Farragut at New Orleans

David Glasgow Farragut had a problem; he’d been shelling the forts below New Orleans for a solid week, expending 15,000 shells. He was starting to shake some of his ships apart, and it seemed as if he was making no progress either.

For that matter, the war wasn’t going all that well, either, in that spring of 1862. Just a few days ago, Grant had been surprised at Shiloh Church, and while he recovered on the second day, the butcher’s bill was shocking. And as always, the accusations flew fast and furious that Grant had been drunk, and that Sherman was mad. Well maybe Grant was, he was never at his best when his wife, Julia, was not with him, and Uncle Billy had his moments, but they would come into their own, right now they were stifled by superior officers, Shiloh would begin to cure that.

In the east, McClellan was in the process of getting bogged down, both militarily and in the mud, on the Peninsula. Smartly executed, it was a plan that might well have taken Richmond, whether it would have ended the war is quite doubtful. But in any case, Pinkerton, who was his intelligence chief, exaggerated the forces arrayed against him, and ‘Mac’ wasn’t over bold, in any case. Part of that was because of his love of his troops, which they returned, he tended to forget his mission to safeguard them, which of course, made it worse. It would also have the strange outcome of Mac running against Lincoln in 1864, on a platform that the war had failed, although not saying that it lasted longer and was more deadly because of him.

Soon, R.E. Lee would replace Johnston who would be wounded commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, give orders to suppress General Pope’s army, thus setting in train the moves that would lead to ‘artillery hell’ or Antietam, and thus a very narrow window, which gave the President his opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

So, while there was some cause for optimism in Washington, you weren’t going to get it from the press. Farragut knew all this, of course, and it wasn’t likely to be career enhancing to go back down the Mississippi with his tail between his legs. He also had something new. Most or maybe all of his combatant ships were steam powered, he could go straight into the wind, for nearly the first time in history, a naval commander wasn’t dependent on the wind. And so he decided.

Yesterday, his squadron ran the batteries downstream from New Orleans, they took some damage, but they made it, and then scattered a makeshift flotilla, above the city. It took a considerable portion of guts because it looked like a very good way to sink the entire squadron. But you know, conventional thinking is often wrong.

And so, today, at noon, Admiral Farragut would step onto the levee at New Orleans, and soon there would be 10,000 Union troops in town. And the Confederates would lose for all time, the great port of the old southwest, not to mention that while they could still cross ship on the river (until Grant took Vicksburg, in about a year) it was closed to international trade. And that was one of the first blows that doomed the Confederacy. Today in 1862.

via It Takes Guts | Practically Historical

Well Said, Sir


No comment necessary

But you know, the Admiral’s speech wasn’t bad either.


Freedom of the Seas

We are the world’s most prolific trading nation, we inherited this title someplace in the late 19th century from Britain, the traditional “Nation of Shopkeepers” Why is this, how did it occur and what does it mean?

Note that my title does not refer to the UN Law of the Sea or anything other than the traditional meaning.

We all know that the Britain we rebelled against was a mercantilist nation, whose ruling class believed that colonies existed for the benefit of the motherland, hence duties on sugar and tea and most of the articles of domestic life. It also led to a ban on manufacturing in the colonies. That all well and good, for the motherland, anyway. The American colonists weren’t particularly happy about it, however, seeing as they believed (as it said in their charters) that they were Englishmen with all the rights and duties pertaining to that status.

A side note that we should make in these times is that those colonies were almost all corporations. Yes, they were, from Virginia and Massachusetts Bay on down to Georgia. Free associations of people banding together for a common purpose. And you thought America wasn’t grounded in business, what could be more American than that, the very founding of the 13 colonies was by business. The Empire in India came about similarly, most of the conquering was done by the British  East India Company, the government took over later.

Anyway, the mercantilist vision wasn’t working all that well. First, the Americans revolted and made it stick, then they screwed up the triangular trade with the ban on the import of slaves after 1800, and then they were taking a lot of the trade in British bottoms away, too.

It was time for a rethink. A goodly part of the British upper class (as with America) had read their Adam Smith and were beginning to think about capitalism instead of corporatism. Obviously, it wasn’t anywhere near this clear-cut. We can’t say that on 2 February 1809 Britain abandoned mercantilism, it was a gradual shifting of view and traces of mercantilism remain to this day, that’s part of what tariffs and VAT taxes are about.

