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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND

 

Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1898


North Atlantic Fleet

This fleet was under the command of Admiral Montgomery Sicard, U. S. N., until March 26, when it was found necessary, on account of his health, to relieve him from that onerous and exacting duty. Captain Sampson, the senior officer present, who was thoroughly familiar with the personnel and materiel of the fleet, and with all the arrangements which had been made preceding the actual outbreak of hostilities, was given command of the fleet, with the rank of rear admiral.

The North Atlantic Fleet was composed of the blockading squadron, Commodore J. C. Watson commanding from May 6 to June 21; the First North Atlantic Squadron, Commodore J. C. Watson commanding from June 21 to June 27; Commodore J. A. Howell commanding from July 1, on which date the Northern Patrol Squadron became part of Admiral Sampson's command to the close of hostilities; the Flying Squadron, Commodore W. S. Schley commanding from May 24, upon which date it was placed under the orders of Admiral Sampson, to June 21, upon which date it ceased to exist; and the second North Atlantic Squadron, Commodore W. S. Schley commanding from June 21 to the close of hostilities.

A squadron called the Eastern Squadron, Commodore J. C. Watson commanding from July 7 to September 20, was organized with the view of threatening the coast of Spain; but owing to the suspension of hostilities it did not proceed upon that duty.

In addition, Commodore George C. Remey, who was in command of the naval base at Key West, was directed, on June 21, to exercise command over all vessels within signaling distance, under the authority of Admiral Sampson.

During the entire period of hostilities a portion of this fleet was engaged in the blockade of the coast of Cuba.

On April 29 Admiral Cervera's fleet, composed of the armored cruisers Cristobal Colon, Vizcaya, Almirante Oquendo, and Infanta Maria Teresa, and the torpedo gunboats Furor, Terror, and Pluton sailed from the Cape de Verde Islands.

As its destination was uncertain, Admiral Sampson sailed east with a portion of the fleet under his command for the purpose of observation. He left Key West on the 4th of May in the flagship New York, and off Havana picked up the Iowa, Indiana, and Detroit. On the way east he was afterwards joined by the monitors Terror and Amphitrite and the Montgomery, Porter, Wompatuck, and collier Niagara.

At Cape Haitien on May 7, he received dispatches from the Department advising him that the Spanish squadron was reported at St. Thomas, West Indies. Instructions were also received that the vessels accompanying him were not to be risked or crippled in the bombardment of fortifications, as it was considered unwise to risk any of the vessels of our Navy until the Spanish fleets had been met and destroyed. Continuing eastward in the hope of finding the enemy at San Juan, Porto Rico, he found it necessary, on account of the small coal supply of the monitors, to take them in tow, and the squadron did not arrive off San Juan until the morning of the 12th. A bombardment of that place followed for two hours and a half, but as there was no land force to hold it in case of its surrender, and as the Spanish fleet was not there, it was determined to return to Havana, where it was possible Cervera might have gone.

While the squadron was on its return the following dispatch was received:

The Spanish fleet from Cape Verde Islands off Curacao, West Indies, May 14. Flying Squadron en route Key West, Florida. Proceed with all possible dispatch to Key West.

Meantime the St. Louis, which had joined the squadron, was ordered to proceed to Santiago and Guantanamo for the purpose of cutting cables; to Ponce, Porto Rico, for the same purpose, and thence to St. Thomas to wait orders. This work was bravely done under exposure to the enemy's fire.

On the morning of May 17 the flagship left the squadron in the Bahama Channel and proceeded to Key West. That afternoon the Du Pont was met with a dispatch from the Department stating that the Spanish fleet bad munitions of war destined for the defense of Havana, and was under imperative orders to reach Havana, Cienfuegos, or a port connected with Havana by rail; and that as Cienfuegos appeared to be the only port fulfilling the conditions, the Flying Squadron would be instructed upon arrival at Key West to proceed to Cienfuegos. Instructions were at the same time given to Admiral Sampson to increase the Flying Squadron by such armored ships as he might deem desirable.

On May 19 the Flying Squadron, composed of the Brooklyn, Texas, Massachusetts, and Scorpion, sailed from Key West for Cienfuegos with instructions to establish a blockade at that place as soon as possible.

On May 20 the Iowa, Castine, and the collier Merrimac sailed to join Commodore Schley's squadron off Cienfuegos. On this day the Department informed Admiral Sampson of a report that Cervera's squadron was at Santiago de Cuba, and advised him to order Commodore Schley to proceed off that port with the vessels under his command.

