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Captain Caspar F. Goodrich, Points on Coast-Defense brought out by the War with Spain


Brought out by the





     So completely have the events of our late struggle with Spain been described and analysed by experts in naval and military science, by eyewitnesses and active participants, by journalists and historians, that further reference to them or to the lessons they convey can be made only after ample apologies on the part of the lecturer, and by kind permission of an audience whose patience is, doubtless, already strained to the point of rupture.

     It is with frank recognition of the disadvantages and embarrassment of my position that, taking your polite consent for granted, I venture to allude to certain aspects of that war which are calculated to yield to our consideration a large measure of confirmation of the stand heretofore assumed in our study of coast-defense, as well as of encouragement as to our future immunity from attack.

     It would be a labor of supererogation as presumptuous as it is unnecessary, to attempt to deal with the general strategy of that brief campaign, so well and so thoroughly has this been done by Captain Mahan, whose volume entitled “Lessons of the War with Spain” should be attentively conned by all naval officers.1

     From the reading of this able and pithy work we gather, among other things, a fresh picture of the state of the public mind during hostilities in striking accord with what was predicted in this very lecture-room two years before the war broke out. Captain Mahan says (p. 57), “The preposterous and humiliating terrors of the past months, that a hostile fleet would waste coal and ammunition in shelling villagers and bathers on a beach, we may hope will not recur.”

     Captain Mahan’s hope will not be realized. The phenomenon will assuredly reappear whenever war is declared, just as it has invariably appeared in the past, for it is based upon the immutable processes of human nature. Its pernicious influence on the conduct of a campaign may be somewhat lessened through educating the people to a right conception of the ends sought in a military and naval conflict, and may be entirely overcome by stout resistance on the part of the administration.

     Again he writes (p. 89), “‘Our seacoast,’ said a person then in authority to the present writer, ‘was in a condition of unreasoning panic, and fought to have little squadrons scattered along it everywhere, according to the theory of defense always favored by stupid terror.’ The ‘stupidity’, by all military experience, was absolute-- unqualified; but the Navy Department succeeded in withstanding the ‘terror’--the moral effect--so far as to compromise in the Flying Squadron; a rational solution, though not unimpeachable.”2

     In a lecture on “Naval Raids”, delivered at the War College in 1896 and published in “The Proceedings of the Naval Institute” for June 1898, the following expressions were employed, referring to the letters and telegrams received by the Navy Department in 1861, 1862 and 1863, and containing urgent if not frantic appeals for ships to be stationed at various northern ports:-

     “It is impossible”, this lecturer3 states, “in reading the letters and telegrams quoted above, not to admire the wisdom and firmness displayed by the Secretary of the Navy.4 A weaker man could not have withstood the popular clamor arising in every seaboard town for local protection, but would have divided our too scanty forces and have made the less important points secure at the sacrifice of the larger, the vital interests at stake. Mr. Welles’ contention was, in effect, that the harbors of New York and Boston were guarded by the blockading fleet that stretched from Cape Henry to the Rio Grande, a surprisingly broad and sound strategic view, from he appears never to have wavered. This views, the very essence of correct coast-defense, stood successfully the test of years of war. Given fresh conditions not too unlike the old, it will still prevail. Yet, today we have on all sides a noisy demand for harbor-defense vessels and batteries of 16-inch guns on every salient.”

     “Whether, in the event of war in these days, a Secretary of the Navy can possibly be as independent in his action as was Mr. Welles, it is difficult to say. The question is of great importance to us, although it hangs rather upon the sociological development of the country than upon naval policy. Personally, I am disposed to fear that the powers of the press and the politicians will, together, overbear the Secretary and force him into abandoning, not the true faith itself, but its practice. It is incumbent upon all who seriously discuss the naval problems of the future to recognize the possibilities for evil which may, and doubtless will, flow from the source so clearly defined in these extracts from the history of the past.”

     Captain Mahan attributes to a lack of coast-defenses, meaning presumably, harbor-defense, a faulty disposition of our naval strength at the outset. This is what he says (p. 53): “The unsatisfactory condition of the coast-defenses, whereby the navy lost the support of its complementary factor in the scheme of national sea power, imposed a vicious, though incoitable, change in the initial campaign, which should have been directed in full force against the coast of Cuba.” Possibly, Captain Mahan had confidential information on the subject not accessible to the general public, but the open records do not describe so backward a state of affairs.

