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The carriages of the guns so mounted should be constructed with the view of easy transportation from one point to another along the shores of the harbor to be defended; so that on rails, paved or plank roads built for the purpose, these pieces might in fact constitute a locomotive battery along the beach, and not leave it, as all shore-batteries have done, entirely optional with the assailants to choose position. As far as the defences of the town against ships are concerned, this improved ordnance may thus be converted into a sort of flying artillery."
5th. Instead of supporting garrisons at the public expense, in times of peace, for the care and management of these guns, it is proposed that they and their munitions, properly secured, be given in charge of the State, or of the authorities of the place to be defended; first taking such legislative steps in the matter as will induce the formation of one or more volunteer artillery companies at such place for the purpose of exercising the guns, learning the practice, keeping them in order, and ready for use, &c.
Officers of the army should be detailed to instruct the volunteers thus offering, in the great gun exercise; to examine and report upon the state of these companies and batteries, and keep the government informed, at all times, as to the efficiency and condition of each.
The whole seaboard defences of this kind should be classed in divisions, each in charge of an artillery, or engineer or ordnance officer of rank, with a proper staff.
The headquarters of each division should be the principal place in it, as at Old Point for one, New York for another, Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans, &c., for others. Each of these places should be provided with the means of great gun exercise, including a field of practice, targets, the kind of roads for mancuvring this kind of ordnance, &c.
The commander of each division should have authority to invite, annually, or as often as necessary, these volunteer artillery companies, or the best disciplined of them, to visit his headquarters and exercise in the practicing field, at target firing, &c.; the government paying the expenses of the trip, by allowing so much mileage, and so much per day during the visit.
We see our volunteer companies now are continually in the habit of visiting distant towns and villages, as a body, in their military capacity, and at their own expense. The practicing and the exercise with such terrible pieces would draw together a large concourse of people. This would give éclat, and the presentation of a sword, or some other reward for the best shot, would invest this feature of the modified system of defence with much animation, and infuse into these volunteer artillery men a spirit, a nerve, and skill which, in the day of battle, would make their pieces as firm as “Bragg's battery,” and far more terrible and destructive than they would be if casemated in stone walls and enveloped all the time with their own smoke.
So far my remarks, in reply to your first question, relate to the defences of the Atlantic seaboard only. I proceed now to consider how far, and to what extent, the system of 1816 may be modified with regard to the defences of our Gulf and Pacific coasts.
I will speak first of the defences for the Gulf of Mexico.
We have seen that the system of 1816, as extravagant as it is, was never intended, in the mind even of its strongest advocates, to provide fortifications for every port, harbor, and anchorage along the seaboard in which an enemy might find shelter, take refuge, or form rendezvous in time of war.
Fortress Monroe would not prevent an enemy from entering the Chesapeake bay, nor hinder him from anchoring safely with his fleet at Tangier island, nor at the mouth of the Rappahannock, the York, or the Potomac river, nor at any one of the numerous safe and commodious anchorages that are to be found above Old Point. As far as any permanent fortifications that it is possible to erect at
H. Rep. Com. 86- -30.
Fortress Monroe and the Rip Raps are concerned, an enemy might select any one of the above-named places as a rendezvous for his fleet, and make that his centre of operations against the whole bay coast, the rivers and towns along it, and carry on his depredating and marauding expeditions with just as much impunity as though no such fortress had been built.
It protects Norfolk and the navy yard from a fleet, but it does not prevent that same fleet from running up to York river, or the Rappahannock, or the Potomac, or up the bay, nor does it prevent it from landing an army at any one of these places, and marching it off against Richmond, Fredericksburg, Washington, or Baltimore. The railroad and telegraph do that.
The circumstances that such a fortress as Monroe, with an important navy yard under its cover, is between his fleet and the sea, might somewhat cramp or embarrass such an enemy in his operations is admitted, but it would not, therefore, prevent them, for if his naval forces in the bay were superior to our own, he would command the bay in spite of the fort.
