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boat to fire at is point blank shot.* The men should be frequently exercised at firing point blank shot at banks of earth on shore, or against the high perpendicular shores of rivers, like the North River, or against the hulk of old ships that are to be broken up, the man at the helm to point the boat and give the order for firing. A gun-boat should not carry a less weight of ball than twenty-four pounds. A frigate would not choose to expose her sides to such shot.
The first gun-boats built in the United States, were for the defence of the Delaware, in 1775 and 1776. The Roebuck man of war came up the Delaware within a few miles of Philadelphia, and the gun-boats went and attacked her. The ship fired broadsides without striking any of the boats, and as the deep water the ship was in, was but narrow, the re-action of the broadsides forced her into shoal water, and she got aground. The man who commanded the gun-boats, a suspected character of the name of White, gave orders to the boats to cease firing, and when the tide rose the ship floated and made the best of her way to sea. White afterwards joined the British at New York.
When General Howe sailed from New York, in 1777, to get possession of Philadelphia, ho avoided coming up the Delaware, where the gun-boats were, and went to the Chesapeak, where there were none, and marched by land from the head of Elk into Pennsylvania. No cause can be assigned for this circuitous route of several hundred miles, but that of not exposing his ships and transports to the gun-boats. There were at that time a fortification on Mud Island, a few miles below Philadelphia, and another at Red Bank, on the Jersey shore opposite; but Howe could have landed below those, and out of the reach of their shot, but he could land no where on the Delaware shore, nor be any where with his ships in the Delaware, out of the reach of the moveable fortifications, the gun-boats. After General Howe got possession of Philadelphia by land, the gun-boats quitted their station below, and came above the city.
The Asia man of war, of 60 guns, Capt. Vandeput, got aground in New York harbour, three or four miles below the city, in the spring of 1776. General Lee commanded at New York at that time, and had there been any gun-boats,
* Point blank musket shot is 250 yards, point blank cannon shot varies according to the size of the cannon.
they could have taken her, because they could have raked her fore and aft and obliged her to strike. A man of war aground is like a bird shot in the wing, it can make no effort to save itself. As to the guns on the point now called the Battery, they could do nothing. The ship was out of the reach of their shot.
The gun-boats built in France for the descent upon England are numerous and formidable, being more than two thousand. They were began in the year 1796. Those which I have seen, being both convoy and transport, were about sixty feet long, sixteen broad, drew about two and a half feet water, carried a twenty-four or thirty-six pounder at the head, and a field-piece in the stern, with a flap by which to run the field-piece out as soon as the boat touches ground ashore, as they run a waggon out of a scow. Each boat carried an hundred men, and rowed with twenty-five oars on a side. They have since built a much larger sort called prams. These also are flat-bottomed, draw three or four feet water, and are from four to six hundred tons burthen, and carry several very large cannon, not less, I suppose, than forty-eight-pounders at least.
The British men of war have made several attempts against the French gun-boats at Boulogne, but were always defeated. The last attempt was by fire-arrows, which might be formidable against ships, because of their sails and rigging, but is ridiculous against gun-boats.
A great deal has been said in Congress and in the New York newspapers about fortifying New York. Mr. N. Williams, in a speech in Congress, January £3, said, "The gentleman on my right (meaning Mr. Smilie) meets the proposition for fortifying New York with a most formidable objection. Expend, (says he,) what money you will, it is impossible to erect fortifications that shall prove sufficient to defend the harbour and city of New York. He (Mr. Smilie) calls upon us for a plan, and tell, us, that if it can be defended, to produce our plan."—" I do not (continues Mr. Williams) pretend to be very wise upon this subject myself, but I have been told that the ablest engineers have examined the position, and have given it as their opinion, that an effectual mode of defence is practicable. But if defence is impossible, I call upon the gentleman (meaning Mr. Smilie) to shew wherein the peculiarity of the situation of that place (New York) consists, to render it so. For surely the pretence of impossihility would not be made use of here, unless the city and harbour of New York were different from all other places in the world that were ever defended."
I now come to reply to the demand Mr. Williams has made. I shall do this as concisely as the limit to which I confine myself will admit, but what I say will serve to sow seeds of thought in the minds of others upon this subject, and may prevent millions of dollars being wasted in vain.
