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not one was sufficiently injured to interfere with the active operations against Sweden and Russia that followed.
More recently, in an affair ill calculated to maintain the prestige of ships in attacking batteries, it will be seen that a line-of-battle ship received the fire of two batteries, of four guns each, during seven hours. The deliberate operation of one of these with hot shot, through the whole afternoon, was entirely unmolested by the fire from the ship, as it appears hardly more than half a dozen shots from her struck near the battery; yet she did not take fire until six in the evening. I allude to the action of the Danish ship Christiana VIII, of eighty. four guns, Eckenfjorde, 1849.
At Algiers (1816) the Impregnable received two hundred and sixty-eight shots in her hull, of which fifty penetrated below the lower deck, and three, of 68-pounders, six feet below the water line.
Even frigates will endure severe service. The Macedonian received one hundred shots in her hull in the engagement with the frigate United States, and was brought safely into port. After receiving repairs in her topworks she was used in the United States navy for sixteen years, after which she was broken up and rebuilt entirely.
In 1810 the Galatea, a small thirty-two gun frigate of eight hundred tons, received seventy-eight shots in her hull,* many between wind and water. She continued to cruise, however.
A fleet of line-of-battle ships, then, would have little to dread, it is believed, from Fort Richmond in attempting to pass it, and could probably do so without material damage. If the enemy should deem it advisable to allow the leading ship to anchor abreast the battery during the thirty minutes occupied by the line in passing, the other ships would be insured against the severest of the fire, and the entire loss devolved on one which certainly ought to endure this without being disabled.
Steamers have the additional liability of injury to the machinery or boilers, thereby suspending the action of the engine. But if their sides are lined, as they should be, with the coal bunkers, their contents would suffice to arrest the progress of the shot or shells, and prevent damage to the machinery; the explosion of the latter might be rendered comparatively harmless in the loose masses of coal, unless it were bituminous, and on that account susceptible of being ignited.
The fire of the ships would, of course, be kept up, though probably with very little damage to casemated works. The smoke enveloping the hulls would, however, tend to increase the difficulties of distinguishing from the fort sufficiently, and would embarrass the aim, while the entrance of an occasional shot into an embrasure might dismount a gun and fracture the cast iron casemate carriage into atoms, thereby doing infinite mischief.
It has been assumed that the enemy attempts the passage of the Narrows in broad day. But suppose he choose a dark night and mid-channel. The strait is more than three-fourths of a mile wide, without a shoal nearer than the shore. There is neither difficulty nor danger, so far as the navigation is concerned; and the random fire of guns at eight hundred yards, from both sides of the shore, would be a small matter.
The brief outline of the probable results of a well-designed and well-conducted endeavor to pass the Narrows may perhaps fail to shake the faith of military men in the capacity of the works to exclude ships. But would it be wise to trust the fate of the city even to a chance, remote as it may be? For if success. ful, even the board of engineers would hardly rely on the works about the city
. In a squadron that captured the French frigate Renommeé, afterwards named the Java, and taken by the United States ship Constitution.
as a means of further prevention. Speaking of them, (Fort Columbus, &c.,) the report says, (page 53:)
" It is a disadvantage of their positions, however, that the destruction of the city might be going on simultaneously with the contest between these forts and the fleet."
If the Narrows are forced, certain it is that in less than half an hour the steam frigates will be within range of the batteries of Gove r's island and the small forts about the city. What now will intervene to prevent the destruction of the public works? Should the enemy choose to pass some of his ships round to the northward of Governor's island, every shot from our own guns that misses his hulls will tell on the devoted city, and effect more damage than the enemy himself would, in cold blood, be willing to inflict. A force now inay also be detached to the navy yard and other places. Rockets, carcasses, and shell put in operation, and in a few hours the flames will strip us of the public and private resources. If a detachment be landed, meanwhile, to aid, the work will be done effectually; and the ebbing tide convey the feet to the lower harbor, there to intercept the commerce and to blockade. Two or three steamers of the attacking force may be destroyed, the detachment on shore cut off; but what would such losses be in comparison to those inflicted ?
In the conclusion from certain premises, then, the views here entertained accord with that of the engineer's report, as thus expressed :
"If the mere passing under sail, with a leading wind and tide, one or even two sets of batteries, and then carrying on operations out of the reach of these or any other, were all, the enemy might perhaps accomplish it."
At the same time there can be no doubt that the defence of a port may be made good, when its shore line permits of the condition prescribed by the report as sufficient, thus:
“ Batteries should succeed each other along the channel, so that the enemy may nowhere find shelter from the effective range of shot and shells while within the harbor, even should he succeed in passing the first batteries. Provided the shores admit this disposition, and the defences be supplied with an armament, numerous, heavy, and selected with reference to the effects on shipping, the facts we have quoted from history show that these defences may be relied on.”
The only question will be as to the certainty of so disposing the land works.
Other passages which occur in the report of the board of engineers seem far more applicable to the case under consideration, and I cheerfully avail myself of them as fully expressing all that I desire to add on this head.
