Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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NAVY. Although the word navy is applied indifferently so as to include not only vessels of war but also vessels of commerce, the merchant navy, in this article its meaning will be confined to the means of defense by sea, or vessels of war. A nation that possesses an extensive and flourishing commerce must possess a naval force that shall be adequate to protect it in case of war against the depredations of hostile nations. Again, colonies, as a rule, possess no extensive means of defense against the depredations of other nations, but depend for protection upon the mother country, and this entails the necessity of maintaining a navy upon the latter. And this necessity becomes stronger in proportion as the nation may be contiguous to other nations with which questions of state policy and the entanglements of diplomacy, of alliances and agreements, are liable to arise. Thus, England and France are, from their geographical positions, which bring them into close and opposing relations with one another, compelled to keep up naval forces, and forces that shall be as nearly as possible equal in strength and efficiency. Moreover, their commercial interests often clash, and they have from time to time entered into alliances with one another, which, depending upon the condition of the people of third countries over which they exercise a sort of joint protectorate, are liable to be broken, and to become a caue of war. Thus, the European nations, or at least such of them as have seacoasts, are, from their geographical positions, their political relations, and the identity of their commercial interests, forced to maintain a navy of sufficient strength to protect their rights and enforce an observance of them from other nations. The maintenance of the navy among these nations is one of the most important items of expenditure, and presents in this respect a curious contrast with the policy pursued in the United States. This country is in the neighborhood of no nation that could muster a sufficient naval force to do her great damage without being speedily crushed; and the expense attending the transfer of an extensive armament from European to American waters, together with the immense odds that would in a short time be brought against such a force if actually transferred, are securities against the making of such an attempt. That it has been done, is not to say that it will again be done, for within the last twenty years naval warfare has undergone such a change as to make the methods used up to the rebellion as much out of date as the naval methods employed by the English against the Dutch in the seventeenth century. It is true that the many islands near our coast could be made centres of action, from which a predatory warfare could be carried on against the shipping of this country, and even descents could be made upon the coast. But this event is too remote to be seriously considered. Another advantage that this nation possesses, in addition to being the most powerful nation on the continent, is the fact that there are no alliances with European nations which could draw her into war should such a war be precipitated among European nations. The policy of not entering into alliances that could bring about such a result has become a recognized principle of our foreign policy, and experience has shown that a great part of the peace and general prosperity which has been enjoyed by this nation is due to a consistent adherence to this policy, and that while Europe may be convulsed by war, this country may, through her commerce even, gain by a policy of strict neutrality, only such measures being taken as are necessary to insure the safety of the merchant marine. Moreover, it has no colonies to protect, and, at present, not an extensive commerce with semi-barbarous people to maintain, and, if necessary, defend. It would appear as if this policy of non-interference with the affairs of other nations can not be longer maintained, but circumstances will compel the United States to enter into such political relations with weaker nations, in order to protect her own interests, as will prove fruitful sources of complication and even war. The rise of many nations of South America, with which in the near future an extensive and valuable commerce must be maintained, and such questions as are involved in the construction of a canal across the isthmus, affecting, as they do, the interests not of one but of many nations, must in time give rise to questions of public policy and of international commercial relations which this country can not afford to ignore. And when such conditions do come to pass, a navy will become as essential to the United States as it is to England, France or Italy. Nor is it pretended that a navy depends for its existence upon political reasons. If in the past the freedom from such complications has lulled the country into a sense of security, and but little attention has been paid to the formation and maintenance of a navy, that is no reason for a continuance of such a policy, or a defense of the former lack of such a weapon of defense, a deficiency that has been a source of much humiliation. At the time of writing [1882] this nation stands alone among great nations in having no naval force that could for one moment contend against the modern systems of constructing and arming war vessels.


