Battle of Santiago
A nineteen paged eyewitness
SANTIAGO July 4/98
A true account of the Naval battle as seen by me on board the Iowa. I have a couple of boys writing this with me and I am writing for the benefit of my wife.
Five weeks has [have] passed since the Spanish ships ware [were]sighted in the harbor of Santiago [,Cuba] and for five weeks we had steamed back and forth before the entrance in the hope that [Rear Admiral Pascual] Cervera [Y Topete] would come out and take his chances in an open sea fight but when the first week had passed and [Rear Admiral William Thomas] Sampson’s ships reinforced [illegible] of [Commodore Winfield Scott] Schley it seemed as though the Spanish Admiral would never lead his ships to battle. The long glasses swept the entrance by day[,] and by night the glare of the searchlight guarded the entrance between Morro [Castle] and the eastern battery. What was most expected was an attack by torpedo boats for we knew that two of the finest in the world was [were] afloat in the inner bay. We settled ourselves to the not over pleasant duties of blockading. Every week or so we steamed under the forts and spent a few entertaining hours in destroying the defenses or in silencing the guns rather for no matter how torn or ragged the defences was left in the evening, the fowling [following] morning they seemed to rise from the ashes and looked more formidable than before. The weeks went by and the entrance into the channel of the Merremack and the landing of troops only seemed to stimulate our impatience for it was not plesant [pleasant] to have weeks of sutch [such] activity staring us in the face and under a sun that had not the slitest [slightest] respect for our personal comfort. The daily bulletins from the Flag ship kept us posted accurately as to the movements of the troops and of the events happening in and about Santiago. Light draught auxiliary crusers [cruisers] were cruising in close to the shore and kept up a rapid fire at whatever appeared at all suspicious to them and that was seemingly everything for day and night they fired at real or imaginary batteries on shore.
At daylight one bright morning, July 1, the fleet steamed in front of the batteries and again silenced the enemies’ guns and then for one time we started in to destroy Morro Castle altho[ugh] no guns were mounted there and it was a harmless piece of architecture as the old stone mill at Newport yet its appearance was tempting and an eyesore to the entire fleet and besides the colors of Castile floated from its flagstaff which seemed to aggravate the not over meek temperament of the gunners and Blue Jackets. The combination of Masionery was logically harmless but sentiment sways the reason in war times and acting on the impulse, the Oregon sent a 13 in[ch] shell towards the flag on that inoffensive flagstaff. When the smoke had cleared away, a great breach could be seen in the parapets of Morro and the flag and staff could be seen nowhere. Many a man in the fleet wished he could get his fingers on that striped piece of bunting; to secure it was out of the question. However, the colors were down and Morro was a smoking ruin and if not as whole at least as pictures as one so nothing remained for the fleet but to steam out to their old stations and resume the blockade on Saturday the 2nd. The Massachusetts went to Guantanamo to coal and to remain there for several days. The New Orleans and Marblehead had departed on a cruise and in the evening the Flagship New York and Indiana steamed to the eastward leaving only the Iowa, Texas, Oregon, [&] Brookline [Brooklyn] to watch the entrance.
Early on Sunday morning, July 3rd, Auxiliary Cruiser Gloucester, was seen along the shore and the torpedo boat Eric[c]son steaming lazily along. Everything was as quiet and monotonous as ever and in consequence the routine was taken up and, therefore, we were to have the usual Sunday morning inspection. At 9:15 the bugle sounded quarters and every man went to his division and fell in for inspection by the Captain. The men were not in a very amiable mood for quarters is not a very cherishing period on board a man of war and is cursed at softly and stiffly below and aloft forward and aft. The executive officer was on the last lap of his inspection when a voice from the bridge yelled out the news that sent a thrill through everyone in the ship for that yell was the long looked for one. “The ships are coming out”. No time for formalities and before the alarm died away, the magazines were open and the hydraulic pressure had gripped the turning gear of the big babies. The moment the ships were sighted the signal 250 was run aloft and a small gun fired from our forward bridge. This was an emergency signal and notified the rest of the fleet that the enemy was leaving the harbor. Now the captain was on the Bridge and full speed ahead was his first order as the ships swung toward the westward. The ships came out in the following order: The Christobal Colon [Cristobal Colon], Vizc[a]ya, Merrea Tressa [Infanta Maria Teresa] and Oqundo [Almirante Oquendo] torpedo boats Pulton and Furor. Here let us pause for a while and let us have a look at their respective fighting qualities. When the alarm was given, the Iowa was nearest to the harbor; next came the Oregon but a little to the eastward[,] the Texas and Brookline were still farther to the westward, the Brookline being about seven miles away from the mouth of the harbor. We, therefore, held the central position and were nearest to the advancing enemy so could direct any maneuvers on the part of the foe as in the events which happened the Spaniards steamed out at full speed, the Merrimac being obviously no obstacle to them and headed directly for the Iowa in the following order: Marie Tressa in the lead followed by the Vizcya; Oqunda[,] the Colon was flanked by the torpedo boats Pluton and Furor which held back however until the engagement became general. This was six ships of the enemy to six ships of us as the Gloucester and Ericson were counted as two ships on our side in the battle.
