Imágenes de páginas

their annual expense of repairs amounts to one-third of one per cent. of first cost. In 1842 the cost of building the United States navy, then afloat, had been $9,052,725; and the cost of repairs on the same vessels, $5,579,229, or a total of $14,631,984. It has been found from large experience, that the effective duration of a man-of-war in the French navy, averages but 12 years; while in the British navy, this duration has been estimated at 7 to 8 years in time of war, and from 10 to 14 years in time of peace. Besides this marked superiority of actual French and English naval force, and the great cost of maintaining and repairing vessels of war, we may add, as additional considerations adverse to our embarking in this competition of navies, the subtraction of force which such a step would make from our commercial marine, our deep-rooted objections to the formation of large standing forces under the federal government, the lack of any adequate cause for such an overwhelming enlargement, our reliance on privateering as a marine militia, our secluded, semi-insular position, and the strong bias of our national traditions.

But even supposing our naval policy thus revolutionized, and that our augmented naval force could directly measure its strength with France or England, our navy could not then effectively guard our immense coast from naval assault. The case is plain; for while we have at least ten vital, primary strategic points to be covered, points scattered along our entire Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts, we should have but one fleet to do this wide

spread duty. The hostile squadron might choose any one of these ten points for a rapid attack, strike its blow and be again at sea, or gone to a new attack, before our fleet could be brought to bear. It is a question of chances, and the probability of security is ten against one. Absolute security would require, for these ten points alone, ten home squadrons, each superior in force to the hostile fleet. Of course, no one dreams of any such chimerical balancing of power, and it is, in fact, only by most protracted, long-suffering persistence that any petty augmentation of our gallant little navy can be wrung from Congress.

It certainly is not our true naval policy to anchor our fleets in our own


harbors, and all enlightened minds must agree with Webster, who declared that, in the war of 1812, he "was for doing something more with our navy than to keep it on our shores for the protection of our coasts and harbors." One of the most distinguished ornaments of our own navy says: "This arm can only fill its special mission in war, that of aggression, by being enabled to leave the great sea-ports and exposed points of our maritime frontier to a more certain and economical system of protection, in order to carry the sword of the State' upon the broad ocean; sweep from it the enemy's commerce; capture or scatter the vessels of war protecting it; cover and convoy our own to its destined havens, and be ready to meet hostile fleets in other words, to contend for the mastery of the seas, where alone it can be obtained-on the sea itself." A navy has far greater powers for sea-coast attack than for sea-coast defense, and this is especially true of our own navy. If it would defend our coasts, let it attack the enemy's unguarded ports and exposed points. A new Paul Jones, commanding such swift-sailing and steaming vessels, as American skill could now supply, would transfer the contest to the marine frontiers of England or France, and thus defend our own ports. That our navy is pitiably small; that, when the six new steamers are completed, we still shall have but 18 armed steam vessels, and the inconvertible Collins' ferry ships; that we are not likely to cultivate this main-stay of future deeds of quickwinged daring; all this is true: but we still are strongly confident that our future wars will "be carried into


Our readers can scarcely have forgotten the flutter of apprehension created in England, during 1845, by a pamphlet of the Prince de Joinville, in which he very coolly laid bare the fact, that the sea-girt isle was, like Wolsey, in its age, left naked to its enemies. By means of steamers, shooting out from their fortified coverts on the French coast, he showed how the imperfectly-secured ports of England might be overwhelmed and despoiled, and that even imperial London might be taught to give tribute. The reality of British sea-coast weakness was then fully attested by the general consterna

tion, and by the promptitude with which new measures for harbor fortifications were adopted. A special commission was ordered to examine the condition and the system of the coast defenses and the harbors of refuge. The result has been, a rapid development of water batteries, and a general renovation of their armaments. In the three years from 1847 to 1850, the amount applied for repairing old works and erecting new ones, on the coast of Great Britain and Ireland, was $1,300,694. At Gibraltar, over $600,000 have lately been expended on the fortifications, and $367,887, were yet estimated for. At Malta, in addition to $180,000 similarly voted, $696,000 were estimated for. The defenses of Quebec are still progressing, and in like manner are those of most British colonial ports. Between 1839 and 1840, at least 2,000 new guns, of the largest calibres, have been mounted on the British seacoast fortifications. These facts are valuable, as showing how thoroughly conscious the first naval power on earth now is, that she cannot safely rest her sea-coast defense on her navy alone, and that the sphere of action for this arm is the open sea.

