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 15 of 35)
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as great as the loss of the English at the battle of Trafalgar!

_St. Jean d'Acre_. - The narratives of the day contained most exaggerated
accounts of the English attack on St. Jean d'Acre; now, however, the
principal facts connected with this attack are fully authenticated. For
the amount of the fleet we quote from the British official papers, and
for that of the fort, from the pamphlet of Lieutenant-colonel
Matuszewiez. These statements are mainly confirmed by the narratives,
more recently published, of several English and French eye-witnesses.

The fortifications were built of poor materials, antiquated in their
plans, and much decayed. Their entire armament amounted to only two
hundred guns, some of which were merely field-pieces. The water fronts
were armed with one hundred cannon and sixteen mortars, those of the
smaller calibre included. (Fig. 38.) When approached by the British
fleet, the works were undergoing repairs, and, says Commodore Napier,
"were fast getting into a state of preparation against attack."

The British fleet consisted of eight ships of the line, carrying six
hundred and forty-six guns; six frigates, carrying two hundred and
thirty-six guns; four steamers, carrying eighteen guns; and two or three
other vessels, whose force is not given. "Only a few guns," says Napier,
"defended the approach from the northward," and most of the ships came
in from that direction. The western front was armed with about forty
cannon; but opposed to this were six ships and two steamers, carrying
about five hundred guns. Their fire was tremendous during the
engagement, but _no breach was made_ in the walls. The south front was
armed in part by heavy artillery and in part by field-pieces. This front
was attacked by six ships and two steamers, carrying over two hundred
guns. The eastern front was armed only with light artillery; against
this was concentrated the remainder of the fleet, carrying about two
hundred and forty guns. The guns of the works were so poorly mounted,
that but few could be used at all; and these, on account of the
construction of the fort, could not reach the ships, though anchored
close by the walls. "Only five of their guns," says Napier, "placed in a
flanking battery, were well served, and never missed; but they were
pointed too high, and damaged our spars and rigging only." The stone was
of so poor a quality, says the narrative of Colonel Matuszewiez, that
the walls fired upon presented on the exterior a shattered appearance,
but they were nowhere seriously injured. In the words of Napier, "_they
were not breached, and a determined enemy might have remained secure
under the breastworks, or in the numerous casemates, without suffering
much loss_." The accidental explosion of a magazine within the fort,
containing six thousand casks of powder, laid in ruins a space of sixty
thousand square yards, opened a large breach in the walls of the
fortifications, partially destroyed the prisons, and killed and wounded
a thousand men of the garrison. This frightful disaster, says the French
account, hastened the triumph of the fleet. The prisoners and
malefactors, thus released from confinement, rushed upon the garrison at
the same time with the mountaineers, who had besieged the place on the
land side. The uselessness of the artillery, the breaches of the fort,
the attacks of the English, all combined to force the retreat of the
garrison, "in the midst of scenes of blood and atrocious murders."

We will close this account with the following extract of a speech of the
Duke of Wellington, in the House of Lords, Feb. 4, 1841: "He had had,"
he said, "a little experience in services of this nature; and he thought
it his duty to warn their lordships, on this occasion, that they must
not always expect that ships, however well commanded, or however gallant
their seamen might be, were capable of commonly engaging successfully
with stone walls. He had no recollection, in all his experience, except
the recent instance on the coast of Syria, of any fort being taken by
ships, excepting two or three years ago, when the fort of San Juan
d'Ulloa was captured by the French fleet. This was, he thought, the
single instance that he recollected, though he believed that something
of the sort had occurred at the siege of Havana, in 1763. The present
achievement he considered one of the greatest of modern times. This was
his opinion, and he gave the highest credit to those who had performed
such a service. It was, altogether, a most skilful proceeding. He was
greatly surprised at the small number of men that was lost on board the
fleet; and, on inquiring how it happened, he discovered that it was
because the vessels were moored within one-third of the ordinary
distance. The guns of the fortress were intended to strike objects at a
greater distance; and the consequence was, that the shot went over the
ships that were anchored at one-third the usual distance. By that means,
they sustained not more than one-tenth of the loss which they would
otherwise have experienced. Not less than five hundred pieces of
ordnance were directed against the walls, and the precision with which
the fire was kept up, the position of the vessels, and, lastly, the
blowing up of the large magazine - all aided in achieving this great
victory in so short a time. He had thought it right to say thus much,
because he wished to warn the public against supposing that such deeds
as this could be effected every day. He would repeat that this was a
singular instance, in the achievement of which undoubtedly great skill
was manifested, but which was also connected with peculiar
circumstances, which they could not hope always to occur. It must not
therefore be expected, as a matter of course, that all such attempts
must necessarily succeed."

