The Reconstruction and Increase of the Navy

By Ensign W. I. Chambers, U.S.N.

The rivalry that has always existed between civilized nations in striving to develop the most powerful vessels of war and the best talent for handling them, has resulted, of late years, in the production of ships of enormous size, great speed, and intricate arrangement of parts; of armor of great thickness, improved quality, and wonderful resistance; of guns of enormous size, great accuracy, and extraordinary penetration; of engines of great variety, increased economy, and mighty power; and of warriors whose usefulness depends not only on personal valor, but on high scientific attainments and constant application in the use of complicated instruments of modern warfare. This rivalry has resulted also in giving great prominence to the torpedo as a weapon of attack and defence.

The vessels now possessed by foreign nations differ widely in type, size, class, speed, and power; each design emphasizes some particular feature which renders it either more powerful or more impotent than some other of equal cost; and foreign administrators, who have been actively engaged for many years in endeavoring to decide how to expend a given appropriation for defensive purposes in the most economical and advantageous manner, are obliged to acknowledge that the problem is still unsolved. It is, therefore, unreasonable to suppose that all the questions incident to a thorough and systematic reconstruction of our long neglected navy have been definitely settled as yet.

The subject under consideration is very comprehensive; involving unsettled questions of policy, type and administration, as well as many other topics of great importance ; but, in confining myself within the prescribed limits, I shall endeavor to review concisely: (1) The type or character of the vessels needed; (2) The number of each type required; (3) How or where they should be built; (4) The time and money required to build them; (5) What is necessary to ensure the future maintenance of our fleet in an efficient condition, after its reconstruction is accomplished.

As one of the most important steps in the erection of any structure is to satisfy those for whom it is to be raised as to its importance and the firmness of the ground on which it is to rest, and as the details of my plan may possibly appear antagonistic to the popular impressions of the day, I shall begin the evolution of my theory by considerations which, while not appearing to fall directly within the scope of the essay, may add strength to the foundation.


So long as men have different ideas of right and wrong, of justice and injustice; so long as men can be persuaded to lay down their lives in antagonism of an imaginary wrong, or in resentment of an insult; so long as men possess different degrees of patriotism or love of country, or can be influenced in different ways by religion, or have different views concerning the worship of a Supreme Being; so long as men are widely different in customs, habits, intelligence, valor and ambition—just so long will war be a necessary evil.

There are often noble reasons which appeal to the manhood of a nation and make men even delight in war. Nations that have been established on earth for the protection of liberty and the preservation of independence, under their constitutions, are naturally proud to ensure freedom and safety from oppression. A manly people, when threatened by a national danger, is quick to defend itself, either by displaying its valor in the contest, or by burdening itself with the taxes necessary to enable this to be done.

Our constitution was founded on the broad principles of civil and religious liberty, and we have assumed the great responsibility of proving to the generations yet to come whether it will produce a race of men wise and strong enough to make justice, honor and bravery our national characteristics; whether it can develop those qualities which make nations great, and give them dignity sufficient to place them above others not yet free from the bonds of despotism. The constitution that cost our forefathers so much blood is still entrusted to our keeping, and it is our sacred duty to guard it with jealous care, to devote our intellect, our time, our money, and our lives, if necessary, as becomes the dignity of a noble nation.

In their relations with each other, and in many characteristics, nations resemble men, and a forcible comparison is often drawn between them. A child's strength and powers increase until he reaches manhood, when, if success has crowned his efforts, if disease or indolence has not checked his development, he is respected and admired. For a while he retains full possession of his strength and faculties, after which he undergoes a process of physical decay.

So nations have arisen from a weak infancy to a manhood of glory and power, and so have they faded until they have been swept into the gloom of an eternal night, leaving little more than a few lines on the tablets of history to record their virtues and the causes of their fall.

Since Egypt, Greece and Rome were at the zenith of power and glory, great changes have taken place in the map of the world; and even now we can point to nations which appear to have passed their zenith and to be descending towards the horizon of their glory. Other nations are still in childhood, on the road to manhood, and time alone can tell whether they will profit by the experience of their predecessors.

Is it possible that with us the seeds of decay are already sown? If public lethargy in matters of national defence be any indication, we must acknowledge the sad reality.

Still, the disease may be only temporary, and judicious effort may enable us to affect a cure; and if this is to be effected, we should bear in mind that a temporary cure, from the laws of action and reaction in government administration, might be worse than no cure at all.

Unlike men, however, nations may live forever in the full vigor of manhood, since with them decay is a direct consequence of their own errors, and may be avoided. With man, it is only his physical being that is necessarily affected; with nations, the morality and wisdom of the people are attacked, and the resultant evils are, neglect of state affairs, corruption, effeminacy, loss of patriotism and, finally, dismemberment and ruin.

No man can do good in the world unless he develops those natural abilities with which the Creator has endowed him, and it is equally true that no nation will ever be able to exercise freely its capacity for doing good unless it develops the raw resources of national strength that a wise Creator has given it for the organization of national power. Political intrigue can act only against a nation in its decay, and against men too enervated to know their rights; and it follows that one of the highest objects of good government is to know where its weakness lies, in what its power consists and how it can best be applied.

The power of any nation lies mainly in the industries of its people. With us the principal industries are agriculture, manufactures and commerce, and they are all under the control of Congress, or of men variously interested in all. To complete the comparison, it may be assumed that Congress represents the head of a great National Organism, and that the principal source of life, the preponderating industry of agriculture, represents the body. The manufacturing and commercial industries, respectively, may be considered as the arms, which are essential for supply and defence, and as the legs which enable the body to extend its sphere of usefulness.

During the younger days of this active being his life was exceptionally full of dignity, health and vigor; and it is now to be hoped that, instead of continuing to relapse into a lethargic state of impotent corpulency, he will arouse and see the necessity for beginning a rigid and wise course of training to redevelop his limbs in proportion to the growth of his body, so that he may be able to extend his sphere of usefulness throughout the world and to maintain it during the coming ages.

If it be clear that agricultural industries prosper where such a healthy physical state exists, it ought not to be difficult for Congress, the head, to institute this healthy and abiding reaction.

The development of those arms and legs may be accomplished in the reconstruction and increase of our Navy and Merchant Marine. The two services are so intimately related that they deserve equal attention; and the question of reconstruction in both cases becomes greatly simplified if our policy is guided by the mutual support they render, both in peace and war.

It will be my endeavor, therefore, to satisfy the demands of the Essay by directing particular attention to the Navy, with such brief allusions to its kindred service as will facilitate the formation of a reconstruction policy in both cases.


The evil results of our construction policy since the Civil War are too apparent to need much comment. That policy was founded on the maintenance of what is indefinitely termed a peace navy; and if it is to be understood by its results that only such ships as are absolutely worthless for the protection of our national honor are required, nothing more is needed than to continue administering large and frequent doses of repairs to our present impotent fleet. A “peace navy,” pure and simple, that is not created and maintained for the purpose of occupying a prominent part in national defence during war, results in many worse evils than the production of ships that are worthless for any purpose, except perhaps to form sunken obstructions in the channels of our harbors in the hour of danger; its impotency has an injurious effect on our national prestige abroad, and subjects us to the ridicule of those nations whose respect may affect our peace and prosperity; it is apt to cause inefficiency and stagnation in those charged with its maintenance and care; it destroys that pride and zeal in the execution of duty among the officers and men obliged to parade the neglect and weakness of their country before the eyes of more thoughtful nations, and it reduces to a state of inefficiency the “nucleus” on which we must depend for the expansion of our war power in time of danger.

The duties of a navy in time of peace are many, but the most important may be enumerated as follows:

(1) To form a “nucleus” for the expansion of our naval power for national defence in time of war.

(2) To guard the “prestige” of our flag, and command the respect of other nations in times of peace.

(3) To maintain a “school” for the training and discipline of officers and men, and thus provide for the efficient expansion of our personnel in time of war.

(4) To further the “interests” of civilization and commerce, by affording protection or relief to American citizens domiciled under unstable governments or in semi-civilized countries.

(5) To “ investigate the complaints'' of our citizens whose interests are abroad, against alleged injustice on the part of distant civilized nations.

(6) To “aid or succor” whenever possible the distressed people of all nations, in the interests of humanity and courtesy.

(7) To “observe” and “keep informed” of the progress of other nations in the science of warfare.

(8) To facilitate the “scientific investigation” of subjects connected with maritime and national interests, and to execute the surveys of obscure harbors abroad and of our own coasts.

(9) To assist in suppressing “internal riot”

(10) To enforce the “laws of neutrality,” and prevent other powers from doing it for us.

The first and most important of these duties demands that our materiel and personnel be maintained in the highest state of efficiency. A school for the training of officers and men will be of little value unless it provides the instruments which will be employed and teaches the principles which will govern their use when the crisis comes. Therefore, unless it can be shown that the more subordinate duties of our navy in time of peace can be performed by an efficient war nucleus, it is evident that we must maintain two or more establishments of a different character, one for peace and one for war. But what ships do we require to form an efficient nucleus?

While in such an investigation a due regard for economy is of paramount importance, still, in conforming to its demands we must not lose sight of the object to be attained; for if we disregard this and produce something not needed, we will be guilty of the worst kind of extravagance. Therefore, in determining the character of our nucleus, it is necessary to know what nation is our possible and most formidable enemy, and what the ships composing that nucleus would be called upon to do in the event of war with that enemy.


If we subject our national neighbors to a physical examination we shall find that the nearest and most dangerous is England. Behold a wonder of physical development! Brawny arms, the influence of which is felt the world over; active legs that seem fully adapted to perform all their functions; and a body, invigorated by blood that springs from an ambitious heart, still in the infancy of development. Is it not possible then, unless we are prepared to command the respect of this active and vigorous neighbor, our once disagreeable parent, that the friction resulting from his proximity may erelong cause the “electric current of imperial power” to make its decomposing effect felt among the elements of our composition?

The accompanying map illustrates the situation, but I shall quote a few extracts from various papers and discussions of the Royal United Service Institution, which are forcible in their original forms and will save the trouble of an extended military study of the situation, a study not called for in this essay, but which seems important to show what work the ships we build may have to perform. The spirit that actuated the studies from which I quote cannot fail to command our admiration, and is certainly worthy of our respect.

“The question is treated merely in a military, and, it is to be hoped, philosophic spirit such as cannot give offence to our kinsmen of the great Anglo-Saxon Republic, with whom the most friendly relations exist; but they have not always been able to restrain the lawless bands of Fenians and their sympathizers who have from time to time raided across our frontier. . .

