Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Journal of Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

Washington, D. C., Friday, May 13th, 1898

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     The crisis approaches, and the clouds thicken. We get advices that the Spanish fleet are off Martinique, where they have got coal from lighters, forwarded to them there by their government. One of our scouting boats, the Harvard, is blockaded by them in St. Pierre, Martinique[.] Admiral Sampson1 has attacked San Juan and Portorico and, while he has fired a good many shell and done some damage to fortifications, he has not succeeded in silencing the fort, or destroying the coal pile there, He has undoubtedly acted with great prudence, as he could not afford to have his ships crippled, in view of the possibility of an engagement with the Spanish fleet. Still, the thing strikes me as rather a failure, and we wait the results with deep concern.2

     I think one reason for the efficiency of this Department is that there is no military head who is in friction with the Secretary of the Navy, the civil head, and, also, that our Bureau Officers are liable to rotation once in four years. The result of the latter is that good men are retained, but that changes are always possible if a man does not quite fill the bill, or if there is a call for him somewhere else.  When Admiral Walker3 called the other day, I gathered that what he desired, being, perhaps, the ablest retired officer in the Navy, is a position as Commander-in-Chief of the Naval forces. I doubt the expediency of this, as it would result in the friction which now exists in the War Department, with the Secretary of War4 always at swords points with the General of the Army.5

     Called on the President this evening.6

Source Note: TD, MHi, Papers of John Davis Long, Vol. 78.

Footnote 1: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Squadron

Footnote 2: Long’s feeling of ambivalence may have been justified. Sampson’s attack on San Juan was largely meant as a reconnaissance maneuver. Sampson hoped he would find the fleet of Adm. PascualCervera y Topete at San Juan and coax them from the harbor through a general bombardment. German naval observer, Cmdr. Hermann Jacobsen was in San Juan during the bombardment and reported the effect of the attack on San Juan. According to him:

The number of American projectiles fired [was] out of proportion to the material damage caused by them. A large number of shells are said not to have exploded. Of course the fortification works were injured to some extent, but not one of the guns was put out of action. A few of the buildings visible at great distance, like the barracks, the jail, the Hotel Inglaterra, and a few private residences, suffered from the bombardment. A large number of projectiles fell in the harbor... [where the] French cruiser AmiralRigault de Genouilly, which was lying in the harbor at the time, as also three small Spanish gunboats, received a shot in the rigging and smokepipe. The Spanish casualties were 20 dead (among them several civilians) and 20 wounded.

Sampson’s bombardment cost a single American sailor dead and 7 wounded and, as the German observer pointed out, the reconnaissance of San Juan “could have been made with a much smaller expenditure of ammunition.” Jacobsen, Sketches from the Spanish American War, 14.  

Footnote 3: RAdm. John G. Walker. Walker was a both a celebrated and contentious figuring having gained notoriety for improving the Navy and serving two terms as the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, his second at the personal request of President Grover Cleveland, and for sailing a squadron to Hawaii in 1894 to protect American interests after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. He was also disliked among many in the Department for his calls for a merit based promotion and appointment system that would forcefully retire underperforming, but higher ranking officers. Frances P. Thomas, Career of John Grimes Walker, U.S.N., 1835-1907 (Boston: 1959), 59-61, 77, 79.  

Footnote 4: Secretary of War Russell A. Alger.

Footnote 5: Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles. Miles and Alger were frequently at odds because Miles believed many of Alger’s demands were unreasonable. On one occasion Alger ordered Miles to take a force of 70,000 men to capture Havana. Miles protested the order by going directly to President William McKinley. Trask, The War with Spain, 165.

Footnote 6: President William McKinley.

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