Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to Secretary of State William R. Day

[Extract]

LETTER

Washington, June 20, 1898.  

Sir:

     It being generally reported that Assistant Naval Constructor Hobson,1 and the men of the U.S.S. “Merrimac,”2 lately captured by the Spanish in the harbor of Santiago de Cuba, are confined in the Morro Castle of Santiago, where they are in range of our naval gun and liable to be killed or wounded by our projectiles, in case we should direct them against said castle, and which, for military purposes, should be so directed; and in view of the fact that the supreme Spanish authorities of the Island of Cuba have declined to exchange the said prisoner; and furthermore, as it is to apprehended that any official inquiry made, of the Spanish authorities, by our naval commanders off Santiago, concerning the prisoners in question, is likely to unsatisfactory in its results:3

     This Department requests that the British Government be asked to ascertain, through Her Majesty’s Consul at Santiago de Cuba,4 the true status and condition of the aforesaid prisoners, and to communicate the result of its inquiries to this government.

     Among the chief objects of the inquiry, would be to ascertain whether our officer and men are properly treated as prisoners of war; whether they have sufficient food, clothing, medical attendance, and proper opportunities for exercise; whether they are housed with proper sanitary surroundings, and especially whether they are confined or kept part of the time, or all of the time, in buildings, forts, or localities that are particular [f]or proper marks for our fire, of that of the Cubans, during naval and military operations by the forces now operating against Santiago de Cuba and the vicinity.5

Very respectfully,          

John D. Long,          

Secretary.   

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 80, Entry 194, vol. 1, pp. 201-2. Addressed below close: “The Honorable,/The Secretary of Secretary.”

Footnote 1: Asst. Naval Constructor Richmond P. Hobson.

Footnote 2: Included with the document was a list of Merrimac crew members. For a list of the crew, see: Long to Commo. George C. Remey, 13 June 1898.

Footnote 3: The crew of the Merrimac were detained in the Morro Castle at the mouth of Santiago harbor on 3 June. On June 6, RAdm. William T. Sampson, commanding the blockade off Santiago de Cuba, order the bombardment of the shore batteries around the Morro. While the enlisted men were in a sheltered portion of the castle, Hobson’s cell was relatively exposed and faced the water. He spent much of the bombardment jumping from on top of a wooden table to watch out a window and back under the table to protect himself from any falling debris. After the bombardment Hobson issued a written protest to being interred at the fort and the next day the crew was moved into different quarters in Santiago de Cuba proper. Long discovered this fact on 23 June, and notified Sampson. See, Richmond P. Hobson, The Sinking of the “Merrimac” (New York: The Century Co., 1899), 193-210; and Long to Sampson, 23 June 1898, DNA, RG 80, Entry 194, Vol. 1, 220.   

Footnote 4: British Consul Frederick K. Ramsden sent furniture and a pitcher and basin for Hobson and blankets and hammocks for his men within hours of their arrival at the Morro on June 3. He made frequent visits to the Merrimac’s crew to look after them and also spoke to Spanish officials on their behalf for their duration of their near two months of captivity. Ibid., 156-159.

Footnote 5: In Hobson’s post war recollections of the Merrimac operation he was deeply touched by the care and friendly sentiment extended to him and his crew by Spanish Naval and Army officers during their time as prisoners of war. He wrote: “The history of warfare probably contains no instance of cavalry on the part of captors greater than that of those who fired on the Merrimac.” Hobson was frequently visited by Spanish officers who praised his courage. The commander of the Morro even sent Hobson cigarettes, cigars, and a bottle of Cognac. Hobson was a teetotaler who did not smoke, so he sent the cigarettes and cigars to his men and kept the cognac to entertain guests to his cell. For Hobson’s full description of his captivity at the Morro and later in Santiago de Cuba, see, Ibid., 144-303.

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