“Civilization and progress have already commenced to shift from the basin of the Atlantic to that of the Pacific. At this moment what has happened to the Suez Canal is happening with regard to the railroads across America . . .and nobody can watch what has been the effect on the commerce in the Pacific without observing that it is in like manner being diverted towards the States. The only possible way for us to get it in the future is by the Canadian railway. We should, however, not only regard this railway from the standpoint of its strategical value to Canada, but as vitally concerning British power in the Pacific, and as the key to British power in the future to command the sea on the other side of the world. . .

“The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway is not merely a vital necessity to the integrity of the Dominion, but of the Empire. . . . The shortest way from Ireland to Japan by a thousand miles would be the great circle of the globe along which this railway runs. By it will return the costly silks and teas of China, the products of the Spice Islands, of Australia and India, the cotton of Feejee, as well as the grain of the great valley of the Saskatchewan. ... In six days from Montreal, in thirteen days from Liverpool, we shall be able to reach the Pacific. ... It puts us in a better case to take up the defensive position, the offensive-defensive, to fit out and strike from there, to defend our coasts and our commerce, by as much as possible carrying the war with all its disagreeables into the enemy's coast and positions. This railway . . . will, at the present rate of progress, be completed in 1885.

“Surely British merchants don't need to be taught by British soldiers that commerce means empire, and vice versa.

“Canada has already led the way by proposing differential duties against the United States, manifestly in favor of Great Britain. . . . Here is a great field for our surplus population, if England has not lost the imperial faculty of organizing arrangements for her people. ... At the present time your food supply is in the hands of foreign powers; but supposing this railway to be made, you would then have, within 1401 15 days of England, this enormous British tract of the best food-producing land in the world, and which, when got at would, I believe, maintain its food-producing power against the whole world.

“As the United States have allowed their navy to fall into a state approaching effacement, the duty of maintaining order on those seas, and protecting the rights of neutrals (even if we ourselves do not become principals in a war) devolves on the squadron we maintain in the Pacific. . . . There is no doubt that in time of war, if the United States were neutral, we should have trouble. The strongly marked line shows the boundary between the United States and the British possessions, but I believe an enemy lying within three miles of their coast would be in so-called neutral waters, and there are plenty of harbors in which a vessel could lie and shelter till an opportunity offered to strike a blow.

“The same physical causes that have contributed to England's greatness will to a certain extent create in Vancouver's Island, in no very remote future, a prosperous country. . . . The coal, iron, gold, and splendid timber not far from a series of magnificent harbors, will make Vancouver a trade starting-point from America for Asia—as England has been from Europe to America. If there is any truth in Buckle's 'History of Civilization,' Western Britain will be great when the Californian, receiving no fresh blood from Europe, has degenerated into the sans souciance of the Southern European.

“Canada is a long strip of communications, its main artery, the St. Lawrence, being the fosse of a natural fortress, open during the summer season to the gunboats of Great Britain, and to them alone, as long as the fortress of Quebec is kept in a defensive condition.

“The character of the country, which is a riband of interior lines, land and water communications, would facilitate the concentration and launching of an offensive force, which might surprise even 40,000,000 of unarmed people who have hitherto relied upon their ever successful diplomacy. ... A combined military and naval force, therefore, started from Canada at the first declaration of hostilities, might, by giving up their communications in the rear, push on to the Atlantic coast as Sherman did, and seize an important seaport, there to co-operate with the British fleet which could support them, and form a fresh base for further operations, while an expedition from India might land a force of British troops and a Sikh contingent on the Pacific seaboard. Therefore coute qui coute, the command of Lake Ontario must be secured and maintained. Here Canada is at an advantage, the best harbors being situated on her shores, and the greater number of the steamers trading on the lake being held or manned by Canadians. It is hoped that we shall on the Lakes also so far take the initiative recommended by Mr. Brassey, M. P., by encouraging a volunteer naval reserve on Lake Ontario. ... In Canada there are registered 37,235 sailors, but in addition, Canada owns 1185 sea-going steam vessels, to act as transport and supply vessels.”

If it be true that the “railway is the pioneer of progressive settlement,” a network of railways and canals may soon make a populous country of the great British Northwest, and immigration develop a new El Dorado. Capital is flowing into this wonderful country, and the products of the soil are beginning to ebb into European channels.

We wish our cousins well, and admire the spirit of enterprise that has always characterized the Anglo-Saxon race; and we believe it cannot give offence or do aught but increase their respect for us if we also devote a little attention to the question of national defence from a philosophic military standpoint.

For defensive purposes we have the advantage of being a homogeneous Union, but we are almost entirely surrounded by a chain of water communications all open to the war ships of England, while the most important link is closed to our own. If we were to assume a strictly defensive attitude in the event of war with that power, whose principal base of operations is the open sea, we should be subject to unexpected attacks from almost every point of the compass. Our attention would be drawn towards the defence of some threatened portion of our territory by a well-organized feint of the enemy, while his main efforts would be directed towards some more important objective where we least suspected danger. It is evident, then, that our wisest policy would be to assume a vigorous offensive. By this I do not mean the invasion of England, because such an operation would necessarily be performed at too great a distance from our own base of supplies, and against a powerfully concentrated, well protected force; but we could lay siege to the heart of this great nation by offensive operations against the arteries leading to it. It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that we could paralyze those arteries or communications by pouring forth our hordes from the Mississippi Valley into Central Canada; because this operation would simply tend to roll up or concentrate the enemy's strength along his perfect lines of communication towards his points of support and bases of supply. Furthermore, the time in which such an operation could be performed would necessarily be limited by the severity of the long Canadian winter, which would render such an operation barren of anything but disastrous results to our own deserted bases.

That valuable strip of territory comprising the Eastern and Middle States is singularly exposed to the cooperative attacks of the enemy from both north and south, while our own offensive operations from the land side are limited to the seizure and occupation of such strong objective points as the Welland Canal, Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec, all of which, to ensure free access to England's war ships and transports, will soon be well fortified. The Canadian canal system is being rapidly perfected in order to draw the Western grain trade away from the United States, and if, as it is contemplated, grain ships will soon be able to load at Chicago and discharge at Liverpool, this system will admit larger war-ships to the lakes than will our own canals.

Our enemy's rear is protected by the frozen regions of the north, and it is probable that offensive land operations would be disastrous to us if we left our own flanks and rear open to attack either from British Columbia, Canada, Bermudas, or the English possessions in the West Indies; but his communications can be severed at sea, and this, to my mind, seems to be the most effective line of operations.

From the foregoing considerations, then, it is probable that our enemy's offensive operations would be, chiefly, as follows: To blockade, bombard, capture, destroy, or ransom our important seaports, lake cities, shipping, and naval establishments; to seize and fortify important strategic points on our northeast or northwest coast and frontier; to raid our Atlantic and Pacific seaboard, cut off a strip of territory from each exposed corner, occupy the mouth of the Mississippi, and dictate terms of peace, with his communications unexposed in rear, all around our territory.

Our attention, then, on the opening of hostilities, should be directed towards:

  1. Preventing the blockade, bombardment, destruction, or seizure of our shipping centres and naval establishments; in order that our cruisers may have free access to their bases of supply, and that the rapid expansion of our war power may suffer no check.
  2. Intercepting the enemy's transports, convoys, and war material in transit to his bases near our territory; in order that those bases may not be strengthened and the enemy's war power concentrated near us.
  3. Intercepting the enemy's food and industrial supplies in transit to the seat of government; in order to create panic and hasten a capitulation.
  4. Organizing expeditions of attack against the enemy's colonial bases; in order to cooperate with our army in the final destruction of his power to harm us on this continent.


I have prefaced this investigation with the assumption that in conforming to the demands of economy, if we lose sight of our object and produce something we do not need, we shall unconsciously be led into extravagance. This fact is apparent in the modern constructions of all nations who have been striving for a number of years, in the race between guns and armor, to produce a perfect fighting ship. Such a ship is impossible, because it should possess all of the following qualities, some of which are irreconcilable:

Great Speed,

Great Endurance (of propulsive power and supplies),

Great Offensive Power,

Great Defensive Power,



Steadiness of Platform,

Light or moderate draught of water,


Smallness of Target.

As we wish to avoid the errors of others, I shall endeavor, in the selection of types, to conform strictly to the services required of them, as enumerated under the four separate headings, referring to above as A, B, C and D.

(A) To prevent the blockade bombardment, or destruction of our shipping centres and naval establishments.

An enemy engaged in blockading a port defended by forts and torpedoes only, would operate out of range of the forts; his ironclads would lie at anchor, with torpedo nets or other obstructions around them, and the active vessels of the fleet would rely upon their speed, their electric lights and their rapid-firing guns for defence against torpedo boats. A bombardment or seizure could also be attempted with reasonable prospects of success by the present type of ironclad coast-defence vessels, even if the harbor were defended by forts, rams, torpedoes and torpedo boats. One method might be as follows:

The ironclads should be accompanied by torpedo-proof “auxiliary supply vessels” of moderate dimensions, three-masted schooners, for example, which in bombardment would be useful as mortar boats. While entering the harbor these vessels would be secured abreast of each ironclad, as in the sketch, by steel hawsers, their spars lashed across ahead and astern of the ironclad. Double torpedo nets would depend from the spars, the foremost one having sharp-horned grapnels attached to its bottom edge to cut the wires of submarine mines, and spar torpedoes would project from each of the smaller vessels for defence against rams. A further defence against submarine mines, in the shape of counter-mines, might be provided for by discharging submarine rockets ahead at short intervals. The Thunderer could steam under such circumstances six or seven knots.

I do not argue from this that submarine mines and torpedo-boats are useless in the defence of ports; on the contrary they are extremely useful auxiliaries, and very necessary to force an enemy to adopt cumbersome precautions; but I do conclude that ironclads are the most useful auxiliaries to prevent the destruction of our shipping centres and naval establishments, and that they are indispensable to raise a blockade.

The vessels required to perform this duty would operate at or near their bases of supply, in waters which would limit their spheres of action to the vicinity of the places they would be called upon to protect; and their chief functions would be to obstruct the passage to the enemy's vessels, and to destroy or put them to flight. In fact, if they combine the invulnerability and great destructive power of armored land fortifications with a moderate degree of the mobility of ships of war, they can oblige the enemy to keep the sea, at such distances as will not compromise the safety of the cities, or the safe passage of our cruisers out of the harbors.

Therefore, if we must sacrifice some of the qualities necessary to a “perfect fighting ship,” and if we can safely assume that speed and endurance are of secondary importance, our naval constructors will find no difficulty in producing vessels which will possess the other desirable qualities to a satisfactory degree. If, however, we reduce them to the condition of mere “floating batteries,” we limit their spheres of usefulness to the localities in which they are placed, which will necessitate a number sufficient to close all the important harbors against attack along our extensive seaboard; and, inasmuch as the enemy cannot bring floating batteries against us to execute the important operations in question, we shall lose nothing in comparison with the enemy's ships, if we sacrifice enough of the offensive and defensive powers of that class of vessels to enable us to divide the work of concentration, at the different strategic points, among a smaller number of vessels possessing a moderate amount of mobility.

