Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Montgomery Sicard, President, Naval War Board, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

NAVY DEPARTMENT,

Washington,   August 19th, 1898

Sir:-

     The members of the War Board are seriously impressed with the difficulties and dangers that possibly, and not improbably, may await our military and naval forces in the Philippine islands, if, as is reported, they cannot be reinforced during the existing armistice. The cause of these dangers is one to which naval officers are peculiarly alive, because of their frequent contact with it, viz; the prevalence of serious and disabling climactic illness among natives of temperate climates, when exposed to the influences of tropical weather during the rainy season, now and for two months to come, prevalent in the Philippine islands. The recent experience of our army in Cuba sufficiently illustrates how grave such danger is.

     If it should result that the so-called insurgents, acclimated residents or natives of the islands, should refuse, as it is intimated that they may, to acquiesce in our jurisdiction, temporary as yet, and should proceed to overt acts of a disorderly character, it would seem that one of two things must happen. Either Gen. Merritt1 must put his troops in the field, and Admiral Dewey2 move his ships from port to port, to repress such disorders; or, foreign Powers, claiming that their interests are concerned, will assert their right to intervene locally with armed force, since we by inaction admit our inability to afford protection. Spanish troops, it is true, will be in the island for some time; but it is not to be expected that Spain will lighten our task by cooperation with us, especially as such a course would be injurious to her hopes of European support, if such she cherishes.

     The Board therefore recommends that the intention, previously entertained, of sending a division, of two battleships and appropriate cruisers, to reinforce Admiral Dewey, be carried into effect; with the sole modification, if necessary to good faith in the matter of the armistice, that such division be sent, as soon as possible, by the Straights of Magellan to our own territory of Hawaii, instead of by Suez to Manila. It is true that such division could not thus reach Manila before the end of the rainy season, if even the armistice permitted; but not only is it true that our interests in the Pacific require two battleships to be there; but the sending them there would be generally understood as intimating-although in a way to which no offense could be taken- that the United States does not intend lightly to admit interference in matters for which she herself is responsible, and to which she is adequate.

     The force proposed is none too large, even when joined to the two monitors now in Manila, and the whole might very well be the means of preventing interference in the Philippines on the part of foreign powers. This force could not at present be increased, without, in the opinion of the Board, diminishing unduly the armored force necessary in the Atlantic, and these considerations lead the Board most earnestly to intreat the Department, to hasten the completion of the battleships now under construction3 - especially those at Newport News, granting no indulgences to derelict contractors, but, where legal opportunity offers, transferring contracts to firms which can most efficiently and rapidly complete their undertakings. The Board believes it to be urgently necessary thus to hasten these vessels. Neither in the Atlantic, nor in the Pacific, can our naval force be considered satisfactory in numbers, and when necessary , concentration of working force upon one ship or two ships would be desirable. One battleship in six months may be better than two in twelve.

     Although confessedly outside of its own sphere, the Board, with the utmost deference, offers the suggestion that if, not only battleships, but a large body of troops were assembled at Hawaii, provided with adequate transports, and the whole armada, naval and military, in a state of readiness for launching promptly against any enemy about the Philippines, the intention and power of the United States to repress internal or external disorders in that region would be apparent, both to the insurgents and to foreign Powers.

Very respectfully,               

M Sicard               

Rear Adml,, Pres. of Board.

Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 364. Addressed below close: “The Honorable,/The Secretary of the Navy.” Document is on Long’s Secretary of the Navy stationery.

Footnote 1: Gen. Wesley Merritt.

Footnote 2: RAdm. George Dewey, Commander, Asiatic Station.

Footnote 3: The two battleships referred to were Kearsarge and Kentucky.

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