Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

gun will

suggested means has been often enough asserted in these observations, something more must be said as to their sufficiency for the security of the great in. terests on our coast. It willing to trust for their sufficiency to the example of other nations, we should find abundant proof in the practice of all that have taken part in or been exposed to the hazards of war. All have resorted to fortifications, and many have, for long periods of time, owed to them alone exemption from some of the worst of its calamnities. The example of other nations at the present moment, as has before been stated, shows, moreover, that they find no other satisfactory reliance under the increased energy now given to the instruments of warfare than an increase of the number and an augmentation of the force of fortifications.

In opposition to this mode of defence much stress is laid on certain successful attacks that have been made by ships on works deemed strong. I have no doubt that all such results might be accounted for by circumstances independent of the naked question of relative strength, but at any rate, when carefully considered, how little do these results prove in comparison with numerous other instances in which there was an immense disparity of force in favor of vessels that have been signally defeated. These latter instances are those that should be received as a test of the actual relation between the two kinds of force; not certainly because they were successful, but because the smaller the works, its armament, its garrison, the less the probability that any extraneous intuence has been in operation. A single gun behind a parapet, provided its position be a fair one and the parapet be proof, need, as regards its contest with ships, owe nothing else to the art of fortification; and its effect will be the same whether the battery were fresh from the hands of the ablest engineer of the age or were erected at the dawn of the art. The

gun is in a position to be used with effect; the men are as fully protected by the parapet as the service of the allow; they are brave and skilful, and there is nothing to prevent them from doing their duty to the utmost. These are all conditions easily fulfilled, and therefore likely to be so. The state of things is not less just and fair towards the vessel; she chooses her time and opportunity. The battery goes not to the ship, but the ship to the battery, taking the wind, the tide, the sea-all as she would have them; her condition and discipline are perfect, and her crew courageous and adroit. Nothing, under such circumstances, can prevent the just issue of battle but some extraordinary accident, possible indeed to either party, .but easily recognized when occurring.

The contest between larger works and heavy squadrons may be much more complicated affairs; the cause of disaster to the former being often traceable to potent, though not always obvious influences. The fortifications may have been absurdly planned originally, or badly executed, for there has at all times been in this profession, as in others, much scope given to quackery; they may have been erected at a time when ships-of-war, against which they were provided, were very different things from the lofty line-of-battle ships of modern times—a long peace or long impunity may have left them in a state wholly unprepared for the sudden use of their strength; the command may have been intructed to persons ignorant alike of the amount of power in their hands, and of the mode of exercising it; the garrison may have been undisciplined or mutinous; the populace discontented or disloyal; the clamor of frightened citizens may have caused a premature surrender; all these, or any of them may have produced the issue, leaving the question of relative power untouched.

While there can be no doubt that these and other deteriorating influences may have occasionally operated to the prejudice of fortifications, and that these were likely to be more numerous and more controlling as the works were more extensive, it is certain that there can be no influence acting in a reverse direction upon them, that is to say, none making them stronger and more efficient than they ought to be. There can be no favorable influence of such a nature, for example, as to make the simple one-gun battery, before mentioned, equivalent to a battery (sav) ten times as large.

It must not be supposed from what is said in relation to larger fortifications that their magnitude necessarily involves imperfection or weakness, nor because I have considered small and simple works as affording the best solution to the question of relative force must it be inferred that small works are suited to all circumstances. I speak here in reference merely to the judgment we are entitled to form of the relative power of these antagonist forces from their contests as exhibited in history. In instances of the latter sort there cannot, from the nature of the cases, be any important influence operating of which we are ignorant, or for which we cannot make due allowances, while in examples of the former kind we may be in the dark as to many vital matters.

These observations have been deemed necessary because, in judging of this matter, it might not be so obvious that certain brilliant and striking results should not be adopted as affording the true test of relative power. It would be more natural to turn to Copenhagen and Algiers as indicating where the power lies, than to Charleston or Stonington, and yet these latter as indices would be true and the former false.