Even if the Chesapeake bay was lined with works from head to mouth, and on both sides, such a chain of military posts, however strong and costly, could not prevent an enemy from entering the bay with his fleet, and safely riding upon its broad bosom, out of the reach of their guns. He might still make it the centre of his operations; most of the time the anchorage is safe in any part of the bay; these forts would be immovable; they could not go after him; and at most, they would only prevent him from selecting the most convenient places for shelter, and the best points from which to operate. That is all.
The same is the case in the Gulf of Mexico. For eight or nine months in the year vessels may ride in safety at anchor off the shore, anywhere between Pensacola and Galveston. The land there forms a lee, and affords a shelter from the northers. From two to twenty miles from the land, and in depth varying from three or four to twenty-five or thirty fathoms, the anchorage is good.
Now, if we rely upon fortifications to protect that coast, it will be observed, the whole Gulf front might be lined with them, and still they would be harmless against a fleet with its powers of locomotion. It could string itself at anchor along the coast, in sight of the very works built for defending it; and if our reliance were upon them, it might capture or dam up in stagnant ruin, all the commerce of the Mississippi valley. In the Gulf, as well as in the Chesapeake, and in our own waters generally, we must have the naval supremacy. In any plan of providing for the national defences that is an essential feature, and it ought to be sine qua non with Congress.
The plan, therefore, of providing permanent fortifications for the Gulf, seems to be this: that we should select a few of the points which would be most important for us as places of refuge and rendezvous, and which, if occupied by an enemy in war, would enable him the most to annoy us, and fortify them.
These points are Key West and the Tortugas, and perhaps Ship and Cat islands. In a commercial and military sense, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are but an expansion of the Mississippi and Amazon rivers. In this view of the subject, the mouth of the Mississippi is not at the Balize, nor that of the Amazon at Paia; they are both in the Florida pass, between Key West and Cuba.
For one-half the year there is a sort of monsoon in the Gulf of Mexico; during this period the winds are from the southeast; at this season, therefore, the winds and the currents in the Yucatan pass are such as to prevent the passage that way of vessels from the Gulf.
Moreover, the island of Jamaica, where the English have a naval station, overlooks the Yucatan pass. When the northeast winds prevail the Yucatan pass is open to sailing vessels; but a few steamers, with Jamaica as the centre of operations, would close it to our commerce.
When the southeast winds prevail, the route of a sailing vessel bound from the Gulf to Jamaica, is not through the straits of Yucatan; it is through the Florida Pass by Key West, and then back on the south side of Cuba. Now a maritime enemy seizing upon Key West and the Tortugas could land a few heavy guns from his ship and make it difficult for us to dislodge him. Here railroads and the telegraph do not reach, and as long as he should hold that position, so long would he control the commercial mouth of the great Mississippi valley.
In that position he would shut up in the Gulf whatever force inferior to his own we might have there. He would prevent re-enforcements, sent to relieve it from Boston, New York, and Norfolk, from entering the Gulf. Indeed, in a war with England, the Tortugas and Key West being in her possession, it might be more advisable, instead of sending from our Atlantic dock yards a fleet to the Gulf, to send it over to the British islands and sound the Irish people as to throwing off allegiance.
This country is too rich and powerful to confine itself to a system of national defences which looks to a passive state for it in any war. It cannot content itself by waiting for the enemy to come, that we may simply beat him off from our shores. Neither is it sufficient for it to have the ability to send out a few cruisers and armed privateers to prey upon the commerce of an enemy.
We have seen its free institutions, by their silent operations in times of peace, shaking the thrones of Europe, and causing the crowned heads that sit upon them to tremble. In time of war it must have the ability to re-enforce that influence with its strong “right arm.” The sensibilities of the people everywhere are alive to that influence—their sympathies are so strongly with us, that should it become necessary to carry war into any of the maritime States of christendom, the American legions would be regarded by the masses as friends and deliverers, not as enemies.
