16th Congress.]

No. 192. 

[2d Session.



Navy Department, January 12, 1821.


I have the honor to reply to your inquiries, under date of the 5th instant, by enclosing a report from the Commissioners of the Navy, to whom the several "subjects were referred. Their report includes all the points of reference, except that relating to the marine corps; and, upon due consideration of which, I am led to believe that no material alteration in its present organization would be beneficial to the naval service, so long as the marines are employed for the protection of the navy yards and public property.

With great respect, I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient servant,


Honorable Philip P. Barbour,

Chairman Naval Committee, House of Representatives.

Navy Commissioners' Office, January 10, 1821.


In reply to the queries propounded by the honorable Chairman of the Naval Committee of the House of Representatives, in his letter to you of the 5th instant, which you were pleased to refer to this Board, the Commissioners of the Navy have now the honor to afford such information as they possess.

Query 1st. Cannot the navy ration be probably procured at less than twenty-five cents, and at how much less?

The navy ration can probably be procured for less than twenty-five cents. By the contracts lately made, the first cost will not exceed sixteen cents. At this time provisions are known to be unusually low; and, owing to this circumstance, and the competition produced among the bidders for public contracts, by advertising for all articles required, the ration is procured at a price less, considerably, than at any period since the establishment of our navy.

It should, however, be observed that the component parts of the ration are all of a perishable nature, and that, on board of our ships, they are unavoidably exposed to the vicissitudes of every climate; hence, with every care that can be taken of them, they are, in a greater or less degree, liable to damage before, they can be used. The expense of transportation should also be added to the original cost. These considerations render it expedient to prepare the estimates, as to the cost of the rations, so as to make a liberal allowance for the damages to which they are liable: hence, although the first cost of the ration will not exceed sixteen cents, it is calculated at twenty-five cents.

The estimates for 1821 contemplate a provision of 1,526,430 rations, deliverable in kind, for actual consumption, and 376,497 rations to be paid for in money to the officers entitled to them by law. The former is one ration per day for every person in the service. The latter are undrawn rations, which the officers are entitled to, but which, not drawing in kind, (not being provided for them,) are paid for in money.

With respect to the rations coming under the former description, it may be observed that, if they should not, including all the losses which may be sustained, cost the price named in the estimate, no more than their actual cost will be drawn from the treasury. The balance will remain undrawn and unapplied, and subject to such disposition as the Legislature may please to decide.

With respect to the rations which are not drawn by, or provided for, the officers, but to which they are by law entitled, and for which they are paid in money, the price has, since the year 1814, been fixed at twenty-five cents; thirteen years previous experience having satisfied the Government that twenty cents was less than a fair average price.

Prior to 1801 the price of the ration was twenty-eight cents; in 1801 it was reduced to twenty cents; and, as before stated, it was, in 1814, raised to twenty-five cents, and has never since been changed. This price may be more than the present cost of the ration, but next year it may be less. At the time the officers were receiving twenty-eight cents the ration, that price was known to be less than the actual cost. The officers might, at that period, have drawn their rations and sold them to a profit; and, after the price was reduced to twenty cents, although an apparent change in the market seemed to favor the reduction, yet it was fully ascertained that the price, on an average, was considerably higher; and, upon this ground, it was fixed at twenty-five cents, as a fair average price. The officers now consider, and, indeed, have always considered their undrawn rations as a part of their pay, and have made their calculations accordingly.

That the price of undrawn rations should be fixed, is not only essential, as respects the officer, but equally, if not more essential, as respects the public accounts. Were the price to be regulated by the fluctuations of the market, the officer would be kept in a state of constant uncertainty as to the regulation of his own expenses, and great embarrassments would arise in the settlement of his accounts at the treasury: hence it has been found expedient to give to these rations a fixed value; and the Commissioners presume that twenty-five cents is not more than a fair average price for them.

The officers, in providing their own tables, are unavoidably subject to pay the market prices demanded for the articles they require. These markets may be as various as the ports they may proceed to in various parts of the world. It is also the custom of the service to provide, whenever a vessel goes into port, fresh meat for the crew; and, on such occasions, we are subject to pay the market prices demanded for such fresh provisions. This custom could not be dispensed with; the health of the crews requires its observance; and it is obviously proper to consider this contingency also in the estimate.

Query 2d. Is it not a departmental regulation which authorizes the officers to commute all their rations but one into money?

As this is not a regulation directed by any law of Congress, the Commissioners presume that it was made by the Department, and custom has established its convenience. The officers are generally in a situation which would render it inconvenient to them to draw all their rations; if they were to draw them they could not consume them; and, if they do not draw them, it would not seem to comport with the principles of justice to deprive them of their value. They furnish their own tables, from time to time, as they go into port, but must draw one ration, because one ration is actually provided in kind for them, and there is a necessity that it should be provided, in order to guard effectually against events which might arise from the improvidence of any individual in the navy.

The principle of permitting officers to commute their rations into money is universally observed in every service with which the Commissioners are acquainted; it enables the officers, from time to time, to lay in their stores. If this custom were prohibited, and the whole number of rations, to which the officers are by law entitled, were to be provided and delivered in kind to them, the capacity of the ships to receive provisions and stores would be proportionately diminished; under the present regulation the stores of the officers occupy but an inconsiderable space; change it, and you necessarily have to lessen the quantity which would otherwise be provided for the crew.