We will now turn to certain examples.

"The name of Martello tower was adopted in consequence of the good defence made by a small round tower in the Bay of Martello, in Corsica, in the year 1794, which although armed with one heavy gun only, beat off one or two British ships-of-war without sustaining any material injury from their fire. But this circumstance ought merely to have proved the superiority which gins on shore must always in certain situations possess over those of shipping, no matter whether the former are mounted in a tower or not. That this is a just decision will perhaps be readily allowed by all who are acquainted with the following equally remarkable, but less generally known fact, which occurred about twelve years afterward in the same part of the world.

" Sir Sidney Smith, in the Pompée, an eighty-gun ship, the Hydra, of thirtyeight guns, Captain Manby, and another frigate, anchored about eight hundred yards from a battery of two guns situated on the extremity of Cape Lecosa, and protected from assault by a tower in which were five-and-twenty French soldiers, commanded by a lieutenant.

“The line-of-battle ship and the frigate fired successive broadsides till their ammunition was nearly expended, the battery continually replying with a slow but destructive effect. The Pompe (at which ship alone it directed its fire) had forty shot in her hull, her mizzen topmast carried away, a lieutenant, midshipman, and fireman killed, and thirty men wounded. At length, force proving ineffectual, negotiations were resorted to; and, after some hours parley, the officer, a Corsican and relative of Napoleon, capitulated. It then appeared that the carriage of one of the two guns had failed on the second shot and the gun had subsequently been fired lying on the sill of the embrasure; so that, in fact, the attack of an eighty-gun ship and two frigates had been resisted by a single piece of ordnance."—(Journal of Sieges, by Colonel John T. Jones.)

“ The Corsican tower above mentioned, which had in like manner completely baffled a naval cannonade, was very soon found to surrender when attacked by land; not, however, before a small battery had been made (erected) to reduce it."—(Paisley's Course, vol. iii.)

Here are two examples : 1st. A single heavy gun mounted on a tower beat off one or two British ships ; 2d. A barbette battery, containing two guns, beat off a British eighty-gun ship, supported by two frigates.

It would seem that no exception can possibly be taken to either instance as trials of relative power. There is no complication of circumstances on one side or the other; nothing to confuse or mislead; all is perfectly simple and plain. A small body of artillery judiciously posted on the shore is attacked by armed

a

vessels bearing forty or fifty times as many guns, and the ships, unable to produce any effect of consequence, are beaten off with loss.

The cases present no peculiar advantage on the side of the batteries, either as regards position or quality, for both works were immediately reduced by a land attack—that which the eighty-gun ship and two frigates were unable to effect being immediately accomplished by landing two field-pieces with a very small portion of the crew of one of the vessels. On the other hand, there was no peculiar disadvantage on the part of the ships, as the time and mode of attack were of their own choice.

In order that there might be no unjust disparagement of the vessels in the manner of representing the affairs, the language of British military writers (the ships being British) has been exactly quoted.—(See Paisley's Course of Elementary Fortification, vol. ii, and Journal of Sieges, by Colonel John T. Jones.)

Had the representation of these actions been taken from the victorious party, the result, probably, would have appeared still more to the disadvantage of the ships.

T'he circumstances attending the attack and defence of Copenhagen, in April, 1801, have already been briefly stated. A more minute description will be found in House document No. 206, 1st session, 26th Congress.

I now proceed to examine a great instance of naval success, in which there is no room to doubt the extent to which fortifications were engaged. This instance is the attack on Algiers, in 1816. The attack was made by the combined English and Dutch fleets, mounting about one thousand guns, under the command of Lord Exmouth.