Having completed our examination of the ability of land batteries to
cope, gun for gun, with a naval force, let us consider, for a few
moments, the objection which is sometimes made to the use of
fortifications for the defence of the sea-coast, viz.: _that our
maritime cities and arsenals can be better and more economically secured
by a home squadron_.

We have already alluded to the impossibility of substituting one means
of defence for another. The efficiency of the bayonet can in no way
enable us to dispense with artillery, nor the value of engineer troops
in the passage of rivers, and the attack and defence of forts, render
cavalry the less necessary in other operations of a campaign. To the
navy alone must we look for the defence of our shipping upon the high
seas; but it cannot replace fortifications in the protection of our
harbors, bays, rivers, arsenals, and commercial towns.

Let us take a case in point. For the defence of New York city, it is
deemed highly important that the East River should be closed to the
approach of a hostile fleet at least fifteen or twenty miles from the
city, so that an army landed there would have to cross the Westchester
creek, the Bronx, Harlem river, and the defiles of Harlem
heights - obstacles of great importance in a judicious defence. Throg's
Neck is the position selected for this purpose; cannon placed there not
only command the channel, but, from the windings of the river, sweep it
for a great distance above and below. No other position, even _in_ the
channel itself, possesses equal advantages. Hence, if we had only naval
means of defence, it would be best, were such a thing possible, to place
the floating defences themselves on this point. Leaving entirely out of
consideration the question of relative _power, position_ alone would
give the superior efficiency to the fort. But there are other
considerations no less important than that of position. Fort Schuyler
can be garrisoned and defended in part by the same militia force which
will be employed to prevent the march of the enemy's army on the city.
On the other hand, the crews of the floating defences must be seamen;
they will consequently be of less value in the subsequent land
operations. Moreover, forts, situated as this is, can be so planned as
to bring to bear upon any part of the channel a greater number of guns
than can be presented by any hostile squadron against the corresponding
portion of the fort. This result can be obtained with little difficulty
in narrow channels, as is done in most of the other works for the
defence of New York, the works for Boston, Newport, Philadelphia,
Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans, &c., and an approximation
to it is not incompatible with the defence of the broader estuaries,
like the Chesapeake.

But we will suppose that there are no such points of land, in the inlets
to our harbors, and that we rely for defence upon a naval force
exclusively. Let us leave out of consideration the security of all our
other harbors and our commerce on the high seas, and also the importance
of having at command the means of attacking the enemy's coast, in the
absence of his fleet. We take the single case of the attack being made
on New York harbor, and that our whole fleet is assembled there. Now, if
this fleet be equal in number to the enemy, the chances of success may
be regarded as equal; if inferior, the chances are against us - for an
attacking force would probably be of picked men and of the best
materials. But here the consequences of victory are very unequal: the
enemy can lose his squadron only, while we put in peril both our
squadron and the objects it is intended to defend. If we suppose our own
naval force superior to that of the enemy, the defence of this harbor
would in all respects be complete, provided this force never left the
harbor. But, then, all the commerce of the country upon the ocean must
be left to its fate; and no attempt can be made to react offensively
upon the foe, unless we can control the chances of finding the enemy's
fleets within his ports, and the still more uncertain chance of keeping
him there; the escape of a single vessel being sufficient to cause the
loss of our harbor.

