Imatges de pÓgina

they also serve as safe depots of arms, and the immense quantity of material and military munitions so indispensable in modern warfare. These munitions usually require much time, skill, and expense in their construction, and it is of vast importance that they be preserved with the utmost care.

Maritime arsenals and depots of naval and military stores on the sea-coast are more particularly exposed to capture and destruction. Here an enemy can approach by stealth, striking some sudden and fatal blow before any effectual resistance can be organized. But, in addition to the security afforded by barbor fortifications to public property of the highest military value, they also serve to protect the merchant shipping and the vast amount of private wealth which a commercial people always collect at these points. They furnish safe retreats and means of repair for public vessels injured in battle or by storms, and to merchantmen a refuge from the dangers of the sea or the threats of hostile fleets. Moreover, they greatly facilitate our naval attacks upon the enemy's shipping; and if he attempt à descent, their well-directed fire will repel his squadrons from our harbors, and force his troops to land at some distant and unfavorable position.

The three means of permanent defence which we have mentioned are of course intended to accomplish the same general object; but each has its distinct and proper sphere of action, and neither can be regarded as antagonistical to the others. Any undue increase of one, at the expense of the other two, mast necessarily be followed by a corresponding diminution of national strength. It does not follow, however, that all must be maintained upon the same footing. The position of the country and the character of the people must determine this. England, from her insular position, and the extent of her commerce, must maintain a large navy; a large army is also necessary for the defence of her own sea-coasts and the protection of her colonial possessions. Her men-ofwar secure a safe passage for her merchant vessels, and they transport her troops in safety through all seas, and thus contribute much to the acquisition and security of colonial territory. France has less commerce, and but few colonial possessions. She has a great extent of sea-coast, but her fortifications secure it from maritime descents; her only accessible points are on the land frontiers. Her army and fortifications, therefore, constitute her principal means of defence. The United States possess no colonies; but they have a sea-coast of 3,000 miles, with numerous bays, estuaries, and navigable rivers, which expose our most populous cities to maritime attacks. The northern land frontier is 2,000 miles in extent; and in the west our territory borders on foreign possessions for some two or three thousand miles more.

The principal attacks we have had to sustain, either as colonies or States, from civilized foes, have come from Canada. As colonies, we were continually encountering difficulties and dangers from the French possessions. In the war of the revolution, it being one of national emancipation, the military operations were more general throughout the several States; but, in the war of 1812, the attacks were confined to the northern frontier, and a few exposed points along the coast. In these two contests with Great Britain, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Or leans, being within reach of British naval power, and offering the dazzling attraction of rich booty, have each been subjected to powerful assaults.

Similar attacks will undoubtedly be made in any future war with England. An attempt at permanent lodgement would be based either on Canada or a servile insurrection in the southern States. The former project, in a military point of view, offers the greatest advantages, and probably the latter would be resorted to merely for effecting a diversion. But, for inflicting upon us a sudden and severe injury by the destruction of large amounts of public and private property, our seaport towns offer inducements not likely to be disregarded. This mode of warfare, barbarous though it is, will certainly attend a conflict with any maritime power. How can we best prepare, in time of peace, to repel these attacks?

To furnish an answer to this question, a joint commission, of our most distinguished military and naval officers, was formed soon after the war of 1812. To the labors of this board, whose investigations were continued for several years, we owe our present system of sea-coast defence. The details of this system received some additions and alt-rations by a board of officers appointed by President Van Buren in 1839. Their report constitutes one of the documents which form the basis of these remarks.

This system has received the approbation of the several Presidents, and, (with one apparent exception,*) of all the Secretaries of War, and the highest military authorities of the land. The fluctuating state of the public finances, however, has much delayed the completion of the project. When the treasury was full to overflowing, Mr. Benton strongly advocated the appropriation of a sum sufficient for the gradual construction of these works of permanent defence. But Congress preferred turning this stream into the already swollen channels of trade and speculation. We know the consequences. For a part of two years the public works were mostly suspended. Mechanics and laborers on our fortifications were discharged. The works themselves, suspended in the middle of their construction, were much injured by exposure, and the total cost of their construction nearly doubled.

