Were I to give advice to an officer on this subject I would say, read and study. Idleness in a naval officer soon makes him rusty and of little value to his country or the service. Commodore Roe, in his admirable work, says: "The naval officer is always at school. The very routine of his profession changes day by day. Progress and invention changing, keep him ever learning new things, solving new problems. To keep pace with the progress of his profession he must be a scholar as well as a laborer."
Some time since, when the subject of naval education was under discussion before the Royal United Service Institution, in England, Admiral Ryder, an officer of high attainments in that navy, remarked: "It has been truthfully said that it is almost impossible to name any scientific acquirement which a naval officer may not find professionally useful at some period or other in his career, so multifarious are the duties which fall within the sphere of a naval officer's action."
Another officer: "We all must agree that the more scientific an officer is, the better officer he is."
Another said: "Our naval officers must be educated in all the subjects that come before them, not only scientific, but those that relate to the changes in our material. Having under them educated and trained seamen whom they must command by their knowledge of their profession in its entirety, which constitutes power, there would be less trouble on board ship, discipline would be better kept up, and our officers would be in a position to deal with any subject that came before them."
Commodore Goodenough, who strove so hard and untiringly for a higher education in the English navy, and whose sublime and heroic death won the admiration of the world, said: "I have been told that it is not desirable to make the navy a scientific service. Science indeed! We are far from that. We are safe enough from any charge of that sort. I only wish for such an education and training as shall enable an officer to understand a few elements of the laws by which their ships float and move and are guided. Such an education would excuse them from asking the impossible in a ship, while it prepares them to comprehend the simple phenomena and acts of nature. I believe I may boldly say that we have scarcely a man in our naval history, distinguished as a naval commander in action, who has not also been distinguished in some other pursuit, professional and otherwise, practical or scientific. Nothing you can learn will come amiss to you in your profession. Nothing you can learn will be useless to you. If you wish to serve your country as a commander of any force, great or small, you must nourish yourself with study. Opportunities come in vain to men who are not prepared."
"The thousands of naval officers whose race is gone, or going by, have sunk and are now sinking to repose with each his little meed of success or fame apportioned or appreciated according to his opportunities. But the State in the past time is the same State still, and who shall say what may not have been lost irrevocably through the very want of study? What discoveries in science, what combinations of philosophical reasoning, what deathblows to one's enemy's resources may not have been missed solely because our officers have not travelled out of the usual routine of professional duties!
"The opportunities enjoyed by them of original observation are incomparably greater to those possessed by any other body of men; their leisure is even a burden to themselves. And yet how few of them have assisted the progress of science by any great original discovery."
Firstly. Study the means of increasing the fighting power, and would suggest the following subjects:
Increase of Fighting Power.
Tactics of Battle,
Improvement of Men,
Improvement of Ships,
Improvement of Guns,
Improvement of Projectiles,
Improvement of Torpedoes.
Secondly. Hydrographic Information.
Currents of air and water.
It would be better for an officer to confine himself to one or two subjects, and to follow them up; and since the various ramifications of science are interwoven with, and to a great extent depend upon, each other, he could not fail in gaining a thorough knowledge of one to acquire a certain insight into others.
Tactics of Battle. With the many changes in the construction of vessels, their motive power, their armament and means of defense, as many changes will be necessary in fighting them. Indeed, the circumstances of different naval engagements are rarely the same; the arrangements and maneuvers for one would not be applicable for another. In all battles in which fleets were engaged the combinations were different. This is strikingly illustrated in the battles of Trafalgar and Aboukir. In our late war, at Port Royal, where the fleet underway delivering their fire in succession, being in itself a movable target. At Mobile, when to lessen the chances of being disabled in passing the forts, the vessels were lashed in pairs, and thus if one was disabled the other would carry her to the front. At Fort Fisher, where an immense fortification had to be silenced, the vessels were arranged so as to bring the most effective to bear full on the forts, with the others to fill up the gaps, and in a short time not a gun could reply. The Kearsarge and Alabama maneuvered in a circle, which was unprecedented. Fifty years ago, to have fought end on would have been madness and the result destructive from the raking fire. To-day, with modern ironclads and rams, to engage end on would be the proper thing to do. It should be borne in mind that successful naval commanders have originated their plans of attack and action, not on the spur of the moment, but have studied them out beforehand.
