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Lieutenant John B. Bernadou to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

Convent Hospital,           

Key West, Fla.,          

May 16, 1898.     

May 11,      


     1.   I respectfully submit the following report of the action off Cardenas, Cuba, as participated in by the U. S. Torpedo Boat Winslow; to supplement the summarized statement submitted by my on the 11th inst.,1 the day of the fight.

2.        The Winslow arrived off Cardenas from Matanzas at 9 a. m. on the 11th, having left her station on the blockade to obtain an additional supply of coal, the amount of fuel in her bunkers being reduced to five 5 tons. The U. S. S. Machias and Wilmington were found at Piedras Cay. Upon making application to Captain Merry,2 the senior officer present, I was directed to apply to Captain Todd,3 commanding U. S. S. Wilmington for necessary supplies.

3.        On boarding the U. S. S. Wilmington I was informed by her commanding officer of his intention to enter Cardenas harbor on the afternoon of that day. Of the three channels leading through the Cays, two were believed to be mined; there remained unexplored a third channel between Romero and Blanco Cays, over which the minimum depth of water as shown by the chart, was one and three-quarters fathoms. As the rise of tide at this place was about one and one-half feet and as the Wilmington drew scant ten feet, I was directed to receive on board a Cuban pilot, Santos, to take with me the Revenue Cutter Hudson, to sound this channel and, in company with the Hudson to sweep the channel for torpedoes. This work I completed by noon, except the sweeping of the channel, which could not be done on account of the grounding of the Hudson. That vessel touched lightly, but managed to work off without injury. The Winslow, therefore dragged the channel with grapnels and returned to the Wilmington, reporting to Captain Todd upon the practicability of the entrance.

4.        The entrance was begun at 12:30, high tide, the Hudson on the starboard side and the Winslow on the portside of the Wilmington assisting in marking out shoal water. No vessels were in sight on entering Cardenas Bay save two square-rigged merchantmen with sails unbent, anchored directly off the town. As it was thought possible that gun boats might attempt to escape, the Hudson was sent along the western side and the Winslow along the eastern side of the bay to intercept them in event of such movement: not finding them the three vessels met off the town at a distance of about 3500 yards. When in this position the Winslow was signaled to approach the Wilmington within hail and I was directed by Captain Todd to go in and investigate a small gun boat then observed for the first time: --painted grey, with black smoke stack, apparently not under steam and moored to a wharf, to the left of which arouse a compact mass of buildings close to the water front. Torpedoes were set for surface runs, the fans upon the war-noses were run up, so as to provide for explosion at short range for use alongside of the gun boat, and all preparations were made for immediate action.4

5.        At a distance of about 1500 yards, at which time the Winslow was advancing at about 12 knots, which seems her maximum speed in quite shoal water, the first gun of the engagement was fired from the bow of the Spanish gun boat, marked by a clear puff of white smoke. This shot, which passed over the Winslow, was at once replied to by that ship and was the signal for the commencement from the beach of a rapidly sustained fire, characterized primarily by a total absence of smoke. At commencement of this firing I received a flesh wound in the left thigh. As the action advanced a cloud of haze collected on shore at the location of this battery and when closest I detected one or two gun flashes from among the buildings but at no time could I detect the exact position of the guns. My uncertainty as to the position of the enemy was attested to by the commanding officer of the Hudson and by officers commanding gun divisions on the Wilmington who enquired of me shortly after the action what I made out to be the enemiey’s exact position.

6.        At this time the wind was blowing from the ships toward the shore. The first shot that pierced the Winslow rendered her steam and hand steering gear inoperative and damaged them beyond repair. Efforts to work the hand steering gear from aft were frustrated by the wrecking of that mechanism and the rupture of both wheel ropes; relieving tackles failed to operate the rudder. For a short time the vessel was held in her bows on position by use of her propellers. She then swung broad side to the enemy. A shot now pierced her engine room rendering one engine inoperative. I directed my attention to maintaining from her one-pound guns, to keeping the vessel constantly in movement, so as to reduce the chances of her being hit, to endeavoring to withdraw from close range and to keeping clear of the line of fire of the Wilmington and Hudson. The use of the remaining engine, however, had the effect of throwing her stern towards the enemy upon backing, while going ahead threw her bow in the same direction. Under the heavy fire of the Wilmington the fire of the enemy slackened. The Spanish gun boat was silenced and put out of action early in the engagement.

