Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commander Charles H. Davis to Captain Francis J. Higginson

U.S.S.Dixie,

At Sea,July 30th1898.

Sir:-

          I beg leave to submit the following detailed report of the capture of the port of Ponce on the 27th. instant,and of the surrender of the municipality of Ponce and La Playa on the morning of the 28th.

2.   Acting in obedience to your orders,I sailed from Guanica at 1.45 P.M. on the 27th. in company with the Annapolis and Wasp,entered the channel at Ponce at 3 o’clock and at 5.25 anchored before the town.

3.   Finding that no resistance was made,I sent Lieut.Merriam1 in a boat with a flag of truce to demand the surrender of the place. At the same time I sent Lieut.Haines2 with a guard on board the Wasp and directed Lieut.Ward3 to anchor his vessel in such a position as to command the principal street of Playa. The Dixie and Annapolis were so stationed as to command the shore with their batteries and it would have been easy to have bombarded the City of Ponce from the anchorage with the main battery of the Dixie. Lieut.Haines was directed to act under instructions of Lieut.Merriam.

4.   Some time elapsed before Lieutenant Merriam returned to the ship and it was then dark. The garrison had retired on Ponce,on his approach and he found it impossible to communicate with the military commander. Immediately after the return of Lieutenant Merriam I was waited on, on board ship by the British and German Consuls and several gentlemen representing the commercial interests of the city,who announced that they had authority from the Military Commander to negotiate for the surrender of the place. After some discussion in which I refused to accede to their proposal for a sufficient delay to receive instructions from the Government at San Juan de Puerto Rico,they returned to the shore to confer again with the military commander at Ponce and at half past twelve (midnight) the same persons returned on board and the surrender was agreed to on the following provisional terms pending the arrival of yourself and the army in transports.

5.   First, That the garrison should be allowed to withdraw.

6.   Second, That the municipal government of Ponce should remain in force and the police and fire brigade be maintained,(without arms) to preserve order until the occupation of the city by the United States troops.

7.   Third, that the Harbor Master, the sole remaining Spanish official at Playa,should not be arrested as a prisoner of war.4

8.   At 5.30 A.M. on the 28th,I sent Lieutenant Merriam ashore to take possession. Lieut.Haines with the marines landed from the Wasp. The Custom House was seized,the flag was hoisted and the proper posts and guard were established and maintained until relived [i.e., relieved] by the first detachment of the Army,which began to arrive at about 7 o’clock.

9.   Included in the public property surrendered with the Cities of Ponce and La Playa which form but a single municipality,were the railroad intact from Ponce to Yanco; the Custom House at La Playa; the barracks at Ponce with a capacity for about 1500 troops; a quantity of coal at La Playa, and the cable office. The terms of capitulation were faithfully regarded as far as I know,except that on withdrawing the troops set fire to some railway carriages at the station at Ponce.

10. In the harbor were upwards of twenty merchant vessels some of which showed neutral flags. These were boarded by boats from the Annapolis and Dixie during the evening of the 27th,and morning and forenoon of the 28th. While negotiations for the surrender were in progress the Gloucester came into port,and Lieut.Comdr.Wainwright5 collected during the night all the lighters in the harbor,amounting to a total of about fifty and had them ready to place alongside the transports upon their arrival in the morning,so there was no delay in the landing of the Army.

11. Upon your arrival at 6.40 A.M. of the 28th,I hauled down the Senior Officer’s Pennant and delivered the place to you with a memorandum of the provisional terms of capitulation.

12. I enclose herewith reports of Lieut.G.A.Merriam U.S.N.,and Lieut.H.G.Haines,U.S.M.C.,of their operations on shore.

I am Sir,Your obedient Servant,

C. H. Davis,                

Commander,Commanding.  

Source Note: TCy, DNA, AFNRC, RG 13, Entry 44. Addressed below close: “Captain F.J.Higginson, U.S.N.,/Commanding U.S.S.Massachusetts./Senior Officer Present.” Note above address line: “3 Encls.” Someone later went through this letter and made a number of changes to this document in anticipation of its being printed. These changes have been ignored.

Footnote 1: Lt. Greenlief A. Merriam.

Footnote 2: Lt. Henry C. Haines, USMC.

Footnote 3: Lt. Aaron Ward.

Footnote 4: When Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson reported these terms to Maj. Gen. Miles, the army’s commander in Puerto Rico, Miles refused to be bound by any arrangements made by the navy that affected the operations of the army. Chadwick, The Spanish-American War, 295.

Footnote 5: Lt. Cmdr. Richard Wainwright.

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