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Chapter 58: conclusion.

When the war ended, the United States had attained a position as a Naval power never before reached by the Republic, and could claim to be able to meet either France or England upon the ocean. Both of these nations had looked on with surprise at the rapid manner in which the Federal Government was adding to its Navy. If not anxious for the dissolution of the United States, both France and England were quick to throw their weight against it by proclamations, giving to the Confederates a character that did much to strengthen their cause, by offering them most substantial aid, and in permitting them to build, arm and equip vessels-of-war in their ports for the destruction of American commerce. Even at a time when the Federal armies had advanced so far in the enemy's country that the final result was apparent to the most indifferent observer, the Confederate sympathizers in France and England declared that the Federal Government was making no progress in subduing the Confederacy, and insisted that the Navy, in particular, was incapable of putting down the few cruisers that were destroying American commerce at their pleasure.

France, the ancient ally of the United States, that had stood by the young Republic in its hour of need, and who had always been bound to it in the closest ties of amity, under the avaricious policy of her emperor, who had his eyes fixed on Mexico, went over to England and supported her in the proclamations issued in the Queen's name, but dictated by Earl Russell. The emperor hoped to persuade England to embark in a scheme that was to benefit France only in the subjection of Mexico to French rule, and to add to the French crown that jewel which would enrich and strengthen any nation that possessed it. In his insane desire to obtain possession of that beautiful country, the French emperor beheld in the supposed waning power of the United States the opportunity he sought to enable him to plant his foot firmly on the soil of the Montezumas, thinking that, once the City of Mexico was occupied by his troops, the United States would never again be in a condition to offer any obstacles to the permanent establishment of French authority. It was this ambitious project only that induced France to abandon her old friendship for the United States, and uphold England in her questionable policy of permitting the construction of Confederate cruisers in her ports. Had France remained strictly neutral, and shown England that she did not approve of the pretended neutrality the latter was practicing, the moral effect of her course would have been to prevent England from assisting the Confederates.

When the Trent affair took place (which did not in the least concern France), and when the British Government had taken such precipitate measures to humiliate the Federal Government — not giving it time even to make an explanation — the French emperor, through his minister in Washington, entered an entirely uncalled — for protest against the action of the United States vessel-of-war San Jacinto, stating that such a course was as offensive to France as to England, and, in fact, to all European governments; and announcing in his dispatch the course France would pursue under like circumstances — his real policy being to urge England into a war with the United States, which would further French views in regard to Mexico. This shows the animus actuating the emperor; though the Federal Administration had its hands full at that time, his object was apparent, while the sincerity of England was strongly suspected.

The first step of the Navy Department, when it could command the money, was to [829] construct a Navy not only for the purpose of blockading the Southern coast, but to protect our shores from foreign foes, and hold their own upon the ocean with the cruisers of either France or England. We have shown how inadequate the Navy was at the breaking out of the rebellion even to blockade the Confederate ports, much less to offer resistance to a powerful naval antagonist; but even the first year of the war was one of wonderful development for the Navy, not only in establishing a complete blockade, but in the usefulness of naval vessels in assisting the Army to carry out plans of conquest that it could never have achieved alone.

In a very short time after the Confederacy was established, all the great rivers of the West and their tributaries were in Confederate hands, and the most inaccessible points therein armed with ponderous guns, manned by an excited soldiery. The Potomac River was blockaded almost from Alexandria to the Chesapeake; the Sounds of North Carolina were filled with powerful batteries, and the channels closed by sunken obstructions. Every port on the Southern coast was protected by well-constructed forts, and closed against the few vessels the Government owned, and for a time the Federal cause looked so hopeless that Europeon despots might well be excused for supposing that it would be an impossible task to recover the lost domain, unprovided as the Federal Government was with ships of a character to contend with all the peculiar difficulties of navigation in the inland waters.