     It will be my endeavor in the following remarks to show that our brethren in the army had not been behind hand in their labors, and that our harbor-defenses, although not developed to the extent recommended by the Endicott Board,5 were entirely adequate to the task of deterring the Spaniards from attacking any point worthy of strategic consideration or tactical effort. That a dread approaching a panic existed along our seaboard was notorious at the time and is notorious now, but that it was justified by any lack of readiness or power on the part of either the army or the navy, I am not prepared to admit. We were ready, in both services, and Spain knew it. This is the reason, and the inference is a fair one, why, in studying prospective hostilities with the United States, Spanish writers said never a word about carrying the war into America, and why Cervera, conceded to be the most thoughtful and accomplished of his cloth in Spain, and Concas, his able chief of staff, are not known to have examined into even the possibility of such movement; certainly, they never counselled it.6

     Says Wilson, in his “Downfall of Spain” (p. 88):7

     “It will be observed that both these officers are for the virtual abandonment of Cuba and for a policy of complete inaction. Neither as much as suggests raids against the American coastline ” “ it is strange that neither mentions the bombardment panic which was at the time very prevalent on the seaboard of the United States, or considers that if public opinion would recall the Spanish squadron, did an American fleet appear off the Spanish coast, it might equally well be expected to compel the recall of the American fleet, did the Spanish squadron appear off the coast of the United States.”

     How could they, when the report of the Chief of Engineers of the United States Army for 1897 was at their disposal, with its calm and impressive statements of what had been done up to June 30th of that year, what it was expected to finish by December 31, 1897, and what further works were projected or under construction? Naturally, these statements were general rather than specific, and were, properly, so guarded in their phraseology that exact locations and gun commands were not revealed. Still, they could not fail to give a solemn warning to any possible enemy that, at every important seaport, very dangerous modern weapons were mounted, in addition to old guns in masonry works and to the planted mines, which might reasonably be assumed to play an active part in the general military defense.

     As to the number of smooth-bore guns and 8-inch converted rifles in readiness for service when the war broke out I have no precise knowledge. We are all aware, in a general way, that such guns, altho’ mounted in the past, are not infrequently retained in position, pending the completion of the modern batteries which are eventually to replace them. As a rule, they are not removed unless or until their sites are required for the new works.

     The frankness with which we publish to the world at large information that other nations are most careful to conceal, has often been commented upon at home and abroad. In this instance, it would appear that the practice was beneficial in its results rather than detrimental, so far as the noncombatant public was concerned. To prove a negative is proverbially difficult, and the argument post hoc, ergo, propter hoc,8 is not regarded as conclusive. What the Spaniards might have done, had not the Chief of Engineers made his report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1897, is as promising a theme for speculation as the color of Venus’ hair or the number of angels that can stand upon the point of a needle. Let us leave it to the casuists. This, at least, we do know, that the report was made, was freely accessible to the Spaniards, that it seems not to have occurred to them to operate upon our coast, and that, in fact, they did not so operate. We surely cannot deny to our gallant foe of the late war the wisdom that counselled the acquiring of all possible information on the subject of our fortifications, especially when that information was exact, official and public. Nor can anyone be blamed who believes that the report itself and the Spanish plan of campaign stood somewhat in the relation of cause to effect, however unable he may be to demonstrate beyond peradventure the existence of such a relation.

     There is, of course, one point wherein our ignorance was marked. We credited Spain with a close approximation to the full paper value of her fleet. We did not know how lamentably deficient in readiness were the units of that fleet, nor how destitute it was of the material resources required to make it a satisfactory weapon. We erred on the right side, however, for it is never well to underestimate one’s adversary. But, granting that the Spaniards were as formidable in reality as the information at our command represented them to be, I am still of opinion that our fears that they might work damage on our coast were groundless. Also, I am quite ready to admit that, to a certain extent, the unsatisfactory condition of the Spanish navy entered as an actual factor in keeping Cervera away from our shores, while yet holding the view that, had it been what we thought it to be, he would none the less have failed to visit us.

     Looking back upon the events of the spring of 1898, even without that fuller knowledge which we now possess of what did happen, I think we should have been entirely justified in trusting the protection of our seaports to our harbor defenses and in employing the fleet in strict accordance with the strategic demands of the situation.

     The engagement at San Juan de Puerto Rico and the frequent shellings of the batteries at Santiago have not taught us sailors to despise the value of guns on shore, even if they be of small caliber, like the Spanish 15cm. B.L.R’s9 and 24 cm. howitzers. Bear this in mind when you ask, “But were our fortifications formidable enough to give pause to the Spaniard?” and bear in mind that the 8-inch converted rifle, a very efficient weapon it is too, was commonly found in our older works associated with smooth-bores, some of which are 15 inches in calibre.

