to Mr. Fish.
St. Petersburg , June 22, 1874. (Received July 8.)
Sir: I have the honor to report a few particulars regarding a visit I made to Gronstadt the other day, as, though I did not so intend it, my visit partook of a semi-official character.
I intimated to the minister of war that I should be glad to visit Gronstadt and its outer fortifications, and named a day which would be convenient. He at once telegraphed to the commandant of the post to extend to me some civilities, and on June 16 I paid my proposed visit, and on ray arrival was received by an adjutant, who accompanied me to the commandant, to whom I paid my respects, after which he placed a cutter at my disposal, and directed that I should be shown everything in Gronstadt which I wanted to see.
They hoisted the American colors on the cutter, and when we passed any vessel or battery our flag was saluted. We visited the corvette Vitiaz, which had just returned from a four-years’ cruise. Our flag received a salute of fifteen guns, during the firing of which the corvette also hoisted the American colors; all of which tokens of friendship and respect to our flag I did not fail, I trust, to properly acknowledge.
The thing which struck me most forcibly was the lavish expenditure of money which this government is making for offensive as well as defensive warfare.
The iron-clad monitor Peter the Great, which has been in process of construction for four years, is a monster in size and strength, its dimensions being 339 feet in length, with a breadth of beam of 59 feet. She is being fitted with 14-inch plate outside, inside of which is teak of 8 inches in thickness, and still inside of this is iron-plating, 6 inches thick.
At the time of my visit there were 700 men at work upon this vessel, and as soon as the machinery is ready to put in, which will be in a few weeks, 300 additional workmen will be put on.
The two new forts in the harbor, Fort Gonstantine and what is now designated Fort No. 3, are the most expensive affairs of the kind that I have ever seen, as well as perhaps the most extensive, as both of these forts are erected upon artificial islands of several acres in extent, in what was originally four to six fathoms of water. Each of these islands has been brought in small quantities, load by load, from a distance on the Finnish coast of from thirty to one hundred miles; a very expensive way, it struck me, of making an island.
Fort Constantine has five batteries of Krupp’s 9-inch and 11-inch guns, in heavy iron casemates facing the outer channel, and is nearly completed. Fourteen or fifteen years have been occupied in the construction of this fort.
Fort No. 3, though the artificial island is less in extent than Fort Gonstantine, covers some six acres of ground, and is being mounted with six batteries in revolving turrets. This has been about eight years in process of construction, and it is thought will be completed in about ten or twelve more. The engine and boilers for moving the six-turret batteries are already in their places, and the batteries themselves alrnost completed, though the guns are not yet mounted, nor are the batteries covered; for the plan for covering them to make them shot and shell proof has not yet been decided upon, but they say that they propose to [Page 840] invent some iron covering which, when proved suitable for their purpose, they will have made at the imperial factory in Siberia, though I conclude that they will not do this until their railways are more complete, as at present the only means of transporting the thousands of tons of iron plates necessary to cover this immense surface would be across the country by sledges in winter. The expense of doing this makes any outlay I have ever witnessed in the United States, in the way of defenses, utterly insignificant; and I could not help thinking, as I saw the thousands of men working to place that little island in a state of security, what a very different state of things would exist if there were an economical Congress by which the appropriations must be passed before these men could be paid. As the commandant of the post remarked to me, there is an immense struggle going on in Cronstadt between nature and money, but the Russians are confident that money will eventually win. JSTature having done nothing at all toward making the port impregnable, money must do all the more; and what with the soil, which is very bad for foundations, the cold, which is almost equally so, and the distance from which all material must be brought, the struggle between these two elements, if I may so call them, has been a very long one, and but for the fact that the resources of Russia are only equaled by the determination of the government to place its capital beyond perad-venture, it would seem a hopeless task.
I was not a little interested with the imperial yacht, the Derjawa, in which the Emperor proceeded from Holland to England on his late visit, and which stuck in the mud so long at Flushing. This vessel is about 1,800 tons measurement, and cost, it is said, about £500,000 sterling, it is a model of naval architecture, according to the Russian standard. My prominent idea in regard to it is that it is immensely and uselessly expensive, and it is always manned and ready for sea, and can be used only by the Emperor in person, which must of course be on very rare occasions; and I thought that the remark made to me by one of the Russian officers, when he asked me how I liked it, was very significant. I answered that I liked it very much. “I have no doubt,” he continued, “that you are more pleased to see this outlay in Russia than you would be if it were in the United States.” I told him in reply that we had a body of men in our country who checked such expenditure; at which remark he significantly said, “I wish we had.”
Altogether I was very much interested, with what I saw, and was much impressed with the gigantic efforts this government is making to become a great commercial and maritime power, and was of course pleased with the attention shown to me personally, and also with the respect paid to our flag; all of which 1 have not failed to acknowledge in the proper quarter.
I have, &c.