Captain Charles D. Sigsbee to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long
U. S. S. ST. PAUL,
Straits of, Florida, Bound for New York,
May 31, 1898.
. . . The two vessels seen in the entrance of Santiago early in the morning of the 29th by all the United States vessels there were in the channelway encircling Smith’s Island, with broadsides presenting seaward. Either they had intended coming out that morning, believing that Commodore Schley had proceeded West,1 or they were stationed in the channel with the intention of supporting the fortifications, assuming that the United States Squadron intended to attack immediately.
The Cuban pilot, Eduardo Nunez, sent to Commodore Schley by the United States Consul at Kingston,2 and who had been employed as a coast pilot by the Spanish Navy, especially at Santiago, had informed me on the 26th inst. that the Viscaya class of vessels could not enter Santiago; that he had never known a larger vessel than 4500 tons to enter the harbor. He stated that the difficulty was not one of draft, but of the great length of the Viscaya class. He finally admitted that vessels of that class could enter the harbor with the help of the two tugs which were available in the harbor of Santiago. The chart of Santiago seemed to bear out the assertion of this pilot. The channel is very narrow and has short turns. The tidal current is also strong. The pilot said that a long vessel would not attempt to enter Santiago except in very smooth weather. It is more than probable that he had but little experience with twin screws.3 This pilot, who had left Santiago about one month before, said that there was probably not more than 1000 tons of coal at Santiago. If this statement was correct, the capture by the ST. PAUL of the collier Restormel with 2400 tons of coal on board, on the morning of the 25th of May, brought serious disappointment and loss to the Spanish men or war. There are apparently new earth works both East and West of Santiago, all on the high ridge of land in that locality.
Just before leaving Santiago, I told Commodore Schley4 that the weather then prevailing was far more favorable for coaling outside than any I had observed in my eight days’ continuous cruise off the entrance, and strongly urged taking unceasing advantage of it. The Vixen was then coaling from a collier. The Texas and Marblehead had also taken on board some coal recently. I also stated that it was my belief that Guantanamo Bay, forty miles East of Santiago, should be seized, and the shores garrisoned by United States troops. In that case, United States vessels would have a fine base for operating against Santiago. A great advantage in favor of that Bay is that the land thereabouts is much lower than elsewhere, and therefore does not offer the usual facilities of the region for a plunging fire on vessels and troops from surrounding hills. I was much pleased on meeting Admiral Sampson5 to find that my views regarding that Bay were about the same as his own. Coaling at sea off Santiago will be very difficult much of the time. The short rainy season is about to commence, in fact we had some of it.
The duty performed by the ST. PAUL has been one very fatiguing to both officers and men on board. Hardly a day passed off Santiago that the ST. PAUL did not give chase, sometimes several times during the day, at a speed exceeding 19 knots, very exhausting work in the tropics to the engineer’s force.6
Source Note: TCy, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 230. Addressed below close: “To/The Secretary of the Navy.” At the top of the first page is typed a document identifier: “No. 30A. There is a handwritten note at the foot of the last page of the letter: “*name written at Department.” There is a second copy of the letter that bears a different identifier on the docketing page. That docketing page has an “X” through it. On the first copy, the docketing page has a stamp of the Bureau of Navigation at the top surrounding the identifying number “116826.” Immediately below that is “U. S. S. ST. PAUL, Straits of Florida, bound for/New York./May 31, 1898.” Below that is a row of dashes followed by: “Sigsbee, C. D.,/Captain, U. S. N./Commanding.” This is followed by another row of dashes and then: “Reciting movements of the St./Paul from 10 A. M. May 29th to/date, including meeting the/Commander in Chief in Old Ba-/hama Channel, May 30th; statement/of verbal orders from him for/St. Paul to water and recoal at/New York and join, Captain/Sigsbee in the meantime to re-/port personally to the Departmet;/together with appearance of/Spanish vessels inside the en=/trance of the harbor of Santiago/on the morning of May 29th,/Cuban pilot’s statement on entrance/thereto, and Captain Sigsbee’s/remarks to Com. Schley with re-/gard to coal and as to seizure of/Guantanano.” The text of the first copy is marked up with corrections, changes in capitalization, and with underlines below the names of vessels. These were changes that were made in the published version of this letter in Appendix to the Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation: 1898, pp. 412-14; but have not been included in the transcription printed here.
Footnote 1: In his report of 30 May, Commo. Winfield S. Schley identified these vessels as the Cristobal Colon and a Spanish Royal Navy vessel of the Vizcaya or Infanta Maria Teresa class. Ibid., p. 403.
Footnote 2: United States Consul at Kingston Louis A. Dent.
Footnote 3: Twin screws, that is, two propellers, provide maneuverability.
Footnote 4: Commo. Winfield S. Schley, Commander, Flying Squadron.
Footnote 5: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet. As Sigsbee suggested, Sampson ordered a battalion of marines to seize Guantanamo Bay on 10 June. See, Journal of the First Marine Battalion.
Footnote 6: The “engineer’s force,” or “black gang” were members of the crew who worked in the engine room shoveling coal into the ship’s boilers.