—But a navy is not the product of a day. If is a matter of slow growth, and in times of peace such a naval establishment must be maintained as will form a nucleus for a naval force in actual war. Nor need such a force remain idle. It carries and displays the nation's flag in foreign waters, and lends a moral, or, when necessary, an active, support to its ministers stationed at foreign courts, and its merchants in foreign countries; it may be usefully engaged in expeditious for scientific purposes, as the Japan expedition, the explorations in the Pacific ocean, and the Arctic expedition. It maintains and keeps in active service a body of trained men who may form an efficient force when called into active service. They navy has thus its uses in peace as well as in war, and the main question to be determined is, what force is sufficient for a peace establishment? The answer to this question must depend greatly upon the situation of the country, as has been noted above, and upon the condition of the people. A navy presupposes an advanced state of material prosperity, for it is a costly instrument. Moreover, a navy will be of greater vitality in proportion to the extent and value of a nation's commerce and, other things being equal, those nations possessing the largest commerce will also have the most powerful fleets. But it does not follow that a navy should be proportioned in size to the merchant marine. Thus, at the outbreak of the rebellion the United States navy had in commission but forty-two vessels—a very inadequate force when the extent of its commerce is considered, and when its merchant vessels had engrossed a large share of the carrying trade of the world, which was much more liable to interference than at present. The value of an extensive merchant marine in furnishing the materials for a navy was clearly shown in the war of 1812 and the rebellion. The material strength of a navy consists in ships, engines and guns; but these would be useless without that which will give to them vitality, viz, a flourishing mercantile marine. But while a navy is a matter of government concern, a merchant marine depends upon the people, upon the general economic condition of the nation, and to place restrictions on the growth and extension of commerce, or to seek to foster it by bounties and subventions, does not assist in the formation of a navy, but is a costly and clumsy attempt to produce by artificial means what should be brought about by natural causes, and what would reach a high stage of development were there no interference with natural conditions. To favor large expenditures on the navy and yet prevent the development of a merchant marine, which must be depended on for the raw material of the navy, is to do exactly what should not be done, and any attempt to force into existence and maintain a navy under such conditions, would in the end prove a futile and costly experiment. Nor is it a sufficient reply to this, to urge that with the great changes in the methods of navy, it has become less a matter of seamanship than of engineering, and that the merchant marine affords very little opportunity for acquiring such training as is required. However true this may be within certain limits, yet the most advanced navy can not afford to dispense with a certain class of vessels, fleet cruisers, for which a merchant marine can furnish not only men but vessels.


—Morever, the navy is in a state of transition, of perpetual change and advance, not only as respects the form of the vessel and material used in its construction, but also in the manner of protecting and arming it. It is difficult to fully realize how rapid have been the changes in this particular within a very short time. The old wooden ships of the line, which were propelled wholly by sail, and armed by guns of the most insignificant power and range when compared with the ordnance of to-day, have almost disappeared under the advances that have been made in engineering science. Yet these vessels were used up to 1861, the year of the rebellion, in this country, and they were employed to some extent in the operations of that war. The introduction of steam as a means of propulsion prepared the way for great changes in construction, although in itself it modified but slightly the form of the vessel. But however fitted for merchant vessels, it was at first seriously questioned whether steam could be used in war vessels, first, on account of the expense and the great amount of coal that must needs be carried for long voyages, and secondly, on account of the case with which boiler and machinery could be injured by the shots of the enemy. Instead of decreasing the risk and danger of naval warfare, it was claimed that they were increased and the vessel was more vulnerable than before. But when put to the test all doubts were removed, and it was seen that a new and immense power was gained, which no longer compelled a vessel to depend upon such uncertain agents as wind and current, but by which it could be easily and successfully manœuvred under any conditions. So rapidly did steam make its way that in 1858 the sail vessel, for purposes of war, was regarded as obsolete, and the last sailing vessel built for the American navy was the Constitution, which was commenced in 1853 and completed in 1855. Moreover, this change in the means of propulsion was succeeded by a revolution in the manner of constructing war vessels, although a number of years elapsed before such a revolution became a settled fact. To protect the vitals of a ship it was coated with iron armor, and this idea of protection by iron or steel plates has been extended and developed, and vessels of that description, however different in the details of construction from the originals, now constitute a very important element in every navy that is worthy of the name.


—It has justly been said that during the rebellion the United States reformed the whole system of naval warfare twice; first, in respect to the construction of ships, and secondly, in respect to the construction of ordnance. The greatest advance in naval construction was made in the monitor class of vessels, in which it was sought to expose as small a surface as possible to the guns of the enemy, to concentrate the armor on certain parts of the vessel where it is most exposed to injury, and to reduce the armament to a small number of guns, or even a single gun, whose great power and efficiency enables it to do more damage than could be accomplished by a broadside of the old vessels. These guns, instead of being placed on the sides of the vessels, which would be impracticable on account of the height of the vessel and weight of the metal, are placed so as to be parallel with the keel, and are therefore supported by the whole buoyant force of the vessel. The monitor class of vessels is an American invention, although it has reached its highest development among European nations; and although ridiculed and opposed when first proposed, yet its merits were quickly recognized when its powers were first tested in the contest between the Monitor and the Merrimac.


