Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Alfred T. Mahan to Admiral of the Navy George Dewey




October 29, 1906. 


     In obedience to the Department’s orders of June 20, and July 1, 1906,1 I submit herewith the following narrative account of the work of the Naval War Board of 1898, giving, as nearly as can now be ascertained, the reason for its formation, the scope and nature of its duties, and their relation to the administration of the Navy Department; together with the general conclusions on strategical situations developed by the studies of the Board.

     2.   In the first form, as stated by the Secretary of that time, Hon. J. D. Long, (The New American Navy, vol. 1, p.162),2 the Board consisted of Assistant Secretary Theodore Roosevelt, Captains A. S. Crowninshield and A. S. Barker, and Commander Richardson Clover, who “were asked to act in that capacity just before the war began”.3 It appears from the recent letters to me of Admirals Barker and Crowninshield that other officers also were at times present, officially yet informally, and afterwards dropped out, with equal informality. The words underlined imply an informal commencement; which corresponds to the recollection of Captain (now Rear Admiral) Barker, that, until the late Rear Admiral Sicard4 replaced Assistant Secretary Roosevelt, no definitive orders were given to those who thus met as a Board. Rear Admiral Sicard’s own orders, April 16, 1898, were simply to report for such duty as might be assigned him in the Secretary’s office; the nature of his duties were not specified, nor has any order specifying them been found. Captain Barker being then attached to the office of the Secretary,5 Captain Crowninshield being Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, points also to the conclusion that, as originally constituted, the Board was simply a meeting of the officers whose other particular duties indicated them to be the proper persons for fruitful consultation, and for coordination of the many and speedy steps which had to be taken, outside and above Bureau action, in the pressing preparation for war. As such steps would need the Secretary’s sanction, in whatever way given, the Board fell naturally into the position of an advisory body; to which function, as far as my observation went, it was limited throughout its existence.6

     3.   This function of advice constituted the relation of the Board to the administration of the Navy Department throughout my acquaintance with it; and from my communications with President Roosevelt, ex-Secretary Long, and Rear Admirals Barker and Crowninshield, I gather that, although perhaps never formally stated in orders, such was its office from the beginning. It possessed neither original nor executive powers.7 To this correspond the following words of Mr. Long, taken from the passage before sited: “The Secretary lacking professional experience, and the Navy being without a General Staff, it was necessary that he should have the assistance of such a Board”. The underlining is mine; and the well understood limits upon the authority of a General Staff designate exactly that exercised by the body to which it is here likened, in its relations to the head of the Navy Department.8

     4.   The Secretary’s lack of professional experience, together with the non-existence of a General Staff to supply that lack, mentioned in the words just quoted, contain the reasons for the organization of the Board, as apprehended by the person who had the most direct knowledge of such reasons. Further on, he states explicitly the scope and nature of the duties intrusted to the Board; thereby defining, implicitly, the particular kind of professional experience in which the Secretary considered himself lacking, to supply which the Board was created. “The Board was eminently fitted to coordinate the work of the Department and the Fleet, and to keep a general surveillance over the larger strategical and technical questions, which could not be dealt with by the Commander-in-chief of the several squadrons.”9

     5.   Mr. Long’s book having been written for popular information, he has probably not submitted all his expressions to close scrutiny; and I should be inclined myself to eliminate the word “technical” from the above quotation. Undoubtedly, any Board created by the Department will consider any subject submitted to it by the Secretary, and I do not challenge “technical” as not being among his intentions; but actually I cannot recall the Board dealing with any such question, and it is obvious that almost every technical matter, strictly so called, which demands naval consideration, falls under the charge of one of the Bureaus. These for the most part are technical administrative bodies whereas the War Board was neither technical nor administrative, even in its limited advisory capacity. I should add, however, that Admiral Sicard in his final report, August 24, 1898, states that “numerous matters, some verbal, some written, were placed before the Board for its information and action. Those submitted in writing, which have been chiefly from the Office of Naval Intelligence, have been returned to that Office for file.”10 Of these matters I have no specific recollection.

     6.   Before leaving this part of the subject committed to me by the Department, it should be remarked that not only is ex-Secretary Long, by official position at the time, the person best fitted to know the purposes of the Department, but that his statement, being made in 1903, is by three years nearer the date to which it refers than any other personal unwritten information now to be attained.11

     7.   As regards the work of the Board, a history of which the Department’s letter of June 20 names as a principal object of the orders to me: I was in Europe at the time the war began, and returning, in obedience to the Department’s telegram, did not reach New York until Saturday, May 7th; six days after the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay had been destroyed by the fleet of Commodore (now Admiral) Dewey.12 May 9th I reported for duty. Prior to that date I had no knowledge of the proceedings of the Board; but, having reason to infer I was to be a member, in passing through Paris I telegraphed to the Navy Department certain opinions of my own,13 elicited by the popular clamors in America, as reported in the foreign press. Through the courtesy of General Porter,14 then Ambassador to France, this message was transmitted through the State Department, and in its cipher. I have ascertained that a copy of this cablegram is on file in the State Department. I could not find it in that of the Navy.15

     8.   With regard to the Department’s specification that I should include in my statement, as part of “the history of the work”, “the general conclusions on strategical situations developed by the studies of the Board”, I must premise that the only such conclusions of which I know are those embodied in the daily action of the Board, as an advisory body in the operations of the existing war. I have therefore thought I should best meet the wish of the Department by stating currently the sequence of events in which the Board took advisory action, the advice given, and the particular conditions and reason governing it in the several instances.

