Skip to main content
Documentary Histories
Spanish-American War

Introductory Essay

The Capture of Guam

     After Commo. George Dewey’s stunning victory over the Spanish fleet three troop transport ships carrying the first Philippine Expeditionary Forces steamed out of the Golden Gate on 25 May 1898. The men disembarked at Honolulu and then after a brief respite the convoy departed, now escorted by the re-commissioned cruiser Charleston, under the command of Capt. Henry Glass.

At Honolulu Glass opened sealed orders from Secretary of the Navy John D. Long. Long ordered Glass “to stop at the Spanish Island of Guam… [and] use such force as may be necessary to capture the port.”1 After Glass relayed this information the men scrambled to the ships’ library as the “message created intense excitement and enthusiasm among the seaman.”2 One participant, later recalled that:

When the news of our destination and object was learned aboard the “Australia” there was considerable excitement, of course, and the cause of many pow-wows as “What about Guam and where is it anyway, and what do we want of it?”3

After Charleston entered Agaña Bay on 20 June the crew anticipated a cannonade from Fort Santiago but the guns were silent. Capt. Glass steamed further into the harbor and began bombarding the fort at Santa Cruz and received no response. A large group of curious residents of Guam had congregated at the port to welcome the ship. Spanish officials believed the Charleston was saluting the fort on a state visit and were caught unaware, having no knowledge of the war with the United States.

A boatload of Spanish officials approached Charleston, whereupon Capt. Glass informed them that a state of war existed between the United States and the Kingdom of Spain. Glass dispatched Lt. William Braunersreuther to meet with Governor Juan Marina Vega and collect the surrender of the Spanish garrison. Marina Vega was taken aback that he had to go on board the American vessel, as such an action was forbidden by Spanish law. He responded:

“I regret to have to decline this honor and to ask that you will kindly come on shore, where I await you to accede to your wishes as far as possible, and to agree to our mutual situations.”4

Governor Marina Vega eventually capitulated and he and the Spanish garrison were taken about the convoy.

Capt. Glass entrusted the governance of the island of Guam to a small contingent of American troops and a naturalized American citizen named Francisco Portusach became the first or many American Governors of Guam. The convoy then continued on to Manila.5

Footnote 1: See: Long to Glass, 10 May 1898.

Footnote 2: Leslie W. Walker, “Guam’s Seizure by the United States in 1898,” The Pacific Historical Review 14, 1 (Mar., 1945), 3.