These remarks are based upon the supposition that we have but the single
harbor of New York; whereas Portland, Portsmouth, Boston, Newport, the
Delaware, the Chesapeake, Charleston, Savannah, Pensacola, Mobile, New
Orleans, and numerous other places, are equally open to attack, and
therefore must be equally defended, for we know not to which the enemy
will direct his assaults. If he come to one of these in the absence of
our fleet, his object is attained without resistance; or, if his whole
force be concentrated upon one but feebly defended, we involve both
fleet and harbor in inevitable ruin. Could our fleet be so arranged as
to meet these enterprises?

"As it cannot be denied that the enemy can select the point of attack
out of the whole extent of coast, where is the prescience that can
indicate the spot? And if it cannot be foretold, how is that ubiquity to
be imparted that shall always place our fleet in the path of the
advancing foe? Suppose we attempt to cover the coast by cruising in
front of it, shall we sweep its whole length - a distance scarcely less
than that which the enemy must traverse in passing from his coast to
ours? Must the Gulf of Mexico be swept, as well as the Atlantic; or
shall we give up the Gulf to the enemy? Shall we cover the southern
cities, or give them up also? We must unquestionably do one of two
things - either relinquish a great extent of coast, confining our
cruisers to a small portion only, or include so much that the chances
of intercepting an enemy would seem to be out of the question."

"On the practicability of covering a small extent of coast by cruising
in front of it - or, in other words, the possibility of anticipating an
enemy's operations, discovering the object of movements of which we get
no glimpse and hear no tidings, and seeing the impress of his footsteps
on the surface of the ocean - it may be well to consult experience."

The naval power of Spain under Philip II. was almost unlimited. With the
treasures of India and America at his command, the fitting out of a
fleet of one hundred and fifty or two hundred sail, to invade another
country, was no very gigantic operation. Nevertheless, this naval force
was of but little avail as a coast defence. Its efficiency for this
purpose was well tested in 1596. England and Holland attacked Cadiz with
a combined fleet of one hundred and seventy ships, which entered the Bay
of Cadiz without, on its approach to their coast, being once seen by the
Spanish navy. This same squadron, on its return to England, passed along
a great portion of the Spanish coast without ever meeting with the
slightest opposition from the innumerable Spanish floating defences.

In 1744, a French fleet of twenty ships, and a land force of twenty-two
thousand men, sailed from Brest to the English coast, without meeting
with any opposition from the superior British fleet which had been sent
out, under Sir John Norris, on purpose to intercept them. The landing of
the troops was prevented by a storm, which drove the fleet back upon the
coast of France to seek shelter.

In 1755, a French fleet of twenty-five sail of the line, and many
smaller vessels, sailed from Brest for America. Nine of these soon
afterwards returned to France, and the others proceeded to the gulf of
St. Lawrence. An English fleet of seventeen sail of the line and some
frigates had been sent out to intercept them; but the two fleets passed
each other in a thick fog, and all the French vessels except two reached
Quebec in safety.

In 1759, a French fleet, blockaded in the port of Dunkirk by a British
force under Commodore Bogs, seizing upon a favorable opportunity,
escaped from the enemy, attacked the coast of Scotland, made a descent
upon Carrickfergus, and cruised about till February, 1760, without
meeting a single British vessel, although sixty-one ships of the line
were then stationed upon the coasts of England and France, and several
of these were actually in pursuit.

