Henry Wager Halleck.

Elements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Of Instruction In Strategy, Fortification, Tactics Of Battles, &C.; Embracing The Duties Of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, And Engineers; Adapted online

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Online LibraryHenry Wager HalleckElements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Of Instruction In Strategy, Fortification, Tactics Of Battles, &C.; Embracing The Duties Of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, And Engineers; Adapted → online text (page 12 of 35)
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Permanent fortifications differ in many of their features from either of
the two preceding elements of national defence. They are passive in
their nature, yet possess all the conservative properties of an army or
navy, and through these two contribute largely to the active operations
of a campaign. When once constructed they require but very little
expenditure for their support. In time of peace they withdraw no
valuable citizens from the useful occupations of life. Of themselves
they can never exert an influence corrupting to public morals, or
dangerous to public liberty; but as the means of preserving peace, and
as obstacles to an invader, their influence and power are immense. While
contributing to the economical support of a peace establishment, by
furnishing drill-grounds, parades, quarters, &c.; and to its efficiency
still more, by affording facilities both to the regulars and militia for
that species of artillery practice so necessary in the defence of water
frontiers; they also serve as safe dépôts of arms and the immense
quantity of materials and military munitions so indispensable in modern
warfare. These munitions usually require much time, skill, and expense
in their construction, and it is of vast importance that they should be
preserved with the utmost care.

Maritime arsenals and depots of naval and military stores on the
sea-coast are more particularly exposed to capture and destruction. Here
an enemy can approach by stealth, striking some sudden and fatal blow
before any effectual resistance can be organized. But in addition to
the security afforded by harbor fortifications to public property of the
highest military value, they also serve to protect the merchant
shipping, and the vast amount of private wealth which a commercial
people always collect at these points. They furnish safe retreats, and
the means of repair for public vessels injured in battle, or by storms,
and to merchantmen a refuge from the dangers of sea, or the threats of
hostile fleets. Moreover, they greatly facilitate our naval attacks upon
the enemy's shipping; and if he attempt a descent, their well-directed
fire will repel his squadrons from our harbors, and force his troops to
land at some distant and unfavorable position.

The three means of permanent defence which have been mentioned, are, of
course, intended to accomplish the same general object; but each has its
distinct and proper sphere of action, and neither can be regarded as
antagonistical to the others. Any undue increase of one, at the expense
of the other two, must necessarily be followed by a corresponding
diminution of national strength. We must not infer, however, that all
must be maintained upon the same footing. The position of the country
and the character of the people must determine this.

England, from her insular position and the extent of her commerce, must
maintain a large navy; a large army is also necessary for the defence of
her own coasts and the protection of her colonial possessions. Her
men-of-war secure a safe passage for her merchant-vessels, and transport
her troops in safety through all seas, and thus contribute much to the
acquisition and security of colonial territory. The military forces of
the British empire amount to about one hundred and fifty thousand men,
and the naval forces to about seven hundred vessels of war,[13] carrying
in all some fifteen thousand guns and forty thousand men. France has
less commerce, and but few colonial possessions. She has a great extent
of sea-coast, but her fortifications secure it from maritime descents;
her only accessible points are on the land frontiers. Her army and
navy, therefore, constitute _her_ principal means of defence. Her army
numbers some three hundred and fifty thousand men, and her navy about
three hundred and fifty vessels,[13] carrying about nine thousand guns
and thirty thousand men. Russia, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, and other
continental powers, have but little commerce to be protected, while
their extensive frontiers are greatly exposed to land attacks: their
fortifications and armies, therefore, constitute their principal means
of defence. But for the protection of their own seas from the inroads of
their powerful maritime neighbor, Russia and Austria support naval
establishments of a limited extent. Russia has, in all, some one hundred
and eighty vessels of war, and Austria not quite half that number.[13]

[Footnote 13: These numbers include _all_ vessels of war, whether in
commission, building, or in ordinary.]

