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Cruising Orders for the North Atlantic Squadron


Off Key West, Florida,               

April 18, 1898.             


     1.   The confidential “Memorandum for Commanding Officer”,1 containing instructions for blockade, is revoked and replaced by the following, and will be destroyed.

     2.   Until colliers are provided for the Squadron, only ports on the North coast of Cuba will be blockaded.  The following distribution of the vessels of the Squadron is made for that purpose:

     Off Havana. The New York, Iowa, Wilmington, Helena, Dolphin, Mayflower, Vesuvius, Ericsson, Porter, and such auxiliaries as may be designated.

     Off Mariel. The Nashville, Castine, and auxiliaries to be designated.

     Off Matanzas. The Amphitrite, Cincinnati, Dupont, Winslow, and auxiliaries to be designated.

     Off Cardenas. The Newport, Machias, Foote, Cushing, and auxiliaries.

     The Indiana, Marblehead, Detroit, and auxiliaries to be designated will form a division for special service.

     The Terror, Mangrove, and Fern will remain at Key West.

     Auxiliaries will be used as dispatch boats. A telegraph operator, with instruments, will accompany the fleet.

     The ships detailed for Havana and Mariel will comprise the 1st Division.

     The ships detailed for Matanzas and Cardenas will comprise the 2nd Division.

     The ships intended for special service will form the 3d Division.

     3.   It will depend upon circumstances whether the torpedo boats, any or all of them, will accompany the Fleet upon its departure from Key West. They will, when attached to the Fleet, be attached to vessels for supplies, towing, etc., as follows:

     Ericsson to the New York,         Dupont to the Cincinnati,

     Porter to the Iowa,             Winslow to the Amphitrite,

     Cushing to the Newport,         Foote to the Machias.

     During the day, and in rough weather at night, torpedo boats and other small vessels will seek shelter where available, under the approval of the Senior Officer Present, guarding with care against surprise or attack.

     4.   It is my intention to approach within sight of Havana with the entire force, and at that time or later to detach by signal the vessels designated to blockade Mariel, Matanzas, Cardenas, and for special service. The cruising order, upon leaving Key West, is appended.

     5.   When signal is made to get underway, the vessels inside of the reef will weigh and come out at [mob?], without regard [i.e., regard] to order, and as rapidly as the crowded state of the harbor and the safety of the navigation will permit. Upon getting clear of the reef they will steam to their approximate positions in the cruising formation while awaiting signal. The column of cruisers will form one mile to the Westward of the New York’s present berth, the Cincinnati leading, and heading S.S.E. S.S.W.2 The Cincinnati will not go further to the Southward than necessary to allow room for the formation.

     6.  All the cruisers, forming the starboard column, will reach their places by using starboard helm; i.e., after clearing the entrance buoy they will turn sharply to the Westward, will pass between the battleships and the reef, and will turn into column with starboard helm.

     7.  The scouts and torpedo boats will take convenient positions for following falling3 into the stations assigned them when the formation is completed.

     8.  When the vessels are outside, the Flagship will make Signal 233, “Form in proscribed cruising order”, upon which the double column will be formed, and the scouts and torpedo boats will take their positions. The guide, distance, and interval of the ships in double column, and the speed and course of the fleet, will be signaled.

     9.  Upon arrival off Havana, or at a later time, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions will be detached by signal.  The divisional distinguishing pennants, Plato VII,4 Tactical Signal Book, will be employed in making signals. When the 2nd Division is so signaled, the monitors will at once sheer out of column to the Eastward. The Cincinnati, followed by the Machias and Newport, will countermarch to the right, pass around the rear of the column of cruisers, and, increasing their speed, join the monitors. When the 3rd Division is detached, the Indiana will turn to the Eastward, and will be followed by the Detroit and Marblehead. When a division is detached it will be taken in charge of by its senior officers, to whom the vessels comprising it will look for signals.  The senior officer will at once form his division in column, and will proceed to his station without further orders.

     10.  The Cincinnati and Nashville will repeat all signals, and will if not supplied with all distinguishing pennants, at once remedy that deficiency. The scouts will repeat signal which affect the torpedo boats.

     11.  On the blockade, during the day, the vessels assigned to each port will form a single line of patrol, and will patrol in front of, and on either side of the mouth of the port, for a distance sufficient to ensure the detection of any vessel attempting to run the blockade. The distances between the ships will be equalized, and the line of patrol will be established just beyond the range of the batteries.

     At night, the vessels will close in around the mouth of the harbors. The torpedo boats will patrol as near the mouth as is safe; the cruisers will form a second line of patrol to seaward of the torpedo boats; and the armored ships will form a third line still farther to seaward, and will keep a bright lookout to avoid the attack of small vessels armed with torpedoes. When the weather and sea will permit, they will send out one or more picket boats on patrol duty.

     When the port is not defended by heavy guns, the blockading ships will remain close inshore, observing the same general plan day and night.

     During the night all lights will be screened. Every ship or boat will display the private signal when approaching another vessel.

     12.  Blockading stations off any port as indicated above, will be numbered consecutively from East to West, and will in number equal the number of vessels assigned to the blockade of that post, torpedo boats excepted, and will thereby vary from time to time, the entire line of blockade always being covered.

Vessels will be assigned to their stations by signal from the Senior Officer Present. Cruisers, which move in closer at night, will be considered as holding their stations on the same bearing from the blockaded port, but will somewhat extend their patrol for the purpose of better covering the heavy ships in the outside line.

     13.  The following new signals will be entered in the Tactical Signal Book:

     253.  Form in proscribed cruising order.

     234. Take blockading stations as indicated by numeral signal.

     14.  Two Verys red stars5 fired in rapid succession will indicate the discovery of an enemy’s or suspicious vessel.  If the two red lights be immediately followed by a green one, it will indicate the discovery of torpedo boats. The same signal will be employed by all patrolling ships and boats. Paragraph 4, Circular Letter No. 5, of April 1st, 1898, is modified accordingly.

Very respectfully,                        

W.T. Sampson                     


U.S.Naval Force on the North Atlantic Station. 

Source Note: Cy, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 228. Attached to these orders is a hand drawn diagram of a cruising formation for the fleet. See: Sampson's Diagram of Cruising orders for the North Atlantic Squadron, 18 April 1898.

Footnote 2: “S.S.E.” is crossed through and “S.S.W.,” meaning south southwest, is hand written in the margin.

Footnote 3: The word “following” is crossed through and “falling” is hand written as an interlineation.

Footnote 4: That is, Plate VII.

Footnote 5: A common type of flare gun. It was named for Edward Wilson Very, an American naval officer who developed and popularized this single-shot breech-loading snub-nosed pistol that fired flares.

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