“There are, doubtless, situations where it may be necessary for us to present a defensive array, at the same time that to do so by fortifications alone would be impracticable; and it is not, therefore, prejudging the question we are about to examine; it is neither underrating fortifications, nor overrating these floating defences, to say that these last are, some or all of them, indispensable in such position.
“Any very broad water, where deep soundings may be carried at a distance from the shores greater than effective gun-range, and where no insular spot, natural or artificial, can be found or formed nearer the track of ships, will present such a situation, and we may take some of our great bays as examples.
"Broad sounds and wide roadsteads, affording secure anchorage beyond good gun-range from the shores, will afford examples of another sort; and harbors with very wide entrances and large surfaces exhibit examples of still another kind.
“As in all such cases fortifications alone will be ineffectual, and, nevertheless, recourse to defences of some sort may be unavoidable, it has not failed to be a recommendation in the several reports on the defence of the coast since 1818, that there should be a suitable and timely provision of appropriate floating defences. And until the invention of man shall have caused an entire revolution in the nature of maritime attack and defence, these or kindred means must be resorted to; not, however, because they are means intrinsically good, or suitable under other circumstances, but because they are the only means applicable.”
Admitting, then, that “any very broad water, where deep soundings may be carried at a distance from the shores greater than effective gun-range, and where no insular spots, natural or artificial, can be found or formed nearer the track of ships, will present such a situation; and we may take some of our great bays as examples," as a premise to the second query, then what auxiliaries shall be resorted to? Of all those which, in connexion with permanent works, might be selected to control effectually the channels of our principal watercourses and harbors, none are less reliable than floating batteries and gunboats.
In the well-constructed fort, the chief merit is a capacity of endurance almost impregnable to the assaults of shipping.
In the ship, a mobility which gives the facility of transferring the great power of her battery to any part of the channel that may need it. The disadvantage of one is its immobility, which restricts it to a fixed point, whence it can control nothing beyond gun range; of the other, a vulnerable material very susceptible of damage from protracted battering.
The floating battery unites the weak points of both fort and ship. It is neither spear nor shield, and is altogether objectionable, as inefficient, costly, and unsuited to the character and resources of a great nation. Its worthlessness as a defence is well manifested by the affair at Copenhagen in 1800, under circumstances when, of all others, it would have been most gratifying to every sense of justice that it should have protected the neutral rights of a brave but feeble nation. On that occasion there were six hundred and twenty-eight guns mounted on a line of floating defences, supported, as well as the urgency of the case admitted, by several forts and a reserve of heavy ships.
Nine English line-of-battle ships entered the channel skirted by the Danish line; commenced action at distances varying two hundred to four hundred yards, captured and destroyed the Danish floating batteries in three or four hours, and sustained no damage sufficient to interfere with their proceeding against the other parties to “armed neutrality ”_Sweden and Russia.
The report of the board of engineers, previously referred to, embodies many interesting details of this event, to which the only material objection is the mode of stating the force.
1st. The Bellona, 74, and Russell, 74, grounded on the edge of the shoal, having their own line directly between them and the Danes, so that their fire could be of little avail, though themselves might be much damaged by the shot from the enemy which missed the English line.
2d. The frigates and sloops had been directed to take the stations of these ships opposite the tick rouer battery, so that of the twelve line-of-battle ships only nine were opposed to the floating batteries, being about fifty yuns stronger than the Danish line, and not three hundred and eighty-two, as the report infers.
One of the board of engineers' deductions from this engagement is so conclusive that it may be quoted without further comment. It is thus (page 20 :)
" That it illustrates strikingly the advantages that'a fleet possesses over a stationary line of floating defences. Lord Nelson was superior to the whole of his adversary's floating force; but not being disposed to run any unnecessary hazard, he directed all his force upon a part of the Danish line, which was of course defeated; and had there been no other than a floating force present, so of course would have been the remainder, had it been twice the strength it was. This example fully confirms what we have before urged on this topic."
Some idea of the expense of large floating batteries may be gathered from the paper of General Gaines on coast defence. Those proposed by him were to carry one hundred and twenty to two hundred cannon." The estimated cost by the chief naval architect was $1,400,000, for each of the batteries with its tow boats ; which sum would build three line-of-battle ships or two war steamers.
It is further to be urged, that any such passive system of defence is entirely at variance with the tone and temper of our people, and the reputation of a powerful nation. The national policy may be strictly defensive, but when compelled to resort to war, its system of operations should be rather offensive in its character, if it were only to enforce the sound maxim of preserving its own soil from the desolating presence of an enemy:
If the floating battery is the most useless of all the stationary defences, the gunboat may be considered as the most miserable of all the war craft that sail ; nothing more effectual could possibly be devised to render skill and bravery unavailing. The experience which we have already had has sufficiently confirmed opinion in the navy as to the dependence that may be placed on the perfornance of these pigmy warriors, and renders it needless to occupy time in any labored exposition of their worthlessness. In reciting the events of past days, our own naval historian (Cooper) has very distinctly given his estimate of their demerits, which, by the way, he does not altogether contine to the question now at issue, of capacity for offence and defence, if we may judge from the following pithy paragraph :
" This was the development of the much condemned gunboat system,' which for a short time threatened destruction to the pride, discipline, tone, and even morals of the service."
