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2d Session.

No. 86.


[To accompany bill H. R. No. 416.]

APRIL 23, 1862.-Ordered to be printed.

Mr. F. P. BLAIR, jr., from the Committee on Military Affairs, made

the following


The Committee on Military Affairs, in obedience to a resolution of the

House of Representatives, directing them to "examine the whole system of permanent defences of the country, for the purpose of ascertaining what modifications of the old plans, if any, are required to repel the improved means of attack, and to report by bill or otherwise," have given this subject a careful consideration, and instructed me to submit the following report and accompanying bill:

Invulnerability to all attacks, except those of an extraordinary character, is the most perfect insurance attainable by a powerful and peaceful nation against the calamity of war. An attack upon a great military nation, to be dangerous, requires time for preparation, and thus affords time for preparing large means of defence. Hence it has ever been the aim of military engineers to construct frontier defences competent only to resist the greatest efforts which could be made suddenly by the forces ordinarily at the command of powerful rival nations, taking care that the fortifications should be capable of enlargement to any desirable extent. The making of extraordinary defences is usually left to the occasions which demand them. It is not sale, however, for a nation to forget that, as the science, wealth, population, and power of leading governments increase, so, pari passu, must the strength of the ordinary defences be increased; nor must it be forgotten that works incapable of being carried by sudden assault one year, may, by new applications of science and of mechanical arts, be quite vulnerable the next.

To aid the House in forming an intelligent judgment upon the merits of our present system of frontier defences, the committee have collected and appended hereto several leading reports of army engineers and naval officers, and also that of Secretary Cass upon this subject. As these reports elaborately discuss the subject of frontier defences in all its varied bearings with distinguished ability, and as they are scarce and difficult to obtain, the printing of an extra number of them is strongly recommended. They are worthy of the attentive consideration of every military man in the republic, and such consideration may lead to profitable suggestions.

FIRST DEFENCES. Of the few sea-coast fortifications built prior to and during the revolutionary war, few remain, and all are useless.

Most of the harbors on the Atlantic and Gulf frontiers were supplied with small protective works after the breaking out of the French revolution of 1789; this is denominated by the engineers as the first system of coast defences.

SECOND SYSTEM OF DEFENCES. Prior to the war of 1812 appropriations were made for fortifications, "and there was not a town of any magnitude upon the coast not provided with one or more batteries." These works are called "the defences of the second system,” and (though much better than the first) were, says General Totten," small and weak," "being built, for the sake of present economy, of cheap materials and workmanship, were very perishable.' "The government, aware of this weakness, called out to their support during the war vast bodies of militia, at enormous expense, covering these troops with extensive lines of field-works.'

The inadequacy of these small works, even when aided by large bodies of militia, and the large cost of life and money their weakness occasioned, demanded and received attention as soon as the war closed.


The creation of the present or third system of frontier defences is thus described by General Totten, chief engineer United States army :

". The war with England being over, the government promptly entered upon a permanent system of coast defence, and to that end constituted a board of engineers, with instructions to make examinations and plans, subject to the revision of the chief engineer and the sanction of the Secretary of War. And it is this, the third system, that has been ever since 1816 in the course of execution, and is now, as we shall see, well advanced.

“Whenever the examinations of the board of engineers included positions for dock yards, naval depots, &c., naval officers of rank and experience were associated with them.

“The board devoted several years uninterruptedly to the duty, presenting successive reports, and submitting, first, plans of the fortifications needed at the most important points. Afterward they were sufficiently in advance of the execution of the system to apply most of their time to the duties of construction, giving in occasionally additional reports and plans. In rare cases it has happened that plans have been made under the particular direction of the chief engineer, owing to difficulty, at moments, of drawing the widely-dispersed members of the board from their individual trusts.

“ The board and the chief engineer arianged the defences into classes, according to their view of the relative importance of the propojed works, in the order of time. This order has been generally well observed in the execution of the system, with the exception of some cases in which, by the action of Congress, certain forts were advanced out of the order advised by the board.

"For many years grants for fortifications were made annually by Congress, in a gross sum, which was apportioned according to the discretion of the President. But since March 3, 1821, the appropriations have been specific, the grants for each work being particularly stated. For many years every new fortification has, before being made the object of appropriations, been sanctioned by a special act of Congress, upon recommendation of the Military Committee."


The committee cannot better set forth the means and mode recommended by the board of engineers for the defence of the maritime frontiers of the United States, and adopted, than by employing the following extract from a report made in 1826 by General Bernard and Colonel Totten, members of the board :

"We proceed to consider the means and the mode of the defensive system which it is for the interest of the United States to adopt. The means of defence for the seaboard of the Cnited States, constituting a system, may be classed as follows: First, a navy ; second, fortification ; third, interior communications by land and water ; and, fourth, a regular army and well-organized militia.