     On the part of the Spaniards, I see no good use of the fleet in coast-defense, either strategic or tactical. They were content at all times to await attack. In the West Indies their vessels seldom ventured out of port, and then only to return quickly under shelter of the guns on shore. In the East they were totally overwhelmed, though blindly following the example of Brueys at the Battle of the Nile.10

     From the condition of the problem it was not expected that our own fleet should take the role of the defense. We were too strong and were in home waters. The stationing of monitors here and there, of the KATAHDIN at Provincetown, and the formation of the patrol squadron,11 were concessions to popular clamor. They were not operations in coast-defense and should not be dignified with such an appelation.

     The relief experienced by the public at home when news came of Dewey’s action at Manila12 should suffice to prove the soundness of the view generally taken by naval authorities on the subject of war, especially by those of the English speaking races, that in the navy lies our true coast-defense.

     Says Sir George Brassey (1899, p.141):13 “Now, as always, ports containing essential naval resources or required for the protection of a commercial marine, requires defence against a naval raids, but the real protection of a coast line must continue to depend on the mobile navy. The sum which a nation can spare for naval and millitary purposes is practically limited, and all superfluous expenditures upon coast defense, entails loss of upon the sea going fleet and the field army which are the real arbiters of war. ### Americans who have marked the vigor and the initiation, the skill and the daring displayed by their navy in the recent war, cannot fail to understand where lies the true defense of their coast line.

To Summarize and Recapitulate.

     The Penobscot and Kennebec Rivers were mined and defended by old works, and old guns, some of 15 inch caliber.

     Portland, Me., had old works, mines and the following new guns: In June 1897, three 10 in. emplacements ready, two carriages and four guns delivered; June 1898 five 10 in. guns mounted.

     Portsmouth, N. H. had, in June 1898, old works, mines, and two 8 in. guns mounted.

     Boston had old works and mines. In June 1897 there were xxxxxx sixteen 12 in. mortars, three 10in. emplacements essentially completed and the armament delivered and being mounted; In June 1898, of modern guns, eight 10in. rifle guns and two R.F.guns14 were ready for service, in addition to the mortars.

     Narragansett Bay had three works of older type and was closed by mines. In June 1898 sixteen 12in. mortars and two 10in. guns.

New York:

     Eastern Entrance-- had a number of masonry works of old types. In June 1897 there were sixteen 12in. rifled mortars, two 10in. guns. By June, 1898, and 8 IN. gun was also mounted and mines planted.

     Staten Island- old works. In June, 1897, five 8 in. rifles ready. By June, 1898, in addition four 10in. guns, two 4.7 and R.F. guns were ready and the Narrows mined.

     Long Island-- Apparently Jan. 1st, 1898, three 10in. rifles, and six rapid fires. By June 1st, 1898 , a fourth 10in. rifle would appear to have been in readiness.

     Sandy Hook by Jan. 1st, old works, sixteen 12in mortars, two 12in rifles, two 10in. rifles. By June, 1898, two more 10in. rifles two 4.7 R.F. and three dynamite guns and lots of submarine mines.

Nelaware [i.e. Delaware] River

     Masonry works of old style and June, 1897- three 10in. guns ready. June 1898, three 10in., three 12in., two 4.7 R.F. and Submarine mines were ready.


     June, 1897, Two old works,

         1898, eight 12in. mortars, one 12in., and three 8in. guns and the channel mined.


     June 1897, Two works of old type, three 10in. guns,

     June, 1898- Five 10in., one 8in. guns and submarine mines.

Hampton Roads.

     June, 1897, two old works, one partially completed, three 10in. guns and xxx sixteen 12in. mortars practically completed.

     June, 1898- in addition a ten inch gun, four 8in. guns and three rapid fire guns- 108 submarine mines.

At Wilmington, N. C.

     June, 1897, one old work.

     June, 1898, Four 8in. guns and submarine mines.

Port Royal, S. C.

     June 1898, two 4.7 R.F. This is the only place containing a naval station where the shore works were insufficient. On the other hand, what possible land could have been gained, by the Spaniards had they ventured over the bar and reached a safe anchorage within ? The safety of Port Royal was completely assured by its lack of strategical value.

At Savannah.

     June, 1897, Three old works.

     June, 1898, Four 8in. guns, two 4.7 guns, one 8in. temporarily mounted. Forts Pulaski and Clinch in condition for service. Submarine mines.

Key West.