Admiral Sampson left Key West for the Havana blockade on the 21st, having previously sent the Du Pont with dispatches to Commodore Schley and ordered the Marblehead and Eagle to join the Flying Squadron. By the Marblehead orders were sent to Commodore Schley advising him that the Spanish squadron was probably at Santiago de Cuba and directing him, if he was satisfied that it was not at Cienfuegos, to proceed with all dispatch to Santiago de Cuba, and upon arrival there to establish communication with some of the inhabitants and ascertain definitely whether the ships were in port or not. The Hawk followed with duplicate dispatches which were delivered to Commodore Schley on the 23d.

On May 22 Admiral Sampson received a dispatch from Key West stating that Cervera's squadron was in the harbor of Santiago de Cuba on the morning of the 21st; also a telegram from the Department that it was expected to visit San Juan, Porto Rico, and if Commodore Schley found that it had left Santiago, he should follow it.

At 8 a.m. on the morning of the 23d Admiral Sampson left off Havana, sailing eastward, with a view to occupying Nicholas Channel in such manner as to prevent the approach of the Spanish squadron in that direction. The Montgomery joined him on the 24th, with dispatches stating that information had been received to the effect that Cervera's squadron had not left Santiago.

On the 26th Admiral Sampson received from Commodore Schley a letter dated May 23, stating that he was by no means satisfied that the Spanish squadron was not at Cienfuegos, and that he would, therefore, remain off that port with his squadron.

The Wasp was sent on May 27 to carry ad vices to Commodore Schley, informing him that daily confidential reports received at Key West from Havana stated that the Spanish squadron had been in Santiago de Cuba from the 19th to the 25th, inclusive, and directing him to proceed with all possible dispatch to that port. At this time two telegrams dated Cienfuegos, May 24, were received by Admiral Sampson from Commodore Schley, stating that coaling off that port was very uncertain; that he had ascertained that the Spanish fleet was not in Cienfuegos, and would go eastward on the next day, the 25th, but that on account of short coal supply in ships he could not blockade if the Spanish squadron was in Santiago, but would proceed to the vicinity of Nicholas Mole, on the western coast of Haiti, from which point he would communicate.

Upon the receipt of this information Admiral Sampson at once decided to go to Key West for coal, and, if authorized by the Department, to proceed to Santiago in person. The New Orleans was instructed on this same day, May 27, to proceed as rapidly as possible to that port, in company with the collier Sterling, and with orders to Commodore Schley "to remain on the blockade at Santiago at all hazards, assuming that the Spanish vessels are in that port." This order further directed that the collier Sterling should be used to obstruct the channel leading into the harbor, and that in the meantime the utmost care should be exercised that none of the Spanish vessels in that port be allowed to escape. Admiral Sampson arrived at Key West on May 28 and cabled to Commodore Schley, advising him that the New Orleans would meet him off Santiago on May 29 with important dispatches, and farther emphasizing the importance of immediate communication with persons ashore, in order to ascertain definitely whether or not Cervera's squadron was in the port of Santiago.

Commodore Schley left Cienfuegos on the evening of the 24th, and at 5:30 p.m. on the 26th reached a point 20 miles or more to the southward and eastward of Santiago, where the squadron stopped while repairs were made to the collier Merrimac. At 7:50 p. m. he signaled to the squadron, "Destination Key West, via south side of Cuba and Yucatan Channel, as soon as collier is ready. Speed, 9 knots." About 9 p.m. the squadron got underway, and after steaming to the westward until 11:20 p.m., stopped to make repairs to the Yale.

On the morning of the 27th the Harvard, from Mole St. Nicholas, delivered to Commodore Schley the following dispatch:

Washington, May 25, 1898.

HARVARD, St. Noichola Mole, Haiti:

Proceed at once and inform Schley and also the senior officer present off Santiago as follows: All Department's information indicates Spanish division is still at Santiago. The Department looks to you to ascertain facts and that the enemy if therein does not leave without a decisive action. Cubans familiar with Santiago say that there are landing places 5 or 6 nautical miles west from the month of harbor, and that there insurgents probably will be found and not the Spanish. From the surrounding heights can see every vessel in port. As soon as ascertained notify the Department whether enemy is there. Could not squadron and also the Harvard coal from Merrimac leeward off Cape Cruz, Gonaives Channel, or Mole, Haiti? The Department will send coal immediately to Mole. Report without delay situation at Santiago de Cuba.