Owing to the great increase in power of modern ordnance, it is impossible for ships to carry armor sufficient to render them impregnable at all points. Recent and further contemplated improvements in the resisting power of armor, however, will enable us to increase the shot-resistance of the small area enclosing vital parts, to any desired extent. The armor thickness may be safely carried to three feet or more, and although it is possible to construct guns capable of penetrating this, it is evident we have about reached the limit of weight in guns, any increase in which will render their fire too slow to be of practical value. But if these vessels are to be deprived of great speed, they must possess a certain amount of invulnerability to the enemy's rams, torpedoes, and torpedo boats. Their want of speed or engine power also deprives them of that cumbersome alternative, the use of torpedo-proof auxiliary vessels, as previously suggested; but this difficulty can be overcome and the desired invulnerability may be gained, by combining the ironclad and the cordon of auxiliary vessels in one ship; and this, to my mind, is the solution of the problem of coast defence in the future.

In order to be able to move from one threatened centre to another, these vessels will require a moderate amount of endurance; their trips will be coastwise, and they will require to be invulnerable at sea and in rough harbors; therefore they will require steadiness of platform and a moderate degree of seaworthiness. As light or moderate draught is an element of defence as well as of offence, particularly in operations on our coast, it is therefore also important in these vessels.

It also appears that the vessels on which we must rely to perform the services under A, would be well adapted to perform the services D, that of ''Organizing expeditions of attack against the enemy’s colonial bases,'' since the principal of those bases are uncomfortably near our own territory; and we may regard the requisites of that type in the order of their importance as follows:

Type I.

(1) Great Defensive Power.

(2) Great Offensive Power.

(3) Steadiness of Platform.

(4) Light or moderate draught of water.

(5) Moderate Endurance.

(6) Moderate Speed.

(7) Seaworthiness.

(8) Handiness.

(9) Smallness of Target.

(10) Habitability.

There are two classes or divisions of this type required both for the defence of our harbors and for attacking the enemy's bases. The hydrographic features of the harbors of our Atlantic and Pacific seaboards adjacent to the St. Lawrence and Vancouver respectively, will admit deep-draught vessels, while most of those along our Gulf and Atlantic ports south of the Chesapeake will admit moderate and light-draught vessels only. It so happens that the vessels suitable for the defence of our northern ports will best serve as attacking vessels at the mouth of the St. Lawrence and Vancouver, while the light-draught vessels suitable for the defence of our southern seaboard will best serve as attacking vessels for either Bermudas or the Great Lakes. The Bermudas are naturally protected by a long line of coral reefs, extending several miles to seaward, and leaving a narrow and tortuous channel at one end of the group of islands, well protected by armored batteries. Light-draught vessels, however, drawing not more than ten feet, could enter the dockyard unopposed, by passing over the reefs to northward of the groups. These same vessels, starting from some point on the Mississippi or its tributaries, could pass either to threatened points on the coast, or to the Great Lakes by way of the Hennepin canal, which it is hoped will soon permit the passage of vessels drawing at least ten feet.

There is another feature of our coast which gives us great advantage in coast operations and which should be further improved for defensive purposes, and that is the inland coast water route. Vessels of light draught can go from Florida to Buzzard's Bay without being obliged to put to sea, and when the Cape Cod and Florida canals are finished, this route will be extended from Boston to Pensacola, with the possibility of extending it to Galveston if the interests of trade demand it in future. This inland navigation route is particularly adapted for the movements of light torpedo boats and gunboats. A number of swift torpedo boats, kept in the vicinity of New York or the Hudson River, could be quickly transported either by canal or railroad to the Lakes, and would there form a valuable means of defence against the enemy's gunboats and extemporized merchant cruisers.

The two classes of Type I may be roughly described as follows:

Type I



Class (a)

Class (b)

(1.) Defensive Power.

Armor so arrange as to afford complete protection to the vital parts of the ship.


Protective arrangements by water-tight compartments sufficient to render destruction by ram and torpedo problematical or doubtful.


(2.) Offensive Power.

Ram.  At least 2 “high power” B.L.R. of 15” calider; 6 rapid-firing 6-pdr. rifles; 2 5” B.L.R., “high-powers”; 4 torpedo-discharging tubes.

Ram.  At least 1 high-power B.L.R. of 12” caliber; 4 rapid-firing shell-guns, 6-pdr.; 2 5” B.L.R. high-power; 4 torpedo tubes.

(4.) Draught.

Not more than 18 feet.

Not more than 10 feet.

(5.) Endurance.

Steaming capacity, about 3000 miles.


(6.) Speed.

About 8 knots.


(7.) Seaworthiness.

Capable of making short passages at sea in rough weather.


(8.) Handiness.

Capable of turning readily when going either with or against the tide or current.



The next duty imposed upon our fleet is that of—(B) “Intercepting the enemy's transports, convoys and war material, hi transit to his bases near our territory.''

No demonstration is required to show that the most effective plan would be to blockade the British Isles; but as it is not probable, nor even necessary, that our “peace footing” will ever be strong enough to meet the enemy's concentrated war power in those waters at the opening of hostilities, such an operation could not be successfully performed. By the time that our ships were ready to commence offensive operations, English transports would be under convoy from the British Isles and India, with the object of concentration on our northeast and northwest frontiers; and as their operations from Bermuda would be of secondary importance, our best blockade would be that of the two principal objectives, the St. Lawrence and Vancouver. If we had vessels enough of Type I to seize and render those bases inoperative with the first notes of war, an effective blockade might possibly be maintained; but we could not count on such an operation for the solution of the difficulty, since it would be possible for England to assemble a large fleet of ironclad coast-defenders at each of those places before the declaration of war. Furthermore, the rifle of Type I at the opening of hostilities is undoubtedly to defend our exposed flanks on either seaboard. The blockade of these two objectives, therefore, during the first stages of the war, should be performed at sea; in accomplishing which we could create a diversion towards the lines of communication, draw off the enemy's coast-defenders, and pave the way for the culminating operations of attack.

The enemy would thus be obliged to protect his lines of communication at sea by ironclads, and a fleet of unarmored cruisers would be unable to do him any serious damage on either of his main lines. In executing such an operation as this, we should have the advantage of acting strictly on the offensive, while our adversary would be obliged to assume the defensive of what on the high seas may be regarded as detached or isolated bases; and inasmuch as the difficulties of his defence would increase with the size of his convoys, the number of vessels composing each convoy would necessarily be limited, and our offensive power on those lines should not be too highly concentrated. Therefore I conceive that we would require a scattered fleet, cruising on each of the lines, and that each vessel should possess power enough to engage the enemy's ironclads singly, if necessary. These vessels should be unencumbered by others of a weaker class, which they would be called upon to protect; in fact their character should be preeminently self-reliant, independent. Their qualities may then be regarded in the following order of importance, viz.:

Type II.

1. Great Speed.

2. Great Endurance.

3. Great Offensive Power.

4. Great Defensive Power.

5. Seaworthiness.

6. Steadiness of Platform.

7. Habitability.

8. Draught of water, limited only by the channels leading to their bases of supply.

9. Handiness, as great as is consistent with the attainment of the more essential qualities.

10. Size of Target, as small as is consistent with the attainment of the more essential qualities.

It needs but a glance to show, that to meet these requirements, nothing less than a first-class modern “battle-ship” will suffice.

The ships that we must depend upon to perform this important service should be at least as powerful as the “battle-ships of England.” There is a limit to the size of ships, which depends upon the quality of the material of which they are constructed; but it is apparent that the limit has not yet been reached in the construction of stout “protected,” steel “battle-ships.” I do not maintain that the Italia and Lepanto are perfect ships of the type they represent, that ships fully as powerful cannot be built of less displacement, but I do claim that, however much their proportions may be reduced, the largest ships can be made the most powerful on the high seas. It may be objected that the depths of the channels leading to our bases will prevent our building very large ships; but we should consider that the tendency of improvement in modern naval architecture is towards the increase of beam, in producing increased capacity for speed and increased stability combined with steadiness, and that increase of beam permits decrease of draught.

Table Showing Depths of Channels Leading to Principal Ports



Depth on Bar (feet)

Rise & Fall of Tide (feet)

Eastport, ME



Portsmouth, NH



Boston, MA



Provincetown, MA



New London, CT



New York, NY



Wilmington, DE



Chester, PA



Philadelphia, PA



Baltimore, MD



Norfolk, VA



New Orleans, LA



Seattle, WA



San Francisco, CA



San Diego, CA




A glance at this table will satisfy us that the load draught of our battle-ships can safely be placed at 24 feet, and I think it is safe to say that we can satisfactorily combine all the desirable qualities as enumerated for Type II, in a displacement of 11,000 tons, and at a cost of about $3,500,000.  If, however, the object could not be attained in a ship of that size, I see no reason why we should not build ships of 15,000 tons or more, unless we decide, as our English cousins are inclined to do, that future engagements on the high seas will invariably result in victory for the ship which possesses the best qualities for ramming.

If “ramming tactics” are to be the first resort in future engagements, our best policy would be to make all other offensive weapons subordinate, and, possibly, to build sea-going rams pure and simple.  When the battle of Lissa was fought, the coast defence ironclads were not built to be impervious to a single blow of the ram, and the torpedo was in the infancy of its development; now, the conditions of naval warfare are changed, and in future engagements, particularly where the sphere of action is unlimited, as on the high seas, ramming will be a last resort. My reasons for thinking so are: (1). The development of the torpedo will render the destruction of sea-going ships almost certain at short ranges. Moving torpedoes may be regarded as a species of projectile, the range and efficiency of which will, in the natural course of improvement, be continually increasing. (2). The possession of powerful guns by one of two antagonists will enable that ship to multiply the chances of delivering blows, almost equal in power to the ram of a small ship, at safe distances outside the zone of effective torpedo offence.

If I meet an enemy at sea intent on ramming and I am determined to try my skill with guns, he cannot possibly succeed in delivering his blow, unless he possesses greatly superior speed, without finding himself in my wake, where he must remain so long as I choose to keep him there. In such a position I would have the best of opportunities for using my stern torpedoes, which would be effective even if towed at the end of a hawser, and my chances would improve for hitting him, the nearer he approached my stern. If I possess a “stern-ram”—such a thing is not impossible—and all my previous efforts to cripple him have proven futile, I can ram with equal chances of success, at a moment when he least suspects it. If I possess superior speed, I can keep to windward and obtain the benefits of that potent auxiliary, the smoke from my guns, which will render his aim uncertain and destroy his power to avoid my torpedoes. If he possesses superior speed, the chase may be mainly to leeward, but he will still be in my wake, and the smoke in this case as disagreeable to the pursuer as to the pursued.

