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WASHINGTON, March 29, 1836. Sir: In compliance with your request, I have the honor to hand in some remarks on the fortification of the frontier of the United States. And am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient,
JOS. G. TOTTEN,
Lieut. Col. Eng. Brevet Colonel. Brig. Gen. Ch. GRATIOT,
Chief Engineer, Washington.
In presenting a summary statement of the general system of defence of the country by fortifications, as proposed and in part executed, it is proper to refer for much information as to localities, as to particular projects, and for statements and arguments somewhat elaborate, to communications made at different times by the board of engineers for fortifications.
These communications, of a nature forbidding too great publicity, are to be found in the records of the War Department in the shape of reports of the board of engineers of 1817, 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823, 1824, and 1825. Reference may also be made with advantage to the revised report of the board of engineers presented in 1826, and published as document No. 153 of the state papers of the first session of the nineteenth Congress. The report of 1826, just referred to, was drawn up by the undersigned, and was the work of much research and of mature deliberation; and in giving it now a careful perusal
, he thinks that the information now called for by the Senate cannot be better afforded, at least by him, than by again presenting that report, occasionally condensing, curtailing, or omitting portions of the argument and certain descriptions, and adding such new facts as may have been developed by further research, or made more prominent and interesting by the progress of improvement in the country.
The elements going to make up the general system of maritime defence are a navy, fortifications, interior communications by land and water, and a regular army, and well organized militia.
The navy must be provided with suitable establishments for construction and repair, stations, harbors of rendezvous, and ports of refuge. All these must be covered by fortifications having garrisons of regular troops and militia, and being supplied with men and materials through the lines of interior communications. Not being required to remain in the harbors for their defence, the navy, pre-eminent as an offensive arm, will be prepared to transfer the war to distant oceans and to the shores of the enemy, and to act the great part which its early achievements have foretold, and to which its high destiny will lead.
Fortifications should, 1st, close all important harbors against an enemy, and secure them to our military and commercial marine;
2d. Should deprive an enemy of all strong positions where, protected by naval superiority, he might maintain himself during the war, keeping the whole frontier in constant alarm;
3d. Must cover the great naval establishments from attack; 4th. Must protect the great cities ; 5th. Must prevent, as far as possible, the great avenues of interior navigation from being blockaded at their entrances to the ocean ;
6th. Must cover the coastwise and interior navigation, by closing the harbors and the several inlets which intersect the lines of interior communication, thereby further aiding the navy in protecting the navigation of the country; and
7th. Must shelter the smaller towns along the coast, and also all their commercial and manufacturing establishments which are of a nature to invite the enterprise or cupidity of an enemy.
Interior communications will conduct, with certainty, the necessary supplies of all sorts to the stations, harbors of rendezvous and refuge, and the establishments of construction and repair for the use both of the fortifications and of the navy; will greatly facilitate and expedite the concentration of military force, and the transfer of troops from one point to another; will insure to these troops supplies of every description, and will preserve, unimpaired, the interchange of domestic commerce, even during periods of the most active external warfare.
The army and militia, together with the personnel of the marine, constitute the vital principle of the system.
It is important to notice the reciprocal relation of these elements of national defence; one element is scarcely more dependent on another, than the whole system is on each one. Withdraw the navy, and the defence becomes merely passive; we expose ourselves the more to suffer the evils of war, at the time that we deprive ourselves of all means of inflicting them. Withdraw interior communication, and the navy will often be greatly embarrassed for want of supplies, while the fortifications will be unable to offer full resistance for want of timely re-enforcements. Withdraw fortifications, and the interior communications are broken up, and the navy is left entirely without collateral aid.
That element in the system of defence, which is now to be attended to, is the fortification of the frontier. It may not be unprofitable here to go somewhat more into detail, as to the relation of this with the other members of the system; the rather, as the reasons for some conclusions hereafter to be announced will be the more apparent.
In considering the relation of fortifications, and of the navy, to the defence of the country, it will appear that the functions of the latter are not less appropriately offensive than those of the former are necessarily defensive; the latter loses much of its efficiency as a member of the system the moment it becomes passive, and should in no case (referring now to the navy proper) be relied on as a substitute for fortifications.
The position, it is thought may be easily established.
If our navy be inferior to that of the enemy, it can offer, of course, without collateral aids, but a feeble resistance, single ships being assailed by fleets or squadrons. Having numerous points along our extended frontier to protect, all of which must be simultaneously guarded, because ignorant of the selected points of attack, the separate squadrons or vessels may be captured in detail, although the naval force be, in the aggregate, equal or superior to the enemy's. Should we in such a case venture to concentrate, under the idea that the particular object of the adversary was foreseen, he could not fail to push his forces upon the places thus left without protection. This mode of defence is liable to the further objection of being exposed to fatal disasters, independent of assaults of an enemy, and of leaving the issue of conflicts to be determined sometimes by accident, in spite of all the efforts of courage and skill. If it were attempted to improve upon this mode, by combining with it temporary batteries and fieldworks, it would be found that, besides being weak and inadequate from their nature, the most suitable positions for these works must often be neglected, under the unavoidable condition of security to the ships themselves. If the ships take no part in the contest, the defence is of course relinquished to the temporary batteries ; if the ships unite in the defence, the batteries must be at hand to sustain them, or the ships must strike to the superior adversary. Placing these batteries in better position, and giving them greater strength, is at once resorting to defence by fortifications; and the resort will be the more effectual, as the positions are better chosen, and the works better adapted to the circumstances.
