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Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to Secretary of War Russell Alger

May 13, 1898.


The Department is in receipt of your letter of the 9th inst.,1 no. 14651, in reply to this Department’s letter of the 27 the ult.2 Relating to the dependence of the navy upon Dry Tortugas as a coaling station, and asking to be informed at what date the army is likely to place Fort Jefferson in a defensive condition:-3

In reply to this inquiry, the War Department, in the said letter, (9th)4 answered that no action looking to the armament of Fort Jefferson has been undertaken; the Chief of Engineer’s5  reports that the fort is isolated, being about 72 miles from Key West; that all materials and labor will have to be sent there from Tampa or Pensacola that cost will be very great and require from one to two years to complete the work:-

It would appear that Fort Jefferson might be prepared to receive a few heavy guns, without much loss of time; and as the Navy Department has spent and is spending a large amount of money there supposing that its depots would be defended by the army; it would seem that some special effort should be made by the War Department to meet the reasonable expectation of the Navy Department, in regard to defenses at Dry Tortugas.

This matter is commended to your particular attention, as it would seem as though a temporary defence of a sufficiently formidable character could be erected there in a comparitively  short time.

In case the expensive and complete extablilshments of the navy at Tortugas and the coal to be accumulated there should be destroyed by an enemy’s force, the responsibility must fall upon the army. The coal stores at Dry Tortugas are essential to the usefulness and efficiency our heavy ships.6




Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 372. Addressed below close: “To the Honorable,/The Secretary of War.” Document reference no.: “171.”

Footnote 1: The designation “inst.” is an abbreviation for instant, or “of this month.”

Footnote 2: The designation “ult.” is an abbreviation for ultimo, or “of last month.”

Footnote 3: It was the responsibility of the U.S. Army to man and arm Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas, as with other forts, gun emplacements, and harbor minefields around the country.

Footnote 4: The date “(9th)” was handwritten in the left-hand margin.

Footnote 5: Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. John M. Wilson.

Footnote 6: The coaling facilities at Key West could not accommodate ships with deep-draft.

Footnote 7: Behind this document was the following note: “The [Naval War] Board recommend that the appended letter be sent to Admiral Sampson, Key West. Fla.”  It was addressed as follows: “for/Secretary of the Navy.” and dated “May 16th 1898.” It closed with the following: “Respectfully,/M. Sicard/Rear Adml. Pres. of Board.” Sicard’s signature was handwritten.

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