Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Charles E. Clark to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

U.S.S.OREGON, 1st rate,          

At Sea; Off the Florida, Coast.,   

May 24, 1898.     

Sir:-

     I have the honor to report to the Department that having been informed at Barbados that the ship must sail within twenty four hours after arrival and that the use of the cable was restricted to messages that could not be regarded as infringing upon the neutrality regulations, I ordered three hundred (300) tons of coal which was all that could well be handled in the time allowed us. During the afternoon the Governor, Sir James Shaw Hay, sent an officer to say that twenty four hours might be considered as ending at daylight of the 19th which gave us little extension. I received messages that showed how strongly the feeling in our favor was running and how much it was regretted that the same regulations must be enforced against us as had been against the Spanish Protected Cruiser Alfonso XIII which had arrived shortly before with troops on board. The health officer and others were positive that three torpedo boats had been seen near the Island evidently looking for the OREGON and the current reports of a Spanish fleet off Saint Pierre, Martinique only varied as to the number of vessels comprising it, ten to seventeen.

     2. Our Consul,1 who was zealous in doing all that was possible to aid us, having been allowed to send a telegram reporting our arrival the Spanish Consul was allowed the same privilege and during the afternoon the vice Consul2 reported that long messages were arriving from the Governor of Porto Rico and other Spanish Officials though I am not sure that they were delivered and I much doubted the report of the coming of the Spanish fleet from Martinique. However, the results of an attack by a torpedo flotilla backed by armored cruisers might have been so disastrous to our Naval strength with no commensurate offset in the way of injury to that of the Spain that just after dark I ordered steam, paid for the coal already delivered, 250 tons, at an increased price per ton to compensate the dealers for the work on the lighters not received, and sailed before 10:00 P.M.. Ran a little distance to the westward as if heading for the passages between the Islands then turned to the Southward and Eastward, passed around Barbados, and keeping well out to seaward made for Jupiter Inlet, the point where I could earliest communicate with the Department by telegraph and from which with the amount of coal on board I could reinforce either Squadron.3

     3. The route through the Caribbean Sea to Key West was objectionable in other respects, the smooth sea being favorable to torpedo vessels and the increase in temperature would have borne heavily on the Engineers force4 already pushed almost to the point of collapse by the long voyage much of the time at full speed, twice across the tropics and with no rest even in port since leaving San Francisco.

                                  Very respectfully,

                                  C. E. Clark

                             Captain, U.S.Navy, Commanding.

Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 230. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy/Washington, D.C.” Document reference: “#52.”

Footnote 1: United States Consul at Kingston S. A. Macallister.

Footnote 2: United States Vice Consul at Kingston Arthur B. St. Hill.

Footnote 3: Oregon went from Brazil to Barbados, where it coaled under Britain’s strict rules of neutrality; the Spanish consul was permitted to relay Oregon’s location to Madrid. Capt. Clark decided to use Spanish inquistiveness to his advantage and set out the night in the direction of Key West on 23 May, with Oregon’s lights burning. He then ordered the ship to go dark and headed northeast toward Bermuda. Oregon reached the east coast of Florida the evening of 24 May. A party landed at Jupiter Inlet, Florida, to make contact with the Navy Department. Charles E. Clark, My Fifty Years in the Navy (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1917), 275-77.

Footnote 4: The “Engineers force” refers to Oregon’s coal passers.