Types of Naval Officers, Drawn from the History of the British Navy
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Title: Types of Naval Officers
Drawn from the History of the British Navy
Author: A. T. Mahan
Release Date: May 4, 2006 [eBook #18314]
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Types of Naval Officers
Drawn from the
History of the British Navy
With Some Account of the Conditions of Naval
Warfare at the beginning of the Eighteenth
Century, and of its subsequent development
during the Sail Period
A. T. Mahan, D.C.L., LL.D.
Captain, United States Navy
Author of the "Influence of Sea Power upon History,
1660-1783," and "Upon the French Revolution
and Empire;" of "The Life of Nelson,"
and a "Life of Farragut"
Sampson Low, Marston & Company
By Houghton, Mifflin And Company.
By A. T. Mahan.
All rights reserved
UNIVERSITY PRESS · JOHN WILSON
AND SON · CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.
Although the distinguished seamen, whose livesand professional characteristics it is the objectof this work to present in brief summary, belongedto a service now foreign to that of the United States,they have numerous and varied points of contact withAmerica; most of them very close, and in some instancesof marked historical interest. The older men,indeed, were during much of their careers our fellowcountrymen in the colonial period, and fought, someside by side with our own people in this new world,others in distant scenes of the widespread strife thatcharacterized the middle of the eighteenth century, thebeginnings of "world politics;" when, in a quarrelpurely European in its origin, "black men," to useMacaulay's words, "fought on the coast of Coromandel,and red men scalped each other by the great lakes ofNorth America." All, without exception, were actorsin the prolonged conflict that began in 1739 concerningthe right of the ships of Great Britain and her coloniesto frequent the seas bordering the American dominionsof Spain; a conflict which, by gradual expansion, drewin the continent of Europe, from Russia to France,spread thence to the French possessions in India andNorth America, involved Spanish Havana in the westernhemisphere and Manila in the eastern, and finally[Pg vi]entailed the expulsion of France from our continent.Thence, by inevitable sequence, issued the independenceof the United States. The contest, thus completed,covered forty-three years.
The four seniors of our series, Hawke, Rodney, Howe,and Jervis, witnessed the whole of this momentousperiod, and served conspicuously, some more, some less,according to their age and rank, during its variousstages. Hawke, indeed, was at the time of the AmericanRevolution too old to go to sea, but he did not dieuntil October 16, 1781, three days before the surrenderof Cornwallis at Yorktown, which is commonly acceptedas the closing incident of our struggle for independence.On the other hand, the two younger men, Saumarez andPellew, though they had entered the navy before theAmerican Revolution, saw in it the beginnings of anactive service which lasted to the end of the Napoleonicwars, the most continuous and gigantic strife of moderntimes. It was as the enemies of our cause that theyfirst saw gunpowder burned in anger.
Nor was it only amid the commonplaces of navalwarfare that they then gained their early experiences inAmerica. Pellew in 1776, on Lake Champlain, bore abrilliant part in one of the most decisive—thoughamong the least noted—campaigns of the Revolutionarycontest; and a year later, as leader of a small contingentof seamen, he shared the fate of Burgoyne's army atSaratoga. In 1776 also, Saumarez had his part in anengagement which ranks among the bloodiest recordedbetween ships and forts, being on board the Britishflag-ship Bristol at the attack upon Fort Moultrie, the[Pg vii]naval analogue of Bunker Hill; for, in the one of theseactions as in the other, the great military lesson was theresistant power against frontal attack of resolute marksmen,though untrained to war, when fighting behindentrenchments,—a teaching renewed at New Orleans,and emphasized in the recent South African War. Thewell-earned honors of the comparatively raw colonialsreceived generous recognition at the time from their opponents,even in the midst of the bitterness proverbiallyattendant upon family quarrels; but it is only just toallow that their endurance found its counterpart in theresolute and persistent valor of the assailants. In thesetwo battles, with which the War of Independence maybe said fairly to have begun, by land and by water, inthe far North and in the far South, the men of the samestock, whose ancestors there met face to face as foes,have now in peace a common heritage of glory. Iflittle of bitterness remains in the recollections whichthose who are now fellow-citizens retain of the strugglebetween the North and the South, within the AmericanRepublic, we of two different nations, who yet share acommon tongue and a common tradition of liberty andlaw, may well forget the wrongs of the earlier strife, andlook only to the common steadfast courage with whicheach side then bore its share in a civil conflict.
The professional lives of these men, therefore, touchhistory in many points; not merely history generally,but American history specifically. Nor is this contactprofessional only, devoid of personal tinge. Hawke wasclosely connected by blood with the Maryland familyof Bladen; that having been his mother's maiden name,[Pg viii]and Governor Bladen of the then colony being his firstcousin. Very much of his early life was spent upon theAmerican Station, largely in Boston. But those werethe days of Walpole's peace policy; and when the maritimewar, which the national outcry at last compelled,attained large dimensions, Hawke's already demonstratedeminence as a naval leader naturally led to his employmentin European waters, where the more immediatedangers, if not the greatest interests, of Great Britainwere then felt to be. The universal character, as well asthe decisive issues of the opening struggle were as yetbut dimly foreseen. Rodney also had family ties withAmerica, though somewhat more remote. Cæsar Rodney,a signer of the Declaration of Independence fromDelaware, was of the same stock; their great-grandfatherswere brothers. It was from the marriage of hisancestor with the daughter of a Sir Thomas Cæsar thatthe American Rodney derived his otherwise singularname.