But by the time the Napoleonic Wars had ended, Britain looked around and found that they made far better profits by trading with everyone from Andorra to Zimbabwe, and ruling only enough to keep their shipping (and Navy) supplied. They also found that with other maritime powers in the world (The United States, the Dutch, and maybe the French) while their profit was lower (per item) but there were many more items.

From this came a new doctrine: Freedom of the Seas. Essentially this doctrine was pretty much the American position leading up to the War of 1812. International waters are free for the passage of all upon their peaceful pursuits. It has always been modified in time of war. The blockades of the Confederacy in the Civil War, of Germany (and England via the U-Boats) in World Wars 1 & 2, and of Japan in World War 2. They are still being used as sanctions against such countries as Syria and Libya today.

By 1815 Great Britain had found that the free republics of South and Central America had become quite large trading partners as had the United States (which had no small maritime fleet either, up till the Civil War when the Confederate raiders made insurance too expensive, the US was usually rated second only to Great Britain itself).

You may recall that I have referred to the War on the Barbary Coast (where Marine Officers got their sword), this was all about freedom of the seas, the Barbary coast pirates (an early form of state sponsored terrorism) were in the habit of demanding tribute for passage through the Mediterranean and often got it. When the USS Philadelphia went aground off the Tripoli Harbor, was captured and the crew enslaved the United States got fed up. Here’s a short story from Wikipedia.

Burning of the USS Philadelphia

Burning of the USS Philadelphia, via Wikipedia

She cruised off Tripoli until October 31, 1803, when she ran aground on an uncharted reef off Tripoli Harbor. Under fire from shore batteries and Tripolitan gunboats all efforts to refloat her failed, and she surrendered; her officers and men were made slaves of the Pasha.

The Philadelphia was too great a prize to be allowed to remain in the hands of the Tripolitans, so a decision was made to recapture or destroy her. Under the guise of a ship in distress in need of a place to tie up after having lost all anchors in a storm, on 16 February 1804 a volunteer assaulting party of officers and men under LieutenantStephen Decatur, Jr. boarded her from the ketch Intrepidand burned her where she lay in Tripoli Harbor. Horatio Nelson, known as a man of action and bravery, is said to have called this “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

Eventually, the Pirates learned that American ships were formidable fighters and pretty much left them alone after a regime change or two.

Meantime after the defeat of Napoleon, Great Britain had become anti-slavery and acting (again in consort with the United States) had forbidden the slave trade to the new world. They also provided the muscle to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, because their trade with Latin America was too great to risk losing. They also opposed the annexation of Texas by the US for the same reason.

Bases for the fleet in anticipation of the Panama Canal was one of the unstated reasons for the Spanish-American War, where we flirted for the first (and thankfully) last time with an Empire. We gained Puerto Rico, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Philippines (temporarily) from that conflict.

During the last half of the 19th Century, while we weren’t paying much attention to it, we became the largest trading nation in history, first as an importer and then as our industrial revolution went on as an exporter. This was also the era when the American harvest became an important thing worldwide. We had begun to feed the world and do it better than it had ever been done before.

By World War 1 we had become indispensable, although nobody really knew it yet. But the U-boat campaign nearly starved Great Britain, and the Allies nearly bankrupted themselves buying from such companies as Colt and Winchester. (And you thought the 2d Amendment was about politics, it’s about freedom, all over the world.)

At the end of the war, in the Washington Naval Conference, Great Britain ceded to the United States naval parity, knowing that it would turn into superiority. Here begins Britain descent into the second rank of powers, and the American duty of freedom of the seas.

It took a while for Americans to realize it of course, until 7 December 1941 to be exact. Since then we have never looked back, the paramount fleet in the world has been supplemented with both the paramount Army and Air Force. Is there really anybody in the free or quasi-free world that would have it any other way. Do we, or the Australians, or the South Koreans, or even the Indians, really want control of the seas to reside, even partially, with the Chinese?

Freedom of the Seas mostly kept the peace for most of the 19th Century with the Royal Navy in charge, and for the last 65 years with the United States in charge, those two periods have witnessed the largest growth in living standards all across the world ever seen. And it has averted many wars, including the unthinkable: a thermonuclear war between the United States and Soviet Russia in October of 1962, when the maritime exclusion zone was instituted (selectively, to be sure) around Cuba. Control of and freedom of the seas has been America’s first line of defense as long as there has been America.