The difficulties to be overcome have only been described in this work in a partial way, for no description could give an adequate idea of all that was done by the Navy and how it was done. Compare the results of this great war in matters connected with the Navy alone with those of any other scene of action in Europe or elsewhere, and it will be seen that history offers no example where so much was accomplished in so short a time, or where so many events were crowded into the space of four years, in which the Navy was employed subduing a coast over four thousand miles in length, and recapturing a river-coast of more than five thousand miles.

Let us compare the operations of England and France in the Crimea with those on our own coast, and note the results. These two nations had but a small amount of territory to subdue--four hundred square miles at the most; the two great navies of the world were at their command, with a much larger proportion of troops than ever cooperated with the Federal naval forces during the war of the rebellion; they started with the greatest armada the world ever saw--sixty or seventy ships of the line, and numerous other vessels-of-war, transports (filled with troops), that almost covered the sea; and still they were months making any impression upon the Russian stronghold, which did not in any way compare with Vicksburg.

The Federal Government commenced with four small vessels (carrying in all twenty-five guns), the duty of capturing or blockading the South Atlantic coast. In the Gulf of Mexico were eight more ships; in the Mediterranean, three more; seven were on the coast of Africa; two on that of Brazil; three were in the East Indies, and eight in the Pacific-scattered, in fact, all over the world; and these had to be collected to satisfy England and France that a perfect blockade could be established. They naturally ridiculed the attempt, yet in less than a year the blockade was accomplished, so that the most hypercritical sovereign could not object to it, and every foreign government acknowledged that it was the great feat of the war. All the skill and capital of England could not keep this blockade open, though they might at times succeed in getting their vessels into Southern ports to supply the Confederate armies with the means of carrying on the war. The Navy was so watchful that multitudes of English vessels were captured; the coasts of the South were strewn with the wrecks of English clipper-steamers which were chased on shore in calm and in storm by officers who seldom slept, and were scanning the horizon night and day for the sight of an incoming blockade-runner.

This was but a small part of the naval service performed. The Navy was called upon to help open the Potomac, and guard the capital; directed to capture the Hatteras forts, and the fortifications in the sounds and rivers of North Carolina. The forts at Hilton Head defied them, but naval officers, with their wooden vessels, dismantled them with shell. Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which French and English officers said would sink the whole Federal Navy, barred the way to New Orleans; the guns of the Navy opened the gates and laid New Orleans captive at the conqueror's feet.

Then came the demand that the Navy should open the Mississippi from the Ohio River to the sea, clear out the obstructions in the shape of four hundred guns, and restore the different towns on the banks of that great river to the control of the United States Government. With what was it all to be done? Could their frail vessels, improvised from river-boats and a few thin-plated vessels, be able to force the barriers that were placed on every eligible site? Yet, with the aid of the [830] Army, a little over two years after the war began, the Mississippi was open to the sea. The ideas of the Navy Department grew with the success of the Navy afloat, and the work-shops of the country teemed with mechanics who entered heart and soul into the business of building iron-clads that could not only cope successfully with the heavy forts of the enemy, but could remind unfriendly nations that the more severely this nation was tested, the more she would rise in her strength.

The State of Tennessee, the great prize and battle-ground (upon which the enemy expended a large portion of their resources, and through which they hoped to attack the northwestern States), was under the control of the gun-boats, and the Army was placed by their aid securely in the heart of the State. From the time a naval force was placed on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, the stay of the Confederate forces was very problematical, and it cannot escape the attention of the reader how persistent were the naval officers who commanded the Western Squadron in keeping open two rivers, which were in all cases the keys to the situation.

Only two important points on the seacoast had been maintained by the enemy — Charleston and Wilmington — but, though they flourished for a time, afforded great assistance to the Confederate cause, and kept up the drooping spirits of the infatuated Confederacy, the rebellion received its death-blow on July 4th, 1863. Its after-struggles were only like those of the dying lion, that for a short time exhibits his greatest strength without power to do any injury in his dying throes, no matter how much prolonged.

