Page images

amidships, and leaves the rest to be shot through and through yet, even the thickest parts can be penetrated by the Monitor's guns. Finally, there comes the difficulty of working in broadside anything like the heavy guns used in the Monitor. In a word, to say nothing of the monstrous size and unwieldiness, of the enormous cost, of the impracticable draft, of the English broadside ships, the very best of them could be shot through in their most heavily-armored parts by the tremendous ordnance of the Monitors, whilst a great part of them is not protected at all. On the other hand, their heaviest missiles would rattle idly from the impregnable Puritan or Dictator as if they were but pebble


The Monitor is, in its nature, one of those radical expressions of a scientific idea which do not admit further change in principle, though, of course, permitting improvements in detail. It was not the result of a ship-builder's experiment, no lucky guess or happy accident, but a calculated product, wrought out in the endeavor to solve a problem then engaging the mind of the chief naval powers of the world. The transatlantic methods employed on that intricate question do not complete the requirements of the problem. We have already seen how, in order to produce the maximum impregnability, the hull of the Monitor was permitted to protrude but a few inches above water, and her decks were stripped of bulwarks and all other unnecessary appendages. Thus, while the Warrior, a vessel of 10,000 tons total displacement, can only support about four and a half inches of armor, and that for only about half her length, the little harbormonitors of the Passaic class, designed simply for coast defence, though only about one-fifth the Warrior's size, carry armor nearly twice as thick from stem to stern. As for the

heavy Dictators and Puritans, though but half as large as the Warrior, their armor is more than thrice as thick as that of the English ship in its thickest part, and that throughout

their entire lengths. Then, on the other hand, it was desirable to mount heavier guns in the new vessel than had ever before been carried, or had ever before been provided against, or could be provided against except on the Monitor system. Thence sprang the device of the cylindrical turret which, being revolved on its periphery by steam-power, could adroitly turn its port-holes to any point in the horizon. Nor was this turret complete in its operation till so built that it formed a water-tight joint with its deck. Within this impregnable floating castle the power of the enclosed artillery is only limited by the genius of the gun-maker; for the turret is an impervious gun-carriage, which, operated by mechanism, can carry ordnance of any size, and only awaits for the limit to which the art of gunsmithery shall go.

Should it happen that, while the United States adopts the monitor war-vessels, her maritime rivals remain content with those of the broadside pattern, the successful initiation of the former in the battle of Hampton Roads will have resulted in giving to America the supremacy of the seas. But should it happen, as is far more likely, that sooner or later, and by gradual steps, England and France shall be forced to copy the Monitor, with such petty modifications as may soothe national pride, then, as iron-clad vessels have revolutionized naval warfare, so monitors in turn will revolutionize the warfare of iron-clads; and the pigmy warrior of Hampton Roads will have dictated reconstruction to the navies of the world.

In these modern days of ours, mechanism has made vast inroads on the domain of morale, and nations which once ruled the seas by virtue of the courage and skill of their sailors, and by national pride and training in marine enterprise, have found their prestige swept away. Mechanism usurps the offices once performed by men. In this era of mechanical warfare, it is idle to expect moral excellence to supply the lack of material strength. With equal advantages, indeed, the former will pluck victory from any battle, but

material superiority itself supplies confidence, and however brave the assailant, he may find he is dashing his head against a rock. Naval war still more than war on the land is a question of science, and we cannot expect bravery to accomplish miracles or to reverse the conclusions of natural laws. So found the Niagara, when off Lisbon she encountered the Stonewall. Nor is it always enough to have iron hearts in wooden walls. It is a curious speculation what might have been the result of the Southern insurrection, had the Confederacy possessed, and the Union lacked, mechanical geniuses who would have furnished her novel implements and engines of destruction. Had some skillful brain armed her troops with a cheap breech-loading rifle; had some Ericsson equipped her with a fleet of monitors, while the North was laboring at tardily-constructed broadside iron-clads; or supplied her with batteries not the less terrible in power because they avoided the use of expensive engines; or protected her rivers and so the great cities lying thereon; or given her some perfect torpedo capable of clearing all her blockaded harbors in short, had scientific devices made up for want of resources, by inventions suited to the humble capacities of the South, what might not have been the issue? War grows to be each day an exacter science. A nation, arming itself with a needle-gun, confidently rushes upon its neighbor twice as strong in numbers and resources, and, at a thought, brings the great rival's knee to the dust. Nations can be made or undone at the desk of an engineer.




I. .


In the minds of the hardy freemen who dwell upon the hundred tributaries of the Father of Waters, there arose, at the very beginning of the war, a grandiose aspiration, that at once determined the objective of military operations in the West, and supplied, as from an unfailing reservoir, the inspiration and moral stimulus to make their bright ideal an actuality. This aspiration was the opening up of the Mississippi. For the streams on which the men of the West dwelt, did not more surely go to swell the tide of the great river, than did the current of their interests and affections flow adown its course to the Gulf: and they would not brook hostile jurisdiction over that continental highway of commerce and inter-communication. They resolved that the Mississippi should run "unvexed to the sea."

The colossal conception of the conquest of the Mississippi valley shaped the earliest military efforts of the West, and associated itself with the most brilliant triumphs in that theatre of war. It was for this express work that the first army and fleet of Grant and Foote were formed at Cairo. Now, when in the early months of 1862, this army and fleet were prepared to move, the insurgents held control of nearly the whole of the great river. By means of the forts below New Orleans,

they commanded its outlet in the Gulf of Mexico. By means of the fortifications of Columbus, they closed navigation from the North up to within twenty miles of where, at Cairo, the Ohio and Missouri coming together, form the main artery of the Mississippi.

The Confederate defence of the Mississippi included a double problem. It was necessary, first of all, to obstruct navigation to the Union fleet, which could best be done by fortified batteries erected at chosen points where the river's banks swell into bluffs. But in order to make such intrenched camps secure against capture from the land side, it was requisite that they should be covered by a force powerful enough to meet the Union army in the field. Unless the latter purpose could be realized, it was vain to suppose that any point could be held; for while such fortified strongholds might readily avail to bar the advance of a fleet, they must, unless protected by an army, fall an easy prey to a force in condition to invest them from the rear. This the Confederates, after one rude lesson, learnt; and if we briefly review the course of Union conquest in the basin of the Mississippi, we shall see that the fate of the great river was nearly always dependent, not on.the attack or defence of specific fortified points, but on the issue of actions waged between the rival armies in the field.

The first position taken up by the Confederates on the Upper Mississippi, was Columbus. It completely realized that part of the problem that concerned the obstruction of the river to navigation. No efforts were made against it; but it is certain that it could have effectually resisted all naval attacks. When, however, Fort Donelson fell, Columbus was entirely uncovered; and being without the protection of an army, it was exposed to certain capture from the rear. Beauregard, into whose hands the defence of the Mississippi Valley then fell, undoubtedly did the best that was to be done, when he ordered its evacuation, thus saving the garri

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »