« AnteriorContinuar »
sent momentous crisis, which, whatever it may be, must be greatly inadequate for the reasons already stated : but the object of the committee is to recommend a system which shall look to futurity, and though limited by the present situation and means of the country, having a capacity to be enlarged in proportion to the growing wealth, commerce, and population of the nation.” [The committee then add-]"To restrain the great energies of such a number as this country possesses of the best seamen the world ever beheld, and such a mass of tonnage as Great Britain herself has not boasted more than twenty years, will as much transcend the feeble efforts of the politician as it would be beyond his power to create them. They are formed by the high behest of beneficent nature, nurtured by our wise, free and happy public institutions, and can only perish with the latter.
“Your committee, however, admit, that it will neither be politic nor practicable to swell the naval establishment of this country to the size of our desires or of our necessities; but a gradual increase of it, is, in their opinion, within the most limited means, and within the obvious policy of the government: and, in attempting this, some present addition will be made (too little-much too little, they lament) to the best strength of the nation, as a measure of preparation for this crisis of danger.
“ With these observations, and with a full, detailed, and useful report of the Secretary of the Navy, in reply to questions propounded by your committee, they beg leave to recommend, that all the vessels of war of the United States, not now in service, which are worthy of repair, be immediately repaired, fitted out, and put into actual service."
In the bill which accompanied this report, no authority was given to build ships of the line. It will be found, on examining Mr. Cheyes' speech, however, in support of the system recommended by the committee, that the force which it was contemplated to create, and of which the frigates authorized by this bill, were only a part, consisted of twelve ships of the line, and twenty frigates, besides floating batteries, and other vessels of an inferior class.
In examining the situation of the navy at this period, our attention is arrested by the very low condition into which it had been suffered to fall. From the official statements which accompany the report, it appears that we had but three frigates of the first class in the navy,—that but five vessels, of any description were in commission, viz:
32, and Congress, :
36. and, that we owned, in the whole, but ten, seven of which were of the second class, and of inferior force,--all wanting extensive
repairs, and two of them, (the New-York and the Boston) were found, on examination, unworthy of repair, and condemned accordingly. Such was the state to which the navy had been reduced, and from which it has, in the course of fourteen years (during three of which, the nation was engaged in a war with the greatest maritime nation in the world) been raised up to its present flourishing condition, by perseverance in the wise and liberal policy then adopted.
At the next session, the subject of the navy was again brought before Congress, and an act was passed (approved 2d January, 1813) “to increase the navy of the United States,” by which the President was authorized to cause to be built four ships, of not less than 74 guns, and six ships, of not less than 44 guns, and the sum of two millions and a half of dollars was appropriated for this purpose. On the 3d of March, of the same year, a supplementary act was passed authorizing the construction of six sloops of war, and also any number of armed vessels which the public service might require on the lakes: and the President was, at the same time, authorized to sell so many of the gunboats, as in his judgment might be no longer necessary to be retained,--a power which was the death-warrant to these vessels.
On looking back to the conduct of the navy during the war with Great Britain, the mind is dazzled at the surpassing brilliancy of its career. Whatever doubts had existed of the capacity of the United States to maintain a navy in the presence of other maritime nations of the world, and especially of GreatBritain, were dispelled forever.
In our former wars, we had to contend with the ships of nations not distinguished for their naval achievements, but now we were brought to cope with that power, which having triumphed over the fleets of France, of Spain, and of Holland, claimed to be “the mistress of the seas.” “All that skill or experience could achieve in the construction or management of vessels of war, Great Britain had attained—while the lofty spirit of her officers, excited by an unbroken chain of victories, had by a rich harvest of honors and rewards been carried to the highest pitch. These gave advantages so decided, that with the exception perhaps of our own naval officers, the expectation was almost universal, both at home and abroad, that on equal terms we would probably be defeated. The action between the Constitution and the Guerriere, opened the eyes of the world to the truth, that America could cope with Great Britain, even "in her own element, " and from that hour the charm of British invincibility on the ocean was finally dissolved. Fortunately, the decision of the
great question was not left to depend on a single action, over the result of which, doubts might have been thrown, by attributing it to some of those accidental causes which the British naval writers have showed themselves so ingenious in urging as excuses for their defeats. The actions between the United States and the Macedonian, the Constitution and the Java, the Wasp and Frolic, and especially the victories of Perry and McDonough, on Erie and Champlain, which following in rapid succession, has, we are persuaded, fully settled the question, not only in America, but on the continent of Europe. We believe that among all candid men, even in Great Britain, it is now conceded that the American navy, in the materials, form and construction of her ships, the skill and gallantry of her officers, the sterling qualities of her seamen, and above all, in the perfection of her gunnery, is in no respect inferior, and in some superior to their own. The fact that the British Government has been engaged ever since the peace, in re-organizing her naval establishment, nearly on the model of our own, seems to us to be an official recognition of all that we have ever claimed on this subject.
