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Documentary Histories
Spanish-American War

Introductory Essay

Convoy and Landings at Daiquirí

     From the very beginning of the Spanish-American War it was understood by American military planners that the United States Army would make a landing on Cuban soil. The initial plan was to land near Havana and force the surrender of the capitol and of the Spanish colonial forces there.1 The Army began concentrating its forces at: Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Tampa, Florida, in anticipation of boarding transports and steaming for Cuba. On 13 May 1898, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long ordered Commo. George C. Remey, commander at the Key West Naval Base, to prepare a convoying force for the Army.2 That very same day Long was forced to rescind that order and suspend convoy preparations when the Spanish squadron of Adm. PascualCevera y Topete was sighted in Martinique.3

     In late May, Cervera’s Squadron was discovered and blockaded in Santiago de Cuba by RAdm. William T. Sampson’s North Atlantic Fleet. The harbor of Santiago de Cuba was protected by coastal fortifications on the east and west sides of a long, narrow, and mined channel that led into the harbor. The Navy could blockade Cervera indefinitely, but Navy planners believed that destroying this flotilla would virtually eliminate any chance of reinforcing Cuba and force an end to the war.

To open the channel to Santiago de Cuba harbor and permit the capture of Cervera’s flotilla, President William McKinley decided to redirect the intended Army landings at Havana to Santiago de Cuba in order to either force the surrender of the city (the Army’s plan) or to capture the fortifications protecting the channel (the Navy’s plan).4

While the Army slowly collected and organized its forces, the Navy pushed for a quick departure.5 Secretary of War Russell A. Alger intended to send a 25,000 men from Tampa in 25 to 30 transports. Traditionally, in joint operations the Army, not the Navy, obtained and operated all troopships and landing craft.6 The Navy was expected to provide an escort of warships for the troopships as well as to support the army’s landing with covering fire.7

Long reinstated his orders for Commo. Remey to organize an escort for the army’s convoy. A cruiser group was sent to Tampa to  arrange the troopships and then escort them to Key West where the Navy intended to add monitors and the battleship Indiana to the escort force. Capt. Henry C. Taylor, of Indiana, was selected to lead the convoy on its voyage to Cuba. Remey was ordered to make the convoy, “as strong as you can make it, taking every vessel not needed absolutely for the blockade,” and to bar any press boat from escorting the fleet and jeopardizing secrecy.8  Commo. John C. Watson, in command of the Northern Blockading Squadron, was to assist by scouring the coast of northern Cuba for Spanish gunboats.9

     In command of the Army forces readying at Tampa was Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles H. Allen wrote Remey and Taylor on 1 June, to hurry because according to Shafter loading was progressing rapidly. In truth, Army preparations in Tampa were a mess. Shafter struggled to get his forces organized and the convoy was not ready to depart until 14 June, and was nowhere near full strength having discovered that there were only enough transports to ship 16,000 men.10

     Cmdr. John J. Hunker, commander of Annapolis, was sent to meet with the Army and command the convoy from Tampa to Key West. Hunker quickly discovered a lot more was required of the Navy than statements by Army leadership had led all to believe.11 Counter to claims made by Secretary of War Alger, the Army transports could only carry 110 soldiers on average, and the Army only possessed two large steam launches. When the convoy reached Cuba it was clear that the Navy would be relied upon to provide landing craft to bring the troops and supplies ashore.12 Hunker, in a report written after the war, detailed many other problems with the Army preparations at Tampa. His primary concern was that getting in and out of Tampa was a delicate process requiring pilots to navigate the shallow water and narrow channels.  He correctly predicted at the time that it would take several days. This was all made worse by the disorganization and chaos on the docks. Shafter did not start loading his ship in earnest until 7 June. When Hunker sent a lieutenant to check on the progress on 8 June, Gen Shafter responded, “My God, I don’t know.”13

     The only delay attributed to the Navy came on 7 June, when Eagle and Resolutereported sighting a “Phantom Spanish Squadron,” and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Allen ordered the departure of the convoy to be delayed until Sampson could send reinforcements. This order annoyed Sampson who doubted the accuracy of the sighting and feared that sending ships would weaken his blockade and might allow Cervera’s fleet to escape. On 10 June, he wrote that Eagle and Resolute had mistaken the Navy ships Ameria, Scorpion, and Supply for Spanish ships and asked that the convoy depart without delay.14

In the meantime, Taylor’s squadron was sent to cruise along the northern coast of Cuba in search of the “Phantom Squadron.” Not surprisingly, they found nothing.15 Sampson’s explanation for the sighting was then credited and the convoy was ordered to depart immediately. Taylor’s squadron planned to join it farther south than originally planned to keep the convoy from further delay.16

     The convoy left Tampa on 14 June, after Hunker’s cruiser group organized the transports into three columns. Hunker was instructed to drive the convoy past Dry Tortugas, where it was turned over to Taylor on 16 June.17 Detailed instructions were issued to the captain of each transport and escorting warship. These included a description of the route, signal codes, and instruction to be followed in the event of an emergency or a ship falling out of line. Taylor set most of warships in a column ahead of the convoy and assigned two, Panther and Annapolis, to run close to the transports relaying instructions. Ships that permanently fell behind would be escorted by the gunboats Bancroft or Wasp.18 Convoying the Army was slow business, made slower by the fact that some of the transports towed waters lighters, steam launches, and barges for use during the landings. Taylor found that he lost ships if he exceeded 6 knots.19 Shafter suggested that the rate of steaming might be increased if the convoy split into two sections, but Taylor responded that doing so would require rearranging the ships and would in the end cost more time than having stragglers protected by Bancroft and Wasp.20 After six days of steaming the convoy reached Santiago de Cuba and was arranged in preparation for landing.21

