Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commander Bowman H. McCalla to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet

U.S.S. MARBLEHEAD, 3rd. Rate,    

At sea, Lat. 21° 42’ N.,         

Long. 85° 08’ W.,1

May 1st, 1898.         

S i r:

     I.   I have the honor to report that, in obedience to your orders, the MARBLEHEAD in company with the Eagle sailed from the vicinity of Habana about ten A. M. of the 25th. ultimo, delivering the mail to the different vessels to the Westward of that city. I instructed Commander Maynard2 of the Nashville that you had directed him to accompany the MARBLEHEAD and Eagle on the special duty of intercepting the Spanish transports Montserrat and Alicante which had left St. Pierre, Martinique, on the 23rd. ultimo for Cuba.

     2.   In consequence of an undiscovered deflection of the standard compass of about half a point,3 I had the misfortune to strand both the MARBLEHEAD and Eagle at 3:46 on the morning of the 26th., a special report of which I have submitted.4

    

The Division was delayed twelve hours in consequence of the grounding above mentioned.

3.   On the morning of the 27th. the Russian Barque Verandi of Wasa5 was boarded and given a copy of the President’s Proclamation6 concerning the blockade of Cuban ports, and the necessary entries were made on the Ships Register and Log Book.7

     On the afternoon of the same day the Norwegian Steamer Condor, of Bergen, from Cienfuegos to New York, laden with molasses and carrying Cuban refugees, was boarded and the necessary entries were also made on her Register and Log Book.

4.   About 11 A. M. of the 28th. ultimo, arriving in the vicinity of the bank discovered by the Cable Steamer Silvertown, it occurred to me that the cable might possible have been laid on that bank, although it is usual to avoid shoal water for ocean lines.

I accordingly slowed down until the noon observations were in and the steamed slowly about the locality for an hour, expecting to find the shoal; but either the position of this shoal is not correctly laid down on the chart or else the strong currents in the vicinity effected our position, for it could not be located.

5.   Not wishing to appear off Cienfuegos until the following morning, the Division steamed to the North East near to Munos Point, with the town of Trinidad in sight, perhaps fifteen miles away; and during the night of the 28th. to the Southward and Westward to clear Xagua Bank, standing in toward Trinidad at 2 A. M. of the 29th., thence steaming along the coast to the entrance to Cienfuegos.

6.   Shortly after the arrival of the ships off the entrance, beyond the range of the shore batteries, a torpedo gunboat believed to be the Gallicia, came out from the inner harbor to a point abreast Punta de la Cocos.

Believing the movement of the torpedo gunboat might be an attempt to escape to the Eastward, the ships were placed so as to cover the entrance to the harbor, after which she steamed back into the harbor and disappeared behind Punta de Pasacaballos.

7.   At 10:55, the Nashville having signalled that a steamer was in sight to the Westward, Commander Maynard was signalled to stop or chase the steamer.

This steamer proved to be the Spanish Steamer Argonauta of Cienfuegos, running along the coast between Batabano and Santiago de Cuba. On board were eight Spanish Officers and eight Spanish soldiers of the Army, and several men, four women and three children as passengers.

She was laden with provisions, Mouser rifles and ammunition and a general cargo, but a portion of which was entered in the Manifest of the steamer; Government Officials having at the last moment taken space for cargo which was not entered on the Manifest.

There were also twelve bags of mail which were transferred to the Nashville.

Ensign Kuensli8 and a prize crew from the Nashville were sent on board and the civilian passengers, including the stewardess, with their baggage were sent into the harbor in two of the Argonauta’s boats. The Officers and men of the Spanish Army were sent on board the Nashville; the Officers and men of the steamer being retained on board to work her into port.

All those on the Argonauta were treated with the greatest courtesy, and nothing unusual occurred.

8.   At about 12:10 P.M., wishing to obtain information with regard to the prize, the Commanding Officer of the Eagle9 was directed to take his position off the mouth of the river while the MARBLEHEAD steamed towards the Argonauta about two miles away. The MARBLEHEAD had hardly reached the Nashville and prize before the Eagle signalled that the enemy’s torpedo boat was coming out of the harbor.

