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North Atlantic Fleet Squadron Bulletin No. 23

Squadron Bulletin.

U. S. Flagship New York.         Off Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.

TUESDAY, JULY 5, 1898.

MENTION of the presence of the torpedo-boat Ericsson on the 3rd instant was, unfortunately, omitted. She was in company with the flagship and turned at once on sighting the enemy.1 As she was drawing away from the New York she signalled asking permission to continue in chase, but she was directed to pick up two men in the water which she did, and, on reaching the Vizcaya, she was directed, by the Iowa¾the flagship having gone ahead¾to assist in the rescue of the Vizcaya’s crew. She took off eleven officers and ninety men. The guns of the Vizcaya during the operation were going off from the heat and explosions were frequent so that the work was trying and perilous for the boats of the two vessels (Iowa and Ericsson) engaged.

     The former report from the Army, which was official, regarding General Pando’s entry into Santiago is an error;2 General Shafter3 thought that he had been enabled to form a junction, but some few of his men only have been able to do so; the General himself and his remaining force, it is thought, will not be able.

     The day was an uneventful one from the naval standpoint. The flagship went to the wrecks of the Infanta Maria Teresa and the [Almirante Oquendo]. The former lies in an easy position on sand and with almost her normal draft of water. She is, of course, completely burned out inside above protective deck, but the shell of her hull seems good, and her machinery is probably not seriously injured. It looks very much as if she were salvable.4 The Oquendo is much worse off. She had been subjected to a much heavier gunfire, being racked and torn in every part: she is much more out of water and the forward part much distorted and torn by the explosions of her magazines and torpedoes. The loss of life was very great. Charred bodies are strewn everywhere, the vicinity of the port forward torpedo–room particularly was almost covered.5 The torpedo exploded in the tube, it may be by a shot. This is a question which, it is hoped, may be conclusively decided. The fact of so many bodies being about would seem to bear this out, but two of her crew, taken off the beach this afternoon, were questioned and both stated that it was the result of fire, and that the number of bodies was to be accounted for by the fact that the operating–room was just below and that many wounded came up that far and were there suffocated. The two men were intelligent young fellows and talked very freely. They said the gun–fire was such that it was impossible to keep the men at the guns. One was a powder–passer, the other at a 57 m-m gun. In the forward turret were two officers and five men, evidently killed by the entry of an six-pounder shell between the top of the turret and the gun–shield. Altogether the ship is a most striking instance of what rapid and well–directed gun–fire may accomplish.6 She was terribly battered about.

    While the flagship was lying near the Oquendo, and her steam cutter was alongside and a small boat from the press tug Hercules7 lying on the starboard quarter, a shell exploded in a 15 c-m [gun] and a piece went through the tug's boat, cutting it in two; the man in the boat was not hurt. It is somewhat extraordinary that this shall should have waited so long to act, as the after part of the ship was generally well cooled off; there was still much heat and some flames about the bows. One extraordinary fact is the survival, in proper shape, of many powder grains, baked hard; several of these were picked up about the decks.

A board has been ordered by the Commander–in–Chief to report, in detail, upon the stranded ships.8

Source Note: Printed, DLC-MSS, Papers of William F. Fullam. This bulletin was produced on a printing press on New York (the flagship of RAdm. William T. Sampson’s North Atlantic Fleet) and was distributed to the vessels. It is listed as number 23 in Squadron Bulletins, 44-46.

Footnote 1: A reference to the naval Battle of Santiago de Cuba on 3 July.

Footnote 3: Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter.

Footnote 4: Infanta Maria Teresa was refloated by the U.S. Navy, but while under tow it sank during a storm.

Footnote 5: One officer depicted the Almirante Oquendo as “simply torn and ripped to pieces.” Joseph M. Reeves, 7 July 1898, on Oregon, DN-HC, Papers of Joseph M. Reeves.

Footnote 6: Later analysis did not support this assumption. In a report to President Theodore Roosevelt (dated 11 Mar. 1898) Lt. William S. Sims stated that: “You are doubtless aware that we fired some 9,000 shots [at the Battle of Santiago], and made 120 hits, or 1,30%. Professor Alger, in his analysis of the battle, states that none of our guns made as much as 5%, at a mean range of 2800 yards, and at targets 200 by 24 feet in size.” DLC-MSS, Papers of William S. Sims.

Footnote 7: There were three tugs named Hercules during the Spanish-American War and this one belonged to a newspaper.

Footnote 8: RAdm. William T. Sampson established a board to determine the damage of the Spanish ships and whether they could be refloated. Richmond P. Hobson was one of the inspectors. See: North Atlantic Fleet Squadron Bulletin No. 24, 6 July 1898.

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