     9.   When I reported, the late Rear Admiral Sicard was President of the Board. The Spanish Manila fleet having been destroyed, attention was centered upon Cervera’s squadron,16 which had not yet turned up on this side of the Atlantic. The dispositions then existing are commonly known. Commodore Schley’s “Flying” Squadron was waiting in Hampton Roads; Rear Admiral Sampson was en route for San Juan, Porto Rico, with his fleet; the OREGON was still on her way from the Pacific; and two fast ships, taken from the American Steamship Line, were scouting eighty miles to windward of Martinique and Guadaloupe, on the lookout for Cervera.17 That these ships did not sight the enemy was due, not to error in this disposition, but to the fact that the delay in the passage of the Spanish division exceeded the extreme calculation as to time made by the Board. The two ships, which cruised on a north and south line, and communicated daily, were ordered to remain to May 10. That day Cervera’s squadron hove to 130 miles east of Martinique; that is 50 miles east of our lookouts’ cruising ground. At 4 p.m. May 11, it was off Martinique.

     10.   The conditions on May 9, just stated, and the subsequent transactions as far as the Board was concerned, are with me now a matter of recollection, refreshed or corrected by reference to a series of papers written by me for McClure’s Magazine, within six months of the end of the war, and afterwards published in book form under the title “Lessons of the War with Spain”.18

     11.   It is obvious, and notorious, that such a body as the War Board, irresponsible, because without authority, yet possibly influential, behind the Secretary, occupies a somewhat invidious position; and that its relations to Commanders-in-Chief, though indirect, are real and extremely delicate. For this reason, and because of my fixed opinion that official responsibility should be individual, (not only responsibility in action, but responsibility for advice), I addressed a letter to the Secretary immediately after reporting, recommending that there should be but one responsible adviser to him.19 This adviser might consult with any numbers, and by any methods, that the Department desired; but I submitted that the ultimate conclusion, tendered to the Secretary as advice in a professional matter, in which the Secretary “lacked experience”, should be the responsibility of one man. My letter was forwarded through the President of the Board. No action was taken upon it. The only reply given was a verbal interview between the Secretary and myself, in the course of which he asked me the question “Has the Board, as now constituted, made any mistakes that you can point out?” At so early a date I could not have familiarized myself with all the conditions, and I replied “No”; but, with my already formed military views, and with due reflection, I can scarcely imagine that I could personally have approved the movement of Sampson’s fleet against San Juan, then in process.20 In the papers referred to I criticized that action, after the event, for reasons that should have been obvious before it; but, having made the reply I did to the Secretary, I felt bound afterwards to assume my acquiescence in a step taken and beyond recall before I joined. As far as I can remember, the non-action of the Department in this matter of responsibility was due, not to any decision as to the principle advanced in my letter, but to its satisfaction with the working of the existing plan.

     12.   The question of individual responsibility for advice is, I think, worthy of the Department’s consideration. As regards the particular movement towards San Juan, this illustrates precisely the difficulty and delicacy of the adviser’s position, and his, or their, responsibility. My memory, confirmed by reference, is, that to proceed farther east than the Windward Passage, which was a central position in reference to San Juan, Cienfuegos, and Havana, was Admiral Sampson’s own decision; and that the Department’s telegram of May 9 betrayed doubt as to its expediency, but yielded in deference to the Commander-in-Chief on the spot.21 Reference to the telegrams may verify the extent of the Department’s action, whether mandatory or consentant only; but my recollection is quite clear as to the subsequent uneasiness of the Board.

     13.   When Cervera was reported off Martinique, May 12, the Board advised the immediate concentration of Sampson’s and Schley’s divisions at Key West; the latter to call off Charleston en route, to receive any modifying instructions necessitated by later intelligence. A steamer was detailed at Charleston to communicate with the squadron without causing delay. The Commandant at Key West was notified to be ready for recoaling the arrivals there; the purpose being to send one division of the armored fleet before Cienfuegos the instant that the Havana position -- incidental to which was the protection of Key West -- was properly reinforced by Sampson’s return. Two cruisers, the MINNEAPOLIS and ST. PAUL, were sent, one to lookout between Haiti and the Caicos Bank, the other between Haiti and Jamaica. This action was reported to Sampson, the telegram adding that “it was important his fast cruisers should keep touch with the enemy”. No interference was made with his cruisers; but he himself sent the HARVARD and YALE, of his command, one to the Mona Passage, the other between Haiti and Jamaica. This placed two vessels, ST. PAUL and YALE, at the latter station, not too many for its importance at the moment; but, from later intelligence received at the Department, the ST. PAUL’S destination was changed to Key West.

     14.   Coincidently with this, Sampson and the Department both telegraphed Remey at Key West with reference to the Cienfuegos blockade; Sampson to have it warned, while the Department directed the withdrawal of all vessels except one to maintain the continuity of the blockade, if possible. Captain McCalla, in charge of that blockade, withdrew all the vessels.22 The instance is interesting, as showing three different decisions; and also as illustrating that the existence and advice of the Board did not necessarily cramp the initiative of local commanders, -- the most dangerous tendency of such a body.

     15.   These two principal actions -- concentration and the disposition of lookouts -- were advised by the Board. As military measures they were too obvious to invite either criticism or commendation. The points to be noted, as part of the experience of the Board, are:

     (a)  During Sampson’s return to Key West with his division, there were periods long enough to be of importance at such an instant, in which he was out of touch of the situation; whereas the Department, stationary at Washington, could and did receive continual information, and could take necessary steps. Such a condition not only may, but also certainly will, recur hereafter; for telegrams can always outrun vessels, and in a passage of a week most serious action may need to be taken, for reasons which the Admiral cannot know soon enough. The need of a central authority is evident; that authority is the Government; if it “lack professional experience”, it must have a professional advisor. Time and opportunity cannot be lost in deference to the prerogatives of a Commander-in-Chief. Respect for the latter will be observed, if there is common sense and tact in conduct of the central authority; and it may be remarked that the professional sympathy of a competent professional adviser will intuitively avoid needless occasions of friction, which a civilian may not foresee.