Unless my adversary is greatly superior in speed or prefers to follow in my wake, we must eventually engage broadside to broadside. If I possess a few long-range heavy guns, and his battery is composed of numerous light ones, his object will be to engage at short ranges, which I can prevent by again bringing him in the dangerous wake.

If future engagements at sea are not to be fought at long range, ought we not to inquire what chances of success the Chicago would have against a “torpedo cruiser” with displacement, speed, endurance, and armor-protection equal to that of the Chicago, but armed with 40 or more 6-pdr. “rapid-firing guns,” 10 or more torpedo guns and tubes, some above and some below the L.W.L., and 2 6-in. “high-powered “B.L.R. armor-piercing guns? In a melee, or ramming attack at close quarters, I think the Chicago's battery would soon be placed hors de combat by the rapid fire of the numerous light guns of her enemy, aimed from the shoulder, even if the torpedoes did not give the coup de grace before collision.

Some authorities declare, however, that ramming tactics should be adopted in fleet actions, while agreeing they should be avoided in naval duels, and as our battle-ships are to be qualified for squadron or fleet service, should occasion require, this phase of the subject also requires a brief investigation.

We may safely assume that a convoying fleet would never adopt the plan of avoidance, and leave its transports and supplies to the mercy of our vessels. But suppose our enemy unencumbered and free to engage, with intent to adopt “ramming tactics.”

If we adopt either single line abreast or simple column of vessels, as our preparatory formation, we can manage, by the simplest evolutions of turning through so many points and then changing course to suit the circumstances, to bring the enemy in our wake. We shall then be in single line abreast, and if the enemy follows in his favorite ramming formation, that of “groups” or “pelotons,” he will be at great disadvantage from the converging fire of our own guns and torpedoes, and at the same time his ships will be badly placed to render his necessarily diverging fire effective.

It is equally patent, that if the enemy were to assume the group formation, with a view to eventually cutting off our rear vessels, while steaming in line ahead on parallel courses, his position would be still worse with regard to the effect of the respective fires, and we could readily bring him again in our wake, if necessary.

An inspection of the preceding table will show three things: 1. A large capacity for bursting charge being desirable in common shell, it is not probable that the caliber of the heaviest guns will be much reduced in future.  2. Armor protection of some sort will be necessary to prevent penetration by heavy common shell.  3. No matter what the result of the “race between guns and armor,” it would be folly to build unprotected ships to engage protected ones.

It may be argued, that if a simple increase in the size of ships yields such enormous advantages, we should not be satisfied until we had produced ships larger than the Italia; but there are many objections to be raised against the building of colossal ships, some of which, if of paramount importance, would weigh heavily against those we have selected. In a comparison between ships of the same type: the largest are deficient in maneuvering power; they require greater sagacity and attention in handling on the part of commanding officers; they offer an easier target for the concentrated fire of several smaller vessels; their superiority in speed loses much of its value when maneuvering in concert with more sluggish or slower ships; they are usually of greater draught, and their spheres of action on soundings is more limited; they require a longer time for their construction, armament and repair, and thus retard mobilization in case of war; they require special appliances for construction and repair, which cannot be readily multiplied in all ports without great expense; they demand a numerous personnel for their maintenance, and they are more exposed to accident on account of the increased complication of machinery.

There exists between the force of human intelligence and the instruments used by man a certain harmony of proportions which should never be disturbed. A child armed with the sword of a man would come to grief in combat with an adult less heavily armed, and yet a rifle in the hands of a diminutive sportsman would be more deadly than it would be in the hands of a giant unused to it. It is the aptitude and confidence of those who use an instrument of war that assure the victory; and so, if there be any advantage in the use of a massive instrument, there is no reason why we should not accustom ourselves to use it, unless we pass the limit of harmony in proportions where its efficiency in skilful hands cannot be regarded as greater than that of a smaller one in equally skilful hands.

We come now to consider what ships we shall require to,—

(C) Intercept the enemy's food and industrial supplies in transit to the seat of government.

England is forced to depend on either her colonies or the outside world for her food supply and the raw products which make her factories pulsate with vigorous life; and she will always be obliged to transport those raw products over a vast extent of the world's “great highway.” She has about $800,000,000 of capital invested in ships upon the ocean, engaged in the carrying trade; and her capital invested in factories, and the number of subjects dependent on them, must be enormous. Uninterrupted supply is vital to her national life, and if it could be checked for a sufficient length of time, would undoubtedly produce starvation, anarchy and rebellion among those depending on it. Viewed in this light, our best plan of attack seems plain enough; but there are other considerations which place the matter in a very different aspect, and which may cause us to question the feasibility of striking so decisive and easy a blow.

In the first place, those goods for which she must depend on the outside world are not contraband of war, and there is nothing in the laws of nations to prohibit their being carried by neutral ships. In the second place, if we were to build a navy for the purpose of seizing those goods wherever found on the enemy's ships, they would be carried in neutral bottoms after the opening of hostilities, and we could not touch them without blockading all the ports of the British Isles. Such a blockade, as before noticed, would not be “effective” unless our navy were as powerful, at least, as that of England.

During the first stages of our Civil War, the Confederates possessed no “commerce-destroyers,” and our merchant ships went their way without fear of molestation. This fact led to the success of the Alabama, and now that name is used as a scarecrow. After the deeds of the Alabama became known to our ship-owners, our flag disappeared from the sea, but commerce still continued. Is it not reasonable to suppose, then, that English capitalists with such interests at stake, would find a means of placing those ships under the protection of neutral registers with the first notes of war? Would it not be the wisest and safest thing for them to do, knowing the difficulties attending a blockade of the British Isles? And can we suppose that England would suffer greatly by the transformation, with the ships still owned by her subjects, and her shipbuilding establishments engaged in supplying a renewed demand for war material?

The only hold we should have on those ships under neutral flags would be when found with contraband of war on board; but the British Isles are bountifully supplied with that necessity, and such material in transit to the colonies would naturally be convoyed by English ironclads. Coal cannot be regarded as contraband of war in transit to neutral territory, and as England is not an importer of that article, her coal industries would not suffer. It is not probable, however, that this transformation would take place immediately on the opening of hostilities, unless the declaration of war were delayed for that purpose; still, owing to the constantly increasing facilities for communication with all parts of the world, by telegraph, such an event could be readily prearranged. No great difficulty would be encountered either in neutral or colonial ports; and even in our own ports, consular representatives and agents could be found through whom either neutral registers could be obtained, or the nominal ownership changed, if necessary. But the ships which happened to be actually on the high seas, or which had decided to run the risk at the beginning of war, might become a prey to our cruising ships returning home by way of the trade routes. Such ships would not be convoyed, but the enemy's cruisers would probably hover about the trade centers, at the crossings of the great routes, for their protection.

This great blow, then, would have to be struck with the first notes of war, after which our cruisers would become comparatively useless, unless they could be actively employed nearer home in the common defense of our coast, or at a distance in blockading the enemy's coast.

By reference to the following table it will be seen that those freight-carrying vessels, either steamers or sailing ships, which compose the great bulk of the English merchant marine, do not make, on an average, more than 8 knots, and if armed with guns for self-protection, could carry a few only of light caliber. For the purpose of threatening this great freight-carrying fleet and forcing a transfer of flags—the moral effect of which, in foreign countries, would injure British interests to some extent—we would require as many vessels as possible to scatter over the trade routes for a short period; vessels which should be equipped and ready at the declaration of war, and naturally should form the greater part of our cruising fleet in times of peace.

How can we, then, strike this blow during the first stages of war in the best way commensurate with the results to be obtained, without expending the greater portion of our appropriation for reconstruction on a fleet of “commerce-destroyers?”  No doubt a fleet of swift cruisers of Chicago or Atlanta type could best perform the duty; but would the value of the object—that of capturing a very small portion of the enemy's merchant marine—justify the expenditure requisite to maintain, ready at all times, a great number of such vessels, when the duty might be performed by the same number of smaller vessels, costing one-fourth or one-fifth as much?

It is true that a Chicago might be able to avoid a more powerful enemy, but her principal object would be the destruction of merchant vessels, and she would be as liable to meet a more powerful enemy that she could not avoid, as would five smaller vessels in pursuit of the same object. From her passenger and mail-carrying merchant fleet, England could turn out a fleet of cruisers swifter and more powerfully armed than the Chicago or Boston, and we could do the same with such a fleet; but of that anon.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of the smaller vessels is, that after the first stages of war, neither they nor the Chicago would be in great demand at sea, and that the former might then be utilized on the Lakes, while the latter could not.

I do not like to advocate the smaller vessels, because a small ship, at best, is a poor representative of power; moreover, it can be built at short notice in emergency; but, if it is needed to perform certain peace duties, and if it occupies an important place in our scheme of preparation for war, it is undoubtedly the exponent of our necessities in the interest of economy.

Those subordinate peace duties in the performance of which we are most actively engaged at present, require the presence on foreign stations, and in our home ports, of handy vessels of light draught and moderate power; and when we consider in connection with this, that such vessels could perform the functions of “commerce-destroyers” on the outbreak of war, that they could afterwards be useful in our rivers and on the Great Lakes, and, furthermore, that the economy effected by then would conduce to the more efficient development of our war power in the construction of our first-class battle-ships and coast-defenders, our main dependence in time of war, I think we are justified in concluding that the chief characteristics of the vessels entrusted with the duty of “intercepting the enemy's food and industrial supplies,” may be regarded, as follows:

Type III.

1. Seaworthiness,

2. Habitability,

3. Light draught,

4. Moderate speed,

5. Endurance,

6. Handiness,

7. Moderate offensive power,

8. Moderate defensive power.

It is a popular impression among some foreign naval authorities, that future fleets will operate in much the same manner as an army on land, with their skirmishers, cavalry, heavy artillery, and light infantry. The “cavalry of the seas” is a choice expression, but it requires sound theories to give it force. A fleet composed of an incongruous mixture of vessels, possessing varied qualities of seaworthiness, speed and power, supposed to represent the mobility of an army, would labor under peculiar disadvantages of the elements on the high seas; and an attempt by the different branches to exercise the functions assigned them would result in a weak incoherency. Such a fleet could be easily destroyed in detail by a few “battle ships,” which would represent a concentration of power and an independence of action not possessed by the combined branches of the large “sea army” pictured in the imagination of its advocates.

