Commander John J. Hunker to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long
U. S. S. Annapolis, 3rd Rate,
March 13, 1899.
1. In obedience to General Order No. 505, of January 4, 1899, I respectfully submit the following report giving the history of the organization of the transport fleet and the embarkation of the troops, etc., of General Shafter’s expedition which sailed under convoy of the U. S. S. Annapolis, U. S. S. Castine, U. S. S. Helena and U. S. S. Hornet from Tampa Bay, Fla., under my command, for Santiago de Cuba on June 14, 1898.
2. On May 31st, I received orders from Commodore Remey, Commanding Naval Base Key West, to proceed with the Annapolis to Port Tampa to prescribe the order of sailing and the formation of the transports en route and take general charge of the expedition as far as passage was concerned. At the same time, the U. S. S. Castine, U. S. S. Helena and U. S. S. Hornet were ordered to report to me there to assist in the organization and form part of the convoy fleet.
3. Port Tampa is situated some 25 miles distant from the open sea, near the head of the wide shallow bay of the same name,-it is connected with the lower bay by two narrow artificial cuts dredged by the Plant Steamship Co., the first is one mile from the railway pier and the second about three. They are each about 1000 yards long, just wide enough for one vessel to pass at a time and 19-1/2 feet deep at high tide. Pilots are necessary not only to conduct large vessels through these cuts but also to take them through the channels beyond to the lower bay and to the Gulf outside.
4. It will be seen, therefore, that in order to start the transport fleet from Port Tampa the same day, the conditions required a plentiful supply of pilots,-there were only four or five,- a high tide for the heavier vessels and that all should start early enough to pass the cuts and channels and form in column in the open sea, 25 miles away, before dark. This explains the necessity for assembling the fleet in the lower bay before making the final start.
5. The facilities for transferring the troops and stores to the steamers at Port Tampa were considerable,-the pier with railway tracks extending from end to end, was long enough to berth ten large steamers at the same time, but the result proved that in the existing condition of affairs, three days at least should have been allowed for breaking the camps, moving the troops, baggage and animals to the pier and embarking them; the time allotted, one day, was altogether insufficient. In order to be in readiness to sail on the 8th of June, they should have commenced the movement on the 5th, as a matter of fact the troops did not begin to arrive on the pier until late in the afternoon of the 7th, realizing later the magnitude of the task, the troops were not again landed until they reached Cuba, two weeks later.
6. Upon the morning after our arrival, June 2nd, I went to Army Headquarters at Tampa City and reported to General Shafter, showing the orders from Commodore Remey assigning me to the duty of organizing and convoying the transport fleet, informing him that the Annapolis, Helena, Castine and Hornet had arrived to convoy the expedition, that we were all ready to proceed at an hour’s notice and that a second larger detachment of war vessels, would meet the transport fleet near Tortugas, Florida, to aid in the convoy to Santiago. During the conversation which ensued with General Miles and Shafter, I endeavored to obtain all the information possible, the number of transports, number of troops, horse, etc., I was also anxious to know the date of sailing, knowing that I needed time to instruct the masters of the vessels, see that the transports were properly equipped, decide upon a fleet formation, etc., etc.
7. General Shafter told me that they were hurrying forward their preparations with all speed, that they had not as yet secured a sufficient number of steamers, four or five were still to come from New Orleans and Mobile, that the transports were fitting out under the direction of Colonel Humphreys, Quartermaster-General, that the troops would be sent on board the moment the vessels were ready and that the expedition, he believed, would leave in three or four days. He referred me to Quartermaster-General Humphreys for information upon that and all other points connected with the embarkation of the troops and the equipment of vessels, and gave me a letter directing him to give me all the information in his possession regarding the transports and to inform the captains that they were under my orders in all that related to the assignment or position in column, speed under way, courses to be steered, etc. From that time until the date of sailing, I consulted daily with Col. Humphreys and his assistants, the masters of transports and others preparing for the expedition and kept Commodore Remey informed by telegraph of progress made.
