Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long.

U. S. Flagship New York, 1st Rate,

Off Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.

June 3, 1898.

S I R :--

     Permit me to call your special attention to the brave conduct of Assistant Naval Constructor Hobson.1 As stated in a recent telegram before coming here, I decided to make the harbor entrance secure against the possibility of egress of Spanish ships by obstructing the narrow part of the entrance by sinking a collier at that point.2 Upon calling upon Mr. Hobson for his professional opinion as to a sure method of sinking the ship, he manifested a most lively interest in the problem. After several days’ consideration he presented a solution which he considered would ensure the immediate sinking of the ship when she had reached the desired point in the channel. This plan we prepared for before we reached Santiago.3 This plan included ten electric torpedoes4 on the outside of the ship, each of seventy eight pounds of gunpowder, sinking the ship partially before going in, cutting the sea-valves and opening the cargo ports. The plan contemplated a crew of only seven men and Mr. Hobson, who begged that it might be entrusted to him. The anchor chains were ranged upon the deck for both the anchors, forward and aft, the plan including the anchoring of the ship almost automatically.

     2. As soon as I reached Santiago and I had the collier to work upon, the details were commenced and diligently prosecuted, hoping to complete them in one day, as the moon and tide served best the first night after our arrival. Notwithstanding every effort, the hour of 4 o’clock in the morning arrived and the preparations were scarcely completed. After a careful inspection of the final preparations I was forced to relinquish the plan for that morning as dawn was breaking. Mr. Hobson begged to try it at all hazards.

     3. This morning proved more propitious, as a prompt start could be made. Nothing could have been more gallantly executed.5 We waited impatiently after the firing of the Spaniards had ceased. When they did not re-appear from the harbor at six o’clock, I feared they had all perished. A steam launch which had been sent in charge of Naval Cadet Powell6 to rescue the men, appeared at this time, coming out under persistent fire from the batteries, but brought none of the crew. A careful inspection of the harbor from this ship showed that the Merrimac had been sunk in the channel somewhat further in than had been intended.7

     4. This afternoon the Chief of Staff of Admiral Cervera8 came out under a flag of truce with a letter from the Admiral extolling the bravery of the crew in an unusual manner.

5. I cannot myself too earnestly express my appreciation of the conduct of Mr. Hobson and his gallant crew.9 I venture to say that a more brave and daring thing has not been done since Cushing blew up the Albemarle.

6. Referring to the inspiring letter which you addressed to the Officers at the beginning of the war, I am sure you will offer a suitable professional reward to Mr. Hobson and his companions.10

7. I must add that Commander J. M. Miller11 relinquished his command with the very greatest reluctance, believing he should retain his command under all circumstances. He was, however, finally convinced that the attempt of another person to carry out the multitude of details which had been in preparation by Mr. Hobson, might endanger its proper execution. I therefore took liberty to relieve him for this reason only. There were hundreds of volunteers in the Squadron who were anxious to participate; there were one hundred and fifty from the Iowa, nearly as many from this ship, and large numbers from all the other ships, Officers and men alike.

          Very respectfully,

              W. T. Sampson

               Rear Admiral, U. S. Navy,

              Commander in Chief, U.S.Naval Force

                   North Atlantic Station.

Source Note: CbCyS, DNA, RG 313, Entry 32, vol. 7, p. 185. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.” Document reference: “No. 113.”

Footnote 1: Assistant Naval Constructor Richmond P. Hobson.

Footnote 2: Sampson is referring to a 28 May, cable to Commo. Winfield S. Schley. In the letter Sampson mistakenly suggested sinking the Sterling, and not the Merrimac, in the middle of the channel to the harbor at Santiago. Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 398.

Footnote 3: Sampson arrived at Santiago with his squadron on 1 June. Ibid., 402.

Footnote 4: At this time the word “torpedo” and “mine” were used interchangeably and Sampson is referring to the latter.

Footnote 5: See, Hobson’s description of the sinking of the Merrimac from his memoir. Richmond P. Hobson, The Sinking of the “Merrimac,” (New York: The Century Co., 1899).

Footnote 6: Cadet Joseph W. Powell.

Footnote 7: As the Merrimac was bombarded by Spanish ships and shore batteries it lost control of its rudders. Moreover, elements of the demolition system were severed and did not activate as planned. As a result, the Merrimac overran the position where Hobson intended to sink it. Hobson’s description of the sinking of the Merrimac can be found in his memoir of the event: Richmond Pearson Hobson, The Sinking of the “Merrimac” (New York: The Century and Co., 1899), 88-123.

Footnote 8: Adm. Pascual Cervera y Topete’s Chief of Staff was Captain Joaquin Bustamente y Quevedi.

Footnote 9: The crew who served under Hobson on the Merrimac were: Coxswain Claus K. R. Clausen, Coxswain Osborn W. Deignan, Boatswain Mate John E. Murphy, Chief Master-At-Arms Daniel Montague, Gunner's Mate First Class George Charrette, Machinist First Class George F. Phillips, Watertender Francis Kelly. Richmond Pearson Hobson, The Sinking of the “Merrimac" (New York: The Century and Co., 1899), 64-65.

Footnote 10: Sampson is referring to a memorandum Long sent to the North Atlantic Station commander, RAdm. Montgomery Sicard encouraging daring and boldness among Naval officers and men. In the letter Secretary Long wrote that:

Each man engaged in the work of the inshore squadron should have in him the stuff out of which to make a possible Cushing; 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. See: Long to Sicard, 23 March, 1898.

Long was referring to Commander William Barker Cushing (1842 - 1874), an officer in the United States Navy during the American Civil War. Cushing was revered for his daring exploits in a raid that included the sinking of the Confederate ironclad Albemarle in a raid on Norfolk. On 6 July the Merrimac crew were exchanged for Spanish prisoners of war. The entire crew survived their captivity and each was rewarded with promotions and eventually the Medal of Honor. Charles Van Doran, ed., Webster’s American Biographies (Sprinfield, MA: G. & C. Meriam Company, 1974), 244-245; and Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American War, Vol. 2, 397.

Footnote 11: Cmdr. James M. Miller

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