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


U.S.S.Marblehead, 3rd Rate,

At sea Lat. 22 16’ N.,

Long. 85 01’ W.,

May 18th, 1898.



1. I have the honor to submit for your information, the following facts relating to the coaling of the Marblehead, Nashville, and Eagle,1 while blockading off the port of Cienfuegos.

The Saturn2 arrived off the port at 2 p.m. of May 10th, and as I did not deem it prudent to place the Marblehead alongside the collier on account of Guns, Nos. 2 and 3 projecting beyond the line of sponsons,3 coal was transferred in bags by means of the sailing launch, gig and whale boat, 16 tons having been taken in two hours. The coaling was stopped by rain.4

The following day, the 11th, was devoted to the cutting of cables, and no attempt was made to coal any ship.

On the morning of the 12th. 19 tons of coal were transferred from the Saturn to the Marblehead; rain prevented coaling in the afternoon.

It rained on the morning of the 13th, but during the afternoon 46 tons were transferred to our bunkers.

Early on the morning of the 14th, the Eagle, with heavy cork fenders outside, was secured on one side of the Saturn, while the Nashville was secured on the other, with cotton bales between her sponsons and the Saturn. The Nashvilles stern was in the direction of the bow of the Saturn. In this arrangement the collier steamed slowly to windward during the morning, returning in the afternoon.

The Eagle filled her bunkers before noon while the Nashville took in between 90 and 100 tons during the day.

On the 18th, the Nashville was again secured to the collier, this time the ships were bow to bow and the movement of the day before was repeated the Nashville receiving about 90 tons of coal.

During the 16th, the Marblehead was coaled by means of the three boats I have already mentioned, and 60 tons of coal were received. The coaling was interfered with for an hour by the appearance of a steamer on the horizon, which proved to be the Vixen.5

The Marblehead averaged 10 tons an hour which may be considered her limit with the three boats available for the purpose.

3. On the evening of the 16th, despatches were received from the Commandant at Key West,6 directing the return of the force off Cienfuegos.

4. I should recommend that colliers be supplied with two spars fitted for use as spur shores;7 and two small floats, 10 feet by 6 feet, so that vessels of the Marblehead Class could lie alongside of the collier.

5. It might be possible for ships to anchor close inshore, on the East side of the gulf on which Cienfuegos lies, and coal, but I did not have an opportunity to examine the coast closely for anchorages.

It must be remembered that the waters of this gulf are unusually smooth, no heavy seas having been met with during the stay of the blockading force off Cienfuegos.

6. The heavy rains at times provided the ships with fresh water for the boilers.

Very respectfully,


Commander, U.S.Navy,


Source Note: TD, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 230. Addressed below close: “The Commander-in-Chief,/North Atlantic Station.” At top right corner: “No. 81.” At top center: “(Copy).” Docketed on last page: Bureau of Navigation stamp which includes the date: “MAY 5, 1899” and the identifying no. “172028.” Below the stamp is typed: “U.S.S. Marblehead, 3d Rate,/At Sea Lat. 22 16’ N./Long. 85 01’ W./May 18, 1898./McCalla, B.H./Commander, U.S.N.,/Commanding./Relative to the Marblehead,/Nashville, and Eagle, coaling/while blockading off Cienfuegos.”

Footnote 2: Cmdr. Samuel W. Very of the Saturn.

Footnote 3: A sponson is a projecting gun platform from the side of a ship.

Footnote 4: It was difficult for wet coal to burn satisfactorily. This document illustrates the logistic problems associated with coaling.

Footnote 5: Vixen was commanded by Lt. Alexander Sharp, Jr.

Footnote 6: Commo. George C. Remey, Commandant, Key West Naval Base.

Footnote 7: A spur shore is a spar or timber used to maintain distance between a ship and a pier or another vessel.

Footnote 8: Cmdr. Bowman H. McCalla was commander of Marblehead and was in charge of blockading Cienfuegos.

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