—Every advance in armor has developed a corresponding advance in the form and force of attack, and the contest is still going on. The armor of the "Warrior" class of vessels, the most powerful vessel afloat in 1860, was composed of iron of four and one-half inches in thickness. To resist the most powerful guns of the present day armor of at least two feet in thickness is required, and some vessels in the present navy of Italy bear armor thirty inches in thickness, and they carry the heaviest guns yet manufactured. In order to reconcile the constantly increasing thickness of armor with the weight which the vessel is capable of bearing, it has become necessary to restrict the area of armor surface to ever narrowing limits. The object is to protect rather than to armor, and to expose such parts of the vessel as are not of vital importance, in order to gain in speed and protect certain parts, a process which involves the massing of the thickest armor in vital points. Thus, in the large iron vessels which the Italians are now building, the armor is withdrawn from every part except the battery, and even there the armor will be confined to a narrow belt of great thickness. Everything of importance that can be injured by projectiles will be kept below the water level, and the ships will be secured from sinking by means of an under-water deck and ample division into compartments. The active duties of a powerful ironclad are extremely limited, and the effective strength of a navy will doubtless hereafter lie in its fleet cruisers for offensive, and in its ironclads for defensive, purposes. Moreover, a most dangerous weapon for use against these ironclads lies in the torpedo, for it is from under the water that an ironclad can be attacked with greatest effect. Yet steps are being taken to render almost harmless such attacks. Thus, the vessel is divided into a large number of compartments, so that the injury may be localized; and a still further advantage is gained by filling such compartments with cork, which will add to the buoyancy of the vessel, or with coal, so that when the water rushes in it will find the space already occupied by what already forms a part of the weight of the vessel. These changes have also tended to equalize the naval power of the more powerful nations. Sir William Armstrong, one of the best authorities on this subject, says: "So long as naval superiority depended upon seamanship and an unlimited supply of sailors, no nation or combination of nations could compete with us; but as soon as it became established that fighting ships could be manœuvred with more certainty and precision by the power of steam than by the power of wind, a revolution began which has gradually made naval warfare a matter of engineering rather than of seamanship. The introduction of rifled ordnance and percussion was the second step in this revolution, and had the effect of condemning as useless the whole fleet of wooden ships with which all our victories had been won, and which were the pride of the nation. Then commenced that contest between armor and guns which has gone on to this day, and has not yet been decided."


—In vessels intended for long cruises on the ocean, the tendency is to strip off the heavy armor, and to go back to the old conditions, but with this important modification, that the vital parts of the fighting machine are well protected, so that they can not be disabled by a single shot or shell. The most vulnerable point to a great nation lies in its mercantile marine, and it is here that the greatest damage to its interests can be done in the shortest space of time. Moreover, the physical nature of the sea tends to render it easy to strike a blow by the capture or destruction of merchant vessels. The wind and current charts explain what is now sufficiently well known, that the merchant ships follow very definite routes across the ocean, and that these routes converge on certain limited areas which have been called "crossings." "Thus every sailing vessel from Europe to the West Indies or to the United States, every ship from the United States or Canada bound to the eastward round the cape of Good Hope, or to the westward round Cape Horn, and every ship homeward bound from these distant stations either to Europe or to the states, necessarily passes through a position in the North Atlantic, approximately fixed by latitude 23° N., longitude 40° W. Or again every European or American ship, whether outward or homeward bound, that crosses the equator, does so in about longitude 26° W." It must stand to reason that in any future war these "crossings" will form most important strategic points. But in order to pursue with any success these merchant vessels, armed vessels of equal speed must be used, and a vessel loaded with armor can not accomplish this. So that a navy should contain a certain number of vessels of high speed, carrying as little unnecessary weight as is essential to its effective action. The same object may be attained by other means. Thus, in England certain advantages are offered to ship owners building their steamers subject to definite conditions in respect to strength and subdivision by which they may be better adapted for war. It was recently stated that the British admiralty has a list of upward of 200 ships, all of which had complied with the conditions of the department so far as construction is concerned. The value of this force, as auxiliary to the regular navy, can hardly be over-estimated. In 1861 this country occupied the same relative position, having an immense mercantile navy from which to obtain such vessels as were needed, and it was due to this fact alone that the blockade of the southern coast was so promptly begun, and so effectively maintained.


—The policy of maintaining a navy is no longer a matter of doubt. A powerful navy exerts a great moral power, and a nation without one is more open to attack from its neighbors, and particularly if advanced in material welfare, because it becomes an object worth plundering. It is ill-advised economy to suit appropriations for navy, because in a very short space of time great loss could be inflicted upon commerce, which might have been averted had it been known that a naval force could be at once sent out to protect the national interests. Still, immense sums have been wasted in experiments in construction and armaments, which are no sooner proved of value than they are superseded by new and improved processes. In existing circumstances it would be difficult to say what policy should be adopted with regard to a navy, for the changes are succeeding one another with great rapidity, and the end does not as yet appear. It may, however, be said that for some time ironclad fighting vessels or rams and torpedoes, will be used for coast defense, and the latter particularly on coasts with shallow inlets, as on the eastern coast of the United States; and a number of fleet cruisers for offensive purposes. A navy, even of such a character, is a costly instrument; but, if efficient, will prove a profitable investment. Moreover, it is true economy to construct such a navy in time of peace when conditions are favorable. Such a policy also tends to keep in active employment skilled labour, which is becoming more and more essential as the character of the navy changes. To be ready for war is to be secure in peace, and the main object to be attained is to prepare a force that may be called into service without having to maintain a large and expensive establishment.