LONG.

At 11 a.m., two hours after receiving this dispatch from the Department, Commodore Schley signaled to the squadron, "Can you fetch into the port of Key West with coal remaining? Report by signal." At noon the Harvard left, carrying his reply to the Department's dispatch, as follows:

KINGSTON, May 28, 1898.

SECNAV, Washington:
*** Merrimac engines disabled; is heavy; am obliged to have towed to Key West. Have been unable absolutely to coal the Texas, Marblehead, Vixen, Brooklyn from collier, all owing to very rough sea. Bad weather since leaving Key West. The Brooklyn alone has more than sufficient coal to proceed to Key West; can not remain off Santiago present state squadron coal account. Impossible to coal leeward Cape Cruz in the summer, all owing to southwesterly winds. * * * Much to be regretted, can not obey orders of Department. Have striven earnestly; forced to proceed for coal to key West by way of Yucatan Passage. Can not ascertain anything respecting enemy positive. * * * Very difficult to tow collier to get cable to hold.

SCHLEY.

Later in the day, the squadron meantime having again moved westward, the signal "Stop" was made to the Flying Squadron, after which the Texas and Marblehead went alongside the Merrimac and coaled. The squadron was at that time distant about 40 miles to the southward and westward of Santiago.

The Flying Squadron remained here until 1:12 p.m. of the 28th, when signal was made to return in the direction of Santiago. This course was kept until a little after dark, when the squadron stopped for the night about 10 miles to the southward of Santiago, with the Marblehead scouting 2 miles inside the squadron.

Early on the morning of the 29th a Spanish man-of-war, the Cristobal Colon, was seen lying at anchor inside the harbor entrance, and later a second man-of-war and two smaller vessels. At 10 a. m. Commodore Schley cabled that Cervera's squadron was at Santiago. On the morning of the 31st with the Massachusetts, Iowa, and New Orleans he exchanged fire with the ships inside the harbor and the forts at a range of about 7,000 yards.

On June 1 Admiral Sampson arrived off Santiago and found Commodore Schley's squadron in column to the westward of the mouth of the harbor. Immediately upon the concentration of these two forces at Santiago a close and efficient blockade was established, Admiral Sampson in command. The harbor was closely guarded day and night by our ships in a semicircle. Powerful search-lights were thrown upon its entrance during the dark. A plan of attack, by which our vessels were to close in at once upon any of the enemy's coming out, was provided for in standing orders. On June 3 an attempt was made to close the harbor by sinking across its entrance the collier Merrimac. This attempt, though unsuccessful in its object, was daringly executed. It is now one of the well-known historic marvels of naval adventure and enterprise, in which Naval Constructor Hobson and his men won undying fame.

On June 7 the Marblehead and Yankee took possession of the lower bay of Guantanamo as a harbor of refuge for the fleet, and on June 10 the first battalion of marines was landed there and went into camp. For three days and nights these men, supported by the Marblehead and Dolphin, fought almost constantly. The position which they defended was a most important one for the fleet, as it was necessary to have near at hand a harbor in which ships could be coaled and repaired in safety.

On June 15 the fort on Cayo del Toro in Guantanamo Bay was destroyed by the Texas, Marblehead, and Suwanee.

In May the Department advised Admiral Sampson of the intention of the War Department to send about thirty transports with troops from Tampa, Fla., to Santiago, and instructed him to provide a suitable convoy.

On June 4, in reply to a telegram from the Department asking if the convoy was ready, the commandant of the naval base at Key West stated, "Vessels all ready."

On June 8 information was received at Tampa, through the naval base at Key West, from two different sources, indicating the possible presence of a force of Spanish vessels in Nicholas Channel. The War Department was informed of this news, and orders were issued to Admiral Sampson to reenforce the convoying squadron by two armored vessels. On the next day the expedition was directed to proceed without regard to this information, as it was discredited both by Admiral Sampson and the Department, and the following telegram was sent:

WA5HINGTON June 9, 1898

NAVAL BASE, Key West, Fla.:
*** The expedition will proceed without reference to the Spaniards. Department will inform commander in chief North Atlantic Station and the War Department of this.

ALLEN, Acting Secretary.

