Audubon Christmas Bird Count issue: Eagles did not prosper during the ‘time of DDT’

August 26, 2015

Still photo captured from the film,

Still photo captured from the film, “Christmas Bird Count,” by Chan Robbins; photo shows a group counting birds, probably in the 1940s or 1950s. Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count got its start in 1900.

In the notoriously wrong and misleading “100 things you should know about DDT” posted by pro-DDT, anti-wildlife Steven Milloy of “Competitive Enterprise Institute” and Fox News fame, based on the foggy rant of Dr. Gordon Edwards, we get these two misleading claims:

69. After 15 years of heavy and widespread usage of DDT, Audubon Society ornithologists counted 25 percent more eagles per observer in 1960 than during the pre-DDT 1941 bird census. [Marvin, PH. 1964 Birds on the rise. Bull Entomol Soc Amer 10(3):184-186; Wurster, CF. 1969 Congressional Record S4599, May 5, 1969; Anon. 1942. The 42nd Annual Christmas Bird Census. Audubon Magazine 44:1-75 (Jan/Feb 1942; Cruickshank, AD (Editor). 1961. The 61st Annual Christmas Bird Census. Audubon Field Notes 15(2):84-300; White-Stevens, R.. 1972. Statistical analyses of Audubon Christmas Bird censuses. Letter to New York Times, August 15, 1972]

99. The Audubon Society’s annual bird census in 1960 reported that at least 26 kinds of birds became more numerous during 1941 – 1960. [See Anon. 1942. The 42nd annual Christmas bird census.” Audubon Magazine 44;1-75 (Jan/Feb 1942), and Cruicjshank, AD (editor) 1961. The 61st annual Christmas bird census. Audubon Field Notes 15(2); 84-300]

100. Statistical analysis of the Audubon data bore out the perceived increases. [White-Stevens, R. 1972. Statistical analyses of Audubon Christmas bird censuses. Letter to New York Times, August 15, 1972]

Those claims are false with regard to bald eagles.

The careful citations offered by Milloy and Edwards simply do not exist; if the source exists, the source does not say what is claimed by these guys.  (Don’t take my word for it; go see for yourself.)

Audubon never suggested, in any forum, that their famous Christmas Bird Count had shown increases in eagles. Most other species showed no increases, either. I spent a couple of days at the library of Southern Methodist University reviewing every issue of Audubon Magazine from 1941 through 1974, and found not a single article suggesting anything other than declining eagle populations in the lower 48 states (Alaska eagles were not untouched by DDT, but were not so seriously affected; and as you will see below, the first counts of Alaska’s eagles did not occur until after 1950, so the addition of numbers from Alaska counts do not indicate an increase in U.S. population of eagles.)

I also reviewed each bird count, usually published in a separate booklet with the March issue of Audubon in that time. While raw numbers increased, that was clearly due to increases in people observing. At no point did any ornithologist or Audubon member suggest eagles were in recovery, from 1941 through 1972.

That’s a long explanation, unsuitable for quick discussion on blogs, and wholly too much for a 140-character Tweet. My experience with Milloy and his followers is that they will say my analysis somehow errs, though they cannot offer any real analysis from any other source that isn’t just a misreading of the raw bird count.

I wrote the Audubon Society, and asked them to respond to the claim. At first the press office thought the claims so bizarre that they didn’t think a reply necessary.  I sent them a half-dozen links to other documents that cited Milloy and Edwards.  Delta Willis at Audubon took the claims to officials of the bird count.

Geoff LeBaron, Director of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count sent the following reply (posted without correction).

See also the footnote from Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham appended to the end of the e-mail.

LeBaron, Geoff
Sent: Friday, May 10, 2013 10:21 AM
To: Willis, Delta; Langham, Gary; Dale, Kathy
Subject: RE: DDT and effects on birds, and Audubon Christmas bird count

Hello Delta,

From the 1930s through 1970s there was a tremendous growth in the number of Christmas Bird Counts, from 203 total counts in the 30th CBC to 1320 counts in 80th CBC.  The number of observers on those counts rose from 679 in 30th to 32,322 in the 80th Count.  That is a tremendous increase in effort as well as geographic coverage, and more people in more areas are going to count more Bald Eagles, even if the populations are [were] declining.

A second major factor is that during that period many CBCs were started with the specific goal of censusing wintering Bald Eagles.  Thus we were targeting the areas where eagles were wintering, and thus tallying a much greater percentage of the total population.

