Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain French E. Chadwick to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

U.S. Flagship New York, 1st Rate,

Off Santiago de Cuba,

June 10th, 1898.

Dear Mr. Secretary:--

          I do not know how many private letters you may have from people down our way,but I shall write this in the hope that you will not object to having a personal opinion of how things look from this point of view.

     We are now anxiously and not patiently-mindedly awaiting the army.1 We have done a great deal here; we have silenced the batteries,have established a vigorous blockade,our ships lying in at two miles distance and illuminating at night the harbor entrance,and a good landing force would complete the rest in a very short time. Were the entrance to Santiago of a different character: i. e. with low lying land,we could <easily> force our way in, but <it> is extraordinarily narrow commanded by bluffs 200 feet in height,and those bluffs occupied by an active enemy would render our action in this narrow inlet,but 350 feet broad, planted with mines,very difficult <and disaster there would be irretrievable.> If we were sure to be left alone,we should of course try it at whatever risk; with the hope of the arrival of an army we of course wait.

     Our blockade thus far has undoubtedly been effective; nothing has gone in or out since our arrival. The batteries looked formidable,but we silenced them most effectually the other day,lying off finally at our leisure and firing at short range until we thought it wise not to expend any more ammunition.

     We ranged round the entrance thus:2

     I see much stress is laid upon the convoy of troops. The Spanish naval force on the north side is of the most trivial character. It is wholly,except two torpedo destroyers at Havana,of little gunboats used in the shallow waters of the Keys extending some 200 miles eastward of Cardenas. We have been in the habit of paying them no attention whatever,and that our army movements should be made to depend on any regard being shown them,shows an entirely false appreciation of circumstances.

     This leads to another thing! the somewhat – or I should say the wholly real – absurdity of scaring ourselves with idle fears of what will never happen. We have expended too much of our energies and thought in fighting spectral enemies. Our people north seem to have seen in every wave crest or cloud shadow a swift destroyer of some sort pointed at our doorsteps. Instead of wielding what bludgeons we have with all our vigor at the really visible heads,we have been looking for the invisible. The country,or at least the press, and some of our officials,have gone into spasms over torpedo boats running up and <down> the New England coast in the rough weather of early Spring. Any one with the slightest experience of these craft would know the absolute impossibility of this, the ordinary torpedo boat must be nursed like a baby,and the torpedo boat destroyer is not much better. They have not thought of the coal she must have and her very limited radius. The only result of all of our anxious patrolling north has been to knock a hole in the Columbia.3

     The way to keep the enemy from your door is to go for him so actively that he cannot afford to do anything but defend himself. Napoleon complained that his Marshals would always make too many pictures to themselves of what might happen. This habit has worried our whole coast into semi-hysterics,prevented vigorous action where vigor was most needed,and has been most detrimental to the successful conduct of the war. To-day as I write comes a report from the Eagle that she saw a Spanish armored cruiser,a protected cruiser and two torpedo boats on the north side - and the effect is a suspension of a movement of paramount importance. Even were the report true it should not to my mind for a moment change our plans. But I have no faith in it whatever. How did Lieutenant Southerland know the vessels were Spanish ?4 I don’t believe he could tell their number even.  To my mind it is one of those groundless,or at the best semi-groundless fears of which we seem to be so much the victim,and which surely are not to our credit as a bold vigorous and fearless people. In fact these panics are most discreditable. To show how easily people may err in such things I will instance an occurrence of last night. The Yankee left Mole St. Nicholas about 8,on arrival here at 5:30 this morning they reported having seen and been in the midst of a squadron of eight or ten ships,one of which was thought a battle-ship,which used a search-light; the battle-ship looked somewhat like the Indiana; they could not tell what they were,and hastened on to inform us. Later came in the Panther, Yosemite, Armeria, Scorpion and Supply, five instead of eight or ten,and on inquiry it turned out that the Scorpion,which has one mast (a la Battle-ship) was the user of the search-light; that they had sighted the Yankee,had taken her for a torpedo boat and the Scorpion had opened fire upon her,though the Yankee was so far away she did not hear the shots and took them for the working of the search-light as a signal. It is an excellent instance of how even an experienced officer may be mistaken. The fact is that there is no sense of perspective at night; a torpedo boat may look as big as a battle-ship or vice versa.

