« PreviousContinue »
out abandoning the fireside, we are yet led forth in fancy to roam the trackless waste of waters, become participants in the elastic feelings of his heroes, as they dash onward, triumphing over space and the elements. He teaches us to prepare for battle, and nerves our arms to meet and grapple with the foe; to read the prognostic of the coming storm, to share the mariner's anxiety, to aid him in arresting its fury, and fairly carries us rolling forward, until the head swims and the eye grows dizzy. Nowhere, however, have we seen, in so few words, so spirited and moving a picture of the warrior-ship, as in those noble lines of Childe Harold.' They bring all our quarterdeck recollections thronging so palpably around us, that we cannot forego the pleasure of copying them.
'He that has sailed upon the dark blue sea,
So gaily curl the waves before each dashing prow.
And oh, the little warlike world within!
'White is the glassy deck, without a stain,
The Report of the Secretary of the Navy we have placed at the head of this article rather as affording us an opportunity to express some of our opinions on the subject, than with a view to criticism or elaborate discussion. We have only to remark in passing, that the Report contains some suggestions which seem to us important, and we are particularly glad to find in it
a renewed recommendation of the establishment of naval schools. But on this topic we shall touch hereafter.*
Without further preliminaries, we shall avail ourselves of the present occasion to institute a brief inquiry into the origin and progressive improvement of navies in general, and into the condition and prospects of our own in particular. And if it be remembered that, independently of the protection of our commerce, a navy is our natural means of defence; that all the nations from which we have anything to fear are separated from us by intervening oceans (we consider the present proximity of British territory as but accidental and temporary), and that they can only reach us by a display of naval power; that, in fact, of the foreign wars we have already waged, a majority have been exclusively of this character; that, whilst this mode of warfare demands infinitely less sacrifice of life and money,
*In reverting to naval concerns, we are forcibly reminded of a work of much merit, which perhaps we ought sooner and in a more formal manner to have introduced to the notice of our readers. We allude to the Sketches of Naval Life, in a Series of Letters from on board the Brandywine and Constitution Frigates.' The title of the book itself promises much entertainment, and the author has well redeemed this promise. Descriptive scenes of a well-ordered ship of war, adorned in the first place by the presence of the most interesting and most enviable individual now living, the warrior, the patriot, the philanthropist, Lafayette-him whose generous sympathies were too expansive for a single hemisphere,-and afterwards relieved by visits to the fairest portions of the old continent, accidentally rendered more deeply interesting by the passing events of a revolution, then fixing the attention of the world, furnish no unworthy or ungrateful theme. Perhaps full justice has not been done to it, for this would be no easy achievement; yet we should neither deal fairly by the author, nor by our own feelings, did we not commend his total freedom from pretension and quackery, and the patriotic and liberal spirit in which his work is written. We would especially bear testimony to the good sense of that part in which he speaks of the improvements necessary to the perfection of our naval system. His concluding letters constitute the most valuable portion of the work, and may be read with equal advantage by naval men and by legislators. The advice to a young midshipman about to enter upon the duties of his profession, is equally creditable to the sound sense and good feelings of its writer; and we think that every young man, thus situated, might derive great advantage from its attentive perusal. Such a one is apt, when commencing his career, and looking with an eager eye to the attainment of honor and excellence, to form vague determinations as to the course of conduct which is to lead him to success. A system of action thus methodized and written down, might tend in no trifling degree to keep alive these generous aspirations.
the force by which it is maintained is without danger to our national liberties; finally, that a navy goes forth to meet the danger at a distance from our shores, leaving the cultivator to reap in peace the fruits of his labor, unalarmed by the turmoil of approaching war, and spared the slaughter and destruction that mark the track of armies;—if we keep in mind these facts, the subject may well command our attention.
Naval war exists in the earliest stages of society; it has its origin in the very passions and constitution of our nature. The savage has scarce learned to venture forth upon the water in the canoe which he has rudely hollowed from a tree of the forest, ere, embarking with his bow and arrow, his hardened war-club, his javelin, or his lance, he transports himself to the spot whither he is attracted by revenge for some real or supposed injury, by avaricious longing for some contemptible booty, the desire of making prisoners, of adding to the number of his wives, of providing victims for the altar of idolatry, or of furnishing a horrible banquet. He succeeds in his enterprise; or, met by a wary adversary, with equal weapons, and with everything to defend, they join battle; instead of trumpets, the wild whoop and war-conchs sound the onset; arrows and javelins are hurled, clubs are brandished; the frail barks of the combatants are overturned beneath them; and with the sea for an arena, and fury to make up for the imperfection of their weapons, they are enabled to strew it with victims. And thus we find the Caribs, not only destructively encountering each other, but disputing the victory with the steel-clad Spaniards, who first intruded upon the scenes of their triumphs; and with no better weapons than bows and arrows, even these wielded by the hand of woman, offering fatal resistance to the ferocity of the civilized.
