Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Willard H. Brownson to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet

U.S.S. “YANKEE”, (50).  

Off Cienfuegos, Cuba.

June 14th, 1898.

S I R:-

1.        I have the honor to report that at 1.15 P.M. yesterday, while lying eight to ten miles south-westward from San Juan Peak, a steamer was seen close in shore to the eastward of the entrance to Cienfuegos, heading to the eastward.

2.        The ship was immediately cleared for action and headed for the entrance, with the crew at quarters, when the steamer turned to the westward, and after lying dead in the water for sometime, near Colorado Point, turned towards us.

3.        We had by this time made her out to be a low steamer, about two hundred feet in length, flying the Spanish colors, one smoke stack, one mast between pilot house and stack, and a bridge over the pilot house. Her awnings were spread over the pilot house and over the gangways abreast of it.1

4.        When the steamer turned towards us we were running directly towards the mouth of the harbor at full speed. When we had approached within two thousand yards, we being at the time within about five thousand yards of the batteries at the entrance and approaching them rapidly, I put the helm aport, hoisted our colors for the first time, and opened fire with the port forecastle V” gun,2 followed at once by all the port battery, whenever they could see the enemy. This fire was immediately and spiritedly returned by the gunboat. The wind was very light at the time, and she was almost constantly shut out, either by the smoke of our guns or of her own. This was notably the case after the first fire from the forecastle gun.

5.        As soon as our helm was put a port the gun boat made the same move, but turned at once towards the harbor, going very fast. We ran to the northward and eastward, with all the port battery bearing on and firing at him, until he was well under the forts to the westward of the entrance.

6.        The battery to the eastward of the entrance of the harbor, near the ruins of the Light House, opened on us as soon as the gun-boat sheered out of range, we being at the time within four thousand yards of it. As the steamer was gradually drawing too far abaft the beam to use our port guns, the helm was put hard a port, and the ship swung around to the northward and westward heading toward the gun-boat again, which was lying close under the land near the entrance, and also towards the battery on the hill back of Sabanilla Point.3

7.        The two batteries and the gun-boat, assisted by another smaller boat,4 which had come out early in the action, kept up an incessant fire on us until we approached within from four to five thousand yards of the Sabanilla batteries, when I swung her again with the starboard helm so as to bring all our starboard guns to bear on the steamers again, and we soon drove both of the enemy’s vessels into the harbor.

8.        I am of the opinion that, had it not been for the serious interference of the smoke with the fire of our guns, we would have destroyed the larger gun-boat, notwithstanding the fire of the batteries. But the wind was light from the southward, and it was impossible to manouevre the ship so that the smoke did not hang close under our lee, not only shutting out the object, but also preventing our gun-pointers from seeing the fall of their shot.5

9.        Notwithstanding the large number of shell which dropped near the ship, both from the batteries and from the gun vessels, I am glad to have to report only one casualty – that of S.P.Kennedy,6 Landsman, who was struck by a piece of a shell which entered the port of No.8 gun, striking him in the shoulder, and inflicting a serious, but not necessarily dangerous, wound.

10.       From the firing of the larger vessel it could be seen that she had at least four guns in broadside, one forward, one aft, and two in waist. From the shell which dropped near us I think two of them were Four inch, or 4.7 guns.7 The battery on Sabanilla Point apparently had five or six guns, calibre unknown.

11.  The last shots we fired, after the steamers had disappeared up the harbor, were directed at Sabanilla battery, and one of them landed directly in it.8 From a large volume of smoke that rose a few minutes later, when there was no evidence of a gun having been fired, it is thought that some explosion had taken place in the battery.

Very respectfully,        

WH Brownson

Commander, Commanding.

