Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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

LETTER

CONFIDENTIAL                      Washington, April 6, 1898

Sir:

     In the event of hostilities with Spain,the Department wishes you to do all in your power to capture or destroy the Spanish war vessels in West Indian waters, including the small gunboats which are stationed along the coast of Cuba.

     2.   The Department does not wish the vessels of your squadron to be exposed to the fire of the batteries of Havana,Santiago de Cuba,or other strongly fortified ports in Cuba, unless the more formidable Spanish vessels should take refuge within those harbors.  Even in this case,the Department would suggest that a rigid blockade and employment of our torpedo boats might accomplish the desired object,viz., the destruction of the enemy’s vessels,without subjecting unnecessarily our own men-of-war to the fire of the land batteries.

     There are two reasons for this:

     1st: There may be no United States troops to occupy any captured stronghold,or to protect from riot and arson,until after the dry season begins,about the first of October.

     2nd: The lack of docking facilities makes it particularly desirable that our vessels should not be crippled before the capture or destruction of Spain’s most formidable vessels.

     3.   The Department further desires that,in case of war,you will maintain a strict blockade of Cuba,particularly at the ports of Havana,Matanzas,and,if possible,of Santiago de Cuba,Manzanillo and Cienfuegos.    Such a blockade may cause the Spaniards to yield before the rainy season is over.

     4.   All prizes should be sent to Key West or other available United States ports for adjudication.

     5.   Should it be decided to furnish the insurgents with arms and ammunition,the Department suggests that Nuevitas and Puerto Padre would be the most suitable places to land them and establish communications with the Cuban forces.

     6.   Should the Department learn that the Spanish fleet had gone to Puerto Rico,it is possible that the Flying Squadron may be sent thither,in which case some of your vessels may be needed to reinforce that squadron.

     7.   The Department hopes to be able to cut the cable off Santiago de Cuba, even if it has to employ a special cable vessel for this purpose,and it also has under consideration the practicability of cutting the cable near Havana and connecting the end to one of the vessels of your command so that you can always be in communication with the Department.  Whether or not this plan is feasible has not yet been determined.  Please consider it.

     8.   The Department need not impress upon you the necessity for stringent sanitary regulations.  It leaves this matter,as to details in regard to conducting operations to the Commander-in-Chief, in whose judgment it has the greatest confidence.1

     Wishing you every success,

                        Very respectfully,

                             John D. Long,

                                      Secretary.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 80, Entry 194, vol. 1, p. 1. Addressed below close: “Commander-in-Chief,/U.S.Naval Force,/North Atlantic Station.”

Footnote 1: For Sampson’s reaction, see: Sampson to Long, 9 April 1898.

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