Now let us look at the ships of either side and see where the superiority exists if at all. The Spaniards had four armoured cruisers of the very best type combining the best points of the battle ship and coal capacity and high speed of the cruisers. Their guns were at least equal to ours of the same caliber but their armament was somewhat inferior in point of numbers. They outranked us in numbers as each ship carried a double crew and was all prepared days before the dash was carried into execution. Moreover they had full steam and clean bottoms which should have counted with them against the slow going battle ships of our fleet. Now, as to our fleet, the Iowa and Oregon were clearly superior ships in all but speed as we only kept steam for five knots on the blockade to save coal, but the Texas was in no way superior to the enemy’s and foreign nations even class the Vizcya a type far superior to the Brookline and the slow moving Texas. The torpedo boats were superior to the Gloucester or [illegible]. To sum it up, undoubtedly we had the advantage but it was ship for ship which evened matters a little. We are down now to the respective crews. Well, the world knows the verdict there but to resume.
At 9:31 A.M., the Marie Tressa was sighted and at 9:34, she opened up with her forward 11 inch gun at the same instant the forts on either side chimed in with guns and mortors but they were a side issue now and were hardly thought of. Nearer our leading ships steamed towards each other and as the Spanish flag ship swung to the westward, the Oregon opened with a 13 inch shell from her forward tunnell. We were nearest to the enemy but held our fire for close quarters, 3000 yds. 2000 yds, and 1000 yds. was called out from the range finders in the upper top and then is when we headed for the center of the enemy’s fleet turning at the same time with a starboard helm so as to bring our ship on a broadsides to and in the same direction our main battery opened fire and our shells could be seen tearing the flag ship to pieces while her projectiles fell harmlessly around us: the smoke had surrounded all the ships by this time and the leaders were lost sight of for an instant but the Vizcya was seen next and the fire of our guns was directed on the pride of the Spanish Navy. The scene by this time became almost infernal for the ships were in close quarters and the roar of the big guns and the popping of the rapid fire and the shriek of the departing and arriving shells made conversation an impossibility. About this time, we were struck several times, one shell coming in through our forward berth deck smashing things up as it busted and riddled our starboard chain locker. Another imbedded itself in the cofferdam at the water line where it remains yet presumably unexploded. Our armor belt and quarter deck received several shells but the damage is hardly apparent. Soon the smoke was so dense that the fight went on in a dony-brook Fair fashion where as soon as you see a head, hit it for it was impossible to see what ship you were firing at. The Iowa forging ahead out of the smoke saw the Vizcya and Colon ahead but as two other ships of our fleet were with them, Cap Bob turned his attention to the other two for it seemed the Marie Tressa being disable in the first part of the battle had dropped to the rear with the Oqunda and now the cry from the top was heard repel torpedo attack on the starboard quarters. It seemed that the destroyers had lain back until the canopy of smoke enclosed the ships and they had darted forward on the Iowa to lance her while she was blind but luckily the smoke rose a little and then as the rapid fire guns turned on them, they were literally torn to pieces and to complete the work the Gloucester steamed straight for them and the destroyers were now the destroyed, riddled with shell and shrapnel with their boilers exploded and their crews shot, scalded or drowned. They ran along side of the beach but greater events were happening all this time for we now had the Oqunda and Marie Tressa on fire in several places with their torn sides and stem exposed and the smoke rising from a dozen places. The first cheer went up from the parched throats of the crew. Being assured by this voluntary stranding of the enemy’s two ships that they could be counted out of the affair, we next turned our attention to the Vizcya which was evidently trying to follow in the wake of the Colon but seeing she could not resist the storm of iron which fell around her, she imitated the Oqunda & Tressa and turned for the land. But the rain of shell never ceased for we were in a position now to rake her for and aft and as the Iowa drew in close to the shore line, the Flag of the Vizcaya could be seen coming down from her main mast. The ships company when they witnessed the first ship of the enemy strike her colors expended all their remaining energy in a wild cheer which must have grated harshly on the ears of the defeated survivors around the ill fated ship. Here ended the fight for the Oregon, Brookline and Texas were chasing the Colon and it could be seen that her capture was but a matter of time and distance.