     The Naval War Board wanted the Army to land near the fortifications eastward and close to Santiago near the banks of the San Juan River; the Army, however, seemed to think they should land farther from Santiago and then march overland to assault the city itself.22 After consultation with the Cuban insurrectionist leader Gen. CalixtoGarcia y Iñiguez, Shafter decided to land the Fifth Corps at Daiquirí, a small port seventeen miles east of the harbor entrance. Sampson, who participated in the conference, advocated a landing at Cabanas, just to the west of the Morro, the key fort protecting the entrance to Santiago harbor, but this proposal was “immediately dropped.”23 The Navy was probably mollified by the fact that from Daiquirí Shafter’s force could move along the coast toward the forts protecting the entrance to the harbor with strong naval support. On the other hand, from Daiquirí Shafter could also move his force inland toward the city, as he decided to do.24

At this conference it was also decided that the Navy would execute diversionary maneuvers off several other potential landing sites as well as bombard Daiquirí in conjunction with an attack on the small Spanish garrison there by Cuban insurrectionists. Sampson issued instructions calling for simultaneous shelling of “Daiquiri, the Ensenada los Altares and Aguadores, both to the eastward of Santiago, and the small bay of Cabanas, about two and one-half miles to the westward of Santiago.” Capt. Caspar F. Goodrich was placed in charge of the landing at Daiquirí. Steam launches and boats were collected from throughout the North Atlantic Fleet and sent to assist the disembarking troops.25

     Landing was a complicated process that began at 6:30 A.M. on 22 June and continued non-stop for days.26 Loading was incredibly slow. The first wave was not ready to move ashore until 9:40 and no one in the Army had experience with boarding landing boats at sea.27 The process was made slower by the distances between the transports. The craft used for the landing ranged from navy cutters, life boats, collapsible boats, and whale boats. Steam powers cutters were used to tow sailing and rowing craft filled with soldiers.28 Goodrich’s men organized an efficient system for discharging men at the open pier at Daiquirí, “so that a continuous stream of men disembarking could be maintained.” As the troops were moving toward shore, warships with the fleet began a twenty or thirty minute bombardment; as the troops landed, the ships shifted their fire to hills and valleys behind the town.29 However, this bombardment was unneeded because the Spanish garrison had evacuated the town before the landing had begun.

     Troops started landing at 10 A.M. and by 6 P.M., 6,000 men were ashore. The progress would have been even faster had it not been for the rough seas, the fact that the transport captains were reluctant to move close inshore because they feared having their vessels damaged, and because the army had made no provision for landing its mules and horses so they had to be coaxed to swim ashore. Taylor addressed one of these problems the next day by getting Shafter’s permission to place the transport masters under the command of Navy officers who brought the vessels closer inshore that greatly facilitated the landing process. Also, the number of men being landed improved as everyone gained experience with how it was done. Finally, the Army also began landing at Siboney, four miles west of Daiquirí and closer to Santiago, which had better facilities to support landing. The landing was completed by 27 June.30

The Navy’s actions and expertise contributed much. After the landing Sampson reported to Secretary Long:

General Shafter has been most kind in his recognition of the aid afforded by the fleet; all of our boats with several hundred officers and men assisting during this period in the work. General Shafter in his telegram to the War Department states that the aid given him by the navy was enthusiastic, and also that he thinks he could not have effected the landing without its aid in ten days if at all. Such a disembarkation in the face of the enemy, and upon a surf bound coast of the character of this must be regarded as a very successful piece of work, and I desire to make mention of the ability displayed by Captain Goodrich and the officers detailed to assist him, and of the zeal and cheerfulness with which the men did their work.31

The good feeling evidenced by Shafter were not destined to last as the two service branches quickly became embroiled in disagreement over just how the Army would use its troops once they were landed.32    

Footnote 1: Trask, War with Spain, 174.

Footnote 4: See: Sampson to Long, 26 June 1898; Naval Operations at Santiago de Cuba; and Trask, War with Spain, 175.

Footnote 6: Cosmas, “Joint Operations,” 105.

Footnote 7: See: Alger to Long, 31 May 1898.

Footnote 10: See: Allen to Remey, 2 June 1898; and Trask, War with Spain, 185.

Footnote 13: See: Hunker to Long, 13 March 1899. 

Footnote 14: See: Allen to Sampson, 8 June 1898; and Sampson to Long, 10 June 1898. In his memoirs, Shafter’s former aide John Miley wrote that the report was credited because “Certainly enough publicity had been given to every movement to provide the enemy with all the information necessary” to attack the troop convoy and estimating the time elapsed, the rate of sailing, and the distance the enemy could well have been “within a few hours’ sail of Tampa Bay.” Miley, With Shafter in Cuba, 34.

Footnote 23: Miley, In Cuba with Shafter, 56; Cosmas, An Army for Empire, 207.

Footnote 24: Cosmas, “Joint Operations,” 113.

Footnote 26: Landing was supposed to have begun 21 June, but squally weather and a rough sea caused the transports to scatter and it took Taylor most of the day to get the transports re-positioned. Miley, In Cuba with Shafter, 59.

Footnote 27: Ibid., 66.

Footnote 30: See: Goodrich to Sampson, 2 July 1898; Shafter to Sampson, 26 June 1898; Cosmas, “Joint Operations,” 115.

Footnote 32: See: Joint Operations Santiago.

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