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OF THE PACIFIC SEABOARD.
No American statesman will, I imagine, rest content with any plan of national defence which does not contemplate for us at least the naval supremacy in our own waters. That is the starting point-and that is the point which, in the erection of military works on the land, in the construction of floating batteries for our harbors, or in the building of ships and steamers for the sea, should be constantly kept in view. It is the true basis to work upon.
In a military point of view, California and Oregon are colonies. Far remote from the heart of the country and the strength of the nation, they are young and feeble, open to attack, and inviting to conquest. In war no relief can be sent them, however beset, unless at great risk and with an enormous expenditure of both time and money.
The voyage by sea from the Atlantic to the Pacific ports of the United States is the longest voyage in the world. Within the whole scope and range of commerce, there are no two shore-lines so remote from each other, in time, as these
The average passage of all the vessels which sailed from the Atlantic ports for California in 1850 was one hundred and eighty-seven days—six months. These vessels went singly, each making the best of her way without regard to the oth
In a fleet, it is the dullest vessel which regulates the speed of all; the fastest must reduce canvas, yard, and stand along under easy sail, that the slow vessels may keep up.
Bound hence with a fleet for the relief of California, our ships would have to pass no less than three important naval stations, all belonging to the same power. One of them, St. Helena, is on the wayside; the two others, Bermuda and the Falkland Islands, are right in the middle of the road.
If the fleet should escape the vigilance and annoyance of the men-of-war stationed at those islands, there are still before it the storms of Cape Horn, the dangers of the sea, and the war of the elements for it to encounter and contend with.
Such would be the length of the voyage, and such the difficulties and the risks to be encountered by the way, that the practicability of sending succor to California around Cape Horn, in a war with England, may be considered out of the question.
Single ships might find their way in safety around, but as for a large fleet, covering as it goes miles in extent, and attracting the attention of the enemy with the multitude of its ships—escaping all the dangers that would beset it by the way—surely no one would count upon it, and it would be folly to expect it. California and Oregon must, therefore, rely upon the means of defence which can be sent forth from their own harbors in war; and the question is, how shall those means be provided in peace?
Shall the system of 1816, which has been tried and found too costly and defective for the Atlantic seaboard, be transferred to the Pacific, and engrafted upon its shores for another third of a century? Or shall the government resort to railroads, steam and the navy, and do for that country what has been found to answer so well for this?
The extent of our sea front on the Pacific, compared with our sea front on the Atlantic, is as eighteen to twenty-four; that is, the Pacific is three-fourths the extent of the Atlantic seaboard. To apply the system of 1816 to the former would, in my judgment, be injudicious as to policy, extravagant as to expenditure, and inadequate as to purpose; and therefore the system of 1816, excepting in so far as two or three works are concerned, should not be applied to the Pacific. We want no forts along that sea front, save only those that are neces
sary to keep hostile ships, with their great guns, out of the reach of our cities, and to give protection to our dock yards.
There is not at this time a single dock yard upon the waters of the Pacific, belonging to any nation, at which even a frigate can be built and equipped. All the maritime powers are far removed, with their naval resources, from the eastern shores of that ocean. By establishing a dock yard there, and providing it with the means and facilities for repairing and equipping, we may, without difficulty, secure the naval supremacy upon that ocean; and once possessed, it will not be an easy matter for any power to wrest it from such hands.
The most desirable means of defence for those regions are such as we have on the Atlantic-a navy, steam, the railway and the locomotive, with their powers of concentration.
The characteristic feature which the improvements of the age have impressed upon military operations is mobility. To the degree with which armaments and armed forces are invested with locomotion and with celerity in movement, to that degree and in that ratio are they provided with the elements of power and destruction. It is its mobility, imparting toil in the field of battle, a sort of ubiquity, that makes flying artillery such a tremendous arm in modern warfare.
It is the swift foot of the armed steamer which has given her such tremendous force for battle that has appalled the most able sea captains, and left the military men of the world at variance as to the extent of her powers, so transcendent are they in the minds of all.
The part that railroads and magnetic telegraphs are to play in the great drama of war with this country has not yet been cast, much less enacted. In a military point of view, they convert whole States into compact and armed masses. They can convey forces from one section of the Union to another as quickly as re-enforcements can be marched from one part of an old-fashioned battle-field to another. The
money that is expended in the erection of a fort adds nothing to the national wealth, but the money that is spent in fortifying with railroads, while it gives the military strength required, vastly increases also the elements of national power, wealth, and greatness.
There have been expended by the States and people of the States, on this side of the Rocky mountains, about four hundred millions of dollars in building ten thousand miles of railroads and canals. These works have not only effectually provided for the common defence so far as invasion is concerned, but, besides reimbursing the projectors of them, in most cases, they have in all increased the value of the land in their vicinity, advanced trade and commerce, promoted the general welfare, and in the aggregate added not less than a thousand million of dollars to the gross sum of the national wealth.
