Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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

NAVY DEPARTMENT

Secret and Confidential.                     Washington Dec. 7, 1897

Sir:

     It is possible that riots and demonstrations may take place in Havana, directed against the lives and property of American citizens, and that the Spanish authorities may fail or be unable to protect the Consulate and the lives and property of Americans.

     2. In case the United States Consul General at Havana1 should be unable to communicate with the Department of State and should require the presence of an American man-of-war at Havana, he has been authorized to communicate, direct, with you, and should you receive from him, by telegraph, or in any other manner, the letter “A”, signed by the Consul General, you will proceed, with all despatch, To Havana, and co-operate with him in the preservation of American lives and property.2

     3. You will communicate with him, at the earliest possible moment, indicating your readiness to aid, if need be, in the removal from Havana, of any members of the Consulate, or other citizens of the United States, in case it become desirable they should leave that port. As to what other and further things you shall do, the Department reposes confidence in your judgment, and not being able to foresee all the circumstances that may arise, will expect you to exercise your best judgment for the preservation of American life and property.

     4. Immediately upon receiving the agreed upon signal from the Consul General at Havana, direct the “Detroit” to proceed,3 at once, to Matanzas, Cuba, to act in a similar manner at that place. This vessel has already been furnished with orders similar to those issued to you, and in case you find, upon your arrival at Key West,4 that she has proceeded to Havana, in pursuance of advices received from the Consul General, you will follow her to that port, and upon arrival, order her to Matanzas.

     5. This communication is to be regarded as of the most confidential character, and is not to be communicated by you to any other person than Commander J.H. Dayton, U.S.S., Commanding the U.S.S. Detroit, without specific orders from the Department.5

                                  Very respectfully,

                                      (Sig) John D. Long,

                                                     Secretary

Source Note: CyS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 225. Addressed below close: “Captain/C.D.Sigsbee U.S.N./Commanding U.S.S. Maine,/Navy Yard, Norfolk, Va.” Appearing at top of document, just below “NAVY DEPARTMENT,” which is printing on stationery, is “67015” and “EC,” which are presumably the order number and the typist’s initials.

Footnote 1: Fitzhugh Lee.

Footnote 2: Since the only means of telegraphic communication between Lee and Sigsbee was an open cable line easily monitored by the Spanish, the two worked out a different code. If Lee sent a cable to Key West with the words “two dollars,” Sigsbee had two hours to make ready to steam for Havana. Maine was not to depart until it received a second cable with the sentence: “Vessels might be employed elsewhere.” Blow, A Ship to Remember, 83

Footnote 3: On the same day, Long sent a message to Cmdr. James A. Dayton, commanding Detroit, informing him that “Secret and Confidential” orders, similar to those Dayton had received on 3 December, had been sent to Sigsbee that ordered Dayton to communicate with Sigsbee when Maine arrived in Key West. See, Ibid.

Footnote 4: Key West was the port in the United States closest to Cuba. In the winter of 1897, and to the consternation of Spanish officials, Washington moved the bulk of the American Navy to Key West ostensibly for “winter exercises.” The Spanish ambassador informed his superiors that the McKinley Administration had ordered the move to placate “jingoes.” See Dupuy de Lôme to Gullón, 10 February 1898, Spanish Diplomatic Correspondence, 79-80.

Footnote 5: In an undated telegram, presumably written at this time, Sigsbee was also ordered to collect information about the defenses of Havana. See, DNA, RG 45, Entry 2.

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