The United States possess no colonies; but they have a sea-coast of more
than three thousand miles, with numerous bays, estuaries, and navigable
rivers, which expose our most populous cities to maritime attacks. The
northern land frontier is two thousand miles in extent, and in the west
our territory borders upon the British and Mexican possessions for many
thousand miles more. Within these limits there are numerous tribes of
Indians, who require the watchful care of armed forces to keep them at
peace among themselves as well as with us. Our authorized military
establishment amounts to 7,590 men, and our naval establishment consists
of seventy-seven vessels of all classes, carrying 2,345 guns, and 8,724
men.[14] This is certainly a very small military and naval force for the
defence of so extended and populous a country, especially one whose
political institutions and rapidly-increasing power expose it to the
distrust and jealousy of most other nations.

[Footnote 14: Since these pages were put in the hands of the printer,
the above numbers have been nearly doubled, this increase having been
made with special reference to the present war with Mexico.]

The fortifications for the defence of our sea-coast and land frontiers
will be discussed hereafter.[15]

[Footnote 15: Jomini's work on the Military Art contains many valuable
remarks on this subject of Military Polity: also the writings of
Clausewitz, Dupin, Lloyd, Chambray, Tranchant de Laverne, and Rudtorfer.
Several of these questions are also discussed in Rocquancourt,
Carion-Nisas, De Vernon, and other writers on military history. The
several European Annuaires Militaires, or Army Registers, and the French
and German military periodicals, contain much valuable matter connected
with military statistics.]



The principal attacks which we have had to sustain, either as colonies
or states, from civilized foes, have come from Canada. As colonies we
were continually encountering difficulties and dangers from the French
possessions. In the war of the Revolution, it being one of national
emancipation, the military operations were more general throughout the
several states; but in the war of 1812 the attacks were confined to the
northern frontier and a few exposed points along the coast. In these two
contests with Great Britain, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore,
Washington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans, being within
reach of the British naval power, and offering the dazzling attraction
of rich booty, have each been subjected to powerful assaults.

Similar attacks will undoubtedly be made in any future war with England.
An attempt at permanent lodgment would be based either on Canada or a
servile insurrection in the southern states. The former project, in a
military point of view, offers the greatest advantages, but most
probably the latter would also be resorted to for effecting a diversion,
if nothing more. But for inflicting upon us a sudden and severe injury
by the destruction of large amounts of public and private property, our
seaport towns offer inducements not likely to be disregarded. This mode
of warfare, barbarous though it be, will certainly attend a conflict
with any great maritime power. How can we best prepare in time of peace
to repel these attacks?

Immediately after the war of 1812 a joint commission of our most
distinguished military and naval officers was formed, to devise a system
of defensive works, to be erected in time of peace for the security of
the most important and the most exposed points on our sea-coast. It may
be well here to point out, in very general terms, the positions and
character of these works, mentioning only such as have been completed,
or are now in course of construction, and such as are intended to be
built as soon as Congress shall grant the requisite funds. There are
other works projected for some future period, but as they do not belong
to the class required for immediate, use, they will not be referred to.


Beginning at the northeastern extremity of our coast, we have, for
Eastport and Wiscasset, projected works estimated to carry about fifty
guns. Nothing has yet been done to these works.

Next Portland, with works carrying about forty or fifty guns, and Fort
Penobscot and batteries, carrying about one hundred and fifty guns.
These are only partly built.


Defences of Portsmouth and the vicinity, about two hundred guns. These
works are also only partly built.


Projected works east of Boston, carrying about sixty guns. These are not
yet commenced.

Works for defence of Boston Harbor carry about five hundred guns. These
are nearly three-quarters completed. Those of New Bedford harbor carry
fifty guns: not yet begun.


Newport harbor, - works carry about five hundred guns, nearly completed.


New London harbor, New Haven, and the Connecticut river. The first of
these nearly completed; the two latter not yet begun.


The works projected for the defence of New York harbor are estimated to
carry about one thousand guns. These works are not yet one-half


The works projected for the defence of the Delaware Bay and Philadelphia
will carry about one hundred and fifty guns. They are not one-quarter


Baltimore and Annapolis - these works will carry some two hundred and
fifty guns. The works for the Chesapeake Bay will carry about six
hundred guns; and those for the Potomac river about eighty guns. These
are more than one-half completed.


