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of large extents of new territory, are changes or causes which, in my opinion, may render some "modifications” of the details of the present system more advantageous. At least these changes appear to be of sufficient importance to justify, if not to require, preparatory to definitive action, a re-examination of the present system, as recommended by former boards, with the same thorough and careful deliberation which was bestowed when it was originally proposed.
13. In reply to your second question, "What reliance could be placed on vessels-of-war or of commerce, floating batteries, gunboats, and other temporary substitutes for permanent fortifications ?" I respectfully state that, in my opinion, no safe reliance could be placed on any of the kinds of force enumerated in your question, as “substitutes" for permanent fortifications, unless they should be multiplied to an extent that would require an expenditure which would be unreasonably great, and much greater than would give equal security by a judicious combination of permanent fortifications and a floating force as auxiliary to them. On any sudden emergency, private steamers and other merchant vessels might be usefully employed in aid of other means which had been previously prepared, either by having them armed to contend with an enemy, or to bring forward re-enforcements of men, materials, or other supplies. Little advantage could be expected, however, from the vessels, for direct assistance, unless all that was necessary for their armament and equipment had been previously prepared, and kept ready for immediate use.
14. The voluntary use of vessels-of-war, which are able to navigate the ocean as substitutes for fixed fortifications, or even as direct auxiliaries to them, except in extreme cases, would, in my opinion, be highly injudicious. The proper employment of such vessels-of-war or of our navy is to afford all possible protection to our merchant shipping, to destroy or harass an enemy's commerce, and either by itself or in conjunction with troops to assail an enemy's possessions at points where they would otherwise be inaccessible to us.
15. The protection which the coasts of our country may justly expect from the navy is that which it may afford by intercepting forces which may threaten attacks upon it; or when unequal to that task, diminishing the means of an enemy for such attempts, by rendering it necessary for him to protect his own commerce or his own shores against our ships-of-war.
16. With a navy sufficiently powerful to compete fairly with that of an enemy, great additional security would be given to our coasts by it, and still greater if our naval force was decidedly superior. But even under these favorable circumstances the chances for avoiding the most vigilant watchfulness on the ocean are so great, that so long as we expect wars with nations having a respectable navy, sound policy and true economy, in my opinion, requires permanent fortifications at all points necessary to defend our important national establishments, our populous and wealthy cities, against sudden attacks, and to keep open, as far as practicable, our coastwise navigation and other communications, which might otherwise be interrupted by any enemy who could elude the vigilance of our navy. The navy, if employed as here suggested, would not render it as substitute for fortifications, but would give an increased security to our seaboard, and in proportion to its strength diminish the necessity of interrupting the ordinary pursuits of our population.
17. To the third question, "Is it necessary or expedient to continue the system of fortification on the shores of the lakes?" I state as my opinion that no future attacks from the Canada shores of the lakes, of a character sufficiently powerful to affect the final result of war, are to be apprehended; still
, the advantages which are offered by the St. Lawrence and Rideau canals for the increase of a naval force on Lake Ontario might give to Great Britain a temporary superiority of naval force on that lake. This superiority, and the presence of a considerable body of regular troops which are always kept in Canada, might induce and possibly enable an enemy in Canada, by a sudden incursion, to injure our great lines of communication by railroads and canals, on the lake frontier, or to levy contributions on cities near it, all of which would be greatly exposed if there were no fortifications to furnish military supplies for the surrounding militia, and so aid them in repelling such attacks.
18. Under existing circumstances it would, in my opinion, be expedient to continue the present system so far as to retain all the fortifications on the lake frontier which have been completed, and to complete such as have been commenced. The expense would be comparatively inconsiderable, and would no doubt be amply repaid by the increased security and other advantages which would be gained at the commencement of any war in which Canada would have the character of an enemy to us.
It has been difficult for me to confine my remarks very strictly to the precise questions which were submitted, but it was believed that the reference to * other changes” in the first question would be a sufficient excuse for the latitude which has been taken. With much respect, your obedient servant,
Captain U. S. Nary. Hon. C. M. CONRAD,
Secretary of War.
Report of Commodore C. M. Perry.
North TARRYTOWN, July 25, 1852. Sır: In obedience to your order of the 23d ultimo, covering a copy of a communication with the Secretary of War, together with a copy of a resolution of Congress, calling for information upon the expediency of modifying the system of national fortifications established in 1816, I have the honor to report
In reply to the first inquiry, as follows:
“To what extent, if to any, ought the present system of fortifications for the protection of our seaboard to be modified, in consequence of the application of steam to vessels-of-war, the inventions or improvement of projectiles, or other changes that have taken place since it was adopted in 1816?”
I may remark that, in my opinion, it is desirable that the system referred to should be substantially modified by an entire abandonment of the plan of exterior coast fortifications, and a confinement to the completion of the works already commenced for the protection of our principal ports of trade and naval depots ; and that no greater number of works should be recognized as permanent means of defence of the more important points upon the seaboard than those that may be suitably garrisoned and kept in constant preparation, whether in peace or war, for repelling an enemy.
