Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Charles D. Sigsbee to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

[Extract]

                                      U.S.S. MAINE, 1st. Rate,

                                      Havana, Cuba,

                                      JanFebruary 9, 1898.1

Sir:—    

     1. I have to report that matters in Havana have been quiet since my last letter was written. Referring to the department’s telegram of February 1st., 1898, relating to calling on the Civil Authorities of Havana, I beg to state that no question of that kind has been presented to me here by the Spanish authorities, not even by suggestion.

     2. I suggest that it is highly probable that the question is brought up by Dr. Congosto, the Secretary General of the Island,2 as a diplomatic measure intended to put the United States on the defensive before the people of Havana. In line with that view is Dr. Congosto’s more recent action in respect to the American Steam Yacht “BUCCANEER”, now in this harbor. He has written to Consul General Lee complaining that signals were exchanged between the MAINE and the BUCCANEER while the latter was off the port or entering, and that certain signals were made on shore in conjunction therewith, all of which is untrue so far as the MAINE is concerned. My estimates of Spanish official administration, I should always expect this course to be pursued by them, but they will weaken when the same course is pursued with positiveness towards themselves.

     3. My official relations with the Spaniards here have been in all respects pleasant, but my efforts to get Spanish officers on board the MAINE in a social way, that is to convince them that they were welcome and would please me by visiting the ship have been entirely unavailing. A few days ago a small party of Spanish Army officers appeared on board and remained for a short time. They declined hospitalities and also declined to make a tour of the ship, while polite, they were evidently constrained. I was absent from the ship at the time.

. . . I have gone just as far in the direction of extending invitations to Spanish Officials to visit the MAINE as my official self respect will permit. The Spanish officers know that they are welcome on board the MAINE, but I shall extend no more pointed invitations. I have paid no visits to private persons, either Spanish or Cubans, since I have been in Havana, desiring to keep myself free from all entanglements, but I have entertained a great many people on board and I have made full use of my opportunities to gather information from them. . . .

     8. I have always found in the management of the crews of ships under my command that even the most hot headed and bad tempered men on board, although they may have attacked shipmates on the spur of the moment and even drawn knives on them, have been able nevertheless, to control their tempers perfectly in my presence and when subjected to my harsh criticisms and sentences. This they have done, undoubtedly, from a sense of my power over them, the amount of which they could not accurately measure, but which they knew to be great. There is, doubtless, considerable analogy between this state of things and that involved in the quieting influence of a man of war over a hot headed populace. The people of Havana know how far they can go in violent opposition to their own government, but in the presence of a restraining factor which they cannot measure in respect to either its intention or strength they are well able to control themselves.

     9. After continued reflection, I can find no reason to withdraw the recommendations contained in my previous letters as to the visits of the United States men of war in Havana. I have had no communication whatever from the Montgomery since her arrival in Cuban waters, from which I infer that her Commanding Officer is free to act without reference to the MAINE’s actions.3

                                      Very respectfully,

                                       (signed) C.D. Sigsbee

                                      Captain, U.S. Navy,

                                      Commanding U.S.S. MAINE.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 226. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy./Bureau of Navigation.” Notation at top of the first page: “Copy for the Commander in chief.” Stamped on first page: “RECEIVED/FLAG-SHIP N. A. STATION/Feb 14 1898.” The Commander-in-chief was RAdm. Montgomery Sicard and his flagship was New York.

Footnote 1: Someone crossed through Jan and handwrote “Febr” above it.

Footnote 2: Dr. Juan Cognosto.

Footnote 3: Montgomery, Comdr. George A Converse, commanding, had been sent to visit Matanzas, Cuba, and report on conditions in that province. Converse’s report, dated 6 February, is in a letter to RAdm. Montgomery Sicard and repeated in a letter to Secretary of the Navy Long of 12 February 1898. AFNRC, M625, Roll 226. In February, as a result of that report, the United States decided to ship relief supplies to Matanzas and later that month, the Navy offered to transport them, which the Spanish government described as “a very grave act, which would cause immediate complications.” See, John D. Long to Stephen Barton, 26 February, DNA, RG 24, Entry 172, and Spanish Minister of State Pio Gullón y Iglesias to Chargé d’Affaires Don Juan Du Bosc, 3 March 1898, Spanish Diplomatic Correspondence, 89.

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