On the great comparative expense of such a mode of defence, which will be
quite apparent after a little reflection, only one or two very brief remarks will be made, viz.: The expense incurred by the nation defending itself on this plan will, from the first, greatly exceed that incurred by the attacking party; because, to resist a single fleet threatening the coast, there must be provided as many equal fleets as there are important objects inviting the attack of the enemy, and even with this costly preparation, all lesser objects are thrown upon his forbearance. These defences, moreover, being perishable in their nature, will need frequent removal and repair.
On the other hand, the proper fortification of the coast, preventing the possibility of a blockade so strict as not to afford frequent opportunities for our navy to leave the harbors, our ships, no longer needed for passive defence, will move out upon their proper theatre of action, though inferior to the enemy, with confidence; knowing that, whether victorious, whether suffering from the violence of tempests, or whether endangered by the vicinity or the pursuit of a superior force, they can strike the extended coast of their country (avoiding the more important outlets, where alone a considerable blockading force may be supposed to lie) at numerous points where shelter and relief await them; hovering around the flanks and in the rear of blockading fleets, and recapturing their prizes; falling upon portions of these fleets, separated for minor objects, or by stress of weather; watching the movements of convoys, in order to pick up straggling vessels; breaking up or restraining the enemy's commerce in distant seas ; meeting by concert at remote points and falling in mass upon his smaller squadrons, or upon his colonial possessions, and even levying contributions in his unprotected ports; blockading for a time the narrow seas, and harassing the coasting commerce of the enemy's own shores. These are objects which our own history shows may be accomplished, although contending by means of a navy as to numbers apparently insignificant, against a marine whose force and efficiency have never been paralleled. Our own history shows, besides, that the reason why our infant navy did not accomplish still more, was that the enemy possessing himself of unfortified harbors, was enabled to enforce a blockade so strict as to confine a portion of it within our waters. That this portion, however, indeed, that all was not captured, can be attributed only to respect-s0 misplaced that it could be the result of ignorance only—for the then existing fortifications; a result amply compensating the nation for the cost of those imperfect works. It would be difficult, nay, impossible, to estimate the full value of the results following the career of our navy, when it shall have attained its state of manhood, under the favorable conditions heretofore indicated. The blockade of many and distant parts of our coast will then be impossible, or, rather, can then be effected only at enormous cost, and under the risk of the several squadrons being successively captured or dispersed; the commerce of our adversary must be nearly withdrawn from the ocean, or it must be convoyed, not by a few vessels, but by powerful fleets. In fine, the war, instead of resulting in the pillage and conflagration of our cities and towns, in the destruction of our scattered and embayed navy, and of the expensive establishments pertaining to it, in the interruption of all commercial intercourse between the several portions of the maritime frontier, in the frequent harassing, and expensive assemblage of militia forces, thereby greatly lessening the products of industry, and infusing among this most valuable portion of our population the fatal discases and the demoralizing habits of a camp life; instead of these and innumerable other evils attendant upon a conflict along and within our borders, we should find the war and all its more serious evils shut out from our territory by our fortresses, and transferred by our navy to the bosom of the ocean, or even to the country of the enemy, should he, relying on a different system, have neglected to defend the avenues by which he is assailable.
Our wars, thus becoming maritime, will be less costly in men and money, and at the same time more in unison with our institutions—forging no weapon for
defence capable of being turned, under other circumstances, against the life of the State ; and keeping our domestic industry and relations, under our internal financial resources, beyond the reach of assault from without.
It is an incontestible principle in military science, and one fully illustrated by military history, that the worst mode of waging war, although strietly a defensive one in its origin and its object, is to permit its field of action to lie within our own borders; and that the best mode is that which longest sustains an offensive attitude. In our own case, war can be excluded from our territory only by fortifications; and we can assume the offensive, with the greatest portion of mankind, only through our navy. The construction of the former secures the means of creating, equipping, and repairing the latter, and leaves it unencumbered with duties which it imperfectly performs, to the full exercise of its great and appropriate functions. In accordance with these principles, what, in general terms, is the extent to which the government may be called on to prepare itself in fortifying the coast and in building up the navy?