     A masonry fort with two 15in. S.B., and ten 8in. converted rifles. Mines. As the modern guns contemplated were not mounted, it may be inferred that they were not regarded as necessary.


     Masonry works of old type, three 8in. converted rifles.

     June, 1897, two emplacements for 10in. guns ready,

     June, 1898, four 10in., two 4.7 guns and submarine mines.


     June, 1897, two emplacements for 8in. rifles ready-two almost ready.

     June, 1898, eight converted 8in. rifles and four modern 8in. guns, and two 4.7 guns mounted. Submarine mines.

New Orleans.

     Two masonry works of old type.

     June, 1897, Nothing modern completed.

     June, 1898, one 8in. converted rifle and seven 15in. S.B., two 10in. and two 8in. modern guns and submarine mines.


     June, 1897- Nothing modern.

     June, 1898- One 10in. gun, eight 12in. mortars and submarine mines.

     Parenthetically, I submit, with all due respect, that Galveston would be safer without any defenses at all. It is now a fortified a place and can no longer claim exemption from bombardment.

     As I run over this really formidable array of submarine mines and guns ancient and modern, which were in readiness to welcome Cervera, (I can find no better term), I confess being unable to comprehend our own lack of confidence in our harbor defenses.

Omitting the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers, and Port Royal where nothing existed to attract the serious attention of the Spanish and where the works, such as they were, were entirely adequate to the repelling of a naval raid or dash, it is, I think, quite within the limits of accuracy to assert that at every important point our fixed defenses were more than strong enough to drive off the Spanish fleet, even if the Pelayo and Carlos Quinto15 had been added to Cevera’s xx command, and that serious attempt to reduce them would have subsequently entailed great labor and expense on the part of the L.H.S.16 in marking with buoys and light vessels the sites of Spanish wrecks off our coast.

     It is to panic, pure and simple, that we must attribute the splitting up of the North Atlantic fleet and the formation of the Flying Squadron*** panic on the part of the people, so extended and so acute that it was able to force the hands of the administration. What it did for the Navy we all know. Fortunately the arrival of the Spanish squadron in the West Indies soon relieved the strain on the Department and no great harm was done.

     But I think on shore great harm was done. The mounting of guns at Bridgeport, Stonington, New Haven, etc., Bar Harbor, Me./ for example is distinctly unfortunate. It teaches the people to trust to weapons that are out of place are of no use and that may only serve to warrant a bombardment. In his report for 1898 the Chief Engineer page 29, says “At the outbreak of the war Sabine Pass17 was entirely undefended and became an object of solicitude lest its recently improved harbor be made the subject of a Spanish attack********temporary batteries for four siege guns were quickly constructed and the guns placed in position***. Provision was also made for mounting an 8in. B. L. rifle**. Material for an improvised mine defense was accumulated, but the progress of events rendered planting mines unnecessary.”

     This case is typical. How could Cervera have possibly justified to his government a descent on the Sabine Pass? How could he have answered the question “Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galere?”18

     Panic is unreasoning or it would not be panic. Upon us devolves the necessity of preaching, in season and out of season, the true doctrine that the wisdom and efforts of the two services may be trusted to do the best that can be don[e].  To-day we may smile at our fears and laugh as we read that at San Diego, California, five triple groups of mines were planted, three 10 inch rifles mounted and that the Battery commander kept two Napoleon guns trained on the mine field, “while”, at San Francisco, “ a number of mines were successfully planted before the end of the (fiscal) year.”

     A fairy tale of my own invention? Not at all, it is an extract from the report of the Chief of Engineers of the Army for 1898. Of what use is allaying general dread was Dewey’’s wiping the Spanish Flag off the Pacific Ocean if the populace a month later could make capable and responsible army officers do such foolish things against their wills?

     Said Sir George Clarke, ““The Genesis of the Flying Squadron may in fact be traced to an uninstructed outcry,” also “By far the most important lesson of the war - to the United States and to Great Britain - is the danger that uninstructed public opinion may usurp the direction of Naval Policy.


     So unreasoning is panic that it may be confidently asserted that no sum of money, however vast, expended in military defense will in future relxxxxx relieve the Navy Department of the pressure of the demands for local floating defense or measurably decrease the apprehension in the public mind. If the experts in this branch are satisfied,(as they should be), with the preparedness of our defensive works, it is time to announce the fact to our non combatant countrymen and bid them quiet their fears. Those whose duty it is to protect them have not been negligent. Our forts are sufficiently advanced and our navy is more than equal to the role it should play in Coast Defense. If this statement is incorrect, then official reports are of no value and we have read Naval history in vain.

