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Captain Colby M. Chester to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet


Off Matanzas, Cuba,

April 28, 1898.


  1.  I have the honor to submit the following concerning the reconnaissance of the port of Matanzas,Cuba,on the 27th.inst.

  2.  The signal made by the Flagship1 as she approached the blockade was not clearly understood,and I did not know whether firing was to take place or not. A signal from the PURITANdirected me to wait outside,and watch an approaching vessel,and later that the vessel was a merchantman. I was therefore somewhat at a loss as to what was expected of me,and only followed the motions of the Flagship as a matter of routine.

  3.  As soon as the NEW YORK opened fire however,and permission had been granted the PURITAN and CINCINNATIto do the same,my part became clear,and the CINCINNATI was put where it was believed she would do the most good.2

  4.  I had watched the construction of a Battery on Gorda Point,from time to time,once3 from less than a miles distance,since the blockade had been established,and felt that from there was our only fear of long distance firing. We had witnessed the practice of Morrillo Castle Battery,when they fired at the Torpedo Boat FOOTE, on the 24th.inst.,and it indicated the guns to be of old type,and short range.4 I therefore took station at the right of the Flagship, and fired at the Gorda Point Battery rapidly, and I think effectively, to keep down its fire. This was kept up until the signal “Cease firing” was made.

5.  The position of the ship while thus employed is shown on the accompanying tracing5 from which we took the distance 4,500 yards for our range.

     6.  Two of the enemy’s shot struck the water quite close to us,showing their range to be effective. This is probably a 4” or 5” modern gun,one gun battery,which[h] accords with the information derived from the Captain of the English ship IOLANTHE,boarded on the 26th.inst.6

     7.  There was a moderate North Westerly wind blowing at the time with smooth but slightly choppy sea.

     8.  I can only express my entire satisfaction with all the Officers and crew of this ship,most of whom were for the first time under fire,and their conduct confirms me in my confidence of what may be expected of them during more serious business.

     9.  The report of the Executive Officer,6and also the Ordnance Officer,giving the expenditure of ammunition is enclosed herewith.7

Very respectfully,               

CM Chester                  


Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 313, Entry 48. Addressed below close: “The Commander-in-Chief,/U.S. Naval Force, North Atlantic Station.” Docketed on separate page: a printed stamp “U.S.S. CINCINNATI” followed by: “Off Matanzas/Cuba/April 28 1898/Chester C M Capt. US.N./Comdg./Forwarding reports/& reporting on the/engagement at Ma/tanzas.”

Footnote 1: The armored cruiser New York.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Sampson was informed by Capt. Purnell F. Harrington of the Puritan, that the Spanish were reinforcing the Gorda Point batteries on the morning of 27 April. He ordered the New York to open fire on the battery at 12:50 pm and the Cincinnati and Puritan soon joined. The firing continued until 1:19 p.m. Sampson then informed Harrington that thereafter Puritan was free to shell the fortification at Harrington’s discretion to prevent further construction. See, Chadwick to Sampson, 27 April 1898, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 228; and Sampson to Long, 28 April 1898, Ibid. According to correspondent Sylvester H. Scovel, who watched the bombardment from a press boat accompanying the American flotilla, the Americans fired 224 shots in 23 minutes while the Spanish fired 12 shots. Scovel observed that the Spanish guns were “very slowly served.” New York World, 30 April 1898.

Footnote 3: The word “once” is a handwritten interlineation.

Footnote 4: By “old type” Chester undoubtedly meant smooth-bore cannon.

Footnote 5: The “tracing” has not been found.

Footnote 6: In 1898, W. Chamberlen was master of the British steamer Iolanthe, which was out of Liverpool, England. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, 1898-99.

Footnote 7: Lt. Cmdr. Edward B. Barry.

Footnote 8: For copies see, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 228.

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