The works at Beaufort and Smithville carry about one hundred and fifty
guns. They are essentially completed.


The works for the defence of Charleston carry some two hundred guns.
They are one-half constructed.


The defences of Savannah carry about two hundred guns and are nearly
three-quarters finished.


The works projected for the defence of St. Augustine, Key West,
Tortugas, and Pensacola will carry some eight or nine hundred guns.
Those at St. Augustine and Pensacola are essentially completed, but
those at Key West and Tortugas are barely begun.


The works for the defence of Mobile will carry about one hundred and
sixty guns. These are nearly constructed.


The works for the defence of New Orleans will carry some two hundred and
fifty or three hundred guns; they are nearly completed.

The works north of the Chesapeake cost about three thousand dollars per
gun; those south of that point about six thousand dollars per gun. This
difference in cost is due in part to the character of the soil on which
the fortifications are built, and in part to the high prices paid in the
south for materials and workmanship.

* * * * *

Having pointed out the character and condition of our system of
sea-coast defences, let us briefly examine how far these works may be
relied on as a means of security against a maritime descent.

To come to a proper conclusion on this subject, let us first examine the
three or four great maritime descents attempted by the English during
the wars of the French Revolution; a period at which the great naval
superiority of England over other nations, gave her the title of
_mistress of the seas_. Let us notice what have been the results of the
several attempts made by this power at maritime invasions, and the means
by which such attacks have been repelled.

In 1795, a maritime expedition was fitted out against Quiberon, at an
expense of eight millions of dollars. This port of the French coast had
then a naval defence of near thirty sail, carrying about sixteen
hundred guns. Lord Bridport attacked it with fourteen sail of the line,
five frigates, and some smaller vessels, about fifteen hundred guns in
all, captured a portion of the fleet, and forced the remainder to take
shelter under the guns of the fortifications of L'Orient. The French
naval defence being destroyed, the British now entered Quiberon without
opposition. This bay is said by Brenton, in his British Naval History,
to be "the finest on the coast of France, or perhaps in the world, for
landing an army." Besides these natural advantages in favor of the
English, the inhabitants of the surrounding country were in open
insurrection, ready to receive the invaders with open arms. A body of
ten thousand troops were landed, and clothing, arms, &c., furnished to
as many more royalist troops; but the combined forces failed in their
attack upon St. Barbe, and General Hoche, from his intrenchments, with
seven thousand men, held in check a body of eighteen thousand, penned
up, without defences, in the narrow peninsula. Reinforced by a new
debarkation, the allies again attempted to advance, but were soon
defeated, and ultimately almost entirely destroyed.

In 1799, the English and Russians made a descent upon Holland with
fourteen ships of the line and ten frigates, carrying about eleven
hundred guns and a great number of transports, with an army of
thirty-six thousand men. The Dutch naval defences consisted of eight
ships of the line, three fifty-four gun ships, eight forty-eight gun
ships and eight smaller frigates, carrying in all about twelve hundred
guns; but this force contributed little or nothing to the defence, and
was soon forced to hoist the hostile flag. The defensive army was at
first only twelve thousand, but the Republicans afterwards increased it
to twenty-two thousand, and finally to twenty-eight thousand men. But
notwithstanding this immense naval and military superiority, and the
co-operation of the Orange party in assisting the landing of their
troops, the allies failed to get possession of a single strong place;
and after a loss of six thousand men, were compelled to capitulate.
"Such," says Alison, "was the disastrous issue of the greatest
expedition which had yet sailed from the British harbors during the

In 1801, Nelson, with three ships of the line, two frigates, and
thirty-five smaller vessels, made a desperate attack upon the harbor of
Boulogne, but was repulsed with severe loss.