Howe, as far as known, had no relations on this sideof the water; but his elder brother, whom he succeededin the title, was of all British officers the one who mostwon from the colonial troops with whom he was associateda personal affection, the memory of which hasbeen transmitted to us; while the admiral's own kindlyattitude towards the colonists, and his intimacy withFranklin, no less than his professional ability, led to hisbeing selected for the North American command at thetime when the home country had not yet lost all hopeof a peaceable solution of difficulties. To this the Howetradition was doubtless expected to contribute. Jervis,[Pg ix]a man considerably younger than the other three, by theaccidents of his career came little into touch with eitherthe colonies or the colonists, whether before or duringthe Revolutionary epoch; yet even he, by his intimatefriendship with Wolfe, and intercourse with his last days,is brought into close relation with an event and a nameindelibly associated with one of the great landmarks—crises—inthe history of the American Continent. Althoughthe issue of the strife depended, doubtless, upondeeper and more far-reaching considerations, it is nottoo much to say that in the heights of Quebec, and inthe name of Wolfe, is signalized the downfall of theFrench power in America. There was prefigured theultimate predominance of the traditions of the English-speakingraces throughout this continent, which in ourown momentous period stands mediator between thetwo ancient and contrasted civilizations of Europe andAsia, that so long moved apart, but are now broughtinto close, if not threatening, contact.
Interesting, however, as are the historical and socialenvironments in which their personalities played theirpart, it is as individual men, and as conspicuous exemplars—types—ofthe varied characteristics which goto the completeness of an adequate naval organization,that they are here brought forward. Like other professions,—andespecially like its sister service, the Army,—theNavy tends to, and for efficiency requires, specialization.Specialization, in turn, results most satisfactorilyfrom the free play of natural aptitudes; for aptitudes,when strongly developed, find expression in inclination,and readily seek their proper function in the body[Pg x]organic to which they belong. Each of these distinguishedofficers, from this point of view, does not standfor himself alone, but is an eminent exponent of a class;while the class itself forms a member of a body whichhas many organs, no one of which is independent of theother, but all contributive to the body's welfare. Hence,while the effort has been made to present each in hisfull individuality, with copious recourse to anecdote andillustrative incident as far as available, both as a matterof general interest and for accurate portrayal, specialcare has been added to bring out occurrences and actionswhich convey the impression of that natural characterwhich led the man to take the place he did in the navalbody, to develop the professional function with whichhe is more particularly identified; for personality underliesofficial character.
In this sense of the word, types are permanent; forsuch are not the exclusive possession of any age or ofany service, but are found and are essential in everyperiod and to every nation. Their functions are part ofthe bed-rock of naval organization and of naval strategy,throughout all time; and the particular instances hereselected owe their special cogency mainly to the factthat they are drawn from a naval era, 1739-1815, ofexceptional activity and brilliancy.
There is, however, another sense in which an officer,or a man, may be accurately called a type; a sense noless significant, but of more limited and transient application.The tendency of a period,—especially whenone of marked transition,—its activities and its results,not infrequently find expression in one or more histori[Pg xi]calcharacters. Such types may perhaps more accuratelybe called personifications; the man or menembodying, and in action realizing, ideas and processesof thought, the progress of which is at the time united,but is afterwards recognized as a general characteristicof the period. Between the beginning andthe end a great change is found to have been effected,which naturally and conveniently is associated with thenames of the most conspicuous actors; although theyare not the sole agents, but simply the most eminent.
It is in this sense more particularly that Hawke andRodney are presented as types. It might even be saidthat they complement each other and constitute togethera single type; for, while both were men of unusuallystrong personality, private as well as professional, andwith very marked traits of character, their great relationto naval advance is that of men who by naturalfaculty detect and seize upon incipient ideas, for whichthe time is ripe, and upon the practical realization ofwhich the healthful development of the profession depends.With these two, and with them not so muchcontemporaneously as in close historical sequence, isassociated the distinctive evolution of naval warfare inthe eighteenth century; in their combined names issummed up the improvement of system to which Nelsonand his contemporaries fell heirs, and to which Nelson,under the peculiar and exceptional circumstances whichmade his opportunity, gave an extension that immortalizedhim. Of Hawke and Rodney, therefore, itmay be said that they are in their profession types ofthat element of change, in virtue of which the profession[Pg xii]grows; whereas the other four, eminent as they were,exemplify rather the conservative forces, the permanentfeatures, in the strength of which it exists, and in theabsence of any one of which it droops or succumbs. Itdoes not, however, follow that the one of these greatmen is the simple continuator of the other's work;rather it is true that each contributed, in due successionof orderly development, the factor of progress which hisday demanded, and his personality