In the attempt to sustain the position which I propose to assume, being at my residence in the country, without proper documents or other data to enable me to enter fully into detail
, I shall, with two exceptions, refrain from alluding to the published statements and reports of others upon the subject; and while cheerfully according to those who may differ from me all credit for sincerity and patriotism, I may content myself with a general expression of opinion upon the question under investigation, calling particular attention to the report of Mr. Cass, when Secretary of War.-(See Doc. 293, 24th Congress, April 8, 1836.)
Concurring, as I most fully did at the period of its date, (1836,) and as I do now, in the opinion set forth in that masterly state paper, I might be satisfied in assuming the whole range of argument of that distinguished man, as exhibiting my own views upon the great question of national defence, had not the imagination even of his prophetic foresight been outstripped by the extraordinary developments of the few subsequent years developments which, though they have thrown into bolder relief the more prominent features of his prophecies, have gone far beyond the anticipations of the wildest visionary, bringing to light improvements in practical science utterly astounding to the theorists of yesterday, deranging all previous plans of war, whether by sea or land, and foreshadowing even further changes, perhaps equally remarkable; and thus showing that if the system, under things as they existed in 1816, was wisely devised, (a proposition I have never assented to,) there is no longer the remotest useful object to be gained by persistence in the plan, but rather on the contrary. The erection of isolated exterior works upon our seaboard would, instead of contributing to our protection, hold out assailable points, inviting attention from an active enemy, in the possibility of carrying them by coup de main—an achievement not so difficult since the use of steam for naval purposes; and when, moreover, it may be fairly presumed that these works, however extensive and complete in themselves, would in fact be weak as defences, for want of adequate garrisons; that is
, if we are to judge from past experience and the present desolate condition of some of those already constructed, made necessary, it is true, for want of troops to send to them.
Let us suppose, for purpose of illustration, that the two works recommended in the original design to be erected on Sandy Hook bar,* (see report of War Department, House Doc. 206, 26th Congress, 1st session,) are completed, and garrisoned by the estimated number of rank and file assigned to them, say 1,760 each, their isolated position would place them beyond the effective range of guns planted upon Sandy Hook, the nearest land ; and being encircled by channels navigable for the largest war steamers, they could not prevent the ingress of the enemy, and unaided by a friendly naval force might be surrounded by the hostile ships, who, if they did not surprise and carry them by escalade, would have the power to cut off their communication with the land, and consequently their supplies.
And let us suppose, further, that in conjunctures like those growing out of the northeastern boundary and Oregon questions, where serious difficulties with Great Britain were anticipated by many, (and everybody knows that a similar contingency did happen under the administration of General Jackson, with France, and may again happen,) that these forts were completed, and armed, and garrisoned, as they probably would be in time of peace, with a single company or half company each, and it might be the policy of the enemy to enter suddenly into war, and give us the first intimation of hostilities by the appearance off the port of a powerful squadron of war steamers, not only would the forts on the bars, inviting attack by their very weakness, be at the mercy of the enemy, but the safety of the city itself would be compromised. For though by a delay of a day or two the inner line of forts could be garrisoned by militia and volunteers, and temporary steam batteries prepared in aid of the outer defences, if the opposing squadron were to be commanded by a Nelson or a Suffren, such precaution would be too late.
From any of the inner forts, should they perchance make a lodgement, the enemy could soon be driven ; but once in possession of the outer line of works, with the sea open to them, the port would be entirely locked up; hence, in the possibility of such an issue, is it not far better that they should not be erected ?
But many other solid reasons may be adduced to prove the impolicy of their erection. The impracticability of covering the whole extent of coast by for
I shall apply my remarks upon the seaboard defences more particularly to the port of New York, though they are intended to have a general bearing upon the whole coast.
tresses, commanding every port, bay, and roadstead; the improbability of any future attempt by an enemy to land an armed force upon our shores, except for some marauding purposes; and the perfect capability of the inner line of works, assisted by floating batteries, to repel whatever force might venture an attack upon any of our principal cities or towns, except by coup de main, in which event, as I have before remarked, the outer line of works would prove of immeasurable injury, if captured, as some of them might possibly be by a dashing enemy.*
And, besides, we have the experience of history to show that extensive military works are alike destructive of the prosperity and the liberties of the people, saying nothing of the enormous cost of construction and the keeping them in condition for service. I may instance the fortresses of Spain, of Portugal, and of the former republics of Genoa and Venice, as gigantic works, now of little use, and looked upon by the voyager only as monuments of the extravagance and peculating spirit which, at the time of their erection, characterized the people of those governments.
