Commander Benjamin F. Tilley to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet
U. S. S. N E W P O R T ,
Key West, Florida,
June 6th, 1898.
There are some facts connected with the capture of the Spanish steamer “CATALINA” of which you have not been informed. I therefore make the following statement of facts in the case as observed from this vessel:
On the morning of April 24th, 1898, Lieut. Bull,1 the Executive Officer of the “NEWPORT” was on deck keeping the mid watch at his station for battle. The regular Officer-of-the-Deck was Ensign L.B.Jones,2 who was also on deck. At about 3 a.M.a steamers lights were sighted off shore. The steamer standing towards Havana, and, the fact being reported to me, I immediately gave chase at full speed. The steamer was some distance off, and, being aware that the “NEWPORT” was slow, I stood after her without making any signals, or giving any alarm, as I feared she would escape. More than this I had no search light. I knew that if the vessel stood toward Havana she would be in the midst of a fleet of fast vessels, and that if I then gave the alarm she could certainly be captured.
I chased the steamer towards Havana for nearly an hour, when one of our cruisers appeared and showed a search light. The cruiser afterwards brought the vessel “to”. Seeing this, I stopped the “NEWPORT” and hoisted the private signal for the night in doing which I was obliged to use oil lanterns. Although, even in the darkness, I could clearly distinguish that the cruiser which had brought the steamer “to” was either the “MARBLEHEAD” or the “DETROIT”, she would not answer my signal, being I believe, so preoccupied with the prize, She flashed her search light in all directions and especially upon the “NEWPORT”. I remained in a position where I saw the first boat lowered from the cruiser, having the steamer, which was in plain sight, within range of my guns and being in a position to cut her off in case she had attempted to run. A little later I steamed up to the cruiser with my signal lights still hoisted. The cruiser then acknowledged the signal and made the DETROIT number.
After this, being close to the “DETROIT” which had only sent a boarding officer, I inquired by signal with torch as to the character of the steamer and was informed that she was Spanish. I then steamed across the stern so closely that, even in the darkness, I read the name “CATALINA” “CADIZ”, and posted my ship on the opposite side of her. I remained close by the vessel until a prize crew had been put on board of her by the “DETROIT”.
After this the Commanding officer of the “DETROIT”3 signaled to me by wig-wag “I will take the prize to the Admiral”.4 Seeing that the vessel was secure, and being thus relieved from further responsibility, I turned to the westward and steamed slowly back to my station off Cabanas.
The “CATALINA” was captured about six miles to the eastward of Mariel, which will prove to you that I chased her some distance from my station.
I am extremely anxious that you should know that the officers and men of my command are vigilant in performing the duty assigned them. To the end that the duty may be most thoroughly performed I have taken extraordinary precautions and either the Captain, Executive Officer or Navigator are on deck at all times at night.
I shall submit the claim of this ships company for prize money for the capture of the “CATALINA”, resting the claim upon this statement which can be proved by the testimony of nearly every person on board.
I am confident that when the Commanding Officer of the “DETROIT” is aware of the real fact in the case he will make a report giving credit to this vessel for her participation in the capture.5
B. F. Tilley.
Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 228. Addressed below close: “The Commander-in-Chief/U.S.Naval Force on/North Atlantic Station.” Document reference in the upper right corner of the first page: “No. 13.”
Footnote 1: Lt. James H. Bull.
Footnote 2: En. Lewis B. Jones.
Footnote 3: Cmdr. James H. Dayton.
Footnote 4: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 5: Under United States Navy regulations concerning the capture of prize vessels, the Newport’s crew would have been entitled to a share in the value of Catalina when it was condemned and sold at auction. As Tilley feared, Dayton’s report of the capture of Catalina makes minimal mention of Newport’s role, stating only that:
While the Captain of the Catalina was in my cabin, it was reported to me the private signal lights were in sight from one vessel. and before he left, the Newport came up on our starboard beam.
Tilley’s letter did little to advance the cause of his crew. Catalina was cleared to steam for Havana from New Orleans and was subsequently released with no prize money issued. See, Dayton to Sampson, 24 April 1898, DNA, RG 313, Entry 48, Box 1; and Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 318-19.