The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 5 Feb 1862

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The London TIMES of the 7th (of January) thinks that, in case of a war with the United States, Canada would be attacked by sea instead of land and maintains that the policy of England would be to carry on a naval warfare on the great lakes, devastating the towns on their shores.There can be no doubt what the duty of Congress is in this matter, even with the present improved aspect of affairs. Our lakes should be at once put in a situation of strong defense as a preparation of what may come in the events of the future. The TIMES says:

"In the event of a renewal of such hostilities as were terminated by the treaty of Ghent,* there would be a renewal, of course, of operations on these inland seas, for the command of the water which separates Upper Canada from the Federal territories would be equivalent to a command of the field. It becomes, therefore, a question of great interest to ascertain how this superiority is likely to be determined, and we publish this morning a detailed statement of the various conditions by which the result will be governed. It will be seen that the matter divides itself into two periods, of which the first would be the most critical for England. Up to the month of April next the lakes may be regarded as inaccessible from the sea, and, therefore, whatever force is created there must be created on the spot. The Americans could build and launch their gun-boats and their rafts, and so could we.

"Not much could be done, probably, on either side, as all the vessels must be extemporized from materials actually at hand. On both sides there are railroads leading up to the water's edge, but the Americans have the advantage in population and resources at the critical points, and Sackett's Harbor, their arsenal on Lake Ontario, is an establishment for which we have no match. Still, timber is plentiful; guns, munitions and steam machinery could be transported by railway, and so widely has the country been civilized since the last war that some of the most important towns of the Federal States, such as Milwaukee and Chicago, have risen on the shores of these once-remote waters and are consequently exposed to the attacks of our squadrons. The risks, therefore, are divided, and the opportunities of inflicting mischief are divided also. It may, perhaps, be admitted that for the next three months the Americans, being more numerous and powerful than the Canadians, might succeed in placing on these inland seas a larger flotilla than could be launched in the same time by the colonists, but it must be remembered that this flotilla must in any case be rudely extemporized, and that earthworks, judiciously constructed and well armed, would suffice for the effectual protection of the menaced point against such feeble assailants.

"As soon, however, as the St. Lawrence is opened again there will be an end of our difficulty. We can then pour into the lakes such a fleet of gun-boats and other craft as will give us the complete and immediate command of these waters. Directly the navigation is clear, we can send up vessel after vessel without any restrictions, except such as are imposed by the size of the canals. The Americans would have no such resource. They would have no access to the lakes from the sea, and it is impossible that they could construct vessel of any considerable power in the interval that would elapse before the ice broke up. With the opening of spring the lakes would be ours, and if the mastery of these waters is indeed the mastery of all, we may expect the result with perfect satisfaction. On the whole, therefore, the conclusion seems clear that three months hence the field will be all our own, and that in the meantime the Americans, if judiciously encountered, would not be able to do us much harm."

[*ending the War of 1812]

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5 Feb 1862
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Dave Swayze
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 5 Feb 1862