By a change these inconveniences would arise, without being attended with any conceivable benefit.


Query 3d. How many commissioned officers of each grade will be necessarily wanting for actual service during 1821, if the present naval force should be retained in service?

The Commissioners presume that it was intended to comprehend in this query, not only the commission but the warrant officers; and that the object is to ascertain the number of each indispensably necessary for the ships and vessels intended to be kept in service during the year 1821; and thus construing and understanding the object of the query, they have to state that the ships and vessels intended to be kept in service during the year 1831 could not well be navigated and commanded with less than the following number of officers, viz:

5 Captains of the navy,

1 Schoolmaster,

5 Masters commandants,

20 Sailing-masters,

9 Lieutenants commanding,

142 Midshipmen,

57 Lieutenants,

11 Boatswains,

11 Surgeons,

11 Gunners,

23 Surgeons' mates,

11 Carpenters, and

18 Pursers,

11 Sailmakers.

4 Chaplains,

This statement, it will be perceived, does not include any of the ships or vessels in ordinary, or any of the navy yards or stations; neither does it include any supernumerary officers of any description, or provide for any casualty. It comprehends only the actual number required to be on board the ships in service.

In officering our vessels in time of peace, it has heretofore been the practice to attach to them an extra number of junior officers, in order to afford them such opportunities of improvement, in their profession, as would fit them for command in time of war; and the Commissioners beg leave, sir, to observe that they would regret extremely if this practice were to be discontinued; as it would be depriving our young officers of the only fit school open to them. In no possible way can a young man be fitted for the command of a vessel of war but by serving a regular apprenticeship on board of one; and, the cheapest possible way of training and qualifying them for the service is assuredly to place extra numbers on board of such vessels as are kept in service. It is not by preparing ships alone that we can hope to render our navy efficient. The experience of our officers must, to render it so, keep pace with the gradual increase. To commit the command of our ships to persons ignorant of any of the departments or duties of command would be to jeopardize the reputation of the navy. Inexperienced unskilful bravery cannot hold the combat against veteran skill with any hope of success.

In the merchant service seamanship may, it is true, be learnt, but that only, and that constitutes but a very small part of the education of a navy officer, whose mind should be early habituated to the duties of obedience and command, of discipline and subordination, to the study of mathematics, gunnery, and the whole theory and practice of naval tactics; and it is on board of ships of war only that such habits and acquirements can be attained.

Query 4th. Are there not more pursers than the public service requires?

There are, it appears, at this time, forty-six pursers on the roll. The vessels in service, in ordinary, and the navy yards and shore stations, are estimated to require thirty-nine, leaving, apparently, seven supernumeraries. The rules of the service require that pursers should settle their accounts at the end of every cruise. It would be very expensive to keep a ship waiting till her purser could settle his accounts, which frequently requires two or three months; other pursers must be ready to take the place of those who are compelled to leave their ships for this purpose: hence, for the good of the service, it appears necessary to have a few supernumerary pursers.

Query 5th. Are there no officers, or others, such as superintendents, storekeepers, &c. who might be dispensed with at the several navy yards and stations, without injury to the public service?

So far as respects the navy yards, the Commissioners of the Navy have to state that, ever since the establishment of their office, their attention has been particularly turned to this subject; and they have, from time to time, curtailed the number of persons employed, and they have reduced it and the expenses as low as, in their opinion, the public service will admit, They can, with confidence, state that they know of no officer that could be dispensed with in any of our navy yards, without dispensing with that principle of checks, and system of accountability, essential to economy. Prior to the establishment of the Board, no property account was kept; at present there is the same accountability for property as for money, and the office of storekeeper is essential to this accountability.

Query 6th. Could any new organization be made in the marine corps, which would promote economy, without injuring its efficiency?

This appears to the Commissioners properly a military question; and, as they have never turned their attention to subjects of that nature, they do not feel themselves competent to form a satisfactory opinion upon it.

Query 7th. What is the estimated average cost per annum of vessels of the following classes, respectively, viz: 12, 16, 20, 32, 36, 44, 74: 1st, on cruise; 2d, in ordinary; 3d, when dismantled?

The Commissioners having had reference to a series of estimates, made at various periods during the existence of the navy, have to state that the following appears to be about the average estimated cost per annum on cruise, viz:

A 12 to 14,


A 16 to 18,


A 20 to 24,


A 32 gun frigate,


A 36 gun frigate,


A 44 gun frigate,


A 74 gun ship,


The annual expense of. vessels in ordinary, exclusively of any repairs to which they may be subject, may be estimated as follows, viz:

A 12 to 14,

$2,477 00

A 16 to 18,

2,664 50

A 20,

3,279 00

A 32,

4,205 75

A 36,

4,604 25

A 44,

5,002 75

A 74,

6,432 50

With respect to the annual cost of vessels dismantled, the Commissioners have to observe that they know of no difference in the expense of vessels in that state and when placed in ordinary, as dismantling is a necessary preliminary step to their being placed in ordinary.

I have the honor, to be, with great respect, sir, your most obedient servant,


Hon. Smith Thompson, Secretary of the Navy.