Some persons, from a partial or superficial view of the subject, from self-interest, or from entire ignorance of the principles of the military art, have proclaimed opinions, in public speeches and through the newspapers of the day, decrying all works of defence as inexpedient and useless. T'heir objections to the use of permanent works of national defence may be summed up as follows:

1. That fortifications are useless as a defence of the sea-coast, inasmuch as our maritime cities and arsenals can be better and more economically secured by a home squadron; land batteries being unable to cope, gun for gun, with a naval force.

2. That, on a land frontier, they are not only useless, but actually injurious, inasmuch as their garrisons must weaken the active army, and fetter its movements. That the fundamental principle of modern military science, as developed by Napoleon, celerity of movement, is wholly incompatible with the use of fortifications.

Let us examine each of these objections separately.

1. To prove the absurdity of relying exclusively upon naval means for seacoast defence, it might be sufficient to refer to the written opinions of our highest naval officers themselves; but, as their reports are not within reach of easy reference, we shall proceed to discuss the general principles upon which these opinions were founded.

We have already alluded to the impossibility of substituting one means of defence for another. The efficiency of the bayonet can in no way enable us to dispense with artillery, nor the value of engineer troops in the passage of rivers and the attack and defence of forts render cavalry the less necessary in other operations of a campaign. To the navy alone must we look for the defence of our shipping upon the high seas; but it cannot replace fortifications in the protection of our harbors, bays, rivers, arsenals, and commercial towns.

Let us take a case in point. For the defence of New York city it is deemed highly important that the East river should be closed to the approach of a hostile fleet at least fifteen or twenty miles from the city, so that an army landed there would have to cross the Westchester creek, the Bronx, Harlem river, and

The apparent exception to which we allude is the report of 1836, in which the systein is approved, but ohjectiuns made to the extent of its application.

the defiles of Harlem heights—obstacles of great importance in a judicious defence. Throg’s Neck is the position selected for this purpose; cannon placed there not only command the channel, but, from the windings of the river, sweep it for a great distance above and below. No other position, even in the channel itselt, possesses equal advantages. Hence, if we had only naval means of defence, it would be best, were such a thing possible, to place the floating defences themselves on this point. Leaving entirely out of consideration the question of relative power, position alone would give the superior efficiency to the fort. But there are other considerations no less important than that of position. Fort Schuyler can be garrisoned and defended in part by the same militia force which will be employed to prevent the march of the enemy's army on the city. On the other hand, the crews of the floating defences must be seamen ; they will consequently be of less value in the subsequent land operations. Moreover, forts, situated as this is, can be so planned as to bring to bear upon any part of the channel a greater number of guns than can be presented by any hostile squadron against the corresponding portion of the fort. This result can be obtained with little difficulty in narrow channels, and an approximation to it is not incompatible with the defence of the broader estuaries.

We will suppose that there are no such points of land in the inlets to our harbor, and that we rely for defence upon a naval force exclusively. Let us leave out of consideration the security of all our other harbors and our commerce on the high seas, and also the importance of having at command the means of attacking the enemy's coast in the absence of his teet. We take the single case of the attack being made here where our fleet is assembled. Now, if this fleet be equal in number to the enemy, the chances of success may be regarded as equal; if inferior, the chances are against us-for an attacking force would probably be of picked men, and of the best material. But here the consequences of victory are very unequal; the enemy can lose his squadron only, while we put in peril both our squadron and the objects it is intended to defend. If we suppose our own naval force superior to that of the enemy, the defence of this harbor would, in all respects, be complete, provided this force never left the harbor. “But, then, all the commerce of the country, upon the ocean, must be left to its fate; and no attempt can be made to react offensively upon the foe, unless we can control the chances of finding the enemy's fleet within his ports, ard the still more uncertain chance of keeping him there; the escape of a single vessel being sufficient to cause the loss of our harbor."