Fortification is founded on geometrical principles, and where the condition of a place is such that those principles cannot be applied, that place cannot be fortified to produce any effect. A place that cannot be enclosed in a polygon, cannot be fortified on any principles of fortification, unless there be a part so strong by nature, as to be inaccessible to a besieging army. The fortified parts are then sections of a polygon. New York cannot be enclosed in a polygon, and therefore cannot be fortified; neither is any part of it strong by nature. It is approachable in every part by land or water, and besides this, it can be bombarded across the East River from Long Island.
It is absolutely necessary in fortifying a town that all parts of it be equally strong, or an enemy will attack only the weakest part. New York cannot be made equally strong in all its parts, and therefore it is money thrown away to attempt to fortify it. Those who wish to know more on this subject may consult any encyclopedia, or any dictionary of arts and sciences under the head of Fortification. They will there find plans of fortified places by Count Pagan, Blondel, Vauhan, Scheiter, &c. But the plans and drawings are all on the same principles. They are all polygons.
Some of our New York papers have talked of fortifying New York with "impregnable fortifications." There never yet was an impregnable fortification, nor ever can be. Every fortified place can be taken that can be approached. All that a fortified place can do is to delay the progress of an enemy till an army can arrive to raise the siege. Buonaparte takes every fortified place he goes against, but he fortifies no places himself. He trusts to the open field, for when you are master of the field (and the militia of the States are numerous enough to be master of the field against an enemy) fortifications are of no use. The population of the United States when the revolutionary war began was but two millions and an half. It is now nearly six millions, and surely the people are not grown cowards, whatever the Fed and Tory faction may be. It was cowardice that made them Tories at first. The British impostor and emissary, Cullen, alias Al'Cullen, alias Carpenter, said in one of his papers that a single frigate could lay the city of New York under contribution. This shewed the extreme ignorance of the man. Two twelve-pounders, or heavier metal if it can conveniently be had, taken to the water edge would soon oblige the frigate to quit her station. I saw this done in the revolutionary war to two frigates, the Pearl frigate and another with her. It proved Commodore Johnson's opinion to be correct.
The lower a gun is to the surface of the water the more certain the shot is. This is one of the cases that gives a gunboat an advantage against ships. If a shot from a ship strikes another ship between wind and water, it is always a chance occasioned by the heeling of the ship that is struck. But the direction of a shot from a gun-boat is so nearly between wind and water, that it generally strikes there or thereabouts. As to land batteries that are elevated, they have but little chance of striking a ship, as their fire is always in an oblique or sloping direction; whereas from a gun-boat it is a horizontal line. Fort Washington was built to prevent British ships going up the North River, and it never struck one of them; but it killed three men by chance-medley coming down the river in General Washington's harge, and this was the only vessel it ever struck.
When all the plans that can be devised for fortifying the narrows are examined, for there is no fortifying the city, it will be found that half a dozen gun-boats carrying twentyfour pounders, will do it more effectually than can be done by any other method.
New York, March II, 1807.
OF THE COMPARATIVE POWERS AND EXPENCE OF SHIPS OF WAR, GUN-BOATS, AND FORTIFICATIONS.
The natural defence by men is common to all nations; but artificial defence as an auxiliary to human strength must be adapted to the local condition and circumstances of a country. What may be suitable to one country, or in one state of circumstances, may not be so in another.
The United States have a long line of coast of more than two thousand miles, every part of which requires defence, because every part is approachable by water.
The right principle for the United States to go upon as a water defence for the coast is that of combining the greatest practical power with the least possible bulk, that the whole quantity of power may be better distributed through the several parts of such an extensive coast.
The power of a ship of war is altogether in the number and size of the guns she carries, for the ship, of itself has no power. Ships cannot struggle with each other like animals; and besides this, as half her guns are on one side the ship and half on the other, and as she can use only the guns on one side at a time, her real power is only equal to half her number of guns. A seventy-four can use only thirty-seven guns. She must tack about to bring the other half into action, and while she is doing this she is defenceless and exposed.
As this is the case with ships of war, a question naturally arises therefrom, which is, whether seventy-four guns, or any other number, cannot be more effectually employed, and that with much less expence, than by putting them all into one ship of such enormous bulk that it cannot approach a shore either to defend it or attack it; and though the ship can change its place, the whole number of guns can be only in one place at a time, and only half that number can be used at a time.
This is a true statement of the case between ships of war and gun-boats for the defence of a coast and of towns situated near a coast. But the case often is, that men are led away by the Greatness of an idea and not by the JUSTNESS of it. This is always the case with those who are advocates for navies and large ships.