Captain Caspar F. Goodrich to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet
U.S.S. St. LOUIS,
May 19, 1898.
I regret to have to report my failure,this morning early,to cut the French cable at Guantanamo. The port is guarded by a Spanish gunboat carrying heavier guns than the six pounders of this ship:1 she is commanded by an officer who did not hesitate to attack us. Doubtless he had been informed from Santiago de Cuba of the light nature of our batteries and had been warned to be on the lookout for us.2 In addition was a small gun on shore.
I sent the Wampatuck3 into the mouth of the harbor to drag for the wire,while I lay just outside. She caught the cable shortly before the action. It was only after a hot engagement forty (40) minutes in which both ships took part,that the necessity of abandoning my enterprise in that locality was forced upon me. To have remained longer might have cost the loss of this ship,for she is very vulnerable, as you know.
Again it is my agreeable duty to speak highly of Lieutenant Jungen4 in battle. He obeyed my signal to withdraw with great reluctance after a very pretty fight. Also Chief Officer T.J.Seagrave deserves the Departments recognition for faithful work under the enemy’s fire.5 A commission as Lieutenant Commander in the Navy would be little enough recompense for his services and his gallantry. He would be an ornament to any navy for his capacity and attainments.
I am bound to Mole St. Nicolas,where I shall let the Wampatuck fill up with fresh water and thence proceed to Key West. After outing the French cable I shall proceed to work of[f] Ponce, Porto Rico.
Possibly both Jamaica-Santiago cables were damaged yesterday. If one still remains in good order I must ask you to assign me the Mangrove fitted with apparatus for work in deep water,and an armed vessel-say the Marblehead-for our protection. My own appliances are inadequate for this duty,and I am too weak in powers of offence.
I expect to be in Mole St.Nicolas tomorrow,the twentieth, off Ponce the 21st and 22d,and in St. Thomas the 23d. I respectfully request that orders be wired me there sending me to New York to coal and refit. I can take the fuel on board in thirty-six hours and moreover secure certain articles much needed for future operations in cable cutting.
In ten days or so from the date of leaving St.Thomas, I can be back at Mole St.Nicholas ready for three or four weeks duty with the fleet. I am, Sir,
Source Note: TCyS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 230. Addressed below close: “The Commander-in-Chief,/North Atlantic Station,/U.S.F.S.New York.” Handwritten at the top of the first page: “[Duplicate of letter forwarded by U.S.S. Wompatuck May 20, 1898.]” and the numbers “1247676.”
Footnote 1: In a letter of 19 May, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long, Goodrich wrote that the gunboat had “two bigger pieces (4 or 5 inch probably).” Goodrich added that he justified his decision to retreat by reasoning that “Admiral Sampson having sent me to cut cables, fighting was secondary” and although “humiliating,” Goodrich “had too much to lose and too little to gain—for the cable can be cut elsewhere,” unlike the cable he had cut off Santiago de Cuba the day before. Long Papers, General Correspondence, MHi.
Footnote 2: See: Goodrich to Sampson, 18 May 1898.
Footnote 3: That is, Wompatuck.
Footnote 4: Lt. Carl W. Jungen.
Footnote 5: Civilian First Officer Thomas G. Segrave. For his actions during the war he received a Lieutenants commission.