Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Adjutant General Henry C. Corbin to Major General William R. Shafter

 

[Telegram.]

 

War Department, Washington [DC], May 30, 1898.

(Sent in cipher May 31, 1898, 2.30 a. m.)

 

Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter, Tampa, Fla.:

     With the approval of the Secretary of War,1 you are directed to take your command on transports, proceed under convoy of the Navy to the vicinity of Santiago de Cuba, land your force at such place east or west of that point as your judgment may dictate,2 under the protection of the Navy, and move it onto the high ground and bluffs overlooking the harbor or into the interior, as shall best enable you to capture or destroy the garrison there; and cover the Navy as it sends its men in small boats to remove torpedoes, or with the aid of the Navy capture or destroy the Spanish fleet now reported to be in Santiago Harbor.3 You will use the utmost energy to accomplish this enterprise, and the Government relies upon your good judgment as to the most judicious use of your command, but desires to impress upon you the importance of accomplishing this object with the least possible delay. You can call to your assistance any of the insurgent forces in that vicinity, and make use of such of them as you think advisable to assist you, especially as scouts, guides, etc.4 You are cautioned against putting too much confidence in any persons outside of your troops. You will take every precaution against ambuscades or surprises or positions that may have been mined or are commanded by the Spanish forces. You will cooperate most earnestly with the naval forces in every way, agreeing beforehand upon a code of signals. Communicate your instructions to Admiral Sampson and Commodore Schley.5 On completion of this enterprise, unless you receive other orders or deem it advisable to remain in the harbor of Santiago de Cuba, reembark your troops and proceed to the harbor of Port de Banes, reporting by the most favorable means for further orders and future important service.6 This with the understanding that your command has not sustained serious loss and that the above harbor is safe for your transports and convoy. When will you sail?

     By command of Major-General Miles:

H. C. Corbin, Adjutant-General.

Source Note Print: Correspondence-War with Spain, 1: 18-19.

Footnote 1: Secretary of War Russell A. Alger.

Footnote 2: These orders giving Shafter the option of landing either west or east of Santiago de Cuba differ from those issued on 27 May, by Secretary of the Navy John D. Long who specified to RAdm. William T. Sampson that the landing would be east of Santiago de Cuba. See: Long to Sampson, 27 May 1898.

Footnote 3: This phrase gives Shafter two options in how he could conduct the “Santiago campaign.” First, he could assist the Navy in clearing the mines protecting the channel leading to the harbor and the Spanish fleet under RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete. With those mines removed, the Navy could steam into Santiago Bay and attack Cervera’s fleet. The second option was to attack and capture the city, which would force Cervera to sortie his fleet or risk its capture. Shafter chose the latter strategy; Sampson assumed that Shafter would execute the first option as well. However, in a cable sent the same day at 8 p. m., Corbin reiterated: “The primary object of the expedition is the capture or destruction of the enemy’s fleet in the port, which would be almost decisive of the war.” DLC, William R. Shafter Papers.

Footnote 4: The Cuban forces did assist the American forces. For more on the nature of this assistance, see: Trask, War with Spain, 174-75, 204, 225-26, 246, and 301.

Footnote 5: RAdm. William T. Sampson and Commo. Winfield S. Schley, who commanded the naval forces blockading Santiago de Cuba.

Footnote 6: On 1 June, Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles reported that a force of Cuban insurgents with the assistance of Army Capt. Joseph H. Dorst and the U.S. Navy armed tug Osceola seized Port de Banes, which is located on the north coast of Cuba. This operation, wrote Miles, “anticipated us.” Correspondence-War with Spain, 1: 21 and Chadwick, The Spanish-American War, 2: 11.

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