In the fortifications that looked towards the water there are enumerated, in a plan supposed to be authentic, three hundred and twenty guns; but not more than two hundred of these could act upon the fleet as it lay. The ratio of the forces engaged, therefore, as expressed by the number of guns, (saying nothing of the calibres, of which we know nothing,) was about as five to two. The action continued from a quarter before three until nine, without intermission, and did not ceáse altogether until half past

eleven. It is very certain that the effect of the fire upon the Algerine shipping and town was very severe, because we know that all the shipping was destroyed except some small vessels; and we know, also, that Lord Exmouth dictated the the terms of the treaty that followed.

Honorable as this result was to the combined fleets, and happy as it was for the cause of humanity, there are, nevertheless, technical circumstances connected with it that excite doubts as to how much of the final result was due to physical chastisement, to moral effect, to inherent defects in the defences, and to ignorance in the use of these defences, such as they were. That the loss in killed and wounded in the city and works was great is probable, because we are informed that a very great addition had been made to the garrison, in preparation for the attack, under some impression, no doubt, that a landing would be attempted. For the service of the guns there were needed but three or four thousand men at the utmost. An accumulation beyond that number would add nothing to the vigor of defence, while, by causing an increase of the casualties, it would heighten the terrors of the combat. The depressing effect of this loss of life in the batteries and of the burning of buildings within the town and about the mole was, of course, increased by the entire destruction of the Algerine fleet anchored within the mole.

We have no means of judging of the actual condition of the works; nor of their fitness for the task of contending with the heavy ships of modern times.

The forts and batteries on the shore were probably too elevated to be coinmanded even by the largest of the sailing ships; and provided these guns were covered with a proof parapet, they may be regarded as being well situated.

But more than half the guns engaged were in the Molehead battery, and the

64

one

a

mode of attack adopted, especially by the Queen Charlotte, of one hundred and ten guns, was calculated to test, in the severest manner, the principles on which this work had been planned. She so placed herself within fitty yards” of the extremity of this battery, that she could either rake or take in reverse every part

of it. If she at the same time commanded the battery—that is to say, if from her spar-deck she could look down upon its platform—then she must at once, with her grape and canister, have driven the garrison from that platform, leaving only the lower and covered tier of guns, if there were such a tier, for service. With our imperfect knowledge of the fortifications, all this must, however, be left to conjecture.

But there are matters connected with the service of batteries which are not conjecture. Not a shot was fired until the Queen Charlotte had anchored.

What a different vessel, when she anchored, might not this ship have been if the Molehead battery had employed its fire of more than hundred

guns,

in raking her from the time she arrived within a mile and a half until she had anchored within fifty yards! How different might have been the condition of the fleet, generally, if they had been subjected during the approach, and while assuming their stations, to the raking fire of all the two hundred guns!

It does not appear that a single red-hot shot was fired from the batteries.

We might almost rest on this fact, and assert that a defence which had failed to provide itself with this auxiliary means must have been carried on in disregard if not in violation of all rules, all knowledge, and all experience; that it was probably without plan or combination, and not less probably without preparation in other particulars of importance scarcely inferior.

Before leaving this example it may be well to inquire what, after all, was the effect of these batteries upon the ships, compared with the effect of ships upon ships.

In the battle of the Nile the French fleet, rated at one thousand one hundred and ninety guns, caused a loss in Nelson's fleet of eight hundred and ninetyfive killed and wounded, which is in the proportion of ten French guns to less than eight Englishmen killed and wounded. In the battle of Trafalgar the French fleet carried not less than three thousand guns, and they caused a loss to the English of one thousand five hundred and eighty-seven killed and wounded, which is in the proportion of ten guns to less than six killed and wounded. In this affair of Algiers, with a force not exceeding two hundred guins, the batteries caused a loss of eight hundred and eighty-three killed and wounded, being in the proportion of ten guns to forty-four men; and if we take into account every gun that was pointed over the bay, (say three hundred and fifiy guns,) the proportion will be ten guns to twenty-five men; being an effect more than three times as great as that produced by the French ships at the battle of the Nile, and more than four times as great as that produced by the same nation at Trafalgar.

