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Polder Dyke at some distance below Lillo; the armament was a long 18-pounder and a 54-inch howitzer. From this post the French determined to dislodge us, (the English,) and, on a very fine and calm morning, an 80-gun ship dropped down with the tide and anchored near the Flanders shore about 600 yards from the British battery; by her position she was secured from the fire of the 18pounder and exposed to that of the howitzer only. As soon as everything was made tight her broadside was opened; and if noise and smoke were alone sufficient to insure success in war, as so many of the moderns seem to think, the result of this strange contest would not have been long doubtful, for the thunder of the French artillery actually made the earth to shake again; but though the earth shook, the single British howitzer was neither dismounted nor silenced; and though the artillerymen could not, perfectly exposed as they were, stand to their gun whilst the iron hail was striking thick and fast around, yet no sooner did the enemy's fire slacken for a moment than they sprang to their post ready to return at least one shot for eighty. This extraordinary combat lasted from seven o'clock in the morning till near twelve at noon, when the French ship, having had forty-one men killed and wounded, her commander being in the list of the latter, and having besides sustained serious damage in her hull and rigging, returned to Antwerp without effecting anything whatever. The howitzer was not dismounted, the fort was not injured—there being, in fact, nothing to injure—and the British had only one man killed and two wounded.”
But we will not specify examples; the whole history of the wars of the French revolution is one continued proof of the superiority of fortifications as a maritime frontier defence. The sea-coast of France is almost within a stone's throw* of the principal British naval depots. Here were large towns and harbors, filled with the rich commerce of the world, offering the most dazzling attractions to the brave and enterprising enemy. The French navy was at this time utterly incompetent to their defence, while England supported a maritime force at an annual expense of near ninety millions of dollars. Her largest fleets were continually cruising within sight of these seaports, and not unfrequently attempting to cut out their shipping. At this period, says one of her naval historians, " the naval force of Britain, so multiplied and so expert from long practice, had acquired an intimate knowledge of their [the French] harbors, their bays, and creeks; her officers knew the depth of water and the resistance likely to be met with in every situation.” On the other hand, these harbors and towns were frequently stripped of their garrisons by the necessities of distant wars, being left with no other defence than their fortifications and militia.
And yet, notwithstanding all this, they escaped unharmed during the entire contest. They were frequently attacked, and, in some instances, the most desperate efforts were made to effect a permanent lodgement; but in no case was the success at all commensurate with the expense of life and treasure sacrificed, and no permanent hold was made on either the maritime frontiers of France or her allies. This certainly was owing to no inferiority of skill and bravery on the part of the British navy, as the battles of Aboukir and Trafalgar, and the almost annihilation of the French marine, have but too plainly proven. Why, then, did these places escape? We know of no other reason than that they were fortified, and that the French knew how to defend their fortifications. The British maritime expeditions to Quebec, the Scheldt, Constantinople, Buenos Ayres, &c., sufficiently prove the ill success and the waste of life and treasure with which they must always be attended. But when her naval power was applied to the destruction of the enemy's marine, and in transporting her land forces to solid bases of operations on the soil of her allies in Portugal and Belgium, the fall of Napoleon crowned the glory of their achievements.
Only 184 miles across the British channel at the narrowest place
We shall close our remarks upon this part of the subject of maritime defence by quotations from the reports of Mr. Poinsett, Mr. Beil, and Mr. Spencer, and from the military work of Colonel Mitchell, of the British army. The latter, in his remarks on military organization, &c., says: “The numerous and splendid victories achieved by British fleets over forts and batteries have not only tended to make naval attacks popular, but have also led to the very general belief that ships can contend successfully against batteries on shore, wherever the latter are fairly accessible, and as often as there is anything like a fair proportion as to the numerical force of guns between the contending parties. None of the many theories that have resulted from the modern chance games of war can possibly be more erroneous or more dangerous, because the public voice may, at some moment of general excitement, induce the government to fit out naval armaments for the attainment of objects totally beyond the reach of naval power. Under the mischievous belief that wooden walls can stand battering as long as stone walls, the lives of British seamen, the fame of the navy, and the honor of the country may be risked in enterprises in which skill and courage can effect nothing, and in which success can be anticipated only from the folly or cowardice of the enemy-always precarious foundations on which to trust for victory.
