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the value of defences on the Georgia coast, and especially those of Cumberland sound.
Key West and the Tortugas.-These are the first important positions that present themselves on doubling round Cape Florida into the Gulf of Mexico.
Strong opinions have been several times expressed in favor of these fine harbors, and I beg leave particularly to refer to a letter from Commodore Rodgers to the Secretary of the Navy, July 3, 1829, (Senate documents, 1st session 21st Congress, vol I, No. 1, page 236,) and letter from the Secretary of the Navy, March 25, 1830, (Senate documents, 1st session 21st Congress, vol. II, No. 111,
A naval force designed to control the navigation of the Gulf could desire no better position than Key West or the Tortugas. Upon the very wayside of the only path through the Gulf, it is at the same time well situated as to all the great points therein. It overlooks Havana, Pensacola, Mobile, the mouths of the Mississippi, and both the inlet and the outlet of the Gulf.
The Tortugas harbor and that of Key West affords perfect shelter for vessels of every class, with the greatest facility of ingress and egress. And there can be no doubt that an adversary in possession of large naval means would with great advantage make them his habitual resort and his point of general rendezvous and concentration for all operations on this sea. With an enemy thus posted, the navigation of the Gulf by us would be eminently hazardous, if not impossible, and nothing but absolute naval superiority would avail anything against him. Mere military means could approach no nearer than the nearest shore of the continent. There are no harbors in the Gulf at all comparable with these that an enemy could resort to with his large vessels. To deprive him of these would, therefore, be interfering materially with any organized system of naval operations in this sea. The defence of these harbors would, however, do much more than this. It would secure to our own squadron, even should it be inferior, the use of these most valuable positions, and would afford a point of refuge to our navy and our commerce at the very spot where it would be most necessary and useful.
I forbear to enlarge on this point, merely adding that certain and complete defence will be easily secured, and that we shall thereby possess ports of refuge in the middle of the Gulf whenever we have to fly, and points of rendezvous and refreshment in the very midst of all passing vessels whenever we hold the mastery. Every vessel that crosses the Gulf of Mexico passes within sight of the two forts commenced under the sanction of Congress and now in progress, one at Tortugas, and one at Key West.
It is needless to say that with the possession of these advanced posts, and with the control of the commerce of the Gulf thereby insured, no railroads upon the main can have any relation. The forts must rely solely on their own efficiency and power of resistance. Happily the local circumstances allow these conditions to be easily secured.
I could adduce many other illustrations of the truth of the assertions made in the commencement of these remarks, that though occasional benefit will result to the system of fortification on the seaboard from the construction of railroads, they in general will have little or no bearing on the immediate means of defence. These, whether they be forts or ships, must be put in a state of preparation and kept so by the use of means that railroads do not supply, or at least that can be well supplied without them.
Numerous and facile communications, whether by railroad or steamers, or common roads, are important undoubtedly to the general activity and vigor of war, whether offensive or defensive; but it is as communications that they are useful, not as being of themselves instruments of warfare, or as supplying any that can be substituted for ships or forts.
I ought here to advert to the idea often announced, though always vaguely and in general terms, namely, that by the help of these railroads large bodies of men may be thrown from the interior of the country upon the exposed points of the coast, and there erect, and arm, and serve temporary batteries adequate to repel any maritime attack.
If we have waited for the opening of a war to do this, our enemy, who knows the fact as well as we, will surely not allow time for the completion even of such works as these. And in adopting this policy, we undertake to afford a protection to the country in the first days and weeks of the war, that nations experienced in warlike affairs have considered as hardly accomplished after years and years of labor during peace.
In many important cases, the contemplated batteries could not be erected hastily, because they would have to be supported by piling and grillage; and in others, even the very sites would have to be raised out of the water. The inferiority in efficacy and equipment of such batteries, when erected, would have to be compensated by an increased number of guns; but in many instances, a good defence could only be made in positions where there is not room for the requisite number of guns, except by placing them tier above tier, an arrangement wholly inconsistent with sudden preparation.
But even if the sudden arrival of a number of men brought by railroad could supply the want of duly-prepared batteries, there are important defensive points to which railroads do not approach, and are not likely to approach. And it also happens that wherever such railroads reach the coast, it is already peopled beyond all probable wants for laborers upon sea-coast batteries. If such batteries were required to be erected as speedily as possible at Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, &c., they could be much sooner and better executed by calling in the laborers and mechanics of these cities, than by relying on the heterogeneous aid of regiments of volunteers and drafted militia.
The second question of the honorable Secretary is in these words: “ In what manner and to what extent the navigation of the ocean by steam, and particularly the application of steam to vessels-of-war and recent improvements in artillery and other military inventions and discoveries, affect the question ?"
And the third question, which it will be convenient to consider in connexion with the second, is in these words, namely: “How far vessels-of-war, steam batteries, and ordinary merchant ships and steamers, and other temporary erpedients, can be relied upon as a substitute for permanent fortifications for the defence of our large seaports ?"
