Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Lieutenant Thomas W. Ryan to Commodore George C. Remey, Commandant, Key West Naval Base

(COPY EMS)

U.S.S. PEORIA     

Key West, Fla., July 14, 1898

Sir:

          I respectfully report that the U.S.S. PEORIA under my command, left Key West June 21, convoying a landing operation on the steamships FLORIDA and [FANITA]. The forces on board these steamships consisted of about [200] Cubans under General [Nunez]:1 50 troopers of the Tenth United States Cavalry, under Lieutenant Johnson;2 and [17] volunteers, under Mr. Winthrop Chanler.3 There were also on board about 700 tons of munitions of war and supplies, including 4,000 [stand] of small arms, ammunition, 2 dynamite field pieces, clothing, etc.

     On June 29 a landing was attempted near the mouth of the San Juan River, between Cienfuegos and Trinidad, but the enemy developed in such force that General [Nunez]  decided to abandon the attempt at this point and make another at Tunas, about 40 miles to the eastward. The U.S.S. DIXIE was present at San Juan.

          The PEORIA, with the two convoys, proceeded to Tunas, arriving off that place the next afternoon. A blockhouse was observed at the mouth of the Tayabacao River. 4 miles to the westward of Tunas, and this ship steamed within range and threw shell into this blockhouse and its vicinity; but eliciting no response nor any sign of life, two boat loads of scouts, one of 15 Cubans, under Captain [Nunes],4 and the other, of 15 volunteers, under Mr. Chanler, were landed, this ship occupying a position to protect the landing. As the boats reached the shore, about 500 yards east of the blockhouse, a very destructive fire was opened upon them by a considerable force of Spaniards, who had remained concealed in earthworks about the blockhouse. Captain Nunes was killed as he reached the shore and several others were wounded.

          The enemy used the Mauser rifles with smokeless powder, and it was very difficult to locate their fire, but as soon as this was done this ship opened a very rapid and accurate fire, which soon silenced them. The landing party in the meantime had reached the shore and sought shelter. For nearly two hours it was necessary for this ship to shell the blockhouse and earthworks at frequent intervals in order to protect the landing party. This fire was very destructive, one shell, according to one of the landing party, bursting among a group of Spaniards and killing and wounding about twenty. At 9 p.m. the landing party made good its retreat to the ships, having lost one killed and seven wounded, among the latter being Mr. [Chanler].

          This afternoon the FLORIDA went ashore about three-quarters of a mile from the beach, and as the Spaniards were in receipt of steady reinforcements grave fears were entertained as to her safety. During the night she resisted all attempts of this ship to pull her off, in spite of the transfer of coal to the [FANITA] and the throwing overboard of some of her cargo.

          The following day the U.S.S. HELENA came in, and that afternoon the HELENA and PEORIA steamed in within 1,200 to 1,400 yards of Tunas and opened fire on some batteries, mounting Krupp guns, that had been erected there. The Spaniards replied, but without serious effect, a few shell and shrapnel striking both ships without damage. In twenty-five minutes the batteries were silenced, the guns dismounted, several schooners destroyed and sunk, five houses destroyed by fire and twenty-eight more or less injured.

          That evening both ships again opened fire on the block-house and earthworks that in the meantime had been largely reinforced, and at the same time the Spaniards, evidently under the impression that a landing was to be made in force, set fire to and destroyed a large railroad wharf and warehouse.

          It was decided not to attempt to make a landing in the face of the large force on shore, and, the FLORIDA having floated, that night the PEORIA and the two convoys steamed out and the following morning, July 3, successfully landed the expedition at Palo Alto, 50 miles to the east of Tunas.

          The next day General Maximo Gomez5 appeared at Palo Alto and a conference was held, at which General Gomez submitted in writing a plan of campaign, which is hereby respectfully forwarded.6

          General Gomez expressed his ability to hold the position at Palo Alto for at least 70 days from July 4. He stated that he had at that time about 2,000 men under arms and could have a larger force were he able to arm and feed them.

          Having accomplished the purpose of the expedition the convoys returned in company with this ship.

          Very respectfully,

                   T.W. Ryan.

                   Lieutenant, U.S.N., Commanding.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 234. Addressed below close: “Commodore G. C. Remey, U.S.N./Commanding United States Naval Base, KeyWest, Fla.”

Footnote 1: Cuban Gen. Emilio Núñez.

Footnote 2: 1st Lt. Carter P. Johnson, United States Army.

Footnote 4: Cuban Captain Jose Manuel Núñez.

Footnote 5: Cuban Gen. Máximo Gómez y Báez.

Footnote 6: Report mentioned has not been found.

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