Therefore, instead of being content with the capture of a few men-of-war and unoffending merchantmen for prizes, we want a system of defences which shall enable us to send naval expeditions against the enemy's country, invite and assist the down-trodden millions to throw off the hateful yoke, to break their bonds asunder, and to stand up as freemen, like ourselves.
In an expedition upon Jamaica, Key West being in the hands of the enemy, it would be difficult for our Gulf and Atlantic forces to unite.
Therefore the works at Key West and the Tortugas should be provided with shell-guns of the most destructive calibre, and their walls should be substantial enough to resist the concussion of a man-of-war broadside. They are wanted to give protection to our fleeing merchantmen, to afford a refuge to our fleets until time and opportunity and circumstances serve for striking the blow, or making a move. They are wanted by us, because they would be so immensely valuable to an enemy.
The railroads that will be in operation from Pensacola and Mobile soon, and probably before any additional fortifications can be erected there, will secure these places from invasion and seizure; and the works already there, with a few more guns in open battery along the beach, would effectually protect them from the great guns of ships. Still, an enemy with a fleet superior to the one we might have in the Gulf could anchor along the shore, as he can in the Chesapeake, and greatly harass our commerce there. No system of fortifications can prevent that.
In the next maritime war, (and in such a war we have nothing to fear from any quarter except one,) it is not upon the Atlantic, properly speaking, that the great sea-fight is to take place : it is in the Gulf of Mexico, or near the English shores.
Jamaica is an important naval station; it commands one entrance to the Gulf. There Great Britain can assemble her fleet, and within three days have it off the Balize, in position to strike a terrible blow at the commerce of that valley. Shutting up the Florida Pass, she would have complete control of the Gulf. Norfolk and New York are inconveniently situated to defend it. Some years ago a man-of-war was sent with despatches from Norfolk to Pensacola; she was fifty-odd days in making the passage.
The means of defence for the Gulf should be within the valley that belongs to it. The resources of this valley are ample, its means most abundant, and its people are its best and most appropriate defenders. Pensacola should therefore be built up as a naval station, and the depot at Memphis fostered with care and solicitude. Instead of draining the treasury for forts, under the system of 1816, these two places should be put in condition for building, equipping, and fitting, upon a scale sufficient to secure to us, in war, the naval supremacy at least in the Gulf.
In a war with England, and with those two places as the centres of operations, it probably would be found desirable to move upon Jamaica and other British islands in that quarter. New York and the Atlantic dock yards would probably be the centre of other operations; and it Jamaica fall in such a war, it must fall under the guns and before the gallantry of the west—the east will have need and occupation for all its forces in other quarters.
Memphis is fast rising in importance as a place of construction. Private enterprise has already commenced to establish building-yards there; and in that teeming region there is no lack of naval and maritime resources. The ropewalk there is of no consequence. We want docks, storehouses, machine-shops, and founderies for casting, forging, making, and building anchors and cables, ships and engines; and for preparing and keeping in store, out of the excellent materials to be found in that valley, all the arms and munitions of war which would be required for the defence of the Gulf, the capture of Jamaica or any other British possession, if Britain be the enemy.
The affections of these islanders for the mother country cannot, in the nature of things, be as strong or as abiding as those of our citizens for their own homes; and therefore it may be imagined that an attempt by us to invade and get possession of these islands would be quite a different affair from an attempt, on her part, at invasion and conquest here. A tower of strength has this nation in the brave hearts and strong arms of its gallant yeomanry. Small indeed would be the degree of aid and comfort which a national enemy would derive from disloyalty and disaffection of American citizens.
I have, on former occasions, presented my views at large with regard to the importance of Memphis as a naval depot. These views are before the public, and therefore I deem it unnecessary to repeat them here. We have turned the corner, and are now going ahead in the peaceful race for the commercial supremacy of the seas; the next trial is to be for maritime supremacy of another sort. It is hoped that the day for that contest is far distant. But every people are liable to war; and it is a fact which we cannot blink, that, in providing for the contingency, our statesmen and warriors must, for many years to come, have an eye to the forces which Great Britain, rather than any other power, can bring against us. But let that contest come when it may, it is most likely to be decided in the Gulf of Mexico, and its twin basin, the Caribbean sea; they are the receptacles of all that the two grandest systems of river basins in the world will have to pour into the lap of commerce. The valley of the Mississippi on one side, and the valley of the Amazon on the other, will in time make these two.arms of the sea the commercial centre of the world.