The money that has been expended under the system of 1816 has added nothing to the value of the soil; it has afforded no facilities to commerce; it has not increased the national prosperity in any manner whatever; and, therefore, as to the alternative of providing for the defences of the Pacific coast by lining it with forts and castles, or by sending a railroad there and collecting naval means, it appears to me there is no choice, no need for deliberation, no necessity for argument.
The strongest work that stone and mortar can make, being erected at the mouth of the harbor of San Francisco, would not interrupt a blockade, nor prevent an enemy from starving California into terms. It is the navy alone that can do this; and vessels, with munitions of war sufficient for the purpose, should be placed under cover there now.
California does not produce breadstuffs enough for her own consumption, probably she never will. It is worthy of remark, that not one of our New England States, including New York, does that. Mining, commerce, and manufactures, rather than agriculture, will probably ever constitute the chief industrial pursuits of that distant State.
And until California has the means of deriving a support from the back country she must look for it to the sea ; therefore an enemy, by taking up his position before the harbor of California in force sufficient to establish a rigid blockade, may, without striking a blow, starve the people into terms of surrender.
The greater the number of men in garrison, in such a case, and the larger the army sent there by us for its defence, the greater the distress; for the reason that they would the sooner eat out the substance of the land, and so assist the enemy in his work of starvation.
A railway to California would make that country as invulnerable and as secure from invasion as railroads have made the country on this side of the Rocky mountains; and with a railway a blockade would only annoy commerce, not starve the people.
In a consideration of the soundest policy this railway is called for. I have studied the subject, and the result of my best reflections with regard to it has led me to the opinion that the general government cannot too soon take the steps necessary and proper for procuring it to be built, and for collecting at the other end of it the nucleus of a navy, with powers of expansion sufficient to meet any probable emergency.
The vessels of our navy serving in the Pacific, instead of being brought home around Cape Horn for repairs, should be laid up in ordinary in California until sufficient numbers are gradually collected there to form this nucleus. The commerce of the country will supply the seamen for them whenever they shall be required.
My answer to your second question, viz: "What reliance could be placed on vessels-of-war, or of commerce, Hoating batteries, gunboats, and other temporary substitutes for permanent fortifications ?" is, to a great extent, included in the answer just given to your first.
The defences upon which this country must and ought to rely are locomotive; therefore, to employ naval means to build floating batteries, which would have to be confined to the limits of the harbor, would be a waste of money, when we might, with that same money, give them wings or impart to them the breath of steam, and send them here and there wherever they would be of most avail.
The money which a floating battery would cost might keep a steamer afloat; which, with its powers of locomotion, might reduplicate itself
, as it were, along the coast, by appearing successively before a number of places, and arriving at each place exactly at the right time. If the enemy would not come to the floating battery it would be of little use; but as for the steamer, if the enemy would not come to it, it could go to the enemy; it could select its own time, manner, and point of attack, and thus make up by activity, skill, and maneuvre, what it wants in strength,
The reliance to be placed on vessels of commerce for coast defences is casual and accidental; upon an emergency they might be armed and sent to sea to harass the commerce of the enemy; they might be used as transports or as fire-ships; or they might be sunk in channel-ways to block up entrances, &e., and to assist the works on shore to protect the towns. When wanted, they will be at hand; and in planning military expeditions, or preparing for defence, it is enough for our sea captains and great generals to know that the commercial marine-old hulks and new vessels—are among their means of attack and defence, and constitute an important part of the military resources which they hold in reserve—which are at all times available, and which, therefore, may be brought into play when required.
The report of the board of engineers of 1840 treats the subject of floating batteries at length. It shows conclusively that they are neither the most efficient, effective, nor judicious shape into which the money voted for national defence may be put.
The arguments of the board upon this part of their subject appear to me conclusive; and, therefore, further remarks here with regard to floating batteries would be useless.
A prominent idea upon which the system of 1816 appears to have been founded is, that we as a naval power were to remain in hopeless inferiority; and hence the burden of the argument for a system of national defence has been " build stationary works—works that the enemy must come after ; line the coasts with forts and castles to save the country from invasion, our women and children from the violence of enemies.”
Railroads and steam have converted every village into a camp, every telegraph office into a watch-tower, on which is placed a sentinel more sleepless than Argus, for guarding and defending the coast from invasion. Steam, and railroads, and canals have connected every forest in the land into a timber shed for the navy, and our merchants and ship-builders have established scores of dock yards along the sea shore, and upon the banks of ɔur rivers, at which keels may be laid and vessels launched and equipped with a rapidity that has never before been known in any age or country.
In 1836 General Cass, then Secretary of War, assumed the position, and General Jackson indorsed it,* that for the defence of the coast the chief reliance . should be on the navy; and that the system of 1816 (that of the board of engineers) comprises works which are unnecessarily large for the purposes which they have to fulfil.
