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Skech of Iluok with fort — Its fire and channel way.
The effctive fire of the fort is shown by the circle. feel at liberty to disregard them in treating the question proposed, and it becomes imperative to scrutinize them; because, if correct, they not only establish what they were designed to prove, the unfitness of naval forces for protecting the coast, but also their utter unfitness for any purpose whatever, which it is presumed was not contemplated. The passages referred to are as follows:
"Even should all these, in the form we have presented them, be objected to, we may still challenge opposition to the following broad propositions, namely:
“ First. If the sea-coast is to be defended by naval means exclusively, the defensive force at each point deemed worthy of protection must be at least equal in power to the attacking force.
Second. As, from the nature of the case, there can be no reason for expecting an attack on one of these points rather than another, and no time for transferring our state of preparation from one to another after an attack has been declared, each of them must have assigned to it the requisite means; and,
“ Third. Consequently, this system demands a power and defence as many times greater than that in the attack as there are points to be covered."
To the first proposition there lies a reasonable demurrer, because, under the circumstances likely to attend the defence of any harbor or roadstead which is approached by a channel, great disadvantage must accompany the attempt, particularly when the passage lies among the shoals, of which there is no indication, save by artificial marks or the lead. Where the movements of ships are only limited by bold shores there can be little embarrassment in keeping them from danger; but where the keenest eye can detect nothing on the surface of the water to give warning of the risk, and a slight error in the course or a tideeddy may ground a ship directly under fire, it is evident that the attention requisite to clear these obstacles successfully will prevent the officers of a fleet from giving full directions to its offensive powers, though at the very time the opposing ship may be concentrating a deliberate and destructive fire on the leading ship attempting to enter, or the assailants may be compelled by wind and weather to postpone essaying the entrance, even under these disadvantages ; while thus detained he must be exposed to the severe gales and to much damage, a consideration not to be overlooked on our coast, even in the summer months. In 1778 the English and French fleets, then off Rhode Island, were separated from each other while maneuvring for the weather gauge during the month of August, and many of the heaviest ships dismasted on both sides.
On the other hand, the defending force, fully cognizant of the difficulties which await the enemy, either take such position at anchor, or under way with steam or sail, as will be best suited to annoy the enemy when most occupied in clearing the intricacies of unknown shoals, and increase the danger by concentrating a deliberate fire at a moment critical not only to the vessel most exposed to it but to those which follow and are liable to be thrown into disorder by the least mishap.
Be it remembered that this capacity of transferring the power of its armament from one point to another is the essential quality in the present case which the fort does not possess.
Under such circumstances the most cool and brave are apt to hasten too much, naturally desiring to shorten the time of inaction, and to make some return to the fire of the enemy; hence the liability to lose the services of one or more ships in the moment of greatest need.
Well known instances of this may be cited. While standing in to attack the French at the Nile, Nelson lost the use of the Culloden, 74, which grounded on a shoal, though not even under fire at the time, and remained there useless during the whole action. At Copenhagen three of his line grounded on a shoalthe Agamemnon, 74, the Russell, 74, and Bellona, 74; and, in leaving their anchors during the suspension of hostilities, the Defiance and Nelson's own ship, the Elephant, with several others, grounded under the guns of the ThreeCrown battery.
The defending force has, moreover, the advantage, if anchored, of being able to post some guns ashore so as to enfilade vessels taking the direction of its own line, and also prevent the weather ships from being doubled on by the enemy.
Every naval man will comprehend the difficulties of navigating a fleet of heavy ships along channels skirted closely by shoals and commanded throughout their extent by the guns of an enemy's line; and the advantages, on the other side, of being able deliberately to rake ships approaching in that way will be very apparent.
Among the events of the revolution may be found an apt illustration of this: In 1778 a large force was despatched from France with the view of surprising the English fleet in the Delaware. Philadelphia had been evacuated, however. The Count de Estaing followed to New York, and appeared off that harbor about the 10th of July. Lord Howe was by no means prepared for his arrival, but, nevertheless, he proceeded with energy and judgment to defend the entrance with a force vastly inferior to that of the enemy.
H. Rep. Com. 86—31
The French admiral, after deliberating some ten days, finally declined to attack, and on the 22d of July departed on another expedition.
On this occasion there were strong motives for bringing the English fleet to action. Their army now occupied no other of the large cities than New York. The recent evacuation of Philadelphia was not calculated to encourage the hopes of the royalists, and if “the men-of-war were defeated at this time, the fleet of transports and victuallers must have been destroyed, and the army of course fallen with them.”—(Eakin, page 77.) The reinforcements, too, arriving to succor the fleet, would have been cut off in detail. The consequence might have been immediately fatal to the hopes of the British, though favorable to the cause of humanity, by terminating a struggle which endured four years subsequently
The difference in force seemed sufficient to justify an engagement under any circumstances. The French had twelve ships of the line, carrying eight hundred and seventy-six guns. The English only nine ships that could be brought into line, and these mounting five hundred and thirty-four guns. The disparity was even greater than that expressed by these figures, as the French carried their guns in ships far superior in size and strength to those of the British.
