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service, would bring any power in Europe to bankruptcy ; and I trust our government will not be drawn into so unwise and expensive a system of national defence. I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,
R. B. CUNNINGHAM,
Commander U. S. Navy. Hon. C. M. CONRAD,
Secretary of War, Washington.
Report of Commander S. F. Dupont. Report on the national defence, in reply to the following questions, submitted by the Department of War.
First. "To what extent, if any, ought the present system of fortifications, for the protection of our seaboard, to be inodified, in consequence of the application of steam to vessels-of-war, the invention or improvement of projectiles, or other changes that have taken place since it was adopted in the year 1816 ?”
Second. “What reliance could be placed in vessels-of-war, or of commerce, floating batteries, gunboats, and other temporary substitutes for permanent fortifications ?”
Third. “Is it necessary or expedient to continue the system of fortifications on the shores of northern lakes ? '
Whether treated distinctively or generally, these inquiries may be supposed to amount to this : Shall we expend as much as we have hitherto done for defence upon fortifications ? and how have these been affected by the introduction of some new elements in war, such as steam power, and enormous projectiles of an explosive character ?
This subject is one which involves the honor and safety of the country ; it has been critically examined by distinguished military men and eminent statesmen, and I do not venture to think that I can throw much new light upon In such an investigation one's profession and esprit du corps would naturally lead in any scheme, for the general defence, to bring the navy prominently forward. But this question is too broad and national to be viewed from any such narrow limits, and in examining it an officer should discard from his mind to which arm of the public service he belongs. In my apprehension, however, the most extended system of fortifications for the defence of our seaboard will still leave enough for the navy to do; a navy, too, carried far beyond its present number and strength. Indeed, this arm can only fill its special mission in war, that of aggression, by being enabled to leave the great seaports and exposed points of our maritime frontier to a more certain and more economical system of protection, in order to carry the “sword of the state upon the broad ocean, sweep from it the enemy's coinmerce, capture or scatter the vessels-of-war protecting it, cover and convoy our own to its destined havens, and be ready to meet hostile fleets; in other words, to contend for the mastery of the seas where alone it can be obtained, on the sea itself.
Yet it is not to be denied that theories have sprung up, assigning much less importance than formerly to fortifications, in a system of national defence, under the influence of opinions which doubtless have some truth in them, but which are liable to be carried to a dangerous extent. Various reasons might be assigned for this change of opinion-speculation, supposed economy, a mistaken desire to
advance the interests of the navy, in short, the characteristic pursuit of theories into the field of extravagance.
But it may be still more probable that these views mainly spring from some misconception as to the extent proposed for a system of permanent defences. Some would seem to believe that our seaboard and lake frontier were to be bound by a Chinese wall, and that all the salient points on the coasts were to be crowned by castles, the cross-fires of which would cover the intervening space; in other words, that the system of fortifications proposed to protect some four thousand miles of sea-coast from the possibility of invasion or attack. But is there any cause to apprehend such extreme views ? And if they should exist, is that a sufficient reason for rejecting a wise and practical system of permanent defences vitally essential to the safety of important points, and so clearly within the means of the country to provide ?
In treating this branch of the subject, can we do better than examine the objections presented and the modification proposed, from sources entitled to the gravest consideration ?
Helding the first position among these is the report of a distinguished statesman, then occupying the Department of War, and still holding a prominent place in the public councils—a gentleman, too, familiar with arms in early life, and one of the defenders of his country in the war of 1812. His views, set forth with great ability, received the indorsement of another distinguished personage, President Jackson, and were submitted to the national legislature in the year 1836.-(Doc. No. 243, 24th Congress, Gen. Cass's report.)
Now, it is submitted that there has been an equal misconception as to the scope and tendency of this able report, as with the views considered extreme, on the other side. In the one, modifications recommended in reference to special features have been considered as objections to the whole system; in the other, an extended scale of defence, because we had an extended frontier, was looked upon as a desire to cover the whole surface of the land with forts and field works, and to rely upon these alone for defence. Whereas the only difference related to the character and extent of the works to be constructed, based upon the consideration that there was scarcely a possibility of these works being called upon to repel attacks by land, as well as by water, and repeating the hypothesis that an enemy will ever attempt to make a more or less permanent establishment in the country. Such an establishment as would induce him to make a formal investment of some of these first class works, requiring a large army with its battering trains and other preparations for siege. Views on these points are presented in full, and with great force, yet the objections are strictly confined to what is conceived to be the unnecessary magnitude of some of these works, but not to the system of permanent defences, for the distinguished author of the report tells us with equal explicitness :
"I consider the duty of the government to afford adequate protection of the sea-ccast a subject of paramount obligation, and I believe we are called upon by every consideration of policy to push the necessary arrangements as rapidly as the circumstances of the country and the proper execution of the works will allow. I think every town large enough to tempt the cupidity of an enemy should be defended by works, fixed or floating, suited to its local position, and sufficiently extensive to resist such attemps as would probably be made against it. There will, of course, after laying down such a general rule, be much latitude of discretion as to its application. Upon this branch of the subjeet I would give to the opinion of the engineer officers almost controlling weight, after proper limitations are established.”
