Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to Rear Admiral Montgomery Sicard, Commander, North Atlantic Station



March 23, 1898.   

Memorandum for the Commander-in-Chief,

     of the North Atlantic Squadron:

          In time of war the Commander-in-Chief must, to a very great extent, control his own vessels and act on his own responsibility; but the Department deems it worth while to lay before him certain suggestions for his consideration in connection with probable uses to which the fleet will be put in the event of war with Spain.

     Until it is possible to concentrate the fleet and strike a telling blow at the Spanish fleet, it is probable that much of its work will be in blockading Cuba. The Department will endeavor to furnish the Commander-in-Chief with a sufficient number of vessels to establish a strict blockade, particularly of the eastern half of the island,1 and of the ports of Havana and Matansas in especial. Off much of the coast, and off the smaller harbors, a single vessel cruising to and fro may be all that is needed; this vessel of course keeping in touch with the rest of the fleet when possible. Off an important port, and notably off the port of Havana, in the event of torpedo vessels being within it, there should probably be three lines of blockade. The inner line should consist of small, fast vessels, either torpedo-boats or revenue cutters, tugs, and the like, improvised to act as torpedo-boat destroyers and scouts, whose station shall be close to the mouth of the harbor. These vessels would of course stop blockade runners, and the prime object of their being would be to prevent the egress of torpedo-boats. They should not only watch the latter, but should unhesitatingly attack them, no matter what the odds may be at the moment. Even if sunk they will have achieved a most useful end if the cripple a torpedo-boat. They should fire upon and chase any hostile craft leaving port, and the vessels not engaged should at once steam proceed to the firing. The Department will give ample recognition to gallantry and efficiency displayed by the commanders of these craft, and the men in command of them will be expected to run risks and take chances. Their duty is at all hazards to prevent the possibility of an attack by the enemy’s torpedo-boats upon the battleships and squadrons.

     The second line will be placed two or three miles outside of this inner one, and will be placed two or three miles outside of this inner one, and will consist so far as is possible, of vessels like the CINCINNATIor DETROIT,2 which in case of need could promptly go to the first line of blockade. Outside of this second line will cruise the squadron of battleships, which in the discretion of the Commander-in-Chief may lie at a considerable distance from the port, and may change positions after nightfall. Of course no definite rule can be laid down as to the position of this squadron, for the Commander-in-Chief must be guided by circumstances as they arise; but it is worth calling his attention to the fact that the battle fleet must keep the sea, so as to make the blockade technically valid. The efficiency of the blockade does not depend upon the immediate presence of the fleet itself, but upon the fact that its support is always at hand, to support for the inshore squadron could and prevent the latter from being driven off by the enemy in port. A distance of twenty-five miles may be near enough, and if the position of the battle fleet can always be changed after nightfall, the chance of successful assault by the enemy’s torpedo-boats will be minimized. The Department would again repeat, however, that the captains of the inshore squadron must understand that their duty is at any hazard to prevent hostile torpedo-boats getting by them, to detect, and more than that to immediately grapple with and fight them under any circumstances. The torpedo-boat, and even the torpedo-boat destroyers, lose nine-tenths of their menace when detected; and moreover, they are fragile and easily destroyed. Each man engaged in the work of the inshore squadron should have in him the stuff out of which to make a possible Cushing;3 and if the man wins the recognition given him shall be as great as that given to Cushing, so far as the department can bring this about.

John D. Long


Source Note: TCyS, DNA, RG 313, Entry 47. The first two lines are printed and the document is written on stationary. At top right corner is printed text reading: “THEODORE ROOSEVELT,/ASST. SECRETARY” indicating this memorandum was written on Roosevelt’s stationary. In top left corner stamped: “RECEIVED/FLAG-SHIP N.A. STATION,/MAR 20 1898.”

Footnote 1: When the blockade was proclaimed on 22 April, eastern portions of the Cuban coast were included.

Footnote 2: The Cincinnati and Detroit were unprotected cruisers.

Footnote 3: Cmdr. William Barker Cushing was an officer in the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was famous for his daring exploits that included the sinking of the Confederate ironclad Albemarle.

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