The main channel which the French were obliged to make use of was thus defended by Lord Howe: Five ships of fifty-four guns and one of fifty were anchored in line bearing about W.NW. from the easternmost vessel that lay near to a storeship, which was armed with some guns, and anchored close in with the Hook. A battery of two howitzers and another of three 18-pounders were posted on the shore close to the weather-ship to prevent that end from being doubled on, and four regiments landed on the Hook to repel any attempt of the French to disembark troops and destroy the batteries. Three ships were placed near the bar to embarrass the passage, and a sixty-four, with frigates, lay inside of the line to be used as occasion might require.
When the French had passed the bar in sufficient force, the three ships were to retire and take the rear of the line, “which would bring their broadsides to bear upon the direct line of approach in the narrowest part of it, when, by veering again, they would resume their situations, and continue to command the long line of course which the enemy must pursue as he advances, while the smaller vessels were so placed as to harass and distress him from inaccessible positions.”—(Eakin, page 86.)
The plan of defence was well conceived, and would no doubt have been carefully executed.
'The French admiral declined to attack under these circumstances, and in all probability would have suffered great damage, if not defeat, if he had made the attempt.
The superiority which a naval force derived from its mobility over the strongest works is very apparent in this case.
The French ships could not even pass the bar at leisure; they would have been under fire from the first in venturing to do so, and be exposed to a raking fire in approaching the British line, which they were not even at liberty to pass as they could have done, if threatened by the fire of a fort only, but would have been obliged to engage and to destroy it as an indispensable preliminary to any further operations.
Touching the second proposition, it may be said that there is no doubt now of the time that will be required to carry intelligence from any one point to another, nor of that which may be needed to transfer aid from point to point along the seaboard.
The appearance of an enemy, his force, and movements, may be known at New Orleans almost instantly after it is known at Boston, and at any point between these cities; and whatever steam force may have been posted at the principal entrances can be transferred from one of them to another at a reliabel
Defence of New York harbor, by Lord Howe, against the French fleet, July, 1778.
rate of speed. Ten knots per hour is not excessive for a good ocean steamer in any weather in which an enemy would be likely to operate in a matter so delicate as forcing a disputed channel.
The question, therefore, is not whether the inferior force stationed at a port may be able to make good a final defence against an enemy appearing sudilenly, but whether it may have the power to delay his movements until aid shall arrire from another quarter.
Thus, in thirteen hours after the first sight of an enemy from the Neversink heights, a squadron from the Delaware would be off Sandy Hook; and twentyeight hours would bring up a force from the Chesapeake.
If the hostile feet shall not be able to pass the channel, destroy the squadron that defends it, and still be in a state to attempt the passage of the Narrows in less than thirteen hours, it is very certain that a fresh squadron, even though somewhat inferior, will afford him good reason to look to his own defence, and think of retreating, instead of venturing to prosecute his operations. Finally, the Chesapeake vessels, arriving in fifteen hours after the Delaware steamers, will give more than a chance for capturing at least every steamer of the enemy that has been crippled in the engagement with the New York squadron.
The means requisite, therefore, at each port, are those that will insure the time needed to concentrate the other portions of the home squadron.
The result of the preceding propositions, as announced in the third, has received its practical application in a preceding passage, * thus: "The preparation by the enemy of twenty steam frigates would require the construction of two hundred of equal force on our part, supposing that we design to cover but ten of our principal harbors, leaving all others at his mercy."
The principal objection to the defensive position thus assumed to be imposed on the two hundred steamers, by the necessities of the first and second propositions, would be the impossibility of carrying it into execution. There is certainly no precedent for such a system of inaction; and if any naval officer were so disposed, it is more than probable that public opinion would hardly permit the precedent to occur here. Novel it would be to see two hundred steamers divided into squadrons at distant points, quietly awaiting the onset of one-tenth their whole number. The enemy himself would probably be alarmed at such a peculiar demonstration, and rather be inclined to look upon it as a trap for his itwenty ships.
Admitting, for an instant, that any necessity could exist for pursuing a plan 60 strictly defensive in its character, would it not be better to send the ships out ito sea, where the public attention would not be enforced to the humiliating character of the operation, and cause them to form a cordon along the coast, from Maine to Florida ? This distance of fourteen hundred miles could be easily lined by two hundred ships, seven miles asunder; and being within the notice of any unusual signal from each other, the enemy's twenty ships, in attempting to pass the line, would be seen and overhauled by the ready concentration of an equal number from the cordon, before he could reach the port to be assailed.
Be that as it may, no naval officer can doubt that if the United States had fully available two hundred war-steamers of the largest class, or sailing ships of equal tonnage, the question would be entirely in regard to the character of offensive operations. It would no longer be an object to defend our own ports, but to capture and destroy the enemy's ships in distant seas, while protecting his colonies and trade—to intercept his commerce everywhere—to dispute the command of the high seas with his mightiest fleets, and blockade every naval -station of his island empire.
It is not necessary to prosecute further objections to these propositions. Naval men, with hardly an exception, would take the very converse of the first and second propositions, and utterly protest against the consequent contained in the third. Stronger reasons have yet to be adduced to make good the position that defence by means exclusively naval is impracticable, for the reasons giren in these three propositions.
Engineers' report, page 14.