While reflecting on the circumstances of this battle the mind is not satisfied with any reasons that present themselves for the withdrawal of Lord Exmouth, the moment the land wind enabled him to do so, on the supposition of entire success on his part. It is not understood why he should feel the great anxiety he states himself to have been under that this wind should spring up. “Providence at this interval,” (between ten and eleven o'clock at night,) "gave to my anxious wishes the usual land wind common in this bay, and my expectations were completed. We were all hands employed in warping and towing off

, and, by the help of the light air, the whole were under sail and came to anchor out of the reach of shells about two in the morning, after twelve hours of incessant labor."

Now if anything had been decided by the action, it must have been one of two things: either the ships were victorious or the batteries were so. If the ships were completely victorious it would seem to have been judicious for them

to remain where they were, in order, if there was to be any more fighting, to be ready to press their advantage, and especially in order to maintain

the ascendency, by preventing the remounting of guns, repairing batteries, and re-supplying them with munitions, &c.

Had the people possessed the inflexibility report ascribed to the Dey,and had they set zealously about the work of preparation for a new contest, it might not have been easy for Lord Exmouth, in the condition to which his ships are acknowledged by authentic accounts to have been reduced, to enforce his demands. It is not understood, therefore, why, if he had been so successful as to be certain that his end was attained, he should be so anxious to get out of gunshot, when by so doing he involved the issue in more or less doubt and hazard.

He relied on the effect produced on the people by his dreadful cannonade, and the result proves that he was right; but his anxiety to clear the vessels from the contest shows that there was a power still unconquered, which he thought it best to leave to be restrained by the suffering population of the city than to keep in a state of exasperation and activity by his presence. What was this power but an unsubdued energy in the batteries?

The true solution of the question is, then, not so much the amount of injury done on the one side or the other—particularly as there was, on the one side, a city to suffer as well as the batteries—as the relative efficiency of the parties when the battle closed at about eleven o'clock. All political agitation and popular clamor aside, what would have been the result had the fight been continued, or even had Lord Exmouth renewed it next morning ?

These are questions that can be answered only on conjecture; but the manner the battle ended certainly leaves room for many doubts whether, had the subsequent demands of Lord Exmouth been rejected, he had it in his power to enforce them by his ships; whether, indeed, if he had renewed the fight, he would not have been signally defeated.

On the whole, this battle, although it stands pre-eminent as an example of naval success

over batteries, presents no argument to shake the confidence which fortifications, well situated, well planned and well tought, deserve as the defences of a seaboard.

Gibraltar.-The attack on the water batteries of Gibraltar, in September, 1782, by the French and Spanish floating batteries, is a well known instance of the power

of These floating batteries had been rendered, as was supposed, shot proof and shell proof, by several additional thicknesses of timber to the sides, and by covering the decks with a roof of sloping timbers.

They mounted one hundred and forty-two guns on the engaged side, with seventy in reserve to replace any that might be dismounted. They were auchored at the distance of about one thousand yards from the walls, and were opposed by about eighty-five guns.

After a protracted cannonade nine of the floating batteries were burnt by hot shot from the shore, and the tenth, having been taken possession of by the victors, was set on fire by them.

No material injury was done to the works of the town by their fire, and only eighty-five men and officers were killed and wounded by the fire from these vessels, together with a very violent cannonade and bombardment from the sirge batteries.

Battle of Algesiras. On the 6th of July, 1801, the French admiral Lenois was lying at anchor off the town of Algesiras with two ships of eighty guns, one of seventy-four guns, and one frigate. To the south of him, on a small island, was a battery, called the Green island battery, mounting seven eighteen and twenty-four pounders; and to the north of him, on the main, another battery, called St. Jacques's battery, mounting five eighteen-pounders. There were, besides, fourteen Spanish gunboats anchored near, making a total of three

guns on shore.

« AnteriorContinua »