iran).  I haven’t thought this through completely, but there is something vaguely hypocritical and disturbing about it.

Another factoid about the battle is that while “Damn the Torpedos” is probably a myth, it is true that Farragut was lashed to the rigging of his ship, the Hartford, so that he could see above the smoke.  It wasn’t actually his choice to be lashed.  He climbed the rigging, and a junior officer ordered one of the men to climb behind him and lash him to it.

This whole line of thought started innocently enough with a conversation on Facebook.  My friend Jerri made a comment about how being inside the Alamo made her cry.  It was like, she said, you could feel the souls of the dead.  While I’ve been to San Antonio, it was only for a weekend, and I never went inside the Alamo.  But I knew exactly what she meant anyway.

Because I’ve been many times to Fort Gaines, which is on Dauphin Island, Alabama.  It’s first of all a remarkable feat of architecture.  There are these long hallways/tunnels, held up by arches constructed entirely of brick, without keystones.  The craftmanship that took is unfathomable.

But more importantly, I know what Jerri means.  I’m neither religious nor a believer in the supernatural.  The fort has a deserted feel, but it feels populated all the same–by spirits.  Part of it, I think, is the wind blowing off the Gulf, and whistling through the gun battlements.  It sounds like whispering. Sometimes louder, sometimes softer.

I have no way to explain this feeling, especially for a very concrete, down-to-earth sort of person like me.   The mind is a strange and labyrinthine place.  I have to remember that no one ever promised me I would understand everything.


4 responses to “Damn The Torpedoes!

  1. Interesting post! I too know what you mean when you describe how you feel in Fort Gaines. I felt that way twice at Gettysburg. Once when I stood where Pickett s charge was launched and looked at the stone wall a mile away. Then again at Little Roundtop where Chamberlain made his valiant charge down the mountain. I was/am truly overwhelmed by the enormity of these two events and the resulting carnage.

    As for love and war being fair or not, well life itself is not “fair.”.

  2. Oh my. I can only imagine the feeling you must get being at Gettysburg. I’ve never been. Because it’s so close, I intend one day to visit Andersonville. To some extent, places like Gettysburg and Fort Gaines and Andersonville are reminders of why we shouldn’t go there. Unless we can’t help it.

  3. I think that somewhere there, I would be able to “see” Lincoln giving the Gettysburg address. Is there a better speech in the history of Mankind? Even though iit’s one of the shortest ever, if not THE shortest. “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…” Well, that didn’t turn out to be true. It may also be the first time anyone used the phrase “the last full measure of devotion”.

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