Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commander Washburn Maynard to Bessie Maynard

Copy H L                          Blockade off Cienfuegos Cuba

May 12 1898       

Yesterday a.m, about 6.30, according to a prearranged plan, the “Marblehead” and “Nashville” steamed in to Colorado Point, at the Eastern entrance of this Port, having four boats ready to go in near the Point for the purpose of cutting two Submarine Cables which connect Cienfuegos with Jamaica and Porto Rico. As we neared the Point, we could see a lot of Spanish Soldiers in an earthwork near a small house where the cables were landed; so we opened fire on them and on the cable house. The troops took to their heels and the house was soon struck and destroyed After shelling the woods and bushes all about the point for some Time, our boats went in, grapples & cut two cables, after much hard work & and were working on a Third when they were fired upon by Spanish troops, hidden behind the rocks and bushes & in the lighthouse, Both the Marblehead and Nashville fired rapidly wherever there appeared to be an enemy but as they were hidden & used smokeless powder it was hard to locate them. The fire soon became to hot, that our boats had to let go the cable & pull for the ship. We ran in between our boats and the shore. Took them in town and ran out of rifle range, firing all the while as fast as we could. The bullets flew about as thick as bees and finally one struck me in the left breast over the heart & I soon began to feel faint & sick, and was obliged to sit down on the bridge. Fortunately the bullet must have struck something else first, or after cutting through my blouse, it was stopped by my suspenders buckle,

The shock coming over the heart was very severe and the blow caused a severe contusion, however a little whiskey soon revived me & I was all right again after lying down for a few moments Tho’ the place was very painful. If the bullet had had a little more force it must have passed right through the heart, alto’gether it was a close call and a most happy escape.

Winslow1 had three of his fingers on the left hand cut by a bullet, He was in charge of the boats, why every body in them was not killed it is hard to under stand, as they were under fire from a large number of rifles for fully 15 minutes and the bullets flew around them like hail, as indeed they did about the ship. They struck all around me as I stood on the bridge; went into the Ports and rattled against the sides & smokestack like hail. In our boats by [1] one man (besides Winslow) was wounded, a seaman.2 He, poor fellow was hit , in the head, in the side,  & in the leg. He was sent to Key West last night in the “Windom” but our Dr3 thinks he has not a very good chance of living. The “Marblehead,” boats fared worse, for some reason altho they were further from shore. Five men were struck in them.4 One died last night, and two others who were sent to Key West in the Windom, will probably not reach there alive. Altogether it was a most exciting & [weary some] day. We do not know whether any of the Spanish Soldiers were hit, but it seems probable that a considerable number of them must have been,

     Sunday May 15th, we are still blockading here, & as we have not had a particle of news from anywhere we have no idea of what is going on. Since the fight on Wednesday we have been taking turns [in] coaling ships from the colliers “Saturn.” our turn coming yesterday & Today. It is slow & laborious work in the hot sun and rough sea. Not a vessel of any kind has gone in or out of Cienfuegos and the Spaniards have not fired on, us otherwise molested bothered us. There are two small gunboats inside, but they have not ventured out. The incessant watchfulness, care & anxiety are very wearing. I can get very little sleep and must be on the bridge nearly all night, as we have to guard the collier, as well as look out for vessels approaching or leaving the port. Still all our people on board are well, The rainy season has set in, so that we have heavy seas, with much thunder and lightning which makes the air hot and steamy. The nights are very dark now & the stars mostly obscured by black clouds which makes it very difficult work steaming about in Squadron, as we have to all night & every night. We cannot anchor as the water off this Coast is several hundred fathoms almost to the Shore, so we must keep under way all the time. But almost the hardest part of it all is, the being unable to hear what is going on elsewhere. We have no idea of the movements of The Spanish fleet, or even our own [forces], I cannot therefore [tell] but that a strong Spanish force may appear here at any moment and gobble us up, but [expect] Admiral Sampson5 is looking out for that and will not leave us here to be attacked by a stronger force. The night before our fight the “Eagle” went to the Westward, where there is a channel through the reefs, to a place called Batabena(?)in order to destroy a lighthouse & lightship and to find & cut a cable which joins B with Cienfuegos. She succeeded in accomplishing the first objective but was unable to find the cable ,and returned late Wednesday night, having met with no opposition. May 16th Yester day, while we were along side the colliers, I had Sam Very6 on board for lunch & later for a cup of tea. He has a pretty hard time of it on his old craft. He says she is filthy and overrun with bugs, so that he is unable to sleep in his quarters. Then he has many other trials and tribulations, but this war business is no pic-nic for any of us, we are lying close in to the entrance of the Port today, keeping guard while the “Marblehead” coals. We can see the Spanish soldiers busily engaged in building earthworks on a hill about 4 miles away and mounting what seems to be large guns on it. I suppose we shall hear from them when mounted if we get too close in Some insurgents who came off to the Marblehead yesterday in a small boat Said that 300 Spanish soldiers were killed by our force the other day, but I think that a gross exaggeration probably.

