Page images

The Act of Congress of March 3, 1849, authorized the employment of 3 small vessels of the navy in testing new routes on the ocean, pointed out by the Superintendent of the Observatory on his wind and current charts, and in collecting information to enable him. to perfect these charts. After the return of the brig Dolphin, as already mentioned, she was fitted out and detailed on this service, under the command of Lieutenant S. P. Lee, an officer of great experience and intelligence as a surveyor and hydrographer, and interesting and valuable results are expected from the cruise.

At the instance of the executive committee of citizens of The United States, desiring to send forward specimens of the productions of American genius, skill, and labour to the great industrial Exhibition in London, this year, the frigate St. Lawrence was, with the approbation of the President, despatched thither from the port of New York, under the command of Commander Sands, to transport the articles for exhibition, free of charge. It is hoped that the triumphs of our countrymen in the competitions for prizes, in the inventions pertaining to agriculture alone, the most ancient and useful art known to man, will justify the countenance and liberality thus shown to them by the Government. On her return, the St. Lawrence conveyed our Chargé d'Affaires in Portugal from Southampton to Lisbon, and in the ports both of England and Portugal was received with demonstrations of respect and hospitality.

The number of officers of the navy employed during the present year on the coast survey, was 90. Having communicated to Congress, at its last session, my opinion that, in consideration of the nature of this work and the connexion of the officers of the navy with it, the public interests would be promoted by the transfer of its conduct and supervision to this department, I have but to repeat the conviction then expressed, as strengthened by more mature consideration.

In pursuance of the intention expressed in my last annual report, a board of engineers of the army was, at my request, detailed to make a survey and examination of the Memphis navy-yard, with a view to overcome a difficulty which had been encountered in finding solid foundations for the buildings of the yard. The report of this board, of which a copy is appended, affords an interesting discussion of the question involved, and will merit the attention of Congress.

The large stone dock at the Brooklyn navy yard, which has been 10 years in progress, was so far completed, with all its appendages, in August last, as to be surrendered up to the Commandant of the yard. Its entire cost, as shown in the report of the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, has been 2,146,255 dollars.

The floating sectional dock, basin, and railway at Philadelphia, has likewise been reported as ready for delivery; but owing to the

want of a sufficient depth of water immediately adjacent to the basin, the experiment required of raising a vessel for the purpose of testing these works, could not be made. Dredging operations are now going on to remedy this defect, and the test is expected to be made within the month of December.

The floating balance dock, basin, and railway at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is also expected to be finished, and tested within a short time thereafter.

The balance dock, basin, and railway at Pensacola, has not progressed as rapidly as was expected, and may not be in readiness for delivery before the ensuing summer.

Agreeably to the Act of the last session of Congress, a modified contract was entered into with Messrs. Dakin and Moody, and Gilbert and Secor, for the construction of a floating sectional dock on the bay of San Francisco, to be completed and delivered for the sum of 610,000 dollars. This work is understood to be in a course of speedy execution, the contract requiring its completion in 2 years from the month of May last. Its precise location cannot be determined until the selection of a site for a navy yard on the waters of that bay, for which purpose a commission will be sent out early in the ensuing spring. It will be necessary to provide a pier or basin to render this dock capable of use. The location of the dock having not yet been determined, the Department postpones the question of preference between these 2 structures, until the report of the proposed board shall be received and full local information obtained.

It being generally expected and desired by the owners of American merchant vessels, that the use of the dock in question shall be allowed for the repairs of such vessels when not required for ships of war, it is proposed that Congress shall determine the proper regulations for the purpose, and direct whether the dock and fixtures shall be leased with that view, or whether the Government shall carry on the work through its own agents, and on what terms.

The necessity of a navy yard and station on that coast is so obvious, as well to secure and work the dock, as for general naval purposes in those waters, as to need no illustration. I therefore recommend that Congress shall authorize such an establishment there, and make adequate appropriations therefor.

According to the authority conferred on the Department, and an appropriation of a sum not exceeding 80,000 dollars for that subject, a contract was concluded with Messrs. Wells and Gowan, of Boston, to remove the wreck of the steam-frigate Missouri from the bay of Gibraltar, for the sum of 59,000 dollars. Security was taken for the fulfilment of the contract, and the contractors are engaged in the work with no doubt, on their part, of success.

Of the 4 war-steamers, rated as frigates, directed to be built by

the Act of Congress, approved March 3, 1847, the Saranac was put in commission during the last year, the Susquehanna and San Jacinto during the present, and the Powhattan remains unfinished. Measures have been taken to expedite the completion of this vessel, and it is now expected she will be ready for sea in the course of the ensuing spring. The Fulton and Allegany, steamers of the first-class, have recently undergone extensive alterations and repairs, and are each nearly prepared for service; and steps have been taken to rebuild the Princeton, a steamer of the first class.

The steam-frigate Mississippi, in her long cruise of nearly 2 years in the Mediterranean, underwent no repairs, except such as were effected on board, but yet retained her entire efficiency as a man-of-war, and the general conduct and management of the vessel and her crew reflects the highest credit on her commander. She will be transferred to Philadelphia for the purpose of testing the dock at that navy-yard, and to undergo such repairs and improvements as may be found necessary.

