Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Albert S. Barker and Major Arthur L. Wagner, Assistant Adjutant General, to Secretary of War Russell A. Alger

Army and Navy Board,

Washington, [D.C.] April 4, 1898.

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HONORABLE SECRETARY OF WAR.

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     In the co-operation of the military and naval forces in offensive operations against the Island of Cuba, the Board is of the following opinion:1

     First.- The Spanish fleet should be destroyed, or at least driven from West Indian waters as a preliminary to the transportation of troops from the United States to Cuba.

     Second.- The ports of Havana, Matanzas, Santiago de Cuba, Manzanillo and Cienfuegos should be blockaded as soon as practicable, in order to cut off the supplies of the Spanish army.*2

     Third.- In the opinion of the Board it would be a mistake for the Navy to assail the fortifications at Havana before decisively crippling the Spanish fleet,3 because even if our vessels met with the fullest measure of success, they would certainly be more or less crippled in a combat with strong fortifications, and their supply of ammunition would be very seriously reduced. If the fleet should be repulsed, or if it should be compelled to withdraw because of the exhaustion of its ammunition – (as was nearly the case with the British fleet at Alexandria)4 – the moral effect would be altogether with the Spaniards; and it is to be noted that if any of the battle-ships should be crippled we have no dock nearer than New York at which they could be repaired.5 It is known by the members of the Board that the batteries have a large supply of ammunition. In any event – either success or failure – our fleet would not be in so good a condition to engage the Spanish squadron after a bombardment of Havana as it would be before. After defeating the Spanish fleet, our vessels could assail the fortifications, if necessary, without any ruinous results following, even in case of repulse; but in the opinion of the Board the purely military results to be gained, even in such a case would not be commensurate with the risk incurred. Of course if political or other circumstances should compel the immediate capture of Havana, the risk would be willingly assumed; but under ordinary circumstances the bombardment should be deferred until after the battle with the Spanish fleet. If the fortifications were reduced by naval attack, a land force would be necessary for the occupation of the city; for only a few hundred marines could be spared for this purpose from the fleet – a force inadequate for patrolling the place – and the city would probably be a scene of chaos and massacre at the hands of the Spanish volunteers.6 This statement is made advisedly by the Board after careful inquiry into the conditions existing in Havana.

Fourth.- While the principal operations should be against Havana, a small expedition should be sent to capture Nuevitas and Puerto Padre for the purpose of establishing communication with the Insurgents.7 A supply of 40,000 Springfield rifles, caliber .45, five million cartridges for the same, and a liberal supply of mules and mountain artillery should be furnished the Insurgents. Twenty carefully-selected young officers of the Army should be allowed, while retaining their commissions in the United States Service, to accept commissions in the Insurgent Army, especially in the artillery service, should such a measure be requested by the Cuban authorities and the request be accompanied by a guarantee that these officers would be given the rank of colonel in the Cuban Army, and treated with the consideration due their rank.8

     Fifth.- In the opinion of the Board the landing of our troops in Cuba in the wet season would be followed by an appalling sacrifice of life from disease, and might be the means of introducing and widely spreading yellow fever into the United States.9 But if military operations be undertaken without waiting for the dry season, they should be begun as soon as possible, with an army large enough to admit of 50,000 effective troops being placed upon the Island. To facilitate transportation, the forces should be concentrated for embarkation at Tampa, Mobile and New Orleans. Tampa, though unfortified, could be safely adopted as a base after the defeat of the Spanish fleet.10 The concentration of troops at those three points would greatly facilitate their embarkation. If a single base were selected it should be Mobile. If New Orleans be taken as a base the long railway approaches over the water to that city should be carefully guarded to prevent their destruction by Spaniards or Spanish sympathizers among the foreign population who could easily destroy them with dynamite.

     Sixth.- The troops should be landed at Mariel.11 This decision is reached after a careful consideration of the strategic advantages that would be gained by the adoption of Matanzas as a base,12 if operations from that point could be quickly conducted; but owing to the nature of the roads and the country in the vicinity of Matazanas it could not be satisfactorily used as a base. On the other hand the roads from Mariel are among the best in the Island; that is to say, fairly good. The force landing at Mariel should march at once against Havana or the force covering it. The war vessels operating against Havana would furnish a strong support to the advancing force. The aqueduct from which Havana gets its water supply should be seized, and Havana should be invested without delay.13 Blockaded by the Navy and invested by the Army, its fall would be certain, and probably speedy.