Source Note: TLS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 231. Addressed below close: “The Commander in Chief,/U.S.Naval Force, North Atlantic Station.” There is extensive docketing on a separate sheet. That sheet is divided by three folds. In the middle section is:”U.S. FLAGSHIP NEW YORK,/Off Santiago de Cuba/June 16 1898/RESPECTFULLY REFERRED/To BUREAU NAVIGATION/W.T. Sampson/Rear Admiral/COMMANDER IN CHIEF U. S. NAVAL FORCE,/NORTH ATLANTIC STATION./ENDORSEMENT,/Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department,/Respectfully referred,/For the information of/Bureau of/Ordnance-------/------ To be returned./A.S. CROWNINSHIELD,/Chief of Bureau, JCH.” On the right panel is the following: “2d Endorsement/Bureau of Ordn/July [2?]/98/Respectfully re-/turned to Bureau/Navigation/Contents noted/Charles O’Neil/Chief of Bureau/Ordnance.” The first part of this is written over a Bureau of Navigation stamp with indicates that the letter was received “Jul 2 1898.” Finally the left third of the sheet, which is upside down from the other two panels has a bureau of ordnance stamp at the top with an identifying number: “9253” and then “Received JUL 2 1898.” Immediately below that is: “U.S.S. “YANKEE”, (50)./Off Cienfuegos,Cuba./June 14th 1898./Brownson, W.H./Commander, Commanding./Report of an engagement with/the enemy off Cienfuegos on/June 13th 1898.” That is followed by a Bureau of Navigation stamp with “ENCLOSURE”; followed by a second Bureau of Navigation stamp containing the date “JUN 29” and the identifying number “122829.” On the back of the last page is a small diagram of the battle. See: Diagram in illustration section. In this diagram, YANKEE approaches from the bottom (YANKEE #1), moves toward the Spanish vessel (#2), turns to starboard with the port side of the vessel facing the enemy(#3), then continues in a loop and ends up with starboard side facing the enemy (#4). Meanwhile the Spanish vessel moves from the harbor entrance (#1) toward YANKEE (#2), then retires toward the harbor entrance (#3) and finally moves into the harbor (#4). The batteries are represented by the two sets of small lines on the land. At the bottom of the sheet is a legend giving distance in yards.

Footnote 1: The Spanish vessel was the 200 ton gunboat Diego Velázquez, commanded by Lt. Juan de Carranza. It was sent to ascertain the identity of a vessel lying off the port, which Spanish authorities believed might be the blockade runner Purísima Concepción, which was expected at the time. The unknown vessel proved to be Yankee. However, a cautious Carranza made preparations in case the unknown vessel proved to be an American warship. He left flammable wooden objects ashore and placed bags of coal around the guns to protect the gun crews. Agustín Ramón Rodríguez Gonzalez, “Bloqueo y Combates en La Habana y Cienfuegos, 1898 Revista General de Marina, vol. 255 (December, 2008), 822.

Footnote 2: A five-inch gun.

Footnote 3: According to the Spanish version of this engagement, Carranze cleverly maneuvered his ship to present the smallest possible target and to allow Yankee to only bring a limited number of guns to bear on it. As a result, it was only hit twice with minor damage. Ibid., 823.

Footnote 4: Diego Velázquez had four guns: two 57 mm (six-pounders) and two 37 mm (three-pounders).

Footnote 5: Presumably, because of this comment, the letter was forwarded to the Bureau of Ordnance.

Footnote 6: Landsmen Solon P. Kennedy.

Footnote 7: The small (43 tons) gunboat Lince, Lt. Gómez Aguado, commanding.

Footnote 8: According to Spanish accounts, After 69 minutes of combat, Diego Velázquez reached Cienfuegos, disembarked some wounded, who were replaced by volunteers, then steamed out to re-engage Yankee, which at this point decided to withdraw from the battle at this point, whereupon the Spanish vessels returned to Cienfuegos. Ibid., 823. The Spanish also maintain that Yankee left its blockade station and steamed toward eastern Cuban and, as a result, Purísima Concepción arrived without challenge.

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