     (b)  That the fact of the Department’s control need not seriously affect the initiative of the Admiral is clear, from the fact that Sampson with his Flagship NEW YORK left his division, and hastened forward to Key West, just six hours before receiving a telegram from the Department to send thus ahead his most suitable armored ship. The same action was repeated by Captain Evans, whom Sampson had left in command.23 Soon after the Admiral’s departure, there came by dispatch vessel a telegram showing the urgency of the situation. This Evans received. He left the others, and hurried with his own ship, the IOWA, to Key West; whence she was dispatched by Sampson to reinforce the Flying Squadron, which she joined twelve hours after it reached Cienfuegos. The entire action of the Department, largely the dissemination of intelligence, was advised by the Board, without in these instances fettering the judgment or injuring the initiative of the officer in command; while its previous action, in acquiescing in the ex-centric movement to San Juan, shows at least consideration for his views and position.

     (c)  The present extension of telegraphic systems has modified very seriously the relations of central governments with their functionaries all over the world; as well diplomatic as naval. As regards the latter, however, the change rests chiefly upon the superior facility for receiving and utilizing information, possessed by a stationary authority over one that is moving. Vital adjuncts of the telegraph are the vessels employed in gaining and disseminating intelligence, or in carrying orders; for in war there will always be many points which no telegraph reaches. The experience and history of the Board proved that, in case of war, commanders of such vessels, whether occupying a station for lookout, or on mission, need to be very positively instructed that they individually are parts of an interdependent system; to the efficient working of which it is essential that both the center at Washington, and their particular commander-in-chief, know just where to look for each member. There is a class of mind easily fascinated by the idea of action taken independent of orders, or even contrary to them. That such action is sometimes most commendable is true; but the responsibility must be clearly enforced in the general orders issued to each cruiser, that the commander may understand clearly that he will be held to strict account to justify difficulty in finding him, in consequence of such action. The getting and distributing of information is of such prime importance that eccentric movement in a cruiser is much more likely to do harm than good.

     (d)  The experience of the Board would go to show that facility for rapid coaling is an essential element in the celerity required of cruisers, and suggests that minute subdivision in compartments sacrifices such rapidity, as well as diminishes space. Also, it might be suggested that not every mission demands headlong speed, and that efficiency and ultimate coal endurance of a cruiser might be extended, by notifying the commander by what time he was to reach a particular point, e.g.: to be at such a point by such a time, prepared either to observe for so long as possible the enemy’s fleet, should it there appear, or to reach a certain point with the news.

     16.  Before the first concentration at Key West was effected, it was known that Cervera had appeared of off Curaçao and there received some coal.24 In this there was nothing to change the advice already given, viz: to place one division of armed ships before Havana, and the other before Cienfuegos. The entry of the Spaniards to Santiago was deemed scarcely probable, considering the inaccessibility of the place by land; and this forecast of the Board received justification by the subsequent statement of the Spanish Minister of Marine in the Cortes,25 that the squadron went there simply because there was no other port to which it could go, -- an inability, real or presumed, which the Board could not know. But, even should it go there, the steps to be taken would be precisely as for San Juan de Porto Rico, which had been in the contemplation of the Board. That is, did Cervera enter San Juan, Cienfuegos and Havana being guarded by fighting squadrons, provision had been advised for immediate assembling before San Juan the four or more cruisers, which in the event were placed before Santiago. This number would provide not only for the speediest news of the enemy’s leaving port, but also for following and reporting the direction taken by him. It was further recommended that two fast cruisers should be held ready at Key West to proceed simultaneously at top speed off Cienfuegos, (two to provide against one breaking down), to dispatch the Flying Squadron off San Juan, should that be thought desirable. I do not recall whether or not this last precaution was taken; I imagine not; there were not cruisers enough available, both for the blockades and for such urgent occasions. It may be permissible here to say, incidentally, that while the strength of the Navy is its battleships, numerous scouts are the eyes and messengers of the battle force, and form an equally necessary part of war preparation. We had not enough scouts in the war, and had to use torpedo vessels as dispatch vessels.26

     17.   It will be recognized that this action, contemplated for San Juan, was that subsequently taken for Santiago. The question of sending the Havana division to the same point was reserved; Havana being considered the most important of all of the enemy’s possible destinations. My own opinion is that, had the Flying Squadron succeeded in anticipating a departure from Porto Rico, the whole of the armored ships would next have been assembled there, as was done at Santiago.

     18.   From the day, May 22, that the two divisions were assembled before Cienfuegos and Havana, at which latter point the OREGON also joined on May 28, up to the concentration of the whole armored fleet (except the INDIANA) before Santiago, June 1, the action of the Board is reflected in the telegram; the particulars of which will be found on examination, I think, to show that naval minds were studying the conditions. But, as illustrating the relations of the Department to the Board, it should be said that the language of the telegram of May 27, quoted by ex-Secretary Long in his “New American Navy”, (vol.1,p.270),27 is largely that of the Secretary himself. As regards movements, most, if not all, were in accordance with the advice of the Board; but the peremptory wording, although the Board was in full sympathy with it, was that of the Secretary, who on that occasion sat down in the Board room and himself phrased the telegram. It should be added that, as far as I remember, there was no divergence of opinion between the Department and the Board, as a board, during that trying period of uncertainty as to the movements of Commodore Schley.28

     19.   The telegram just quoted shows that the movement of the Army to Santiago had been decided by May 27, on the strength of information, increasing in probability, that Cervera was there. Commodore Schley, however, did not sight the two Spanish armored vessels until May 29, and the fact was not known in Washington until the evening of that day. Prior to that, our most positive information came through an agent of the Army Signal Corps, in Havana.29 The feeling of the Board, as I recall it, was that the probabilities all tended to confirm this intelligence; but, while the indications were sufficient to order Schley’s division to Santiago, and to impose immediate preparations to transport an Army, the possibility of deception made it necessary not to move the latter until more certain. It is almost needless to say that not only the advice of the Board, but the concurrence of the War Department, is shown by the telegram.