     Seventh.- While all possible assistance should be given to the Insurgents in the form of arms and munitions of war, as already set forth, a combination of our forces with the Insurgent troops should not be effected. Such a combination would necessitate the adoption of Santiago de Cuba or Puerto Principe as a theater of our operations, and would carry us too far away from Havana, where our decisive efforts should at first be exerted.14 An even more powerful reason is to be found in the jealousy that would be felt by Cuban leaders, and the extravagant claims for command that they might put forth. The members of the Board have been unfavorably impressed with certain indications which have come to their notice of jealousy on the part of the Cuban leaders, and are forced to the belief that their higher officers would be reluctant to serve under the command of our generals.15

     Eighth.- In the opinion of the Board it would be a mistake to make an invasion of the Island with a force consisting either wholly or in great part of negro troops. It is learned from an unquestionably reliable source that such a measure would be so highly distasteful to the Cubans that it would deaden the welcome that they would otherwise extend to our troops, even if it did not convert it into hostility.16

     Ninth.- Operations against Puerto Rico should be undertaken as soon as possible; but in the opinion of the Board Cuba should be our first objective.17 If, however, the Spanish fleet should take refuge in San Juan the reduction of that place would probably be a part of the first naval operations, and a garrison should be placed in that city as soon as it is captured. As San Juan is the Spanish naval base, its capture would be a matter of great importance; but it is of even more importance to encounter and defeat the fleet than to seize the base from which it draws its supplies.

 

Respectfully submitted,     

 

Albert S. Barker                  Arthur L. Wagner

Captain, U.S. Navy.          Asst. Adjutant General, U.S. Army

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG 94, File no. 198209. Docketed: “Washington. Apr. 4, 1898/Arthur L. Wagner A.A.G./Army + Navy Board/Memo for Secy of War/Recommendations of the/Board relating to co-operation/of the military and naval/forces in offensive/operations against Island/of Cuba.”

Footnote 1: The role and influence of the Army and Navy Board is somewhat of a mystery. It was composed of Capt. Albert S. Barker (who subsequently transferred to the Naval War Board) and Major Arthur L. Wagner, Assistant Adjutant General and Chief of the Military Intelligence Division (MID) of the United States Army. Internal evidence suggests that this board was under the direction of Asst. Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt. Additional members were Cmdr. Joseph E. Craig (Hydrographer, Bureau of Navigation) and Lt. Alfred Reynolds (Bureau of Equipment).

Footnote 2: At the bottom of the page was a series of dashes followed by an asterisk and this footnote: “It is claimed by the Cubans that, if an effective blockade were established, the Spanish army could be starved out in two weeks. It seems certain that such a result could be brought about in a short time even though the period be longer than that claimed by the Cubans.”

Footnote 3: This strategy, based on Mahanian thinking, was the accepted policy of the Navy Department before and during the Spanish-American War, however, RAdm. William T. Sampson believed otherwise and sought to immediately investment Havana.

Footnote 4: A reference to the Battle of the Nile in which RAdm. Sir Horatio Nelson’s fleet defeated the French naval forces under the command of Vice-Adm. François-Paul Brueys D’Aigalliers on 1 Aug. 1798.

Footnote 5: A reference to the New York (Brooklyn) Navy Yard. Specially designed repair vessels were later assigned to the fleet during Caribbean operations.

Footnote 6: Barker and Wagner were probably incorrect in their estimation. Although Spanish loyalists and volunteers rioted in early 1898 in opposition to concessions by Spain in favor of Cuban autonomy, they were a small and localized minority in Havana.

Footnote 7: Nuevitas and Puerto Padre are located on the northern coast of Cuba to the east of Havana.

Footnote 8: This proposal to send United States personnel to work with the Cubans is a unique feature of this war plan.

Footnote 9: The summer months was when Cuban rainy, or yellow fever, season occurred.

Footnote 10: During the war, the major embarkation point for American troops was Tampa, Florida.

Footnote 11: Mariel is located on the northern coast of Cuba, westward of Havana, and was slated to be the first disembarkation point for American troops. In fact, these initial operations started on 12 May. See, Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 661-62.

Footnote 12: The first U.S. naval bombardment of the war was at Matanzas.

Footnote 13: The Kimball war plan regarded the aqueduct as an initial focus of naval bombardment. See: Plan of Operations Against Spain Prepared by Lieutenant William W. Kimball (1896).

Footnote 14: The Cuban insurgent forces were stronger in the provinces where Santiago de Cuba and Puerto Principe were located.

Footnote 15: The Cuban insurgents had been at war with Spain since 1895 and it would seem that they would be reluctant to serve under newcomers unfamiliar with their tactics in particular and strategic conditions in general.

Footnote 16: This information is inaccurate. Racial issues were less prevalent in Cuba and blacks contributed numerous fighters to the insurgent forces. Aline Helg, “Race and Black Mobilization and Early Independent Cuba: A Comparative Perspective,” Ethnohistory 44, 1 (Feb. 2013), 4.

Footnote 17: This reference to San Juan de Puerto Rico as an important objective is not found in the other war plans. This port, with its major coaling and repair facilities, would have been the first choice of the Spanish fleet after an Atlantic crossing since it is 950 nautical miles closer to Spain than Havana.

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