Navy Commissioners' /Office, January 20, 1821.
The Commissioners of the Navy have had the honor of receiving the letter of the honorable Mr. Smith, Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, of the 8th instant, addressed to you, and which you were pleased to refer to them; and they now proceed to submit their report upon the various points on which information has been required.
They beg leave, to premise, that their information, with respect to the employment of our public ships and vessels is derived from your communication of the 11th ultimo, to the honorable Mr. Barbour, Chairman of the Naval Committee, of the House of Representatives.
The 1st inquiry is, "What is the present force in the Mediterranean, and its annual expenditures?"
The present force in the Mediterranean appears to be the Columbus, the Peacock, and the Spark, and the annual expenditure may be estimated at $285,000.
Query 2d. "What would be the annual expenditure of one 44, one 36, and a sloop of war?"
The annual expenditure of one 44, one 36, and a sloop of war, may be estimated at $256,000.
Query 3d. "What is the annual expenditure of the force employed on the African coast? What is the force, and what would be the annual expense of three of the new schooners?"
The present force cruising on the coast of Africa appears to be, the Cyane, the John Adams, and the Hornet, and the annual expenditure may be estimated at $165,700.
The annual expenditure of three of the new schooners would be about $70,500.
Query 4. "What is the annual expense of the ship employed in the Indian seas?"
The annual expense of the Congress, now employed in the Indian seas, may be estimated at $110,000.
Query 5. "What is the annual expense of the ships employed in the Pacific, allowing for both being under expense when relieving?"
To gain two years service of a ship in the Pacific ocean, and the constant presence of a ship in that ocean, we should estimate the expense to be equal to two years and nine months service of the ship, in order to allow for the expense of relieving, at the expiration of the term of service of the crew. Two years and nine months expense of such a ship as the Constellation, on so distant a station, may be estimated at $300,000.—Hence "the annual expense of the ships employed in the Pacific, allowing for both being under expense when relieving," may be estimated at $150,000.
Query 6. "What is the annual expense of the vessels employed in the West Indies and on our coast, to protect against piracies? and what will it be if all the small vessels, except three for Africa, be employed?"
It appears that the Enterprise, the Nonesuch, the Lynx, and gunboats Nos. 158 and 168, are "now employed in the West Indies and on our coast, to protect against piracies, &c." the annual expense of which maybe estimated at $105,000.
As to what the expense would be "if all the small vessels, except three for Africa, be employed," the Commissioners find no little difficulty in forming an estimate, not distinctly understanding the scope of the inquiry— whether it contemplated no exception but the “three for Africa," particularly mentioned. Whether the object was to withdraw from the coast of Africa the vessels now on that station, and include them in the estimate of the expense of the vessels employed, or whether leaving all the smaller vessels now in service, on the service now respectively assigned to them, the object was to add to the vessels now in the West Indies and on our coast, all the smaller vessels belonging to the navy, and not now in actual service, the Commissioners are not able to infer from the terms used in propounding the query. If, however, they can be informed precisely of the object of the inquiry, and the vessels intended to be included in the estimate, they will, with great pleasure, afford every information in their power.
The Commissioners, in reply to the 7th query, beg leave to submit the papers herewith marked No. 1, 2, 3, and 4.
No. 1 exhibits a view of the naval stations in the United States, the navy officers, seamen, and ordinary seamen, attached to each station, and an estimate of the annual expense of each station, exclusively of the mechanics and laborers.
No. 2 shows the number of mechanics and laborers employed at the different navy yards and stations and the total amount of the expenditures, on account of mechanics and laborers, for one month, distinguishing the amount expended for the gradual increase of the navy, and for other objects, such as repairs of vessels building schooners, &c.
The paper No. 3, shows the vessels at the different stations in the United States.
No. 4, gives a general view of the property belonging to the navy, at the several and respective stations. This paper would have been prepared more in detail, but the Commissioners presumed that it was not required by the honorable chairman, and it probably could not have been prepared in less than three or four weeks, so as to give a view of each and every article at each and every station.
Of these stations, Norfolk, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Portsmouth, are building yards. New Orleans, and Charleston, S. C. are stations for the rendezvous of our small vessels cruising in those waters. At Sackett's Harbor and at Erie, we have, it will be seen, a considerable amount of public property, which could not be removed to any of the Atlantic stations, without incurring very great expense, and probably injury. The public property at White Hall might be removed to New York, and that station might be dispensed with. The Newport station might also be dispensed with. Baltimore should, in our opinion, be retained as a recruiting station, as that city furnishes its full proportion of the best seamen in our country.
The 8th query of the honorable chairman calls for the following information, viz: "Are any of the vessels of war so far decayed that they are unworthy of repairs? If so, name them." And in reply, the Commissioners beg leave to observe, that, in their opinion, the following vessels are unworthy of repair, viz:
And 15 barges and 6 galleys, all on the lakes: that the schooners Fox and Spitfire, gunboats No. 72, 76, 95, and three barges, on Atlantic stations, are also considered as undeserving of repair; and the frigate, the Java, at Boston, is probably unworthy of repair.
The vessels in ordinary, at stations oh the Atlantic board, and incurring expense for their preservation, are,
SHIPS OF THE LINE
||The North Carolina,
|The United States,
||Fulton Steam Battery.
Exclusively of supernumerary officers, the number estimated to be attached to each ship of the line is,
||10 able seamen,
||4 ordinary seamen,
|Estimated annual expense, $6,432 50.
|To each 44 gun frigate:
||6 able seamen,
||4 ordinary seamen,
|Estimated annual expense, $5,002 75.
|To the steam battery:
|Same officers as to frigate,
||4 ordinary seamen,
|5 able seamen,
|Estimated annual expense, $4,604 25.