"To strike even a pretty large object with a ball fired from a piece of artillery, at a moderate range, is no very easy matter; and the difficulty is, of course, much increased when the gun is placed, as on board a ship, on a moving or at least a very unsteady platform, and where those whose business it is to take aim are, after the first fire, completely enveloped in smoke. And though towns and fortresses are not exactly small, or even moderately small objects, they nevertheless, when situated on a level, present but a very narrow horizontal line to the shipping; and of this line a still narrower part is vulnerable. To unroof the houses of a few harınless citizens, or to throw shells into a second-rate town, is a mode of warfare as unworthy as inefficient, and will never induce a commander of ordinary firmness to relinquish his post or give up the contest. To breach a rampart where there are no troops for debarkation, and when, as in such maritime expeditions generally, there is no intention to storm the works, is of course useless; so that the only remaining alternative is to dismount or to silence the artillery. This can be effected only by striking the guns themselves, or by so completely demolishing the parapet as to prevent the men from work. ing them. The first is difficult, for a gun presents but a very small mark; and the second is not easy, because it requires time, and a great many well-directed shots."
“To batter down even an ordinary rampart with the floating artillery of a fleet seems to us next to an impossibility, when we recollect the long and welldirected fire, constantly striking from a short range on the same spot, that was required to breach even the rickety walls of some of the Spanish fortresses. A ship-of-war brings, as we have said, a much greater body of fire to bear upon a single point than a land battery can return from an equal front; yet is the loss which a ship is liable to experience from the fire of the small number of battery guns far greater than any that can be inflicted by its own superior artillery. Every shot that strikes a ship occasions some mischief, whereas one hundred guns may strike a battery without producing any effect whatever.” “ A ship of any force is a large object, easily struck by the fixed artillery of forts. The vulnerable part of a battery is, on the contrary, a small object, which it is difficult to strike with the floating artillery of ships."
“How, then, it may be asked, are the many victories gained by our fleets over land defences to be accounted for? By circumstances, and by the conduct of our seamen, whose bravery naturally commanded success whenever it was within their reach, and not unfrequently wrung it, by mere excess of daring, from the fears of their astonished and intimidated adversaries. Naval and military operations present but too many occasions where both sailors and soldiers are forced to set the ordinary calmness of probability at defiance, and trust to daring and to fortune for success; but for government to fit out expeditions on such a principle would be the height of reprehensible folly—criminal as an avowed game of hazard played with .dice of human bones.' It would be doubly criminal in the government of this country, [England,) so amply provided with the power of placing the fair means of success at the disposal of efficient armaments. But naval armaments alone cannot contend successfully against well-constructed and well-defended land batteries; nor is there anything in naval history to justify the dangerous and erroneous opinion now entertained on the subject.”
Mr. Poinsett says: “After a careful and anxious investigation of a subject involving in so high a degree the safety and honor of the country, I fully concur in the opinions expressed by the board of officers on national defence) of the superiority of permanent works of defence over all other expedients that have yet been devised, and of their absolute necessity, if we would avoid the danger of defeat and disgrace; a necessity rather increased than diminished by the introduction of steam batteries and the use of hollow shot. It would, in my opinion, prove a most fatal error to dispense with them, and to rely upon our navy alone, aided by the number, strength, and valor of the people, to protect the country against the attacks of an enemy possessing great naval means. To defend a line of coast of three thousand miles in extent, and effectually to guard all the avenues to our great commercial cities and important naval depots, the navy of the United States inust be very superior to the means of attack of the most powerful naval power in the world, which will occasion an annual expense this country is not now able to bear; and this large naval armament, instead of performing its proper function as the sword of the State, in time of war, and sweeping the enemy's commerce from the seas, must be chained to the coast or kept within the harbors.