In 1796, when the French attempted to throw the army of Hoche into
Ireland, the most strenuous efforts were made by the British navy to
intercept the French fleet in its passage. The Channel fleet, of near
thirty sail of the line, under Lord Bridport, was stationed at Spithead;
Sir Roger Curtis, with a smaller force, was cruising to the westward;
Vice-admiral Colpoys was stationed off Brest, with thirteen sail of the
line; and Sir Edward Pellew (afterwards Lord Exmouth) watched the
harbor, with a small squadron of frigates. Notwithstanding this triple
floating bulwark, as it was called - one fleet on the enemy's coast, a
second in the Downs, and a third close on their own shores - the French
fleet of forty-four vessels, carrying a land force of twenty-five
thousand men, reached Bantry Bay in safety! This fleet was eight days on
the passage, and three more in landing the troops; and most of the
vessels might have returned to Brest in safety, had it not been for
disasters by storms, for only _one_ of their whole number was
intercepted by the vast naval force which England had assembled for that
express object. "The result of this expedition," says Alison, "was
pregnant with important instructions to the rulers of both countries.
To the French, as demonstrating the extraordinary risks which attend a
maritime expedition, in comparison with a land campaign; the small
number of forces which can be embarked on board even a great fleet; and
the unforeseen disasters which frequently, on that element, defeat the
best concerted enterprises. To the English, as showing that _the empire
of the seas does not always afford security against invasion;_ that, in
the face of superior maritime forces, her possessions were for sixteen
days at the mercy of the enemy; and that neither the skill of her
sailors nor the valor of her armies, but the fury of the elements, saved
them from danger in the most vulnerable part of their dominions. While
these considerations are fitted to abate the confidence in invasion,
they are calculated, at the same time, to weaken an overweening
confidence in naval superiority, and to demonstrate that _the only base
upon which certain reliance can be placed_, even by an insular power,
_is a well-disciplined army and the patriotism of its own subjects_."

Subsequent events still further demonstrated the truth of these remarks.
In the following year, a French squadron of two frigates and two sloops,
passed the British fleets with perfect impunity, destroyed the shipping
in the port of Ilfracombe, and safely landed their troops on the coast
of Wales. Again, in 1798, the immense British naval force failed to
prevent the landing of General Humbert's army in the bay of Killala;
and, in the latter part of the same year, a French squadron of nine
vessels and three thousand men escaped Sir J.B. Warren's squadron, and
safely reached the coast of Ireland. As a further illustration, we quote
from the report of the Board of National Defence in 1839.

The Toulon fleet, in 1798, consisting of about twenty sail of the line
and twenty smaller vessels of war, and numerous transports, making in
all, three hundred sail and forty thousand troops, slipped out of port
and sailed to Malta. "It was followed by Nelson, who, thinking correctly
that they were bound for Egypt, shaped his course direct for Alexandria.
The French, steering towards Candia, took the more circuitous passage;
so that Nelson arrived at Alexandria before them, and, not finding them
there, returned, by way of Caramania and Candia, to Sicily, missing his
adversary in both passages. Sailing again for Alexandria, he found the
French fleet at anchor in Aboukir bay, and, attacking them there,
achieved the memorable victory of the Nile. When we consider the
narrowness of the sea; the numerous vessels in the French fleet; the
actual crossing of the two fleets on a certain night; and that Nelson,
notwithstanding, could see nothing of the enemy himself, and hear
nothing of them from merchant vessels, we may judge of the probability
of waylaying our adversary on the broad Atlantic."

"The escape of another Toulon fleet in 1805; the long search for them in
the Mediterranean by the same able officer; the pursuit in the West
Indies; their evasion of him among the islands; the return to Europe;
his vain efforts subsequently, along the coast of Portugal, in the bay
of Biscay, and off the English channel; and the meeting at last at
Trafalgar, brought about only because the combined fleets, trusting to
the superiority that the accession of several reinforcements had given,
were willing to try the issue of a battle - these are instances, of the
many that might be cited, to show how small is the probability of
encountering upon the ocean an enemy who desires to avoid a meeting, and
how little the most untiring zeal, the most restless activity, the most
exalted professional skill and judgment, can do to lessen the adverse
chances. For more than a year Nelson most closely watched his enemy, who
seems to have got out of port as soon as he was prepared to do so, and
without attracting the notice of any of the blockading squadron. When
out, Nelson, perfectly in the dark as to the course Villeneuve had
taken, sought for him in vain on the coast of Egypt. Scattered by
tempests, the French fleet again took refuge in Toulon; whence it again
put to sea, when refitted and ready, joining the Spanish fleet at Cadiz."