For extensive operations against an enemy's coast or island bases, the vessels of Types I and II would perhaps require the assistance of army transports and supply vessels, for which we could depend upon our merchant marine, since these would not be required during the first stages of the war; but the possession of battle-ships would enable us to transport a small army without the aid of other transport vessels.

In regard to the transmission of messages during war it is well to note [see map] the advantages possessed by England in the position of our principal Atlantic cables, two of which could not be tapped, during war with that power, since they belong to France and connect French territory; on the other hand, it would be possible for us, by means of either these or the South American lines, to communicate with any nation, provided we were at war with no two powers at once. In this connection it is also well to bear in mind that it is possible for foreign powers to find convenient allies among many of our weaker neighbors, in the event of war with us.

England is neither our only neighbor, nor the only power with whom we are liable to be at war. We cannot allude to the “Virginius affair,” or the attitude of Spain towards us at various times, without feelings of humiliation. In the event of war with that power, our principal operations would be confined to protecting our seaboard cities, and to seizing his only important base near our territory. A portion of our vessels of Type I should be available to assemble quickly at Key West, and these, together with a few of Type II and a few transports and supply vessels from the merchant marine, would form a formidable attacking fleet against Cuba. In a war with France, the same sort of a fleet could operate successfully against and hold her bases at the mouth of the St. Lawrence and in the West Indies; but more attention would be paid to the defense of the coast. In our present condition, Brazil, Chili, or the Argentine Republic might send a fleet of ironclads to devastate our seaport cities; but although the operation would be humiliating to us, the results would scarcely justify so bold an operation at such great distances from their bases, unless they were cooperating as allies with some other power. In retaliation for indignities on the part of those nations, if we were prepared, a blockade and bombardment of their coasts could be readily performed by vessels of Type II. Operations against the Argentines and Brazilians, however, would require in addition a few of Type I, on account of the shallow harbors of those countries.

The same general disposition of vessels for defense could be adopted in the event of war with Germany. For offensive measures against that country the most effective vessels to use against the ports of the North Sea and the Baltic would be those of Type I. But those vessels could not operate far from their bases, and it is well to notice just here the adaptability of the ships of Type II to supply the need of bases, at once powerful and mobile, to those of Type I, when the latter are required for service at a distance from the United States. The battle-ships could most effectively convoy the more sluggish but powerful ironclads to the seat of war and furnish them constantly with fuel, ammunition, guns, men, and all kinds of necessary supplies, while performing other important functions. The transfer of supplies could be made either on the open sea, in bays or channels, or possibly in neutral ports. Thus the outer line of blockade and the transport of munitions of war between the United States and the seat of operations could be safely entrusted to the powerful, independent, and rapid battle-ships of Type II.

Enough has been said to conclude that in reconstructing our Navy with the object of defense against England, it would be adapted to command respect and observation of our national rights from any other power with which we are likely to be at war.


Can the types that we have selected for our war nucleus serve our “peace requirements” and if so, how?

The vessels of Type I would not be useful as cruising ships, and in order that they might be retained in a constant state of efficiency they should be kept either in fresh water basins, or lifted out of the water and stored along a convenient water front—on gridiron docks, similar to those in use by Russia—near their bases of operation, at which places our principal dockyards or naval stations should be situated. For the same reason, and to satisfy the third condition of our peace requirements, officers and men should be given opportunities for handling them occasionally. Suppose, for instance, at a certain time every year, preferably in the autumn, a detail of officers and men, either from the North Atlantic Squadron or from the training and receiving ships, were required to man one or two of those vessels, and take them out into the open roads, for exercises in maneuvering and target practice, and after an experience of a week or more, to replace the vessels and stores in the condition in which found. All the details would be prearranged by the officers notified to hold themselves in readiness, and the fitting out and exercising of two vessels in the same harbor, under the eyes of the commanding officer of the North Atlantic fleet, would stimulate a spirit of rivalry which would be highly beneficial to the personnel in many ways. The principal benefit, however, to be derived from the scheme, would be the assurance that these vessels could be got ready at very short notice at the outbreak of war; that their good or bad condition and qualities would become known, and their defects remedied, and that the officers would know how to use them advantageously when war required their use in earnest. If different vessels were thus fitted out each year for a short season of evolutions, the whole ironclad fleet would serve the principal objects of a “peace navy,” and at the same time be maintained in an efficient condition. Reports on the results of these exercises, and suggestions by those in command, would be retained at the department as a guide to their efficiency, and the whole maneuver could be cheerfully performed with manifest benefit to the service, and no additional expense to the government.

One vessel of Type II, on each of our cruising stations, would be a fitting flagship to maintain the prestige of our flag abroad; would form our best school for the training and discipline of officers and men; would carry men and officers enough to form efficient landing parties for the protection of American citizens at home and abroad; would serve as a comfortable transport for conveying distressed citizens from threatened danger, in irresponsible belligerent communities; would be ready at all times, and in all states of the weather, to transport her power with celerity to any point in the interests of humanity; would be the most efficient possible aid in enforcing the laws of neutrality, and would be ready to repair with celerity and certainty, to her proper war station on the declaration of war, with a complement large enough for manning captured prizes en route.

Type III possesses the advantage of adding to a moderate efficiency in the performance of all the duties of Type II, the important qualifications for assisting the cause of scientific investigation, and executing surveys in an economical manner. But the advantages of this type are most apparent when we regard it as an essential part of the cruising fleet, of which the flagship is the central power or base on a foreign station, because through it Type II has the ability to extend its power into shallow waters, or to spread that power in many different directions at the same time.

It will be apparent that the personnel serving on the gunboat class, during a whole cruise, would be deprived, for the time being, of the benefits of experience at the heavy guns and in other duties incident only to the interior economy of the larger vessels, and that, on the other hand, those serving on the battle-ships, of which the sail-power should be strictly auxiliary, would be deprived of the more active experience incident to handling a small ship under both steam and sail. In order to divide the hard work and vary the monotony of a cruise, to extend experience and create a healthy spirit of rivalry among all in the performance of duty, it might be a good plan to institute a system of yearly transfers of complements between the flagship and the gunboats. This would extend the sphere of experience in exercising various responsibilities, and stimulate that interest in the service which is so necessary to the maintenance of an efficient and economic personnel.


It appears, then, that the nucleus of our war power could perform the offices of a “peace navy” in the best interests of efficiency, and that in establishing a reconstruction policy, no ship should be built which does not designedly occupy her place in the great scheme of preparation for war for national defense.

No demonstration is necessary to prove that our naval force must be stronger during war than during peace, but it is not a struggle of endurance, such as that of our last war, for which we shall need to be prepared. It is not probable that naval wars will again run the length of many years, because those ships which will form the main defense of a country cannot be built in a few months, and the country best prepared at the opening of hostilities will be in a condition to strike sudden decisive blows, and thus prevent the expansion of war power by that nation most neglectful of its defenses and maritime interests. Superiority in numbers, however, does not necessarily indicate superiority in preparation. The power possessing a few vessels adapted to the necessities of the age at the period of the war, will possess a superiority that will far outweigh the advantages of a numerous fleet composed of obsolete vessels. If, then, it is not possible or even necessary for us to possess a very large fleet, great care and sagacity is required to maintain the fleet we do possess, in a condition thoroughly adapted to the requirements of war, so that it may be efficient when required for use.

It is a popular idea in this country that the best policy to pursue in naval construction is to watch the progress of other nations more actively engaged, and when occasion requires, to apply the results of their experience in building our vessels; and the advocates of this method claim that it saves the expense of experiment. Our first duty is undoubtedly to watch the progress of other nations and to benefit by their experience, but the experiments we accept second-hand may turn out failures, and we should exercise great caution lest we be drawn into mistakes. If we are not to maintain a large navy, we cannot afford to stake our success in making it efficient on the soundness of their judgment, and we should therefore guard against being dependent on them, not only for material and manufacturing skill, but for ideas or originality. If we encourage, foster, and reward our boasted American inventive genius, we shall find no difficulty in the development of sound principles on which to base our calculations for the future. If we are not yet able to trace the “curve of progress” in naval science, it is important that we should establish a system, in our plan for reconstruction, by which we may be able to settle the problems on which a clear understanding of its difficult equation depends. The basis of such a system may be expressed by the following principle: No ship should be built that is not superior, or at least fully equal, to those of any other nation, of the same type, contemporary with it.

In the modern science of naval warfare there is a broad field for the exercise of inventive genius which, owing to our present neglectful policy, is closed for the want of encouragement. In fact, the proper expansion of our war power at the critical moment, as well as the efficiency of our preparations, depend on our cultivation of this genius for purposes of national defense; and if we could open a broad field of fair competition to the civil and professional talent of the land, the public interest would be aroused and a large portion of the people gradually educated up to the standard required for the execution of any policy that might be demanded by our peculiar situation; moreover, such encouragement would stimulate the increase of national wealth and prosperity, and the public purse-strings would not be drawn so tightly as now, against the support of an arm of defense so essential for the vigorous growth to which I have alluded in the first part of this essay.

Therefore, in order to facilitate the execution of a progressive policy, I would recommend some such scheme as the establishment of an annual experimental fund under the control of the Advisory Board, which could not be used for any other purpose than the trial of inventions and the reward of successful competitors. A prize of sufficient value to reward the best talent, on subjects of importance to the service, might be offered for competition each year; a systematic and thorough test of all such productions deemed worthy of it by the Advisory Board might be inaugurated, and the trials might be performed under the direction of the Bureau most interested. The money so expended would be the means of a great saving to the government, from the fact that the finished constructions would become less and Jess experimental in character, and it would decrease the range of doubtful investigation. Many problems are still unsettled, such as:

The most convenient arrangement of bulkheads, decks and cells, to combine the greatest protection with economy of space in arrangement of cables, stores, etc.

The best arrangement of compartments for diminishing the effect of shell explosion within a ship, and for neutralizing the effect of, or arresting the entrance of water through shot-holes.

The best form of vessel and best disposition of weights to combine a level with a steady platform, without sacrificing safety, endurance and speed.

The best type of engines and boilers, combining high speed with compactness, light weight, durability, capacity for repair, and economy of fuel at either high or low speeds.

The best fuel suitable for war purposes, and the best means of carrying it.

The best form of propelling power suitable to the needs of war ships.

The best full rig for small sea-going steamers, and the best auxiliary rig for large steamers, combining strength, simplicity, lightness, and adaptability for quick handling in reducing to fighting trim.

The best disposition of armor combining least weight with greatest resisting power.

The best method of mounting guns to combine all-around fire with facility for working under given conditions.

The best quality of metal or combination of metals suitable for ship construction.