At the end of the war the United States Government had just begun to realize its strength, and those who had the direction of its affairs might well feel proud of the great Army and Navy which stood ready, now that the intestine troubles were over, to take in hand those who had so insolently interfered with the Federal Government, not from any real sympathy with the Southern cause, but from a desire to see the free institutions of this country overthrown, and the whole land become a scene of anarchy — to show that man was in no place fit for self-government.

What the Navy Department and the war did towards building up a Navy, and a Navy altogether of a new type, can only be judged by a reference to the tables annexed to this chapter, which give a correct exhibit of the ships built, building, and altered, during the four years war — a feat only one other nation (Great Britain) could have accomplished in the same space of time.

All of this Navy that is known in history as having performed the greatest feat in the war (the most complete blockade of a coast ever established), is among the things of the past. Its dissolution was even more rapid than its creation. It was allowed to dwindle away without an effort to replace those ships, that had fallen victims to decay, with others of a suitable character. The vessels were sold “under the hammer,” as no longer suitable for the purposes of war, which had changed its character entirely since the beginning of the American contest. A few old vessels still remain to attest the uselessness of a branch of the service on which the Government must depend for protection in time of war with a foreign nation, or to keep the peace at home against insurrectionists of whatever character that may present themselves.

It is no compliment to the intelligence of sixty millions of people to have it said, that the United States has not one iron-clad to defend her coast; not a perfectly equipped cruiser of steel to carry her flag upon the ocean; not a single gun in her coast defences that could pierce the shield of a foreign iron-clad, and not a fortification that could resist the attack of two or three foreign-built iron-clads. We may be said to be a great nation of people, but certainly not a nation of great people; for, who will call us the latter, when there seems to be such a love of accumulating wealth, without the manly desire to have the means of defending it against the aggressions of any power that may choose to make war upon us? The Government of the United States cannot defend themselves against the weakest naval power, much less against a strong one, and we must, perforce, rely on that old system, so much in vogue in Thomas Jefferson's time, of paying tribute, as we did from 1804 to 1815 to the Barbary powers, to prevent them from preying on our commerce and carrying our citizens to captivity.

We had experience enough during the war of the rebellion to satisfy us that there were certain European governments that desired the downfall of the American Union, and it was only by means of an abject compliance with their demands that we escaped war, which would have been the signal of the complete triumph of the South and the dissolution of the Union which our forefathers exercised so much wisdom in building up. What a noble sight it would have been, after the settlement of our difficulties at home, to see the American people set to work and build a Navy that would bid defiance to any naval power in the world — to rebuild the commerce that had been driven from the sea by the “Alabamas” and Floridas, and [831] which was once the pride and wealth of the nation — to give an exhibition of our wealth and resources and our indomitable will, that no nation should oppose us, or interfere with our domestic affairs. But, instead of this we stood still, while other nations worked on, and taking advantage of our lethargy robbed us of our commerce, took the carrying trade all in their own hands, and now laugh at our inane attempts to build up a Navy, which, if it ever reaches a reputable standard, will show that we are so deficient in the elementary science of naval construction that we cannot keep pace even with the modern examples that have been set us by European powers.

We can be no more exempt from war than others; indeed, our weak condition is so well understood by all the world that it only invites aggression; and, if we would not desire to rest under the imputation of being the poorest government under the sun, and unfit to take care of the interests of sixty millions of people, we must shortly awake from an apathy that would disgrace any country, and begin to provide for the national defence.

In the war of the rebellion the people on both sides exhibited the greatest examples of courage, resources and perseverance, showing what we could do were our shores to be invaded; for which, no doubt, in the opinion of the world, we have gained that reputation which generally follows heroic deeds. But all that credit would disappear to-morrow if we were involved in a foreign war: our coasts would be devastated, our harbors sealed up by a foreign foe, and we would again be obliged to pay tribute as we did to the Barbary powers of old.