     20.   In consequence of Schley’s uncertain course, Sampson was ordered May 29, the same day that Schley’s telegram announced seeing the enemy, to go in person to Santiago. His arrival there with the NEW YORK and OREGON, June 1, completed the investment of the port by sea. It is proper to add that Admiral Sampson’s orders so to proceed were at his own personal request. This anticipated the issuance of his orders, but not, I think, the intention of the Department. As I remember, Commodore Schley’s vacillating action, as shown by his telegrams, had destroyed the confidence of the Department and of the Board in him, as Commander-in-chief.

     21.  From the time of Sampson’s arrival, the entire management of the blockade, with the accessories of landing the troops and cooperating with the Army, were left to him. That the Department did not abandon its right to supervise is shown by the fact that on the morning of the battle, his absence at the beginning was due to specific orders from Washington to consult personally with General Shafter.30 A further instance of interference was the order given him to send two fast armored vessels to Key West, to help convoy the Army. This order proceeded from a mistaken report, from two of our cruisers on the north side, that they had seen there at night a large ship of war, with smaller consorts, cruising. Improbable though this seemed, there were two witnesses, who confirmed the report when referred back for confirmation; and so far only two armored Spaniards had been seen in Santiago. The Board was responsible for the advice to reinforce the convoy by two armored ships. Admiral Sampson did not obey the order, having experience of a similar error lately made by an officer of coolness and judgment. The country is indebted to the Admiral for correcting the mistake of the Board; for such it was, though I have not myself been able since to condemn the decision.

     22.   While citing these two instances of interference, it seems proper to associate with them the question of moving Admiral Sampson with the NEW YORK and OREGON to Santiago; for this, although first requested by the Admiral, was the act of the Department.  I presume that the Department today wishes the history of the proceedings of the Board of 1898 mainly with a view to settle the value and function of such board hereafter. Ought, then, Admiral Sampson to have asked, and awaited, authority for such a move? or should he have moved at once? Is there any principle at stake which would determine this, limiting or extending the advisory function of a board? or must this and similar cases rest each on its own merits?

     23.   On this general question, no formal conclusion was taken nor advice given, by the Board. Had Admiral Sampson been out of telegraphic touch, even for twelve hours, he doubtless would, as Commander-in-chief, have acted in the manner taken. But it seems to me that, in view of the general plan of the campaign having to be decided by the Government, a departure from the plan, so serious as the removal of the division from before the principal Cuban port, was a responsibility which the Department, because of its close communication, could not shirk, nor the Commander-in-chief assume. Yet the matter was so immediate in its demand for action, and so entirely interior to the command of the Commander-in-chief, as to constitute a difficult question. It does not, for instance, stand upon the same ground as the Department’s orders to him that the armored ships must not be risked, except upon reasonable probability of destroying or injuring those of the enemy; for that simply laid down a broad line of general policy, dictated by international conditions, of which the Government must be the sole judge; and, besides, the “reasonable probability” left the Admiral his proper discretion. Nor, again, is it parallel to the decision of the Department to form a squadron out of Sampson’s fleet to go to the East after Cámara;31 or that to send the whole fleet to Europe, when Spain seemed inclined to hold out after Cervera’s defeat. Both these decisions went outside of Sampson’s station, (though they affected his fleet); and, as they appertained to the war as a whole, belonged rightly and solely to the Government.

     24.   The order to Sampson to send two fast armored vessels to Key West reflects exactly the spirit of the advice given to the Department by the Board concerning the transport of the Army. The defective organization of the transport service, the rawness and probable lack of military interest on the part of the transport captains, and the fact that almost all the immediately available trained troops were to be intrusted to this exposed transit, decided the Board to advise that all the cruisers which could by any possibility be spared from the blockade should be assembled for the convoy. As regards the behavior of the transport captains, in the event, -- at the time of landing, -- and their need of whipping in, Captain F. E. Chadwick,32 the Naval Chief of Staff, afterwards wrote, “Great difficulty was experienced through the wretched conduct of the transport captains, who were under no proper control and wandered the sea at will. Hours were spent in finding some of them, and when found they would insist upon laying miles from a shore which they could have approached with safety within a few ship’s length.” (Encyclopedia Americana, 1904, vol. XVI). It may be imagined what might have occurred, had an alarm of attack started among such men, and the consequent necessity of forestalling the occurrence of such alarm, and of controlling them if it arose. Hence the need of many convoyers, which had to be drawn from the blockaders; for it was not yet possible to use the cruisers on our northern coast, under Commodore Howell,33 which were afterwards released by Cámara’s sailing, and by the knowledge that all Cervera’s division was in Santiago. The mistaken report, before mentioned, determined merely that the convoy should be still further strengthened by the two armored vessels, despite the inevitable delay thus occasioned. Although little apprehension was actually felt of injury by Spanish gunboats, known to be lurking among the reefs on the north coast of the island, the possibility existed; and they were sure to know of the movement, which would pass close before their stations.

     25.   The management of the passage, the order in which the transports and convoying vessels should be formed, and all other details, were left entirely to Captain H. C. Taylor,34 of the INDIANA, the senior Naval Officer in the expedition. Is it not most incongruous that the transports did not come under naval direction until they sailed, and then only for convoy? Everything connected with transportation is a particular feature of maritime activity; when of military transportation, of naval activity. Internal discipline of a ship, and proper control of her movements in a convoy, can only be insured by naval organization, and naval command. The committing of transport service to the Army is radically vicious in theory, and directly contrary to the practice of the most experienced nation, Great Britain. It may result disastrously.