     May 17th just before dark yesterday, the “Yacht Hornet” arrived post haste from Key West with orders for us to abandon this blockade & proceed to Key West with all dispatch, as a Spanish Fleet had left Martinique for the West Ward. The fleet comprising 4 heavy armored cruisers & several torpedo boats & destroyers. McCalla7 notified us at once & as soon as it was dark we started our best speed & all night long ploughed throu’ the water in absolute darkness, not a vessel and there were 6 of us, showing a light, & today we are South of the Isle of Pines. The Yacht brought us no mail but told us news of Admiral Sampson’s attack on San Juan, & of the Sad fate of the Winslow.8 Of course you have read of all this in the papers but it was the first news of any kind that we had had for many days.

     May 18th. we got arround the Western end of Cuba early this AM, and met the “Cincinnati” & “Vesuvius,” scouting northeast of Cape Antonio. Two of our yachts got separated from us in the night, so we ran back for an hour or two & finally found them. We are now heading for Key West but the “Nashville” is behind several miles, as our [engines gives] trouble we had to stop & overhaul them we ought to get in to K W9 by tomorrow forenoon & oh how good it will be to t be at anchor in a friendly port once more & get our letters & fresh provisions.

     May 19th we arrived here this PM & I have been busy all the evening reading my mail I went on board the New York & saw Ad. Sampson & Chadwick,10 both of them are well. We were to have gone back to Cienfuegos tomorrow, but as our machinery needs attention Ad. Sampson told me to stay here until I could make & repairs & then join him. My wound is all right now altho’ I have a black & blue spot about as large as the palm of my hand, but the soreness has gone and the ribs are all right. I found the bullet inside my blouse & you Can judge Something of how hard it hit when I tell you that the lead had in it an impression of the fiber of the cloth. However “alls well that ends well” Our man who was so badly hurt I hear is doing finely + will recover but I must get Some sleep now as I haven’t been in my bed for 2 weeks.

     (Maynard to his wife)

Source Note: ALS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 464. Docketed on the back of the last page: “Copied from/letter of Maynard/to his wife”

Footnote 1: Lt. Cameron McRae Winslow.

Footnote 2: Seaman Robert Volz.

Footnote 3: Asst. Surgeon Frank L. Pleadwell.

Footnote 5: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Squadron.

Footnote 6: Cmdr. Samuel W. Very, Commanding Officer of the Collier Saturn.

Footnote 7: Cmdr. Bowman H. McCalla.

Footnote 8: On 11 May 1898 the torpedo boat Winslow was struck by fire at Cárdenas, broke down and had to be towed and rescued by the revenue cutter Hudson. During the engagement Ens. Worth Bagley and four enlisted sailors were killed. At San Juan, on 12 May 1898, a squadron of American ships under RAdm. Sampson bombarded the harbor to little effect. See, Trask, War with Spain, 110, 118.

Footnote 9: Key West.

Footnote 10: Capt. French E. Chadwick.

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