7.        The Winslow now being practically disabled I signalled to the Hudson to tow us out of action she very gallantly approached us and we succeeded in getting a line to her. Previous to this, the alternate rapid backing and steaming ahead of the Winslow had had the effect of working her out from under the enemiey’s batteries and in this way a distance of about 300 yards was gained. Finding that we were working out in this manner I directed Ensign Bagley5 to concentrate his attention upon the movement of the ship watching the vessel so as to keep her out of the Wilmington’s way and to direct the movements of the man at the reversing gear, mechanical communication from deck to engine room being impracticable. This necessitated Mr. Bagley making repeated short trips from the deck to the foot of the engine room ladder. While directing the vessels course and at the moment of being on deck heis stood abreast the starboard gun close to a group of men who had been stationed below but who had been sent on deck from the disabled machinery. A shell hitting, I believe, a hose-reel, exploded instantly, killing Ensign Bagley and two others and mortally wounding two.6 This accident, which occurred at the close of the action, was virtually its end; the enemy fired a few more shots put was soon completely silence by heavy fire of the Wilmington. The conduct of Ensign Bagley and of the men with him as well that of the crew who survived the fight, is beyond commendation.7 After seeing the dead and wounded removed from the Winslow and conveyed on board the Wilmington, I turned over the command of the ship to Gunners Mate G. P. Brady,8 my own injury preventing me from performing active duty for the time being.

          I have the honor to remain Sir,

Your obedient servant,           

John B. Bernadou                 

Lieut. U. S. Navy.               

Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 229. Addressed before opening: “The Honorable,/Secretary of the Navy,” Docketed: “Convent Hospital,/Key West, Fla,/May 1, 1898/Bernadou, John B./Lieut. U.S. Navy,/Report of the action off/Cardenas, Cuba, as/Taken part in by U.S.T.B. Winslow.” Stamp: The document features a “BUREAU OF NAVIGATION” stamp dated to 23 May 1898. The number “113467” is stamped in the middle.

Footnote 1: Refers to the 11 May 1898. For Lt. Bernadou’s 11 May 1898 report, see, Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 201-02.

Footnote 2: Comdr. John F. Merry.

Footnote 3: Comdr. Chapman C. Todd.

Footnote 4: Bernadou was describing the process of setting the timing mechanism on a torpedo warhead.

Footnote 5: En. Worth Bagley was the only United States Navy officer to die in combat in the Spanish-American War. Bagley was from North Carolina and his death was particularly important in the former Confederate states who saw the Spanish-American War as unifying the country a generation after the Civil War. A statue of Bagley was erected outside the North Carolina State Capitol. Poet Richard Watson Gilder summed up Bagley’s importance in his poem, “One Country — One Sacrifice: Ensign Worth Bagley, May 11, 1898:”

In one rich drop of blood, ah, what a sea

Of healing! Thou, sweet boy, wert first to fall

In our new war; and thou wert southron all!

There is no North, South,—remembering thee.

David Walbert, “Ensign Worth Bagley,” accessed 25 February 2015,

Footnote 6: The casualties on the Winslow were reported by Commo. George C. Remey to the Secretary of the Navy John D. Long on 13 May 1898. Remey reported:

Ensign Bagley was fatally wounded and died before he could be brought on board the Wilmington. John Varvares, Oiler, and John Deneefe, first class fireman, were killed on board the Winslow. Two other men were fatally wounded, one of them, [George Burton Meek,] first class fireman, died in a boat while being transferred to [the Wilmington]; the other, Josiah Tunell, Ship’s Cook first class, after being brought on board. Remey to Long, 13 May 1898, TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 229.

Footnote 7: Bernadou found the actions of his crew to be laudable, particularly that of his petty officers. He wrote a brief letter on 14 May 1898, to Secretary Long specifically commending Chief Gunners Mate George P. Brady, Chief Machinist T. C. Cooney, and Chief Machinist Hans Johnsen. He went on to describe their actions on the 11 May 1898:

Brady, energy in assisting to sustain gun fire, promptness in maintaining closed, water-tight doors and hatches, efforts to repair steering gear underfire; Cooney, extinguishing fires under boiler pierced by shells, at risk of severe scalding; Johnson, presence of mind in shutting off steam from the engine wrecked by shell bursting in cylinder. Bernadou to Long, 14 May 1898, RG 313 Entry 49, box 8.    

Footnote 8: Gunners Mate George P. Brady. (Brady received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry on the Winslow on 11 May 1898)

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