We can discuss them afterwards and see how they might have been frustrated; but how much better to have thought and studied beforehand, and been ready.
To Improve the Ship's Company. To do this does not simply mean to exercise and drill them, but to make thinking men of them; to intelligently study the means of retaining their health and increase their powers of endurance.
With the improvements in ships and guns the seaman must advance. Anybody could train and fire an old-fashioned broadside gun; but with breechloaders of delicate mechanism, and gun-carriages worked by steam, the recoil controlled by intricate mechanical contrivances, where one shot equals in weight a broadside of a sailing sloop-of-war, and in destructive power is beyond comparison—all require a superior intelligence and training widely different from that of a few years ago. The officer to give this training must keep well in advance himself.
In a conversation with the late Admiral Tegethoff, the hero of Lissa, he informed me that he owed his success to the superior training and discipline of his men, as his vessels were inferior to those of the Italians.
Our successes in the war of 1812 were largely due to our superior seamen. The best sailors in the world not ably commanded would never gain a victory.
Improve Ships. Increase the fighting qualities of those we have and plan new ones. In one short year the monitor-type of vessel made a revolution in ships for war purposes. Had we possessed a fleet of these vessels when the late civil war broke out a few months would have ended it. The change then made from wood to iron in construction was only the beginning of the changes in form and material which to-day gives us steel vessels with compound armor and a high speed.
The change of the Merrimac, in a few months, under adverse circumstances, from what was considered the finest steam frigate in the world, to an ironclad that was more than a match for several of her former class, was wonderful, and is an evidence of what can be done. We might be called upon to do the like should an enemy threaten our shores.
Guns and Torpedoes. It is still a mooted point which of the three, ships, guns or torpedoes, are the most effective. That the limit in weight of guns that can be carried on board ship with safety has been reached seems to be settled. But the explosive agents and projectiles that can best be used are yet to be determined. The torpedo is yet a matter of experiment, and who can tell how important a part it will take in future actions? How to construct them, how to use them effectively, are problems to be solved, and worthy of our earnest thought and study.
The immense charges of powder, on account of their bulk, are inconvenient to handle, and the space required for stowage makes it necessary to seek for other explosive agents, both for guns and torpedoes.
To find such an agent is no easy matter; but a study of chemistry might lead to such a discovery. An officer then could render no better service to his profession and his country than to study in this direction, as the result of study might give his country a very decided advantage.
Hydrographic Information. The necessity of which is so apparent as to need no argument. I would have it taken in its broadest sense, including the tides, currents of the ocean, as well as geography.
History. History is said to repeat itself. The rise and fall of a nation is an interesting as well as a necessary study for a naval officer. Did the rise result from warlike proclivities? If so, were they natural, or can they be cultivated? If cultivated, what were the means, and can such means be used now? Then their decline and fall. What contributed to it? What have navies had to do with either? And would the possession of an efficient navy have changed the result?
Almost every memorable epoch in the history of nations has been connected more or less intimately with a battle on the sea. For example, the battle of Lepanto checked the spread of Mahometism and sealed the fate of the Turkish Empire, gave courage to the Christians, and restored their religion to a large part of Europe. Again, had England had no navy to baffle the Spanish Armada, who can say what the condition of Europe would be to-day?
Naval history cannot be too closely studied, and we must gather from it that naval heroes were self-made, and that no power behind a throne can insure a naval victory.
The war of 1812, on account of our victories on the seas, gave a prestige to the United States which they have never lost.
We should study history to learn the' character of the various peoples; their fighting powers and qualities; their resources, agricultural and mineral; their armies and navies; and last, but not least, whether there may be certain portions of the countries which are bound to the main portion by the strong arm of might rather than by common consent. The condition of the merchant marine, in vessels and men, as this is the chief source of supply to a navy in time of war.
