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 13 of 35)
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In 1801, the French, with three frigates and six thousand men, attacked
the poorly-constructed works of Porto Ferrairo, whose defensive force
was a motley garrison of fifteen hundred Corsicans, Tuscans, and
English. Here the attacking force was _four_ times as great as that of
the garrison; nevertheless they were unsuccessful after several
bombardments and a siege of five months.

In July of the same year, 1801, Admiral Saumarez, with an English fleet
of six ships of the line and two smaller vessels, carrying in all five
hundred and two guns, attacked the Spanish and French defences of
Algesiras. Supposing the floating forces of the contending parties to be
equal, gun for gun, (which is certainly a very fair estimate for the
attacking force, considering the circumstances of the case,) we have a
French land-battery of only twelve guns opposed by an English floating
force of one hundred and ninety-six guns. Notwithstanding this
inequality of nearly _seventeen_ to _one_, the little battery compelled
the superior naval force to retreat with great loss.

Shortly after this, the French and Spanish fleets attacked the same
English squadron with a force of nearly _three_ to _one_, but met with a
most signal defeat; whereas with a land-battery of only _one_ to
_seventeen_, the same party had been victorious. What proof can be more
decisive of the superiority of guns on shore over those afloat!

In 1803 the English garrison of Diamond Rock, near Port Royal Bay, with
only one hundred men and some fifteen guns, repelled a French squadron
of two seventy-four-gun ships, a frigate, and a brig, assisted by a land
attack of two hundred troops. There was not a single man killed or
wounded in the redoubt, while the French lost fifty men! The place was
afterwards reduced by famine.

In 1806 a French battery on Cape Licosa, of only two guns and a garrison
of twenty-five men, resisted the attacks of a British eighty-gun ship
and two frigates. The carriage of one of the land-guns failed on the
second shot, so that, in fact, only _one_ of them was available during
the action. Here was _a single piece of ordnance_ and a garrison of
_twenty-five men,_ opposed to a naval force of _over one hundred and
fifty guns_ and about _thirteen hundred men._ And what effects were
produced by this strange combat? The attacking force lost _thirty-seven_
men killed and wounded, the eighty-gun ship was much disabled, while the
fort and garrison escaped entirely unharmed! What could not be effected
by force was afterwards obtained by negotiation.

In 1808 a French land-battery of only _three_ guns, near Fort Trinidad,
drove off an English seventy-four-gun ship, and a bomb-vessel.

In 1813 Leghorn, whose defences were of a very mediocre character, and
whose garrison at that time was exceedingly weak, was attacked by an
English squadron of six ships, carrying over three hundred guns, and a
land force of one thousand troops. The whole attempt was a perfect

"In 1814, when the English advanced against Antwerp," says Colonel
Mitchell, an English historian, "Fort Frederick, a small work of only
two guns, was established in a bend of the Polder Dyke, at some distance
below Lillo. The armament was a long eighteen-pounder and a five and a
half inch howitzer. From this post the French determined to dislodge the
English, and an eighty-gun ship dropped down with the tide and anchored
near the Flanders shore, about six hundred yards from the British
battery. By her position she was secured from the fire of the
eighteen-pounder, and exposed to that of the howitzer only. As soon as
every thing was made tight her broadside was opened; and if noise and
smoke were alone sufficient to ensure success in war, as so many of the
moderns seem to think, the result of this strange contest would not have
been long doubtful, for the thunder of the French artillery actually
made the earth to shake again; but though the earth shook, the single
British howitzer was neither dismounted nor silenced; and though the
artillery-men could not, perfectly exposed as they were, stand to their
gun while the iron hail was striking thick and fast around, yet no
sooner did the enemy's fire slacken for a moment than they sprang to
their post, ready to return at least one shot for eighty. This
extraordinary combat lasted from seven o'clock in the morning till near
twelve at noon, when the French ship, having had forty-one men killed
and wounded, her commander being in the list of the latter, and having
besides sustained serious damage in her hull and rigging, returned to
Antwerp without effecting any thing whatever. The howitzer was not
dismounted, the fort was not injured, - there being in fact nothing to
injure, - and the British had only one man killed and two wounded."