Taking into consideration the situation of the United States at the present time, it looks as if the rebellion had taught us nothing. and that we are giving wild theorists of the past and present some show of reason to assert that republican forms of government are unnecessarily expensive, revolutionary, and deficient in the elements for the maintenance of a proper protection from an outside enemy or intestine foe. A government which maintains no army or navy for the preservation of law and order simply runs an even race with anarchy and rebellion. This is true of us in a tenfold degree, for we give our enemies in all quarters the opportunity of getting their forces first into the field. This applies more particularly to the Navy of the United States, which never seems to attract the attention of those who have charge of the national defence. They never for a moment think that, if the dreadful reality of war was sprung upon us, not only could any of the greater powers within twenty days lay our large sea-coast cities in ashes, and exact any amount of tribbute they might think proper, but even the smallest States, with any pretensions as naval powers, could humiliate us to any extent. This is a terrible confession to make, but it is nevertheless true, and, unless those who have these matters in charge rise to a proper conception of their duty, they may live to “reap of the whirlwind,” and receive the condemnation of the sixty millions of people who now depend on them for that protection every government owes its citizens.

The people of the United States can readily dispose of their anarchists on the land, and provide against all their revolutionary ideas by the bullet or bayonet, when they become tired of listening to these wild theorists who would upset, if they could, any government, no matter how desirable. But they are helpless when it comes to defending themselves against the attacks of heavy iron-clads, which can only be met by great vessels-of-war designed for the purpose; which we do not possess, and which there seems very little prospect of our obtaining.

There is but one remedy for the evils under which we are resting, and that is, for the people to take the matter in hand and demand a Navy that will help put down rebellion at home at its first inception, and bid defiance to those abroad who would commit aggressions upon our commerce, or treat our citizens unjustly in any part of the world.

Let us not forget that something akin to Barbary powers still exists, though in the garb of Christian civilization, and that they are not as limited in number as they were in 1804. They may have the strongest treaties binding them to us in terms of amity, but they are ever ready, like the Algerines of old, to take advantage of our weakness.

We might naturally be supposed to have retained some bitter feelings against England and France on account of the unfriendliness they exhibited when we were passing through the greatest struggle of our history as a nation, but, though we might very properly be so influenced, this idea has no foundation in fact; though it might well be impressed upon the consciences of many of the British people who do not remember with complacency the course England (as a nation) pursued, considering her intimate relations with the United States. But the Americans are a forgiving people, and forget injuries, only to have them repeated even when they know they were intended to be fatal. We found no sympathy in our great revolution, which became a struggle for our actual existence; least of all did we find it where we [832] had a right to expect it — in free England, who had taken the first broad step towards the emancipation of the slave. But our disappointment in finding a foe where we should have found a friend only added a vigor to our action. We found ourselves strong enough to fight our way to victory. We could well afford to do without the sympathy of either England or France; for, though the task became harder, owing to their opposition, we were perfectly conscious from the first that their aid was not needed, and that their opposition would be futile.

The adventurous Napoleon III., who staked an empire on the acquisition of Mexico by the downfall of the United States, has long since paid the penalty of his treachery in his opposition to the great Republic, once the ally of France. Even his descendants, to the last generation, have disappeared from the face of the earth, while, in his old age, he was deprived of all he held dear-power and wealth. There seems to be a Nemesis at work in all such matters, bringing retribution where it is most deserved. England prospers, and extends her dominions, spreading freedom to all parts of the earth, and, apparently, strengthening her power; but she will live to see her colonies, one after another, going from her, each one seeking in turn to attain a larger degree of autonomy than they now possess, and she may find arrayed against her the very element on which she depended to increase her prestige, and may then miss some of that sympathy she denied us in our hour of need. [833] [834] [835] [836] [837] [838] [839] [840] [841] [842] [843] [844] [845]

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