     26.   The transports sailed from Tampa June 14, and arrived off Santiago June 20. From this time forward, until the destruction of Cervera’s squadron and surrender of Santiago,35 operations about the place were in the hands of the Army and Navy commanders on the spot. During the passage of the convoy, June 16, Cámara’s division sailed from Cadiz for the East. These two coincident events mark, therefore, the transfer of active intervention on the part of the Department, and of the Board as advisory, back from the West Indies to the Philippines, which &&after Dewey’s victory36 had required little or no direct action, beyond occasional suggestion. The absence there of an enemy’s naval force, the antecedent improbability of a movement, such as Cámara’s, being pushed to a conclusion, when leaving the seaboard cities of Spain open to the action of the American armored fleet, and the felt expediency of not dividing the latter, but insuring the complete destruction of Cervera, - these three considerations, -- had centered attention upon the Spanish West India squadron. Its destruction or paralysis was the surest protection for our interests in the far East. The MONTEREY, however, had been preparing to reinforce Dewey’s squadron, and had sailed from San Francisco June 11, five days before Cámara. The MONADNOCK sailed June 25. These two monitors arrived in the Philippines August 4 and 16 respectively; the former having been obliged to put back to Honolulu after leaving that port. But for this mishap it seems fairly probable that the MONTEREY would have reached Dewey before Cámara, had he gone on; but the MONADNOCK not, unless favored by his delays.

     27.   Whether resulting from necessary preparations, or lack of early forethought on the part of the Department, or its advisers, or from concession to popular alarms, prevalent on the Pacific as on the Atlantic, the tardy despatch of these two vessels has remained on my mind as the only serious oversight chargeable to the Board.37 Had harm resulted, the question of responsibility would have arisen; and I think it pardonable here again to suggest the consideration of individual responsibility for advice, as contrasted with the corporate responsibility of a Board. It is probable, however, that a Board previously constituted in time of peace, and permanent in organization would have entered upon a war with preparations more fully made, with minds familiarized by study of the particular conditions, and a consequent all-round grasp of the situation, and of the recourses open to it under particular circumstances. The Board of 1898 was composed of officers hastily assembled, without previous study of the whole subject; dependent only upon their personal general knowledge of military questions, and confronted with popular demands which they recognized as unreasonable, yet could not wholly disregard.38

28.   Under the conditions the Board advised that a division of two armored vessels and four cruisers should be at once constituted for from Sampson’s fleet, to pursue Cámara, who in the East would be without a protected harbor, and in force inferior to this proposed. The utmost publicity was allowed to the orders issued to Sampson to this effect; Commodore Watson39 was hurried with equal publicity to Santiago, to command this detachment; the purpose being avowed to take advantage of Cámara’s absence, and the unprotected Spanish coast, to bombard some of their principal cities.40 Everything was done to impart apparent imminency to a movement which it was intended to postpone to the last moment, or until Cervera was destroyed. I trust it may not appear pedantic, if, in considering the effect of all this upon Camara’s procedure, I here quote Nelson.41 “There are those who think, if you leave the Sound open, that the Danish fleet may sail from Copenhagen to join the Dutch or French. I own I have no fears on that subject, for it is not likely that whilst their capital (sea-coast) is menaced with an attack, nine thousand of their best men should be sent out of their Kingdom.” The Philippines could not weigh against Cadiz, Malaga, or Barcelona. In fact, had Cámara got as far as Ceylon, Watson, appearing before any of those ports, and demanding his recall under penalty of bombardment, would have carried his point. There would have been no bombardment.

     29.   There here arises, incidentally but inevitably, the question, particularly appropriate to the approaching Hague Conference:42 should bombardment, or such a kindred measure as the capture of so-called private property at sea, be forbidden? Both, if carried into execution, fall on property which is private in ownership. Which is more humane or more effective, that Cámara proceed to deadly battle with Dewey, or that he be recalled under threat of bombardment? Should bombardment take place, under customary notice for withdrawal of non-combatants, which nation is the offender? the one who insists on the fleet’s proceeding, or the one who has sought to prevent it? I will not answer my own questions, beyond the general suggestion that the more widely distributed the incidence of the sufferings of war upon a belligerent people, the greater the guarantee for peace; the more speedy also the restoration of peace.

     30.   As I remember, a number of telegrams passed between the Department and Commodore Dewey, the former suggesting that, should Cámara, persist, and the MONTEREY not arrive in time, the fleet, having no armored vessel, should leave Manila and be drawn back to meet the MONTEREY; cruisers being sent to seek her on her probable courses, and direct her to a point of junction. Such an expedient is obvious and common; and the MONADNOCK, sailing later, was given a prescribed course which would insure finding her. Coupled with the exposure of the Spanish coast, it could not fail to weigh with the enemy that he would have two monitors to meet; and if successful, after engagement with the fleet they reinforced, must still await Watson.

     31.   The threat involved in the formation of Watson’s division was the proper and only remaining strategic step to take under the circumstances. In the Pacific there was nothing further available to change conditions. What effect the threat had cannot certainly be known, unless the Spaniards should reveal their counsels. A plausible reading of Cámara’s move would be, that at no time did they intend that there should be between him and Spain a distance as great as that of the United States fleet in the West Indies; that they meant to recall him if, and when, such a threat should pass into execution. For instance, had Watson sailed, diminishing Sampson’s force by two armored vessels, probably of the fastest, he would in two days have gone over 500 miles, quite beyond timely return. Cámara could then be recalled to Spain, while Cervera took advantage of Sampson’s diminished numbers to make his dash. The non-departure of Watson’s division could for some days be attributed to its lack of preparation, or to hesitation; and this may have induced the prolonged pow-wows about coaling at Suez.43 There could be no difficulty in coaling there, outside neutral limits. Shoal water extends far to seaward, and the Mediterranean summer weather is notoriously propitious. Time was there spun out in apparent negotiations for coal, while testing the American intentions about Watson. The subsequent passage of the canal by the division, July 2, being succeeded by its almost immediate return, was at the time to me incomprehensible; but now, in analogy with the above reasoning, it seems possibly to have been the last effort to draw Watson away, and so facilitate Cervera’s escape. If so, it should been made two days sooner, and the passage of the Red Sea begun; but this increased distance might have enabled Watson to reach Spain before Cámara could.