     So convinced I am of the efficacy of our present fortifications that I am ready to go on record at this moment as believing that if not another gun were mounted than now are actually mounted no power in existence or that may arise in the next ten years, would venture a Naval demonstration against any one of our principal sea ports. Therein lies the encouragement of which I spoke at the beginning of this lecture.

     The lessons of History have to be repeated over and over again for they seem to fall on deaf or reluctant ears. Nor do the professors always agree.

     (Brassy, 1899, page 172)- Sir Geo. Clarke says- “Apropos of Coast defense. Captain Mahan has laid great stress on the paralyzing effect of inadequate coastal defense, but the lesson of the war is of an opposite character. Judged by any modern standard the coast defenses of Cuba were miserable; but a moderately effective fleet based upon Cuban ports would have found them ample, and they may be actually said to have served their purpose. The term “Coastal Defense” in relation to a Naval power is commonly abused and misunderstood. Ports containing essential Naval resources, or serving as the of a commercial marine require small permanent defenses sufficient to prevent a naval raid. How small these xxxxxx defenses may be, Santiago shows. Half a dozen 6 in. Q.F.19 Guns well mounted and well handled would have fulfilled every requirement. Towns situated on a long sea board must take this chance. History shows that the defense of positions of this nature depends wholly upon sea power. If the naval conditions are such as to permit an enemy to attack them, it is the back-door - the land front which is invariably selected. The operations against Santiago supply only a fresh illustration of an ancient law”.

     That is to say, Clarke holds that ships would not attack strong places but will cover the landing of an army which will itself reduce the works from the rear.

     This is the lesson that I wish to force home, that fleets will not, can not engage modern batteries except on fearfully unequal terms; and that our worst foe is “uninstructed public opinion”, which may be confidently expected to again frustrate the intelligent efforts of our batteries of the army and to force upon us fa[u]lty strategy unless we manage through a propaganda of enlightenment to make it clear to the xxxxx nation at large that knowing our own business thoroughly we may be trusted to do for the people when war comes for better than they can do for themselves. 

Source Note: D, RNN, RG 15, Lectures 1894-1903, Box 1. Document features a cover page with the date of the presentation: “ca. 1900,” and “Author: Goodrich,Capt, C. F./Contents: Points in coast defense brought out by the War with Spain.” On the title page is “Duplicate” handwritten at the top and an archival stamp: “Section 2/Envelop 5.” The author occasionally did not leave space between words. The editors have silently corrected these errors.

Footnote 1: Capt. Alfred T. Mahan’s Lesson of the War With Spain.

Footnote 3: The lecture referenced has not been found.

Footnote 4: Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. Served as Secretary of the Navy from 1861-1869.

Footnote 5: A reference to the “Report of the Board on Fortifications or Other Defenses; March 3, 1886,” (Washington: Government Printing Officer, 1886);  prepared by Secretary of War William C. Endicott, who served from 1885-1889.

Footnote 6: Adm. Pascual Cervera y Topete and Capt. Victor M. Concas y Palau.

Footnote 7: Herbert Wrigley Wilson, The Downfall of Spain (London: Low Marston and Company, 1900).

Footnote 8: Latin for, “after this, therefore, because of this.” Indicating a logical fallacy.

Footnote 9: Breach Loading Rifles.

Footnote 10: Vice-Adm. François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers, Comte de Brueys was the French Commander at the Battle of the Nile on 1-3 August 1798.

Footnote 12: RAdm. George Dewey, Commander, Asiatic Squadron. For more on his victory at Manila, see: The Battle of Manila Bay.

Footnote 13: George S. Clarke, “Naval Aspects of the Spanish-American War.” Chapter 5, pp. 123-74, in The Naval Annual, ed. T. A. Brassey (Portsmouth, England: J. Griffin, 1899).

Footnote 14: Rapid Fire Guns.

Footnote 15: Spanish cruiser Carlos V.

Footnote 16: The Department of the Treasury’s Light House Service.

Footnote 17: The outlet which forms the coastal boarder between Texas and Louisiana.

Footnote 18: From  Molière’s “Les Fourberies de Scapin.” The phrase literally translates to, “What the devil did he go to do in that galley?” Géronte says this on three separate occasions to the main character Scapin after Scapin informs him that his son was kidnapped by an Ottoman pirate after a night of drinking aboard the pirate’s ship. John Devoe Belton, A Literary Manual of Foreign quotation, Ancient and Modern (New York: G. P. Putnam’s and Sons, 1891), 164-165.

Footnote 19: Quick Fire.

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