Rescue of the Winslow
The Battle at Cardenas, and the rescue of the torpedo boat Winslow, is remembered more for its cultural importance than for its contribution to the American victory in the Spanish-American War. On the morning of 11 May 1898, Commander John F. Merry, the senior officer on blockade duty off Cardenas, Cuba, led an operation to destroy the signal station and any Spanish gunboats in the bay. Under his command were Machias, Wilmington, the USRC Hudson, and the Winslow.
Machias destroyed the signal station, but inside the bay Wilmington, Hudson, and Winslow were raked by fire from Spanish ship and shore batteries.1 During the battle, Winslow suffered hits to its steering gear and engine. Seeing this, Hudson steamed to the rescue and towed Winslow to safety under fire. Because of the damage to Winslow, Ens. Worth Bagley, the vessel’s executive officer, was forced to carry instructions from the bridge via the engine room to men manually steering the vessel below deck. While making one of these runs a shell struck Winslow killing Bagley and two other men, while mortally wounding two others. Minutes later, Hudson pulled Winslow out of danger.2
Being one of the first actions of the war, newspaper reports of the rescue excited the popular imagination and the crews of Hudson and Winslow were lionized as national heroes. The five deaths on Winslow were not only the first, but some of the heaviest losses suffered by the United States Navy in single action during the war and Bagley was the only naval officer to die in combat. The death of Bagley, a young officer, incited national grief. Bagley was a native of North Carolina, and his death proved to be a moment of unity between Southern and Northern states, still culturally divided by the Civil War. In honor of Bagley, poet Richard Watson Gilder wrote, “One Country — One Sacrifice: Ensign Worth Bagley, May 11, 1898:”
In one rich drop of blood, ah, what a sea
Of healing! Thou, sweet boy, wert first to fall
In our new war; and thou wert southron all!
There is no North, South,—remembering thee.3
Footnote 1: See: Merry to Sampson, 11 May 1898.
Footnote 2: See: Bernadou to Long, 16 May 1898; and Newcomb Long, 13 May 1898.
Footnote 3: David Walbert, “Ensign Worth Bagley,” accessed 25 February 2015, http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newsouth/4413.