Owing to the position of Block Island, relatively to the lines of communication of a hostile force coming from Europe to attack our eastern coast, and because of the sheltered waters held within it, suitable for small craft, the advisability of establishing a small naval base there is apparent. With a suitable base there and another on Martha’s Vineyard, and the present canal from Massachusetts Bay to Buzzards Bay sufficiently enlarged, the whole coast from Boston to New York, including Narragansett Bay, could be made to form one naval base which would have three exits. Our own ships could pass from one point to another, and concentrate at will near Sandy Hook, Block Island, or Massachusetts Bay; and, which is equally important, the establishment of an enemy base near New York would be made almost, if not quite, impossible.
In case of an attack on our eastern coast, made directly from Europe, which could be accomplished easily during the calm months of the summer, the degree of efficiency shown by the bases at Norfolk, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston would influence vitally the condition in which our fleet would go to battle. Owing to the traditional policy, or rather lack of policy, of the United States, and the consequent unreadiness of our preparations, we may reasonably assume that war will find us in such a condition that the utmost haste will be necessary to get our whole naval force out to sea in time to prevent the enemy from making an actual bombardment of our shores. We have no reason to suppose that the ships actually cruising in our active fleet will not be ready; we have every reason to believe that they will be ready. But it is inconceivable that we should not try to oppose such an attack with all the naval force that we could muster; which means that we should try to send out many ships from our home bases to join the active fleet at sea.
The ease with which the passage of an enemy’s fleet up the Delaware or Chesapeake could be prevented, in case any means of national defense whatever be attempted, compared with the difficulty of defending New York, and combined with the greater damage that an enemy could inflict on New York, mark the vicinity of New York as the probable objective of any determined naval attack upon our coast; no matter whether that attack be made directly from Europe, or indirectly from Europe by way of the Caribbean. To meet such an attack, various parts of the fleet would have to issue from their bases; even parts of the active fleet would probably have had to go to their home ports for some needed repairs or supplies. The first thought of an attacking fleet would naturally be to prevent our ships from getting out, as it was the thought of Nelson and other British commanders to prevent the issuing of forces from the ports of France. But in view of the great distance from Europe to our coast, and the impossibility of preventing the knowledge reaching us of the departure of the fleet (unless indeed all the powers of Europe combined to prevent it), it seems probable that no such issuing could be prevented, and that a very considerable American force would have time to take its station out at sea, prepared to meet the coming foe.