Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

former United States Consul in Havana, General Fitzhugh Lee and Captain Charles D. Sigsbee Challenged to a Duel

[Extract]

CHALLENGED TO A DUEL

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Cartel Sent to Gen. Fitzhugh Lee

and Capt. Sigsbee by Lieut.

De Carranza.

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A WEEK IN WHICH TO ANSWER

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Former Naval Attache of the Spanish

Legation Resents Their Testimony

Before Congressional Commit-

tees on Maine Report.

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     WASHINGTON, April 25.— Lieut. Ramon de Carranza of the Spanish Royal Navy, until recently Naval Attaché of the Spanish Legation at Washington, has challenged Gen. Fitzhugh Lee and Capt. Sigsbee of the Maine to fight duels.1 The challenges were issued on the night that the Spanish Minister withdrew from Washington.2

     Lieut. de Carranza determined upon this course of action immediately after Consul Lee and Capt. Sigsbee appeared before the Congressional committees and testified that it was their belief that the Spanish naval officers were responsible for the blowing up of the Maine.3 He made known his purpose to Minister Polo, who peremptorily forbade him to issue the challenge while he was a member of the legation staff.

     Lieut. de Carranza insisted that his official position in no way restricted his rights as a gentleman to call another gentleman to account. It was finally arranged that the issuance of the challenges should await the termination of diplomatic relations between Spain and the United States when Lieut. Carranza would be absolved from any restraint as an official under Minister Polo.

Details of Challenges Arranged.

     In the meantime Lieut. de Carranza consulted his close personal friend, Capt. De la Casa of the Spanish Army, late Military Attaché here,4 and the details of the challenges were arranged. Only Minister Polo, Capt. De la Casa, and one other person were aware of what was done, the strictest secrecy being enjoined on all parties, according to the ethics of dueling, which give to the party challenged the privilege of making public the facts in the transaction. This secrecy is now broken, however, by the rumors current, and the facts of the challenges are made public.

     Lieut. de Carranza’s first challenge was sent to Gen. Lee and it is rather more lengthy that the one to Capt. Sigsbee. It is most deferential, even courtly in tone, according to the tenets of dueling, but aside from the challenge proper, it contains an intentional insult to Gen. Lee, with a view to provoking him to an acceptance.

     The letter sets forth that Gen. Lee in his testimony before the Congressional committee stated that in his judgment Spanish officials exploded the mine which blew up the Maine. This, Lieut. de Carranza asserts in his challenge, is a direct reflection upon the honor of the naval officers who had the charge of the defenses of Havana. “Any man who makes such a charge on belief, and not on proof,” the challenge proceeds, “is himself capable of committing the crime.”

Wanted an Answer in Eight Days.

     . . . The challenge to Capt. Sigsbee is substantially the same as that to Gen. Lee, . . . It refers to Capt. Sigsbee’s testimony before the Senate Committee, and says that the statement that the mine was fired by persons on shore directly impugns the naval officials in charge of shore defenses. In this challenge also, eight days are given during which a rely may be sent to the Spanish Consulate at Toronto.

     The challenge was sent in care of the Navy Department. Capt. Sigsbee had previously left for Philadelphia to take command of the auxiliary cruiser St. Paul, so that the letter may not have reached him.

     Since the challenges were sent no word has reached here as to the purposes of Gen. Lee and Capt. Sigsbee. The dispatch from Toronto indicates that no acceptances or declinations have reached there.

The Challenger.

     Lieut. De Carranza is about forty-five years old, tall, and of athletic build. He looks more like an Englishman than a Spaniard. His face is full-bearded and ruddy from exposure on the sea, for he came to Washington after long sea service. It was he who was intrusted by Gen. Blanco5 with the delivery to Washington of the report of the Spanish Naval Commission which investigated the disaster to the Maine,6 and after delivering the report into the hands of Minister Polo he was attached to the legation. For three years he commanded a gunboat in Cuban waters. He is an expert swordsman and pistol shot.

     Lieut. De Carranza made known his purposes before leaving here of waiting eight days, when if answers were not received, he would publish the challenges sent to Gen. Lee and Capt. Sigsbee. It was suggested to him that the views of dueling taken in this country and Europe were not the same and that the laws prohibited it, but he insisted that these officers would not invoke the law or the custom of the country in the present case.7

Source Note Print: The New York Times, 26 April 1898.

Footnote 1: Capt. Charles D. Sigsbee.

Footnote 2: On 20 April, the New York Times reported that the Spanish Ambassador, Luis Polo de Bernabé, “accompanied by six members of his staff, left Washington at 7:30 o'clock” that night. Presumably, Lt. de Carranza was one of those staff members.

Footnote 3: Sigsbee testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on 31 March and Lee on 12 April 1898. In his testimony, Lee said: “I have always had an idea about the Maine that, of course, it was not blown up by any private individual or by any private citizen, but it was blown up by some of the officers who had charge of the mines and electrical wires and torpedoes in the arsenal there who thoroughly understood their business, for it was done remarkably well.” In his testimony, Sigsbee postulated that the bombing might have been the work of “idle army officers” at Havana, adding that the Spanish naval authorities there “had no vigilance whatever and no guard over us or our vessels. Their vigilance was great wherever their own vessels were concerned.” Report of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Relative to Affairs in Cuba, 55th Congress, 2d session, Report No. 885, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1898), 536, 482-83.

Footnote 4: Carlos De la Casa.

Footnote 5: Governor General of Cuba, Ramón Blanco Erenas Riera y Polo.

Footnote 7: According to a follow-up article in the London Daily Mail and Empire of 2 May 1898, neither Lee nor Sigsbee had replied to Carranza who therefore decided to “publish the correspondence.” Carranza noted that letters from persons in America wishing to fight him in the stead of Lee and Sigsbee had “poured in on him” but since most of these letters were “insulting in tone,” he regarded the writers not to be “gentlemen” and therefore unworthy of a response. Since the “indifference” of Lee and Sigsbee had been “established,” Carranza wanted to make it “clear that he does not intend to shed the blood of any proxies who may volunteer.”

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