Risky Business, Part 1

mobile bay 0720In August 1864, Rear Admiral David Farragut was leading a Union flotilla (not quite an armada) into Mobile Bay, intending to shut down the Confederacy’s last open port. The Confederates, anticipating this, had heavily mined the entrance to the Alabama bay, with what at the time were called “torpedoes.”

The Union ironclad Tecumseh found one of these the hard way and sank, prompting other captains to start pulling back. It was then that Farragut gave an order — a bit lengthier than we recall it today, but the same in sentiment — that has resonated through the years: “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.”

Among other things, Farragut’s lopsided victory (he brought 18 ships while the Confederates had four) helped deliver the 1864 election to Abraham Lincoln. It was also another nail in the Confederacy’s coffin — the South lost, remember, despite the revisionist history coming from the president about all the great military figures worth venerating in statuary and the apparent necessity of continuing subjugation of people of color.

What I can’t find, in my five minutes of research into this battle, is a body count. I’m not even clear if the men on the Tecumseh survived the sinking. But it sounds like that wasn’t a factor in Farragut’s decision. A Navy man since the age of 9 (yes, 9), his task was to take the bay and that’s what he was going to do.

Admirable for an admiral, perhaps, and while it was a winning strategy here it failed miserably in Pickett’s Charge, when half the 6,000 men under George Pickett’s command ended up dead, wounded or captured after the great — here we use the term loosely — Southern general Robert E. Lee thought it would be a good idea to damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead a full year ahead of Farragut.

Apparently Lee apologized to the survivors as they made their way back behind Confederate lines, telling them “it was my fault.”  But by the time he got around to writing his three reports about the charge, part of the Battle of Gettysburg, he seemed to have forgotten that part, and he never took responsibility for it again.

Whether it works or not, this is the strategy Americans appear to have chosen against covid-19. We are damning the torpedoes and heading forward at full speed, even as General Longstreet tries to warn us this isn’t a good idea.

I have to say, our federal response has been the most erratic thing I can recall witnessing. One minute we’re all about letting the states fend for themselves; the next we’re (and here I use the term extremely loosely) trying to force the most locally autonomous entities to accede to the president’s whim o’ the day.

And here, mid-thought, I must come to a pause. Marrakesh’s check-up yesterday appears to have resulted in a horrible reaction to his vaccination (not that I am taking an anti-vax approach to life, but sometimes things do happen), so I was up much of the night with him and made an emergency trip to the vet’s this morning.

I will be back tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, with a very useful chart from the Texas Medical Association and some advice from esteemed epidemiologists.

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