All the vessels on Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Champlain, with the exception of two of the smallest class, which are employed in the revenue service, are in a state of ordinary. The expense of preserving them is shown by the paper No. 1, which exhibits the expense annually of the respective stations.
The Alert, the Asp, the Vesuvius, and the Louisiana, are employed as receiving ships.
With respect to that part of the ninth query, which calls for "a detailed view of the ships in actual service," the Commissioners have not presumed to answer it, from a conviction that you possess more precise information upon the subject than they can afford.
The tenth query is in the following words, viz: "The retained ration is now fixed at twenty-five cents each; is there any act for that sum, or is it a regulation? Would the present appropriation of money, and consequent cost of the items of the ration, justify a reduction?"
The law declares what the component parts of the navy ration shall be; but it is understood that the price of the ration is a regulation of the Department. The navy ration can probably be procured for less than twenty-five cents. By the contracts lately made, the first cost will not exceed sixteen cents. At this time provisions are known to be unusually low, and owing to this circumstance, and the competition produced among the bidders for public contracts, by advertising for all articles required, the ration is procured at a price less considerably than at any period since the establishment of our navy. It should, however, be observed, that the component parts of the ration are all of a perishable nature; and that on board of our ships they are unavoidably exposed to the vicissitudes of every climate; hence, with every care that can be taken of them, they are, in a greater or less degree, liable to damage before they can be used. These considerations render it expedient to prepare the estimates, as to the cost of the ration, so as to make a liberal allowance for the damages to which they are liable. Although, therefore, the first cost of the ration will not exceed sixteen cents, the ultimate cost is estimated at twenty-five cents.
The estimates for 1821 contemplate a provision of one million five hundred and twenty-six thousand four hundred and thirty rations, deliverable in kind, for actual consumption; and three hundred and seventy-six thousand four hundred and ninety-seven rations which are not drawn. The former is one ration per day, for every person in the service. The latter are rations which the officers are entitled to, but which, not being provided for them, are not drawn in kind, but paid for in money.
With respect to the rations which are drawn in kind, it may be observed, that, if they should not, including all the losses which may be sustained, cost the price named in the estimate, no more than their actual cost will be drawn from the treasury, the balance will remain unapplied, and subject to such disposition as the Legislature may please to decide.
With respect to the rations which are not drawn in kind, the price has at various times been regulated by the Department. Prior to the year 1801, the price was twenty-eight cents, in 1801, it was fixed at twenty cents, in 1814, thirteen years' experience having satisfied the Government that twenty cents was less than a fair average price, it was raised to twenty-five cents, and has never since been changed. This price may be more than the present cost of the ration, but next year it may be less. At the time the officers were receiving twenty-eight cents the ration, that price was known to be less, frequently, than the actual cost. The officers might, at that period, have drawn their rations and sold them to a profit; and after the price was reduced to twenty cents, although an apparent change in the market seemed to favor the reduction, yet it was fully ascertained that the price of the ration, on an average, was considerably higher; and upon this ground it was fixed at twenty-five cents as a fair average price. The officers now consider, and indeed have always considered, their undrawn rations as a part of their pay, and have made their calculations accordingly.
That there should be a fixed price for undrawn rations is essential, not only as respects the officers, but equally, if not more, essential, as respects the public accounts. Was the price to be regulated by the fluctuation of the markets, the officers would be kept in a state of constant uncertainty as to the regulation of their expenses, and great embarrassments would arise in the settlement of their accounts at the treasury. Hence it has been found expedient to give to these rations a fixed value; and the Commissioners presume that twenty-five cents is not more than a fair average price for them.
The officers, in furnishing their own tables, are unavoidably subject to pay the market prices demanded for the articles they require. These markets may be as various as the ports they may proceed to in the various parts of the world. It is also the custom to provide fresh meat for the crew whenever a vessel goes into port; and, on such occasions, we are subject to pay the market price demanded for such fresh provisions. This custom could not be dispensed with, the health of the crews requires its observance. These are contingencies which should always be considered, in estimating the cost of the navy ration.
The principle of permitting officers to commute their rations into money is universally practised in every service with which the Commissioners are acquainted; it enables the officers, from time to time, to provide their own stores. If this custom were prohibited, and the whole number of rations, to which the officers are by law entitled, were to be provided and delivered in kind to them, the capacity of the ships to receive provisions and stores, for the crew generally, would be proportionately diminished. Under the present regulation the stores of the officers occupy but an inconsiderable space, change it and you necessarily have to lessen the quantity which would otherwise be provided for the crew. By a change, these inconveniences would arise, without being attended with any conceivable benefit.
"Are not the improvements of navy yards complete? Can any thing be spared from that item?"
The improvements of navy yards are not complete. It would require a much larger sum than is estimated for this year to make them as complete as is desired, with regard to both economy and convenience. The present appropriation is not more than sufficient to keep the yards with their buildings, enclosures, building ships, launching ways, building stages, machinery, boats, lighters, mooring chains, mooring anchors, &c. in repair; and to pay officers whose services are indispensable for the preservation of the public stores.
In answer to the inquiry relative to the amount estimated for repairs; and "whether any thing can be spared from that item," the Commissioners beg leave to observe that the estimate for repairs embraces not only the repairs required to the hulls of our ships, but every object of equipment, cordage, sails, anchors, ship chandlery, &c. and it also embraces the wear and tear of the ships in-service. Hence it will be acknowledged that there are insuperable difficulties to forming any precise estimate, with respect to the cost of repairs, the amount depending measureably upon wind and weather. If, however, it should be determined to break-up the Java, and not to rebuild her, the Commissioners think it highly probable, judging from past experience, that the estimate for repairs might he reduced one hundred thousand dollars, without injury to the public service.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, sir, your most obedient servant,
Honorable Smith Thompson, Secretary of the Navy.