"It has been clearly demonstrated that the expense of employing a sufficient body of troops, either regulars or militia, for a period of even six months, for the purpose of defending the coast against attacks and feints that might be made by an enemy's fleet, would exceed the cost of erecting all the permanent works deemed necessary for the coast. One hundred thousand men, divided into four columns, would not be more than sufficient to guard the vulnerable points of our maritime frontier, if not covered by fortifications. This amount of force, which would be necessary against an expedition of twenty thousand men, if composed of regulars, would cost the nation $30,000,000 per annum; and if militia, about $40,000,000; and supposing only one-half the force to be required to defend the coast, with the aid of forts properly situated and judiciously constructed, the difference of expense for six months would enable the government to erect all the necessary works. This calculation is independent of the loss the nation would suffer by so large an amount of labor being abstracted from the productive industry of the country, and the fearful waste of life likely to result from such a costly, hazardous, and harassing system of defence.
" It must be recollected, too, that we are not called to try a new system, but to persevere in the execution of one that has been adopted after mature deliberation, and that is still practiced in Europe on a much more extensive scale than is deemned necessary here; so much so, that there exist three single fortresses, each of which comprises more extensive and stronger works than is here proposed for the whole line of our maritime frontier. We must bear in mind, also, that the destruction of some of the important points on our frontier would alone cost more to the nation than the expense of fortifying the whole line would amount to; while the temporary occupation of the others would drive us into expenses to recover them, far surpassing those of the projected works of defence.
The organization of the permanent defences proposed for our frontiers is not based upon military and naval considerations alone, but is calculated to protect
the internal navigation of the country. The fortifications proposed, at the same time that they protect our coast from the danger of invasion, and defend the principal avenues and naval establishments, cover the whole line of internal navigation, which, in time of war, will contribute, in an essential manner, to the defence of the country by furnishing prompt and economical means of transportation; so that, while the main arteries which conduct our produce to the ocean are defended at their outlets, the interior navigation parallel to the coast will be protected, and a free communication kept up between every part of the Union."
“Although it would appear on a superficial view to be a gigantic and almost impracticable project to fortify such an immense extent of coast as the United States, and difficult, if not impossible, to provide a sufficient force to garrison and defend the works necessary for the purpose, yet the statements contained in the reports of the board remove these objections entirely. The coast of the United States, throughout its vast extent, has but few points which require to be defended against a regular and powerful attack. À considerable portion of it is inaccessible to large vessels, and only exposed to the depredations of parties in boats and small vessels-of-war; against which inferior works, and the combination of the same means, and a well-organized local militia, will afford sufficient protection. The only portions which require to be defended by permanent works of some strength are the avenues to the great commercial cities and naval and military establishments, the destruction of which would prove a serious loss to the country, and be regarded by an enemy as an equivalent for the expense of a great armament. It is shown, also, that the number of men required on the largest scale, for the defence of these forts, when compared with the movable force that would be necessary without them, is inconsiderable. The local militia, aided by a few regulars, and directed by engineers and artillery officers, may, with previous training, be safely intrusted with their defence in time of war.
" It cannot be too earnestly urged, that a much smaller number of troops will be required to defend a fortified frontier than to cover one that is entirely unprotected; and that such a system will enable us, according to the spirit of our institutions, to employ the militia effectually for the defence of the country. It is no reproach to this description of force, and no imputation on their courage, to state, what the experience of two wars has demonstrated, that they cannot stand the steady charge of regular forces, and are disordered by their maneuvres in the open field; whereas their fire is more deadly from behind ramparts."
