Lieutenant John L. Purcell to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet
Off Cape Cruz,
June 30, 1898.
I respectfully submit the following summary of the cruise of this vessel for April, May and
July June. The Osceola was commissioned at the Navy Yard, New York, April 4, 1898 with a crew of twenty-six men. Her battery consisted of one 3 Pdr and a gatling.1 She left New York for Norfolk, Va. April 12, and arrived there on the 14th inst. She left the latter port, with a coal lighter in tow, on the 20th inst.2 for Key West and arrived there the 27th inst. Left Key West the evening of April 30 and reported to the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Force off Havana, the following Morning May 1. Remained on blockade duty there until midnight of the 15th when she returned to Key West, to have new valve put in air pump and other necessary repairs made. While on blockade duty off Havana, May 6, she was fired on by Eastern sand battery near Morro. One shot struck about fifty yards from starboard beam and richotted over the smokestack. A second – shrapnel – burst directly overhead and a third – shell – burst close astern. No hits were made. The secondary batteries then opened fire but all shots fell short. On May 13, together with the Ericsson, engaged in firing on the enemy along the shore about eight miles east of Havana. The enemy was driven back into the bushes and disappeared.
May 21st left Key West and convoyed the chartered steamer Florida to Port Banes, Cuba.
The voyage was made by way of Straits of Florida, N.W. Providence Channel, N.E. Providence Channel, thence to San Salvador Island and Crooked Island Passage to Cay Verde.
Took departure from Cay Verde at 3 P.M. May 25, and arrived off entrance to Port Banes at 11.15 P.M. Took on board there a Cuban pilot, from the Florida, and headed for channel on a course W. 1/2 S., with a boat load of armed Cubans in tow;3 the Florida following. At midnight we stopped and headed off shore. The pilot had no knowledge of the waters in that vicinity. Next morning, at early daylight we headed in on the course W. 1/2 S.
The Florida anchored at 6.30 A.M. in outer harbor near channel entrance. The armed Cuban boat was sent ahead to land scouts.
The crew of the Osceola went to quarters4 and she passed through the channel into Port Banes and across to the Northeastern part of the harbor. No enemy was seen – she then returned for the Florida and both vessels started in. Osceola leading. At the first bend it was found necessary to take the Florida in tow. By the afternoon of the 28th she had landed four hundred and fifteen officers and men; fifty horses and mules together with one hundred and eighty tons of arms, ammunition equipments; and twenty-thousand rations.
Troops came daily in detachments and after receiving an outfit went away.
A very strong ebb current ran all that afternoon and it was considered advisable to delay towing the Florida out until daylight the following morning. When morning came the conditions in the channel had undergone no change. After much difficulty she was towed out to sea. The return to Key West was made via Old Bahama Channel, and we arrived there May 31. Remained at Key West coaling and repairing until June 9th when the Osceola was sent to Piedras Cay, thence off Havana and reported to Commodore J.C. Watson U.S.N. commanding the blockading squadron there.5 Ordered immediately to blockade duty off Matanzas and left there, under orders, for Key West June 11. Arrived at latter point the same day and filled up with coal and water. Proceeded from there June 14, in company with U.S.S. Indiana and other Naval vessels to convoy the U.S. Army, under the command of Major General Shafter to Cuba.6 Remained on this duty until arrived off Santiago de Cuba and assisted in the landing of the Army on June 22. Detached from this duty and proceeded that night to Guantanamo for coal.
Returned off Santiago de Cuba June 25, and was ordered the following day to proceed to Cape Cruz and report to the senior officer present there for blockade duty.
Arrived there the morning of 26th inst. and reported to the commanding officer U.S.S. Hornet7 and took a position off Cuatro Reales Channel. On the 30th inst. spoke the St. Louis off Cape Cruz and received orders to join the Scorpion and Hornet and proceed to Manzanillo. Anchored with the Scorpion off Cacimba Point that evening in company with Scorpion, to await daylight before crossing the shoals leading to Manzanillo waters. While in Key West prior to the Port Banes Expedition,8 the battery of this vessel was increased by the addition of two 6 Pdr’s and a Colt Automatic 6 mm.
Source Note: ALS, DNA, RG 313, Entry 47. Addressed below close: “The Commander-in-Chief,/U.S. Naval force,/North Atlantic Station.” Docketed on separate page: “U.S.S. Osceola/Off Cape Cruz/June 30, 1898/Purcell, J.L./Lieut. U.S.N./ Comd’g/Summary of cruise/of U.S.S. Osceola/April, May and June 1898.” Upper left corner stamped: “RECEIVED/FLAG-SHIP N. A. STATION/JUL 6 1898.”
Footnote 1: The abbreviation “pdr” stands for “pounder.” The Gatling gun was a rapid-fire weapon and a forerunner of the machine gun.
Footnote 2: The word “inst.” is an abbreviation for “instant,” which means during the same month the letter was written.
Footnote 3: Members of the insurgency who fought the Spanish.
Footnote 4: The expression “went to quarters” is spin off of general quarters, which is an order to prepare for battle or possible damage.
Footnote 5: Commo. John C. Watson of the Blockading Squadron.
Footnote 6: Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter.
Footnote 7: Lt. James M. Helm.
Footnote 8: Port Banes Expedition refers to landing of the Cuban fighters on 26 May which was escorted by Osceola, as reported above. The Cubans were led by Gen. Joaquin Castillo Duany.