These remarks are based upon the supposition that we have but a single harbor, whereas we have many of them, and all must be equally defended, for we know not to which the enemy will direct his assaults. If he come to one in our absence, his object is attained without resistance; or, if his whole force be concentrated upon one but feebly defended, we involve both fleet and harbor in inevj. table defeat and ruin. Could our fleet be so arranged as to meet these enterprises ? “ As it cannot be denied that the enemy can select the point of attack out of the whole extent of coast, where is the prescience that can indicate the spot? And if it cannot be foretold, how is that ubiquity to be imparted that shall always place our fleet in the path of the advancing foe? Suppose we attempt to cover the coast by cruising in front of it, shall we sweep its whole length—a distance scarcely less than that which the enemy must traverse in passing from his coast to ours? Must the Gulf of Mexico be swept as well as the Atlantic, or shall we give up the Gulf to the enemy? Shall we cover the southern cities, or give them up also? We must unquestionably do one of two things—either relinquish a great extent of coast, confining our cruisers to a small portion only, or include so much that the chances of intercepting an enemy would seem to be out of the question.”

"On the practicability of covering even a small extent of coast by cruising in front of it-or, in other words, the possibility of anticipating an enemy's

operations, discovering the object of movements of which we get no glimpse and hear no tidings, and seeing the impress of his footsteps on the surface of the ocean—it may be well to consult experience.”

The naval power of Spain under Philip II was almost unlimited. With the treasures of India and America at his command, the fitting out of a fleet of 150 or 200 sail to invade another country was no very gigantic operation. Nevertheless, this naval force was of but little avail as a coast defence. Its efficiency for this purpose was well tested in 1596. England and Holland attacked Cadiz with a combined fleet of 170 ships, which entered the bay of Cadiz without, on its approach to their coast, being once seen by the Spanish navy. This same squadron, on its return to England, passed along a great portion of the Spanish coast without ever meeting the slightest opposition from the innumerable Spanish floating defences.

In 1744, a French fleet of twenty ships, and a land force of 22,000 men, sailed from Brest to the English coast, without meeting with any opposition from the superior British fleet which had been sent out, under Sir John Norris, on purpose to intercept them. The landing of the troops was prevented by a storm, which drove the fleet back upon the coast of France to seek shelter.

In 1755, a French fleet of twenty-five sail of the line, and many smaller vessels, sailed from Brest for America. Nine of these soon afterwards returned to France, and the others proceeded to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. An English fleet of seventeen sail of the line and some frigates had been sent out to intercept them; but the two fleets passed each other in a thick fog, and all the French vessels except two reached Quebec in safety.

In 1759, a French fleet, blockaded in the port of Dunkirk by a British force under Commodore Bags, seizing upon a favorable opportunity, escaped from the enemy, attacked the coast of Scotland, made a descent upon Carrickfergus, and cruised about till February, 1760, without meeting a single British vessel, although sixty-one ships-of the-line were then stationed upon the coasts of England and France, and several of these were actually in pursuit.

In 1796, when the French attempted to throw the army of Hoche into Ireland, the most strenuous efforts were made by the British navy to intercept the French fleet in its passage. The channel fleet, of near thirty sail of the line, under Lord Bridgeport, was stationed at Spithead; Sir Roger Curtis, with a smaller force, was cruising to the westward; Vice-Admiral Colpoys was stationed off Brest, with thirteen sail of the line; and Sir Edward Pellew (afterwards Lord Exmouth) watched the harbor, with a small squadron of frigates. Notwithstanding this triple floating bulwark, as it was called—one fleet on the enemy's coast, a second in the Downs, and a third close on their own shores—the French fleet of forty-four vessels, carrying a land force of 25,000 men, reached Bantry bay in safety! This fleet was eight days on the passage, and three more in landing the troops; and most of the vessels might have returned to Brest in safety, had it not been for the disasters by storms; for only one of their whole number was intercepted by the vast naval force which England had assembled for that express object. “The result of this expedition," says Alison, in his history of Europe, “was pregnant with important instructions to the rulers of both countries. To the French, as demonstrating the extraordinary risks which attend a maritime expedition, in comparison with a land campaign; the small number of forces which can be embarked on board even a great fleet; and the unforeseen disasters which frequently, on that element, defeat the best concerted enterprises. To the English, as showing that the empire of the seas does not always afford security against invasion ; that, in the face of superior maritime forces, her possessions were for sixteen days at the mercy of the enemy; and that neither the skill of her sailors, nor the valor of her armies, but the fury of the elements, saved them from danger in the most vulnerable part of their dominions.