Mr. Bell says: “Since the recent and successful experiments in the navigation of the Atlantic by steam, and the consequent changes anticipated in maritime warfare, it is not an uncommon impression that fortifications, and all other land defences, may be dispensed with altogether; and that the navy, improved and strengthened by war steamers and floating batteries, may be safely and exclusively relied
upon for the defence of our extensive sea-coast. Another error, not less to be regretted, has obtained some hold upon the public mind since the extension of steam navigation already adverted to, and the improvements suggested in the means of defending the seaboard. It is, that the defence of our numerous inlets, harbors, and naval depots, will, by their improvements, be rendered not only more certain, but less expensive than heretofore, and therefore of diminished importance in every point of view. The very reverse of these conclusions, it may be justly apprehended, will be realized in the experience of the future. The increased facilities which the late extension of steam navigation will give to any great maritime power, holding possession of one or more naval depots on this side of the Atlantic, in concentrating a large naval or military force upon any one of the numerous assailable points upon our extensive sea-coast; the celerity of movement, and the greater certainty and precision which will thereby be secured in the execution of all the details of an attack-enabling an enemy to make it, in every instance, a surprise—will probably create a necessity for increasing our defences in some form, at an expense far exceeding anything lieretofore deemed i.nportant or necessary to reasonable security. But the prospect of successful defence by the navy alone vanishes altogether when we reflect that it is only in infancy, and that for a long time it must be inferior to the naval armaments of several of the powers of Europe. Whether the United States will be able, at any time, to contend with them upon the ocean, it is obvious, will depend upon the successful development of our naval resources after the commencement of a war; but how could this development take place in the face of a much more powerful enemy, if our depots and navy yards are suffered to remain without protection by fortifications, and there are no harbors in which our shipsof-war may take refuge and remain in safety when pursued by superior squadrons? It would be fatal to the national honor to neglect to fortify sufficiently and amply those passes, by land and water, by which an enemy could approach the depositories of our naval supplies, and also the principai harbors of easy access to our own vessels."
"The necessary quality of buoyancy in war steamers and floating batteries requires that they should be constituted mainly of wood; and whether of wood or iron, their destructibility, by the usual missiles employed in war, will be neither greater nor less than that of the war steamers and floating batteries with which an enemy may attack them. It is clear, then, that nothing will be gained by their exclusive employment in this point of view. It is equally clear that an enemy is able to concentrate a much superior force upon any one of our great harbors and naval depots than is provided for its defence; he must, without some extraordinary casuality, be successful. To guard, therefore, against the capture or destruction of all our opulent cities and great naval depots upon the seaboard, the government must provide a greater number of war steamers and floating batteries, for the defence of each of them, than any foreign nation will probably be able to assemble upon our own coast, and thus have it in his power, by uniting his whole force in an attack upon one point at a time, to lay under contribution or destroy the whole.
“But suppose each of our great harbors or depots should be thus defended, and that all the channels or passes by water could be so guarded and blocked up by floating batteries, or with the advantages of position, to set at defiance any naval force which could be brought to the attack, without fortifications to guard the passes or avenues over which an enemy could reach his object by land, what would prevent him from disembarking a sufficient land force at some other, but not distant point upon the coast, and effecting all his purposes of spoliation and destruction? It is manifest that something more will be wanting than war steamers and floating batteries to give even a tolerable security to our
ties and naval depots. If fortifications are to be dispensed with, it is clear, that to afford them adequate protection and security against the sudden assaults of an enemy approaching by sea, will require not only such a preparation of war steamers and floating batteries as already described, but a stationary land force sufficient in numbers and discipline to resist any number of veteran troops the enemy might have it in his power to employ as an auxiliary force in his enterprises upon our shores.
"Supposing the defences of a harbor, by fortifications, to be complete, and the attacking ships or war steamers of an enemy shall have succeeded in passing the outer channels leading to it, without material damage from the forts designed to guard them; or if they shall have taken advantage of the darkness of the night, and passed them unobserved, they will have gained but little by that success. They will be exposed at every point within to the fire of one or more land batteries. They will be able to find no anchorage or resting place where they will not be liable to be disabled, burnt, or blown up by the shells and hot shot discharged under protection of walls impenetrable to the shot of an enemy, except at the gun ports. Not so, however, when floating defences are exclusively relied upon. They will have no advantage in the right over the