8. Colonel Humphreys informed me that preparations were being urged forward day and night, berths being fitted for the troops, stalls for the horses, deck houses were being built and that provisions, water, ammunition, guns, wagons and stores of all kinds were being placed on board as rapidly as possible. He told me also that four or five troops ships, two steam lighters and two water boats were still due from New Orleans and Mobile, adding that it would be impossible to give the exact date when the force would be ready to start, but thought in four or five days. Looking at the matter myself and judging from the scattered positions of the camps, the lack of facilities, the rate of progress, the scarcity of stevedores willing to work day and night, the inexperience of all concerned and the magnitude of the task, I formed the opinion, that at least a week would be required to complete the equipment of vessels, load the guns, wagons, etcs., and embark the troops and animals.
9. During the next three or four day, the masters of the transports were given diagrams of the order of sailing and letters of instructions, a code of day and night signals was formulated, emergencies were provided for. They were directed, the moment the troops were on board to proceed to the lower bay and anchor in fleet formation and keep their vessels ready to sail immediately at signal. This method was adopted to insure ready comprehension of the movement on the part of the captains, uniformity of action and enable the whole fleet to start together in the proper sailing order and without confusion, delay or accident and because the upper harbor at Port Tampa is small and the exits through the cuts very narrow and difficult. Each vessel was given a number,-this was painted in letters three feet high on each bow and each side of the smoke stack. The speed, tonnage, coal endurance, fresh water capacity and the number and size of the transports’ boats, towing hawsers, etc. was learned and tabulated and the Gunboats, although filled with coal and stores before leaving Key West, were filled again to the limit. The Commanding Officers of the three Gunboats were each given charge of the column of transports which they were to lead in the order of sailing, they were instructed to interview the transport captains and give them personal instructions in fleet sailing, signals, emergencies, etc.; when the transports were ready to sail, they were directed to proceed to the rendezvous in the lower bay and anchor in position as leaders of columns, the troop-ships to form upon them as they arrived from Port Tampa.
10. On the 3rd of June, thirty Cadets from the Naval Academy, belonging to the first class,”- reported to me for passage to Santiago to join Admiral Sampson’s Fleet, these were, by direction of Commodore Remey, assigned to the transports, one to each, to act as signal officers. They rendered valuable service in this capacity during the voyage.
11. About the 6th, I learned that I was to turn over command of the expeditionary fleet to Captain Henry C. Taylor of the Indiana, upon its arrival at Rebecca Shoal Light, near Tortugas Island. Soon after we opened communication by mail and telegraph, he sent me detailed instructions and much excellent advice. I was also greatly indebted to Commodore Remey who made many valuable suggestions.
12. During the afternoon of June 6th, the transports Aranses, Cumberland, Morgan, Mattewan, Breakwater and Stillwater arrived and were immediately made ready for service.
13. During the afternoon of June 7th, General Shafter sent me word, by Lieutenant Miley, of his Staff, that the camps would be broken and the troops moved on board the transports at once; towards evening, soldiers began to arrive by rail on the pier, some to march on board the ships, others to bivouac on the wharf, the transfer continued all night, although greatly hampered and delayed by the lack of facilities afforded by the scarcity of cars and the single line of track; during the night, General Shafter and Staff came down by train from Tampa City, 12 miles distant; they started the evening before and did not arrive until next morning about 6 o’ clock. At 3:30, on the morning of the 8th, I sent Lieutenant Kline on shore to ask the General for information and to report progress. Kline found him at 6:30 A. M., sitting in a car and upon asking when the transports would be ready to sail, he replied: “My God, I don’t know”, returning on board he reported that the transfer was going on slowly amid much confusion and that he could form no idea when the embarkation would be completed.
14. During the night of the 7th, and the morning of the 8th, several transports received their complement of troops on board, and hauled out into the stream, these I immediately despatched to the Lower Bay, at the same time sending the Castine, Helena and Hornet to see that they carried out their instructions and took the places assigned them in the column. By 2:30 P.M., five transports had left for the rendezvous and two others were hauling out into the stream, about 3:30 P. M., was informed by General Shafter that the President had telegraphed, “stop, hold the expedition until further orders”, at this time, too late in the day to pass the cuts and assemble for a start, not half of the troops were embarked, but eight steamers of the twenty one had received their consignment of troops, the expedition, therefore, was not ready to sail on the 8th of June. Indeed, it is doubtful whether the troops and animals could have been embarked in time to leave Port Tampa the next day, the tenth is the more probable date.