     32.  The question of coaling Cámara, -- or Watson, had his division gone, -- was one that engaged my personal attention closely, and I presume that of other members of the Board; but I cannot recall that any conclusions were reached by it as a body, or tendered as advice.44 My own opinion at the time was, that anchorage ground could be found off Cadiz, and again off the mouth of the Nile, in the latter case outside neutral limits; and during the Civil War I had so often been engaged in coaling in the open, off the TEXAS coast, at anchor, as to feel assured that in summer at least there would be no difficulty, or even serious delay, due to sea conditions at either of these points.45  The same is abundantly true of the Straits of Malacca.46  Of course, I did not then reckon upon such complaisance on the part of any neutral state as was shown to the Russian fleet in its passage to Japan, in 1905.47

     33.   The general military situation, constituted by Cámara’s movement eastward, is to my apprehension the most important and instructive of the whole war. Admiral Dewey’s fleet, with the probable exception of the MONTEREY, was unarmored; Cámara had two armored vessels; while, as compared with Cervera’s numbers, the armored vessels under Sampson, counting in Watson’s division, did not exceed the proportion which had been recently estimated to be necessary for such a blockade by a board of British admirals. That is, Sampson had not more than enough to distribute properly, allow for necessary absences, or temporary disabilities, and yet, be able to meet the enemy in such wise as to assure “annihilation”. For such an end, Sampson’s monitors, because of their slowness, were useless against armored cruisers; although vessels of the same class, acting defensively, might have shown good fight against Cámara’s armored ships. The Department was confronted throughout with the dilemma of diminishing Sampson’s squadron, with consequent risk of Cerevra’s escape, or of exposing Dewey to attack by superior force. It is obvious that this danger, and this exposure, existed from the beginning, or at least from the date, whatever it may have been, when Cámara was ready; for his fleet occupied an interior position between the two American admirals. It is however, equally obvious that, the Spanish sea coast cities being inadequately fortified, Spain was continually open to the check which we used, by the menacing organization of a division directed against them. To quote precedents for such a situation, and authorities for the proper course of either party, would be pedantic; but it is open to comment that the same unfortified condition of our own coast imposed the improper station of the Flying Squadron in Hampton Roads, with its consequent too late arrival at Cienfuegos; and also the retention of Howell’s vessels in the north, to the narrowing and the comparative ineffectiveness of the commercial blockade of Cuba.

     34.   Cámara’s return through the Canal, July 7, removed all possible apprehension concerning Dewey, while the destruction of Cervera’s squadron decided the control of the sea in the Caribbean, and thus the ultimate issue of the war, even should Santiago hold out. The intention still remained to send Watson, and preparations continued; but as it was possible that, in a movement of desperation like Cervera’s, Camara might attack him, if he had but two armored vessels, it was thought best now to send the whole armored fleet -- except the TEXAS and monitors -- to see him through the Straights of Gibraltar. At no time during the war, or in the advice of the Board, was sight lost of the unfriendly sympathies of several naval powers, and the consequent inexpediency of incurring the weakening of our armored fleet by needless risk. To this action concurred the advisability of getting the armored fleet out of the sweep of the already begun hurricane season; and there was also contemplated the possibility of threatening a sea coast bombardment, should a mistaken feeling of national honor lead Spain to refuse submission to the now evident facts. Admiral Sampson was to continue commander-in-chief until the separation of the two bodies, which presumably would not take place till after the question of bombardment was decided. In order to insure touch with the fleet during passage, should occasion arise to modify its orders, one or more rendezvous were decided, at which dispatch vessels would await it at fixed dates. There was then no wireless.48

     35.   This expedition became unnecessary; but pending the decision of Spain to open negotiations, and coincident with the preparation of the armored vessels for departure, the Board advised the occupation by the Marine battalion of the Isle of Pines, in order to base thereon a careful patrol of the shoal water between it and Cuba by very small vessels, in furtherance of the blockade.49 This expedition had already started under command of Captain Goodrich, but on the way turned aside to attack Manzanilla.50 The island was, therefore, not occupied, but a study of the chart between it and Cuba will show that it would have become necessary to do so had the war continued.

     36.   The preceeding contains all that I am now able to supply of the advice of the Board, which constitutes the history of its work; and of the reasons for that advice, which represented its conclusions upon the successive situations of the war.

     37.   I recall only one subject of particular importance upon which the Board was directed to advise, outside the immediate operations of the war, and that was upon coaling stations abroad.51 Senator Chandler52 of New Hampshire came in informally one day, to ask whether any definite views on this general subject had been reached. It was not within the understood scope of the Board’s duties; but a special order of the Department subsequently required a report, which was submitted. I believe a copy now exists in the records of the Board. The Bureau of Equipment had a plan of its own, which I afterwards saw mentioned in the press; and I gained the impression that the Bureau had been governed chiefly by views of convenient distribution and economical efficiency, whereas the plan of the Board had looked to the question of military security and military action. Each conclusion might naturally be expected from the particular function of a Bureau and a War Board.

     38.   It was in connection with this report, I think, that the Board made and submitted a study of the defensible character of the anchorage at St. Thomas.53 A high estimate was expressed of the facility for defenses, as a coaling station, or even as a base of operations; near to Porto Rico, but much superior to its harbors. Such a study trenched on the province of the sea-coast military engineer, and would require his consideration; but it satisfied me that, if practicable, St. Thomas ought to be acquired by the United States in support of our general Caribbean position, and Porto Rico in particular.