—The history of the navy of the United States is at once curious and instructive. So long as the colonies remained loyal to the mother country no navy was formed or maintained, because they naturally looked to England for the protection of their commercial interests, and the prestige of the British navy was at that time such as to secure the colonies from the depredations of a hostile nation. So that at the outbreak of the revolution this country possessed no navy, and but little experience in the requirements of such a means of defense. During the war no serious attempt was made to build a navy that could cope with English vessels, and resistance on the sea was confined to spasmodic efforts called forth when the circumstances were pressing. Yet by the articles of confederation on the power to build and equip a navy was vested in the united States in congress assembled, and the states were prohibited to keep war vessels in time of peace, except such number only as shall be deemed necessary, by the United States in congress assembled, for the defense of such states and their trade. This grant of power was not confined to a time of war, for, as Hamilton pointed out, were the means of defense to be given to the union only in time of war and to the states in time of peace, the Union "would be obliged to create, at the moment it would have occasion to employ, a fleet." But so powerless was the confederacy that little was done, as will be shown, under this liberal grant of power, and the contest against the British navy was chiefly carried on by private vessels, manned with patriot volunteers, and armed as circumstances would allow. In the fall of 1775 the attention of congress was called to this subject, but before any actions was taken on its part, Washington had fitted out five or six armed vessels at Boston, and these were cruising on the New England coast as privateers. The states also took action, and in November of that year the government of Massachusetts established a board of admiralty, an example that was followed by other states. Congress had, however, already appointed a committee of three to direct naval affairs, consisting of Silas Deane, John Langdon and Christopher Gadsden, and resolved that "a swift-sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionate number of swivels, with eighty men," and another of fourteen guns and a proportionate number of swivels and men, should be fitted out and sent out to intercept British transports carrying munitions of war to Canada and Boston. On the 30th of October two more vessels were ordered, and the naval committee was increased to six members, a number that was still further increased to thirteen, and consisted of one member from each colony, to be appointed by ballot. The powers of this "marine committee" were not, however, such as to insure an efficient naval administration. It possessed little executive power, and like a committee of congress, only examined naval subjects and reported thereon to congress. The committee appointed all officers below the rank of third lieutenant, and had the general control, under the immediate sanction of congress, of all naval operations. So little satisfaction did their work give, that congress, in November, 1786, selected three persons well skilled in maritime affairs to execute the business of the navy, under the direction of the "marine committee" to be known as the "continental navy board, or board of assistants to the marine committee." This remained in active operation until 1799, when a "board of admiralty," consisting of three commissioners not members of congress, and two members of congress, was established, the action of which was to be subject, in all cases, to the control of congress. Two years later a general "agent of marine" was appointed, with authority to "direct, fit out, equip and employ the ships and vessels of war of the United States, under such instructions as he should from time to time receive from congress, and Robert Morris was the first agent. During the war, congress authorized the purchase, construction or fitting out of between thirty and forty vessels; but the largest naval force at the command of congress was in 1776, and was composed of five frigates of thirty-two guns, twelve vessels of from twenty-four to twenty-eight guns, and eight mounting from ten to sixteen guns. Of the vessels authorized to be constructed, there were of seventy-four guns. This force, however, was not engaged in open warfare with the British fleet, but in connection with privateers, was engaged in intercepting the supplies of the enemy, and great damage was thus done. It has been estimated that the number of captures made during the war, apart from those retaken or lost, was 650, the value of which was about $11,000,000. Almon's "Remembrancer" states that in 1776, 342 British vessels fell into the hands of the Americans of which forty-four were recaptured and four were burned. In the following year the British lost 467 merchant vessels, although a force of seventy war vessels had been maintained on the American coast to protect the merchant marine of England. In 1777 congress directed that the building of ships of war should be suspended, in consequence of the high prices of all materials of construction, and from that time the navy rapidly decreased. The alliance with France in 1778 rendered less necessary a marine, and that country furnished a naval force which rendered material assistance to the land forces in the contest. In August, 1780, a committee of congress reported that only four vessels of war could be equipped that season, and in the following year, by the capture of the Trumbull, the American naval force was reduced to two frigates, the Alliance and the Deane; when the war was terminated, the United States had no navy, and the very few armed vessels they then had were ordered to be sold, and the same was done in the case of the Alliance. As showing how small must have been the naval force in 1784, there were appropriated in that year for the marine department but $30,000.


