Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to Captain Charles E. Clark
Washington, May 1, 1898.
Oregon, Rio Janeiro.
Four Spanish armored cruisers heavy and fast, three torpedo boat destroyers sailed April 22th, from Cape de Verde to the west, destination unknown.1 Beware of and study carefully situation. Must be left to your discretion entirely to avoid this fleet and to reach the United States by West Indies. You can go when and where you desire, or if it is considered necessary as last resort and can rely on Brazilian protection, you may remain there [using] the [plea] of repairs in that case beware of torpedoes, unfriendliness, treachery. Avoid French possessions.2 Nictheroy and the Marietta subject to the orders of yourself.3 After leaving Rio Janeiro probably will be watched and followed spy vessels.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 28.
Footnote 1: Oregon never encountered the Spanish fleet under the command of RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete. The Spanish left the Cape Verde Islands on 29 April, and reached Martinique on 12 May. RAdm. Cervera’s fleet was denied coal by the French colonial government so it moved to Curaçao on 14 May 1898. On that very day, Oregon returned the salute of Capt. Joshua Slocum, an American on the first solo sailing trip around the world at the same longitude as the Amazon delta. Oregon arrived at Bridgetown on 18 May, six days after it could have intersected the Spanish fleet. Trask, War With Spain, 111 and 116 and Sternlicht, McKinley’s Bulldog, 65-66.
Footnote 2: It is not clear why Long was concerned about treachery at French ports. There was some conjecture that the French might join the war on the side of the Spanish because of major investments in Spanish government bonds. According to one historian, however, French governmental sources indicated that they preferred the Spanish surrender of Cuba so Madrid might devote itself to more productive domestic uses and had no intention of entering the war. John L. Offner, An Unwanted War: The Diplomacy of the United States and Spain Over Cuba, 1895-1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 59-60.
Footnote 3: Capt. Clark became frustrated by the slow pace of Marrietta and the recently purchased auxiliary cruiser Nictheroy. He decided to leave them behind on 9 May, so that Oregon could join the North Atlantic Fleet as soon as possible. See: Clark to Long, 9 May 1898.