The MARBLEHEAD at once steamed towards the Eagle which shortly began to fire into the entrance, the Commanding Officer of the torpedo boat having placed himself close in to the Punta de la Cocos directly in front of a suburb, apparently, of Cienfuegos, which has been built about the castle shown above Placido Cove and on the heights to the Northward and Eastward of the old fort, first fired on the Eagle. When the MARBLEHEAD arrived in the vicinity of the Eagle, fire was opened on the Torpedo Gunboat which shortly afterward steamed in behind Punta de Pasacaballos. In finding the range of the Torpedo Gunboat some of the shell from this ship passed over her, two being seen to fall in the suburban town which I have mentioned. A short time after, the torpedo boat again came out from the inner harbor and lay close to the land, behind the point, next inside Punta de la Cocos. Two five inch shell were then fired in the direction from which the smoke from his funnel could be seen above the low land.

9.   A battery on shore, supposed to be field guns, near Punta de la Cocos also opened fire on the ships, together with a guard of infantry at the light-house who fired their rifles at the Eagle.

10. I am pleased to report that there were no casualties, all of the shots from the enemy’s guns with the exception of two falling short, the two referred to passing over the MARBLEHEAD.

The Spaniards did good line shooting.

11. At 5 P. M. of the 29th. the Division left the vicinity of Cienfuegos for the fleet off Habana, the MARBLEHEAD having but sufficient coal to reach Tortugas or Key West without taking unnecessary risk under the circumstances, and the prize having only two days coal supply.

12. On the 30th. ultimo, believing that valuable information might be found in the official mail captured in the Argonauta, I directed Commander Maynard to steam at full speed to the flagship, in order that you might be in possession of this mail as soon as possible.

13. I need scarcely point out that Tortugas and Key West are far from Cienfuegos and that a blockading force will require coal nearer at hand, unless that force be sufficiently large to enable the ships to steam in succession to the distant base to refill their bunkers.

14. I have been informed that but one line of mines has been laid across the river between the extremities of the broken line on the Harbor chart showing the road from Habana to Trinidad; and that there are some six and eight inch modern guns at hand, but not yet mounted. It is also said that it was not the intention to put anther line of mines further out, but I give this information for what it is worth.

[A] new battery could be seen on the high land North-North West of the castle previously mentioned, and with glasses two large guns seemed to have been mounted in embrasures.

15. In addition to the Gallicia it is reported that there are two old gunboats and elevan armed steam launches in the harbor of Cienfuegoes.

16. I regret to add that the Montserrat is reported to have arrived, and I believe with truth, in Cienfuegos Wednesday morning, the 27th. ultimo. If so, she must have steamed the distance from St. Pierre at fourteen knots, the speed assigned to her; and it would have thus been impossible for the MARBLEHEAD, Nashville and Eagle to have arrived in time to intercept that transport even had two ships not been stranded on the Colorado Reef causing a delay of twelve hours.

Very respectfully,               

BH McCalla                  

Commander, U. S. Navy,      

Commanding.            

Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 229. Addressed below close: ”The Commander-in-Chief./North Atlantic Station.” On the reverse side of the last page the document features a stamp with “BUREAU OF NAVIGATION” along the top, “MAY 7” along the left side, “1898” along the left side, “NAVY DEPARTMENT” on the bottom and the number “109141.” Document Reference at the top-left corner of the first page: “No. 77.” Docketed: “U.S.S. MARBLEHEAD, 3rd. Rate,/At sea, Lat. 21 42’ N.,/Long. 85 08’ W.,/May 1st., 1898./McCalla, B.H.,/Commander, U.S. Navy,/Commanding./Report of employment of Division/Consisting of MARBLEHEAD, Nash-/ville and Eagle.”

Footnote 1: With the exception of “At sea,” these two lines are handwritten.

Footnote 2: Cmdr. Washburn Maynard.

Footnote 3: An “undiscovered deflection” refers to the influence of local magnetic interferences that alter the compass from magnetic north.

Footnote 4: This report has not been found.

Footnote 5: The Swedish royal House of Vasa ruled Poland-Lithuania from 1587 to 1668. The name “Verandi” could not be located, however, in 1898 Poland and Lithuania were parts of the Russian Empire, hence the ship’s registry.

Footnote 7: During the proclaimed Cuban blockade vessels registered with in neutral countries were subject to search and entries by U.S. naval officers were written in the Ship’s Register and Log Books regarding the disposition of the ship and its cargo. For more information see, Benton, International Law, 194-200.

Footnote 8: En. Henry C. Kuenzli.

Footnote 9: Lt. William H.H. Southerland.

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