Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Station, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

U.S. Flagship New York, 1st Rate.

Key West, Florida,

April 9, 1898.

My dear Mr. Secretary:--

          I have received your confidential letter of April 6th.1

     2.   I sympathize with all you say about guarding our big ships against a possibly serious loss, while the enemy’s fleet is still intact.  At the same time I regard it as very important to strike quickly and strike hard as soon as hostilities commence.  Havana is well defended by three or four batteries to the Eastward of the entrance, mounting guns from 6” to 12” calibre.  On the Western side of the entrance there are three batteries, the guns varying in calibre from 6” to 12”, and two mortar batteries. All the batteries face seaward, and those to the West of the entrance are quite near the shore. All are open batteries, with heavy traverses between the guns. The guns and people who serve them are quite unprotected.

     3.   These batteries are well calculated to keep off a feet from seaward, which approaches to within a moderate distance of a few thousand yards. I do not think they are well placed to resist an attack, (for instance, the Western batteries) from the Westward and close in shore; where the batteries would be exposed to a flank fire, or to the fire of our big ships at short range, where the secondary batteries would have full effect. Even under these circumstances, the ships must have such a heavy fire that the men in the batteries would be overwhelmed by its volume. Before the PURITAN and AMPHITRITE arrived I was not entirely sanguine of the success of such an attack. Since their arrival yesterday, I have little doubt of its success.

     4.   Although the monitors are weak in secondary fire I expected to put a cruiser with heavy secondary fire in the interval between each two of them.  In this way I do not think the Spaniards would be able to fire---they would be driven away from their guns and kept away; while the fire of the ships would so injure the guns or mounts that they would be unserviceable.  Although the defences West of the entrance are stronger than those East, the first has the advantage for us that all the projectiles which miss the batteries will fall in the city and furnish an additional inducement for the surrender of the City.

     5.   In the memo which I furnished to the Commanding Officers of ships2 I provided that if our ships were not numerous enough, or the Spaniards proved better than I expected, we were at once to haul off and substitute for the direct attack, a close blockade of the port, which was to be extended East and West to adjoining ports as quickly as possible. Having silenced the Western batteries, it would be quite practicable to shell the City, which I would do only after warning given twenty-four hours in advance.

     6.   I see the force of your reasoning that we would have no troops to occupy the City if it did surrender, yet, Mr. Secretary, it will be very unfortunate, besides a great loss of time, if we must delay until the rainy season is over.  Probably a close blockade would terminate the trouble before October.

     7.   I shall do my utmost to carry out your wishes as set forth in your letter.  At the same time I hope you will consider the plan I have here outlined.  I have discussed the matter freely with Captain Evans,3 Taylor,4 and Chadwick,5 and all unite with me that the direct attack is sufficiently promising to warrant its trial.

     8.   I don’t think the plan of cutting the cable at Havana, and taking the end on board ship, would succeed, for a ship could not anchor off Havana. I have already telegraphed you to send means for grapnalling a cable,6 with the intention of cutting those at Guantanamo and Santiago.

     9.   I will try to keep you informed of our doings after leaving here, by a cruiser sent here to the telegraph line.

     10.  We are working day and night to keep the ship in readiness for service. The HELENA and PURITAN are now under repairs, which will occupy several days.  There will be no delay in moving when the order comes.

                        Respectfully,

                             W.T. Sampson

Source Note: CyS, DNA, RG 313, Entry 47. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.”

Footnote 3: Capt. Robley D. Evans.

Footnote 4: Capt. Henry C. Taylor.

Footnote 5: Capt. French E. Chadwick.

Footnote 6: Sampson’s cable sent to Secretary Long of 8 April 1898, states: “Send materials for grappling submarine cables first vessel from N.Y. joining station.” See, DNA, RG 313, Entry 56.

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