Having taken occasion a year since to review the legislation of Congress in reference to the gradual increase of the navy, and to demonstrate that no system of naval policy had been adopted defining the number and descriptions of ships supposed to be required by the wants of the country, I esteem it now only necessary to remark, that while I do not concur in the policy sometimes advocated, that The United States should apportion their naval vessels and force to those of the navies of the principal nations of Europe, with which, by possibility, they may have collisions, we should by no means omit to avail ourselves of all the aids afforded by science and experience in the improvement of our naval establishment, and at the same time enlarge our capacities for increase to any needful extent, whenever the public exigencies shall require it.

In everything pertaining to the building, armament, and equipment of vessels of war, the scrutinizing and active mind of the present age has not been idle. Merchant vessels of large draught have been recently built and rigged in our country, which have sailed, by the force of the winds alone, 1,000 statute miles in 3 days, and with an approach to the like rate of speed in long voyages. Improvements and discoveries in ordnance and gunnery have been introduced, by means of which, in the opinion of well-informed officers, a ship of inferior rating, say of 32 guns, may be so built and rigged, and armed, as to prove more than a match for the stoutest line-of-battle ship of the old construction and armament. How far the power of steam may be added to increase the superiority of the modern vessel in speed, destructiveness, and other points of a manof-war, is also a fruitful theme of speculation and experiment.

[blocks in formation]

With these improvements, whether fully realized or only in prospect before our eyes, it were vain to rest content with the old models and armaments and appliances of vessels, which, however excellent in their day, may have been superseded by more recent inventions. While, therefore, all proper cautions are observed, and nothing, however specious, should be adopted without full investigation, it appears to be our obvious policy to continue to build ships not only to supply the places of those decayed or lost, but to test and keep pace with the improvements of the age. It has been suggested as a matter of economy, that such experimental ships be built of white oak instead of live oak, that being the cheaper material, and generally used in merchant ships. In illustration of one of the improvements in war-steamers, it is represented to the Department that the boilers of the Mississippi, planned 15 years since, and with the best intelligence of that day, may be reduced nearly one-half in their dimensions and weight, and at the same time made to double the power of the vessel with about the same expenditure of fuel as at present. The letter of the engineer, discussing in detail this particular improvement and its recommendation on the score of economy, is herewith submitted.

I therefore recommend that authority be given to build every year two new vessels, one sail and the other steam, upon such models as shall be approved; and as old vessels may be found unserviceable, from fault of model or other cause, they may be sold or broken up.

In this connexion I invite the favourable consideration of Congress to the recommendation of the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, that machinery be erected in one or more of the navy-yards of the country, for the building of steam-engines, and construction of war-steamers complete.

A class of small vessels is much wanted to give employment in command to senior Lieutenants, many of whom are kept in long and tedious inaction before their promotion to Commanders; and would be highly useful as cruisers, especially those propelled by steam, by reason of their ability to penetrate into harbours and rivers, inaccessible to ships of larger class.

Having also in my last annual communication presented for the consideration of Congress, propositions to reduce the number of officers in the grades of Captain, Commander, and Lieutenant of the navy, I beg leave respectfully to refer thereto for the review of the officers in those grades, and the commands and employments to which they may be called in the present state of the service.

While the number in these grades might be appropriately reduced, it is worthy of consideration whether the number of Masters should not be enlarged, and the grade of Second Lieutenant esta

blished. Although a Master is recognised as a necessary officer on board of every vessel in commission, and at every navy-yard, to 76 vessels and 8 navy-yards, there are borne upon the register the names of but 30 Masters; and of these 19 are out of the line of promotion, and many of them are superannuated, or otherwise incapacitated for duty at sea. If the number of Masters were raised to 50, exclusive of those not in the line of promotion (who must needs be removed by death in the course of a few years), and the grade of Second Lieutenant interposed between them and that of First Lieutenant, all of which could be arranged without adding to the number of officers below the rank of Commander now in the service, it would not only be an improvement in the proportions of the different grades, but would exert a cheering influence on the younger officers, who are now doomed to linger in the inferior grade of passed midshipmen until the ardour of youth is passed, and professional distinction has lost much of its attraction. The series of promotions held out to a naval officer, compared to that in the army, is exceedingly limited, without taking into the account brevet rank, with which distinguished service in the latter may be rewarded; and these additional grades cannot but be regarded as new objects of hope, and new incentives to ambition among the aspirants in the naval service. For reasons similar to the foregoing, as well as others of great cogency, I repeat the recommendation formerly made, to elevate the ranks of the service by legalizing that of Commodore, and establishing 2 offices of Rear Admiral. As a reward for the gallant conduct of some of those surviving veterans, who more than a third of a century ago illustrated our arms in conflicts on the ocean, and as a stimulant to others to emulate their example, these superior ranks would be graceful distinctions on the part of the Government, and the position we occupy among the naval and commercial powers of the world renders their immediate recognition a matter of undoubted policy. With one such officer employed near the head of the Department in Washington, in the disposition and supervision of the personnel of the navy, and the other stationed at San Francisco, with power to issue orders to our squadrons in the Pacific and China seas, as well as to all officers residing west of the Rocky Mountains, subject to general directions and supervisions from the Department, much, it is believed, could be effected in giving promptness and vigour to the service in the remote regions of the world, in imparting to it uniformity and system, and in reliev-, ing inferior officers from difficulties and responsibilities arising from unforeseen events.

I also most earnestly renew the recommendation to establish a retired list, to which officers may be transferred on reduced rates of pay who may be invalided, from time to time, on account of super

« PreviousContinue »