Skip to main content

Commander Charles H. Davis to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet

U. S. S. Dixie,

Guantanamo, Cuba,

August 2nd, 1898.


     1.   The following information regarding the Island of Puerto Rico was gathered by me, on my recent visit to the Island, partly through intercourse with natives and residents and partly through personal observation.

     2.   There are about seven thousand regular Spanish troops on the Island; the number of volunteers and irregular troops is indefinite, but those would not count against our invading force, as popular sentiment in the Island is overwhelmingly in favor of the United States. The people struck me as being superior intellectually to the Cubans.

     3.   After the occupation of Guanica and Ponce by our navy and army, the Spanish forces began to concentrate on San Juan de Puerto Rico, the seat of the Colonial Government. This will be the last stronghold of Spanish authority on the Island. It will be difficult to take San Juan by a land investment unsupported by the fleet.

     4.   General Miles’ headquarters are now at Ponce, all transports are being collected there and reinforcements, material and baggage landed as rapidly as possible. The troops which landed at Guanica will march overland to Ponce to join the main army. I understand that General Miles’ plan of campaign is to advance in force across the Island from Ponce to San Juan and a regular investment of that place.1 The distance is about sixty miles in a straight line; it must be much more by the windings of the road. The roads are good.

     5.   The natives assured me that General Miles would meet with very little opposition before reaching the vicinity of San Juan.2 San Juan is the key to the Island. It would be the natural policy of the enemy to concentrate for its defense. The Governor General of Puerto Rico has telegraphed Madrid that he cannot hold the colony for Spain unless strongly reinforced, and San Juan is already beginning to suffer for want of food.3 The people of the country would rise against the Spanish authority if stimulated. The Spanish official class and Spanish sympathizers will take refuge in San Juan, which may be regarded as a purely Spanish city. General Miles cannot hold the Island until he takes the city of San Juan de Puerto Rico and compels the surrender of the Colonial Government.

     6.   I am strongly of opinion that San Juan de Puerto Rico could be taken by the fleet under your command and by a coup de main, without the assistance of the army and in advance of its approach from the South and the complete conquest of the Island of Puerto Rico accomplished by this means. The plan would be to send a flag of truce in advance of the fleet with the usual notice of bombardmenr[t]. The monitors might occupy the Western end of the line, and engage the batteries on and to the westward of Morro Point; the battleships and cruisers would continue the line from the position of the monitors easterly nearly to Necambron Point and bombard the city itself, and the land defences and suburbs, and command the road by which alone egress may be had from the city. Two or three light draught vessels mounting five-inch guns stationed near to El Soquoron could sweep and destroy San Antonio bridge and its approaches and command the San Antonio Channel and Isla Grande. The landing force of marines, convoyed by gun-boats could land a mile to the westward of Palo Soco and occupy the shore on the west side of the harbor within easy range of the town for field pieces, automatic guns and small arms; or the marines could be held in reserve to land and garrison the town on its reduction by the fire from the ships, whose volume would I believe insure an immediate surrender of the city, and with the possession of the whole Island, or would entirely destroy the place.4

I am Sir

Your obedient Servant       

C. H. Davis,           

Commander-  Commanding.

Source Note: TCyS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 237. Addressed below close: “Admiral W.T Sampson,U.S.N.,/Commander-in-Chief North Atlantic Station.” Notation at top of page: “Copy.” Someone has gone through the letter and made changes, such as taking out the numbers before paragraphs, changing written out numbers to ordinals, and revising capitalization, presumably in anticipation of its being published; the changes made by this later editor have been ignored.

Footnote 1: Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles’s planned four columns advancing toward a junction at San Juan. One column, which originated in Guánica, would march along the westward coast of the island. A second, originating in Ponce, would march directly north toward Utuando and Arecibo, where it was to combine with the first column, and then together they would advance toward San Juan. The third column, also originating in Ponce, was to march northeastward along a road that ran from Ponce to San Juan. The fourth American army column would “jump off” from Arroyo, arch northwestward and join the third column near Cayey in the interior of the island. Trask, War with Spain, 358-65.

Footnote 2: The Spanish were preparing to try and stop the American advance at Aibonito, a strong point in the mountains that ran east and west in roughly the middle of Puerto Rico.

Footnote 3: In the months between the declaration of war and the invasion of the island, Governor-General Manuel Macías y Casado had sent a series of messages to the Spanish Minister of War detailing the military weakness of Puerto Rico. Those messages are given, in excerpted form, in Angel Rivero Méndez, Crónica de la Guerra Hispano-Americana en Puerto Rico (Madrid, Spain: Sucesores de Rivadeneyra, 1922), 616-22.

Footnote 4: For the places mentioned in this paragraph, see: The map of San Juan de Puerto Rico; which is to be found among the illustrations for this section. It appears that Sampson acted to put Davis’s plan into operation. On 9 August he sent a message to Capt. Frederick Rodgers of monitor Puritan to notify the city leaders of San Juan that the city would be bombarded unless it surrendered. He further instructed Rodgers: “By placing monitors, the New Orleans, and other heavy vessels to the northeast of the city and at a distance of three miles (nautical) you can easily shell city by each vessel using her largest guns. I would advise this action, after due warning, that women and children may be removed from the city. Do not waste ammunition on any of the batteries.” W.A.M. Goode, With Sampson through the War [New York: Doubleday & McClure Co., 1899], 268. Sampson also reached out to Secretary Long, writing:

To Secretary:-- (Ragunslin) if delay in sailing of the Squadron not important would suggest that it or part of it be first sent to San Juan,Porto Rico,until the city has been captured. Probability of stormy resistance from land side at that place. Possibility that its fall may terminate the war. Probably require two weeks to reach the result by cooperation between Navy and Army San Juan can be destroyed from the water and may yield without much resistance to a proper show of Naval strength. Journal of RAdm Sampson, 4 August 1898, DNA, RG 313, Entry 56, Box 11,8.

For the reaction of Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles when he learned of Sampson’s intentions, see: Nelson A. Miles to Russell A. Alger, 10 August 1898.

Related Content