The application of steam to vessels-of-war acts upon the question of sea-coast defence, both beneficially and injuriously. It acts injuriously in several ways; but chiefly, first, by the suddenness and surprise with which vessels may fall upon their object, and pass from one object to another in spite of distance, elimate, and season; and secondly, by their ability to navigate shallow waters.
The first property, by which squadrons may run into our harbors, outstripping all warnings of their approach, affords no chance for impromptu preparations; accordingly, whatever our preparations are to be, they should precede the war. It seems past all belief that a nation having in commission-as France and England always have—a large number of war steamers ready for distant service in twenty-four hours, receiving their orders by telegraph, capable of uniting in squadrons, and in two or three days at most speeding on their several paths to fall upon undefended ports—it is not to be expected, I say, that they should delay such enterprises until temporary resorts could be got ready to receive them. And yet there are those who insist that we should leave defensive measures to a state of war—that we should let the day supply the need. Inadequate as all
such measures must prove, there would not be time to arrange even these. By the second property, due to their light draught of water, these vessels will oblige the defence to be extended in some form to passages,
or channels, or shoals, that before were adequately guarded by their shallowness. The bars at the mouth of the Mississippi formerly excluded all but small vessels-of-war, and the strong current of the river made the ascent of sailing vessels exceedingly uncertain and tedious. Now these bars and currents are impediments no longer; and all the armed steamers of Great Britain and France might be formed in array in face of the city of New Orleans before a rumor of their approach had been heard.
Had the English expedition of 1814, attended by a squadron of large armed steamers, arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi, a few transports might have been taken in tow, and in a few hours the whole army would have been before the city; or twelve or fifteen such steamers could have carried the whole army up in half a day, without the delay of transports. Will it be contended that the attack in that form would have been repulsed with the means then in General Jackson's hands? Would the landing, or even the presence on board these steamships, of the British troops have been necessary to burn the city or put it under contribution? Is there anything now but the existence of forts on the river to prevent the success of such an attack by fifteen or twenty steamers-ofwar, allured thither by the vastly increased magnitude of the spoil ?
But there would have been, even then and with those means, one reason with the enemy for avoiding the channel of the river, namely, the existence, seventy miles below New Orleans, of old Fort St. Philip. I will not venture to say that in the then condition of that fort it could have repelled such an expedition, though it did very manfully resist a protracted bombardment; but I do not doubt that the existence of even that feeble work would have had weight in settling the mode and channel of approach, and in turning off the attack into circuitous and tedious avenues, and thereby gaining some time for preparation. I am confident, however, that on the completion of the repairs to that work, now well advanced, and on the completion of the exterior battery of Fort Jackson, (a new fort opposite,) no attack of that nature, even of twice the force, could penetrate by that avenue to the city of New Orleans.
The use of war steamers against New Orleans may take another phase. If deterred by the forts above mentioned from an attack by the river, an enemy might again take the anchorage off Ship island, and transport his army, either on board steamers of light draught or in boats towed by such steamers, to the foot of Lake Borgne, whence his march to the city (a distance of twenty-eight miles through an unpeopled district) would be over one of the best roads in Louisiana.
There is nothing in the shallowness of Lake Borgne to prevent this, nor are there now any defences on the way, though it is to be hoped that the erection of a tower and battery at Proctor's Landing, which has been strongly urged for some years, and which would effectually close this aperture, will at once be ordered by Congress.
If, as during the war of 1812, it were now necessary to pass the troops from the ships to the shore by means of tow-boats, we might, perhaps, considering the augmented population of the city and environs, trust for sufficient notice and preparation to the time that must elapse before a considerable number could be landed; but with ten or fifteen light-draught war steamers, fifteen thousand men could be landed and on their march towards the city within twenty-four hours of dropping anchor.
All other avenues to New Orleans from that quarter have, since the war of 1812, been well closed by permanent forts and batteries.
We have another illustration on the Gulf of this action of hostile steamers through shallow channels, and that may be worth adducing. Fort Morgan, at Mobile Point, defends very well the main channel into Mobile bay, and there is no other entrance for sailing vessels-of-war. But the smaller class of war steamers would find water enough near the end of Dauphin island, and, keeping out of reach of the guns of Fort Morgan, could pass up into the bay. They could without difficulty ascend as high as the city of Mobile, and reach that place moreover in three hours. A dozen such vessels could in that short time carry up, if they were needed, five thousand soldiers. It is surely not too much to say, therefore, that Mobile, one of our greatest depots of cotton, is by this new inlet for an enemy's cruisers much exposed. But this is not all the danger. The large fleet of ships, often one hundred in number, and of the largest class of merchantmen, that lie for months awaiting their cargoes in the lower part of the bay, are within an hour's run of such steamers from the open Gulf, and might be destroyed either by the same expedition that ascends to Mobile, or by one sent for that particular purpose.
For this and other serious consequences of leaving open this entrance to Mobile bay, the sure and the cheap remedy is the placing of a small fort at the east end of Dauphin island, a work already wisely ordered by Congress. When it is said in general that the light draught of these vessels opens avenues of attack before defended by nature, it must not be supposed that therefore it is part of the system of defence to fortify all shallow channels. Whether shal low passages will require defences or not, will depend entirely on the importance of the objects to which they give access and the power of the attack that may be directed through them, and not all on the circumstance that an enemy's steamers may enter them without difficulty.