It is unnecessary to further specify examples from the wars of the
French Revolution; the whole history of these wars is one continued
proof of the superiority of fortifications as a maritime frontier
defence. The sea-coast of France is almost within stone's throw[18] of
the principal British naval depots; here were large towns and harbors,
filled with the rich commerce of the world, offering the dazzling
attraction of rich booty. The French navy was at this time utterly
incompetent to their defence; while England supported a maritime force
at an annual expense of near _ninety millions of dollars._ Her largest
fleets were continually cruising within sight of these seaports, and not
unfrequently attempting to cut out their shipping. "At this period,"
says one of her naval historians, "the naval force of Britain, so
multiplied and so expert from long practice, had acquired an intimate
knowledge of their (the French) harbors, their bays and creeks; her
officers knew the depth of water, and the resistance likely to be met
with in every situation." On the other hand, these harbors and towns
were frequently stripped of their garrisons by the necessities of
distant wars, being left with no other defence than their fortifications
and militia. And yet, notwithstanding all this, they escaped unharmed
during the entire contest. They were frequently attacked, and in some
instances the most desperate efforts were made to effect a permanent
lodgment; but in no case was the success at all commensurate with the
expense of life and treasure sacrificed, and no permanent hold was made
on either the maritime frontiers of France or her allies. This certainly
was owing to no inferiority of skill and bravery on the part of the
British navy, as the battles of Aboukir and Trafalgar, and the almost
total annihilation of the French marine, have but too plainly proven.
Why then did these places, escape? We know of no other reason, than that
_they were fortified_; and that the French knew how to defend their
fortifications. The British maritime expeditions to Quiberon, Holland,
Boulogne, the Scheldt, Constantinople, Buenos Ayres, &c., sufficiently
prove the ill-success, and the waste of life and treasure with which
they must always be attended. But when her naval power was applied to
the destruction of the enemy's marine, and in transporting her land
forces to solid bases of operations on the soil of her allies, in
Portugal and Belgium, the fall of Napoleon crowned the glory of their

[Footnote 18: Only eighteen and a half miles across the Channel at the
narrowest place.]

Let us now examine the several British naval attacks on our own forts,
in the wars of the Revolution and of 1812.

In 1776 Sir Peter Parker, with a British fleet of nine vessels, carrying
about two hundred and seventy[19] guns, attacked Fort Moultrie, in
Charleston harbor, which was then armed with only twenty-six guns, and
garrisoned by only three hundred and seventy-five regulars and a few
militia. In this contest the British were entirely defeated, and lost,
in killed and wounded, two hundred and five men, while their whole two
hundred and seventy guns killed and wounded only thirty-two men in the
fort. Of this trial of strength, which was certainly a fair one, Cooper
in his Naval History, says: - "It goes fully to prove the important
military position that ships cannot withstand forts, when the latter are
properly armed, constructed, and garrisoned. General Moultrie says only
thirty rounds from the battery were fired, and was of opinion that the
want of powder alone prevented the Americans from destroying the

[Footnote 19: These vessels _rated_ two hundred and fifty-four guns, but
the number actually carried is stated to have been two hundred and

In 1814 a British fleet of four vessels, carrying ninety-two guns,
attacked Fort Boyer, a small redoubt, located on a point of land
commanding the passage from the Gulf into the bay of Mobile. This
redoubt was garrisoned by only one hundred and twenty combatants,
officers included; and its armament was but twenty small pieces of
cannon, some of which were almost entirely useless, and most of them
poorly mounted "in batteries hastily thrown up, and leaving the gunners
uncovered from the knee upward," while the enemy's land force, acting in
concert with the ships, consisted of twenty artillerists with a battery
of two guns, and seven hundred and thirty marines, Indians, and negroes.
His ships carried five hundred and ninety men in all. This immense
disparity of numbers and strength did not allow to the British military
and naval commanders the slightest apprehension "that four British
ships, carrying ninety-two guns, and a land force somewhat exceeding
seven hundred combatants, could fail in reducing a small work mounting
only twenty short carronades, and defended by a little more than a
hundred men, unprovided alike with furnaces for heating shot, or
casements to cover themselves from rockets and shells." Nevertheless,
the enemy was completely repulsed; one of his largest ships was entirely
destroyed, and 85 men were killed and wounded on board the other; while
our loss was only eight or nine. Here a naval force of _five_ to _one_
was repelled by the land-battery.