     I have regretted more than I can say this dreadful tendency to panic,which seems so unworthy of us in every way; which makes us ridiculous abroad and should make us ashamed at home. If I can be allowed to say anything it is that we should go on and do our work without paying any attention whatever to rumors and loose talk –- let us strike energetically,decisively,quickly and we need fear nothing in the way of possible raids or phantom squadrons. The one absolutely fatal think in war is over-caution.

     I cannot understand why the Columbia, Minneapolis, and St. Paul should not be sent to show themselves on the Spanish coast. If they did nothing more than make themselves known at one or two points and then disappear below the horizon for the United States or elsewhere,we should hear nothing more of Spanish ships crossing the Atlantic. It is certainly true strategy to scare the other fellow rather than to let him scare us,and I repeat that our failure to do this is beyond my comprehension.

     The Navy has done its work well. As I look back I can see that beyond any reasonable doubt we could have demolished the batteries at Havana the morning we left Key West the 22nd of April. But I do not say it was not perfectly sound judgment from the point of view of the time not to attempt it – though we were all prepared for it, and as far as I know, all anxious for it.

     We could have taken Puerto Rico easily enough,5but the doubt as to what to do with it with no landing force to hold it, an exasperatingly slow squadron ( on account of the monitors ),a Spanish squadron to look after and the Flying Squadron at Hampton Roads,weighed heavily on the Admiral’s mind, and he thought best not to hamper his movements. As it turned out,in the light of later events,we could have spared the time both to take and to hold with our own ships,but so far as we could see we were left to hold alone a line the important points of which were a thousand miles apart. Had we had the Flying Squadron with us it would have been plain sailing. I have held from the beginning that our very first objective was San Juan,and no better use for the Flying Squadron could have been found than to use it April 22nd for the occupancy of that place,but our own action did not go for nought,as it is clear (and it is also shown in the light of Lieutenant Carranza’s letter) that the operations of this squadron on the coast of Puerto Rico forced Cervera into Santiago,where I think he is surely ours.6

Yours very truly,                

F. E. Chadwick    

P.S.                              11th June.

     It occurred to us last ev’g that the vessels seen by the Eagle were the same wh. arrd here yesterday. This morning we brought the Scorpion up from the westward & examined her log. The result is that there can be no doubt that what she saw were our own ships

Source Note: TLS, MHi, Papers of John D. Long, General Correspondence. Chadwick handwrote “Personal” at the top of the first page and also handwrote the postscript. He added a few interlineations, which are indicated by angle brackets.

Footnote 1: The army expeditionary force intended for Cuba left Tampa on 14 June and landed in Cuba at Daiquirí and Siboney on 22 and 23 June, respectively.

Footnote 2: At this point, Chadwick inserted a diagram of the blockading positions of the ships of RAdm. William T. Sampson’s North Atlantic Fleet. See: Chadwick's Diagram of the Santiago Blockade, 10 June 1898.

Footnote 3: On the night of 28 May in dense fog, the U.S. Navy cruiser Columbia was run into by the British steamship Foscolio. Columbia was badly injured, with a six foot hole in its side that extended five feet below the water line. Foscolio sank as a result of the collision. Charles Morris, The War with Spain: A Complete History of the War of 1898 between Spain and the United States (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1899), 196.

Footnote 4: Lt. William H.H. Southerland commanded the converted yacht Eagle. Most historians agree with Chadwick’s analysis contained in the postscript that Eagle mistook American ships for a Spanish convoy. Nonetheless, the sailing of the army transports was delayed until it was ascertained with certainty that no Spanish naval vessels were in the vicinity.

Footnote 5: Chadwick is referring to the bombardment of San Juan on 12 May.

Footnote 6: Ramón de Carranza was the former Spanish naval attaché in Washington, D.C. He was then in Montreal trying to establish a spy service in the United States. His letter to Don José Inay, the Spanish minister of marine, dated 26 May, had been intercepted and published in a number of American newspapers. See, for example, The New York Times, 5 June 1898.

Related Content