—Peace, however, did not bring freedom from the fear of war. Florida was in hostile hands, and the navigation of the Mississippi had already become a matter of controversy. The provisions of the treaty with England remained unfulfilled and were likely to create new complications that might involve another war. The clear mind of Hamilton saw the necessity of making preparations for any emergency that might occur, and he recognized the fact that a navy must be formed in time of peace, but the strongest pressure came from the Barbary powers, which commenced hostilities against the United States by depredations on their commerce, and openly declared war. The commerce of this nation in the Mediterranean was interrupted, and there was no naval force of sufficient strength to protect it from insult and depredations, a fact that only increased the daring of the Algerine pirates. But not until 1794, after the Portuguese government had concluded a truce with the regency of Algiers and withdrawn its fleets, thus removing the little protection it afforded, were measures taken by congress to create a navy and then it was no policy for a permanent but for a temporary navy. In January, 1794, the house of representatives resolved " that a naval force, adequate to the protection of the commerce of the united States against the Algerine corsairs, ought to be provided," and six frigates were authorized to be built; but the act provided that in the event of peace no further proceedings should be taken by virtue of said act. In 1796 peace was made and the house authorized the completion of three of the frigates, and the sale of all materials not necessary to their completion.


—In his speech to congress in 1796, referring to the depredations of the English and French on the merchant vessels of this country, President Washington gave the first distinct recommendation by the executive of a permanent naval policy. "To an active external commerce the protection of a naval force is indispensable. This is manifest of wars to which a state itself is a party. But besides this, it is in our own experience, that the most sincere neutrality is not a sufficient guard against the depredations of nations at war. To secure respect to a neutral flag, requires a naval force organized and ready to vindicate it from insult or aggression. This may even prevent the necessity of going to war, by discouraging belligerents from committing such violations of the rights of the neutral party as may, first or last, leave no other option. From the best information I have been able to obtain, it would seem as if our trade to the Mediterranean, without a protecting force, will always be insecure, and our citizens exposed to the calamities from which numbers of them have just been relieved. These considerations invite the United States to look to the means, and to set about the gradual creation of a navy. Will it not then be advisable to begin without delay to provide and lay up the materials for building and equipping of ships of war, and to proceed in the work by degrees, in proportion as our resources shall render it practicable without inconvenience, so that a future war of Europe may not find our commerce in the same unprotected state in which it was found by the present?"


—President Adams, in his message of 1797, insisted upon the necessity of creating some naval force; and in the following year additions to the navy, by purchase, hire or construction, were authorized, and a further change was made in the organization of the marine department. An additional branch of the executive was formed, to be under the management of a secretary of the navy, who executed the orders of the president concerning the procurement of naval stores and materials, and the construction, armament and employment of vessels of war. This organization continued for seventeen years, when it was interrupted by the appointment of a board of commissioners composed of captains. This latter board was abolished in 1842, when the organization of the navy department into five bureaus was created, and on the outbreak of the rebellion its powers and duties were increased, and the number of bureaus increased to eight, as it remains to-day.


—It would be unnecessary as well as tedious to trace step by step the number of measures adopted for creating a navy between the close of the revolution and the war of 1812. The threatening attitude of France gave a stimulus to naval construction, but with peace all materials and vessels were sold, with the exception of some of the larger ships of war. Docks for the repair of public vessels were built, and growing timber suitable for the navy was purchased in large quantities. Yet it was an accepted policy of the republican party not to prepare for war in time of peace, and the expenditures upon the navy were not of such amount as was justified by the relations then existing between this country and European nations, and the appropriations that were made were spent in building a large number of useless vessels called gunboats. The Barbary powers were forced to respect the American flag, but against the impressment of American sailors by British vessels of war only diplomatic representations were made. The active preparations for meeting the French came to naught, as only two actions worthy of note were fought. It was not until 1812 that the question of maintaining a permanent naval force was seriously considered, and from that year may be dated the beginning of a naval establishment in this country. Yet the measure met with great opposition. It was maintained that agriculture was the great interest of the country, and that the commerce of the Union was not of such importance as to justify large expenditures for its protection. The protection of commerce would, it was said, cost more than the object was worth, and therefore should not be granted. But Mr. Cheves, the chairman of the committee of naval affairs in the twelfth congress, carried through the necessary legislation, and the careful report of the committee marks an important point in the history of the navy. At that time the navy had but three frigates of the first class, viz., the President, the United States, and the Constitution: and seven of the second class, two of which were in such condition as to be condemned, and the remaining five in need of extensive repairs. In March, 1812, three other frigates were put into actual service, and the sum of $200,000 annually was for three years appropriated toward the purchase of timber for ship-building and other naval purposes. In July, 1812, when war against Great Britain was declared, the united States had but one vessel on Lake Erie, and that one was not launched until the following month, nor was there a larger force on Lake Ontario. Active preparations were made to supply the deficiency of vessels both on the ocean and on the lakes, and the force that was so created was efficient as against the British navy, thus showing that this country possessed in a high degree the elements of a navy. In 1815 all construction was stopped, and all vessels on the lakes, save such as were necessary to enforce the revenue laws, were ordered to be dismantled and sold. A navy had now become a part of the settled policy of the country, and a measure to maintain it found an earnest support. In 1816 one million of dollars, annually for eight years, were appropriated for the gradual increase of the navy, a sum that proved to be more than sufficient for the intended objects, and was not entirely expended before 1827; and in 1817, in order to insure a sufficient supply of ship timber in future, the secretary of the navy was directed to cause the vacant lands to be explored, and to select and survey such tracts as should be found to produce live oak and red cedar, which were to be reserved from future sales, and appropriated for the sole purpose of supplying timber for the navy. Soon after, the vessels that were as yet uncompleted and on the stocks were boarded over to protect them from the elements, and the navy was reduced to a peace footing. No occasion for a naval force occurred between the war of 1812 and the rebellion. A small force was in the meantime maintained, and was used for protecting the persons and property of American citizens in foreign countries, in suppressing the slave trade, and in scientific expeditions. In the war with Mexico the navy was employed merely as a blockading force, and there was no naval force to contend with.