“ All the defences should be projected upon a scale proportionate to the importance of the place, and should be calculated to resist any naral attack and any sudden assault that a body of land troops might make upon it.”
" It is to be observed that the great object of our fortifications is to exclude a naval force from our harbors; this end they ought fully to answer.”
In truth, it cannot be questioned that our principal seaports, naval depots, and all important points on our seaboard, should receive commensurate protection ; neither should there be, in our judgment, a question as to the mode in which this protection should be given. It would seem unnecessary to set forth the advantages for such purposes of fixed defences or fortifications. These advantages have been shown over and over again by our distinguished engineers, and never controverted. To run over some of these once more, it may be said of forts that they are the only permanent defences, and the most economical, for, with the present science in construction and choice of material, the outlay is there once for all, for the repairs are next to nothing. Forts offer means by which a small force is enabled to resist a large one; a small number of men a large army. In the event of an attack by a competent power upon a place liable to be put under contribution, the injury might be accomplished before sufficient means of resistance could be assembled. Forts can be made impregnable against any naval force that could be brought against them, and are needed for the protection of our own fleets while preparing for hostilities on the ocean. They are secure depots for munitions of war, and render defence certain and easy, and above all, a defence which rarely involves loss of life, leaving the ordinary state of society undisturbed. No alarms are created; no calling of men from their ordinary business. In short, by rendering success impossible, they derive immunity from attack.
It is impossible to view with favor the substitution of floating or steam batteries for permanent defences, the preparation of which will be ever deferred, on account of their perishable nature, until danger is pending; and if ready in time, their value ceases with the occasion which called them forth, for their decay is certain and speedy. Their unsuitableness and want of adaptation to the alterations constantly made in the means and implements of war are also elements of insecurity in these wood and iron defences for harbors. There can never be any certainty that some recent discovery has not lessened our effective force, without any remissness on our part; there can be no certainty that we may not be suddenly called on to renew our expenditures before our last appropriations have been spent. For example, a well-known, and scientific, and practical gentleman obtained the contract, under a law of Congress, to construct for harbor defence an iron floating battery, which was to be shot and shell proof-in fact, invulnerable in every respect. A target, constructed after the manner he proposed for the sides of his battery, was subjected to the test of one of Commodore Stockton's large guns. It presented little or no resistance; the ball passed through without difficulty, tearing out large fragments formed of seven thicknesses of boiler-iron, well bolted and rivetted together. There is no desire, however, to be understood as excluding altogether these costly and unwieldly machines; they may serve as important auxiliaries to forts, in broad sheets of water, or special localities not within the range of the fixed work; thongh, in all probability, in most cases the hulls of stout merchant ships, strengthened and prepared for mounting one or more pieces of heavy ordnance, would be sooner got ready and answer an equally good purpose. But to leave the whole defence of our harbors to such tempoary expedients, built of materials as vulnerable and perishable as ships, would be expending enormous sums in order to invite attack.
Throughout this report I was at first disposed to take for granted that no idea could prevail in this country, to any extent at least, that would desire to retain the nary proper—by which is meant efficient steam and sailing ships-ofwar-within the harbors, for harbor defence; but it seems to be included in the scope of one of the inquiries, and cannot be overlooked.
What, then, is the first object and main purpose of a navy but the defence and protection of our commerce ? It is the only form in which that protection can be given; but this is essentially taken away when it has assigned to it the defence of our seaports. It may be said that the navy will be increased to such a size as to be able to perform this double duty. There is nothing in our past history to authorize such a belief; and in time of peace the people of the United States will never support such a naval force. They object to spending much money on the personnel of military establishments. Nor does it belong to their temper, or their position among nations, to indulge in apprehensions of war; their time is too much occupied with the noble arts and pursuits of peace to feel such an interest in this subject as must be felt to bring them to such large expenditures upon perishable materials.
If our country had to rely upon naval defences, it may well be questioned whether any portion of the navy would be suffered to leave our coasts for the protection and preservation of our foreign commerce, while we were under the alarm of war. However great the naval force might be, it would not be thought sufficient. The dangers nearest home would command our interest and sympathy; the preservation of our great emporiums of commerce from sudden devastation would cause the single trading ships upon the ocean to be forgotten. And how would a naval force, for home defence, be partitioned out to the different cities and stations, without endless vexation, dissatisfaction, and dispute ?
