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Commander James M. Forsyth, Commandant, Key West Naval Base, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long


U.S. Naval Station, Key West, Florida,

February 16, 1898.  


     About twelve thirty (12.30) this A.M. I received a telegram from Captain Sigsbee of the U.S.S. “MAINE”, a copy of which I wired you, announcing the loss of that ship.1 Lieutenant Comdr. Cowles,2 commanding Fern, was in the telegraph office when the message was received, and immediately sent a copy to the Torpedo Boat “ERICSSON” for transmittal to the Commander-in-Chief, N.A. Squadron.3 The ERICSSON got underway with quick dispatch and left at twelve fifty-five (12.55) for Tortugas. I at once notified Comdr. Belden of the Mongrove,4 and he made hurried preparations to leave, getting away at three (3.00) A,M,

     Assistant Surgeon Spear, U.S.N.,5 of the U.S.S. “NEW YORK”, being here I ordered him to take passage in the Mangrove and render any medical assistant he could. Commander Belden also sent to the U.S. Barracks and, through the courtesy of the Commanding Officer, Captain Merrill, 1st. Artillery, secured the service of Captain Clendenin, Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Army, who also took passage in the Mangrove with his hospital steward, prepared to render medical assistant.6 At four thirty (4.30) A.M., having received telegraphic orders from the Navy Department, I ordered the U.S.S. “Fern” to proceed to Havana. She left the port at five fifteen (5.15) A.M.

     I have put myself in communication with the Marine Hospital Surgeon and the Commanding Officer of the Key West barracks and made arrangement for reception of wounded at the Hospital and the quartering and messing of the uninjured at the Barracks, on their arrival from Havana.7 I have also wired the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts for authority to purchase, to supply survivors, necessary clothing. Captain Sigsbee hav-ing stated that they are almost destitute.8 The leading citizens of this place have offered any assistance I may need and seem most earnest in a desire to do anything possible to help me.

     The Spanish Consul and Vice Consul have called and offered their sympathy and condolence in this trouble.

Very Respectfully,

Jas. M. Forsyth

Commander, U.S. Navy,


Source Note: TLS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 226. Addressed below close: “THE HONORABLE/SECRETARY OF THE NAVY,/ Navy Department, Washington, D.C.” A portion of the text is enclosed in a handwritten box and a notation has been added in the margin where Forsyth discusses the help he has gotten from Capt. Merritt: “thank War Dept.” On separate sheet: Stamped “BUREAU OF NAVIGATION/FEB 19 1898 94218/NAVY DEPARTMENT.” Below the 94218, someone has written in pencil: “93800.” Docketed: “U.S. Naval Station KEY WEST, FLA./Feb 16_ 1898/Forsyth Jam W/Comr USN Comdt/Reporting actions on the/disaster on the U.S.S. MAINE/Resd to/Fleet Com/Cy 2/24/98.”

Footnote 2: Lt. Comdr. Walter C. Cowles.

Footnote 3: RAdm. Montgomery Sicard was commander of the North Atlantic Squadron. Sicard had notice of the disaster on 16 February and later in the day received instructions from the Navy Department concerning disposition of the surviving crew and convening of a board of inquiry into the disaster. See, Long to Sicard, 16 February 1898, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 127.

Footnote 4: Comdr. Samuel Belden of the Light House tender Mangrove.

Footnote 5: Asst. Surgeon Raymond Spear.

Footnote 6: Capt. Abner H. Merrill; Capt. Paul Clendenin.

Footnote 7: In a cable to the Navy Department of 16 February 1898, RAdm. Montgomery Sicard wrote that the uninjured crewmen from MAINE should remain at Key West “about a week under observation for yellow [fever] before distribution to Squadron.” AFNRC, M625, roll 226. It was later decided to hold some of the crewmen of the MAINE in Key West “pending Court of Inquiry.” See, Sicard to Long, 18 February 1898, Ibid.

Footnote 8: On this same day, Long ordered Sicard to send clothing to Havana for the survivors of MAINE. See, Ibid.

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