Wednesday, June 8, 2016

O. B. E.

My agency is civilian military, which means we civilians keep our hair long, we don't have daily PT, and our 'uniform' is 'don't wear offensive clothes'.  We do, however, have a certain amount of military in our organization: we answer to a hierarchy, culminating at the Commander in Chief (with several Generals in between), we get deployed, we get issued travel orders, and we work to 'execute our mission'.  It is an odd blend of a very few green suiters and a bunch of civilians.

But the acronyms define us as military more than any other element.

We have HSDRRS ('hisdoctors'), BUDMAT, PDT, MOA, MOU, IEPR, WBV, LPV, NOV/NFL, CAP, LGM, HNC, SELA, CG, ASA(CW).... we use acronyms more than we use verbs.  One of my goals as a federal burrocrat is to complete an entire sentence, un-self-consciously, without using real words.

One of the lesser used acronyms that I have gotten some mileage out of recently is OBE. Many know the phrase, but for those who don't, it stands for Overcome By Events.  It means that the task (or mission) that you were assigned to do has become unnecessary because of external events.

A friend of mine, a branch chief, had been instructed to move the offices of all of his people to a different space.  The move was in full swing, but he had not spent much time preparing for the move of his personal office.  That kind of inaction would not be unusual for me; I love waiting until the deadline and then jamming everything into boxes, and slamming them into the new space.  My friend, however, is usually more methodical in his approach.

It got to where people were starting to be concerned about whether he would be able to do it on the timeline.

Two days before the deadline, the office brass announced that my friend had been selected as the candidate for a major promotion.  He was going to be moving.  But to a different office.

His original move was O.B.E.

Shortly after moving to Vicksburg, I came across another example of OBE that pleased me, and is on the grandest scale possible.
View of Vicksburg from the water.

In the War between the States, the Mississippi River traveled a path that led right by Vicksburg.  Vicksburg is built on a 125-foot bluff overlooking the river - and its strategic value for the war cannot be overstated*.  At the top of the bluff is a great place to put a cannon or twenty, and the cannons made passage of Union boats through the riverbend challenging. Maj. General US Grant, after a certain amount of time, decided that enough was enough.

And he set about to change it.

In a move that mirrored the labors of Hercules, Grant decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to divert the river.  
Map of Vicksburg, modified to show Grant's Canal
in red. Image stolen from Civil War website.

The Mississippi River.

Unlike Hercules, he did not make the cut himself.  But he did instruct his troops to start the process, with the intention of cutting off the loop to the north that made the river cross in front of Vicksburg.  And allow his steamboats to pass through unmolested.

He also laid siege to the city from the other side.  There is a huge military park that lays out the 90-day siege, where the different companies from the different states were located for the full time.  Each state has its own monument, and it is a lovely place, if ever you are in town.

The siege (May 18 – July 4, 1863) was a success, eventually, and Vicksburg was surrendered to the Union army.  

Once the city fell, there was no need to redirect the river, and the effort to make the cut was abandoned.

Grant's cut was O.B.E.  It was overcome by events.

The cut is there, with a small bronze plaque describing the event, immediately across the river, visible from I-20.  


In memoirs, Grant suggested that much of his reason for undertaking the effort was to keep his men busy; he was not convinced that his engineers were right.  For what it is worth, a few years later, the Mississippi River did naturally what Grant had decided to engineer.  IN the flood of 1876, the flooding river forced a new passageway, carving a new channel just south of the city.  The oxbow lake that remained was called Centennial Lake, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the US.  

Fascinating article on Grant's cut here. Worth it for the images alone.
Grant's memoirs available online here.

*President Lincoln quotes, re: Vicksburg
"See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket." 
"We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg. It means hog and hominy without limit, fresh troops from all the states of the far South, and a cotton country where they can raise the staple without interference." 
"I am acquainted with that region and know what I am talking about, and, as valuable as New Orleans will be to us, Vicksburg will be more so."

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