Not very different from these Carib battles was naval war in the earliest ages reached by history or tradition. The heroes of Homer went forth in slight barks that were stranded and launched at pleasure, and the same individuals rowed and fought alternately. Among them, as among the Caribs, superior strength and valor decided the victory. In process of time, however, naval war began to assume a peculiar system; the ordinary vessels built for commerce were no longer used for warlike purposes, but as transports; and the galley, in whose construction and exercise the Athenians especially excelled, already acted an important part at the battle of Sal
In succeeding centuries naval warfare was gradually improved with the general progress of civilization. The Carthaginians, inheriting all the commercial skill of their Phoenician ancestors, were stimulated to new enterprise by their condition as colonists in a novel and growing region. Removed too from the extremity of the Mediterranean to the neighborhood of its mouth, they were no longer willing to remain circumscribed within its narrow limits, but stood boldly out beyond the Ne Plus Ultra of less adventurous voyagers, carrying their commercial enterprises to the extremities. of Europe and Africa. As in all other countries the developement of their military marine kept pace with the commercial one, of which it was the natural and necessary protector; and Carthage, monopolizing the maritime trade of the world, pretended, like her modern representative in pursuits and character, to the exclusive dominion of the common highway. To support these pretensions, a formidable and well-equipped navy was constantly maintained; and we may accordingly look to the most flourishing era of Carthaginian history for the perfection of naval war, as it existed among the ancients.
The galley was the form of vessel used for war. long, low, and narrow, having space for the arrangement of many rowers, whilst it offered little resistance in dividing the water. Thus the Carthaginian triremes were usually one hundred feet long, by only ten broad, and seven high. The prow either curved gracefully, or was formed into the image of some ferocious beast. It was always sharp, and armed with metal to cleave the side of an adversary, and often had a projecting weapon, like a ploughshare, beneath the surface of the water, to pierce the bottom. On the summit of the prow stood the emblem; on the Athenian galleys it was an owl, on the Phoenician and Carthaginian, a cock. Here also floated the distinguishing pendant. The stern was no less sharp than the bow, curving gracefully upward so as to overhang the poop, and sometimes presented the figure of a shield. Below it stood the tutela, representing the deity, patron of the ship, to which prayers and sacrifices were offered, and which was held so sacred, as to afford a sanctuary to those who took refuge there. Nor was exterior ornament neglected in the galley; paint and gilding were profusely used, and gods and animals represented on the outside. The locomotive means of the galley consisted in sails, which, with their masts, were taken down at pleasure; VOL. XXX.-No. 67.
and in oars, which constituted the main dependence. These were arranged in rows ascending above each other, to the number of three; for though we read of quinquiremes, octoremes, up even to thirty and forty, this cannot mean distinct banks, but probably divisions; for the length of the oar, increasing for each ascending bank, must have been already unwieldy in the upper row of a trireme. The oars ascended diagonally above each other; the bench of one rower furnishing the footstool for the one immediately above and behind him, Each bank of rowers had its distinct name and class; the higher ones received most pay; for in addition to their being stouter men, it was necessary to load the handles of their oars, in order to counterbalance the increased length of the portion without, which the narrowness of the galley did not admit of doing by a corresponding length of loom. A large oar from either. quarter changed the direction of the galley at the pleasure of the pilot. The officers and men, by whom the vessel was thus propelled and guided, were entirely distinct from those who fought. These were heavy-armed soldiers, trained to sea service, who stood drawn up in battle-array upon the deck which covered the rowers.
In preparing for battle, the galleys were disburthened of all unnecessary articles, the sails and masts were taken down and stowed, and the oars alone used, so as to move, turn, and assail, without reference to the prevailing wind. The fleet was then formed into a triangle, pointing towards the enemy, the store-ships forming the base, and the admiral-ship being at the angle in advance. This being done, the chief, entering a boat, passed from galley to galley, encouraging his followers in a set speech. When he had returned to his own, a gilded shield or a blood-red banner was conspicuously displayed as a signal for the onset. As the opposite fleets now approached by the exertions of the rowers, the shrill trumpets animated the soldiers by their blasts, as they passively awaited their moment for exertion, invoking the gods, and singing a pæan to the lord of battles. The admirals being in advance, first came in contact, each endeavoring, by celerity of movement, to break the oars of his adversary, and pierce his side with his beak, so as to sink or overturn him; darts, javelins, and stones were hurled; when nigh enough, the soldiers thrust at and transfixed each other with their spears of twenty cubits, or plied their battering-rams against the sides; huge pieces of iron (called dolphins, from