Thirdly, there were only two individual CBCs conducted in Alaska prior to the late 1950s.  Bald Eagle populations never suffered dramatically in Alaska [from DDT?], and their numbers were always much higher there.  Since the late 1950s there has been a tremendous growth in the number of counts in Alaska—again, with some of these counts targeting areas where wintering eagles congregate even in the thousands.  These counts added in Alaska can contribute greatly to the total number of Bald Eagles in each season’s CBC.

Thus even while Bald Eagle populations were plummeting in the lower 48 states (outside of Florida) CBC [Citizen Science] efforts were greatly increasing, and in fact targeting monitoring Bald Eagles.  That is why both the raw number of eagles and the numbers when weighted for observer effort went up when you pull CBC data for Bald Eagle during the decades of heavy DDT use.

It’s still educational to look at raptor numbers in CBC data in the years following the banning of the use of DDT in the US.  Many species of raptors show a rapid rebound in numbers after the mid-1970s…and Bald Eagles also dramatically increased.

Per Dr. Gary Langham, Audubon Chief Scientist:   Audubon scientists are careful to include levels of participation and geographic coverage in all analyses. Fortunately, we have tracked both of these aspects since the CBC was started and so it is straightforward to adjust for their impacts.

Bird counts do not show that eagles were out of trouble during DDT years, roughly 1946 through 1972; especially they do not show that bald eagle populations increased.

More:

Explanation of the Christmas Bird Count in four minutes, by Chan Robbins.

Chandler Robbins, founder of the Audubon Christimas Bird Count, screen capture from Audubon film

Chandler Robbins, founder of the Audubon Christimas Bird Count, screen capture from Audubon film “Christmas Bird Count.”

Nota bene: Yes, this has sat in my “to be published” box for too long. It was scheduled for publication, but it appears I had not hit the “publish at scheduled time” button. My apologies to readers, and especially to Audubon’s scientists and press people.


August 25, 1944: Liberation of Paris

August 24, 2015

Front page of the New York Times on August 26, 1944, noting the liberation of Paris after Allied troops reached there, following D-Day.

Front page of the New York Times on August 26, 1944, noting the liberation of Paris after Allied troops reached there, following D-Day.

On August 26, 1944, on a front page filled with other news from the war in Europe and the Pacific, the New York Times carried the story from the Associated Press:

Allied Forces Help French to Rid Capital of Nazis


By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SUPREME HEADQUARTERS, Allied Expeditionary Force, Aug. 25 — The Paris radio announced late tonight that the French capital had been liberated and that the German commander had signed a document ordering his troops to cease fire immediately.

The announcement followed entry of American and French troops into the capital during the day. There was no immediate confirmation here.

The latest word at headquarters was that American and French troops had joined Fighting French patriots on the Ile de la Cite in the heart of the capital after bitter fighting with Germans and French collaborationist militiamen.

Gen. Charles de Gaulle, President of the French Committee of National Liberation, said in a speech broadcast from Paris:

“France will take her place among the great nations which will organize the peace. We well not rest until we march, as we must, into enemy territory as conquerors.”

Allies invaded Europe at Normandy the previous June.

August, 1944: American soldiers watch as the Tricolor flies from the Eiffel Tower again. (Image: National Archives), via Brain Pickings

August, 1944: American soldiers watch as the Tricolor flies from the Eiffel Tower again. (Image: National Archives), via Brain Pickings

Wikipedia gives the unadorned, but detail-rich version of the story; note the vast array of national forces who joined to oust the Germans, including Spanish Republicans-in-exile:

The Liberation of Paris (also known as the Battle for Paris) was a military combat that took place during World War II from 19 August 1944 until the German garrison surrendered the French capital on 25 August 1944. Paris had been ruled by Nazi Germany since the signing of the Second Compiègne Armistice on 22 June 1940, after which the Wehrmachtoccupied northern and western France.

The liberation began when the French Forces of the Interior—the military structure of the French Resistance—staged an uprising against the German garrison upon the approach of the US Third Army, led by General George Patton. On the night of 24 August, elements of General Philippe Leclerc‘s 2nd French Armoured Division (the Régiment de marche du Tchad, a mechanised infantry unit led by Captain Raymond Dronne and composed primarily of exiled Spanish republicans), made its way into Paris and arrived at the Hôtel de Ville shortly before midnight. The next morning, 25 August, the bulk of the 2nd Armored Division and US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of the German garrison and the military governor of Paris, surrendered to the French at the Hôtel Meurice, the newly established French headquarters, while General Charles de Gaulle arrived to assume control of the city as head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic.