There are a great many entrances and harbors on the coast, not shoal harbors merely, but many affording water enough for the largest vessels, that will require, if any, no other defences than such as can be prepared in time of war, because there are no objects upon these waters of a nature to provoke the cupidity of hostile cruisers: having nothing to lose in this way, they will have nothing to fear. The shallow and difficult avenues to great and valuable objects are those for which we have to provide defences in addition to defences that were necessary before the introduction of war steamers. The danger of the Hell Gate passage to New York sufficed to keep any man-of-war from attempting to sail through, but it proves to be no impediment to steamers. The “ Broad Sound” channel and also the “Gut” channel into Boston harbor are easy tracks for large steamers, though next to impracticable to line-of-battle ships and frigates; and so with other channels and other places.
In considering to what extent the introduction of steamers into war service may help the coast defence of the country, should we assume that we ought to rely upon them to repel the enemy's steamers, so dangerous in coming without warning and penetrating promptly through all natural obstacles up to the vital points of the coast, we should commit a very great error, though it is perhaps a natural one on a cursory examination, as it certainly is a frequent one. It would be a fatal error if practiced upon by a nation having more than one or two important ports, and even with such nation it would be the most expensive of all resorts.
This cannot be a safe reliance with war steamers any more than with sailing vessels-of-war, and a few words may make this clear.
I do not assert that armed vessels would not be useful in coast defence. Such an idea would be absurd. I shall even have occasion to show a necessity for this kind of force in certain exceptional cases. It is the general proposition, viz: that armed vessels and not fortifications are the proper defences for our vulnerable points—a proposition the more dangerous because seemingly in such accordance with the well-tried prowess and heroic achievements of the navy that we have now to controvert.
Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, and New Orleans are, we will suppose, to be guarded, not by forts, but by those vessels, on the occurrence of a war with a nation possessing large naval means. We know that it is no effort for such nations to despatch a fleet of twenty line-of-battle ships and frigates, or an equal number of war steamers, or even the combined mass, both fleets in one.
The United Service Journal shows that in the month of August last Great Britain had actually in commission in their navy, in a time of profound peace, thirty-eight line-of-battle ships and frigates, thirteen sloops-of-war, and upwards of fifty smaller armed sailing vessels, together with forty-eight armed war steamers and near forty unarmed steamers.
What, then, shall we do at the above-named ports severally? Each is justly felt to be an object worthy of an enemy's efforts, and each would be culpable in sending elsewhere any part of the force required for its own defence. Each, therefore, maintains a naval force equal at least to that the enemy is judged to be able to send promptly against it. Omitting any provision for other places scarcely less important, what is the result? It is, that we maintain within the harbors of, or at the entrance to, these places, chained down to this passive defence, a force at least six times as large as that of the enemy.
He does not hesitate to leave his port, because it will be protected in his absence by its fortifications, which also will afford him a sure refuge on his return. He sails about the ocean depredating upon our commerce with his privateers and small cruisers, putting our small places to ransom, and in other ways following up appropriate duties, all which is accomplished without risk, because our fleet, although of enormous magnitude, must cling to ports which have no other defence than that afforded by their presence. They cannot combine against him nor attack him singly, for they cannot know where he is, and must not, moreover, abandon the objects which they were provided expressly to guard.
It would really seem that there could not be a more impolitic, inefficient, and dangerous system, as there certainly could not be a more expensive one.
A navy, whether of war steamers or sailing vessels, should be aggressive in its action. It should, by carrying the war into the seas and upon the coast of the enemy, direct its calamities from our coast and commerce; but the system we are now considering involves the absurdity of relinquishing all the incalculable advantages of mastery upon the ocean to an enemy who nevertheless may possess but a sixth of our naval power.
To bring other means even in partial substitution for this defence by ships and steamers, or to give it local auxiliary aid, by way of reducing its inordinate magnitude, would be to confess its inappropriateness for harbor defence. We know that other comparatively cheap means may be substituted, but this is just what the proposition denied. Naval means would be useful undoubtedly. The question is, whether they would be sufficient; and we see some of the con quences of making them sufficient. We come thus to examine the defensive arrangements that can be made in aid of or substituted for armed sea-going vessels.
These arrangements may be of two classes, namely: first, fixed forts and batteries on the land, and in some cases movable batteries of heavy guns: and second, upon the water-floating batteries of all kinds, gunboats, &c., fixed or movable.
There are doubtless situations where it may be necessary for us to present a defensive array, at the same time that to do so by fortifications alone would be impracticable; and it is not therefore prejudging the question we are about to examine. It is neither underrating fortifications nor overrating floating defences to say that these last are some or all of them indispensable in such positions.
Any very broad water, where deep soundings may be carried at a distance from the shores, greater than effective gun range, and where no insular spot, natural or artificial, can be found or formed nearer the track of ships, will present such a situation, and we may take some of our great bays as examples.
Broad sounds and wide roadsteads affording secure anchorage beyond good