It is singular, however, that two distinguished statesmen should, about the same time. have given their faith to the efficacy of the gunboat-one in England, and the other here. Mr. William Pitt, about the year 1803, in a motion censuring the ministry, found a strong reason in their neglect to provide more gunboats. Admiral Sir E. Pellow, then in Parliament, was unable to sustain his political friends in the measure, and in a short and characteristic speech used these words :
** As to the gunboats which have been so strongly recommended, this mosquito fleet, they are the most contemptible force that can be employed.”
About thirteen years later it fell to his lot to verify this opinion. In his memorable attack on Algiers, it is stated that “soon after the battle began the enemy's flotilla of gunboats advanced, with a daring which deserved a better fate, to board the Queen Charlotte and Leander. The smoke covered them at first, but as soon as they were seen, a few guns, chiefly from the Leander, sent thirty-three out of thirty-seven to the bottom."
Dispensing, then, with such inefficient aids, there remains for consideration the navy proper, which, it may be asserted, is indeed not only a sure reliance, if it be properly constituted, but is indispensable to any degree of security along our line of coast, now washed for thousands of miles by the two great oceans; and also to maintain the communication by water and the isthmus between the Atlantic and Pacific States, where forts, floating batteries, and gunboats can no longer enter into the question, even were they a perfect defence for every other interest covered by our flag.
In the first place, it is believed to be susceptible of proof that a naval force, somewhat greater than the attacking force, may be relied on in connexion with the present or proposed works at Boston, New York, Delaware, Chesapeake, and some southeast port, to protect the coast from Florida to Maine, and (as corollary to this proposition,) will destroy or capture the enemy that may commit itself seriously against either of these ports.
To illustrate this, I will assume the attacking force to be the twenty steam frigates of the engineer's report of 1840. To New York harbor, to Delaware and Chesapeake bays, would be assigned a certain number of ships, varying with the peculiar circumstances of the time; for the present, let us assume the defending force to be stationed thus: New York ten ships, Delaware eight, and Chesapeake seven; and to avoid the recounting of local details, I again recur to New York as the object selected by the enemy.
The stationary floating defence to be used will be the old sailing frigates and line-of-battle ships of the navy, having heavy batteries on the gun-decks, and pivot pieces of the largest calibre on the upper deck. Every spar taken out, even to the lower masts, and the ships well secured with several chains to their moorings; one at A, to bear on the ships in crossing the bar; three at B, C, and D, to close the swash channel; and one at E, inside of the southwest spit; which, with the fort on the Hook, is to assist in defending the main channel.
The enemy's twenty ships are signalled from the Neversink heights, and in half an hour the Delaware and Chesapeake squadrons are at sea steering north.
It is obvious that any loss of time from irresolution or from want of information which is to be obtained by reconnoitring, must be to the disadvantage of the enemy.
Suppose him well supplied with pilots, which, in a war, the Cunard line can furnish abundantly, and aware that reinforcements are on the way, it is probable that the attack will be commenced without delay.
The first point of defence is at the bar; the deep water here is so narrow that the enemy will hardly risk his ships in any one channel, even in two columns, and his line is therefore exposed to the concentrated fire of our ten ships, and of the line-of-battle ship at a.
After crossing, the van will endeavor to form the line abreast, as far as the chamel admits, in order to relieve the leading ships; but our own ships recede before them, and by this time the guns of the line-of-battle ships B and C are beginning to tell. Following our steamers, the enemy soon comes within the fire of the fort, and advancing onward, the line-of-battle-ship at E is brought into play. The headmost of his ships have now for more than half an hour been under the concentrated fire of four hundred pieces of the heaviest calibre; and it is hardly possible that they should not be incapacitated for moving with any rapidity. Even if their offensive powers be undisabled, they must therefore be soon dropped astern by their main body moving with full speed, and their force be lost in the rest of the day's operations. On the other hand, our own ships have felt the fire of the enemy's leading ships only, and if any one be damaged, can anchor near the fort or line-of-battle ships, and do good service on the passing ships.
It is probable that in rounding the southwest spit, the number of the hostile fleet will be reduced to fifteen or sixteen ships, capable of full motive power, if an average degree of success have attended the defending force. And these must be brought to action before reaching the city.
Without pretending to indicate the precise time and place most proper for this, suppose that it be decided to make a stand before entering the Narrows.
When it is evident that the enemy will not attempt to force the swash, and has followed the main channel, the line-of-battle ships A, B, C may slip their moorings and be towed by river steamers on each side up the swash, their draught having been adapted to that purpose, and take in moorings previously provided at the debouche of the channel into the main course below the Narrows.
Our own steamers will here prepare to receive the attack, or to make it if declined by the enemy, who may adhere to the main purpose of reaching the city.
The action will, of course, terminate in the defeat of the weaker party, though not necessarily in the destruction or capture of his ships. But in what condition will the enemy find his ships ? How many of his steamers will there remain to attempt the passage, and what will be their capacity to do it after the rough handling that has been experienced ?
It may be that not one of his vessels has struck its flag or is disabled, but the power of moving with certainty and speed is crippled, and their exposure to the