Victory parades followed on August 26 and August 29. Paris was spared destruction ordered by German Chancellor Adolf Hitler when his commander simply failed to carry out the destruction, perhaps because his forces had been overrun more quickly than he’d imagined, perhaps because French underground and other resistance fighters simply prevented it.

From Wikipedia, a rare color photograph:

From Wikipedia, a rare color photograph: “Crowds of French patriots line the Champs Elysees to view Free French tanks and half tracks of General Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division passes through the Arc du Triomphe, after Paris was liberated on August 26, 1944. Among the crowd can be seen banners in support of Charles de Gaulle.” Jack Downey, U.S. Office of War Information – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID fsac.1a55001.

More:


Fly your flag August 21, for Hawaii Statehood in 1959

August 21, 2015

It’s been 56 years since the youngest state entered the union — the longest stretch in which the U.S. has not added another state.

"On June 14, 1959, Boy Scout Milton Motooka helped get the word out for Hawaii’s statehood plebiscite to be held 13 days later. A new documentary will focus on Hawaii’s statehood." Hawaiians voted yes in the plebiscite, and statehood was declared two months later. (Whatever became of Scout Motooka?)

“On June 14, 1959, Boy Scout Milton Motooka helped get the word out for Hawaii’s statehood plebiscite to be held 13 days later. A new documentary will focus on Hawaii’s statehood.” Hawaiians voted yes in the plebiscite, and statehood was declared two months later. (Whatever became of Scout Motooka?)

“On June 14, 1959, Boy Scout Milton Motooka helped get the word out for Hawaii’s statehood plebiscite to be held 13 days later. A new documentary will focus on Hawaii’s statehood.” Hawaiians voted yes in the plebiscite, and statehood was declared two months later. (Whatever became of Scout Motooka?)

June’s plebiscite smoothed the path for statehood, declared two months later.

A newsboy happily hawks the Honolulu Star-Bulletin with the headline showing the state had achieved statehood, August 21, 1959. Star-Bulletin photo

13-year-old paperboy Chester Kahapea happily hawks a commemorative edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin with the headline showing the state had achieved statehood after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the law authorizing Hawaii as a state. Star-Bulletin photo by Murray Befeler.

Hawaii’s official statehood day is August 21, commemorating the day in 1959 when Hawaii was recognized as a member of the union of the United States of America.  Hawaiians should fly their flags to day in honor of the date (you may, too).

Hawaii formally celebrates the day on the third Friday in August, this year coincidentally on the 21st.  I hope you joined in the festivities (it’s a holiday in Hawaii) — but under the U.S. Flag Code, you may certainly fly your flags on August 21, regardless which day of the week that is.

Specimen copy of the ballot used by Hawaiians in a June 27, 1959, plebiscite to approve conditions of statehood. Image from Hawaii Magazine, 2009

Specimen copy of the ballot used by Hawaiians in a June 27, 1959, plebiscite to approve conditions of statehood. Image from Hawaii Magazine, 2009

After the U.S. annexed Hawaii in 1898 (in action separate from the Spanish-American War) attempts at getting Hawaii admitted as a state got rolling.  After World War II, with the strategic importance of the islands firmly implanted in Americans’ minds, the project picked up some steam.  Still, it was 14 years after the end of the war that agreements were worked out between the people of Hawaii, the Hawaiian royal family, Congress and the executive branch.  The deal passed into law had to be ratified by a plebiscite among Hawaiian citizens.  The proposition won approval with 94% of votes in favor.

Some native Hawaiian opposition to statehood arose later, and deference to those complaints has muted statehood celebrations in the 21st century.

Other than the tiny handful of loudmouth birthers, most Americans today are happy to have Hawaii as a state, the fifth richest in the U.S. by personal income.  The nation has a lot of good and great beaches, but the idea of catching sun and surf in Hawaii on vacation might be considered an idealized part of the American dream.

U.S. and Hawaii flags flying together.

U.S. and Hawaii flags flying together.