To employ our active navy, in whole or in part, to the entire or partial abandonment of our system of fortifications, would be to supplant impregnable bul. warks by pregnable ones—a fixed security by a changeable one-placing perishable materials in lieu of those that are durable ; it would be exposing ourselves to the chance of being suddenly left, for a time, without defence, through new discoveries in the art of war; it would be opening the way to expenditures of money which no estimate could count the sums ; it would be depriving our commerce of its legitimate protection, and would be resigning our sense of security, peace of mind, and continuance in our pursuits without interruption, in the event of war. But there are objections to such a plan still more fatal : it involves the sacrifice of the lives of our fellow-citizens, and proposes to make their bodies, since they are brave and willing, the walls of defence for the enemy to fire at, instead of stone or mortar ; it is compelling the conclusions of science to give way to mere speculations, and rejecting the experience of the world. Nor is this all that is involved in so destructive a proposition : it would divert the navy from its highest duty ; deprive it of its chief honor and merit, and best claim to the respect and support of the people, that is, the vindication of the national honor, and the maintenance of the national freedom and independence upon the high seas. Again, if naval defences are relied on, they will either be manned or not.
If manned, what shall we say of the effects of such a life upon men and officers ?—would it not be destructive of all those characteristics of skill, daring, and endurance which give to the seamen his power and prestige upon the ocean? If not manned, then, compared to forts, they are what wooden docks are to stone docks. In either case, more men will be required to keep them in repair than forts.
On the question of economy, let us further consider the cost that would be entailed upon the nation, by the alarm of an invasion or the appearance of a hostile fleet on the coast.
The sudden equipment and preparation of an army, and its maintenance sufficiently long to remove all apprehension, would cost more, at every principal seaport, on one single occasion, than all the forts. Then what would be the first thing that an army would do, belched forth by the tens of thousands from every railroad station and terminus, but to set to work and throw up the best fortifications they could in the emergency ? Would not every musket be grounded to take up picks and shovels ? Again: shall we dwell upon the state of the public mind, in one of our chief cities, if its approaches were left without forts equipped and manned?
Is there any exaggeration in the picture of an enemy's fleet of some thirty steamers watching an opportunity, and through the ever recurring viscissitudes on the ocean, familiar to professional men, eluding a naval force of our own, which it would not have been willing to encounter, running up New York harbor, anchoring from the North to the East river, in a semicircle round the battery, hurling destruction with its new and gigantic projectiles, setting fire to the forests of shipping, and burning the navy yard; and retreating the moment the temporary and hurried defences began to tell against them, destroying more property in a few hours than would cover the shores of Raritan bay, the Narrows, and the islands of the Sound, with fortifications ? Now, this is the kind of wafare we must look to, and that we must carry on ourselves.
The greater the injury we can inflict, the more rapidly this injury is repeated, and the sooner we will obtain redress and bring an unnatural condition of affairs to a close. The position of Halifax, Bermuda, and the West Indies, must ever be borne in mind, where fleets may wait for a fitting opportunity for incursions; to suppose that there are to be no such thing as surprises, because railroads have been invented and hollow shot cast, seems to be taking for granted that human life has changed. Indeed, those who indulge in such theoretical securities are preparing for themselves surprises, perilous ones too.
Steam will be the great agent in giving to the new elements of destruction powers of ubiquity. Wherever there is a vulnerable spot, there we must dash, and there an active enemy will dash at us. But it must be remembered that so far as the improvement in projectiles, specially referred to in the inquiries under consideration, are concerned, these have, relatively to ships, strengthened forts. Hollow shot crumble into fragments and fall harmless when directed against stone walls. At the siege of Antwerp, under Marshal Girard, they were thrown from heavy mortars without effect, and experiments at home have further established the fact. It takes solid shot to batter walls and make breaches-plenty of them, and rapidly discharged, and concentrated upon or near one spot.
On the other hand, we have only to imagine a few eight or ten-inch shells passing through the side of a line-of-battle-ship into the main or lower gun-deck, and there exploding amidst the dense crowd at the batteries, every fragment multiplying itself in countless splinters of wood and iron as destructive as itself, and if it should fail to burst, still doing all the injury a solid shot could do. Or, let one enter on the orlop deck among the passers of powder; or, lower still, striking at the water line, tearing out large irregular fragments, and leaving openings defying all shot-plugs. Change the
Change the scene to a steamer, with all the circumstances above mentioned of pervious sides and crowded decks, and conceive a few exploding in the engine-room; for truly has it been said that, compared to a sailing ship, a steamer has twenty mortal parts to one! No! when it comes to using hollow shot a ship will prefer engaging something similarly constructed. No ship or ships can say under a fort at this day; no American fort, at least, with its furnaces for hot shot in addition to these murderous shells.
In this connexion it may be well to make a passing allusion to the past successes of ships-of-war against forts.
They are certainly striking examples of naval prowess, and should always cause a thrill of professional pride in the breast of every seaman, let his flag be where it may; and they should be remembered and studied by officers to incite to deeds of daring, to self-reliance, and to faith in that “fortune which favors the brave.” But there is no foundation for the theory attempted to be raised upon these successes. The attack on Algiers by Lord Exmouth, commanding the combined English and Dutch fleets, take it all in all, is probably the greatest naval achievement in this line.