France has always taken care to be incased in sea-coast armor. Her long series of naval humiliations never brought on her ports the disasters of bombardment. None can have failed to observe how, in every reverse, her fleets have found shelter in her fortified ports. The general exemption of these defenses from attack, during her interminable wars with England, is a supreme vindication of the efficiency of her sea-coast system. With her usual military sagacity, France has recently had her coast defenses reëxamined by a high special commission, representing all the arms of her immense military establishment. The result has been an extension of the previous system to many new points of her marine frontier, which are accessible by light draft steamers, bearing heavy guns.

We should seek in vain for stronger evidence of the power of well-constructed harbor forts, to effect their proposed ends, than was afforded by that stupendous paralysis which Cronstadt impressed upon the allied Baltic fleet. Baffled and powerless before works which threatened annihilation, if approached, a squadron of unsurpassed

armament, commanded by a notoriously daring officer, and surcharged with every element of naval power, shrunk from, or declined the encounter, and braved the fearful alternative of a crestfallen return. Why did not Napier take Cronstadt? Everybody well knows that he recoiled from its strength, and could only have lost his fleet in any serious attack. There, too, was Bomarsund, regularly breached by the French land battery, instead of being toppled down by broadsides. At Petropolowski, the attempt was made and signally failed. At Sweaborg, by superior range of guns and by a land mortar battery, the allied fleet succeeded in burning some stores, leaving the defenses essentially intact. The Black Sea fleet before Sebastopol, though strong and well appointed, beyond pre; cedent, wisely forebore to thrust itself into the lion's den, though this forbearance led to the alternative of that life-consuming siege, now world renowned, during the progress of which this grand fleet chiefly coöperated in the transport function.

We must not here attempt the historical examination of that well-discussed theme-the ability of fleets to contend with forts. Suffice it to say, that a great body of experience has already been amassed, tending conclusively to show the great superiority of forts in these contests. The few instances wherein fleets have seemed to succeed in a fairly engaged fight of this nature, all resolve themselves, on examination, into bad conduct of the garrison, or its commander, or into some radical fault of construction or armament; such as magazines not bomb-proof, scarps too thin, guns placed too high, calibres too small, or carriages unserviceable. A long array of instances might be cited, in which forts have beaten off fleets; and, in many of these, the disproportion of strength amounts to the grotesque. Fort Moultrie, Fort McHenry, Mobile Point, and Stonington Point, are good illustrations in our own history, though in each of these cases the works were small and of weak profile.

In general, we can safely declare that the true defense of sea-coast harbors, cities, and grand dépôts, consists in covering lines of heavy water batteries, wherever these can be so located as to act effectively on the channels of approach, or the positions which a bom

barding fleet must assume. The entire practice of all civilized nations is based on this principle, and every European coast may be cited in proof that this is an accepted and verified doctrine. As adjuncts, and in cases where adequate permanent batteries are excluded by the configuration of the locality, resort may or must be had to armed merchant ships, or steamers, floating batteries, gun-boats, etc., which, though very temporary in character, and costly in proportion to their efficiency, may be made to give a tolerable defense, if in sufficient force, and if prepared in time. We know of no respectable military authority, adverse to the principle of permanent sea-coast batteries, while we do know of very many testimonies, both military and naval, strongly commending their efficiency. Some persons, carried away by partial views, or lacking real knowledge of the case, have loudly proclaimed their skepticism. Others, advocates of pet schemes, hobby riders, maggot-brained inventors, charlatans, and paradox hunters, denounce to clear the ground for themselves. Some officers of the navy have written down their skepticism, in couth or uncouth style. Some of these have been mistaken, some ignorant, some rash, and some have wished to tear down the fortification system to substitute an infinite navy, and thus achieve astounding promotion. Tenfold more than an offset are the opinions of men like Com. Stewart, Com. Morris, Capt. Dupont, and, indeed, of all those most distinguished for professional skill and sound judgment.

From all that has now been advanced, we shall regard as established these general propositions: that wars must be expected in time to come as in times past; that the United States ought to anticipate the contingencies of collisions with the first class powers of Europe; that grand descents and bombardments along our sea-board are the chief dangers to be apprehended; that we cannot look to our navy for their prevention; that we ought not to tie our own vessels to our own coasts; that foreign and American authorities and experience clearly indicate permanent defenses as the best security for an exposed sea-board; and that our true policy is, to provide such a system of heavy water batteries, or harbor forts, as will enable us to repel all probable

attacks on our sea-ports, navy-yards, or dépôts, and also to secure our most important harbors and roadsteads as refuges for our own marine, while we, by the same means, close them against all enemies.

