Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commodore John C. Watson, Commander, Northern Blockading Squadron, to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet

U.S.S.Nashville,3rd rate  

Blockade off Havana,

June II,1898.

Dear Admiral:-

     I write to congratulate you on having,so successfully, carried out your intention of corking up the port of Santiago with all of Cervera’s1 fleet inside, and on the ad mirable and <very> gallant manner in which Hobson and his crew of heroes performed the duty.2

     I wanted to wire and congratulate you as soon I received your message, and give you news of the probable date of the army’s departure from Tampa, also the general news of the squadron; but found myself much embarrassed by the presence of a senior officer who wished to wait until he could give you precise information as to the actual departure of the transports.3 It so happened that, I did not know at the time of the sailing of the Scorpion,until I saw her underway; nor of the Panther’s going to join you until she was leaving Key West for the blockade, and was unwilling to delay the Yosemite. It will interest you to know that yesterday four Spanish vessels steamed,slowly,out of Havana harbor,close along shore to the Eastward,proceeding about three miles when, after signals from the leading vessel,a large three masted barked rigged steamer with one funnel,4 they turned with the starboard helm ,and proceeded to the westward, going about as far in that direction as they had to the eastward, and close in shore. The first notice of the movement came from the Hawk, the inshore vessel on the east side of the Port: She fired a signal gun, which was repeated by other vessels on the same side. The weather was squally, with thick rain squalls. I found it necessary to send the Machias to stop the fire of the Maple,also ofthe Windom, as none of us were within range, and there had been no signal to open fire, and I had a signal flying,to form column; but found signals ineffectual with these vessels, However with the Machias, they were rounded up, and we formed column outside of and converging towards the enemy as they moved to the Westward; but refused to be drawn in under the fire of the heave [i.e., heavy] guns of the shore batteries, or to uncover the blockade of the opposite side. It is probable that the main object was to draw us under the guns of the forts, also,perhaps,to get a chance at the Hawk and Tecumseh and to get back under the batteries before they could be intercepted; or maybe to uncover the blockade so as to enable some vessel to run out or in , during the squalls. The largest of the four spanish vessels appeared to be a converted merchantman, though possibly she is one of the “Condede Venadito” class;5

Two of the others were probably the Marquis de <la> Ensenada,or one of the Pizzaro class,6 and the Vincente Yanez Pinzon class,7 the fourth one was a smallgun boat. They finally returned into the harbor.

There seems to be more signalling than usual at night along the shore and there may be some foundation for believing they are trying to brace up for a hostil demonstration. From my experience, thus far on the blockade, I think that ,the officer,charged with its conduct, should, in order to maintain it effectively, have control of a speciali<fied> number of vessels of a certain class, say twelve off Havana, including the Senior officer’s vessel, two vessels of another class, to the west and four to the East of Havana, with at least two small fast vessels for scouts ; also a sufficiency of relief, at least six, to be sure of always having this number on the blockade, Please consider this as soon as you have time. I am prepared to take all <every> responsibility connected with the blockade,if I can have <real> control <of this number of vessels.> Your cable message ,saying you were sending the Dolphin back to the blockade,8 raise hopes which have not been realized,especially regarding our accounts and other things which we hope are on board that vessel. Regarding the vessels ,at present on the blockade, after dark to night , there will be no vessels to blockade the coast west of Havana, only one to the Eastward ,the Leyden, and the following off Havana,- Wilmington, Woodbury ,Maple, Nashville, Windom,Tecumseh, Machias and Hawk,mentioned in order of their stations from West to East, of which number there are only three vessels of war, and these are all gunboats, one of which is in a crippled condition ,the Machias, as to her engines,as is also the Windom, I am hoping for the Montgomery and Puritan, tomorrow. On the arrival of the Montgomery,I will transfer my broad pennant back to her.9

Very sincerely yours        

J.C. Watson       

Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 313, Entry 53. Addressed below close: “RearAdmiral Sampson.” Stamp in upper right corner: “RECEIVED/FLAG-SHIP N.A. STATION/JUN 20 1898.” Angle brackets indicate handwritten interlineations.

Footnote 1: Adm. Pascual Cervera y Topete.

Footnote 2: The Merrimac was actually unsuccessful in its mission, see: Sinking the Merrimac.

Footnote 3: Watson is probably referring to Commo. George C. Remey.

Footnote 4: In the 1890’s many vessels used both steam and sails. Watson is presumably saying that this vessel was a steam ship with three masts that were rigged like a barquentine.

Footnote 5: The Condedel Venadito, is listed as an unprotected cruiser, third class.

Footnote 6: That is, a first class Spanish gunboat. However, the Marquésde la Ensenada is listed as a protected cruiser, second class.

Footnote 7: The Vincente Yáñez Pinzón was a Spanish torpedo cruiser based in Cuba.

Footnote 8: Cable has not been found.

Footnote 9: Watson transferred his command on June 7 to the Nashville because Montgomery had to undergo boiler maintenance at Key West. See, Watson to Sampson, 11 June 1898, DNA, RG 313, Entry 53. 

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