A suitable convoy was retained at Tampa until the transports were ready. The Army expedition finally left Tampa on the 14th, this Department having rendezvoused additional vessels off Rebecca Shoals where the transports arrived at 8 p.m. June 15, and thence proceeded to Santiago.

Upon arrival of the convoy off Santiago Admiral Sampson sent his chief of staff to communicate with General Shafter. The chief of staff took with him a chart of Santiago Harbor and explained to General Shafter that, in order to enable the vessels of the Navy to enter, it was necessary that the positions occupied by the eastern and western batteries of the enemy should be carried. The possession of these points insured the destruction of the mines, the entrance of the naval vessels, and an attack upon Admiral Cervera's squadron. To this plan General Shafter gave cordial assent. The landing place on which he finally decided was Daiquiri.

General Shafter reported to Admiral Sampson on June 22 his intention to commence the landing of troops, and Admiral Sampson at once put an officer in charge of the disembarkation, which was begun during the forenoon of the 22d by means of the steam launches and cutters from the ships of the squadron. The naval vessels shelled the coast about Daiquiri, and a demonstration was made at Cabanas to engage the attention of the enemy. All the troops were successfully landed by the boats of the navy, and the joint operations of the army and navy began, which finally resulted in the surrender of Santiago.

On July 1, in accordance with a request from General Shafter of June 30, the forts at Aguadores were bombarded and a demonstration made at the entrance of the harbor of Santiago, and on July 2 the batteries at the entrance of the harbor were heavily bombarded, especially the Punta Gorda battery by the Oregon and Indiana.

A report of this bombardment was sent to General Shafter, and Admiral Sampson stated that it was impossible to force an entrance to the harbor until the channel could be cleared of mines, which could only be done after the forts at the entrance of the harbor were taken by our troops.

General Shafter replied that it was not possible to say when he could take the batteries at the harbor's mouth, and urged that an effort be immediately made by the navy to force an entrance. Admiral Sampson wrote to General Shafter that the forts which bad been bombarded by the squadron could not inconvenience the army in capturing the city, as they could not fire except to seaward; that as the channel to the harbor was strewn with observation mines an effort to force an entrance would result in the sinking of one or more naval vessels and in closing the entrance to the harbor; but that if it was desired that the navy should attempt to force the entrance he would at once prepare to undertake it, although he had hoped that an attack by the army on the shore batteries from the rear would leave the navy at liberty to drag the channel for torpedoes.

On the morning of July 3, an interview having been prearranged between General Shafter and Admiral Sampson, the latter, in the flagship New York, left the fleet for Siboney. When the flagship was about 4 miles east of her blockading station, and about 7 miles from the Morro, the Spanish squadron was seen steaming out of the harbor entrance. This was at 9:30 a.m. The vessels of the blockading squadron were, as usual, in their designated positions, making a semicircle about the harbor entrance, counting from the eastward in the following order: Indiana, Oregon--the New York's place being between these two--Iowa, Texas, and Brooklyn. The Massachusetts had gone that morning to Guantanamo for coal. The Gloucester and Vixen lay to the eastward and westward of the harbor entrance, close to the land. The torpedo boat Ericsson was in company with the flagship.

Admiral Cervera's squadron came out of the harbor in the following order: Infanta Maria Teresa, Vizcaya, Cristobal Colon, Almirante Oquendo, and the torpedo-boat destroyers Pluton and Furor. The New York turned and steamed for the escaping fleet, flying the signal to close in toward the harbor entrance and attack vessels, but our ships had already, in accordance with standing orders, at once engaged the Spanish ships with the utmost spirit and vigor, and in the course of a running fight, which continued until 1:20 p.m., the latter were completely destroyed and sunk, and the famous victory, with its splendid credit to officers and men, was won. The casualties on our side were 1 man killed and 10 wounded most of them in the drum of the ear by the concussion caused by the guns. Our ships suffered no injury of any account. Admiral Cervera, about 70 officers, and 1,600 men were made prisoners, while about 350 Spaniards were killed or drowned and 160 wounded. These estimates are probably considerably below the actual numbers. Many of the enemy were rescued from their sinking ships by our men. The prisoners, except the officers, who were sent to Annapolis, were brought to Portsmouth, N.H., and kept in Camp Long, on Seavey's Island in the harbor of that city until they were released. During this time they were fed and clothed and comfortably cared for. There was little sickness, and the wounded and ailing soon recovered under good treatment.