Again, in 1814, a barbette battery of one four-pounder and two
eighteen-pounder guns at Stonington, repelled a British fleet of one
hundred and thirty-four guns. During the engagement the Americans
exhausted their ammunition, and spiked their eighteen-pounders, and only
one of them was afterwards used. Two of the enemy's ships, carrying one
hundred and twelve guns, were engaged during the whole time of attack,
and during much of this time bombarded the town from a position beyond
reach of the land-battery. They were entirely too far off for the
four-pounder gun to be of any use. Supposing the two eighteen-pounders
to have been employed during the whole action, and also all the guns of
the fleet, _one_ eighteen-pounder on land must have been more than
equivalent to _sixty-seven_ guns afloat, for the ships were so much
injured as to render it necessary for them to withdraw. The British loss
was twenty killed, and more than fifty wounded. Ours was only two killed
and six wounded.[20]

[Footnote 20: Perkins says two killed and six wounded. Holmes says six
wounded, but makes no mention of any killed.]

The fleet sent to the attack of Baltimore, in 1814, consisted of forty
sail, the largest of which were ships of the line, carrying an army of
over six thousand combatants. The troops were landed at North Point,
while sixteen of the bomb-vessels and frigates approached within reach
of Fort McHenry, and commenced a bombardment which lasted twenty-five
hours. During this attack, the enemy threw "fifteen hundred shells, four
hundred of which exploded within the walls of the fort, but without
making any impression on either the strength of the work or the
garrison," and the British were compelled to retire with much loss.

In 1815, a squadron of British ships, stationed off the mouths of the
Mississippi, for the purpose of a blockade, ascended the river as high
as Fort St. Philip, which is a small work capable of an armament of only
twenty guns in all. A heavy fire of shot and shells was continued with
but few and short pauses for nine days and nights, but making no
impression either on the fort or garrison, they retreated to their
former position at the mouth of the river.

There is but a single instance in the war of 1812, where the enemy's
vessels succeeded in reducing a fort; and this has sometimes been
alluded to, by persons ignorant of the real facts of the case, as a
proof against the ability of our fortifications to resist naval attacks.
Even if it were a case of decided failure, would this single exception
be sufficient to overthrow the weight of evidence on the other side? We
allude to the reduction of the so-called Fort Washington by the British
fleet that ascended the Potomac in 1814, to assist in the disgraceful
and barbarous operation of burning the capitol and destroying the
archives of the nation. Fort Washington was a very small and inefficient
work, incorrectly planned by an incompetent French engineer; only a
small part of the fort was then built, and it has not yet been
completed. The portion constructed was never, until very recently,
properly prepared for receiving its armament, and at the time of attack
could not possibly have held out a long time. But no defence whatever
was made. Capt. Gordon, with a squadron of eight sail, carrying one
hundred and seventy-three guns, under orders "to ascend the river as
high as Fort Washington, and try upon it the experiment of a
bombardment," approached that fort, and, upon firing a single shell,
which did no injury to either the fort or the garrison, the latter
deserted the works, and rapidly retreated. The commanding officer was
immediately dismissed for his cowardice. An English naval officer, who
was one of the expedition, in speaking of the retreat of the garrison,
says: "We were at loss to account for such an extraordinary step. The
position was good and the capture would have cost us at least fifty men,
and more, had it been properly defended; besides, an unfavorable wind
and many other chances were in their favor," &c. The fleet ascended the
river to Alexandria, but learning soon afterwards that batteries were
preparing at White House and Indian Head to cut off its retreat, it
retired, in much haste, but not without injury.

Some have also pretended to find in modern European history a few
examples contradictory of the relative power which we have here assigned
to ships and forts. Overlooking the numerous and well-authenticated
examples, where forts of small dimensions and of small armament have
repelled large fleets, they would draw their conclusions from the four
or five instances where fleets have gained (as was at first supposed) a
somewhat doubtful victory over forts. But a careful and critical
examination of the facts in these cases, will show that even these are
no exceptions to the general rule of the superiority of guns ashore over
guns afloat.