Here’s John F. Kennedy’s take:

“Events of October 1962 indicated, as they had all through history, that control of the sea means security. Control of the seas can mean peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the seas if it is to protect your security….”

President John F. Kennedy, 6 June 1963, on board USS Kitty Hawk.

We seem to be seeing a resurgence of the isolationism that we had before the Second World War, their shortsightedness led to the Second World War. As much as we need to change the paradigm in Washington D.C., and we really, really do. I don’t think we want to risk World War Three, either.

First published on 13 December 2011.

Of Danegeld and Iranians

s749518301978605088_c4_i3_w640From Fortune Magazine

The controversial $400 million payment that the U.S. sent to Iran in January, just as four American hostages were released—a planeload of Euros, Swiss Francs and other currencies—was only the first of three American cash deliveries to the country, the Obama administration reportedly told lawmakers on Tuesday.

During the 19 days following the first shipment, the U.S. sent two more planeloads of cash, totaling $1.3 billion, to Tehran, reports The Wall Street Journal. The two planeloads, which passed through Europe on Jan. 22 and Feb. 5, followed the same route as the earlier payment, a congressional aide who was briefed told the Journal. In the first payment, an Iranian cargo plane picked up the money in Geneva.

via TREASON: Obama admits he really payed 1.7 BILLION to the Iranians – The Right Scoop

Ralph Peters called it a bribe, and the post that I took that quote from calls it Jizya. In neither case do I think they are exactly wrong, but I think it something else.

When we combine it with the continuing naval harassment in the gulf, it reminds me of something.

We all know that Obama is not fond of the Anglo-Saxon part of his heritage, or indeed of England/Great Britain/ the United Kingdom, many would add the United States to the list. That’s as may be, but it begs the question, has he learned the lessons that came down in that heritage? We learned many years ago about this.

More than a century ago Rudyard Kipling brought our attention to our ancient wisdom, when he wrote


A.D. 980-1016
It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: —
“We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: —
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: —

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!”

And that is why Saxon silver was found all over the Viking world, they hadn’t learned that yet, and that is also why at the end of the Viking age, we find the King of Norway and the Duke of Normandy contesting the Danish heir to the English throne.

Anyone who was bullied as a child knows the answer, though. When confronted on the schoolyard, win or lose, one must stand up to the bully, or the bullying will continue. Too bad that our PC Administration never learned that lesson. Even Thomas Jefferson learned; that’s how the USMC got their sword, right in that neighborhood, in Lybia to be exact.

And as we are relearning to our sorrow, nobody respects the man who pays the Danegeld.

Reminded me of this, as well

They used to say that you don’t have to worry about that angering the United States because they might drop a couple of hundred bombs on you. You have to worry about angering the United States because they might drop two bombs on you.

Reflections from the Comments

noseart_us_04Yesterday, on my post Rattlesnakes and Kings Trevor Nagle made a comment that brought something out that we should talk about some, because it is important. Here is his comment.

November 4, 2013 at 11:06 am This isn’t an Obama thing at all, rather a several decades move to reduce the individualism expressed by servicemembers on their uniforms. In fact, we saw this under Bush Sr. in the move to prohibit unit and squadron deployment-specific patches on flight suits and flight jackets. We saw it in 2000 with the prohibition of multicolored t-shirts allowed under flightsuits. The effort is not POTUS-specific, but the continual ebb and tide between allowing individualism and insisting on uniformity. As an aircrewman, I resented the changes we saw under Bush Sr. and Clinton, but it really wasn’t ever about the Man in the Office, so much as senior leadership reacting to situations that could be (errantly, in my opinion) chalked up to as attitudinal displays of individualism in the military. And in hindsight, it never really was that big of a deal….and neither, I’d argue, is this.
A couple of things here, I like Trevor, and I respect his teaching on leadership a lot. His blog is a wonderful source of information.
Also, I looked at this story for a while before I decided to write about it for exactly the reason he said. I chose to go with it in part because it gave me a vehicle to talk about some American history that we don’t talk about all that much, and to tie it into the present day.
That said, I think part of our trouble, maybe a large part, is that we immediately assume the worst of our opponents lately. That’s true on the left, and it’s becoming more and more true on the right as well.
We seem to be starting on the path of demonizing each other, and while I try not to do that, I do it some too. Part of the reason, is that I just plain get tired of listening to the abuse directed my way, and decide to throw some back. I’d like to say I’m going to quit, but I’m probably not, at least not always. And that’s a sad thing.
Part of the reason America has worked in the past is that we have always assumed that while the other guys may have been stupid, or misguided, greedy, or many other things; almost never have we questioned his patriotism. Now we are starting to do that, I understand it, because in some cases, I do too. But it is a very bad thing if untrue, and worse if true.
In this particular case, I suspect Trevor is correct. As he says at some times our military has encouraged (or tolerated) a lot of individualism, witness the nose art from the aircraft in World War II, at other time it has projected a uniformly (pun intended) drab image. It’s sort of a fashion in the military that comes and goes. It matters and can lead to resentment but it’s not earthshaking and even the guys involved know it.
We are in this country dealing with very important things, which include the proper sphere of the government. In some ways we are very like the generation that crafted the Constitution. We may well be deciding the course of our country for somewhere between the next generation and the next century. It behooves us to think rationally, not to mention long, hard, and objectively about these matters. These are issues, and this includes Obamacare, that will fundamentally affect how America looks and performs far into the future.
We need to try to not be distracted by trifles, like whether the SEALs wear a patch with the Navy Jack, or their unit crest or whatever. It’s not a mission critical thing for them, let alone a strategic issue for us as the United States.
We need to keep our heads clear and our eyes open, and live up to the vision our founders had of a free, happy people who could prosper, in this vast and bounteous land.
Now that we have that straight:

