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

NAVY DEPARTMENT

Washington, May 16th, 1898.

Sir:-

Under date of 14th inst., a telegram was sent you by the Department addressed to Puerto Plata,1 in which, among other things, you were informed that the Spanish Cape de Verde fleet was off Curacao on the 14th inst., at which time the “Viscaya”, “Teresa” and one Destroyer entered the port, ostensibly for provisions, etc., the “Oquendo”, “Colon”, and two Destroyers remaining outside.2 The first two vessels were reported as being ”light”, and therefore the Department infers that perhaps they have not coaled since leaving the Cape de Verde islands. It was further stated that they would leave on the 15th. There has been a rumor that they received coal on the west coast of Martinique, but that could not be substantiated.3

     On the 10th inst., the Department received from London information that a quantity of coal had been placed in English ships,4 and had been sent somewhere upon the north coast of Venezuela for the purpose of supplying the Spanish squadron; and in view of the foregoing information, the Department considers it highly probable that the Spaniards will attempt to take coal somewhere in the neighborhood of Curacao, probably under shelter of the peninsula of Paraguana; which forms the eastern side of the Gulf of Venezuela. A glance at the map will show that there is probably smooth water in there, sheltered from the trade winds and sea.

Under the circumstances, the Department has thought it worth while to endeavor to get in touch of the Spanish fleet on the north coast of Venezuela, and for that purpose has telegraphed on the 15th, as follows:

     1st. To the “Harvard” (lately blockaded at St. Pierre, Martinique, by the Spanish fleet, and now to leave on the evening of the 16th);

     “The Spanish fleet is now at Curacao; is believed going to gulf of Venezuela to coal. If practicable, and enough coal, proceed at once after due notice, get and keep touch of Spanish fleet, exercising due care to avoid capture. Auxiliary No. 557 (St. Paul) and other U.S.Naval vessels will be sent to join you. If unable to find enemy, communicate by telegraph nearest station. Acknowledge by telegraph.

     2nd. A telegram has been sent to Cape Haitien to be sent thence to the “Minneapolis”, which vessel will probably arrive on the 16th at her appointed cruising grounds between the Caicos and Monte Christi Banks, as follows:

     “(To the Ship that goes in search of the Minneapolis,-(supposed to be the “Supply”).)5

     “Cruise between Caicos Bank and Monte Christi island until you fall in with the “Minneapolis” due there 16th or 17th and transmit to her commander following cipher message, after which proceed to Key West, distributing supplies to blockading squadron en route.-“”Spanish squadron off Curacao May 15th, believed going to gulf of Venezuela to coal, proceed with all possible dispatch to that vicinity, get and keep touch Spanish fleet, care must be taken to avoid capture. Harvard and St. Paul too have been ordered upon this duty. If not able to find enemy, communicate by telegraph by nearest station.’””

3rd. A telegram has been sent to Commodore Remey6 for the commanding officer of the “St. Paul,7 which vessel left Hampton Roads on the evening of the 14th, and is expected to arrive at Key West on the morning of the 17th, as follows:

     “Previous plans for Auxiliary No. 557 (St. Paul) are changed, and she must coal immediately and proceed with all possible dispatch to Venezuela gulf, South America, where it is considered the Spanish fleet from Cape de Verde will coal. She must find and keep in communication with enemy, exercising the utmost care to avoid being captured. More vessels will be sent to join him, probably the “Minneapolis” and Auxiliary No. 461 (Harvard). Key West and the Department must be kept advised of important movements and plans of the enemy.”

     From these telegrams it will be perceived that the Department is endeavoring to assemble three of our fast ships near the gulf of Venezuela for the purpose of discovering and keeping touch with them, , and the other to be carry news of the position of the Spaniards to you from time to time. By this means it is hoped you will be afforded some useful information as to the motions and probable intentions of the enemy.

     It would seem probable that the enemy after coaling may haul up for Santiago de Cuba and the south side of the island, or pass through the Yucatan channel and endeavor to operate in the gulf of Mexico.

     It would seem doubtful whether he would pass through the Windward Passage and upon the north coast of Cuba, or whether he would round Cape San Antonio and endeavor to appear off Havana or Key West; as in either of the latter cases, he would be advancing upon a superior force; still his passing to the north side of Cuba would appear to be within the possibilities; though if he feels is necessary to show himself on the coast of Cuba, it would seem more probable that he would select Santiago de Cuba, or perhaps Cienfuegos. It would be difficult for him to justify a campaign in the gulf of Mexico with an American fleet in his rear and free to act against him, and with the only two passages of exit in all probability carefully guarded. However this may be, you are of course alive to the necessity of watching him vigilantly, and it is hoped that the three fast vessels that the Department has despatched upon his track may afford you useful information in the premises. You are of course at liberty to recall them if you think their present services unnecessary, or you may use such other ships of your fleet to cooperate with them as you may think desirable. The Department, however, strongly hopes that you may be enabled soon to bring the Spanish squadron to an engagement with such force as may ensure their capture.

