Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

                        U. S. S. IOWA, 1st Rate,

                             Off San Juan, Porto Rico.

                                  May 12th, 1898.

SECNAV,

     WASHINGTON, D.C.

     A portion of the Squadron under my command reached San Juan this morning at daybreak. No armed vessels were found in the port.1 As soon as it was sufficiently light I commenced an attack upon the batteries defending the City. This attack lasted about three hours, and resulted in much damage to the batteries and incidentally to portions of the city adjacent to the batteries. The batteries replied to our fire but without material effect. One man was killed on board the NEW YORK and four slightly wounded in the Squadron.2 No serious damage to any ship resulted.

                                  SAMPSON.

Source Note: CbCy, DNA, RG 313, Entry 32, vol. 7, p. 112. Document reference: “No. 73.

Footnote 1: On 1 May 1898, the auxiliary ship Yale was ordered to patrol the waters off San Juan and to inform the Navy Department if the Spanish Squadron arrived or was in the harbor and to depart on 13 May if the Spanish fleet never arrived. The Yale reached Puerto Rico on 6 May 1898, captured the Spanish cargo steamer Rita on 8 May and ascertained that the Spanish Squadron was not at San Juan as early as 9 May. However, as per instructions, the Yale never left Puerto Rican waters, and did not make contact with another American ship until 12 May, when it communicated with the St. Louis, and its findings did not reach the Navy Department until 13 May. By then Sampson’s squadron arrived at San Juan, also discovered the Spanish squadron was not there and began firing on San Juan harbor. Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 365-367.

Footnote 2: Seaman Frank Widemark was struck in the neck and killed by shrapnel on New York. However, there were actually two deaths during the bombardment of San Juan. The second was not directly attributed to enemy fire. A gunner’s mate aboard the monitor Amphitrite died of heat exhaustion. As Capt. Charles J. Barclay explained:

A most important fact, and one to which I ask your attention, is the utter lack of any system of ventilation below, causing during action, when every thing must be closed, a heat so intense, as to render it almost impossible for men stationed there to remain at their posts... This is particularly the case in the after turret, the heat yester-day causing the death of a Gunner’s Mate on duty there.

See W.A.M. Goode, With Sampson through the War (New York: Doubleday & McClure Co., 1899), 74; and Barclay to Sampson, 13 May 1898, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 229.