Orders were now given for the boats to be lowered and as they commenced to drop into the water, the T.S. New York passed by to join in the pursuit of the fleeing survivor. Through the megaphone came the hail “Iowa there what casualties?” and when the answer came back “None”, the cheer that arose from the New York told us that the crew had heard and appreciated. What next was now spoken towards the Admiral but the roar and cheer from both ships completely drowned the query for the New York with constantly increasing speed driving to the westward, the last sight of her being the blue flag of the Admiral at the Marine truck before she plowed into the smoke of the pursued; when the New York came along side, Captain Bob proposed three cheers for the Admiral and it was now our company’s turn to cheer with bared head the Veteran of the War stood and listened to the cheer the men he had led into battle and the hoarseness that prevailed next day attest to the sincerity of those cheers but there was work ahead for the boats could be seen returning from the burning ship and on coming alongside, the forms of men or parts of men could be made out beneath the throats stretchers were carried aft and as the mutilated forms were deposited on them, they were brought forward to the sick bay. Boat after boat arrived filled with wounded and mangled prisoners. But let us not recall the awful horrors of that afternoon; on the Vizcya, it was still worse for the wounded were afraid to take to the water and the intense heat kept the rescuing boats away from her side. Men were clinging to the hot railings and as every movement of their body brought their wounds in contact with the hot sides, their shrieks and groans were almost unbearable. But enough of this in saying that all of the wounded that could be possibly rescued were brought aboard and both the American and Spanish doctors worked hard and fast in trying to relieve the pain of the sufferers. The uninjured Spaniards that were on the beach but went into our boats without any resistance and they even used some of their own in conveying themselves on board in this manner. Cap. Enlate of the Vizcya came aboard and was received with honors due his rank. Advancing towards Cap. Evans who was there to receive him, he unbuckled his sword and passionately kissing it, held it out towards our captain. Every eye was on the two central figures of what appeared to be a scene in a melodrama with bloody settings and every mind felt how hard it must be for a proud man to be thus humiliated. But such was not to be for no sooner did the victor see the offering than a hurried “No, No, Senor, a brave man always keeps his sword” as Enlate dazed as yet stood still for a moment, our captain raised his hand and a cheer loud and long burst from the assembled ships’ company for they had realized what this action meant for it was a privilege and honor granted by one brave man to another.
In the meantime, the boat had been recalled from the Vizcya and as the ceremony ended, all eyes were again centered on the doomed ship. A might burst of flame and smoke was seen forward and as men, masts and [illegible] were shot with terrific force into the air, a silence fell on the collected groups for they had witnessed a sight never seen before and such circumstances for it was the forward magazines and torpedo rooms which had exploded and was the beginning of the end. The defeated Capt. was on the quarter deck and when he witnessed the destruction of his ship, he uncovered and bowed his head while a groan of adios Vizcya burst from him. All the pent up emotions of his being found utterance in these few words. It was sad to witness the old man’s agony but war has no redeeming traits and at best it is but a sorry pastime. Shortly after dinner Admiral Cereva (it seemed the Harnott [Hornet] had picked him up somewhere along the coast) when Cereva stepped aboard, he was met by his former captain and when the admiral saw who it was, he embraced him in the impulsive Latin fashion. But he wasn’t the only one for while Enlate told the incident of the sword, Capt. Evans came in for his share of the hugging and we were all glad to see Cereva saved for we didn’t forget the way he saved the Merrimac’s crew and we also honored him as a brave man for the act of coming out to fight when he could have sunk his ships inside. The formalities were all over. The call of all hands bury the dead and six foreign sailors, three of whom had died aboard, were conveyed to their own cemetery, the Indiana and auxiliary gun boats had picked up the survivors of the Marie Tressa and Oqunda so we set out on the return to Santiago.
Later in the day, the news came that the Colon was seen on the beach and all her men not killed were made prisoners. The battle lasted about 55 minutes but it was 1:15 before the Colon had hauled down her colors. The Spanish loss was about 600 killed and 1750 prisoners. The loss on our side was one killed and a few wounded and we can hardly yet realize that this is so for how we escaped from the midst of it especially as all ships had orders to concentrate their fire on the Iowa. Maybe the orders given proved our salvation for if they had not aimed at us, it is more likely we would have been more damaged than we are.
This is the most decisive naval battle of all times for the opposing fleets were by far the most destructive forces that have yet met in warfare. Dewy, Sampson and Evans, three names that will rank with the greatest of past ages and the battle of Manila and Santiago will live in the memory of men long after other victories will have ceased to be.
This is the true story written by Seaman W.J. Murphy on board the U.S.S. Iowa and hope it will prove interesting to those who care to read it.
I remain as ever
your obedient servant,
Written in the Guantanamo Bay after the Battle July 7th to 15th, 1898.