H. Rep. Com. 86—18

“While these considerations are fitted to abate the confidence in invasion, they are calculated, at the same time, to weaken an overweening confidence in naval superiority, and to demonstrate that the only base on which certain reliance can be placed, even by an insular power, is a well-disciplined army and the patriotism of its own subjects."

Subsequent events still further demonstrated the truth of these remarks. In the following year, a French squadron of two frigates and two sloops passed the British fleets with perfect impunity, destroyed the shipping in the port of Ilpacombe, and safely landed their troops on the coast of Wales. Again: in 1798, the immense British naval force failed to prevent the landing of General Humbert's army in the bay of Killala; and, in the latter part of the same year, a French squadron of nine vessels and 3,000 men escaped Sir J. B. Warren's squadron, and safely reached the coast of Ireland. As a further illustration, we quote from the report of the board on national defence, in 1839.

The Toulon fleet, in 1798, consisting of about twenty sail of the line and twenty smaller vessels-of-war, and numerous transports, making, in all, 300 sail and 40,000 troops, slipped out of port and sailed to Malta. "It was followed by Nelson, who, thinking correctly that they were bound for Egypt, shaped his course direct for Alexandria. The French, steering towards Candia, took the more circuitous passage; so that Nelson arrived at Alexandria before them, and, not finding them there, returned by way of Caramania and Candia, to Sicily, missing his adversary in both passages. Sailing again for Alexandria, he found the French fleet at anchor in Aboukir bay, and, attacking them there, achieved the memorable victory of the Nile. When we consider the narrowness of this sea; the numerous vessels in the French fleet; the actual crossing of the two fleets on a certain night; and that Nelson, notwithstanding, could see nothing of the enemy himself, and hear nothing of them from merchant vessels, we may judge of the probability of waylaying

our adversary on the broad Atlantic. " The escape of another Toulon feet in 1805; the long search for them in the Mediterranean by the same able officer; the pursuit in the West Indies; their evasion of him amongst the islands; the return to Europe; his vain efforts subsequently, along the coast of Portugal, in the bay of Biscay, and off the English channel; and the meeting at last at Trafalgar, brought about only because the combined fleets, trusting to the superiority that the accession of several re-enforcements had given, were willing to try the issue of a battlethese are instances, of many that might be cited, to show how small is the probability of encountering upon the ocean an enemy who desires to avoid a meeting, and how little the most untiring zeal, the most restless activity, the most exalted professional skill and judgment, can do to lessen the adverse chances. For more than a year, Nelson most closely watched his enemy, who seems to have got out of port as soon as he was prepared to do so, and without attracting the notice of any of the blockading squadron. When out, Nelson, perfectly in the dark as to the course Villeneuve had taken, sought for him in vain on the coast of Egypt. Scattered by tempests, the French fleet again took refuge in Toulon ; whence it again put to sea, when refitted and ready, joining the Spanish fleet at Cadiz.

On the courage, skill, vigilance, and judgment, acceded on all hands to belong in a pre-eminent degree to the naval profession in this country, this system of defence relies to accomplish, against a string of chances, objects of importance so great that not a doubt of misgiving as to the result is admissible. It demands of the navy to do perfectly, and without fail, that which, to do at all, seems impossible. The navy is required to know the secret purposes of the enemy, in spite of distance, and the broken intercourse of a state of war, even before these purposes are known to the leader who is to execute them; nay, more, before the purpose itself is formed. On an element where man is but the sport of storms, the navy is required to lie in wait for the foe at the exact spot

« AnteriorContinua »