The only instances where it has ever been pretended by writers of any
note, that ships have gained advantage, are those of the attack on
Copenhagen in 1801; the passage of the Dardanelles, in 1807; the attack
on Algiers, in 1816; the attack on San Juan d'Ulloa, in 1838; and the
attack on St. Jean d'Acre, in 1840.

Let us examine these examples a little in detail: -

_Copenhagen_. - The British fleet sent to attack Copenhagen, in 1801,
consisted of fifty-two sail, eighteen of them being line-of-battle
ships, four frigates, &c. They sailed from Yarmouth roads on the 12th of
March, passed the Sound on the 30th, and attacked and defeated the
Danish line on the 2d of April.

The Sound between Cronenberg and the Swedish coast is about two and a
half miles wide, (vide Fig. 34.) The batteries of Cronenberg and
Elsinore were lined with one hundred pieces of cannon and mortars; but
the Swedish battery had been much neglected, and then mounted only six
guns. Nevertheless, the British admiral, to avoid the damage his
squadron would have to sustain in the passage of this wide channel,
defended by a force scarcely superior to a single one of his ships,
preferred to attempt the difficult passage of the Belt; but after a few
of his light vessels, acting as scouts, had run on rocks, he returned to
the Sound.

He then tried to negotiate a peaceful passage, threatening, however, a
declaration of war if his vessels should be fired upon. It must be
remembered that at this time England was at peace with both Denmark and
Sweden, and that no just cause of war existed. Hence, the admiral
inferred that the commanders of these batteries would be loath to
involve their countries in a war with so formidable a power as England,
by commencing hostilities, when only a free passage was asked. The
Danish commander replied, that he should not permit a fleet to pass his
post, whose object and destination were unknown to him. He fired upon
them, as he was bound to do by long-existing commercial regulations, and
not as an act of hostility against the English. The Swedes, on the
contrary, remained neutral, and allowed the British vessels to lie near
by for several days without firing upon them. Seeing this friendly
disposition of the Swedes, the fleet neared their coast, and passed out
of the reach of the Danish batteries, which opened a fire of balls and
shells; but all of them fell more than two hundred yards short of the
fleet, which escaped without the loss of a single man.

The Swedes excused their treachery by the plea that it would have been
impossible to construct batteries at that season, and that, even had it
been possible, Denmark would not have consented to their doing so, for
fear that Sweden would renew her old claim to one half of the rich
duties levied by Denmark on all ships passing the strait. There may have
been some grounds for the last excuse; but the true reason for their
conduct was the fear of getting involved in a war with England. Napoleon
says that, even at that season, a few days would have been sufficient
for placing a hundred guns in battery, and that Sweden had much more
time than was requisite. And with a hundred guns on each side of the
channel, served with skill and energy, the fleet must necessarily have
sustained so much damage as to render it unfit to attack Copenhagen.

On this passage, we remark: -

1st. The whole number of guns and mortars in the forts of the Sound
amounted to only one hundred and six, while the fleet carried over
seventeen hundred guns; and yet, with this immense superiority of more
than _sixteen_ to _one_, the British admiral preferred the dangerous
passage of the Belt to encountering the fire of these land-batteries.

2d. By negotiations, and threatening the vengeance of England, he
persuaded the small Swedish battery to remain silent and allow the fleet
to pass near that shore, out of reach of Cronenberg and Elsinore.

3d. It is the opinion of Napoleon and the best English writers, that if
the Swedish battery had been put in order, and acted in concert with the
Danish works, they might have so damaged the fleet as to render it
incapable of any serious attempt on Copenhagen.

