Ships and batteries.
We gave some months ago a minute history of the conflicts between ships and batteries in the great wars of modern times, both in Europe
and in our own country, from which it appeared that, in the great majority of cases, vessels of war were unable to compete with strong land fortifications.
In all the wars of England
with the continental nations, and in the war of the American Revolution
and 1812, there was scarcely one exception to this general rule.
That such does not seem to be the experience of the present war, is attributed by some to the introduction of steam, and the greater perfection in the mechanical agencies both of the ship and armament, and the more powerful and destructive character of the materials of war. This is an important subject in a country so assailable by sea as our own, which has no navy, and can only rely upon its shore defences to meet the numerous fleets of an enemy who has the whole navy and the whole mercantile marine, now armed, of the all United States
at his command.
We confess that we have seen nothing of the experiences of this war to change our conviction of the superiority of land fortifications, when properly constructed and efficiently armed, to ships-of-war.
The introduction of steam and other naval improvements has not reversed the relative strength of fortifications and vessels, though it undoubtedly requires the former, in order to maintain their old superiority, to be something more than mere earth works, without bomb-proof coverings, which, at Hatteras
and Port Royal
, were easily reduced by the vigorous shelling of the ships.
The conflict at Pensacola
was the only fair illustration of the question which the present war has furnished.
There the fortifications were properly constructed, the men were sheltered by those defences which military art has provided against the descent of shells, the guns were of proper range, and handled by skillful and practised gunners.
The consequence was, that some of the enemy's most powerful ships-of-war were perfectly riddled by the fire of the fortifications, and abandoned the contest precipitately, having failed to inflict the slightest injury upon the works of the Confederates
, and only killing one or two men. We believe that the result would be the same in every similar engagement between shore and floating batteries if the former are properly built, provided with bomb-proofs, and guns of equal range with the enemy, and manned by experienced gunners, who have been disciplined and practiced to the skillful performance of their duties.
If the application of steam to ships of war and other naval improvements accounts for the success of the enemy in his two assaults upon inconsiderable earthworks, how is it that the great naval squadrons of England
were unable to assail Sebastopol
and other Russian
seacoast fortifications with any success, but came off worsted in every encounter, whilst Admiral Napier
did not even attempt to cope with Cronstadt
There was scarcely a sailing vessel in either of these magnificent fleets, the equal of which in numbers, guns, and all the equipments and appliances of war, had never before floated upon the waves.
The single ship which bore the broad pennant of Admiral Napier
, the largest and most powerful war ship in the world, would be more than a match for three of the best ships in the Yankee
Every one recollects the impression produced upon the public mind of England
by the magnificent naval review which took place before Admiral Napier
sailed for the Baltic
, and never did Old England seem more completely mistress of the seas than when that vast squadron of magnificent steamships-of-war, led by the colossal flag-ship of the Admiral
, set sail for the enemy's waters.
It would be ridiculous to compare the fifty ships-of-war which comprise the Yankee
navy, and their fleet of old merchantmen, patched up for fighting purposes, with the grand English squadron of Napier
in any one particular that gives efficiency to a ship in these times; in machinery, guns, armament and missiles, crews or gunners; and yet it came back to England
without having reduced or even engaged a single Russian
We must evidently look to some other cause than naval improvements for the Yankee
successes at Haiti Port Royal
, and that cause is to be fo the weakness of the fortifications, rather than in the strength of the ships.
and Port Royal
had been provided with proper defences against the shell and-shot of the enemy, the result would have been different, as it will be hereafter, if we do not neglect the common provisions against naval assault which have elsewhere rendered shore batteries invulnerable.
We do not recollect but one single success which the combined fleets of England
, both in the Baltic
and the Black Seas
, achieved during the Russian
war. That was the reduction of the fortification of Kinburn by the iron-plated vessels introduced by Louis Napoleon
That experiment served to demonstrate the capacity of vessels sheltered with that metal to resist the fire of the forts.
But it is, of course, clear that fortifications sheltered in the same armor would be equally invulnerable by ships of war, and an English periodical has lately argued that this defence can be provided as readily and even more economically for fortifications than ships.
We earnestly hope that our Government and engineers will give this subject their prompt and serious attention.
We have our choice of Pensacola
and Port Royal
in future conflicts between fortifications and ships.
It is hardly worth while to construct coast and river defences merely as slaughter pens for our brave soldiers, and only to invite the enemy to make an attack in which he has every advantage of assault, and little peril.
If we do not wish to build defences merely that they may be taken, and involve in their destruction the loss of both life and prestige, let us construct them upon proper principles, and we shall have no future repetitions of Hatteras
and Port Royal