Four times in the history of our country has the American navy achieved renown and won the gratitude of the nation. These four times correspond, of course, to the four great wars that we have had; and with the mention of each the name of a famous hero of the sea is at once brought to mind. What would the Revolution have been without its Paul Jones; or the War of 1812, without its Perry? How differently might the Civil War have ended but for its Farragut; and the Spanish War, but for its Dewey! The story of the achievements of these four men covers a large part of our naval history.
SEAL OF THE U.S. NAVY.
Six months after the battle of Lexington the Continental Congress decided to raise and equip a fleet to help carry on the war against England. Before the end of the year (1775) seventeen vessels were ready for service, and it was then that Paul Jones began his public career. Many other ships were soon added.
The building and equipping of this first navy was largely intrusted to Ezek Hopkins, whom Congress had appointed Commander-in-Chief, but it does not seem that he did all that was expected of him, for within less than two years he was dismissed. He was the only person who ever held the title of Commander-in-Chief of the navy. During the war several other vessels were added to the fleet, and over 800 prizes were captured from the British. But before peace was declared twenty-four of our ships had been taken by the enemy, others had been wrecked in storms, and nearly all the rest were disabled. There was no effort to build other vessels, and so, for many years, our country had no navy.
THE FRIGATE CONSTITUTION.
In 1794, when war with the Barbary States was expected, Congress ordered the building of six large frigates. One of these was the famous Constitution, which is still in existence and about which Dr. Holmes wrote the well-known poem called “Old Ironsides.” Through all the earlier years of our history, John Adams used his influence to strengthen our power on the sea; and he was so far successful that he has often been called “The Father of the American Navy.” When the War of 1812 began the United States owned a great many gunboats for coast defense, besides seventeen sea-going vessels. It was during this war that the navy especially distinguished itself, and Oliver Hazard Perry made his name famous.
A SLOOP OF WAR.
The ships of war in those earlier times were wooden sailing vessels, and they were very slow-goers when compared with the swift cruisers which sail the ocean now. The largest of these vessels were called ships of the line, because they formed the line of battle in any general fight at sea. They usually had three decks, with guns on every deck. The upper deck was often covered over, and on the open deck thus formed above there was a fourth tier of guns. This open deck was called the forecastle and quarter-deck. Some of the largest ships of the line carried as many as 120 guns each; the smallest was built to carry 72 guns.
Next in size to these ships were the frigates. A frigate had only one covered deck and the open forecastle and quarter-deck above it, and therefore had but two tiers of guns. The largest frigate carried sixty guns, besides a large pivot gun at the bow. The American frigates were noted for their speed.
Still smaller than the frigates were the corvettes, or sloops of war, as they are more commonly called. These had but one tier of guns, and that was on the open deck. They were rigged like the larger vessels, with three masts and square sails.
THE STEAM FRIGATE POWHATAN.
The fourth class of vessels included the brigs of war, which had but two masts and carried from six to twenty guns. Equal to them in size were the schooners, which also had two masts, but were rigged fore-and-aft. The guns which they carried were commonly much smaller than those on the sloops and frigates.
After Robert Fulton’s invention of the steamboat in 1807 there were many attempts to apply steam on vessels of war. But it was a long time before these attempts were very successful. The earliest war steamships were driven by paddle-wheels, placed at the sides of the vessels. The paddles, besides taking up much valuable space, were exposed to the shots of the enemy, and in any battle were very easily crippled and made useless. But the speed of these vessels was much greater than that of any sailing ship, and this alone made them very desirable. For many years steam frigates were the most formidable vessels in the navy. The first successful steamship of war was the English frigate Penelope, which was built in 1843, and carried forty-six guns. One of the earliest and most noted American vessels of the same type was the Powhatan. The first screw line of battle ship was built by the French in 1849. It was called the Napoleon, and carried one hundred guns. It was so successful that steamships soon began to take the place of sailing vessels in all the navies of the world.
THE MERRIMAC AND THE MONITOR.
Up to this time all war vessels were built of wood; but there had been many experiments to learn whether they might not be protected by iron plating. The first iron-clad ship was built in France in 1858; and not long after that Great Britain added to her navy an entire fleet of iron-clads. All these were built after the same pattern as wooden ships, and were simply covered or protected with iron plates.
THE BATTLESHIP OREGON.
The first iron-clads used in our own navy were built soon after the beginning of the Civil War (1861), and were designed for use on the large rivers and along the coast. They were called “turtle-backs,” and were simply large steamboats covered with thick slabs of iron and carrying thirteen guns each. The iron slabs were joined closely together and laid in such a manner as to inclose the decks with sloping sides and roofs. The first great deviation from old patterns was the Monitor, built by John Ericsson in 1862. She was the strangest looking craft that had ever been seen, and has been likened to a big washtub turned upside down and floating on the water. The Merrimac, which she defeated in Hampton Roads, was a wooden frigate which the Confederates had made into an iron-clad by covering her with railroad rails. They had also, by giving her an iron prow, converted her into a ram. These two vessels, the Monitor and the Merrimac, were indirectly the cause of a great revolution in naval warfare; they were the forerunners of all the modern ships of war now in existence. The nations of the world saw at once that there would be no more use for ships of the line and wooden frigates and sloops of war.
THE DYNAMITE CRUISER VESUVIUS.