     39.   It will be readily understood that, in preparing this report, I have not been able after such a lapse of time to distinguish absolutely between my personal opinions and reasons of the Board, as such. I believe, however, that no substantial mistake has been made, and that I have not intruded as official the specifically personal points of view which I elaborated in my “Lessons of the War with Spain”, immediately after the events.54

     40.   It may be permissible, and advantageous to the object of my present orders, to mention some matters that impressed themselves on my personal observation:

     (a) On at least one occasion, feeling was manifested by a Chief of Bureau, because instructions to him concerning the dispatch of stores conveyed no knowledge on which he personally could base estimates and requirements,55 other than those indicated by the Department upon advice of the Board. It is obvious that such a view raises the question whether, not one, but all the Bureau Chiefs, administrative officers, should know the military movements contemplated by the Department, and how far such disseminated knowledge would consist with secrecy. Personally I found some difficulty in maintaining secrecy; not against press agents, to whom a flat refusal could be given, but against persons whose position commanded a certain deference, yet who questioned closely, and apparently thought themselves entitled to a reply.

     (b) As regards press indiscretions: there should be a specified organ for giving such information as may be thought proper. Except this, all officers should be forbidden, not merely to give information, but to converse with any one on matters pertaining to the war. It protects a man,-- and more important still, the country, -- to be able to allege orders. A similar censorship should be established in each fleet. Possibly all leaks cannot be stopped, but the information distributed to the enemy by press indiscretions, through lack of supervision, can be controlled. We may thank the Japanese for proving this.

(c) In matters touching the advice given by the Board to the Secretary concerning the conduct of the war, the Board cannot but be in certain relations, though wholly indirect, to Bureau Chiefs, to Commanders-in-chief, and to cruisers, regarded as part of the general intelligence system. The consequent attitude of the Department, the division of responsibilities and powers, need to be thought out, and formulated with some precision, antecedent to war.

     (d) As a matter of general strategical conclusion, nothing was more powerfully shown than the necessity of proper coast defense, as complementary to naval offensive action. In a popular government, it is of no avail to try and calm people’s fears by rational military considerations. They clamor to be visibly defended. This is now the debated naval question in Australia. But, irrespective of popular outcry, the Navy should support generously the requirements of sea-coast defense, in the interest of its own freedom of action.

     (e) It should be remembered always that the Board of 1898 was an entirely new creation, extemporized on the moment for an urgent felt necessity. As a body, it had had no previous connection with the preparations of the Government, nor influence upon them; and the association with them of the individual members had been slight. The Board therefore approached the questions submitted to it without a formulated policy, -- other than such knowledge as its members possessed of the leading principles of war, -- and without previous mature consideration of the effect of this or that disposition on the whole theater of war, -- of the relations of the parts to the whole. Among conflicting opinions of capable men, -- and there were conflicts, -- and divers consideration of policy, the Board had only the general leading principles just spoken of to guide it; it began with no digested appreciation of those special conditions, in the two countries, which might modify the application of principles. An example much in point is the retention of the Flying Squadron in Hampton Roads. On the one hand, this squadron quieted people as to defense; on the other, it arrived off Cienfuegos so late that Cervera could have entered there; within rail communication of Havana, and in support of an Army, to overcome which would have needed more force than the division sent to Santiago. In other words, to quiet the people as to the sea-coast safety, hostilities might have been prolonged by a year. Fortunately, the war was short and simple. Had it lasted longer, with a more efficient enemy, there could not but be mistakes, which careful previous study would have prevented.

Very respectfully,               

A. T. MAHAN                 

Captain, U.S.Navy, (Retired).

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, Papers of Alfred T. Mahan. Addressed below close: “The Admiral of the Navy,/President, General Board,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.”

Footnote 1: In 1906 Secretary of the Navy Charles J. Bonaparte requested Capt. Alfred T. Mahan write a history of the Naval War Board. The text, in part, follows:

The Department is informed that no history of the work of the Naval War Board or the various reasons leading to its organization exists in the Department. It appears that you are best qualified, of those members of the Board surviving, to undertake this work, and the Department therefore desires that you perform this duty at your convenience. This work should be undertaken and completed as early as practicable.

Please inform the Department at what date you will be prepared to undertake this work so that orders may be issued placing you on duty from that date.

It is desirable that your statement include the reasons for the organization of the Board, the scope and nature of the duties and their relation to the administration of the Navy Department and also the general conclusions or strategical situations developed by the studies of the Board. DLC-MSS, Papers of Alfred T. Mahan, Bonaparte to Mahan, 20 June 1906.

Admiral of the Navy George Dewey penned the initial request to the Secretary of the Navy on the same date. The 1 July 1906 document was not found in this collection.

Footnote 2: John D. Long, The New American Navy, 2 vols. (New York: The Outlook Co., 1903).

Footnote 3: The original members of the Naval War Board on 2 May were: RAdm. Montgomery Sicard (president), Commo. ArentS. Crowninshield, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Albert S. Barker (left 20 May), and Lt. Alphonso H. Cobb (secretary). Capt. Alfred T. Mahan joined the board on 9 May. Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 33.

Footnote 4: RAdm. Montgomery Sicard.

Footnote 5: Secretary of the Navy John D. Long. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt was a member of the Board from 2 to 7 May. Cmdr. Richardson Clover was also attached to it as head of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Footnote 6: The Naval War Board was long seen as an advisory body, however, but in reality, it’s members guided almost all Naval operations of the Spanish-American War, except for the disposition of the U.S. Army. Secretary Long issued War Board orders without serious alteration. For an example of a memorandum, see: Sicard to Long, 17 June 1898.

