Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to Commodore John A Howell, Commander, First Blockading Squadron

NAVAL DEPARTMENT,

Washington,        Aug. 4,1898.

Sir:

     1. Your two letters of July 27th to the Commander-in-Chief of the North Atlantic Station,1 and to the Navy Department, representing the conditions of blockade of north coast of Cuba, the considerable traffic going on through Saguala Grande, and the need of more vessels for the due maintenance of the blockade, have been received and considered by the Department.2

     2. Vessels will be sent to you when, and as rapidly as, the number at the Department’s disposal consistently with the demands of other necessary services will permit.

     3. When Acting Rear Admiral Sampson sails with the fleet that is to cross the Atlantic, you will receive an order constituting you Commander-in-Chief of the North Atlantic Squadron, during his absence. This places under your general supervision and direction all operations in Cuba, including the blockade of both the north and south coasts, and also the operations in Porto Rico; with authority, of course, to commit such special portions thereof as you may think best to the immediate control of other officers under your command, and in view of this probable temporary change of Commander-in-Chief, the following observations are made:

     4. As the hurricane season is approaching the Department does not think it expedient to extend the blockade of the north coast of Cuba to the eastward of Cardenas, there being no near harbor of refuge for vessels employed off Sagua [la Grande]. Blockades to the eastward of Cardenas, when established, have been so done only by temporary act of the Commander-in-Chief, and not by the proclamation of the President,3 and they should be discontinued for the present, unless you are prepared to recommend some particular stretch of coast where a near port of refuge, like Gibara or Nipe, may be found.

     5. With reference to the south coast blockade, which by existing proclamation of the President extends from Cape Cruz to Cape Frances,4 the Department desires extremely to see the waters between the Isle of Pines and Batabano occupied by three or four light draft vessels, with local pilots, if procurable.5 The concentration of effort at this point and Cienfuegos cannot but have the most serious effect upon Havana, The vessels off Cienfuegos should be as powerful as can be properly assigned to that duty and should be instructed to acquaint themselves with the anchorages within fifty miles - especially to the eastward - where it seems that fair shelter from the sea in heavy weather may be obtained.

     6. It is believed that one of the colliers at your disposition - the “Pompey,” for example - could be taken behind the Isle of Pines, when only partly loaded. The determination of the exact draft to be taken in should be referred by you to some competent officer on the spot, and this vessel anchored there for the use of the blockaders.

     7. Since the fall of Santiago, the blockade of the south coast from Trinidad to the eastward evidently becomes relatively and progressively unimportant, the great center of interest being unquestionably Havana. With this remark the distribution of the force will be left to your discretion.

     8. The operations in Porto Rico are purely for the support of the movements of the Army, except the blockade of San Juan, which has been proclaimed,6 and which you will therefore maintain. The monitors - “Puritan,” “Terror” and “Amphitrite”-the Department desires kept in Porto Rican waters, in as safe an anchorage from hurricanes as can be had, in case the support of their heavy guns be required during the absence of Rear Admiral Sampson with the fleet of armored ships.

     9. With reference to very light draft vessels as suggested by you, to operate on the north coast between the cays and the mainland, the attention of the Department has already been earnestly directed to this point; but of the only kind of vessels at all fitted for such service, such unfavorable accounts have been received as to their structural strength, and ability to make even a fair weather passage, that it has been thought advisable to enter upon the changes necessary to prepare them for service there.

     10.It is considered by the Department expedient that the operations in the waters of Porto Rico should be personally directed either by yourself or by Commodore Schley,7 who has lately had the “Newark” designated as his flagship. Therefore you will please make the necessary orders in the premises when you assume command.

     11.This arrangement is not intended to restrict your command of the station but simply to have an officer in special charge of the operations about Porto Rico, that island being separated by a considerable distance from the Cuban blockade, which latter also requires close supervision.

Very respectfully,          

Secretary.

Source Note: TD, DNA, RG 45, Entry 464. Addressed below close: “Commodore/John A. Howell, U.S.N.,/U.S.Naval Base,/Key West, Fla.” The document is on “NAVY DEPARTMENT,” stationery. Note: The document was attached to an “Office of Naval War Board,” message dated 4 August from President of the Naval War Board, RAdm. Montgomery Sicard, to Long. The note recommends that the letter be sent to Commo. Howell.

Footnote 1: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 2: Howell wrote two letters on 27 July, stating that his blockade of northern Cuba required more ships if it was to intercept blockade runners and expressed dissatisfaction at the Department’s failure to clearly designate the parameters of his blockade. In the second letter to Long, Howell wrote:

The July Naval Register states I am “commanding First Squadron, North Atlantic Fleet,” but I have never received any orders in regard to the matter.

In order that I may fully understand what my duties are, I respectfully request information on the following points:

a. What are the limits of my command?

b. What portion of the Cuban coast is supposed to be blockaded?

The response above answered both of Howell’s questions. For the full text of both letters, see, Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 258-60.

Footnote 3: See: President William McKinley’s Proclamation of 22 April 1898. The blockades on the northern Cuban coast and the port of Cienfuegos on the south coast are declared and other ports were additionally blockaded by the presence of vessels.

Footnote 4: Present day, Isle of Juventad. Fishermen and blockade runners tried to supply Havana with their provisions shipped from Batabaño. Núñez, The Spanish American War, Blockades and Coastal Defense, 80.

Footnote 5: The blockade of the southern Cuban coast was proclaimed by McKinley on 27 June 1898. See: Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to Sampson, 28 June 1898.

Footnote 6: The blockade of San Juan de Puerto Rico was declared in McKinley’s first proclamation of 22 April.

Footnote 7: Commo. Winfield S. Schley, Commander, Second Blockading Squadron.

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