—The rebellion found the navy in a very decrepit state. The whole number of vessels in commission was forty-two, of which only twenty-six employed steam as an auxiliary motive power; of the remaining sixteen all were sailing vessels and three were store ships. March 4, 1861, the home squadron, so called, consisted of twelve vessels, of which only four, carrying in all twenty-five guns and 280 men, were in northern ports. The difficulties that beset the government were such as to create grave doubts on its ability successfully to overcome them. Not only were the vessels at hand few in number and weak in armament, but the navy lost large number of its trained men and skilled officers when they were most needed. During the first four months of the rebellion upward of 250 officers resigned their commissions or were dismissed from the service, and a good number of these carried their knowledge and experience of naval matters to the opposing force. From an ill-advised economy on the part of the government, which had been especially marked since the financial panic of 1857, there was little material at the navy yards with which new vessels could be constructed and equipped; and the southern navy yards, together with whatever vessels and stores were in them, were seized by the insurgents. The loss of the Norfolk yard, which was the best equipped yard in the country, was a severe blow to the government. And turning from an examination of this poverty of resources to a consideration of what was expected of the navy, only serves to illustrate with greater clearness the great activity displayed in forming the navy with which the war was carried on. An effective blockade, that is, one that would prevent access to the blockaded country, was to be maintained from Alexandria in Virginia to the Rio Grande, a distance of 3,549 statute miles, with 189 harbor or river openings or indentations, much of the coast presenting a double shore to be guarded. In addition to this task an effective force of vessels must be maintained on the rivers, notably the Mississippi, cutting off supplies and co-operating with the army. Later on, there was great need of fleet cruisers to patrol the ocean in search of rebel ships which were preying on the commercial marine of the country. Measures were at once taken to meet the crisis, and the results prove how readily a mercantile marine could be used for naval purposes under the methods then in vogue. Before the close of November, 1861, 136 vessels had been added to the navy, of which seventy-nine were steamers; fifty-two vessels were ordered to be constructed, all to be propelled by steam; eighteen vessels of the old navy were repaired and put in commission; and twenty vessels returned from foreign stations. So that, while at the beginning of 1861 the government had at its command and within reach of its orders but four vessels of the navy, at the close of November, 1861, it counted in its possession upward of 226 vessels. Congress also authorized the appointment of a board of three skilled naval officers to investigate the plans and specifications that may be submitted for the construction of ironclad steamships or floating steam batteries. There had up to this time been no experience in the construction of such armored vessels, and there was little knowledge on the subject. The most efficient vessels of this class belonged at that time to the British navy and were protected by an armor four and one-half inches in thickness, backed up with wood, and this was assumed by the committee to be the heaviest armor that a sea-going vessel could safely carry. Among the plans submitted to the committee was one for a novel floating battery from J. Ericsson, of New York, which was destined to work a revolution in the construction of armored vessels. The committee recommended that one battery of the description be built, and early in March the Monitor left New York, and, sailing to Hampton Roads, soon proved that a new and powerful naval engine was created, for it defeated what was one of the most formidable vessels afloat, the Merrimac. The entire class of monitor or turreted vessels was brought into existence during the war, and in three years after the outbreak of the war the navy had become exclusively a steam navy. The change from wood to iron as the material of construction, and from sail to steam as a means of propulsion, rendered almost useless the existing machinery in the government yards which were intended for the construction and repair of wooden sailing vessels, and there was neither the machinery nor the acquired skill and experience among the laborers that was essential to the construction of iron vessels. The government was compelled to rely mainly upon private ship-builders not only for the ships but for machinery. The secretary of the navy repeatedly urged upon congress the necessity of establishing a yard for constructing iron vessels and machinery, and this necessity became more pressing as the armor-plating became heavier and the machinery more generally employed in vessels by which repairs were essential to keeping them in perfect order. "Our country," wrote Mr. Welles in his report for 1864, "whose strength and power must ever be identified with and maintained by its navy, and which possesses in such abundance the means of creating and sustaining one, has not, in all the navy yards combined, the appliances possessed by single establishments in England and France. Were there outside of our navy yards establishments to perform promptly the requisite work in time of war, I should not at this time again press the subject of a navy yard for iron work for the construction of iron vessels upon the consideration of our authorities. But although the department has generally been ably and zealously seconded in its efforts by private contractors, yet the fact that three is no customer but the government for much of this heavy class of iron work, forbids us to expect that individual enterprise will be prepared to execute it without full remuneration for all the outlay for shops, tools and machinery which may be required in preparation. The government has not even at this time an establishment where a shaft can be made for our steamers or a plate for our ironclads."