We will now present a brief statement of the history, character, progress, and armaments of our sea-coast fortifications.

Soon after the organization of our government, when the memory of war was fresh, and while the French revolution was convulsing the nations, the need of fortifications was strongly felt. The old revolutionary works were temporary and inadequate. Poor as our country then was, and extensive as was our coast, the best that could be done was, to throw up some imperfectly-planned and cheaply-built forts and batteries; this was done with hearty good will. After the attack on the Chesapeake, large appropriations were made, and so vigorously applied, that the war of 1812 found us with no small show of

preparation. Every important town had its covering forts or earthen batteries, which, though small and weak in their profile, at least saved the towns from marauding and petty attacks. They served an excellent purpose, and at Baltimore, Mobile, and Stonington, fought British naval forces with distinguished success. Fort Washington was disgracefully abandoned, and its commander cashiered for cowardice; else Washington might not have been burn


The insufficiency of this system of hasty defenses was so strongly felt, both by our government and people, that no time was lost after the peace in undertaking its improvement. A board of our most distinguished naval and engineer officers was organized in 1816, and laid the foundation of our present system of sea-coast defenses. It was fortunate that our naval heroes were no less men of judgment, and that engineers of such eminent ability and professional skill were then to be found in our service as the brilliant and lamented Col. Wm. McRee, Col. J. G. Totten, our present Chief-Engineer, and Maj. (now Col.) S. Thayer-a rare and honored trio. The first two served on this board, as also did Gen. Bernard, one of Bonaparte's favorite engineers, who came to this country at Mr. Calhoun's special solicitation. His fresh

acquaintance with European defensive ideas was, doubtless, of some advantage, though it led to two of the most objectionable features of our existing system. To him Fort Monroe, at old Point Comfort, Va., owes all its essential features, and especially its great magnitude, which called forth the celebrated and misunderstood criticism of Gen. Cass. This board proceeded to a thorough study of our entire scacoast, in relation to its systematic defense. Its harbors, rivers, and bays were closely scrutinized for the selection of sites for the works required. Their relations to our commerce and to naval operations were specially canvassed, as well for the location of navy-yards and d pôts as for their bearings in protecting our navigation, and in covering our interior waters. It was considered particularly desirable to keep an enemy as far off seaward as possible. By forcing him to combat at the greatest attainable distance from the towns to be covered, time would be gained for concentrating troops to oppose his land advance, and the towns themselves would be saved the injuries of a close contest. Indeed, every effort was made to introduce, in these studies, all the essential strategic elements of the problem.

The result was, a general selection of military and naval sites, and a determination of the proper strength and of the relative importance of all the proposed defensive works. These forts were classified according to their defensive importance, and this scale of gradation was assumed as the guide to indicate the proper order of succession in constructing the several works. This was rendered necessary by the number of works required, and by the limitation of our resources, which prohibited their simultaneous erection.

As to the style of work which should be adopted, some general principles were laid down and applied. The essential object in all cases was, to bring a certain number of heavy guns to bear, with the maximum advantage, on the channels to be closed, or the waters to be commanded. In determining this amount of fire, the importance of the locality, both commercial and strategic, had to be carefully considered. Each detail, of the site and of the waters to be commanded, had its influence. Then these guns had to be made secure from capture by parties sent on shore, as VOL. VII.-21

guns which could thus be spiked, with no serious obstruction, would be no secure defense. Hence the water batteries had to be inclosed, and brought within a scarp wall, of height sufficient to interdict escalade or a coup de main. To prevent the planting of scaling-ladders, or the establishment of breaching mines, along this scarp, such flanking arrangements had to be adopted as that the entire face and foot of this scarp should be seen from within, and commanded by an effective fire. Moreover, in such localities as were beyond the reach of speedy and overwhelming succor, it was necessary so to mask this scarp with covering banks of earth, that an enemy could not, by establishing batteries at a distance, effect a practicable breach through it, and so, in some two or three days, penetrate through the inclosure. Enough must be given an enemy to do, to afford full time for sending a succoring army against him; hence outworks, demi-lunes, mines, etc., must be so much accumulated on the points open to attack, as to compel at least an equal interval for the enemy's approaches, before he can breach the scarp. On the water fronts, it was desirable to accumulate as many guns as possible; hence arrangements were made to place them in two, three, or four tiers, or stories, according to the height of the scarp. Since the water fronts cannot, as a general thing, be breached by land batteries, or by the unsteady random fire of ships, no earthen covers along their scarps were thought necessary; hence these walls were pierced with embrasures for as many guns as they would conveniently cover, while a line of barbette guns was arranged to fire over their tops. Accommodations had to be provided for the garrisons, and for this bomb-proof arches, or casemates, were employed as a security in bombardments, both for men, stores, and guns. Between their supporting piers, the casemate guns were mounted to fire through the embrasures. Magazines, store-rooms, hot shot furnaces, cisterns, etc., had to be provided. Under cover of works thus arranged, exterior earthen batteries became admissible as an augmentation of the effective fire over the water. All the parts of these combinations were to be built with the maximum durability which granite and iron can give, consistently with true economy; for thus a constant state of readi

