Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commodore John A. Howell, Commander, Second Blockading Squadron, to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet


U.S.Flagship San Francisco.     

Off Nuevitas,Cuba.             

July 17, 1898.         


     I have to report the following report in regard to the blockade of the north coast of the Island of Cuba:-

     1. In obedience to your telegraphic order of the 9th instant forwarded to me through the Commander-in-Chief of the Key West Naval Base,I have extended the Cuban blockade through the entire northern coast of the island,as far as the number of vessel under my control will admit.

     2. The vessels in question are at this date stationed as follows:-

Between Porto Tanamo1 and Punta Gorda----Topeka and Maple.

Gibara and vicinity----Prairie.

Nuevitas and vicinity----Badger.

Cardenas2 and Matanzas----Pompey, Uncas and Hudson.

Havana,Mariel, and Bahia Honda----I left Havana on July 11,leaving Captain Ludlow3 of the Terror in charge there, so that I cannot give the exact distribution of the vessels in that vicinity.

     3. In my opinion this distribution is not sufficient to give a thorough blockade of the coast, and if possible ships should be assigned as follows:

In vicinity of Baracoa----------------------------------1.

Between Porto Tanamo and Punta Godra--------------------1.

Gibara and vicinity-------------------------------------1.

Porto Padre,Porto Malagasta and Port Manati-------------1.

Nuevitas and vicinity-----------------------------------1.

Boca de Caravela and Boca de Guajaba--------------------1.

From Santa Maria Cay to Frageso Cay---------------------1.

From Frageso Cay to Dromedary Cay-----------------------1.

From Bahia de Cadiz Cay to Piedras Cay------------------1.

Matanzas and vicinity-----------------------------------2.


Mariel and vicinity-------------------------------------1.

Bahia Honda and vicinity--------------------------------1.

Pass of Jutlas to Pass of Buena Vista-------------------1.

Pass of Buena Vista to Cape San Antonio-----------------1.


     4. Of the vessels off Havana four should have a draft of not more than ten feet,if possible,two or more should be heavy ships,and the remainder should be vessels of good speed. All present efforts seem to be towards funning the blockade at this port by creeping along the shore, especially from westward, and small,light draft vessels are necessary to detect and stop this,while some ships of higher speed should be on hand to take up the chase. The heavy ships should be kept there because of the moral effect,to serve as a rallying point for the lighter ships,to run under the batteries, to destroy blockade runners if necessary, and to respond to the fire of the batteries if desired.

     5. At least six small vessels of not more than six feet draft and of considerable size,similar to those used on the rivers during our civil war,should be kept inside the keys between Cardenas and Nuevitas,and two or three more inside the keys to the westward of Bahia Honda.

     6. I find that ships can be on their stations for a really greater length of time if they are able to go into Key West or some other port where they can get water for their boilers about once in three weeks,than they can if coaled inside the keys, and I am in favor of that method of coaling and watering wherever it is possible. The better condition of the machinery resulting from the use of fresh water in the boilers makes the [s]hips more serviceable where this method can be followed. To do this would of course call for about a third more ships than those actually on station,so that they could be relieved in turn.

     7. Thus a force of forty ships and twelve of the craft for work inside the keys would make a complete and perfect blockade possible,keeping twenty-seven ships on station all the time.

     8. Realizing that probably this number of vessels cannot be sent to the duty and that some parts of the coast will therefore probably have to be neglected,I have to recommend as specially worthy of care the following:-

Havana and vicinity, including Mariel and Bahia Honda.

Cardenas to Nuevitas,

Nuevitas to Porto Tanano. The importance of this last section will be very largely diminished after the conquest of the Province of Santiago,and the blockade could probably be discontinued there before very long.

     9. Assuming that the main object of the blockade is to facilitate the fall of Havana by preventing the ingress of stores into that city,there are two sections of the north coast to be considered. Blockade running at Bahia Honda and Mariel can be easily prevented,especially as lack of railroad connections with Havana makes the transportation of stores from these points difficult. Havana itself is easily closed if only ten vessels of proper description can be kept there. Two ships at Matanzas will fully close that port. Thus the ships in hand can easily guard this first section.

     10. The section section,from Piedras City Cay to Nuevitas is much more difficult to handle,and at present is the principal source of supplies to Havana. According to our best information there is rail connection to the eastward from Havana as far as San Juan de los Raemedios. Cargo landed anywhere inside these keys can be readily transshipped by boat and rail to Havana,and my reports show that much of this traffic has been going on. I have as yet been able to do nothing to stop it,from lack of ships,but I will give my attention to the matter as soon as possible. It is here that the very light draft vessels are needed,and this matter is of prime importance if the supply of provisions to Havana is to be stopped. Nuevitas should be blockaded for the same reason.

     11. I do not fear that supplies introduced to the eastward of Nuevitas or to the westward of Bahia Honda,on the north coast,can be gotten into Havana.

     12. While off Port Nipe I communicated with some Cuban insurgents at Port Banes. There were about twenty-five of them there,and no Spaniards,but they reported about one thousand Spanish troops at Port Nipe. There is a small gunboat at Nipe,but I could not find out whether there were any batteries of not. Apparently there was one,but it would not open fire,although the Topeka stood in close enough to exchange shots with the gunboat but without effect.

     13. I have endeavored to find some ports of refuge to be used in case of hurricanes,especially for the smaller craft. Pot Banes is available for the small vessels,but that is the only one I have been able to find. There seems to be absolutely nothing of the sort in the vicinity of Havana.

          14. The Cubans at Banes offer to furnish pilots to take vessels into that port,and I have directed the Commanding Officer of the Topeka ascertain whether that port is available for larger vessels,and whether it is possible to coal there from a collier.4

Very respectfully,

(Signed)                J. A. Howell,          


Commanding North Cuba Blockade.

Source Note: TCyS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, Roll 325. Addressed below close: “The/Commander-in-Chief,/North Atlantic Station,/Off Santiago de Cuba.” On the first page of the letter, in the upper right-hand corner is typed: “COPY./Nov.1-’98.” There is a Bureau of Navigation stamp on the docketing page with the identifying number “128510,” in the center. Docketed: “U.S.F.S.San Francisco,/Key West,Fla.,/July 19,1898./Howell,F.A.,/Commodore,U.S.Navy,/Commanding First Squad-/ron,North Atlantic/Fleet./Forwarding copy of letter to/the Commander-in-Chief of/the North Atlantic Station./1 Enclosure.”

Footnote 1: That is, Puerto Tánamo.

Footnote 2: That is, Cárdenas.

Footnote 3: Capt. Nicoll Ludlow.

Footnote 4: On 15 July, Commo. George C. Remey wrote Sampson asking that he reinforce the northern blockading squadron with ships from the force blockading the southern coast of Cuba. See: Remey to Sampson. 15 July 1898.

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