“Damn the torpedoes……..”

Stained glass image, Naval Academy Chapel, Annapolis, MD

On our trip to Annapolis, MD over the weekend, we decided to visit the campus of the U. S. Naval Academy there.  We’ve been to Annapolis a few times, but never really saw the campus except from outside the gates.  It’s an impressive place.  Not to mention all of the history wrapped up in the institution itself and the navy in general.  I wish I’d been able to spend more time there.

One place we did loiter a bit, though, was the Academy Chapel.  Renovated earlier this decade, the interior is striking.  As you enter, you can see a large open dome above the altar and a stained glass likeness of Christ walking on water behind it (hey, it’s the navy).  It is the stained glass windows in the chapel, in fact, that seem to generate the most visitor interest.  I believe that all of them were made by Tiffany.  Extremely detailed, you can spend a lot of time just admiring the colors and the designs in this beautiful glass.  Some of it is religious, of course, but much of it depicts U. S. naval history.  It is the mixture of the two, however,  that strikes me as a little “odd”.

The image above, for example, is part of what is known as the Farragut Window.  For those not well versed in U. S. naval history (which would include about 95% of all Americans), David Farragut was the first rear admiral in U. S. naval history.  His accomplishments were many, but his biggest claim to fame came during the Civil War in a naval action in Mobile Bay in 1864.  It was here, during some early and confusing moments for the Union fleet (one ship was sunk), that Farragut supposedly lashed himself to his ship’s rigging (so he could see over the smoke) and yelled, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!“.  At that time, by the way, “torpedoes” were like mines; they weren’t fired from submarines as they are now.  The fleet then moved through the torpedoes without sustaining any more damage and defeated the Confederate forces.  If you look at the picture, you can see Farragut lashed in the rigging leading his forces to victory.

Well, OK.  It is, after all, a chapel on a military installation.  What kind of bothers me, however, is the stained glass window directly above this one, in the balcony area.  Here it is:

The Archangel Michael leading the Fleet

Here we see the Archangel Michael “leading” Farragut’s fleet through the minefield and on to eventual victory.  Now, if I was a product of the American south and decided to get my education at Annapolis and perhaps have a naval career, I might possibly be offended by this.  Does this mean that God was on the Union side during the Civil War?  Were northerners better Christians than were southerners?  Were my ancestors, if I hailed from Mobile, Alabama, the “bad guys”?  Hey, I’m just asking……

Oh, one other historical note.  The body of John Paul Jones, the naval hero from the Revolutionary War, lies in a crypt below the chapel.  For some reason, though, this area was closed over the weekend.


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