Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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

COPY                        U. S. S. Yosemite, at sea June 18/98

Between Montejo Bay & Cape Cruz

Lat. 18 50 00 N.       

Long. 77 49 00 W       

Sir:

     1.  I have the honor to make the following report concerning the cruise of the Yosemite, commencing Sunday June 12, and ending Sunday June 19, 1898.

     2.   About 10 a. m. Sunday June 12, the Yosemite proceeded on this cruise in obedience to your order, conveyed personally by Comdr. Brownson, commanding the U. S. S. Yankee.1 The order was for the Yosemite to cruise in the vicinity of Jamaica, where the commanding officer in his judgment thought best, to intercept the Spanish steamer Purissima Concepcion, which vessel was loading at Kingston, Jamaica, and about to sail for a port on the southern coast of Cuba. The Purissima Concepcion was to sail from Kingston not later than Monday morning June 15. While the Yosemite looked out for the Jamaica end of the line, the Yankee would take her station at some place on the Cuban coast. Commander Brownson also informed me that if he was not successful in overhauling the vessel sought for by Thursday June 16, he would sail for Santiago. I was also informed that if I desired2 information I could proceed to Montejo Bay or Kingston.

     3.   Since Sunday night June 12th until midnight of Wednesday June 15, the Yosemite cruised on a line between Point Negrill on the west coast of Jamaica and Cape Cruz,

     4.   This cruising ground was selected by me as the zone most favorable for the capture of the Purissima Concepcion, as involving the shortest distance between the neutral waters of England and the Cuban coast. On Thursday morning at 11 a. m., the Yosemite anchored in Kingston Harbor. The weather at the time being thick and stormy on the coast.

     5.   On communicating with the United States Consul, Mr. Dent,3 it was ascertained that the Purissima Concepcion had sailed at 4 a. m. Thursday morning, and had cleared for Manzanillo.

     6.   I informed the Consul that acting upon his information that the Purissima Concepcion would sail not later than Monday the 13th of June, I had come into port to get information about her. He replied that her detention until Thursday was caused by his own act. That the vessel was about to change her nationality from Spanish to English, and that his successful protest against this action was the cause of the vessel’s delay.

     7.   Before sailing from Kingston, a telegram dated June 17 was received from Manzanillo, stating that the Purissima Concepcion had arrived at that port. The United States Consul does not believe that this telegram is true. My surmise is that it is true, and that had the Consul acted consistently after his information to Commander Brownson, viz., that the Purissima Concepcion would not sail later than Monday 13th, that vessel would now be a prize of the Yosemite.4

     8.   Sailed from Kingston Harbor, Friday June 17; stopped an hour at Port Royal, to call on Commodore Henderson,5 and then proceeded to sea.

     9.   In compliance with the request of Mr. Dent, United States Consul at Kingston, turned to the westward when out of sight of Kingston, rounded Point Negrill on the west coast of Jamaica, and intended this morning to call at Montejo Bay for dispatches from Mr. Dent, who still believes that the Purissima Concepcion is on the coast of Jamaica. (Enclose please find his letter marked “A.”)6 When off Montejo Bay found by inspection that the only vessel in ports was H. M. S. Talbot. As her presence would cause delay did not stop but proceeded under slow steam towards Cape Cruz.

     10. The Yosemite is proceeding to Cape Cruz under half speed---eight knots--- and from there will proceed along the coast until she joins the Flagship.

     I have the honor to be,

                   Very respectfully,

Commander, U. S. N., Comdg.

Source Note: Cy, AFNRC, M625, roll 232. Addressed below close: “To The Commander-in-Chief,/U. S. Naval Force Off Santiago de Cuba.” At the top of the first page is a handwritten “’A’.”

Footnote 1: Cmdr. Willard H. Brownson.

Footnote 2: At this point in the letter, a line of text is x’d out and unreadable.

Footnote 3: United States Consul at Kingston, Jamaica Louis A. Dent.

Footnote 4: Purisima Concepción was a Spanish steamer reportedly carrying foodstuffs and $100,000 in gold. It arrived safely at Manzanillo, Cuba, on 19 June. New York Times, 17 and 23 June 1898. At about 5 A.M. on 16 June Yosemite passed the merchantman as it left neutral Jamaican waters. There was no mention of this encounter in the log of the Yosemite but the incident subsequently sparked a great deal of controversy. The first point of dispute was the weather at the time of the encounter. Emory in this report called it “thick and stormy”; in the log of Yosemite the weather is reported to be “clear.” Also, newspapers in Michigan—the crew and most of the officers aboard Yosemite were Michigan naval militiamen—later speculated that it was carelessness or bungling caused by drunkenness on the part of the officer of the watch, a member of the Michigan militia, that allowed the merchantman to pass the American warship without being taken. Joseph S. Stringham, The Story of the USS Yosemite (Detroit: Self-published, 1929), 22. Later, Henry B. Joy, the chief boatswain’s mate on Yosemite, published a spirited defense of that officer, Lt. Gilbert Wilkes, arguing that Wilkes had repeatedly notified Emory about the presence of the Spanish steamer but that Emory had ignored those summons thus allowing the Spanish vessel to escape capture. Henry B. Joy, The U.S.S. Yosemite, Purisima Concepcion Incident, June 16, 1898 (Detroit: Self-published, 1937), 6-7.

Footnote 5: Commo. William H. Henderson, the officer in charge of the Royal Navy Yard, Port Royal.

Footnote 6: Dent’s letter is no longer with the document.

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