"On the courage, skill, vigilance, and judgment, acceded on all hands to
belong in a pre-eminent degree to the naval profession in this country,
this system of defence relies to accomplish, against a string of
chances, objects of importance so great that not a doubt or misgiving as
to the result is admissible. It demands of the navy to do perfectly, and
without fail, that which, to do at all, seems impossible. The navy is
required to know the secret purposes of the enemy, in spite of distance,
and the broken intercourse of a state of war, even before these purposes
are known to the leader who is to execute them; nay, more, before the
purpose itself is formed. On an element where man is but the sport of
storms, the navy is required to lie in wait for the foe at the exact
spot and moment, in spite of weather and seasons; to see him in spite of
fogs and darkness."

"Finally, after all the devices and reliances of the system are
satisfactorily accomplished, and all the difficulties subdued, it
submits to the issue of a single battle, on equal terms, the fate of the
war, having no hope or reserve beyond."

"The proper duty of our navy is, not coast or river defence; it has a
more glorious sphere - that of the _offensive_. In our last war, instead
of lying in harbor, and contenting themselves with keeping a few more of
the enemy's vessels in watch over them than their own number - instead of
leaving the enemy's commerce in undisturbed enjoyment of the sea, and
our commerce without countenance or aid, they scattered themselves over
the wide surface of the ocean, penetrated to the most remote seas,
everywhere acting with the most brilliant success against the enemy's
navigation. And we believe, moreover, that in the amount of the enemy's
property thus destroyed, of American property protected or recovered,
and in the number of hostile ships kept in pursuit of our scattered
vessels, ships evaded if superior, and beaten if equal - they rendered
benefits a thousand-fold greater, to say nothing of the glory they
acquired for the nation, and the character they imparted to it, than any
that would have resulted from a state of passiveness within the harbors.
Confident that this is the true policy as regards the employment of the
navy proper, we doubt not that it will in the future be acted on, as it
has been in the past; and that the results, as regards both honor and
advantage, will be expanded commensurately with its own enlargement. In
order, however, that the navy may always assume and maintain that active
and energetic deportment, in offensive operations, which is at the same
time so consistent with its functions, and so consonant with its spirit,
we have shown that it must not be occupied with mere coast defence."

A few remarks on the relative cost of ships and forts, and the economy
of their support, and we will close this discussion. We do not regard
this question, however, as a matter of any great importance, for it can
seldom be decisive in the choice of these two means of defence. No
matter what their relative cost may be, the one cannot often be
substituted for the other. There are some few cases, however, where this
might be taken into consideration, and would be decisive. Let us
endeavor to illustrate our meaning. For the defence of New York city,
the Narrows and East River must be secured by forts; ships cannot, in
this case, be substituted. But let us suppose that the _outer_ harbor of
New York furnishes no favorable place for the debarkation of troops, or
that the place of debarkation is so far distant that the troops cannot
reach the city before the defensive forces can be prepared to repel
them. This outer harbor would be of great importance to the enemy as a
shelter from storms, and as a place of debarkation or of rendezvous
preparatory to a forcible passage of the Narrows; while to us its
possession would not be absolutely essential, though very important.
Strong fortifications on Sandy Hook, and one of the shoals, might
probably be so constructed as to furnish a pretty sure barrier to the
entrance of this outer harbor; on the other hand, a naval force
stationed within the inner harbor, and acting under the protection of
forts at the Narrows, might also furnish a good, though perhaps less
certain protection for this outer roadstead. Here, then, we might well
consider the question of relative cost and economy of support of the
proposed fortifications, and of a home squadron large enough to effect
the same object, and to be kept continually _at home_ for that special
purpose. If we were to allow it to go to sea for the protection of our
commerce, its character and efficiency as a _harbor_ defence would be
lost. We can therefore regard it only as a local force - fixed within the
limits of the defence of this particular place - and our estimates must
be made accordingly.

The average durability of ships of war in the British navy, has been
variously stated at seven and eight years in time of war, and from ten
to twelve and fourteen years in time of peace. Mr. Perring, in his
"Brief Inquiry," published in 1812, estimates the average durability at
about eight years. His calculations seem based upon authentic

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 15 of 35)