On July 4, at night, the Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes, which had not left Santiago with Cervera's squadron, was seen steaming out of the harbor. She was sunk just before reaching the narrow part of the entrance channel, presumably by the fire of the Massachusetts and Texas. The object of this maneuver is still in some doubt, but it had the effect of further obstructing the channel.

On July 5 the Department telegraphed to Admiral Sampson that the President had issued the following order:

General Shafter and Admiral Sampson should confer at once for cooperation in taking Santiago.

General Shafter immediately requested Admiral Sampson to come to him for conference. On the next day Admiral Sampson, being ill, sent his chief of staff, who had a conference with General Shafter, in which it was arranged that in case the Spanish commander refused the second demand for surrender, a continued bombardment of Santiago should be begun by the fleet on the 9th that, if this was not sufficient, there should be an assault on the Socapa battery by the marines and Cuban forces, and an effort made by some of the smaller ships of the squadron to enter the harbor.

On July 10 the squadron, complying with the request of General Shafter, began a further bombardment of Santiago. This was continued on the 11th. At 12 m. General Shafter signaled:

Please continue firing with heavy guns until 1 o'clock, and then cease tiring until further orders.

At 4:45 p.m. the Brooklyn reported to the flagship:

General Shafter states that fire from ships very accurate, shell falling in city; lines have been advanced. Flag of truce went forward to demand unconditional surrender. Will communicate with you fully directly to Aguadores as to time of firing and result of truce.

On July 12 the admiral received a dispatch from General Shafter stating:

My lines are now complete to the bay north of Santiago. Your shots can be observed from there perfectly, at least those that fall in the town. Flames followed several shots fired today.

At 8.10 p. m. General Shafter signaled:

A truce now exists and will probably continue all day tomorrow, the 13th.

On July 13, at 9:05 a.m., Admiral Sampson signaled to General Shafter:

As commander-in-chief of the naval forces engaged in joint operations, I expect to be represented in any conference held to arrange the terms of surrender of Santiago, including the surrender of the shipping and the harbor. Questions are involved of importance to both branches of the service.

This was replied to at 2:40 p.m. by General Shafter, as follows:

I shall be glad to have you represented, but difficult to let you know. Conference may take place at any hour. ***

At 1.15 p. m., on the 14th, General Miles telegraphed to 'AdmiralSampson:

I will be glad if you will send to these headquarters an officer to represent you during negotiations for evacuation.

At 1:38 p.m. General Miles was replied to:

When do you want Admiral Sampson's representative there?

At 2:23 p.m., before any arrangement could be made by which Admiral Sampson could send a representative to the headquarters of the Army, General Miles telegraphed:

Enemy has surrendered.

On the next day, July 15, General Miles advised Admiral Sampson that the surrender had not actually been concluded, and then on the 16th wrote him that at the request of the Spanish officials delay had been granted to communicate with Madrid. This letter inclosed a copy of the agreement of capitulation.

Later in the day General Shafter telegraphed:

Enemy has surrendered. Will you send some one to represent Navy in the matter?

Admiral Sampson's chief of staff arrived at the front at the earliest hour it was possible for him to do so, and informed General Shafter of Admiral Sampson's expectation that, in view of the fact that Santiago had surrendered in face of the joint operations of the Army and Navy, he be one of the signatories to the agreement of capitulation. This General Shafter declined to permit.

The Department, immediately after the battle of Santiago, had an examination of the Spanish wrecks made, and entered into a contract with the Merritt & Chapman Wrecking Company to raise these ships. The Maria Teresa was successfully raised and an effort was made by contractors to bring her to the Norfolk Navy-Yard, as under their contract vessels raised were to be delivered at that port. At the of the company, a naval officer was on board. On November 1 encountered heavy weather off the island of San Salvador and was that night abandoned. She was accompanied by the Vulcan, Leonidas and wrecking tug Merritt, and it was anticipated that she had sunk deep water. On November 7 information was received that she was ashore on Cat Island. The Vulcan and the tug Potomac were sent to the scene of the wreck, and after an examination reported it was not practicable to save her. A court of inquiry into this matter has been ordered.

The contracts for wrecking the other ships have been canceled.

It is probable that a contract will be made with a wrecking company to raise the Reina Mercedes, as reports received by the Department indicate that it is possible to save her.

Continue to next section of the Secretary of the Navy's Annual Report for 1898


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20 February 1998