Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commander Richardson Clover to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet

UNITED STATES STEAMER BANCROFT,            

Blockade Duty Off Isle of Pines,      

August 9th, 1898.      

Sir:--

          Since my last report dated August 2nd, the operations of the blockading West of the Isle of Pines has been as follows:- On the forenoon of August 2nd, when in the vicinity of the wreck of the steamer Santo Domingo, in Cortes Bay,1 a sail was seen close to land about ten miles to the Northward.

          The BANCROFT’s steam-launch was lowered, with 1 Pdr. gun mounted in the bows and a crew of fourteen men under charge of Lieutenant Henry B. Wilson, was sent to intercept her. By the time the launch reached the vicinity the schooner had worked into a port, and was being hauled aground by some men and soldiers. The launch stood right in, opening fire and dispersing the crowd. James Munro, Apprentice 1st. Class, swam to the schooner and made fast a line; Valdemar Holmgren, Ordinary Seaman, swam to the pier where a small sloop rigged boat was made fast. As the launch was trying to haul off the schooner the line parted, and while another was being run, three volleys were fired from the high grass on the left bank. Emmanouil Koulouris, C.P.,2 was instantly killed being shot through the arm and breast. A rapid fire was started with rifles, while Lieutenant Wilson maneuvered the launch so as to take a line thrown by Holmgren from the small boat, which he had shoved off from the wharf; the boat was pulled out and a fire opened on the ambuscade with the 1 Pdr. which routed the party, when the fire of the 1 Pdr. was then turned on the schooner, as it was too hard aground to pull off under the circumstances and it was damaged beyond present use. The party then returned to the BANCROFT bringing the smaller boat with them. It is quite remarkable that the enemy got in only one effective shot. We had no means of knowing their loss, but it was no doubt severe. I cannot say too much in praise of Lieutenant Wilson and all the men in the party for their coolness. When fired upon, their first thought was to rescue their companion, who was on the wharf; it was admirably done and the small prize carried off. I send copy of Lieut. Wilson’s report.3 The prisoners I had on board spoke of the place as if it were pronounced Belin. They knew nothing about it except that it was a military post with forty men ; a shipping point and that the wharf had been built since the war. They said the schooner had come out of the Guama river near by, up there is a very fertile country. This place which has been before unknown to me and is not on the chart consists of several small warehouses and a pier, on which is a railroad track, whether this track is merely a local one for running goods into the warehouses, or is the terminus of a railroad to Pinar del Rio I am unable at present to determine ; no cars were seen. None of the prisoners I had on board had been there for six months; one said positively there was no railroad except from Batabano, while another thought they had built one to some point, probably Coloma, since the beginning of the war. On the afternoon of the death, the BANCROFT steamed outside and the remains of Emmanouil Koulouris were committed to the deep with full ceremonies. A letter has been written to his Father, who lives on the island of Siphno, in care of the United States Minister Resident and Consul General at Athens, Greece.4

