Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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

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

Havana, Cuba,

February 1, 1898.

Sir:-

     1. I have to report to the Department that since my last letter dated January 29, 1896, No. 160, the situation in Havana has remained about the same. In my opinion the arrival of the MAINE has caused the United States Government to dominate the situation. It has reduced to absurdity the warnings and implied threats published from Spanish sources previous to the arrival of the vessel.

     2. It has been my object after reasonable delay to properly measure the condition of affairs, and after full and free consultation with General Lee,1 to show that the Officers of the MAINE are entitled to move about as freely as those of other nations. We go ashore freely, day or night. The Stewards are sent regularly to market and certain Chief Petty Officers, entirely trustworthy men, also the mail orderly, are sent on shore on business as may be necessary.

     3. I stated in my last letter that I desired to attend a coming bull-fight. This occurred on Sunday. My wish was to test the feelings of the Spanish and their sympathisers in Havana at a time when they were wild with excitement, and also to assert our right of appearance, even at a bull-fight.

     4. General Lee, five officers from the MAINE, including myself, attended the bull-fight and with success. When General Parrado, the acting Captain General,2 recently returned my official visit, I said that I had never attended a bull-fight and expressed an intention to go. He politely offered me a box containing six seats. Accepting it as a mere form of Spanish courtesy, I declined, and said that I would go in the usual way without giving him trouble. Later he sent me off a ticket. This was accepted as a courtesy and may have been intended only as such, but there is a probability that General Parrados desired to place us together where we could be under observation and protection.

     5. One of the six tickets I gave to General Lee, one I kept For myself, and the others were distributed as follows: by lot to Lieutenants Holman, Jungen, Hood, and Naval Cadet Holden.3

6. On Sunday, at nine A.M. a steam tug containing some Cuban Gentlemen came alongside the MAINE outside and close along shore, past all the Spanish Batteries West of the Morro to a Club House on the seashore about eight miles distant. At the Club House at eleven o’clock, a breakfast was given to forty people in honor of the MAINE and officers by General Lee. No speeches were made. So far as I know, no Spanish people were present. They have not shown a disposition to be friendly in a private sense. There were present a number of correspondents of the Press of the United States, representatives of foreign consulates, a correspondent of the London Times,4 a number of American gentlemen who are visitors in Havana, and a number of prominent Cuban gentlemen, residents of Havana.

     7. About two o’clock we took the train for Havana. On reaching the City, there was shown us a circular which was being issued in the city, a copy and translation of which, I enclose herewith.5 General Lee and the MAINE’S officers whose names have been already given proceeded to the bull-fight. We were in plain clothes, but our identity was well known in the audience. Our box was near that of the Captain General.

     8. General Parrado bowed to me pleasantly, but thereafter, not only General Parrado, but the other Spanish Officers that I had met, carefully avoided any signs of recognition. We were much observed by the people but no demonstration of any kind was made. On the benches in front of our box and immediately below were about 20 armed Spanish Soldiers and armed persons in uniform were freely interspersed among the audience. At various times on looking towards the boxes containing the Spanish Officers I would detect them watching me with decidedly antagonistic looks, but they would immediately turn their heads away as they caught my glance.

     9. When all but the last bull had been killed, we quietly retired from the building and passed through the crowd outside to the ferry boat. I doubt that we were recognized on the way. General Lee, Lieut. Holman, and I barely missed the ferry boat. The others of the party caught it. Knowing that the next ferry boat would contain people from the audience, we took a sail boat and went on board the MAINE.

     10. The first returning ferry boat was crowded with people who were perfectly orderly in passing the MAINE. These were probably Spanish Officers and people of the better Class who had returned from the bull ring earlier than the mass of the people. The next ferry boat was densely crowded on both decks with both civilians and persons in Spanish uniform. In passing the usual route, she passed close to the MAINE, when a demonstration on board her against the MAINE was made. There were cries of “Viva Espagno!” and whistles and calls evidently intended to be obnoxious. In proportion to the number of people on board the demonstration was not great. Certainly, it was very far from general among the passengers.

     11. It is my opinion that the feeling against us here on the Spanish side is deeply, but quietly antagonistic; but that the presence of the MAINE is restrictive of demonstration against Americans.

     12. Although I have tried to make it known that the MAINE was open to the visits of agreeable people, both Cuban and Spanish, and although we have had a number of parties of ladies and gentlemen and ladies on board, yesterday a party of about seventy five, no Spanish, self announced, have come on board in a private way excepting one party of five or six Spanish soldiers. Parties who visit the MAINE have letters of intriduction from General Lee. The visiting people of both sexes are a refined class and boldly announce themselves as insurgent residents of Havana. The ladies are very outspoken. They assert thrpe are no Spanish ladies in Havana and that the Spanish men of high social standing are chiefly officers. They state that since the arrival of the MAINE, they feel much more at liberty to move about and enjoy themselves socially.