The peace of 1815, found in the heart and the mind of the country, but one intense and absorbing feeling in favour of the navy. It had fought itself into the affections of the people. All doubt was at an end-all distrust forever banished—and, thenceforward, the struggle of all parties seems to have been, who could do most for this establishment, now the cherished favourite of the Government, and the people of the United States. The first fruit of this feeling, was the act of 29th April, 1816, which appropriated “one million of dollars per anvum, for eight years, for the gradual increase of the navy;" and which directed the President to cause to be built, in addition to the vessels heretofore ordered, “eight ships of the line, and nine frigates of 44 guns ;" which, with those of the same description already authorized, would give to the navy, twelve ships of the line, and twenty frigates, exclusive of sloops of war, and other inferior vessels.
It is worthy of remark, that public opinion had now undergone so thorough a revolution in relation to the navy, that it was found impossible to keep the zeal of the representatives of the people in its behalf, within reasonable bounds. The appropriation of a million of dollars per annum, for eight years, was found from experience to be greater than could be advantageously applied; and after expending five millions, the remaining three millions were divided into annual appropriations of five hundred thousand dollars for six years. It will be seen, ON
examining the documents submitted to Congress, at the commencement of the war, that the question of what description of vessels our navy ought to consist, in order to give to it the greatest possible efficiency, at the least possible expense, was fully considered, and decided by the executive and the legislature. From the clearest statements and calculations, it was was proved that ships of the line, for all purposes of defence, for all purposes indeed, requiring the concentration of strength, are incomparably the cheapest and most efficient force, while fast sailing frigates and sloops of war are to be preferred, for the purpose of crippling the commerce and resources of an enemy. To make our readers acquainted with the reason and nature of this distinction, we will refer to the report of the Secretary of the Navy, and the statements of the officers who were examined by the committee. From these valuable documents, our limits will not suffer us to make extracts. not avoid, however, copying a few paragraphs from the statement of Commodore Stewart, an officer, who, in the capture of two British sloops of war at the same time, beautifully illustrated the correctness of his principles, by reducing his theories to practice.
The relative force of a seventy-four gun ship and a large frigate, is nearly as one to three.*
A Frigate of 50 guns.
32 lb, carronades, Forecastle,
1360 lbs. shot, each round.
A Ship of the Line of 74 guns.
24 do. Quarter deck 16
42 lb. carronades, Forecastle,
42 do. Forecastle,
24 do. Poop,
3224 lbs. shot, each round.
738 guns and men.
* By the above comparison, it appears, that a seventy-four gun ship discharges at one round, 3,224 lbs. of shot, and a frigate of the first class, 1,360 lbs. It therefore clearly proves the relative force, in point of metal, to be one to three, or thereabouts. When this circumstance is considered jointly with the following, it must appear to others, as it does to me, that as you increase the class of the ship, you increase the proportion of one to three, and diminish proportionally the expense of building, equipping and supporting them in commission, which may easily be established by estimates from the department, and the experience of all other maritime nations. Ships of the line are much stronger in scantling, thicker in the sides and bottom, less penetrable to shot, and, consequently, less liable to be torn, or battered to pieces or sunk.
"I am aware that some are of opinion, that a more divided force is better calculated for action, from the advantageous position that would be given to a part. Suppose three frigates of 50 guns, were to undertake to battle a seventy-four gun ship, and that two of them were to occupy the quarter and stern of the seventy-four, (this is placing them in the most favourable position) the other frigate engaged abreast-every thing would depend on the time the frigate abreast could maintain that position, to enable the other two to act with effect on the stern and quarter. But it must appear evident to all acquainted with the two classes of ships, that the frigate abreast could not withstand the fire of so heavy and compact a battery many minutes, and, in all probability, would be dismasted or sunk the second broadside. This would decide the fate of the other two.
“ The relative efficiency of large frigates and sloops of war is at least one to two, &c.
Ships of the line then are best calculated for the defence of our coast, and for the protection of our inward and outward commerce, when engaged in war with a foreign maritime power. It cannot be supposed that such a power would send to our coasts, frigates and smaller cruisers. Their first object will be, to restrain by ships of the line, our frigates, &c. from departing and preying upon their commerce; their next object will be, to send their smaller cruisers in pursuit of our commerce, and, by having their ships of the line parading on our coast, and threatening our most exposed sea-port towns, and preventing the departure of our small cruisers, they will be capturing whatever commerce may have escaped theirs, and re-capturing whatever prizes may have fallen into our hands. Thirdly, they can, at any time, withdraw their ships of the line, should a more important object require it, without hazarding much on their part, and return in sufficient time to shut out our cruisers that may have departed during their absence. Fourthly, they can, at all times, consult their convenience in point of time and numbers, and will incur no expense and risk of transports for provisions and water, but go and procure their supplies at pleasure, and return to their stations ere their absence is known to us. For the prosecution of the present war, a mixed naval force of the following description is, in my opinion, the best calculated.
Ships of the line to rate 74, and mount 88 guns. Frigates to rate 40, and mount 50 guns. “Corvettes or sloops of war to rate 16, and mount 20 guns."