Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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

Washington, May 3, 1898.

Sampson, Key West, Fla.:

     No large army movement can take place for a fortnight, and no small one will until after we know the whereabouts of the four Spanish armored cruisers and destroyers. If their objective is Porto Rico1 they should arrive about May 8, and immediate action against them and San Juan is then authorized.2 In such case the Flying Squadron would reinforce you.

Long.         

Source Note Print: Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, p. 366.

Footnote 1: The United States Navy was well aware that the Spanish squadron of Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete had last coaled in the Cape Verde Islands and would arrive in the Caribbean needing coal. It was proposed as early as 29 April, that Cervera might attempt to coal at the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico. The auxiliary ship Yale was ordered to search Puerto Rican waters for the Spanish fleet on 1 May 1898. Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 364-366.

Footnote 2: On 6 May 1898, Long made contact with Sampson at Cape Haitian, on his way to San Juan and clarified this order. With no clear knowledge of the location or composition of the Spanish fleet, he instructed Sampson:

Do not risk or cripple your vessels against fortifications as to prevent soon afterwards successfully fighting Spanish fleet composed of Pelayo, Carlos V, Oquendo, Viscaya, Maria Teresa, Christobol Colon, four deep-sea torpedo-boats, if they should appear on this side.

Sampson responded that if any information on the Spanish fleet could be attained in the very near future he wanted it relayed to him or the U.S. Consul from San Juan, then stationed at St. Thomas, Philip C. Hanna. Furthermore, that with approval, he planned to steam on to San Juan, “probably destroying fortifications, establishing a temporary base at Culebra Island... as the entrance to San Juan is obstructed.” he also wanted the Massachusetts and Texas turned over to his command if the Spanish fleet were sighted in the West Indes. See, W.A.M. Goode, With Sampson through the War (New York: Doubleday & McClure Co., 1899), 65-67.

Long was not pleased, but decided to trust Sampson’s judgment. He cabled that the: “Blockade of Cuba and Key West will be endangered if stripped by you. You should be quick in your operation at Porto Rico,” but that “the Department has utmost confidence in your discretion, and... does not wish to hamper you.” Sampson decided to continue on to San Juan without knowledge of the location of the Spanish fleet. Ibid.

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