Lieutenant Aaron Ward to Commodore John C. Watson, Commander, First Blockading Squadron
U. S. S. Wasp,
Blockading between Havana and Bahia Honda, Cuba,
May 13, 1898.
(Latitude 23° 05’ N., longitude 82° 52’ W.)
Sir: Yesterday, 12th instant, at 11 a. m., while coasting eastward from Bahia Honda, this vessel, when about 4 miles east of Mariel, fell in with the steamer Gussie, of New Orleans, having on board two companies of United States infantry, accompanied by the newspaper tugs Triton and Dewey, and escorted by the U. S. revenue-cutter Manning.1 The party was proceeding westward along the beach about three-quarters of a mile from shore. I was informed from the Gussie that the troops intended to land; took station ahead of the Gussie and proceeded westward.
At 2 p. m. the Gussie came to off a point just west of the entrance to Cabanas Harbor. At 2.47 the first troops landed on Cuban soil, and formed skirmish lines to the southward in a dense growth of underbush.
At 3.15 the enemy opened fire from the southwest and west upon this vessel and presumably upon the Manning and the troops.2 Returned the fire with the port 6-pounders, using every precaution to keep clear of the probable position of our own forces.
At 3.30 the U. S. S. Dolphin, bearing the broad pennant of Commodore J. C. Watson, U. S. N., hove in sight, approaching from the northward and eastward. About the same hour a captain of the First United States Infantry came on board, and stated that he had 100 men on shore in the brush; that they were outnumbered and outflanked to the westward, and would withdraw as soon as possible.3 He requested me to resume firing during the embarkation and pointed out a safe limit of fire clear of our own troops; opened fire immediately at distances varying from 1,200 to 2,000 yards, to clear the underbush throughout.
The Manning was also boarded by the army officer and commenced firing in the same direction. The embarkation proceeded without further interference from the enemy.4 Expended 80 rounds of 6-pounder ammunition. About 4.30 passed within hail of the U. S. S. Dolphin in obedience to signal. At 5 returned to the Gussie and remained within covering distance until after her departure with the Manning about 6.15 p. m., both vessels proceeding to the eastward. This vessel then stood westward along the coast for the night.
I was informed by the Manning just before her departure that another attempt to land would be made by the same forces east of Mariel at daybreak this morning. I accordingly timed the movements of this vessel so as to be on hand. The Manning hove in sight NNE. of Mariel at 6, the Gussie arriving about one hour and a half later. Hailed the Gussie and offered services, asking if any landing would be made this day. In reply was informed that the troops might not land, but were expecting to meet the insurgents.5
At 8.15 a. m. all proceeded along the coast to the westward about 1,100 yards offshore, the Wasp leading, followed by the Gussie, with the Manning on her port quarter.
At 9.15 the enemy opened fire with musketry upon this vessel from the adobe watchtower 3 miles east of Mariel. Returned the fire with the port 6-pounders, Chief Gunner’s Mate J. Laven, of gun No. 2, striking the tower fairly at the fourth shot. The Manning also opened on the tower.
The Gussie hauled off to the NNE. at 9.20 a. m., eventually followed by the Manning. Expended 18 rounds 6-pounder ammunition. Resumed patrol to the westward at 9.35.
During these first experiences under fire the conduct of the crew and officers was all that could be desired.
Very respectfully, Aaron Ward,
Lieutenant, U. S. N., Commanding.
Commodore J. C. Watson, U. S. N.,
Senior Officer Present.
Source Note Print: Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, pp. 661-62. In a letter of 17 May to RAdm. William T. Sampson, commander of the North Atlantic Squadron, Watson called Ward’s report “a model of simple directness, clearness and modesty. It is interesting as describing the first landing of United States troops on Cuban soil.” DNA, RG 313, Entry 53.
Footnote 1: Triton, a tug being used as a newspaper dispatch boat, was leased by the New York World; the tug Albert F. Dewey was leased by the New York Herald. The Story of Our Wonderful Victories Told by Dewey, Schley, Wheeler, and Other Heroes (Philadelphia: American Book and Bible House, 1899), 276; Marine Review, vol. 19, no. 13 (March 39, 1899), 21-22. On the Manning’s role in this operation, see: Fred M. Munger to Commodore John C Watson, 13 May 1898. According to a newspaper account written by a correspondent who was aboard Triton, Gussie was a “venerable sidewheeler of Mississippi River glory.” Chicago Tribune, 14 May 1898, 4.
Footnote 2: According to the newspaper account, the American troops were taken “utterly by surprise, but stood their ground like veterans.” Also, according to that account, the expedition’s mission was to “send couriers to the Cuban leaders to convey plans proposed by the American Generals.” The force of infantry was there to protect these couriers “until they were placed in safety on Cuban soil.” Ibid.
Footnote 3: Elsewhere this officer is identified as Capt. Joseph H. Dorst. See: Munger to Watson, 13 May 1898.
Footnote 4: According to the newspaper account, in this skirmish the Spanish had three men killed, including an officer, whose bodies were left behind on the battlefield while the Americans had one man slightly wounded. Chicago Tribune, 14 May 1898, 4, 6.
Footnote 5: No additional landing was made. See: Munger to Watson, 13 May 1898.