It is not in human forecast to decide upon the station of the latter a generation hence. Political events may force the nation to place herself more nearly on a level with some of the greatest of maritime powers, or the prevalence of peaceful relations may restrict the growth of the navy to that demanded by the increase, rapid and extensive, of our commercial interests. But whatever may be the amount of enlargement of the naval force, whether greater or less; or whatever the mode, whether progressive and regular, or by sudden expansion, its increase will involve no corresponding extension in the number or strength of the fortifications, because these must be adequate to their object of themselves, and must consequently be, with some exceptions, as numerous and as strong while the navy is smal], as when the navy shall have attained its maxi
A considerable enlargement of the naval force might build up new naval establishments, thereby, in raising the importance of certain positions calling for stronger defences.
The growth of the country in wealth and numbers will convert certain places, now presenting no inducements to the enterprise of an enemy, into rich and populous cities. But, with the exception of these cases, and such as these, it may be assumed that a good system of fortifications applied now to the maritime frontier will be equal to its object in all future times.
Conceiving it unnecessary to enlarge further on this part of the subject, a few remarks will be offered on the correlative influence of fortifications and interior communications.
The most important of these communications, in reference to a system of defence, are, first, such as serve to sustain, in all its activity, that portion of domestic commerce which, without their aid. would be interrupted by a state of war; and second, such as serve, besides their great original purposes, to conduct from the interior to the theatre of war necessary supplies and timely relief. The first, which are among the most important national concerns of this nature. lie parallel to, and not far from, the coast; the second, which, when they cross the great natural partition-wall between the east and the west, are equally important, lie more remote from the coast, and sometimes nearly or quite parallel to it, but generally fall, nearly at right angles to the line of the seaboard, into the great estuaries, where, in some cases, their products are arrested, or whence, in others, they flow and mingle with those of the first. To fulfil the object of the first-mentioned lines of communication, it is obviously necessary to prevent an enemy from reaching them through any of the numerous inlets from the sea which they traverse, including, of course, the great inlets wherein these unite with the communications coming from the interior. The security of the coastwise line, therefore, involves the security of the other, and is, in a great measure, indispensable to it. From such considerations as have been already presented, it is inferred that, for the security here required, we must, as in the case of
cities, harbors, naval establishments, &c., look to fortifications. But it fortunately happens, as will appear in the sequel, that wherever both objects exist, the works necessary for the one may often, if not always, be made to accomplish both. In reference to a system of defence for the protection of these lines of communication, it must be observed that, from the facility with which they may be broken up, and the serious evils consequent thereon, they offer to the enemy great inducements to enterprises of that nature. An aqueduct, an inelined plane, a tide-lock, a dam, an embankment blown up, is the work of an hour, and yet would interrupt the navigation perhaps for months.
The necessity of a regular army, even in time of peace, is a principle well established by our legislation. The importance of a well-organized militia is incident to the nature of our institutions, well understood by the people, duly appreciated by the government, and finely illustrated in our history. Nothing, therefore, need be said on these subjects, considered as general principles. It may, however, in a succeeding part of this communication, be deemed proper to hazard a conjecture or two touching the expediency of a peculiar organization of the latter.
Before going further, it is proper to be more explicit as to the sense in which the terms “nary” and “fortifications" have been employed.
By the term nary, only that portion of our military marine which is capable of moving in safety upon the ocean, and transferring itself speedily to distant points, is meant. Floating batteries, gunboats, steam batteries, &c., these, and indeed, all other modes of defence which are restricted in their sphere of action, tied down to local defence, and are produced chiefly in cases where the localities deny to fortifications their best action, are regarded as auxiliary to fortifications, and as falling within the same category. Under the term “fortifications,” used as expressive of security afforded thereby to the seaboard, have been included permanent and temporary fortifications, the auxiliaries just mentioned, and both fixed and floating obstructions to channels.
The circumstances which must govern in framing a system of fortifications are
1st. The importance of the objects to be defended. Great naval establishments, great cities, &c., invite to greater preparation on the part of an enemy, and demand corresponding means of resistance.
2d. The natural advantages or disadvantages of the position to be fortified. It will often happen that the defence of a position of great consequence can be effected with smaller works, and at less expense, than a place of much less value. It will not follow, therefore, that the expense of fortifications will be proportionate to the importance of the object, though it is indispensable that the strength shonld be.
3d. The species of attack to which the place is liable. Some places will be exposed only to capture by assault; others by siege; others to reduction by cannonade, bombardment, or blockade; and some to a combination of any or all these modes. If the enemy against which we fortify be unprovided with artil lery, the mode of fortifying becomes peculiar.
4th. Whatever may be the circumstances, it is of vital importance that all the works should be fully adequate to the object, and that they should, even with a small garrison, be perfectly safe from a coup de main.
Proceeding now to a concise description of the maritime frontier, considered as a whole, the several sections will be afterwards separately examined, applying as we go to the several positions the works already projected, and pointing out as far as practicable such as remain to be planned. The sea-coast of the United States is comprised within the 24th and 46th degrees of north latitude, and spreads over 27 degrees of longitude. The general direction of that part which lies on the Atlantic, north of the peninsula of Florida, is N.NE. and S.SW. This peninsula stretches out from the continent in a direction a little