Passing over some unimportant attacks, we come to the descent upon the
Scheldt, or as it is commonly called, the Walcheren expedition, in 1809.
This expedition, though a failure, has often been referred to as proving
the expediency of maritime descents. The following is a brief narrative
of this expedition: -

Napoleon had projected vast fortifications, dock-yards, and naval
arsenals at Flushing and Antwerp for the protection of a maritime force
in the Scheldt. But no sooner was the execution of this project begun,
than the English fitted out an expedition to seize upon the defences of
the Scheldt, and capture or destroy the naval force. Flushing, at the
mouth of the river, was but ill-secured, and Antwerp, some sixty or
seventy miles further up the river, was entirely defenceless; the
rampart was unarmed with cannon, dilapidated, and tottering, and its
garrison consisted of only about two hundred invalids and recruits.
Napoleon's regular army was employed on the Danube and in the Peninsula.
The British attacking force consisted of thirty-seven ships of the line,
twenty-three frigates, thirty-three sloops of war, twenty-eight gun,
mortar, and bomb vessels, thirty-six smaller vessels, eighty-two
gunboats, innumerable transports, with over forty thousand troops, and
an immense artillery train; making in all, says the English historian,
"an hundred thousand combatants." A landing was made upon the island of
Walcheren, and siege laid to Flushing, which place was not reduced till
eighteen days after the landing; the attack upon the water was made by
seven or eight ships of the line, and a large flotilla of bomb vessels,
but produced no effect. The channel at the mouth of the river was too
broad to be defended by the works of Flushing, and the main portion of
the fleet passed out of reach of the guns, and ascended the Scheldt part
way up to Antwerp. But in the mean time, the fortifications of that
place had been repaired, and, after a fruitless operation of a whole
month in the river, the English were gradually forced to retreat to
Walcheren, and finally to evacuate their entire conquest.

The cost of the expedition was immense, both in treasure and in life. It
was certainly very poorly managed. But we cannot help noticing the
superior value of fortifications as a defence against such descents.
They did much to retard the operations of the enemy till a defensive
army could be raised. The works of Flushing were never intended to close
up the Scheldt, and of course could not intercept the passage of
shipping; but they were not reduced by the English naval force, as has
sometimes been alleged. Col. Mitchel, of the English service, says that
the fleet "kept up so tremendous a fire upon the batteries, that the
French officers who had been present at Austerlitz and Jena declared
that the cannonade in these battles had been a mere _jeu d'enfans_ in
comparison. Yet what was the effect produced on the defences of the
place by this fire, so formidable, to judge by the sound alone? The
writer can answer the question with some accuracy, for he went along the
entire sea-line the very day after the capitulation, and found no part
of the parapet injured so as to be of the slightest consequence, and
only one solitary gun dismounted, evidently by the bursting of a shell,
and which could not, of course, have been thrown from the line of
battle ships, but must have been thrown from the land batteries."[16]

[Footnote 16: The batteries constructed in the siege of this place were
armed with fifty-two heavy guns and mortars.]

But it may be said that although great naval descents on a hostile coast
are almost always unsuccessful, nevertheless a direct naval attack upon
a single fortified position will be attended with more favorable
results; and that our seaport towns, however fortified, will be exposed
to bombardment and destruction by the enemy's fleets. In other words,
that in a direct contest between ships and forts the former will have at
least an equal chance of success.

Let us suppose a fair trial of this relative strength. The fort is to be
properly constructed and in good repair; its guns in a position to be
used with effect; its garrison skilful and efficient; its commander
capable and brave. The ship is of the very best character, and in
perfect order; the crew disciplined and courageous; its commander
skilful and adroit; the wind, and tide, and sea - all as could be
desired.[17] The numbers of the garrison and crew are to be no more than
requisite, with no unnecessary exposure of human life to swell the lists
of the slain. The issue of this contest, unless attended with
extraordinary and easily distinguishable circumstances, would be a fair
test of their relative strength.

[Footnote 17: These conditions for a battery are easily satisfied, but
for the ship, are partly dependent on the elements, and seldom to be
wholly attained.]