The best projectiles, combining penetrating power with capacity for bursting charge, and the best mobile torpedoes, combining power, range, accuracy, and simplicity.

There are innumerable details in the development of which it is desirable to interest the inventive and scientific skill of our people, both civil and professional; the application of electricity, for instance, as an aid in almost every branch of naval science, offers a wide field for investigation; and if the value of a new theory in any of its various ramifications is demonstrated, it is paramount to our interest that we be the first, if possible, to take advantage of it. If we were in the van of progress and inventive skill it would do quite as much for our prestige abroad as the actual possession of a large fleet.

It would be a great step towards economy if we were to establish, at the Washington yard or other suitable place, a model-tank and outfit, such as that so successfully used by the late Mr. Froude in England. Experiments could be efficiently conducted by experts from our own construction corps, with great advantage to the efficiency of that branch of our personnel and with great economy to our shipping interests.

In testing the efficiency of a new innovation, such as would require the construction of a complete vessel, the experiment might first be made with a small one in view of eventually adding that vessel to our gunboat fleet, if successful.


Owing to the constant progress of naval science, it is highly injurious to economy in ship-construction to delay building for long periods: (1) because ships rapidly deteriorate if neglected in this state; (2) because they eventually cost more than their original estimates, owing to constant alterations in their designs and the expense of preserving them in a semi-complete state; (3) because when finally completed, they do not meet the requirements of the age, and are almost, if not quite, obsolete in type.

One of the most important reasons why we should build the most efficient vessels only, is that the greatest expense to be met in providing for the wants of a navy cannot be devoted to new constructions; and this fact ought to be very forcible with us, on account of our past lack of success in the administration of naval affairs. A large proportion of the money is absorbed in maintenance and repairs and this proportion increases in inverse ratio to the worth or efficiency of the fleet. In other words, if we now possess a new fleet quite up to the necessities of the day, twenty years hence that fleet will be less efficient and at the same time cost more to maintain than it does now. It is necessary, then, in order to economize in the end, that all new constructions should be built of the most suitable material in use at the time of their building, and that no vessel should be retained on the list longer than the average efficient life of a war-ship constructed of that material. If we have wooden vessels on the stocks, in a state of semi-completion, it would be more economical in the end to sell them now, than to complete them for a life of semi-impotency, and as a fruitful source for absorbing a large part of our appropriations in future maintenance. The great secret in naval economy which many nations have yet to learn, is to maintain nothing superfluous or inefficient, and this fact should possess greater force with us now in the construction of new wooden ships of an obsolete type, than it would twenty years hence in the maintenance of an inefficient fleet which may now be efficient.

The most essential part of any plan for the reconstruction and increase of our navy, is the adoption of a carefully considered building program, and the establishment of a sinking fund or credit.

If we know the number of vessels needed, their cost and the time to be allowed in building them, we can determine the average yearly or normal expenditure on which to base our program. This normal expenditure is what would have to be appropriated if the same amount of war power were added each year; but as the construction of a new fleet is an experience which we have not enjoyed for some time, and as we are naturally doubtful concerning the quality of those we could turn out at first, it would evidently be impolitic to expend the same amount during the first years as during the last. In other words, our program also should be accumulative or progressive in character. To ensure the future efficiency of our peace-footing after the lapse of the time allowed, it will be necessary to provide for the continual addition of new constructions to replace vessels whose efficiency will gradually disappear as they approach the limit of useful age; but it will be time enough then to revise the program we now establish, and provide for the continuance of a fixed policy, a steady addition of new and efficient vessels, and a similar sale of those that have passed their ages of usefulness and have begun to absorb large doses of “maintenance.”

The establishment of a sinking fund is necessary, to set the wheels of progress in motion, or to develop those industries on which we must depend for the finished ships, if not for the raw materials. It may be impossible to determine the exact cost of the completed fleet, because the later productions ought to cost less than the first, owing to the increased building facilities which will be produced; but the cost may be estimated approximately, and Congress should establish a sinking fund for that amount in the National Treasury, with the proviso that it could be touched for no other purpose than the construction of new vessels. By this act the iron producers and steel workers, supplying ship-building establishments, would be persuaded to increase the productive facilities of their establishments, the demand for skilled labor would be increased, and we would become exporters of much that is superior to what we now import.

It is desirable in reconstructing our navy to do it in such a manner as to encourage the development of our much neglected merchant marine; in fact, the reconstruction of the navy can be made to go hand-in-hand with that of the merchant marine, with mutual advantage. It is painfully evident that if we were to commence the construction of these new ships at our navy-yards, we should have to deprive our private builders of many of their skilled laborers, and would thus impede the building of a merchant fleet. Building in steel or iron would be a new industry at our navy-yards, and new plants would be required; besides, we are still unsettled, and apt to remain so for a while, as to the future location of these yards, and it would be folly to start a plant at a yard which might be sold a few years hence. On the other hand, if we begin our construction at private yards, we shall have ample experience and material to draw from, after the inauguration of our building policy has had an opportunity to expand the facilities for doing so. If our yards were in successful operation now, there would be no question about the quality of the work they might turn out, and the cost ought to be nearly the same in both cases; but in their present unsettled condition we shall have enough to do to decide on the most suitable sites, and to establish a systematic arrangement of docks and store-houses sufficient to provide for the future maintenance and repair of our new fleet. Furthermore, there is not the pressing need of encouragement at our yards that is experienced by our private builders, upon whom we shall have to depend, as most governments do, for the expansion of our war power on the outbreak of a war. Our private building establishments need encouragement in order that their number may be increased, because on their number, more than on their capacity, within large limits, depends our power of expanding in time of war. It would be more difficult for an enemy to destroy a number of private yards of moderate capacity than one of great capacity, provided the majority of those yards were situated in or near the same basins, as is now the case, so that the same system of concentrated defense would suffice to protect them all. If the contracts were open to all bidders, the cost would be maintained within reasonable limits; and if the ships were built under the scrutiny of government inspecting officers, the work would be as thoroughly done as if performed under the supervision of the same inspectors at government yards. As regards the rig and equipment, however, there is a uniformity required which could best be maintained by having that work performed at our yards, where we already have ample facilities and skill for that purpose.

The “experimental fund,” before mentioned, would secure the advantages of civil inventive genius in influencing the character of the designs, all of which should be made at the Navy Department, subject, however, to criticism by private authorities, and revision, if deemed advisable.


These remarks do not apply strictly to the construction of guns. The art of gun-construction in this country, owing to our long neglect, is again almost in its infancy; so far behind in the race of progress is it, that nothing less than a great effort on the part of the government will again enable our private gun-founders to compete in the markets of the world, or our guns to become known for their excellence and superiority. Competition is the life of gun-construction, as demonstrated in Europe, because the demands of the individual governments in which gun-firms are situated are not alone sufficient to stimulate the production, and rivalry among competing firms for the outside market develops the excellence of their work. We could, doubtless, establish a national gun-foundry in this country that would turn out guns as good as any in Europe, but we could not hope to maintain such an establishment with a productive capacity equal to that which the private firms of the country are capable of developing. There is a subtle and important reason, however, why we should turn our attention particularly towards developing private enterprise in this direction. If other governments patronize our private firms—and the trade is enormous among the unproductive powers—we have a prime assistance in defense against their aggression, for in time of war their supply would be cut off, and ours correspondingly increased. If at such a time they could depend on a powerful ally for their gun supply, the guns would be different from the ones they had been accustomed to, and difficulty would be experienced in using them. We can readily imagine the advantage we should possess, in event of war with France, by having the firm of our countryman Hotchkiss situated in the United States instead of at St. Denis.

The sinking fund which I have mentioned with reference to the construction of ships might include the cost of armament, but we could not rely on this sum to set the wheels of private gun-construction in motion. A new and expensive plant would be required, and the reward to be obtained would not pay for the investment. If several firms were started, and the contracts were allotted to the lowest bidder, all but one would fail. Although it is desirable to have several gun-firms situated in different parts of the country, the success of more than one would be problematical; but it is highly probable that one complete and well-appointed establishment supplied from the immense resources of this country, would be enabled, with the proper encouragement, to rival in the world's market the best of those in Europe. Our best policy, therefore, is to foster a complete establishment on a large scale, similar to that of Krupp in Germany, or of Armstrong in England; and we can never expect to attain this desirable end without inaugurating some well-concerted plan, the success of which must be assured by the latent value of the public funds.

By establishing a public loan we could find reliable and competent gun-makers enough to form a Consolidated Association, and to establish a well-organized system, capable of indefinite expansion, and modeled somewhat after the remarkable plan of Herr Krupp at Essen. The loan would eventually revert to the coffers of the Treasury with interest, but the plans of the works and details of construction, at least until the loan were paid off, should be subject to government approval, and the government should reserve the right to representation by its officers in the direction of affairs. The right to control the establishment as a national gun-foundry, under certain just restrictions, in connection with the right to representation, would secure the government against any difficulty in the payment of bonds. The land for the site would be willingly ceded by the State in which it would be located, and the United States would become simply a stockholder for a reasonable length of time, in a firm the success of which would be assured. The locality should be selected with due regard to facility for obtaining raw materials, and transportation to the three seaboards and the Great Lakes. It should also be out of reach of an enemy's ships if possible, and I know of no better site than the vicinity of Pittsburgh, Penn., where we already have a national arsenal, and a foundry that once supplied us with excellent guns. There is no doubt about our ability to manufacture suitable guns at the Washington Navy Yard, but the facilities of that yard would have to be vastly increased to meet the demands of the government, and the yard itself would suit our necessities best if retained principally as a naval arsenal and experimental station.


The cost of maintenance and repairs is everywhere very serious. In Germany and Russia, where service is compulsory, the amount devoted to new constructions is 66 and 62 per cent, respectively of the entire cost of the navy. In England and France, however, this percentage averages, respectively, 36 and 35 per cent. In our estimates for the year ending June, 1885, the estimated cost of increase is 28 per cent, of the total; but if we exclude from the cost of maintenance that estimated for “repairs and preservation of vessels” and that for “steam machinery,” the percentage becomes 32. The Germans and Russians do not utilize many of their vessels for cruising purposes, and the amount of work done by them may be regarded in the light of an insurance on the national safety, pure and simple; but the economy of their administration, particularly that of the Germans, is due, in a great measure, to the systematic methods adopted by them. The German Navy is comparatively new, and consequently not bound down by old traditions established in an age when the requirements of naval warfare were very different from what they are now-a-days. If we constantly repair old vessels and make them move about under the name of men-of-war, they compromise rather than maintain the prestige of our flag; but one of the worst evils arising from the practice is that the longer these old vessels are maintained, the more numerous are the changes required to give them a semblance of efficiency, so that the cost of repairs increases with age, in a sort of geometrical ratio.