The mouth of the Amazon, the mouth of the Orinoco, and the mouth of the Magdalena, are, commercially speaking, almost as much in the Florida Pass as is the mouth of the Mississippi river. Such is the course of the currents, and such the direction of the winds in that part of the world, that a vessel sailing from the mouth of any one of these rivers for Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, or for India, or for the markets of the Pacific around Cape Horn, or for Africa, or for Europe, has first to steer to the northward and westward until she reaches the parallel of 250 or 300 north. This brings her off our own shores; and it is impossible for her to pursue any other route, so long as the northeast trade-winds prevail
, or the great equatorial current which feeds the Gulf Stream continues to flow across the Atlantic. No vessel trading under canvas from the mouth of these rivers to the markets of South America, Europe, Asia, or Africa, can go any other way. They must pass by our doors.
Therefore, in planning a system of national defences, who can overestimate the importance of the Gulf of Mexico as a nucleus of naval means, the centre of naval operations? That centre is at Key West and the Tortugas; hence the great need of strong works there.
Interests of the most delicate, valuable, and, to an enemy, of the most attractive kind, are even now daily springing up, and expanding themselves out upon the waters and about the borders of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean sea-interests which, if they should be injured or put in needless jeopardy, will create a greater sensation throughout this country than would the landing of a hundred thousand men-at-arms upon our shores. These interests are maritime they are American; their defences and protection are naval; they must be watched and guarded from the Mississippi valley. Memphis and Pensacola by nature are, by rights ought to be, and by legislation should be, the centres of operations in the case.
Panama, Nicaragua, and Tehuantep echave, or are about to impose new obligations upon us. We must look to them, and, in providing for the common defence, take them into consideration. They are links in the chain which binds the most remote corners of the republic together. They are the gateways between distant parts of the Union; and they must therefore be cared for in peace, guarded and protected in war.
The Amazonian basin, embracing an area more than twice the extent of our great Mississippi valley, fills too large a space in the world to escape attention from us, when we are in the very act of laying the foundations for a permanent system of national defence. With all the climates of India, with unheard of capa cities of production, and the most boundless sources of wealth in the field, the forest, and the mine, that valley, so soon as it shall begin to feel the axe and the plough, will pour into our lap a commerce, the value of which is as limitless as are its own vast resources. Nature has placed us in the position to command that commerce. The great business of fetching and carrying there must be ours. For coming and for going, the winds are fair for us; and we are the only nation for whose shipping they are so fair.
That arm of the ocean which severs the continent nearly in twain, to make between the “Father of Waters,” at the north, and the “King of Rivers," at the south, a receptacle for their commerce, is receiving from the Mississippi valley alone an amount of produce that astonishes the world. Yet the Mississippi valley is not half peopled up. What, therefore, will this oceanic basin, this commercial receptacle for the surplus produce of the two grandest systems of river basins on the face of the earth be, when the great Amazonian valley, of double area, with its everlasting summer and its endless round of harvests, comes to be subdued and brought into cultivation? What the Gulf of Mexico is now, is as nothing to what it is to be. It abounds with commercial elements that cannot be comprehended for their magnitude; and in proportion as it becomes the seat of maritime wealth and greatness, so, too, must it become the centre of naval strength and power. As Columbus lay sick, it was upon the waters of this seabasin that the angel visited him in a dream, and told him that God had made his name great and sent him to “unbar the gates of ocean.” The keys to these gates are at Key West and the Tortugas, Memphis and Pensacola. Nature has placed them among the wonderful resources of the great valley; and to stand as gatekeeper before them is the mission of those naval forces that naturally centre in the Gulf.