More:

From Prologue, the blog of the National Archives: This petition, rolled onto a wooden spool, was signed by 116,000 supporters of Hawaii statehood and presented to the U.S. Senate on February 26, 1954. (RG 46, Records of the U.S. Senate)

From Prologue, the blog of the National Archives: This petition, rolled onto a wooden spool, was signed by 116,000 supporters of Hawaii statehood and presented to the U.S. Senate on February 26, 1954. (RG 46, Records of the U.S. Senate)

U.S. postage stamp issued in 2009 commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's admission to the union.

U.S. postage stamp issued in 2009 commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hawaii’s admission to the union.

Contrast the first class postage price above with the airmail postage price of this stamp issued in 1959 — August 21, 1959 7¢ Rose Hawaii Statehood C55 26432. Wikipedia image

Contrast the first class postage price above with the airmail postage price of this stamp issued in 1959 — August 21, 1959 7¢ Rose Hawaii Statehood stamp. Wikipedia image

This is an encore post.

This is an encore post.


Forgotten Texas history: Battle of Medina, August 18, 1813

August 19, 2015

1813?

Most deadly battle ever in Texas?

Back in 2006, reporter Art Chapman in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram made a plea to remember the deadliest battle for Texas independence, fought years before the Texas Revolution (in an article that may be gone from the internet).

In 2013 the Battle of Medina lay buried under seven more years of newspapers and historic events.  We need to fight to remember history.  This is another punch in that fight.

Billy Calzada photo, 2011 Reenactment of the Battle of Medina (in Texas)

Caption from Tropas de Ulramar: Re-enactors dressed as participants in the Battle of Medina fire a musket volley during a ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011, commemorating the 198th anniversary of the Battle of Medina. The event was sponsored by the Texas Society – Sons of the American Revolution. The Battle of Medina was fought on Aug. 18, 1813, when a Spanish army, attempting to win Texas from the Republican Army of the North, which was supported by the United States and included veterans of the American Revolution, won a battle fought south of San Antonio near Espey. It is thought that about 800 Republicans died in the battle. [Other estimates put the death toll on the Texas side at 1,500]
Photo: BILLY CALZADA

Two years after the bicentennial, does anyone remember it yet? 

The long drive for Texas independence from Mexico may be more clearly seen in the light of the continents-long struggles for independence that included not only the American Revolution, but also revolutions in the nations of Haiti, Mexico, Chiapas, and others across Central America and South America. The Battle of Medina was a part of that earlier history. Fought on August 18, 1813, it was more deadly than any other battle in the wars for Texas independence, it is linked to Mexico’s long history of struggle. It occurred in the same year that Haiti got independence, and in the middle of the War of 1812, which helps to obscure the history of the battle.

Chapman’s report said:

“Contrary to popular belief, the struggle for democracy in Texas did not begin with the Anglo-led revolution of 1835-36,” author and historian James Haley wrote in a recent Austin American-Statesman article. “In fact, the yearning for liberty had its own ongoing legacy in Latin America.

“As early as 1810, movements for independence began simultaneously in Venezuela and Argentina. It was also in 1810, on Sept. 16, that the Mexican priest Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla raised his famous grito, the cry for social justice that opened the Mexican campaign for independence, a date now celebrated as Diez y Seis.”

America was drawn into that campaign when it funded a small force under the control of Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, one of Father Hidalgo’s emissaries. A former Army officer, Augustus Magee, went along with the expedition to offer military advice. The Gutierrez-Magee Expedition, also called the Green Flag Rebellion because of its banner, soon captured Nacogdoches. All went well for the expedition — too well — and Texas independence was quickly claimed. Spain took immediate measures to quell the insurrection.

It ended at the Battle of Medina, “the biggest, bloodiest battle ever fought on Texas soil,” a South Texas historian says.

Spanish forces slaughtered more than 1,000 of the rebels, perhaps as many as 1,500. The battle methods, and total extirpation of the losing forces, would recur in the Texas Revolution.

Fewer than 100 republic troops survived the battle, Thonhoff said. Those not killed in the battle were later chased down and executed. Retaliation went on for days. Royalist forces swept into San Antonio and took revenge on anyone they suspected of aiding the rebel forces. One of the royalist officers was a young Lt. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

The bodies of soldiers killed in battle were left where they fell. It would be nine years before their bones were gathered and buried in a communal grave.

This story should translate well to the Texas-required 7th-grade history course. Here is a cause — the archaeological excavation and historical marking of the battlefield itself — which lends itself well to getting students to write letters to state legislators and state education authorities. Here is news of an archaeological site that could provide work for a generation of diggers, and experience for countless school kids taken on tour. And the story of the battle is one of those relatively unknown gems that excite students who realize, after they discover it, that they know something that most others do not know.

