More than one-third of our naval force was being reviewed by the President. A most impressive assembly of men-o'-war it was, in tonnage and weight of metal the greatest ever floated by the waters of the western hemisphere.
The last of the fleet had arrived on the night before. From the bluffs along the shore they might have been seen approaching with a mysterious play of lights across the shadowy waters. In the morning they were all there. Hardly a type was lacking—the last 16,000-ton double-turreted battleship, the protected and heavy-armored cruisers, monitors, despatch-boats, gun-boats, destroyers, attendant transport, and supply ships. Fifty ships, 1,200 guns, 16,000 men: all were there, even to the fascinating little submarines with their round black backs just showing above the water.
It was that chromatic sort of a morning when the canvas of the sailing-boats stands out startlingly white against the drizzly sky and the smoke from the stacks of the steamers takes on an accented coal-black, and, drooping, trails low in a murky wake. Rather a dull setting at this early hour; but not sufficiently dull to check the vivacity of the actors in the scene.
The President comes up the side of the Mayflower and, arrived at the head of the gangway, stands rigid as any stanchion to attention while his colors are shot to the truck and the scarlet-coated band plays the national hymn. Then, ascending to the bridge, he takes station by the starboard rail with the Secretary of the Navy at his shoulder. The clouds roll away, the sun comes out, and all is as it should be while he prepares to review the fleet, which thereafter responds aboundingly to every burst of his own inexhaustible enthusiasm.
And this fleet, which is lying to anchor in three lines of four miles or so each in length, with a respectful margin of clear water all about, is, viewed merely as a marine pageant, magnificent; as a display of potential fighting power, most convincing. No man might look on it and his sensibilities—admiration, patriotism, respect, whatever they might be—remain unstirred. To witness it is to pass in mental review the great fleets of other days and inevitably to draw conclusions. Beside this armament the ill-destined Armada, Von Tromp's stubborn squadrons, Nelson's walls of oak, or Farragut's steam and sail would dissolve like the glucose squadrons that boys buy at Christmas time. Even Dewey's workman-like batteries (this to mark the onward rush of naval science) would be rated obsolete beside the latest of these!
It was first those impressive battleships; and bearing down on them one better saw what terrible war-engines they are. Big guns pointing forward, big guns pointing astern, long-reaching guns abeam, and little business-looking machine-guns in the tops—their mere appearance suggests their ponderous might. A single broadside from any of these, properly placed, and there would be an end to the most renowned flag-ships of wooden-fleet days. And that this frightful power need never wait on wind or tide, nor be hindered in execution by any weather much short of a hurricane, is assured when we note that to-day, while the largest of the excursion steamers are heaving to the whitecaps, these are lying as immovable almost as sea-walls.
It is, first, the flag-ship which thunders out her greeting—one, two, three—twenty-one smoke-wreathed guns—while her sailormen, arm to shoulder, mark in unwavering blue the lines of deck and superstructure....