At that time steam navigation was a problem which had yet to be solved upon the ocean. Dr. Lardner had attempted it in the closet, and proved, as he said, that the conditions of the problem involved an impossibility. He therefore pronounced it an absurdity; and so men generally considered it. At that time railroads were much less complete, and far less numerous than they now are. The electric telegraph was also unknown.
Now the ocean is clouded with the smoke of sea steamers; the country is laced with lines of telegraph, and fretted with a network of railways-all tending to make reliance upon the navy still more exclusive, dependence upon the system of 1816 still more needless.
The board of engineers, to show how erroneous, in their judgment, this opinion of General Jackson was, supposed a case in 1836, and cited it again in 1840 as an illustration.
The case was well put; it produced a great effect upon the public mind; and as it is the hinge upon which the continuation of the present system was made to turn, I beg leave to quote the case now, that we may see how it will stand the test of the new condition of things; how the improvements that have since taken place will affect it, and how far it may be modified by the ground I have been endeavoring to make good.
“In the report,” says the board of 1840,4 presented by the engineer department in March, 1836, (Senate Document, 1st session 24th Congress, vol. 4, No. 293) " there is a demonstration of the actual economy that will result from an efficient system of sea-coast defence; which is to the following effect, referring to the document itself for detail.:
“ There is first supposed to be an expedition of twenty thousand men at Bermuda or Halifax ready to fall upon the coast. This will make it necessary, if there be no fortifications, to have ready a force at least equal at each of the following points, namely: 1st, Portsmouth and navy yard ; 2d, Boston and navy
• See page 5, No. 206 H Doc., 1st session 26th Congress. See also page 1, No. 293 S. Dc, Ist session 24th ongress.
| Page 70, No. 206 H. Doc., st session 26th Congress.
yard; 3d, Narraganset roads ; 4th, New York and navy yard ; 5th, Philadelphia and navy yard ; 6th, Baltimore ; 7th, Norfolk and navy yard ; 8th, Charleston, South Carolina ; 9th, Savannah; and 10th, New Orleans, to say nothing of other important places.
“At each of these places, except the last, ten thousand men drawn from the interior, and kept under pay, will suffice, the vicinity being relied on to supply the remainder. "At New Orleans, seventeen thousand men must be drawn from a distance. In a campaign of six months, the whole force will cost at least $26,750,000.
“ The garrisons necessary to be kept under pay for the fortifications in these places will cost for the same time $8,430,500. The difference ($18,319,500) will then be only $3,448,150 less than the whole expense of building these defences, viz: $21,767,656 ; whence it follows that the expense of these erections would be nearly compensated by the saving they would cause in a single campaign.”
This is the demonstration, first given in 1836, and repeated in 1840, to prove the very great economy and complete efficiency of the system of 1816; and in order to complete this demonstration, it was required that twenty-one millions of money and upwards should be first given to fortify only ten places along a sea front of two thousand five hundred* miles in extent; for there were “other important places,” of which nothing was to be said.
Now let us suppose that, in conformity with the modifications which I have suggested, and according to the idea of maintaining such a system of national defence that will secure to us the naval supremacy in our own waters, a portion of this $8,430,500 which the plan of the board requires to keep for six months only the “ necessary garrisons” in the powerful works which are supposed to be erected at each one of the ten threatened places. Let us suppose, I say, that, according to the proposed modifications of the system, a part of this eight and a half millions had been applied to the building of some twenty or twenty-five men-of-war steamers, such a force of steamers would be required, even under the system of the engineers, to serve as a coast guard in war, to brush from the outside of our harbors, which are protected on the inside by forts, any blockading ships that the enemy may station there, and to keep straggling cruisers from capturing and plundering our merchantmen in the sight of these same forts, and along our shores generally.
To keep up the proposed garrisons for one year at the ten threatened places only, would require, according to the estimate of the board of engineers them selves, $16,861,000.
The steamers will last many years; and according to the estimate of the navy board,t made at the same time, would cost, for the twenty-five, $5,625,000, or only about one-third of the actual cost of the garrisons for one year, after the forts were built at a cost of $21,767,656.
These twenty-five steamers would be stationed along the coast, and distributed, we may suppose, in the following manner, viz: two with their headquarters at Portsmouth, three at Boston, four at New York, two at Charleston, two at Pensacola, and two at the Balize.
The case put supposes it to be known that this expedition of twenty thousand men, who are about to invade a country of more than twenty millions, has rendezvoused at Halifax or Bermuda, suppose it to be at Halifax.
Two or three of these twenty-five smart, active steamers are sent to watch the enemy's movements. As soon as he puts to sea and takes his departure, one of them makes for the nearest post on our coast, and there delivers to the
See Engineer's (Col Totten's) Report, 1840.