15. The lighters necessary for landing the troops, provisions, guns, wagons and animals at Daiquiri were not available until the 10th of June, when two steam lighters arrived from Galveston and two flat barges were purchased at Port Tampa. As they proved indispensable when the scene of operations was reached, it is safe to say that the expedition was not ready to sail until they formed part of the outfit.
16. At 12:30 A. M., on the 9th, an Officer from General Miles came on board with a message requesting me to recall the transports to safer quarters in the upper Bay,-“Spanish war vessels were reported outside”. The U. S. Revenue Cutter Morrel was immediately despatched to the lower bay with instructions to Commander Berry to send the five transports back to Port Tampa and to proceed outside with the Castine, Helena and Hornet and scout the neighborhood. The returned to Port Tampa two days later and reported that there were no signs of the enemy in the vicinity.
17. During the next day, the animals already on board were disembarked, the troops remaining. Soldiers however continued to pour upon the wharf and into the transports until the morning of the 14th, when the fleet finally sailed. The expeditionary force was, in the meantime, increased to 16,000 men and officers and additional transports continued to arrive until the fleet of steamers, lighters and water boats numbered thirty-seven.
18. On the 13th, orders to sail having arrived from Washington, the Gunboats Castine, Helena and Hornet and nineteen transports loaded with troops anchored in fleet formation in the lower bay,-before eleven o’clock of the next day, the 14th, the fourteen remaining troop ships had left for the rendezvous and at noon the last belated water lighter had been hurried off to join the fleet. By three P. M., the Annapolis arrived at the rendezvous, steaming alongside of General Shafter’s ship, the Seguaranca, I asked if he was ready to start, he replied “yes”. I accordingly made signal for the outer column in charge of Commander Swimburne in the Helena to get underway and proceed to sea; the twelve steamers comprising this column soon after stood out. They were followed in succession by the other columns and before dark the entire fleet, numbering forty-one vessels, had formed outside and was standing towards Tortugas, in three columns at 400 yards distance, the Helena leading the left, the Hornet the centre and the Castine the right; all in their proper position and in reasonably compact formation. Signal was made, Course S. 3/4 E., speed seven knots.
19. During the night the transports straggled a good deal and at daylight were considerably “strung out”; the speed was accordingly reduced to enable them to close. It was found that the rear vessels having the flat barges and water schooner in tow, could not steam faster than six and one half knots; the weather continuing fine, this rate of speed was maintained until the rendezvous near Rebecca Shoal was reached.
20. During the forenoon of the next day, I sent the Hornet ahead to notify Captain Taylor that the expedition had sailed and would reach Rebecca Shoal after dark, too late to transfer the command during daylight. About 7:30 P. M., she returned with instructions to proceed on the voyage to Santiago de Cuba at our best speed. That Captain Taylor with his squadron, would take position on our right flak during the night and would assume command by signal the next day. The expeditionary fleet was, accordingly, turned over to him the following morning, June 16th, near Cay Sal on the North coast of Cuba; the Annapolis taking position at the head of the left column.
21. Commander R. M. Berry, W. T. Swimburne and Lieutenant J. M. Helm commanding the convoy vessels, were of the greatest assistance in the task of organizing the transports into a fleet and the successful issue of the convoy was, in a large measure, due to their skill and energy. The Captains of the transports,-excellent seaman, as a rule, and men of quick intelligence,-manifested the greatest interest in the success of the expedition, quickly apprehending and carefully following all of their instructions and, in the main, handling their vessels with skill and judgment.
22. Copies of my orders from Commodore Remey to organize and take charge of the convoy, and General Shafter’s letter to the Quartermaster-General directing him to furnish information and giving me authority over the Captains of the transports, are forwarded herewith.
John J. Hunker
Commander, U. S. Navy,