     Since writing the foregoing, the following telegram has been received from you:

     “Auxiliary cruisers ordered to cruise as follows: Yale to assist St. Paul between Morant Point, Jamaica, and Nicolas Mole and Cuba. Harvard Mona Passage and on north side of Porto Rico island. St. Louis cutting cable at Santiago de Cuba and at Guntanamo, Cuba, then at Ponce, Porto Rico, then to St. Thomas, about May 18th to await orders. The U. S. squadron proceeding at best speed, seven knots, en route to Key West, Fla. I will arrive early May 19th.”  

 “Sampson.”       

     And the Department has since sent the following telegram to the Harvard at Martinique, but is not sure whether it has been received.

     “If you have a late order from Adml. Sampson , obey that rather than the Department’s order of the fifteenth.”8

     The telegram which conveyed to the Department the information aforementioned regarding the sending of coal in English ships to the north coast of Venezuela further stated “it looks like a race for the gulf of Mexico”. This remark is probably not from a military source and is surmise only. It is mentioned here simply for your information.

                                  Respectfully,

Rear Adml. W.T.Sampson, U.S.N.    John D Long

Comdg. N. A. Fleet.               Secretary

4 P.M. 16th inst.

     P.S. The last telegram received concerning the Spanish fleet is as follows:

     “Fleet has munitions essential to defense Havana. Orders imperative <reach Havana, Cienfuegos, or railroad port connected with Havana at all hazards.

     Commodore Remey was directed to send you this immediately by a fast vessel, as per copy of telegram we sent him herewith:

     Sampson due vicinity of Los Lobos Key 17th, so send instantly your fastest vessel to inform him that Department has just heard that Spanish fleet has munitions essential to defense of Havana, and the Spanish orders are imperative to reach Havana, Cienfuegos, or a railroad port connected with Havana at all hazards, and as Cienfuegos appears the only port fulfilling the conditions, Schley, with Brooklyn, Massachusetts, and Texas, to arrive Key West morning of 18th, will be sent to Cienfuegos as soon as possible, so Admiral Sampson take or send his heavy ships to Havana blockade.

Respectfully,

John D. Long, Secretary.>        

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 313, Entry 47. Document was incomplete, with missing portions. Passages between angle brackets were taken from a copy of this document in: Report of Bureau of Navigation, 1898, pp. 390-92. Addressed below close: “Rear-Admiral W. T. Sampson, U. S. N.,/Commanding North Atlantic Fleet.” Document reference: “Adml. Sampson No. 9.” “NAVY DEPARTMENT” stationery is used on every page.

Footnote 1: Sampson was informed of the Spanish fleet’s position off Curaçao and ordered to Key West to meet the Flying Squadron on its way south. Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 387.

Footnote 2: That is, Infanta Maria Teresa, Cristoból Colón, Almirante Oquendo, Vizcaya, Plutón, and Furor.

Footnote 3: Typed interlineation in the margin: “We have learned since that the Viscaya, Teresa, and destroyers took in 500 tons of coal between them.”

The ships in RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete’s squadron that set out from the Cape de Verde Islands were the armored cruisers: Cristóbal Colón, Infanta María Teresa, Viscaya, and Almirante Oquendo and the torpedo destroyers Terror, Pluton, and Furor. Intelligence of their arrival at Curaçao came from the United States Consul, Leonard B. Smith, who correctly reported that the ships were “light draft,” having been unable to coal since the Cape de Verde Islands. Smith’s incorrectly reported the number and names of the ships at Curaçao and Long repeated this in error in his report to Sampson. Cervera set out with three torpedo destroyers, but had been force to abandon Terror at Martinique when it was deemed unseaworthy. Trask, War with Spain, 114-16.

Footnote 4: The English merchant steamer Restormal was captured by the St. Paul on 25 May between Curaçao and Santiago de Cuba on its way to deliver coal to the Spanish Squadron. See: Capt. Charles D. Sigsbee to Long, 29 May 1898.

Footnote 5: “X” in the left margin indicates a note written beside another “X” at the bottom of the page: “It is thought that the “Porter” has carried this telegram to the Minneapolis, the “Supply” having sailed 15th Westward.”

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

Footnote 7: Capt. Charles D. Sigsbee.

Footnote 8: Handwritten Interlineation: “(Acks by Harvard, night of May 16th, 1898).” 

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