What result should we anticipate from the nature of the contending
forces? The ship, under the circumstances we have supposed, can choose
her point of attack, selecting the one she may deem the most vulnerable;
but she herself is everywhere vulnerable; her men and guns are much
concentrated, and consequently much exposed. But in the fort the guns
and men are more distributed, a fort with an interior area of several
acres not having a garrison as large as the crew of a seventy-four-gun
ship. All parts of the vessel are liable to injury; while the fort
offers but a small mark, - the opening of the embrasures, a small part of
the carriage, and now and then a head or arm raised above the
parapet, - the ratio of exposed surfaces being not less than _twenty to
one_. In the vessel the guns are fired from an oscillating deck, and the
balls go at random; in the fort the guns are fired from an immoveable
platform, and the balls reach their object with unerring aim. There is
always more or less motion in the water, so that the ship's guns, though
accurately pointed at one moment, at the next will be thrown entirely
away from the object, even when the motion is too slight to be otherwise
noticed; whereas in the battery the guns will be fired just as they are
pointed; and the motion of the vessel will merely vary to the extent of
a few inches the spot in which the shot is received. In the fort the men
and guns are behind impenetrable walls of stone and earth; in the vessel
they are behind frail bulwarks, whose splinters are equally destructive
with the shot. The fort is incombustible; while the ship may readily be
set on fire by incendiary projectiles. The ship has many points exposed
that may be called vital points. By losing her rudder, or portions of
her rigging, or of her spars, she may become unmanageable, and unable to
use her strength; she may receive shots under water, and be liable to
sink; she may receive hot shot, and be set on fire: these damages are in
addition to those of having her guns dismounted and her people killed by
shots that pierce her sides and scatter splinters from her timbers;
while the risks of the battery are confined to those mentioned
above - namely, the risk that the gun, the carriage, or the men may be

The opinions of military writers, and the facts of history, fully
accord with these deductions of theory. Some few individuals mistaking,
or misstating, the facts of a few recent trials, assert that modern
improvements in the naval service have so far outstripped the progress
in the art of land defence, that a floating force is now abundantly able
to cope, upon equal terms, with a land battery. Ignorant and superficial
persons, hearing merely that certain forts had recently yielded to a
naval force, and taking no trouble to learn the real facts of the case,
have paraded them before the public as proofs positive of a new era in
military science. This conclusion, however groundless and absurd, has
received credit merely from its novelty. Let us examine the several
trials of strength which have taken place between ships and forts within
the last fifty years, and see what have been the results.

In 1792 a considerable French squadron attacked Cagliari, whose
fortifications were at that time so dilapidated and weak, as scarcely to
deserve the name of defences. Nevertheless, the French fleet, after a
bombardment of three days, was most signally defeated and obliged to

In 1794 two British ships, "the Fortitude of seventy-four, and the Juno
frigate of thirty-two guns," attacked a small town in the bay of
Martello, Corsica, which was armed with one gun in barbette, and a
garrison of thirty men. After a bombardment of two and a half hours,
these ships were forced to haul off with considerable damage and loss of
life. The little tower had received no injury, and its garrison were
unharmed. Here were _one hundred and six guns_ afloat against _one_ on
shore; and yet the latter was successful.

In 1797 Nelson attacked the little inefficient batteries of Santa Crux,
in Teneriffe, with eight vessels carrying four hundred guns. But
notwithstanding his great superiority in numbers, skill, and bravery, he
was repelled with the loss of two hundred and fifty men, while the
garrison received little or no damage. A single ball from the land
battery, striking the side of one of his vessels, instantly sunk her
with near a hundred seamen and marines!

In 1798, a French flotilla of fifty-two brigs and gunboats, manned with
near seven thousand men, attacked a little English redoubt on the island
of Marcou, which was armed with two thirty-two-pounders, two
six-pounders, four four-pounders, and two carronades, and garrisoned
with two hundred and fifty men. Notwithstanding this great disparity of
numbers, the little redoubt sunk seven of the enemy's brigs and
gunboats, captured another, and forced the remainder to retreat with
great loss; while the garrison had but one man killed and three wounded.

Online LibraryHenry Wager HalleckElements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Of Instruction In Strategy, Fortification, Tactics Of Battles, &C.; Embracing The Duties Of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, And Engineers; Adapted → online text (page 12 of 35)