Between 500 and 600 sail have been known to enter Portland Harbor for shelter in a single night, and 600 sail can be often counted on a clear morning standing out to sea after an easterly storm.
The first intimation of trouble with any leading foreign power would be the entrance of a hostile fleet into Portland Harbor.
The embarkation of the Prince of Wales, on the 20th October, 1860, illustrated the facility with which five men-of-war, some of the ships of the largest size, may enter or depart from this secure anchorage. The whole British navy can lie as easily in Portland Harbor as in a dock at Woolwich.
An enemy in possession of Portland would find it to be the terminus of the longest line of railroad in the world. The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada embraces a line of 1,131 miles, of which 1,096 miles are in actual operation. It extends from the Atlantic Ocean at Portland to Lake Huron, a distance of 794 miles, with a branch to Detroit of 59 miles, a branch to Quebec of 96 miles, and to the River du Loup of 118 capacity to move 10,000 troops between Portland and Quebec or Toronto and Detroit in a single day.
At Portland commences the line of the European and North American Railway, to extend through the cities of Bangor and Saint John to Halifax, a distance of 576 miles, of which 300 miles are in actual operation, with 63 1/2 miles more of a branch line, viz: In Maine, 138 miles; in branches, 26 1/2 miles; in New Brunswick, 101 miles; in branches, 7 miles; in Nowa Scotia, 61 miles; in branches, 30 miles.
Arrangements, it is understood, can now be made by which this railway may be opened to Halifax at an early day. Without it the complete defense of our coast would be impossible, for the British fleet, holding command of the ocean, would prevent any attack on the lower provinces by water. Holding Hallifax, the line to Quebec by the Saint John Valley would be kept open, and on overwhelming force would be thrown into New Brunswick, Canada, or Maine at any moment.
Navy-yards, dock-yards, repair shops, and naval schools should be located inside of defensible harbors. By the proposed fortification of Portland, making Bangs Island and fortress, the most ample space is afforded for all possible naval purposes, on the mainland or on the other islands of the harbor, without interfering with the legitimate business of the city.
Many other places in Maine, among which may be mentioned the navy-yard at Kittery, the mount of the Saco River, Mount Desert Harbor, and Machias, will deserve the attention of the agents of the Government who may be appointed to superintend and conduct the prosecution of the defenses of this State.
Before making the expenditures proposed to put "our ports and harbors in a complete defense," I shall wait the instructions Your Excellency may be pleased to give; and for the purpose of that conference with the Federal Government which the letter of the Secretary of State suggests, I have appointed Hannibal Hamlin, Ruel Williams, and John A. Poor, distinguished citizens of this State, whose intimate knowledge of the matters in question will entitle their opinions to great weight with the executive commissioners, to confer, on the part of the State, with the authorities at Washington in respect to the system of defense to be adopted and the manner of its execution.
I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, Your Excellency's obedient servant,
ISRAEL WASHBURN, Jr.