I like to write about people on their birthdays. It just feels like a little remembrance, in honor of the good, or the terrible thing they have done.
Today is David Farragut’s birthday. This David was born July 5, 1801, in the great state of Tennessee. His name wasn’t immediately familiar to me. In fact, not at all. He was an Admiral during the U.S. Civil War. He fought for the Union side of things.
His claim to fame was for one phrase he said during battle. (Which has actually been paraphrased.). He is the one who shouted, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
It happened in 1864. During the Battle of Mobile Bay, down in Alabama way. He, and his troops were trying to win some of the ports near Mobile. Things were pretty thick there. Mobile was heavily protected. On shore there were heavily armed batteries. In the water there were lots of tethered naval mines, known as torpedoes.
But, in war, a boys gotta’ do. SoFarragut ordered his fleet to charge the bay. The first ship out of the group hit a mine. Kablooey. It sank like a stinking rock. Of course, the other ships saw this and pulled back right away. I mean, who wants to go down with the ship, courtesy of a torpedo? A big retreat.
But Farragut wasn’t having it. He told those ships to get back into the fight. He shouted down that ever familiar, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” Truthfully? His real words were: “Damn the torpedoes. Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed.” But as you can see, none of us would be able to remember all of that when we use the phrase, so we turned it into something much catchier.
They ended up charging. They took the port. They won the day. Against the odds. All of this, which mostly means, “We’re not going to look at the risks, we’re just going to do it! Whatever ‘it’ might be.”
I guess most of us don’t use this phrase any more. Like, maybe we’ll be out with a bunch of friends, getting Wings at a Wings Place. And the waitress will ask, “Do you want those mild, regular, super spicy, or death from the gates of hell?” And someone stands up at the table and yells. “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.”
Or perhaps you and your spouse are going to paint the living room. He wants to go with “Passion Pink” and you are more in the “Cream of Wheat” palette. Finally, you give in, and in the middle of the Sherman Williams store, you shout, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.” A couple days later, you regret the pink, as it looks a lot like Pepto Bismol.
Weighing the risks.
We all do it in our little ways, much of the time without even thinking. In most cases, in our ordinary lives, the stakes are not as high as being blown out of the water by a floating mine.
Although, sometimes, it can feel that way. It could be something involving another person, on an emotional scale. Or perhaps a business challenge. Maybe a personal goal we are trying to achieve. We know we want to approach the situation. Yet, in the water, all around it, are these little floating mines, and we know that when we hit one, the whole big boat might blow up.
I’m guessing that for most of us, we don’t damn any torpedoes. We probably cradle them and try to diffuse them, right in the middle of all those waves.
So yes. I guess we can thank David Farragut, for giving these things to think about. For him, it worked out. Forge ahead. Forget the dangers. But sometimes, I say it might be better to “tread lightly, and carry a whisk broom.”
For the rest of Farragut’s story, he died on August 14, 1870, at the age of 69. Death by heart attack. He was on vacation when it happened. My guess, is that they were in line at the soft-serve ice cream place, and he wanted to charge to the head of the line. His wife probably told him to simmer down, and wait like everyone else. And it was just too much for a guy that has been damning torpedoes his whole life.
I hope today, we all make good choices. Whatever they may be.
“When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”
― Herman Wouk
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston S. Churchill
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”
― Rumi, The Essential Rumi