Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commander Henry W. Lyon to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

U. S. S. DOLPHIN,            

Hampton Roads, Va.,       

August 15, 1898.  

S i r:

     1.   In the report of Lieut. Colonel R.W. Huntington, U.S.M.C., generally published in the newspapers of the 11th Inst., upon the subject of a sortie of a battalion of Marines and Insurgent allies under Captain G. F. Elliott, U.S.M.C. against the Spanish troops and Cuban volunteers who were harassing the Marine Camp day and night, the only mention made of the U. S. S. DOLPHIN is such as to lead to the belief that the fire from the DOLPHIN marred rather than aided the effort.1

     2.   I do not wish to detract in the least from the credit due the splendid courage and endurance of the Marines, who sustained their reputation, - than which one can not give higher praise. They had been under guerilla fire for several days and nights while pitching and entrenching their camp, and upon the day in question, tired and jaded as they must have been, under a torrid sun, and over a country covered with chaparral, they made a successful reconnoissance in force against an enemy superior in number and accustomed to the conditions of the locality.

  3.     The extract from Colonel Huntington’s report reads, as published:

     “Second Lieut. Magill,2 with fifty men and ten Cubans, joined Capt. Elliott, climbing the mountain through the cactus and brush; this advance was intended to cut off the retreat of the Spaniards, which unfortunately     failed of its principal object, owing to the fact that his advance was stopped by the fire of the United States steamer DOLPHIN.”

  4.      The ship’s company of the DOLPHIN was in a position to take a calm and dispassionate view of the circumstances, for the ship was at no time under fire, nor was there a chance at any time of her being so. When the Marines first opened fire, they had left the shore line and ascended a high ridge where they were deployed along the crest with their backs toward the ship, from which, although close in shore, firing was out of the question. The ship moved along close in shore passing the right and rear of the infantry line and trying to find a place where the guns would be effective against the hitherto unseen enemy.

At last, by entering the mouth of a little bay near the windmill spoken of,3 the DOLPHIN could train her guns up a valley, the Marines being on the crest of the hill on one side, and the enemy being somewhere opposite. An enfilading, but tentative fire was opened with 4 inch, six and three pounder guns, the Cuban pilot on board, who knew the locality, indicating where there was a house hidden by the chapparal, which was presumably the center and stronghold of the enemy’s line. It was very difficult to get wig wag signals from the shore force, as the only flag there was blue and showed very badly against the dark green chapparal.4 Two of them, however, were read, the first was to “shell the valley and the house,” and this I tried to do, taking information from the Cuban pilot for my guidance. The next signal was: “Shell the other valley,” and this I did with equal vigor. As I have said before, there was no house in sight except a block house near the shore, which the DOLPHIN had riddled the day before, and, where there were no signs of an enemy. Soon, a lucky shell struck the masked house, the enemy retreated, the Marines had them well in view for the first time, shot them down as they fled up the hill, and the engagement was over.

 5.       About this time, men from our shore force were soon coming down the hill toward the ship. A boat was sent in to communicate with them, in charge of Ensign Cole.5 Arrived ashore, he promptly signalled for water and ammunition which were sent in another boat, all the water breakers in the ship being used.   Several trips were then made between the shore and the ship, bringing off wounded and prostrated officers and men, This is where the DOLPHIN got in her best work, for two officers and twenty-three men of the Marines, who were exhausted and prostrated by the heat, and of the three wounded Marines, three exhausted and four wounded Cuban Insurgents not one of them, in opinion of the Surgeon of this ship, Dr. Gardner,6 could have got back to camp on foot.

  6.      We were all told by the Officers and men of the Marines whom we took back, that our shell did the business, and that a Spanish Lieutenant told them that his people could stand anything but shell fire from the ships.

     It certainly did strike me that the DOLPHIN had been a valuable adjunct to the expedition, when I saw my long transoms in the upper cabin filled with wounded men, an amputation being performed on the cabin table, a score of prostrated men lying under the awnings on deck and a dead man on the poop.

     We covered the rear of the shore force on its way back to camp and possible the moral effect of a gun boat prevented an attack.

Respectfully,     

(Sgd.) H.W. LYON,   

Commander, U.S. Navy,  

Commanding.  

Source Note: TCy, AFNRC, M625, roll 238. Addressed below close: “THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY.” Notation at the top middle of first page “(COPY)”; on the next line at the left margin is an identification number: “#104.” The typist of this copy repeatedly, but not consistently, did not leave a space between a comma and the next word those typographical errors have been corrected silently. He also consistently added three or more spaces after a period ending a sentence. That spacing has been silently corrected.

Footnote 2: Marine Lt. Louis J. Magill.

Footnote 3: Presumably, a windmill which drew water from the Cuzco well.

Footnote 4: Journalist Stephen Crane celebrated the bravery of the marine, Pvt. John Fitzgerald, who signaled Dolphin. So he could be seen by the gunboat, Fitzgerald had to stand atop a hill, and in doing so, made himself a very visible target for Spanish defenders of the well. Crane, “The Red Badge of Courage Was His Wig-Wag Flag,” The New York World, 23 June 1898. For his bravery, Fitzgerald was later awarded the Medal of Honor. Marines in the Spanish-American War, 18

Footnote 5: En. William C. Cole.

Footnote 6: Surgeon James E. Gardner.

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