—The rapidity with which a navy was formed, notwithstanding the many difficulties to be overcome, was beyond parallel in the history of any nation. Starting in the beginning of 1861, as has been shown, with but forty-two vessels in commission, at the close of the year the navy counted 226 vessels. In 1862 163 vessels were added, exclusive of all that were lost, making the full navy consist of 427 vessels, carring 3,268 guns, and having a total tonnage of 340,036. In 1863 the navy was still further increased by 161 vessels, over and above all that had been lost by capture, shipwreck or fire, making a total navy of 588 vessels, carrying 4,443 guns, and possessing a tonnage of 467,967. As showing the nature of the vessels in the navy, attention may be called to the following table:

Ironclad steamers, coast service... 46
Ironclad steamers, inland service... 29
Side-wheel steamers... 203
Screw steamers... 198
Sailing vessels... 112
Total... 588


In 1854, 109 vessels were added, and the navy consisted of 671 vessels in all, of a tonnage of 510,396, and carrying 4,610 guns. As the war was ended early in 1865, the further increase was not marked. Nor was the growth confined to vessels. "From 7,600 men in service at the commencement of the rebellion, the number was increased to 51,500 at its close. In addition to these, the aggregate of artisans and laborers employed in the navy yards was 16,880, instead of 3,844 previously in the pay of the government. This is exclusive of those employed in the private ship yards and establishments, under contracts, constituting an almost equal number." Between March 4, 1861, and the beginning of 1865, 418 vessels were purchased, of which 313 were steamers, at a cost of $18,366,681, and of these there were sold 340 vessels, for which the government received $5,621,800. These figures clearly show the wonderful success that was experienced in creating a navy in a very short space of time.


—Another circumstance should be noted. As has been said, in 1816 certain tracts of timber were set apart for the purposes of the navy, and these lands were scattered through the states of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. They were under the care of agents, who were to protect them from depredations. These agencies were continued at considerable expense, until the beginning of the rebellion, when they were discontinued, and were not revived on the advent of peace. "It is not known that any timber has ever been procured from these lands for the government, but so far as ascertained, every stick of live oak which has been used by the navy has been purchased, and there is little doubt that much of it was cut and taken from the timber reservations which had for years been protected by government agents, at great annual expense. Since the restoration of peace, ineffectual search has been made for the maps and papers relating to these lands, but they have not yet been found. Whether they have been misplaced or were abstracted by those who had access to and charge of them, but who fled south at the commencement of the rebellion, can not be stated. Some difficulty may be experienced in ascertaining the quantity and precise locality of these reservations; but, from what has taken place, it is evident that the policy of timber reservations with salaried agents to protect them is a costly failure, and should be abandoned. The government has experienced no inconvenience in procuring ship timber from private parties, nor is it apprehended that any embarrassment will occur from that source in the immediate future."


—With the close of the war, measures were at once taken to reduce the navy; the squadrons were diminished in size, and the long line of blockading vessels were withdrawn, a large number being sold. So far as was practicable further work on vessels in process of construction was stopped, any every effort was made to contract the naval force within the limits of a peace establishment. In December, 1866, the total number of vessels in the navy was 278, of which but 115 were in commission and on active duty on the foreign squadrons which were re-established. From this point the history of the navy presents but few points of interest. Large sums were annually spent on it, but it was so spent as to preserve what vessels already existed, and no attempt was made to keep up with the great improvements that have been made in the construction and armaments of vessels of war. Still the navy, such as it is, has been employed in cruising on foreign stations, affording aid and protection to American interests whenever required, in various expeditions of scientific inquiry, such as sounding and mapping the ocean, studying the currents, attending astronomical parties, etc., etc.