     13. All of these people are well known to the Spanish authorities and none of them are molested. A number of Cuban ladies who would have liked to visit the ship were deterred by men of their families who objected on business grounds. As to who should or who should not visit the ship, I think I am safe in accepting the opinion of General Lee, of whom we are very proud as our consular representative.

     14. If I might venture to offer any recommendations in view of my present situation, I would most respectfully urge that the commanding position given the United States by the arrival of the MAINE at Havana be not abated by relieving her in immediate turn, with a vessel of less power. The Spanish element has been taken by surprise by the power of the MAINE. I would recommend that the next vessel to come here be the TEXAS, or preferably, the MASSACHUSETTS or INDIANA.

     15. It is very probable that if the INDIANA were to come here for about one week and then be relieved by the TEXAS or even a cruiser, that the last support for self-combative assertion on the part of the Spaniards as against the United States or her interests in Cuba would fall to the ground. The size and appearance of the INDIANA and her battery or of the MASSACHUSETTS in this harbor, and in comparison with the armament and loose military ways of the Spanish would strike deeply into the Spanish mind. My experience with the Spanish leads me to believe that they will always recede from their false or unduly assertive positions before the prompt action properly supported.

     16. I would also call attention to the possibility of a Rupture of communications between Cuba and the United States or between this ship and the United States. Under such condition of affairs, the continued presence of the MAINE in Cuba would be imperative. She could not leave without defeating the purpose for which she came. In this connection, I would recommend that a torpedo boat be occasionally sent here, ostensibly with despatches or stores, General Lee, and through him, the Spanish authorities being notified in advance of the initial trip.6 At first the torpedo boat might be sent away several hours after her arrival. Later she might be detained here over night, or even for a day or two as her tips became established. In case of trouble she might be detained here indefinitely. I could make use of such a boat pleasantly by inviting the Captain General to make a trip in her, or in inviting out Spanish Naval Officers.

     17. I have discussed all these measure with General Lee and he seems to think well of them.

     18. I send herewith a memorandum written by me after my trip along the outside shore to the Club House.7 We are doing a great amount of Intelligence Work and hope to present in the proper form hereafter a more complete report. In the present memorandum I have place the power of the guns at the maximum. A copy of this report has been sent to the Commander in Chief.

     19. It is not intended in the foregoing to recommend violent action, but rather what I believe to be sound end safe policy. In conclusion, I get to state that I am grateful to the Department for having put me in my present highly honorable condition of service, and to assure the Department that I will carry our cheerfully and in harmony with General Lee whatever measures I may be directed to pursue.

Very respectfully,

(Signed) C D Sigsbee

Captain, U. S. Navy,

Commanding U. S. S. MAINE.

Source Note: TLS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 226. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy,/Bureau of Navigation.” Stamped at top of first page: “RECEIVED/FLAG-SHIP N. A. STATION./FEB 14 1898.”

Footnote 1: American Consul General in Havana Fitzhugh Lee. Lee was a former general in the army of the Confederate States of America so the title was honorific.

Footnote 2: Acting Captain General Julian Gonzalez Parrado. The Captain General, Ramón Blanco Erenas Riera y Polo, was on an official tour outside the capital. Charles D. Sigsbee, “Personal Narrative of the Maine,” Part 1, Century Magazine, 57 (Nov., 1898): 85.

Footnote 3: Lt. George F.W. Holman, Lt. Carl W. Jungen, Lt. John Hood, and Naval Cadet Jonas H. Holden.

Footnote 4: The circular translated, follows:

Spaniards!. . . What are you doing that you allow yourselves to be insulted in this way? Do you not see what they have done to us in withdrawing our brave and beloved Weyler, who at this very time would have finished with this unworthy, rebellious rabble who are trampling on our flag and on our honor?

Autonomy is imposed on us to cast us aside and give places of honor and authority to those who initiated this rebellion, these low-bred autonomists, ungrateful sons of our beloved country.

And, finally, these Yankee pigs who meddle in our affairs, humiliating us to the last degree, and for a still greater taunt, order to us a man-of-war of their rotten squadron, after insulting us in their newspapers with articles sent from our own home.

Spaniards! The moment of action has arrived. Do not go to sleep. Let us teach these vile traitors that we have not yet lost our pride, and that we know how to protest with the energy befitting a nation worthy and strong, as our Spain is, and always will be!

Death to the Americans! Death to autonomy! Long live Spain! Long live Weyler!

Gen. ValerianoWeyler y Nicolau, the former governor general of Cuba. His harsh methods in combatting the Cuban insurrection had provoked widespread criticism and led to his recall in October 1897.

Footnote 5: According to one study on newspaper coverage in Cuba in 1898, the London Times did not have a correspondent in Havana but relied on news services, such as Reuters. LeAnn Fawver, "Yellow Journalism, Cuba, and the New York Times," Last modified, Autumn 1999, http://users.dickinson.edu/~history/product/fawver/fawver.html#29.

Footnote 6: On 11 February, the torpedo boat Cushing arrived in Havana Harbor with dispatches for Maine. See, Weems, Fate of the Maine, 55.

Footnote 7: This memorandum has not been found.

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