If, therefore, we sell our inefficient wooden vessels as rapidly as they are replaced by new constructions, beginning, of course, with the oldest and most inefficient, we shall lose nothing of intrinsic value, but shall gain much in point of economy, because at the time of sale they will still be of value to the merchant marine, and will command prices somewhat commensurate with their original cost, while, a few years later, their value will be reduced to that of so much old hulk or machinery.

When ships are allowed to remain idle or “in ordinary,” after returning from a cruise, they rapidly deteriorate, and when they finally become obsolete in design they have not seen sufficient service to be regarded as economical investments. But by keeping all of our peace footing in constant repair and actively employed throughout their lives of naval efficiency, we would require the least number of vessels and would get the most work out of each. And if at the expiration of this period (presumably twenty years, the average age of efficiency in a war-ship) the proceeds of their sale were available for the repair of newer vessels, the cost of repairs would be kept at its lowest figure.

After our reconstruction is completed, if we establish a fixed policy of replacing old vessels by new yearly, it might become possible to devote more than 30 per cent, of the annual appropriations to new constructions.

Unless we were threatened with war in the near future, it would be bad policy to lay down the plans of the battle-ships at the rate of more than one a year, because we wish each one to embody some improvement over its predecessor; and as we require nine of them, ten years seems to be about the least limit of time that should be allowed for the reconstruction of our fleet.

The construction of the coast defense ironclads should also be undertaken in a progressive sort of way, because of so many novelties in design; but there is no great demand for care in commencing to build the gunboats, and by building the greatest number at first, we should be enabled still to balance the yearly estimates, and at the same time to replace old vessels more rapidly.

“Sinking Fund,” Total expenditure for 10 years, $62,000,000. Average expenditure in 1 year, 6,200,000.

If this average expenditure be regarded as 30 per cent., the total yearly expenditure, including “cost of maintenance and repairs,” would be $20,666,666, not a very great increase over our average annual expenditure from 1867 to 1877, which was $20,188,730.

This yearly expenditure is only 34 per cent, of what, in the year ending June 5, 1885, will be the annual surplus in the treasury, and 17 per cent, of what was voted recently for pensions, one of the results of previous neglect in matters of national defense.


While the construction of our new fleet is in progress, the question of dockyards and naval stations should be carefully settled, in order that docking, repairing and maintenance could be economically and thoroughly performed entirely by the government, and that the government might be enabled eventually to build at least a portion of its own ships, and thus to increase the building facilities of the country beyond the capacity of the private yards, which would then be fully established in good working order. If our most important dockyards are to be sold, the sites for new yards should be wisely selected with a view to avoiding in future the causes that now demand their sale. It is undoubtedly advantageous to have them near our important seaboard cites, because one system of defense is then sufficient to protect both city and dockyard; but they should be situated at such distances as to be outside the future growth of those cities. It is advantageous to have them near the building centers, where the cost of transportation of material would not be great. They should also be situated in deep bays, inlets or rivers, the defense of which could be made as independent of ships as possible, and at such distance from the sea that bombardment by attacking vessels outside the range of land defenses would be impossible. They should also be approachable by deep draught ships, and their sites should command extensive water-fronts for the construction of dry-docks and basins or gridiron ways. Their approaches also should be open at all seasons of the year.

But the most important consideration is that the sites should be selected with a view to enhancing their strategic value in time of war, and one first-class dockyard on the Atlantic coast and one on the Pacific coast would be amply sufficient. Although we have a number of good sites on the Atlantic seaboard, those of our present yards are all objectionable; that at Portsmouth would be difficult to defend, and the climate is severe in winter; that at Boston is too near the city and is open to the same objection; that at New York is being looked upon with wistful eyes in the interests of trade, and is also within range of the heavy ordnance of ships below Coney Island; that at Philadelphia satisfies nearly all the requirements, but in the near future may be sacrificed to the business interests of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Railroad; that at Norfolk is too small for a first-class yard, its water front and approaches are cramped, and it is rather too far removed from the building centers. The nearest approach to a perfect site is at some point near the head of Chesapeake Bay, from which there is canal communication direct to our great building and shipping centers, Wilmington, Chester, Philadelphia and New York. There might be difficulties which are not apparent at present, but the situation of a first-class dockyard somewhere near Baltimore presents so many strategic advantages that it is worthy of investigation.

On the Pacific side there is apparently but one locality, the Bay of San Francisco, which possesses all the desirable features. There are many difficulties encountered at Mare Island as it is now laid out; but it should be remembered that its facilities could be extended to the side facing San Pablo Bay, by the erection of the proper sea walls, docks, basins and breakwaters.

The first-class dockyards should be devoted exclusively to the building, docking, and repairing of ships, and the preservation or storage of coast-defense ironclads; and no naval ship in commission should be allowed to remain near them in times of peace, for the purpose of receiving slight repairs.

On the Gulf coast we need a Naval Station or depot for the preservation or storage of coast-defense ironclads, and for affording docking and supply facilities. Pensacola is badly exposed to bombardment, and the channel is not deep. Some point on the Mississippi River in the vicinity of New Orleans, if such could be found, would offer many advantages as a base for ironclads destined for the Lakes and for the Gulf coast. Other Naval Stations should also be maintained at Portsmouth, N, H., Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Va., and either Portland, Oregon, or Seattle Harbor, W.T., where the area of existing yards might be contracted to that sufficient only to maintain the docks, a few storehouses, and quarters for the small amount of personnel required to watch and care for them. The remaining land might be profitably sold, and the proceeds might defray the expenses of the new dockyard. In some cases parts of the land might be leased to private firms for the purpose of starting shipbuilding establishments, the government reserving the right of control or purchase of plant during war. If the docking and repair facilities of private firms on the Great Lakes are not adequate to meet the necessities of our light-draught ironclads and gunboats in time of war, a naval station should be maintained at each of the best ports on Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario.

Coal and supply depots should be scattered along the coast at such places as Eastport, Me,; Newport, R. I.; New London, Conn.; Port Royal, S. C.; Key West, Fla.; Pensacola, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; and San Diego, Cal., where coal is not apt to be found in great abundance. Neither stations nor depots would require much space, and they could be maintained at small expense if all stores were carefully housed, and the cruising ship's personnel responsible for all work except docking. A small detachment of marines and workmen, with a few responsible officers, should be charged with their care and maintenance, and coal should be carefully housed, with proper ventilation, to prevent deterioration and theft.


The cost of maintenance is so closely connected with measures of reform, that a reduction in the number of officers has of late come to be considered as almost the only resort. This delusive theory is apt to lead to disastrous results with any nation, but should be particularly guarded against with us. Economy may be effected to the extent of getting rid of those who do not come up to the desired standard of efficiency, but to deprive the country of a large body of highly efficient trained officers ready to expand our war power at the outbreak of war, and to extend our influence throughout the scientific world during times of peace, is to take a step backwards towards fostering that lethargy in national development which I have endeavored to portray in the first pages of this essay.

The life of a successful naval officer is from necessity a life more of study than of work, and if a great reduction is made in the number of officers, many will be deprived of opportunities which they now possess for combining study with work which would have to be performed either by officers or by trained civil assistants, and the effect would be to narrow the officer's “sphere of usefulness,” without in the end effecting any great economy.

But the worst feature, perhaps, about such a reduction is that it would deprive the country of an important class of developed resources which are necessary for national defense. Men and iron are both raw resources in a certain sense, and it is just as important that we should possess the power to develop trained seamen on the outbreak of war, as it is that we should possess the power to develop the ironclad or a fighting ship. It is one of the fundamental principles of our national policy that our commerce shall be one of our principal war resources, both in men and materiel; but of what avail will that resource be in a modern war, if we do not provide for maintaining the power to develop it quickly on the outbreak of war? This power, in the case of men, can be provided only by the quality and numerical strength of our trained officers, and the quality has never been found wanting. Doubtless we shall always be able to command brave men in the hour of danger; but bravery is not the only necessary quality in these days of progress; it must be combined with skill in the use of modern implements of warfare. Ships and men may be improvised to a certain extent, but not the officers or the skill necessary to do the improvising.

It may be noticed that I have neglected to provide for ships of the Boston and Chicago types, and it may be accounted for by the fact that I have been contemplating this reliance on the merchant marine to perform the duties of those types. If we take the proper steps for the development of our merchant marine, we may at the same time provide for the building in that service of vessels fully adapted to perform the services of a Boston, a Chicago, or a Dolphin.

The development of our merchant marine, aside from its value as a war resource, would result in a great increase in wealth and prosperity, not only to ship-owners and builders, but to those engaged in all other industries. The great value of the railroad in this respect is apparent, but the steamship line is a supplement to the railroad, and the increased facilities for the transport of mails, passengers, produce and heavy merchandise, possessed by the latter, would induce an increase of business which would benefit all industries similarly affected by the railroad. It is clear, then, that if we develop our merchant marine with a view to increasing our industries in time of peace, we should also develop it with a view to protecting those industries in time of war, and that the increase in wealth which would result from this development should justify some sacrifice of the funds of the national treasury.

It is not within the province of this essay to discuss the questions of “free trade” or “free ships,” but there are one or two points that demand our attention. The first is, that if our shipbuilders should receive the encouragement proposed by the plan for reconstructing the Navy, they would be enabled to increase their capital, and, through it, the efficiency of their plant. Now, any increase in the efficiency of machinery to perform a certain amount of work would reduce the number of men otherwise required to perform it, and would raise correspondingly the standard of skill and the wages of the men employed. The profits to be derived from production under such circumstances would increase with an increased demand, and the cost of production would be constantly growing less, while the wages of skilled labor would be raised rather than lowered. Any attempt, therefore, on the part of the government to lower the price of ships, without corresponding aid or encouragement to builders, would tend to stifle home production, to lower the price of labor, and to discourage skill.

The second point is, that if we begin to depend on foreign-built ships for the increase of our merchant marine, we are sure to be supplied, for a while at least, with such as are wholly unsuitable for use in time of war, because insurance covers risk in the shipping of merchandise, and the cheapest ship, regardless of safety, is sure to make the largest profits and be in greatest demand.

In developing our merchant marine, then, the government should take measures (1) to increase the demand for ships and (2) to ensure their safety and efficiency. The latter should be done whether free ships are admitted or not, and the only way to do it is either to impose certain restrictions on the quality of production, or to grant liberal subsidies for the production of good qualities. The restriction would still keep the price of ships up, and place the carrying trade in foreign hands, while the subsidy would at least give us good ships. Therefore, it is believed that after a revision of our navigation laws and a reduction of the numerous burdens imposed upon our commerce in the shape of fees and taxes, our best policy would be to grant subsidies to all steamers in proportion to their efficiencies for war purposes.