A knowledge of the agricultural resources is very important, because when these are deficient a rigid blockade would have to be maintained. Besides, the necessity of knowing the ports whence a ship's provisions can be had; and as States change from agricultural to manufacturing, or vice versa, we should keep ourselves continually posted. So also the mineral productions should be known, not only on account of the material for making cannon, &c., but coal to supply the navy. A modern ironclad without coal is powerless. New coalfields are continually being discovered, and to know where to get this important article is our duty.
The condition of their armies and navies: Did we have a powerful neighbor on this continent the necessity would be more apparent.
How unfortunate it would be for a commander to engage in a battle with a fleet or vessel of which he knew nothing, neither the strong nor vulnerable points, and yet this might happen if the commander did not read and study of the various types of vessels.
So with the army. While the navy is not expected to engage an army, still it can create a diversion by attacking at some remote point, rendering necessary a division of the enemy's army. Had the French navy done this during their recent war with Germany the result might have been different. Its inactivity, it is believed, enabled the Germans to concentrate their forces and thus overwhelm their enemy.
Modern Languages. It requires no argument to show how the sphere of usefulness of a naval officer can be extended by a knowledge and study of modern languages. It is only necessary to call to mind how the services of naval officers who are linguists are sought after in times of peace as well as of war.
I have so far mapped out what an officer may accomplish with the facilities they all have, and with the education the government has given them they ought to be able to pursue.
There are other subjects, Natural History, Natural Philosophy and Physics, which require aid to commence, but once fairly started can be readily followed.
In the navy, as a rule, the naturalist has a very wide field, as well as a very interesting one. Nearly every cruise extends over many degrees of latitude, thus ever varying the climate, and consequently the productions, vegetation, winds, weather and the many phenomena so engaging to a naturalist.
Professor Munroe remarks, in a letter addressed to the Honorable Secretary of the Navy: "While in the ordinary practice of their profession it might serve only as an improving pastime, yet when sent, as they often are, on expeditions to unfrequented lands, it becomes very useful; and when engaged in the work of the Coast Survey and the Fish Commission, and surveys of the ocean bottom, such knowledge is essential to complete efficiency."
How useful to the service and to the country would it be did officers possess such a knowledge of some branch of natural history as would enable them to study intelligently the land or water they might explore.
Facilities are now given at the National Museum in Washington to study this interesting subject in some of its branches, and it is to be hoped that future expeditions will have naval officers as naturalists.
The navy has been called upon in the past few years to explore the isthmus between North and South America, and to locate routes for canals. How essential to reliable reports was a knowledge of natural history and natural philosophy.
Lastly, Physics. The mere mention of the subjects under this head is enough.
Let an officer pursue any one of them and the result will show the utility.
Steam generated from water by heat from coal is the motive power of to-day, but it must be developed more economically, either by using coal or other fuel, or it will be erelong replaced by electricity as a motor.
These subjects then present another opportunity for a naval officer to be useful to his country and the service in time of peace.
The maintenance of a navy is largely increased by the consumption of coal. An officer inventing means of reducing this expenditure will most certainly have extended his sphere of usefulness to the country and the service.
"An officer who has improved his time by study would not only have effective claims to selection for the conduct of almost any special service, but would be qualified to make a special service of the most ordinary routine by the capacity he would have of blending scientific inquiries with every department of duty.
"Should any novel emergency of either attack or defense arise in a squadron in which he might be serving, with what advantages would he enter into council; with what deference would his opinions be listened to. In whatever corner of the world their lot of service might be cast they seize the passing or permanent phenomena of nature with the understanding of men acquainted with whatever is known on the particular subject, and ready to notice and to reason on the peculiar variety, should any occur. Should they visit a country for the first time, their account would be complete in all its parts, its capacities, natural and political, would be appreciated with judgment, and the manners, customs, institutions, civil and religious, of its inhabitants would be reported without exaggeration, and connected probably with the history of the species at large by some minute analogy of practice or community of belief, the observation of which might have escaped a less gifted traveler."