Footnote 7: The Naval War Board initiated orders through memoranda to Secretary Long.

Footnote 8: The Naval War Board was a unique institution. Up to its creation during the Spanish-American War, the Navy operated under the Bureau system with the Secretary of the Navy at its head. There was no general staff or similar organized body of officers.

Footnote 9: A reference to RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 10: The Naval War Board was in daily contact with Cmdr. Richardson Clover, the head of the Office of Naval Intelligence, see, Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 33-34.

Footnote 11: Secretary of the Navy John D. Long. He served from 1897 to 1902.

Footnote 12: Admiral of the Navy George Dewey.

Footnote 13: Mahan’s suggestions for the West Indies operations can be synopsized as follows: Spanish battleships must be blockaded at San Juan de Puerto Rico and elsewhere; Havana should be blockaded by swift vessels; the enemy will not attempt to go to Havana; the Atlantic Coast would not be attacked by the Spaniards but remotely possible by torpedo boats; naval strategy up to now has been viable including withholding an attack on Havana; and requests secrecy regarding his return to the U.S. from Europe. DNA, RG 59, M34.

Footnote 14: United States Ambassador to France Horace Porter.

Footnote 15: See footnote no. 13.

Footnote 16: RAdm. PascualCervera y Topete’s squadron initially steamed from Cadiz, Spain on 8 April 1898 on and arrived at Santiago de Cuba on 19 May. For more, see: the Flying Squadron and the Search for the Spanish for the Spanish Fleet; and the Bombardment of San Juan.

Footnote 17: These articles originally appeared in McClure’s Magazine between December 1898 and April 1899 and then published in, Alfred T. Mahan, Lessons of War with Spain and Other Articles (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1899).

Footnote 18: See: Mahan to Long, 10 May 1898.

Footnote 19: RAdm. Sampson’s squadron bombarded San Juan de Puerto Rico on 12 May 1898. For more information, see: Bombardment of San Juan section.

Footnote 20: For Secretary of the Navy John D. Long’s dismal assessment of the San Juan bombardment, see: Long’s Journal, 13 May 1898.

Footnote 21: RAdm. William T. Sampson.

Footnote 22: Cmdr. Bowman H. McCalla.

Footnote 23: Capt. Robley D. Evans.

Footnote 24: Cervera’s squadron arrived at Curaçao on 14 May 1898.

Footnote 25: Capt. Ramón Auñón y Villalón replaced RAdm. SegismundoBermejo y Merelo as the Spanish Minister of Marine on 18 May 1889. The Cortes Generales is the Spanish legislative body.

Footnote 26: The boats of the torpedo flotilla were not designed to act as messengers and given the constant steaming quickly experienced mechanical problems.

Footnote 27: See footnote no. 2.

Footnote 28: Commo. Winfield S. Schley. For more information, regarding his dilatory action, see: The Flying Squadron and the Search for the Spanish Fleet.

Footnote 29: For more, see, Howard A. Giddings, Exploits of the Signal Corps in the War with Spain (Kansas City, MO: Hudson-Kimberly Publishing Co., 1900), 37-46.

Footnote 30: Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter.

Footnote 31: Vice Adm. Manuelde la Cámaray Libermoore’s squadron steamed for the Philippines but was forced to return due to American pressure. For more, see, Chadwick, The Spanish American War, II: 383-90.

Footnote 32: Commo. John A. Howell commanded the First Squadron. For more information, see: Blockade of Northern Cuba.

Footnote 33: Capt. French E. Chadwick was chief of staff to RAdm. Sampson.

Footnote 34: Capt. Henry C. Taylor.

Footnote 35: RAdm. Cervera’s squadron was destroyed on 3 July 1898 and the formal surrender of Santiago transpired fourteen days later.

Footnote 36: Commo. George Dewey’s squadron defeated the Spanish at Cavite, Philippines on 1 May 1898. For more information, see: The Battle of Manila Bay.

Footnote 37: One could also argue that the inability of the American fleet to engage RAdm. Cervera’s squadron was an oversight.

Footnote 38: It is assumed that Mahan didn’t include himself in this observation.

Footnote 39: Commo. John C. Watson.

Footnote 40: The Eastern Squadron, under the command of Commo. Watson, was slated to steam to Spanish waters. For more information, see: The Eastern Squadron.

Footnote 41: Under the command Vice Adm. Horatio Nelson, the Royal Navy bombarded Copenhagen in 1801.

Footnote 42: For more information, see, Trask, War with Spain, 270-85.

Footnote 43: Mahan’s recollection goes against documentary evidence. The Naval War Board was actively involved in this episode regarding Cámara’s coaling. See: Sicard to Long, 18 July 1898.

Footnote 44: Pressure from the United States was put on Egyptian authorities to prevent Cámara’s squadron from coaling or to buy up the available coal. Trask, War with Spain, 270-78.

Footnote 45: During the Civil War Mahan served on Seminole while on blockade duty off the TEXAS coast. Seagar, Alfred T. Mahan, 38.

Footnote 46: Vice Adm. Cámara’s fleet would have had to steam via the Strait of Malacca is located between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Footnote 47: The Second Pacific Squadron, under the command of Adm. ZinoviiP. Rozhestvenskii, steamed through the Strait of Malacca to face defeat by the Japanese navy at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War.

Footnote 48: The U.S. Navy initiated the use of wireless telegraphy in 1904.

Footnote 49: For more on these operations, see: Blockade of Southern Cuba.

Footnote 50: For more information regarding Capt. Caspar F. Goodrich and these operations, see: Naval Operations at Manzanillo.

Footnote 52: Republican Senator William E. Chandler of New Hampshire.

Footnote 54: See footnote no. 17.

Footnote 55: Most likely, Commo. Royal B. Bradford, Chief of the Bureau of Equipment.

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