     The following morning I started for Siguanea Bay, where the Maple had gone two days previous, to maintain blockade and sound out a passage. Having gotten all the information I could out of the prisoners mentioned in the last report I let them go.5 Arrived off Siguanea Bay about noon where Maple signalled passage with Mt. Canada N. 80° E., 3 1/4 fathoms least water. Started in following Maple and for some time got 3 fathoms, and twice got 16 feet, which shows how uncertain it is. When well inside found a well protected anchorage in 7 fathoms, good holding ground. Maple reported boarding several steamers and speaking the Wilmington bound to Key West. Work being necessary on the BANCROFT’s boiler tubes, in the early morning of the next day, Thursday the 4th. instant, I went on board the Maple,6 taking the BANCROFT’s steam launch with a 1 Pdr. gun and armed crew, in charge of Ensign Vogelgesang,7 and started for Nueva Gerona, thirty-five miles distant on the North side of the island, the principal port and reported place of a large blockade trade with Batabano. It would be very convenient to have a local pilot in these waters, but between the launch and the light draft of the Maple, we were able to feel our way about with a fair sense of security ; three fathoms was the last water we got going in but returning got 15 feet. At about 10 A.M. sighted two sloops, well inshore, sent steam launch which brought off crews and reported both as sponge fishers; being satisfied that they were engaged in nothing but sponge fishing and not wanting to delay further I let them go. As we turned to the Eastward at North West end of the Isle of Pines, saw the usual warning fires burning ahead of us. When in front of Nueva Gerona steamed close up to entrance of river and sent launch ahead to examine bar and she found six feet on it, though there is probably deeper water. Seeing three schooners on the Batabano side of reef about ten miles distant, being lifted in mirage, recalled launch and steaming over till three fathoms were reached, sent her for what looked to be an opening in the reef, through which she passed, to within a mile of the vessels, when they struck two feet with trees growing up out of the water. To have gone around the reef would have been fifteen miles, so launch returned to the Maple and we steamed to the Eastward. Sighted a sloop which stood inshore to where a large schooner was anchored. Sent steam launch in to inspect the boat, and on approach of which, the crews of the Spanish vessels took to their boats; the sloop having been run aground. As the launch was about to board the sloop a fire was opened from shore which was replied to from the launch; the Maple also opening fire and the beach was swept; the dense foliage giving the enemy an advantage, which if taken, would have been hard to deal with. No one was injured in our party. The sloop was a trading vessel, with no cargo and was destroyed while the schooner, which was loaded with wood and charcoal, was hauled out and we anchored till morning, when we got underway for Siguanes Bay, towing the schooner and steam launch. There seems to be quite a commerce between Batabano and Nueva Gerona, but as far as I have yet seen it consists of wood, charcoal and sponges with chickens and fruit in small quantities. Nueva Gerona is beautifully situated between the mountains a short distance up a river where we saw anchored three schooners. Siguanea Bay is an excellent base for vessels of light draft. I believe eventually twenty feet can be found over bar but until such a channel has been surveyed and buoyed, ships must run in on a straight line, and no ship drawing over 14 feet should attempt to enter at present. A vessel stationed on the North side of the Isle of Pines would cut off all communication with Batabano. I have as yet seen no signs of any foreign products getting into any ports, Batabano or Coloma, nor do I believe any have gotten in on the West side of the Isle of Pines. On reaching Siguanea Bay saw BANCROFT coming for us, Lieutenant Veeder8 having become anxious over our long stay. Saw a vessel outside which we took to be one of our converted yachts and directed Maple to go out and meet her. It proved to be the Hornet which thought we were Spanish vessels coming out. She had come from the Eastward to take her place on the Westside blockade, and I directed her to Cortes Bay. On the morning of the 6th, the BANCROFT took sixteen tons of charcoal from the prize schooner Carmita and Maple took a large quantity of wood. The same day the Maple returned to the vicinity of Nueva Gerona for the night, while the BANCROFT proceeded out on line Mt. Canada N. 1 degrees E. (mag.)9 with steam launch ahead sounding, least water being three fathoms, which depth we carried for some time. Vessel was anchored on extreme edge of ledge, where within a ship’s length, it drops from seven to twelve fathoms and then into the deep sea, where an abundant supply of fish of the finest quality was caught. Sent armed party in steam launch, in charge of Ensign W.W. Phelps,10 to make an examination of Pedernales Bay, which had been reported as a shipping point. Party returned at 5 P.M. and reported the place as suitable for a winter refuge, one or two huts belonging to fishermen, but no signs of anything else. The following day Sunday, at noon, the Maple returned from vicinity of Nueva Gerona and reported all quits. The Maple being low in coal supply I directed her to return inside and use fuel from the prize schooner, while BANCROFT proceeded same night to Cortes Bay to communicate with Hornet. My intention being to return immediately and send Maple to Key West. Our chief Engineer11 reports that use of charcoal very satisfactory while at anchor, but we were not able to obtain very good results while underway, however, it gave an excellent bed for spreading coal, and was a great saving to our coal supply. The following morning met Hornet off Cortes Bay with a small schooner as a prize and about noon we anchored in Cortes Bay. Towards evening Helena and Eagle arrived from Key West. In compliance with order from Commodore, Commanding Naval Base Key West,12 brought by Helena for BANCROFT to return at once to Key West to coal and report for duty on blockade North side, the BANCROFT left Cortes Bay at daylight August 9th, and arrived at Key West the morning of August 11th.

     Word was sent by the Eagle to the Commanding Officer of the Maple,13 to use his judgment, as to whether to destroy or bring to Key West the prize schooner Carmita.

I have learned from a pilot furnished the Maple by the Cuban camp on the coast East of the Isle of Pines, that the name of the town where the fight was on August 2nd, is Bailén or Garay. He is not familiar with the waters West of Batabano, but thinks there is no railroad West of Pinar del Rio and that goods are landed at Bailén and carried by road to Pinar del Rio. He had heard that when the steamer Villaverde landed her cargo some time ago she put most of it ashore at port Cortes, so as to reduce her draft and then proceeded to Coloma. He thinks that the “Santo Domingo” was going to land cargo at Bailen and then go to Batabano with the twelve-inch guns.

     Since we have had the last supply of coal (George’s Creek)14 the cruising speed of the BANCROFT has fallen from over ten knots to about six.

Very respectfully,          

Richardson Clover           

Commander U.S. Navy,             

Commanding.            

Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 237. Addressed below close: “The Commander-in-Chief,/U.S. Naval Forces/North Atlantic Station. Stamp: “RECEIVED/FLAG-SHIP N. A. STATION/SEP 7 1898.”

Footnote 1: That is, Ensenada de Cortés. On how Santo Domingo was wrecked, see: William H.H. Southerland to George C. Remey, 12 July 1898.

Footnote 2: Coal Passer Emanouil Koulouris.

Footnote 4: United States Consul in Athens George Horton.

Footnote 5: For Clover’s report from 2 August 1898, see, Clover to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long, Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 282-87.

Footnote 6: U.S. Navy tender Maple.

Footnote 7:   Ens. Charles T. Vogelgesang.   

Footnote 8: Lt. Ten Eyck D. W. Veeder.

Footnote 9: The “(mag.)” refers to magnetic declination or “the angle between the magnetic and geographic meridians at any place, expressed in degrees and minutes east or west to indicate the direction of magnetic north from true north.” Nathaniel Bowditch, Nathaniel, American Practical Navigator (Bethesda, MA: National Imagery and Mapping Agency, 2002), 849.

Footnote 10: Ens. William W. Phelps.

Footnote 11: Chief Eng. John Howard Rowan.

Footnote 12: Commo. George C. Remey, Commandant, Key West Naval Base.

Footnote 13: Lt. Cmdr. Wainwright Kellogg.

Footnote 14: George’s Creek coal was from Allegany County, Maryland.

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