English: Medina Battle -State Marker- Near Lem...

Medina Battle -State of Texas historic marker Near Leming, Texas. Wikipedia image

As well, this should be supplement to world history courses, which in my experience too often overlook the independence wars and successes in Central and South America. The article mentions independence movements in Argentina and Venezuela. The United States fought Britain in the War of 1812, which was the western fallout of England’s simultaneous war with Napoleon (who was on the road to getting his comeuppance in Russia). Haiti’s drive for independence from France racked that Caribbean nation. A mapping exercise showing the various independence movements occurring between 1800 and 1826 provides links to parts of the narrative of American nations’ independence that often gets overlooked.

The battle also ties together several otherwise loose threads in the Texas history curriculum.

  • The Gutierrez-McGee Expedition falls into that time period and that type of movement to steal Texas known as the filibusters.
  • The treachery of the Green Flag Rebels in executing the Spanish officers in San Antonio after the Spanish had surrendered raises issues of ethics in battle that are rich for discussion.
  • Incompetence with which the Texian forces were led into the battle, missing completely the feint the Spanish troops made until they were already into a classic battle trap, is another place to emphasize the importance of having good leaders especially in rebellion (this will become clear to students, perhaps, when they study the events of 1775 and 1776 and Washington’s leadership, in the 8th grade curriculum in Texas).
  • Santa Anna’s presence as a young officer at the Battle of Medina suggests that he got the idea of “no quarter” early in his career; see how the tactic plays out 23 years later at the Battle of the Alamo, the Battle of Coleto, Goliad, and the Battle of San Jacinto, with an older Santa Anna in command.
  • In the context of Texas’ becoming a “majority-minority” state with a very large population with historical ties to Mexico, the Battle of Medina deserves greater consideration in Texas history curricula.

Partly due to the brutality of the Spanish victors to the survivors, wounded and dead, the battlefield itself was not cleaned up for years — bodies lay across a wide area.  Medina was a touchy point, a point of embarrassment perhaps to local Mexicans and Texians, a loyalty test for the Spanish rulers.  So the battle site was ignored and hushed up.  200 years later, we don’t know the exact site of the battle.  A lot of work remains to be done, exploration of archives in Spain, Mexico and Texas, exploration of map collections, archaeological and paleontological work on the suspected sites of the battle.  But every year this work remains undone, the story becomes that much more difficult to find.  It is unlikely we’ll ever know all that we probably should about the Battle of Medina.

Other sources you may find useful:

 

Battle of Medina reenactment, Pleasanton Express photo

Photo from the Pleasanton Express: “A Color Guard representing the U.S.A., Spain, Texas and Mexico, plus descendants of the men who fought and died in [The Battle of Medina] will be presented at the Battle of Medina ceremony.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Wellcome Trust interactive on malaria parasites’ lifecycle

August 12, 2015

Screen capture of the Wellcome Trust HTML presentation on the life cycle of malaria parasites. Malaria fighters know all this almost instinctively; too often policy makers fail to understand it, and so they recommend policies that do not make medical or economic sense in fighting the disease. Click image to go to Wellcome Trust site for full presentation.

Screen capture of the Wellcome Trust HTML presentation on the life cycle of malaria parasites. Malaria fighters know all this almost instinctively; too often policy makers fail to understand it, and so they recommend policies that do not make medical or economic sense in fighting the disease. Click image to go to Wellcome Trust site for full presentation.

Britain’s Wellcome Trust takes as one of its key missions the fight against malaria.  The Trust is a charitable foundation created from profits of pharmaceutical development and sales.

Recently I found this HTML animation presentation on the life cycle of the malaria parasite, something all malaria fighters must know to be effective.

It’s also something that DDT advocates seem unable to comprehend.  Malaria is not a virus, nor is it a venom mosquitoes manufacture, but it is a parasite that infects (and disables) both mosquitoes and humans. Mosquitoes catch the parasite from an infected human host. After the malaria parasite completes a couple of cycles in the gut of the mosquito, the parasite can be transmitted back to humans by a mosquito bite. And the cycle continues.

Since complete eradication of malaria-carrying mosquitoes is practically impossible in almost all cases, beating malaria requires an interruption in the cycle of transmission of the parasite, plus the curing of the disease in infected human hosts.

