United States Naval Attaché in Paris Commander Giles B. Harber to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long
EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES
18 AVENUE KLEBER
June 15, 18981
November 28, 1900.
I respectfully submit, from memory, the following report upon the action with the forts near Guantanamo, Cuba, June 15, 1898, referring chiefly to the part therein taken by the U.S.S. TEXAS, of which vessel I was the Executive Officer.
By order of the Commander-in-Chief2 the TEXAS left her station on the Santiago blockade on the morning of 15 June, 1898, with instructions to destroy the fort at Guantanamo.
Upon arrival in Guantanamo Bay the vessel was boarded by Captain McCalla,3 who brought with him a pilot (holding, I believe, the rank of Lieut. Col. in the Insurgent Army),4 who claimed to know the channel between the islets, and assured us there were no dangers in the channel, and we could take the TEXAS into a position giving a good view of the fort and within easy range.
Captain McCalla believed the man trustworthy. Captain Philip5 gave warning that, in case of trouble arising from any fault of his, he would probably lose his life, and we proceeded slowly toward the river channel.
Captain McCalla returned to the MARBLEHEAD, which got under way in a few minutes, and followed the TEXAS. As the water shoaled the TEXAS proceeded with great caution until the soundings gave only 24 ft., and it was evident we could not go further without undue risk to the vessel. At this time the fort could be seen from the bridge over a point of land covered with bushes, but from the battery the fort was not really in sight. The chip was stopped and the anchor was dropped under foot, and we at once opened fire on the fort, which had already commenced firing upon us.6 Before actually opening fire the Division Officers took the line of the fort from the bridge. The MARBLEHEAD “came to” a little to the westward of the TEXAS, and very soon the SUWANEE took position to westward of MARBLEHEAD, both opening fire at once.
The TEXAS lay nearly head on, but at times swung a little, head to westward, so that the starboard forward 6” could assist in the action, but during most of the time only the starboard 12” (turret) and forward 6” (upper deck) could be brought to bear. Captain Philip personally directed the fire until clearly the fort was a mere heap of ruins, when the action closed.7
At no time had the fire from the fort given any trouble. Several of the enemy’s projectiles fell near the vessels, but none happened to come on board.8
The TEXAS lifted her anchor, literally turned 180 degrees about her own centre, steamed down the channel, and leaving Guantanamo Bay, returned to her station on the blockade.
It was not till after leaving the channel that we learned of our extraordinary escape from destruction by torpedoes. The propeller of the TEXAS had torn one large contact mine from its moorings, and the MARBLEHEAD had fouled another with her screw.9
No serious damage was done, but the firing of the starboard turret (12”) gun, right ahead, developed the inability of the upper deck to stand the strain of continued firing of the turret guns over the deck. At the end of this action the following minor injuries were observed as a result of one discharge directly forward and others at a small angle with the keel: One plank of upper deck forward was torn up, the light wires forward broken, and wiring battens torn from place, on the gun deck the stanchions placed especially to support the upper deck when receiving the strains due to firing over it, were much bent. The deck had apparently sprung back into position, and the stanchions having become short by bending tore loose from securings below, and thus tore up a portion of the gun deck.
Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 231. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy,/Washington, D.C.” Document is on Paris Naval Attaché stationery. Docketed: “UNITED STATES EMBASSY/Paris, France./November 30, 1900./Harber, Giles B.,/Commander/U.S.N./SUBJECT:/Report of engagement with/forts off Cayo de Toro, near/Guantanamo, June 15, 1898./ENCLOSURES.”
Footnote 1: Handwritten date indicates the time the report refers to.
Footnote 2: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 3: Cmdr. Bowman H. McCalla.
Footnote 4: New Orleans-born Cuban pilot Col. Alfredo Laborde. David C. Carlson, “In the Fists of Earlier Revolutions: Postemancipation Social Control and State Formation in Guantanamo, Cuba, 1868-1902,” PhD diss., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 2007, 264.
Footnote 5: Capt. John W. Philip.
Footnote 6: In their after-action report, the Spanish maintained that they fired eleven shots at the American flotilla: six from the muzzle-loading guns and five from the more modern Krupp gun. Carlson, “In the Fists of Earlier Revolutions,” 297-98.
Footnote 7: According to a report made to Sampson on 15 June by the captain of Suwanee, Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Delehanty, the firing on the fort lasted “for about an hour” after the fire from the fort had been “silenced.” DNA, M625, Roll 231.
Footnote 8: According to the Spanish, one of their seventy-pound lead studded shells fired by a muzzle loading cannon skipped across the water like a flat stone only to sink some ten yards from the hull of the Marblehead. Carlson, “In the Fists of Earlier Revolutions,” 298.
Footnote 9: For more on these mines, see: McCalla, Lessons of the Late War, 1899.