Back to the battle.


Rattlesnakes and Kings

First official salute to the American flag on board an American warship in a foreign port, 16 November 1776. Painting by Phillips Melville, depicting Continental Brig Andrew Doria receiving a salute from the Dutch fort at St. Eustatius, West Indies, 16 November 1776.

First official salute to the American flag on board an American warship in a foreign port, 16 November 1776. Painting by Phillips Melville, depicting Continental Brig Andrew Doria receiving a salute from the Dutch fort at St. Eustatius, West Indies, 16 November 1776.

And so we have a kerfuffle. It seems that the President , or at least someone in the executive branch has ordered the US Navy Sea. Air, Land (SEAL) Teams to quit wearing a patch depicting what is commonly referred to as the “First Navy Jack”.

Naval_Jack_of_the_United_States.svgThe patch is a subdued replica of the jack shown to the left. It is supposed to be the jack flown by the USS Andrew Doria, at St. Eustatius on 16 November 1776, when the ship fired a salute to the Dutch fort, which the fort returned, this being the first salute rendered to United States colors by a foreign power. It is also the jack flown by the senior ship of the fleet on active service, That currently is The USS Nimitz, which is sort of a moot point since by order of President Bush, the Navy has been flying it during the course of the Global War on Terror from all ships.

The stripes of course, as they always do, symbolise the 13 united colonies, even as they do on our current flag. The rattlesnake is perhaps the oldest symbol of what would become the United States, it dates back to 1751, and was used by Benjamin Franklin in 1754, during the French and Indian War in his famous woodcut, reminding the colonist to work together.

As we moved into the Revolution it was a motif that was both familiar and distinctive, as well as something apparent to Americans, a wise man does not tread on rattlesnakes after all. Something of the temper of Americans, then and now, is also implied in both its warning and the use of the word “me” rather than a collective pronoun. Americans have always been an individualistic lot, given to amorphous associations as necessary but more inclined to be responsible for themselves, with a limited, and Christian caring for their neighbor, but not willing to grant that it was anything but an individual duty to help succor the poor and unfortunate. A hard people? Perhaps, but also a just people.

Gadsden FlagThe most famous, today anyway, rendering of the rattlesnake motif is , of course, the one designed by General Christopher Gadsden in 1775, which is shown to the left. I also note that the Gadsden Flag was used by Commodore Esek Hopkins, the first commander-in-chief of the Continental Navy as his personal flag, It was flown from the mainmast. This same arrangement on the yellow background was used on the drums of the oldest military force of the country, the Continental Marines. It’s a motif, and a warning as well, that the opponents of the American people over the centuries have come to agree with. Most people and countries who have disregarded that warning have not come to good ends.

And I note that except for the naval use, neither of these have ever been symbols of the government of the United States, only the higher standard as emblems of the People.

And so, I find it rather petty, and anti-history for the president to deny the SEALS the use of one of the oldest symbols of the country, and the navy, sadly I’m not surprised.

Perhaps that’s why the President doesn’t like rattlesnakes


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