of fortifications are essentially questions of fact-pure, bold, absolute fact; not of poetry, not of speculation, not of eloquence, not of popularity, but, we repeat it, questions of downright fact. Now, in such a case,, what are any man's opinions worth, who has not taken pains to inform himself thoroughly on all the essential and complex elements involved? Truly, they are so little worth, that their superabundance amounts to a bankruptcy of all sound judgment. What is the sense of taking, as leaders of opinion, men of gifted imagination and copious speech, who really know only just enough of the subject to thoroughly misunderstand it? It is a flagrant intellectual vice of our community, that we do not duly discriminate the relative value of opinions, except, indeed, where our personal interests are directly involved. The ad captandum philippics of the newspaper declaimer, and the conspicuous nonsense of Buncombe orators, are too often permitted to exercise a greater influence on the decision of our important questions of national policy than the deliberate conclusions of the true investigator, who has devoted the study of a lifetime to a calm examination of all the phases and bearings of a single great topic. In a complicated issue of natural or physical science, or of social and political fact, the deliberate opinion of one intelligent man, who has thoroughly studied the whole matter, is worth more than any possible aggregate of off-hand opinions from the uninformed. We well understand the necessity for a subdivision of mechanical labor: we ought still more to appreciate the value of specializing the subdivisions of intellectual labor. We ought to understand that, on a question of fossil icthyology, the opinion of Agassiz or Hall is of more intrinsic value, to an impartial Owen or Miller, than would be the vote of twenty millions of freemen, whose knowledge might extend to every theme except paleontology.

ness and a minimum cost of repairs would be insured.

On such principles the work for each site was determined. In some places, the danger of land attacks was small; then the earthen cover was omitted. In some instances, shoals were chosen as sites; then compact, castellated works were designed. In some, only a small fire was needed; then the works were restricted in proportion. Each locality had its peculiarities, and demanded a special solution; but in all cases there were distinct rational principles to be applied. Doubtless some mistakes, of greater or less magnitude, have been committed, but, as a whole, we think the system adopted was most excellent, and that its execution has been as faithful as possible. We believe it to be a fact, that our sea-coast fortifications, so far as they have been constructed, may claim a decided superiority, both in plan and in execution, over those of any other country, and that, when complete, and vitalized by garrisons, they will constitute the securest possible bulwark against bombardments, and a most important check on grand descents.

Several successive boards of engineers have continued and extended the studies of the first board, with no less talent and patriotic fidelity, applying all their skill in perfecting the plans and in regulating the important details of the several constructions. The corps of engineers, selected from the most distinguished graduates of the Military Academy, has had for its chief occupation the actual construction of these works; and there can be but one opinion as to the professional resources and sterling integrity with which this important trust has hitherto been discharged. It is certainly but a rational deference to concede respect to the deliberate and conscientious views which have been unanimously entertained by this accomplished body of men, so thoroughly and carefully trained in the highest military science-a body which contained, without being overshadowed by, such men as the Swifts, McRee, Armistead, Totten, Thayer, De Russey, Delafield, Brewerton, Courtenay, Mordecai, A. D. Bache, Brown, the Mansfields, Lee, Mahan, Bartlett, and many others, scarcely less distinguished for the highest grade of professional abilities and personal character.

The questions involved in our system

The progress of our system of fortifications cannot be better exhibited than by giving a tabular statement of the individual works completed, or in progress; their respective appropriate war garrisons; their aggregate armaments when completed (not that fixed by the Board of 1854); their cost up to 1852; and the estimated cost, at that date, of completing those which were unfinished.

« AnteriorContinuar »