** The navy must be provided with suitable establishments for construction and repair, stations, harbors of rendezvous, and ports of refuge, all secured by fortifications, defended by regular troops and militia, and supplied with men and materials by the lines of intercommunication. Being the only species of offensive force compatible with our political institutions, it will then be prepared to act the great part which its early achievements have promised, and to which its high destiny will lead.

" fortifications must close all important harbors against an enemy, and secure them to our military and commercial marine. Second, must deprive an enemy of all strong positions where, protected by naval superiority, he might fix permanent quarters in our territory, maintain himself during the war, and keep the whole frontier in perpetual alarm. Third, must cover the great cities from attack. Fourth, must prevent, as far as practicable, the great avenues of interior navigation from being blockaded at their entrance into the ocean. Fifth, must cover the coastwise and interior navigation by closing the harbors and the several inlets from the sea which intersect the lines of communication, and thereby further aid the navy in protecting the navigation of the country; and, sixth, must protect the great naval establishments.

"Interior communications will conduct with certainty the necessary supplies of all sorts to the stations, harbors of refuge, and rendezvous, and the establishments for construction and repair, for the use both of the fortifications and the navy, will greatly facilitate and expedite the concentration of military force and the transfer of troops from one point to another; insure to these also unfailing supplies of every description, and will preserve unimpaired the interchange of domestic commerce even during periods of the most active external warfare.

"The army and militia, together with the marine, constitute the vital principle of the system.

“ From this sketch it is apparent that our system of defence is composed of elements whose numerous reciprocal relations with each other and with the whole constitute its excellence ; one element is scarcely more dependent on another than the whole system is on any one. Withdraw the navy, and the defence becomes merely passive ; withdraw interior communications from the system, and the navy must cease, in a measure, to be active, for want of supplies; and the fortifications can offer but a feeble resistance for want of timely re-enforcements; withdraw fortifications, and there remains only a scattered and naked nary."

With war experiences of the disadvantages of feebly-protected frontiers, the United States, though laboring under the burden of a heavy debt, commenced the above-described system immediately after the close of the war. The board of engineers who planned the present system was constituted for that purpose at the very first session of Congress after peace was proclaimed.

Lists of the fortifications proposed to be constructed under the new system, together with estimates of cost, peace and war garrisons, &c.,

will be found attached to the reports of the engineers printed with this.

The interior communications desired by government were macadamized roads ; one from Washington city, along the Atlantic coast to New Orleans ; another between the same points, but running by the way of Knoxville ; another from New Orleans, by the way of Tennessee and Kentucky, to Buffalo and Lake Erie ; and a fourth from Cumberland to St. Louis. These, with the ordinary roads of the country, it was supposed, would greatly facilitate the movement of troops and supplies in the event of war to the fortifications and naval depots on the several water frontiers. Neither of the four was ever built, though large sums of money were expended on the last named before it was finally abandoned.

In the detailed plans some errors were made which occasioned some injudicious expenditures on the fortifications. These are indicated in the following remarks made in a report of one of the engineers in 1851 :

" In planning the new works it seems to have been taken for granted, in many instances, that each work must depend on itself, without chance of succor from forces operating on the rear and flanks. Works were thus constructed to sustain a siege from ten to fifty days, in the midst of a population from which relief to the invested work could be drawn in twenty-four hours. The expensive arrangement of these land defences have greatly ivcreased the cost of the works, already from their nature very costly ; and at this day excite the surprise of the professional examiner acquainted with the vast means of collateral defence possessed by the United States, that anything more should have been required for most of the works than sucurity against assault by escalade.”

But, on the whole, there seems to be little to regret. On the contrary, the engineers seem to have shown remarkable competence and aptitude for their extensive and most responsible duties.

Since the initiation of the third system of frontier defences, fortysix years have passed away. In that period the condition of the country has been greatly changed-steamboats, railroads, canals, telegraphs, steamships, and iron ships, increased wealth, and increased population give new elements for the consideration of the engineer. The old works of defence on our coasts, with their old armaments, are not equal to the new means of attack. Judging from the ability of our unarmored ships to destroy the fine granite forts of the Chinese, it seems unlikely that any considerable number of our fortifications could long resist the concentrated fire of many fifteen-inch guns of a fleet of heavy ships thoroughly iron-clad. It inadequate to such resistance, our nation in all its increased strength is measurably as defenceless as in 1816.

What is necessary, then, to make our defences satisfactory-invulnerable to the attacks of a fleet composed of as many iron-clad vessels as any nation, without extraordinary effort, could readily concentrate against them?

1. The creation of adequate means to exclude from our harbors hostile ships, armored vessels included.

2. The providing of suitable means to detain invading armies on shipboard, when near important ports, a sufficient time to enable an army of the United States to be transported to the point assaulted.

3. The construction of channels in which to convey gunboats from

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