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[238]

The questions presented under this extraordinary conjuncture of affairs were novel, and not having been in all their extent anticipated by our laws, some further penal legislation, especially in relation to the law of forfeiture, may be needed to meet the exigency and render the Government more effective.

steam gun-boats and sloops.

The necessity of an augmentation of our navy in order to meet the crisis, aid in suppressing insurrection, and assist in causing the laws to be executed at all the ports, was immediately felt, and a class of vessels different in some respects from any that were in the service, to act as sentinels on the coast, was required. On the spur of the moment transport steamers were secured; but, though made capable of sustaining a small armament, they were not such vessels as would perform continuous duty off the harbors in all weathers. They will, it is believed, answer a temporary purpose for the summer months, but a stronger and different description of vessel is necessary for the autumn and winter. The Department, besides purchasing, has, therefore, contracted for the building of twenty-three gunboats, each of about five hundred tons burden; and has made preliminary arrangements for several larger and fleeter vessels, which shall not only aid in preventing illegal commerce, but be made particularly serviceable in suppressing depredations on that which is legal. Both of these classes are of sizes inferior to the sloops-of-war ordered by the last Congress.

The Department, in carrying the order of the last session into effect, directed the construction of two vessels at each of the four yards, making eight instead of seven to be built. In consequence of the great activity and heavy demands at all the yards to equip and prepare every available vessel for service, the construction of these sloops has been retarded, but is now being prosecuted with vigor, and we may expect they will be completed at the earliest possible period.

The authority for these purchases and contracts is to be found in the necessities and condition of the country and the times. The action of the Department may require the sanction of Congress to give it validity. If it shall be asserted that an error has been committed in thus providing for the wants of the service and the Government, a much greater error would have been committed, it is believed, in the omission to have made such provision under the existing necessities.

vessels in service.

Of the 69 vessels, carrying 1,346 guns, hereinbefore mentioned, as available for service on the 4th of March last, the Levant has been given up as lost in the Pacific; the steamer Fulton was seized at Pensacola; and one frigate, two sloops, and one brig were burnt at Norfolk. These vessels carried 172 guns. The other vessels destroyed at Norfolk were considered worthless, and are not included in the list of available vessels.

These losses left at the disposal of the Department 62 vessels, carrying 1,174 guns, all of which are now, or soon will be, in commission, with the exception of the--

Vermont, ship-of-the-line,84
Brandywine, frigate,50
Decatur, sloop, at San Francisco,16
John Hancock, steam-tender, at San Francisco,3

There have recently been added to the navy, by purchase, 12 steamers, carrying from 2 to 9 guns each, and 3 sailing vessels. There have been chartered 9 steamers, carrying from 2 to 9 guns each. By these additions the naval force in commission has been increased to 82 vessels, carrying upwards of 1,100 guns, and with a complement of about 13,000 men, exclusive of officers and marines. There are also several steamboats and other small craft which are temporarily in the service of the Department.

Purchases of sailing ships have been made for transporting coals to the steamers that are performing duty as sentinels before the principal harbors. It would be inexpedient and attended with much loss of time, as well as great additional expense, to compel the steamers when short of fuel to leave their stations and proceed to the nearest depot, distant in most cases several hundred miles, to obtain a supply. In the absence of any proper or suitable stations or buildings for storing coals, hulks have been provided, to be anchored at some convenient place for the use of the squadron.

The squadron on the Atlantic coast, under the command of Flag-Officer S. H. Stringham, consists of 22 vessels, 296 guns, and 3,300 men.

The squadron in the Gulf, under the command of Flag-Officer William Mervine, consists of 21 vessels, 282 guns, and 3,500 men.

Additions have been made to each of the squadrons of two or three small vessels, that have been captured and taken into the service. The steamers Pawnee and Pocahontas, and the flotilla under the late Commander Ward, with several steamboats in charge of naval officers, have been employed on the Potomac River, to prevent communication with that portion of Virginia which is in insurrection. Great service has been rendered by this armed force, which has been vigilant in intercepting supplies, and in protecting transports and supply vessels in their passage up and down the Potomac.

The flotilla, on the 27th ultimo, met with a serious and sad loss in the death of its gallant commander, James H. Ward, who died at his post, while covering the retreat of his men from the assault of an overpowering number of rebel enemies. In the death of Commander Ward the Navy has lost a brave officer, who has enriched it by military and scientific contributions, served it faithfully in varied spheres, and promised much for it in future.


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