—In 1881 it was recognized that if this country was to rank among the great maritime powers of the world, it would be necessary to increase the number and efficiency of the vessels of the navy, which had by that time become wholly inadequate either for offense or defense. Thus, on Jan. 1, 1882, the navy comprised 140 vessels, the nature of which may be judged of from the following table:

Steam vessels— 
First rates... 18
Second rates... 20
Third rates... 27
Fourth rates, including two torpedo boats... 8-68
Sailing vessels— 
Second rates... 4
Third rates, first class... 6
Third rates, second class... 8
Fourth rates... 5-23
Ironclads...      24
Tugs...      25
Total...    140


But of this total of 140 vessels forty-two represented no naval power whatever, and could be employed for no purpose whatever, and fifteen were navy yard tugs, which are not serviceable for war purposes, and should be regarded as tools, part of the plant of the navy. This reduced the number of vessels capable of service to eighty-three. But further reductions must be made before the full force of the navy can be reached. Of these eighty-three vessels, fourteen are old sailing vessels, constructed on patterns long obsolete and armed on a system long since abandoned, and five are on the stocks in private yards, with the question of their fate still undecided; eleven steam vessels are of very doubtful use to the service, and could be of little value in the event of war, and fourteen are of the single turreted monitor class, which are not suited for cruising purposes but might be available for harbor defense, although they are defective as regards armament, all being armed with smoothbore guns of large calibre, but of short range and small power. This reduces the number to thirty-nine vessels, from which, however, the ill-fated Rodgers must be deducted, leaving a grand total of but thirty-eight vessels. The secretary of the navy, in his report for 1881, sounded the note of alarm as follows: "The condition of the navy imperatively demands the prompt and earnest attention of congress. Unless some action be had in its behalf it must soon dwindle into insignificance." In July, 1881, an advisory board was constituted to report upon the best method of reconstructing the navy, upon the number and description of vessels that would be requisite to place the navy in a position to defend the commerce and ports of the country in case of war. The recommendations of the committee are worth giving in full, because they show the radical changes in the class of vessels needed, and in the great cost as compared with the cost of the vessels purchased during the rebellion: "Two first-rate steel, double-decked, unarmored cruisers, having a displacement of about 5,873 tons, an average sea speed of fifteen knots, and a battery of four eight-inch and twenty-one six-inch guns. Six first-rate steel, double-decked, unarmored cruisers, having a displacement of about 4,560 tons, an average sea speed of fourteen knots, and a battery of four eight-inch and fifteen six-inch guns. Ten second-rate steel, single decked, unarmored cruisers, having a displacement of about 3,043 tons, an average sea speed of thirteen knots, and a battery of twelve six-inch guns. Twenty fourth-rate wooden cruisers, having a displacement of about 793 tons, an average sea speed of ten knots, and a battery of one six-inch and two sixty-pounders. Five steel rams, of about 2,000 tons displacement, and an average sea speed of thirteen knots. Five torpedo gun-boats, of about 450 tons displacement, a maximum sea speed of not less than thirteen knots, and one heavy-powered rifled gun. Ten cruising torpedo-boats, about 100 feet long, and having a maximum speed of not less than twenty-one knots per hour. Ten harbor torpedo-boats, about seventy feet long, and having a maximum speed of not less than seventeen knots." The total cost of these vessels is estimated to be $29,607,000. There is every reason for believing that these recommendations, or others of like nature, will be adopted, and that in time this nation will have a navy that will be sufficient for whatever demands are made upon it.


—By the constitution the power of providing and maintaining a navy is vested exclusively in the federal government. The president is the commander-in-chief of the army and navy, and he commissions all officers of the United States. The direct management of naval affairs is under the control of a secretary of the navy, who is a cabinet minister, and acts under the directions of the president. The navy department comprises eight bureaus, to each of which are assigned certain definite duties, and over each is placed a chief who is responsible to the secretary for his acts. These eight bureaus, the duties of which are sufficiently indicated by the titles, are: 1, bureau of yards and docks; 2, of navigation; 3, of ordinance; 4, of provisions and clothing; 5, of medicine and surgery; 6, of construction and repair; 7, of equipment and recruiting; and 8, a bureau presided over by an engineer-in-chief. Congress, alone, can make rules for the government and regulation of the naval forces. There is a naval pension fund.


—The navy yards of the government are situate at the following places:

 Acres. Acres.
Portsmouth, N. H.... 164 Washington... 42
Boston... 83 Norfolk... 109
New London... 71 Pensacola... 83
Brooklyn... 193 Mare Island... 900
League Island... 923


—A naval school under the management of the government is located at Annapolis, Md. In 1874, to encourage the establishment of public marine schools, the secretary of the navy was authorized to furnish on certain conditions, upon the application of the state, a suitable vessel, with all her apparel, charts, books and instruments of navigation, provided the same could be spared without detriment to the naval service, to be used for the benefit of any nautical school, or college having a nautical branch, established in certain designated cities. This provision, however, never came to anything, but two vessels being given under the necessary conditions.


Authorities. The Reports of the Navy Department, and of the Congressional Committees; the Debates of Congress, and Naval Register. There is no good history of the American navy. Sir Thomas Brassey on The British Navy, 1881-2; Sir N. H. Nicolas' History of the Royal Navy.


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