The efficiency of a steamer for war purposes might be made subject to an examination of her designs, and an inspection of her performance, by competent naval authorities under the Advisory Board.

By some such scheme as this we could not only provide speed and safety for our passengers and merchandise, and the resultant popularity and prosperity of our own lines in time of peace, but we would be able to develop efficiency for war purposes, to encourage or foster scientific investigation and inventive skill in naval architecture, and to diffuse a more general knowledge of naval requirements in shipbuilding among our civil population. Passenger steamers built under such encouragement could be quickly converted into powerful battle-ships, and freight steamers could be made either self-protective against “Chicagos,” or could be converted into efficient vessels of that type.

In steamers employed on the Great Lakes this is especially desirable, and would not conflict with our treaty in letter or in spirit. Merchant freight steamers, such as those possessed by England, are deficient in structural strength, and possess too small a margin of stability to be converted into efficient war ships; but there is much to be learned in the science of naval architecture, and the lessons to be derived from the trials of the “Livadia” point to a wide field for improvement in this direction.

From the numerous vessels of novel design proposed throughout the country, it appears that Yankee ingenuity is already at work on the problem, and it is to be hoped Congress will soon give the desired encouragement through some such scheme as here proposed.


There is one remarkable feature about our want of system in preparation for national defense which deserves at least a passing notice.

Vessels of the Revenue Marine require speed, seaworthiness, endurance, light or moderate draught, habitability, and a light armament; vessels of the Coast Survey and Fish Commission require moderate speed, strength, seaworthiness, handiness, habitability, and light draught, and are manned by naval officers and seamen.

The former would make efficient dispatch-boats and the latter efficient gunboats, without conflicting in the least with their peace efficiency, if their designs were subject to approval by, or under the control of, the Navy Department. They represent a certain amount of developed resources, and would contribute to the nation's strength in time of war, if maintained in an efficient condition with that end in view during peace.

These vessels may be employed on the Great Lakes in time of peace, where their services are greatly needed, without conflicting with the treaty of 1817.


The success of any plan for reconstruction depends upon our regarding the navy as established in time of peace with the primary object of being prepared for and efficient in war. Granting that the reconstruction may be accomplished under our present form of administration, if we are to judge by experience and the lessons taught by our civil war, the continuance of a progressive policy in the remote future, and a readiness to commence active operations with the first notes of war, cannot be assured under a faulty central organization. The ultimate success of any department, civil or military, will depend in the long run, more on the peculiar fitness of the directing power, than on the efficiency of any of its branches. The Commander-in-Chief of a Navy, the Commander of a ship, and the Superintendant of a civil industry hold analogous positions in respect to the efficiency of the bodies which they control; a division of labor is required, and responsibility must be placed on those charged with the execution of particular duties; but at the same time a careful supervision and judicious direction by the heads of the respective establishments are necessary in order to ensure harmony and efficiency as a whole. If the head does not possess this directing power, or is subject to being influenced in the particular interests of one of the branches to the manifest detriment of the others, the harmony of the whole is destroyed and efficiency crushed.

It being one of the fundamental principles of our government that the “military element be under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power,” it so happens that the head of our Naval Organization may be called upon to take command without any knowledge of naval affairs whatever; and unless the country can assure the appointment to this office of an intellectual prodigy every time a change occurs in the government administration, “strict subordination” and perfect harmony cannot be maintained.

The fact that the necessity for a division of labor exists, shows that in order to produce individual excellence, special knowledge is required in the efficient management of each branch or bureau, and that each chief, in order to accomplish excellence, should have full authority to deal with all matters of detail in which he is a specialist. But all work accomplished by the different bureaus has a common object; what is done in one necessarily affects the business of all the others, and there should be some provision for keeping each chief fully cognizant of what his colleagues are doing in matters affecting his branch, and, at the same time, for assuring intelligent control over the whole organization. This duty devolves upon the Secretary, who, on assuming control, is often confronted with the intricate problems of naval science for the first time in his life, and it is but natural that each Chief of Bureau should endeavor to magnify the importance of his specialty, and to influence the Secretary in behalf of himself or his particular corps. This state of affairs is not only highly destructive to the maintenance of discipline, efficiency and “strict subordination to civil power,” but is apt to lead to the corrupt influences of partisan principles in naval administration.

Professional knowledge and experience then should have due weight in directing measures of administration, and the duty of advising the Secretary in the general direction of affairs should be entrusted to one or more officers whose specialty is the science of naval warfare in its broadest sense.


In former days a small “Board of Navy Commissioners” was called upon to administer the affairs of the Department; later on, it became evident that a division of the duties was required, and the Bureau System was inaugurated; now that we have found the Bureau System unequal to the task, it is frequently asserted that the only remedy is a Board of Admiralty, modeled after that of England. Although such a system apparently suffices in England, I am not sure that we could rely on it to serve our own institutions with equal success. English periodicals are often severe in their criticisms on what is regarded as their faulty system, and they often give us an insight into its weakness. It is said that the civil and only permanent portion of that board is “continually at loggerheads” with the executive ranks of the service, and that the efficiency and discipline of the service are disturbed at “the hands of civilian wire-pullers.”

What might do very well in England would not necessarily do here, on account of the difference in the political and physical situations of the two countries. The English people is educated to believe that its only insurance on the prosperity of the nation's industries is the navy, and the consequence is that the administration of that navy is carefully and intelligently scrutinized by a people alive to its best interests. The Admiralty is obliged from necessity to avoid the evils of stagnation.

Although the peculiar physical situation of England and the industrial pursuits of her people are safeguards against inactivity in the navy, yet a want of foresight has frequently been apparent in the administration of English naval affairs. The vast seafaring population of that busy nation has gained victories against great odds, but it has often been done with ships and guns inferior to those of their enemies, showing that the administration was not abreast of the times. That system of administration has distinguished itself by allowing others to lead the way in such innovations as the application of steam and the screw-propeller for war purposes, the development of ordnance in the days of smooth-bores, the adoption of breech-loading guns and multi-groove rifling, and the building of the first-class battle-ships of the present day.

It may seem ridiculous for an American to criticize the system of a power which still holds the “supremacy of the seas,” but if it is evident that a system which bears good fruit ought to produce better, and if it is clear that the same system would not work so successfully under the circumstances in which we are placed, there is no reason why we should allow the success of that system to drag us into its errors, and no reason why we should not profit by whatever virtues it may contain.

The great lesson taught by wars which have occurred within the last decade or more, is that one of the chief factors of intelligent preparation for and ultimate success in war is a knowledge of the enemy's condition, resources, strength, tactics, and distribution of force, as well as of our own resources and the best methods for utilizing them for war purposes. Nations have successively profited by this lesson (Germany being the first), and have established in the Navy as well as in the Army, what is vaguely termed a “General Staff” the duties of which are directly connected with an “Intelligence Department”; and the establishment of such a body in our own Central Organization would at once satisfy a pressing need, and enable us to overcome the difficulties previously alluded to.

The following is a summary of the situation:

(1). The authority and responsibility of each Bureau in matters pertaining to its own particular branch leads to efficiency, provided the combined action of all the bureaus can be harmoniously directed.

(2). Professional knowledge in assisting the Secretary to direct the affairs of the Department is essential to protect him from responsibility for mistakes which a want of technical knowledge may subject him to.

(3). The establishment of a “General Staff” for the collection and systematic arrangement of naval information, together with the systematic study of the broad principles of naval warfare as adapted to our own particular necessities, is required, if we are to keep abreast of the age.

How, then, can we satisfy these principles in such a way as to ensure the success of any reconstruction plan, and at the same time to avoid an impracticable and awkward scheme which cannot be put into immediate operation?

The following brief outline of changes in our Central Organization is suggested, in the belief that it will meet the necessities of the day in the most practicable and efficient way.

Office of the Secretary and General Staff.

I. The Secretary of the Navy.

A civilian, cabinet officer, with highest authority under the President or Commander-in-Chief.

His duties.—To enforce civil control and carry out the policy of the Government Administration.

II. The Assistant Secretary, or Chief of General Staff.

A naval officer of established reputation and broad views, appointed by the President, and holding the rank of Rear-Admiral while in office.

His duties (a). To assist the Secretary in the execution of all matters requiring professional advice, for which he will be duly responsible.

(b). To act as president of the Advisory Board.

(c) To have general charge of the Intelligence Department.

III. The Advisory Board.

To be composed, as at present, of officers representing the essential Bureaus, and a civilian representation of private industry.

IV. The Intelligence Branch.

To be in charge of a naval officer with rank not above that of Captain, with other officers subordinate to him, engaged in working up the various special branches under his direction.

There is apparently no reason why the Chief Adviser should interfere with any bureau in the execution of its legitimate duties, and harmony would undoubtedly exist if a system of written consultation, similar to that used in conducting the business of the British Admiralty, were adopted as a matter of record. For instance, the Secretary desires to act on a matter requiring an expression of professional opinion; the communication is referred to the Assistant Secretary, who directs it first to the Bureau most interested, for information or expression of opinion. The Chief of that bureau appends the information over his signature, and then the communication passes through the other bureaus which it affects, for additional annotation and signature; after this it returns to the Acting Secretary, who reviews it and adds his own opinion. The Secretary then exercises his own judgment in the matter, and the communication with its weight of responsibility goes on record.

By such a plan as this, no bureau would be responsible for the faults and errors of the others, but would be clearly responsible for, and would exercise full authority over, all matters belonging to it, and at the same time the Secretary would be provided with a trained assistant, whose function would always be that of mediator between the different bureaus.

I have endeavored to show in the preceding pages the necessity for immediate action on the subject of the reconstruction and increase of the Navy. The question has been agitated in the public press, and Congress seems to be alive to the fact that something must be done in that direction; and if that body sees fit to lay down some definite plan of action in the matter, there is apparently no reason why the work should not commence at once. Once begun, the country will again be in the line of progress of nations, and the rising generation will see the United States once more occupying the front rank as a maritime power; and our countrymen abroad, as well as our officers, will no longer have cause to be ashamed of the ships that bear their flag. The country secure against invasion, prosperous in all its branches, will have reached a state of perfect accord with the benediction of our late honored poet, who exclaimed:

“Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!

Sail on, O Union, strong and great!

Humanity with all its fears,

With all the hopes of future years.

Is hanging breathless on thy fate!”

Jan. 1, 1884.



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From the Press

23 February - Seminar

Sat, 2019-02-23

David F. Winkler

3 March - Lecture

Sun, 2019-03-03

Stephen A. Bourque

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