Assistant Engineer Joseph M. Reeves to His Mother, Francis B. Reeves
U. S. Battleship OREGON
Blockading off Santiago de Cuba,
June 13, 1898.
My dear Mother:
Writing to Eleanor1 every day and to you at intervals, I forgot exactly what I have written. There isn’t very much to write in any case; things are pretty slow here. Sampson2 may have the strategy but I am dogged if he has the fight. Bombardment of forts at three thousand yards may be strategy but it isn’t much like war. To begin with away back, we arrived here on June 1, early in the morning and found Schley3 and his fleet here doing nothing at all. He had made a feeble effort at a scrap the day before we came in but he scrapped at five thousand yards. We were greeted with cheers by all the ships. They are jealous of each other but they are all anxious to be on the good side of the OREGON. They cuss each other out but all say we are the stuff. On June 2 we proved that. Ordered by Schley to chase a steamer we started after her six miles away. From a standing start and no blowers on for the first hour we averaged exactly 16 knots for nearly three hours. The Marblehead sent after us to bring us back could not catch up. She was farther behind at the finish than at the start. We caught the tug all OK for such she proved to be, a news paper tug. I have a picture of myself after the run and if it is ever developed it will show what a forced run means if a fellow works and I did. Some of the engineers didn’t even come below at all. But the OREGON has a name now and I believe in keeping it if possible. The Chief4 has to be driven, he is no good. After all the rep he has gotten for this trip (he deserves 0 of it) he want to be taken off. Has even worked in an indirect way for it. Jenson5 a young engineer cadet is about the only one who is much good. I don’t mean to say he and I deserve all the credit for the trip around but we worked about as hard as any one and I will say we did every one of the fast runs by ourselves and practically against orders of the Chief. After it was over and nothing happened, no accidents he was pleased enough, and ready to take any credit. It isn’t good patriotism to cuss out your senior officers but the Chief himself has said that he is too old for this sort of thing and I heartily agree with him. There are others also who are too old. It needs young fighting blood to carry on a war, those who are not afraid to run some risk. The North Atlantic fleet are scared. The first thing I heard was: “Don’t underestimate the Spanish fleet.”, the Spanish fortifications etc. By jove those people haven’t been near enough to find out whether there are any or not. The Army is a blamed sight worse than the Navy. Well something will be done after a while I guess. The army are expected here any time now, and they may get here * any time.
On June 3 there was a cable steamer dragging for a cable. It is rumored they found and cut one. The OREGON and Texas were detailed to protect her while at work, we thus got within two miles of Morro Castle, near enough to see there was something there, I think it had been a rumor before. That same night we had a torpedo attack, which came to nothing. Every ship fired as fast as she could into the night except the OREGON. The next morning a torpedo was picked up and every ship immediately said she had sunk the torpedo boat. This torpedo was of German make and in some respects better than ours. On June 5 the lengthy council of was [i.e., war] was held. On June 6 the immortal bombarded off Santiago de Cuba. This began at 22 minutes of eight and lasted till 10:18. The two fleets formed in line, the two flag ships leading, and the[y] steamed in this formation to within 3000 yards of Morro when our fleet made art.6 turn and Schley a left turn when the rear ships were up on the radius of 3000 yds. The fleet stopped and began plugging away, see sketch on next page, back of.
small The Dolphin and Vixen were to protect the flanks from the fire of musketry and small arms on the beach. We could not see very much for soon after the fire began it began to rain and it was pretty misty ashore, but I think we upset some of the guns. The thirteen inch guns made some big dust fly. Within a few minutes after we opened the Spaniards left their guns and didn’t fire till we quit. On June 10 we went to Guantanamo to coal. It is a place about 40 miles from here to the east. While there about 11 A.M. in came the Yosemite convoying the Panther with nearly 700 Marines on board. At 1:50 P.M. the Marines landed, the first to land on Cuban soil to stay. I say to as we landed 40 Marines from this ship in the forenoon to skirmish but finding nothing they came back at noon. The Marblehead, which is blockading that port bombarded some troops ashore the day before we came. There is an outer and an inner harbor and our forces only have the outer harbor. In the inner are said to be two Spanish Gunboats7 and the troops that the Marble head drove in. The OREGON came back here on the blockade the same night. Last night there was another alarm and we cleared for action but nothing happened. I believe there was some firing from shore, probably at out steam launches which are within a mile or less every night on picket duty. This morning the Solace came in. She is a hospital boat and I hope the forerunner of the army, which by the way is expected, or was expected today. This is the history of everything that has been done so far.
I send some poems I have copied about things in general. Some of them are pretty good. I also send a list of the auxiliary ships we have been getting. It is copied from the Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, but is not complete.8 The Yale and Harvard are not down for two. Some of the ships are old revenue cutters and Light House Tenders which are no good as fighters. The Merrimac is the collier that was sunk in the entrance to the channel of Santiago on June 3. The officers who took her in are now in the Morro and we were careful not to fire on that place. The officers are to be exchanged I believe.
It is dinner time and I must desist * Give my love to all the relatives. Continue to address to Key West. We don’t get much mail here but may be we will get it some time. There is no danger from this war, no risk at all. Good bye and love to all
Affectionately your son,
Source Note: Cy, DN-HC, Joseph M. Reeves Manuscript Collection.
Footnote 1: Reeves’ wife, Eleanor Reeves.
Footnote 2: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 3: Commo. Winfield S. Schley, Commander, Flying Squadron.
Footnote 4: Chief Eng. Roberts W. Milligan.
Footnote 5: Cadet Henry N. Jenson.
Footnote 6: That is, “a right.”
Footnote 7: Sandoval was the Spanish gunboat at Guantanamo.
Footnote 8: No list was found with this letter.