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The Cost of War


March and April 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Friday, April 12, 1861.



[From the N. Y. Evening Post, 8th.]

The great nations of Europe are just now playing what Punch well characterizes as “The Game of Beggar my Neighbor.”  European politics have become so complicated during the last two years, by the inscrutable conduct of the Emperor Napoleon, by the success of the Italian patriots, and by the front which the people of Hungary and Poland have shown their rulers, that the principal nations of Europe are, at immense expense, putting their armies and navies upon a war footing.  It is remarkable that, with the exception of perhaps the Emperor of France, no one of the rulers of Europe wants war.  It would be difficult to point one, even, whose interests do not move him more strongly for peace.  The estimates which we have gathered below do not, therefore, represent the cost of actual war, but only the price at which great and powerful nations think themselves compelled to but peace.

The English Commons have just made an annual appropriation of over sixty-one millions of dollars, to support the navy during the year 1861; and another sum of twenty-four million dollars for the “pay and allowances of the land forces”—in all eighty-five millions.

Last year, having a Chinese war on her hands, England’s navy was manned with 85,000 seamen of all grades.  This year the government needs only 78,000; but it seems that there is a reserve of about 25,000 men ready for the service, if necessary.  The British navy has for several years suffered, like our own, for the lack of seamen; and the government has found it necessary to ship and train boys, in order to increase the supply of experienced men in years to come.  There are 9,500 boys in the navy, which number, if kept up, is said to afford a supply of about 2,900 seamen per annum.  The wages of British seamen cost the nation fifteen and a half million dollars per annum, and their food not less than six and a half millions.

The British navy now contains 53 screw line of battle ships and 14 paddle wheels, making in all 67 steamships of the line.  We have not at this time a single steamship of the line in the United States navy, though the Niagara is, perhaps, an easy match for any two British liners.

The French have 35 line of battle ships afloat and 2 building, making 37.  The English navy has of frigates 31 screws and 9 paddles afloat, besides 12 building, making a total of 52 frigates.  The French have 18 paddles frigates and 21 screws, making a total 39 afloat, and they have 8 more building, making a grand total of 47.  The French have 266 ships of all classes and 61 building, making a total of 327.  The English navy had a total of 505 vessels afloat and 57 building and converting, giving it at total of 562.  Russia has 9 line of battle and 17 frigates afloat; Spain 2 line of battle and 12 frigates; Italy 1 line of battle and 12 frigates, all steamers.  France has 2 iron-cased ships, 4 iron-cased frigates, 4 floating batteries and 5 iron-cased gun boats afloat or building.  Spain and Russia and Italy are building iron-cased frigates.  England has the Warrior and two other large iron-cased ships afloat and building, and half a million of dollars is needed next year to furnish these and complete another.  There were built and added to the British navy last year ships of the line, frigates and other vessels to the amount of 22,288 tons and 8,700 horse power; while 8.370 horse powers will be added during the present year.


The whole number of seamen of France amounts to 156,000; but of these French navy has but 38,000 men.  Lord Clarence Paget said recently in the House of Commons:

“From all the concurrent testimony which he could obtain, he found that the French navy contained from 35,000 to 38,000 men.  Of these 10,000 belonged to the conscription and 20,000 to the adscription.  The latter were the seafaring population of France who were liable to serve.  Then, what had they in addition in reserve?  French officers who had studied these things would tell them that in the course of a month or six weeks, and particularly in the winter, they could add at once 25,000 men to the navy.  That was his honest belief.  They had now 38,000, and they could add 25,000 in the course of a month.  He admitted that this would be by very much damaging their mercantile marine.  If they took the actual naval force of France, every seafaring man she had the power to obtain, they would find that France could produce, within not a long period, certainly not far short of 85,000 men.”


Not many years ago the navies of the world were reorganized by the introduction of steam, and scarce have men and officers fairly become used to this than England and France begin a change greater yet by the construction of iron vessels.  Napoleon has launched his “La Gloire,” and Britain her “Warrior,” the former three thousand and the latter six thousand tons.  But this is not the only difference.  The French ship is all iron-cased, the British only partly so.  Other points of contrast between the Warrior and La Gloire have already been noticed in the Evening Post.  In a further discussion of the relative merits of these ships, an English journal says:

“There can be no doubt that when you build ships of great speed with very fine ends, and load these ends with heavy armor plates, it is impossible those ships can go well in a heavy sea.  This is one of the defects of the foreign iron-cased ships now building.  They will do tolerably well in smooth water, but in a heavy sea they will be total failures.”

Bearing this in mind, the British admiralty have preferred the iron sides to the entire iron case, leaving the stem and stern unencumbered, with such internal arrangements as to render the entrance of shot in the undefended places of no serious consequence.  The French are built of wood cased with iron, the English mainly of iron.  The French are not rigged for sailing, depending solely on steam, and must, consequently, have their movements confined to their home waters when not too much ruffled by a breeze.  The English iron-sides will be rigged so as to carry sail to any destination beyond the capabilities of their steam power.

There is one more difference, singularly characteristic of the two nations:  the French have on the deck of their own ship an iron safe for the captain, and the English have not.


But even La Gloire and the Warrior may be made useless by improvements in the power and caliber of the immense guns which are not carried.  For, if an iron-cased vessel is not shot-tight, she is no better than wood—and not so good, even, for she is clumsier and would be more difficult to keep afloat.  Lord C. Paget said:

“All those engineers who are making improvements in projectiles tell us that we are only in the infancy of gun-making.  I have heard that a gun is to be produced which will pierce a 6 inch plate.  If that be so, what will be the effect upon our ships case with 4½-inch plates?  This class of vessels will be rendered altogether useless.  One great advantage, however, of building these very large vessels is that we can, if necessary, increase the thickness of the plates—we may even double them.  I have taken the trouble to ascertain what would be the effect of an increase of thickness upon the floatation of one of these ships, and I find that with a nine-inch plate the immersion would be increase only two feet.  If, therefore, it should be necessary to increase the thickness of the plates to six inches or more, we shall be in a position to do so.

And this brings us to the fact that of the British army appropriations for this year, not less than four million dollars are for Armstrong guns, of which, by April, 1862, it is intended that the army shall possess two thousand!  A twelve-pounder Armstrong gun costs nearly $1,000, and a forty-pounder costs over $1,500.