We now proceed to consider the circumstances attending the attack and
defence of Copenhagen itself. The only side of the town exposed to the
attack of heavy shipping is the northern, where there lies a shoal
extending out a considerable distance, leaving only a very narrow
approach to the heart of the city, (Fig. 35) On the most advanced part
of this shoal are the Crown-batteries, carrying in all eighty-eight
guns.[21] The entrance into the Baltic between Copenhagen and Salthorn,
is divided into two channels by a bank, called the Middle Ground, which
is situated directly opposite Copenhagen. To defend the entrance on the
left of the Crown-batteries, they placed near the mouth of the channel
four ships of the line, one frigate, and two sloops, carrying in all
three hundred and fifty-eight guns. To secure the port and city from
bombardment from the King's Channel, (that between the Middle Ground and
town,) a line of floating defences were moored near the edge of the
shoal, and manned principally by volunteers. This line consisted of old
hulls of vessels, block-ships, prames, rafts, &c., carrying in all six
hundred and twenty-eight guns - a force strong enough to prevent the
approach of bomb-vessels and gunboats, (the purpose for which it was
intended,) but utterly incapable of contending with first-rate ships of
war; but these the Danes thought would be deterred from approaching by
the difficulties of navigation. These difficulties were certainly very
great; and Nelson said, beforehand, that "the wind which might carry him
in would most probably not bring out a crippled ship." Had the Danes
supposed it possible for Nelson to approach with his large vessels, the
line of floating defences would have been formed nearer Copenhagen, the
right supported by batteries raised on the isle of Amack. "In that
case," says Napoleon, "it is probable that Nelson would have failed in
his attack; for it would have been impossible for him to pass between
the line and shore thus lined with cannon." As it was, the line was too
extended for strength, and its right too far advanced to receive
assistance from the battery of Amack. A part of the fleet remained as a
reserve, under Admiral Parker, while the others, under Nelson, advanced
to the King's Channel. This attacking force consisted of eight ships of
the line and thirty-six smaller vessels, carrying in all eleven hundred
guns, (without including those in the six gun-brigs, whose armament is
not given.) One of the seventy-four-gun ships could not be brought into
action, and two others grounded; but, Lord Nelson says, "although not in
the situation assigned them, yet they were so placed as to be of great
service." This force was concentrated upon _a part_ of the Danish line
of floating defences, the whole of which was not only inferior to it by
three hundred and eighty-two guns, but so situated as to be beyond the
reach of succor, and without a chance of escape. The result was what
might have been expected. Every vessel of the right and centre of this
outer Danish line was taken or destroyed, except one or two small ones,
which cut and run under protection of the fortifications. The left of
the line, being supported by the Crown-battery, remained unbroken. A
division of frigates, in hopes of providing an adequate substitute for
the ships intended to attack the batteries, ventured to engage them, but
"it suffered considerable loss, and, in spite of all its efforts, was
obliged to relinquish this enterprise, and sheer off."

[Footnote 21: Some writers say only sixty-eight or seventy; but the
English writers generally say eighty-eight. A few, (apparently to
increase the brilliancy of the victory,) make this number still

The Danish vessels lying in the entrance of the channel which leads to
the city, were not attacked, and took no material part in the contest.
They are to be reckoned in the defence on the same grounds that the
British ships of the reserve should be included in the attacking force.
Nor was any use made of the guns on shore, for the enemy did not advance
far enough to be within their range.

The Crown-battery was _behind_ the Danish line, and mainly masked by it.
A part only of its guns could be used in support of the left of this
line, and in repelling the direct attacks of the frigates, which it did
most effectually. But we now come to a new feature in this battle. As
the Danish line of floating defences fell into the hands of the English,
the range of the Crown-battery enlarged, and its power was felt. Nelson
saw the danger to which his fleet was exposed, and, being at last
convinced of the prudence of the admiral's signal for retreat, "made up
his mind to weigh anchor and retire from the engagement." To retreat,
however, from his present position, was exceedingly difficult and
dangerous. He therefore determined to endeavor to effect an armistice,
and dispatched the following letter to the prince-regent:

"Lord Nelson has directions to spare Denmark when no longer resisting;
but if the firing is continued on the part of Denmark, Lord Nelson must
be obliged to set on fire all the floating batteries he has taken,
without the power to save the brave Danes who have defended them."

This produced an armistice, and hostilities had hardly ceased, when
three of the English ships, including that in which Nelson himself was,
struck upon the bank. "They were in the jaws of destruction, and would
never have escaped if the batteries had continued their fire. They

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 13 of 35)