For example, the old World Health Organization (WHO) malaria eradication campaign, which operated from 1955 to 1963, DDT was used to temporarily knock down a population of mosquitoes, with hopes human hosts would be ridded of malaria parasites so that, in six months or so, when the mosquito populations roared back, there would be no malaria in local humans to infect mosquitoes. Consequently, mosquitoes can’t transmit a parasite they don’t have.

Lost on far too many people: Humans must be cured of malaria to prevent transmission. Beating malaria takes a lot more than just killing mosquitoes.

Check out the interactive:  Malaria parasite life cycle

While you’re there, snoop around to see what else Wellcome Trust is up to in the malaria fight.

 


Missouri Statehood Day, August 10 (Does Missouri care?)

August 10, 2015

Under the U.S. Flag Code, Missourians are encouraged to fly the Stars and Stripes on August 10 to honor Missouri’s entering the union in 1821 as the 24th state.

Does Missouri celebrate this event at all? I’m not finding much on celebrations in 2015. Perhaps the state is preoccupied with other events.

Missouri and U.S. flags adorn the Missouri House of Representatives on opening day 2015. St. Louis Post-Dispatch caption:

Missouri and U.S. flags adorn the Missouri House of Representatives on opening day 2015. St. Louis Post-Dispatch caption: “The opening day of the Missouri House of Representatives 98th General Assembly at the Missouri State Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015. Photo by Cristina Fletes-Boutte, cfletes-boutte@post-dispatch.com”

Surely Missourians know the date. Plans for the bicentennial in 2021 promise a huge celebration then.

I can find a record of a modest celebration of statehood in 2014.

If you find news of any activities relating to the commemoration of Missouri statehood in 2015, please let us know in comments.

With or without fanfare, Missourians, you may fly your flags to day to honor statehood.


“Damn the torpedoes” Day: Battle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864

August 5, 2015

Julius O. Davidson's painting (published by Louis Prang) of the Battle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864.

Julius O. Davidson’s painting (published by Louis Prang) of the Battle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864.

It was 151 years ago today:  Especially with the excellent help of Tom Petty, whose 1979 album “Damn the Torpedoes” propelled him to stardom, the phrase “Damn the torpedoes!” remains one of the most used phrases out of history.

Just try to find someone who can tell you who first said it, and what the circumstances were. It’s a sign that history instruction is not what it should be on some matters.

August 5 marks the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, when the Union Navy under the command of Admiral David Farragut took Mobile from Confederate forces.

U.S. Heritage Protection Services — a division of the National Park Service — gives a straight up, unemotional description of the fight, which was a key victory for the Union, shutting down much of the Confederacy’s ability to trade with foreign nations and supply its army:

Photograph from circa 1855-1865 of then-Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, the commander of the Union forces at the Battle of Mobile Bay, and the man to who is attributed the famous line,

Photograph from circa 1855-1865 of then-Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, the commander of the Union forces at the Battle of Mobile Bay, and the man to who is attributed the famous line, “Damn the Torpedoes!”

Other Names: Passing of Forts Morgan and Gaines

Location: Mobile County and Baldwin County

Campaign: Operations in Mobile Bay (1864)

Date(s): August 2-23, 1864

Principal Commanders: Adm. David G. Farragut and Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger [US]; Adm. Franklin Buchanan and Brig. Gen. Richard L. Page [CS]

Forces Engaged: Farragut’s Fleet (14 wooden ships and 4 monitors) and U.S. army forces near Mobile [US]; Buchanan’s Flotilla (3 gunboats and an ironclad), Fort Morgan Garrison, Fort Gaines Garrison, and Fort Powell Garrison [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 1,822 (US 322; CS 1,500)

Description: A combined Union force initiated operations to close Mobile Bay to blockade running. Some Union forces landed on Dauphin Island and laid siege to Fort Gaines. On August 5, Farragut’s Union fleet of eighteen ships entered Mobile Bay and received a devastating fire from Forts Gaines and Morgan and other points.  After passing the forts, Farragut forced the Confederate naval forces, under Adm. Franklin Buchanan, to surrender, which effectively closed Mobile Bay. By August 23, Fort Morgan, the last big holdout, fell, shutting down the port. The city, however, remained uncaptured.

Results(s): Union victory

World War I recruiting poster showing Admiral David Farragut lashed to the mast of his ship, and offering the quote for which Farragut is famous.