The ships that have been built since that time are entirely unlike those with which Paul Jones and Commodore Perry and Admiral Farragut won their great victories. The largest and most formidable of the new vessels are known as battleships, and may be briefly described as floating forts, built of steel and armed with powerful guns. These are named after the states, as the Oregon, the Texas, and the Iowa. Next to them in importance are the great monitors, such as the Monadnock and the Monterey. These are slow sailers but terrible fighters, and are intended chiefly for harbor defense. The cruisers, which rank next, are smaller than battleships and are not so heavily armed; but they are built for speed, and their swiftness makes up for their lack of strength. Among the most noted of these are the Brooklyn, the Columbia, and the Minneapolis. There are also smaller cruisers, such as the Cincinnati and the Raleigh, that are intended rather for scout duty than for service in battle. Most of the cruisers are named after cities. One of the strangest vessels in the navy is the dynamite cruiser Vesuvius, which is armed with terrible dynamite guns. Then there is the ram Katahdin. She carries no heavy guns, and her only weapon of offense is a powerful ram. Her speed is greater than that of most battleships, and she is protected by a covering of the heaviest steel armor. Besides all these there are a number of smaller vessels, such as torpedo boats and tugs.
A few old-fashioned wooden vessels — steam frigates and sailing vessels — are still to be found in our navy yards, but these would be of no use in a battle.
In reading of the exploits of our great naval heroes it is well to keep in mind these wonderful changes that have taken place in the navy. Think of the slow-going wooden frigates which sailed the seas in the time of Paul Jones or Commodore Perry — how small and insignificant they would be if placed side by side with the tremendous Oregon or with the cruisers which Admiral Dewey led to victory in the Bay of Manila! But if the glory of an achievement is measured by the difficulties that are encountered and overcome, to whom shall we award the greater honor — to our earlier heroes, or to our later?
Many years ago there lived, in the southwestern part of Scotland, on the beautiful bay called Solway Firth, a gentleman whose name was Mr. Craik. In Scotland, a large farm is called an estate. Mr. Craik named his estate Arbigland.
His large house stood high on the shore overlooking the sea. The lawn sloped gradually to the firth.
Mr. Craik’s gardener, John Paul, lived in a cottage on the estate. Mr. Craik was very fond of John Paul, for he worked well. He made the grounds like a beautiful park, and planted many trees, some of which are still standing.
One day John Paul married Jean Macduff. She was the daughter of a neighboring farmer. She and John lived very happily in their little cottage. They had seven children. The fifth child was a boy, named for his father, John Paul. He was born July 6, 1747.
When little John was large enough to run about he liked to play on the beautiful lawn and to wander along the shore of the firth. Sometimes he would sit still for hours watching the waves.
Sometimes he and Mr. Craik’s little boy would play with tiny sailboats and paddle about in the water. When they grew tired of this, they would climb among the rocks on the mountains which were back of the estate.
When there were storms at sea, vessels would come into Solway Firth for a safe harbor. The water was very deep near the shore. Because of this the ships could come so near the lawn of Arbigland that their masts seemed to touch the overhanging trees.
Little John Paul and his playmates liked to watch the sailors, and sometimes could even talk to them. They heard many wonderful stories of a land called America, where grew the tobacco that was packed in some of the ships.
The children would often take their little sailboats to some inlet, where they would play sailor. John Paul was always the captain. He had listened carefully to the commands given by the captains of the large vessels. These he would repeat correctly and with great dignity, though he did not always understand them.
John Paul spent more time in this kind of play than in going to school. In those days there were few schools, and book-learning was not thought to be of much use. At a parish school near by, John learned to spell and to repeat the rules of grammar.
When he was twelve years old he felt that the time had come when he could be a real sailor. So his father allowed him to go across the firth to an English town called Whitehaven. There he was apprenticed to Mr. Younger, a merchant, who owned a ship and traded in goods brought from foreign lands.
He soon went to sea in Mr. Younger’s vessel, the Friendship. This ship was bound for America to get tobacco from the Virginia fields.
At that time the trip across the Atlantic could not be made as quickly as now. There were no steamships, and the sailing vessels had, of course, to depend upon the wind to carry them to their destination. It was several months before the Friendship anchored at the mouth of the Rappahannock River.
Farther inland, on this river, was the town of Fredericksburg. John Paul’s eldest brother, William, lived there. He had left his Scottish home many years before, and had come with his wife to Virginia. Here he was now living on his own plantation, where he raised tobacco for the English market.
While the Friendship was in port being loaded for its return voyage, John Paul went to Fredericksburg to stay with his brother. While there he spent the most of his time in hard study. Although he was still young, he had found that he could not succeed as he wished with so little education.
It was during these months in America that he formed the habit of study. All through the remainder of his life his leisure time was given to the reading of books.
After he returned to Scotland he spent six years in the employ of Mr. Younger. During that time he learned a great deal about good seamanship.
When John Paul was nineteen years of age, the loss of money compelled Mr. Younger to give up his business.
John Paul was soon afterward made mate on a slaver called the Two Friends. This was a vessel whose sole business was the carrying of slaves from Africa to America and other countries.
People at that time did not think there was any wrong in slave-trading. It was a very profitable business. Even the sailors made more money than did those on vessels engaged in any other business.
The Two Friends carried a cargo of slaves to Jamaica, an English possession in the West Indies. As soon as port was reached, John Paul left the vessel. He said that he would never again sail on a slave-trading voyage. He could not endure to see men and women treated so cruelly, and bought and sold like cattle.
He sailed for home as a passenger on board a small trading vessel. On the voyage both the captain and the mate died of fever, and the ship with all its passengers was in mid-ocean with no one to command.