Seasons greetings! Peace on Earth and goodwill to all forecasters, question-crafters and commentators. As folk wind up for the holidays and Christmas Day approaches, we thought we’d end our terrible predictions series for 2015 on a somewhat lighter note, with what must rank as one of the most dramatically terrible predictions of all time.
In our series we’ve looked at a diverse range of failed predictions from history, and the different ways in which they fail. We’re unsure what category this one represents – the ‘hubristic prediction’, maybe?
Many of our other failed soothsayers had the luxury of years, decades, or even centuries passing before their prediction was proven false. Poor John Sedgewick was not so fortunate.
A Major-General in the Union Army during the American Civil War, he was regarded by his peers as solid and dependable, and well-loved by his men. Sadly, this isn’t the main thing he is remembered for.
On May 9th, 1864 the Skirmish of Spotsylvania Court Hourse was about to begin. Sedgewick was preparing his troops, moving them into formation. As he did so, Confederate snipers started taking pot-shots at them from across the field. Seeing that some of his men were jumpy, and dodging the shots, he scolded them: “”What!? What!? Men, dodging this way for single bullets! What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”
Technically, Sedgewick’s words held true. No elephants were harmed during the battle. He, however, was. Mere moments after the remark, Sedgewick was hit just under his left eye, and fell dead where he stood.
Given almanis’ dedication to accuracy and knowledge, we should probably point out that – contrary to the legend – these weren’t quite his last words. Just before the fatal bullet hit, one of Sedgewick’s men replied “General, I dodged a shell once, and if I hadn’t, it would have taken my head off. I believe in dodging.” Sedgewick laughed, nodded in approval, and said to him “Alright, my man; go to your place”.
Almanis is all about the community, the crowd. The best forecasters know their limitations, and are always willing to accept their own errors and adapt in light of new information and arguments. Unfortunately, John Sedgewick just didn’t have enough time to put his newfound belief in dodging into practise.
So Merry Christmas in advance to you, the almanis community. We look forward a whole New Year of events to predict, points to be won. For anybody who hasn’t started forecasting yet, what better time to get involved? Forecasting could be a fun game to punctuate the quieter moments of the holiday with.