Experience, moreover, shows that while the fortifications of San Juan d'Ulloa at Vera Cruz, the Moro of Havana, the castle protecting the harbor of Carthagena upon the coast of Columbia, the Venetian fortress of Napoli de Romania, in Greece, the castle of St. Elino, in Malta,t and many others of similar extent and character, are considered by some impregnable. They command only a circuit embraced within the range of their guns, and cannot in any manner prevent a landing of the enemy upon the coast beyond the extent of such range; in a word, these works are useful only to command the entrances of the ports which they were intended to defend, and to cover with their guns vessels anchoring in their immediate vicinity. The celebrated fortress of Gibraltar neither commands the passage of the straits nor the anchorage on the Spanish side of the bay of that name. They are, in truth, like chained monsters, harmless beyond the reach of their manacles ; not so with their steam batteries—they have the means of locomotion, and their power can be made effective at any point upon the coast capable of being reached by an enemy's vessel.
Of all the coasts of Europe that of Great Britain is the least provided with fortifications, and yet her soil has not been trodden by a successful enemy since the conquest-solely protecting her military and naval arsenals by perfect and well-garrisoned works. She depends mainly for defence of her coast upon her navy and the warlike spirit of her yeomanry; and the very absence of fortified works prevents a deceitful reliance upon such defences, and keeps alive the more gallant and more certain dependence upon their own personal prowess.
And thus it should be with us, man to man. The Americans are, at least, equal to any other race, and they are fully capable of driving back to their ships or capturing any number of troops that might have the temerity to land upon our soil.
Let us suppose that New York is menaced with an attack by a force much
. In speaking of militia and volunteers above I may add, by way of note, that the city of New York could alone parade, in six hours, one thousand, and in twelve hours, five thonsand uniformed troops, composed of men in the prime of life, who would, doubtless, do good service before the enemy.
This body of troops is well officered and under excellent organization, and embraces fair proportions of cavalry, artillery, and infantry, with all the requisite material and munitions.
The cities and towns in the immediate neighborhood could furnish an equal number with the same expedition, and there can be little doubt that with the facilities of transportation by railroad and other modes, a force sufficient for all purposes of defence could be concentrated in a very short space of time at any point upon our coast north and east of Texas.
+ I more particularly name these, among many others, fur reason of being better acquainted with them by personal examination.
larger than the English have ever yet been able to concentrate upon our coast. The only assailable point which might promise any chance of success would be debarkation upon the south side of Long Island and to advance upon the rear of Brooklyn.
This mode of attack was contemplated during the war of 1812-'13, and extensive entrenchments were thrown up by the citizens upon a chain of hills just beyond the town designed to hold the enemy in check until re-enforcements could arrive from a distance;* but the rapid increuse of the place has now brought these military sites within the corporate limits of the city, and it will be necessary, in the event of another war, to select more advanced positions on which to construct redoubts to command the approaches referred to, and it would be at this day a measure of wisdom for the government to take steps for selecting and securing the fee of suitable points for military purposes. These positions, judiciously chosen, would, at the moment of alarm, be occupied by myriads of militia and volunteers, who, judging from what was accomplished on a former occasion, would, in an incredible short time, throw up
and man the necessary works; with these precautionary measures, and with a respectable number of steam batteries as auxiliaries to the permanent works already constructed, New York would be safe from any foreknown attack of the enemy.
With respect to the second inquiry
“What reliance could be placed on vessels-of-war or of commerce, floating batteries, gunboats, or other temporary substitutes for permanent defences ?”
I reply that much reliance could be placed on all vessels-of-war, particularly those moved by steam, whether intended for ocean or harbor service, as auxiliaries to the fortifications, thereby lessening the necessary number and extent of those permanent works; but there could be no dependence on gunboats or vessels of commerce, except for the temporary conversion of the latter into public armed ships.
But the most reliable force for harbor defence as auxiliary to the fortifications would be steamers of war, in addition to which temporary steam batteries might be equipped at most of our principal ports.
It may be presumed that there is at this time but one opinion among naval men as to the utility of steamers-of-war. The strongest and most unreasonable prejudices growing out of professional predilections must now give way to the unmistakable evidences of their usefulness, and the absolute necessity of their employment at the present day in all naval operations.
l'hese vessels should all be capable of traversing the ocean, and while efficient for ocean navigation, not the less effective for harbor or coast defence.
Steam batteries, so called in contradistinction to steamers-of-war, should be of a temporary character, and used only for the defence of ports, or bays, or roadsteads, and of these there would be no necessity of having many in commission, excepting at times when the enemy might be expected, as they could be prepared in a very short time—the cities and towns which they may be wanted to defend all furnishing the means of their equipment and the requisite crews.
In a communication accompanied by drawings submitted to the Navy Department some years ago, I demonstrated the practicability of equipping and manning at the port of New York powerful and efficient floating batteries in less than three days.
Wherever steam vessels can be found to furnish the moving power and small coasters to be used for floating the guns, as both can be found as well as guns at most of our largest ports, temporary batteries capable of attacking the largest sail ship can be speedily equipped, care being taken to protect, by a mode pointed out, the machinery and the entire hull of the steamer which, without being
These works covered the rear of the navy yard, Brooklyn.