World War I recruiting poster showing Admiral David Farragut lashed to the mast of his ship, and offering the quote for which Farragut is famous. Image from the collection of the Library of Congress, via Wikipedia

Nota bene:

  • Was Farragut lashed to the rigging? Wikipedia’s listing:An anecdote of the battle that has some dramatic interest has it that Farragut was lashed to the mast during the passage of Fort Morgan. The image it brings to mind is of absolute resolve: if his ship were to be sunk in the battle, he would go down with her. The truth is more prosaic; while he was indeed lashed to the rigging of the mainmast, it was a precautionary move rather than an act of defiance. It came about after the battle had opened and smoke from the guns had clouded the air. In order to get a better view of the action, Farragut climbed into Hartford‘s rigging, and soon was high enough that a fall would certainly incapacitate him and could have killed him. Seeing this, Captain Drayton sent a seaman aloft with a piece of line to secure the admiral. He demurred, saying, “Never mind, I am all right,” but the sailor obeyed his captain’s orders, tying one end of the line to a forward shroud, then around the admiral and to the after shroud.[50]Later, when CSS Tennessee made her unsupported attack on the Federal fleet, Farragut climbed into the mizzen rigging. Still concerned for his safety, Captain Drayton had Flag-Lieutenant J. Crittenden Watson tie him to the rigging again.[51] Thus, the admiral had been tied to the rigging twice in the course of the battle.
  • Did Farragut actually say, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead?  Mobile Bay had been mined by the Confederates, to hold off exactly the sort of Union attack Farragut mounted. Mines, in that time, were known as “torpedoes,” not the underwater-missiles made famous by World War II movies.  Farragut had an iron-clad ship, Tecumseh, under his command leading the attack; legend holds that other ships slowed to allow Tecumseh to cross them and move ahead.  Farragut asked why the attack was slowing, and upon hearing that they feared torpedoes (mines), he later was reputed to have said “Damn the torpedoes,” and urged moving at all speed.  Did he say, “full speed ahead?”  Accounts differ on that, even in legend.  In one version he shouted to the ship Brooklyn, “Go ahead!”  That’s unlikely in the din of sailing, coupled with the din of battle.  Another account has him shouting (vainly) to the Hartford, “Four bells, Captain Drayton.”  Yet another version, that almost makes sense, has him shouting to the Metacomet, which was lashed to the Hartford’s side, “Go ahead, Jouett, full speed.”  The entire quote must be listed as attributed, and the only part most versions agree on is “Damn the torpedoes.”  A World War I recruiting poster probably inscribed the quote into history (see the poster in this post).  Alas, Tecumseh hit a torpedo early in the battle, and sank, killing most of its crew.
  • Political importance:  Coupled with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman‘s March Across Georgia, and the Fall of Atlanta, the Battle of Mobile Bay gave credence to the idea that the fortunes of the Civil War had turned in the Union’s favor.  This victory probably contributed greatly to the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln against opponents who urged simply ending the war without victory.
  • Mobile Bay was an important port? Mobile Bay stands as a monument to poor soil conservation practices, today.  Maps of the battle show a much larger bay than exists today; since 1864, silting from the river has filled in the bay, making it much less useful, and much less important to shipping.
H. H. Lloyd & Co's 1861 map of Mobile Bay, Alabama

1861 map of Mobile Bay: “H.H. Lloyd & Co’s Campaign Military Charts Showing The Principal Strategic Places Of Interest. Engraved Expressly To Meet A Public Want During The Present War. Compiled From Official Data By Egbert L. Viele, Military and Civil Engineer; and Charles Haskins. Published Under The Auspices Of The American Geographical And Statistical Society. Entered … 1861 by H.H. Lloyd & Co. H.H. Lloyd & Co’s Military Charts. Sixteen Maps On One Sheet.”

LandSat image of Mobile Bay, from NASA, 2003 (via Wikipedia)

LandSat image of Mobile Bay, from NASA, 2003 (via Wikipedia).  The Northern Bay is almost completely silted in by the Mobile River and others.

Whether Admiral David G. Farragut actually said, “Damn the torpedoes!” the phrase remains an often-used quotation to urge action in the face of uncertainty, hopefully, to victory.  Farragut’s forces won the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864, a key maritime battle of the Civil War.  Whatever he said, it must have been inspiring.

What torpedoes are you damning today?

More:

This is an encore post.

This is an annual event. Much of this is an encore post.


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