Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain Caspar F. Goodrich to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet

U.S.S.St.Louis,   

Off Santiago,Cuba,

May, 18,1898.

Sir:

     I have the honor to report the successful grappling and cutting of one of the Jamaica-Santiago de Cuba cables, under circumstances which I am convinced will receive the commendation of the Navy Department as well as of yourself.

     At daylight,being then some seven miles off Santiago light-and the Morro Castle-I steamed with this ship on various courses,gradually approaching the fortifications. The water is so deep, close to,that,with the meager and improvised appliances at my command, I was obliged to come within one <1.3> miles and three tenths1 of the castle. I had no sooner hooked the cable in over 500 fms.of water when I was fired upon from the Morro,from a new work to the westward of the harbor and,most formidable of all from a mortar battery on Smith Cay <Casper Point>. of course with the very modest broadside of this vessel,aided by the one six-pdr. <three-pdr.> of the “Wompatuck”, which joined me just as the firing began, it was impossible to do much execution on the fortifications, nevertheless we silenced the one gun on the Morro which was placing its shot dangerously close, both over and short of us, the crew, as could be plainly seen, running away from their piece. Similarly our fire silenced the western battery. From the mortar battery above mentioned the projectiles came with singularly good aim, both as to direction and distance, falling close aboard, some not 100 feet away, and rendering our position extremely uncomfortable. The damage of which one of their shells is capable might have been serious even to wrecking or completely crippling this fine and costly vessel. Our position was now extremely uncomfortable, but we held firmly on to the cable, firing all the time and steamed slowly out of range where we could pick up the cable at leisure. We cut out quite a length, a sample accompanies this letter. It may be said with absolute exactness that we not only succeeded in our undertaking, but had to fight for our success in a ship entirely unsuited to fighting.

          The action, which took place at 2,500 to 3,000 yards, lasted forty-one minutes. I am exceedingly happy to report no injuries to either ship and no casualties among the officers or men.2

          Lieutenant Carl W. Jungen, in his little vessel, the Wompatuck, added a most praiseworthy display of coolness and pluck in battle to his uniformly zealous and intelligent cooperation with me previously. He deserves thoroughly any recognition which the Department may see fit to accord him.

My thanks are due to Ensign F.R.Payne, U.S.N., and to Lieut A.W.Catlin, U.S.M.C.,3 for their faithful labors in preparing a set of raw recruits for battle and for coolness and courage under fire.

          You are doubtless aware of the peculiar conditions under which the officers and crew of this vessel are now serving their country. The Officers are not appointed in the Navy, nor are the men enlisted, yet greater bravery in action or more devotion to their flag than theirs could not have been shown. With shells whistling over their heads, the gang of men, who under Chief Officer Seagrave,4 were employed on the forecastle in the dangerous task of heaving up the telegraph cable, never flinched but stuck to their posts to the end.

          The Department might with propriety recognize the service performed by Captain Randle5 and his subordinates and by his ships company, in such manner as it deems fit. The assurance, whatever form it may take, that they have earned the Departments favor will bring gratification to them during their lives and their children after them.

          If I have seemed to unduly magnify a trivial affair, I can only wish that you had been present in person to witness the evidence of determination shown by the St. Louis and the Wompatuck, two vessels as little fitted as possible to stand up against fortifications,6 to execute your command at a risk which it is not becoming in me to characterize otherwise than as grave.7 I am, Sir,

Very respectfully           

C.F. Goodrich          

Captain, U.S.Navy,

Commanding   

Source Note: TCyS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 230. Addressed below close: “The commander-in-Chief,/North Atlantic Station,/U.S.F.SNew York.” Handwritten interlineation: “[Duplicate of letter forwarded by U.S.S. Wompatuck, May 20, 1898].” The typist consistently neglected to insert a space between a comma and the next word. Those typographical errors have been silently corrected.

Footnote 1: Someone, presumably at the Bureau of Navigation and in anticipation of publication, crossed through certain words in Goodrich’s letter and wrote alternatives as interlineations. Since two of these interlineations appear to be corrections to the original text, the editors have included them but, put them within angle brackets immediately following the word(s) that were crossed through by this early editor.

Footnote 2: In a letter to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long of 19 May, Goodrich wrote that it was “due to a Kind Providence rather than the good will of the Spaniards” that St. Louis and “her little consort the Wompatuck were untouched.” Long Papers, General Correspondence, MHi.

Footnote 3: En. Fred R. Payne and Lt. Albertus W. Catlin.

Footnote 4: Civilian Chief Officer Thomas G. Segrave.

Footnote 5: Civilian Captain William G. Randle.

Footnote 6: The St. Louis was initially a passenger liner and was crewed by civilian sailors and officers. Wompatuck was a retrofitted civilian tugboat also originally a civilian vessel.  Goodrich believed the St. Louis to be cumbersome, vulnerable, and ill-suited for the task of dragging for undersea cables, particularly under shore battery fire. His mixed crew of Navy and civilian sailors persevered regardless and were able to sever the cables under fire. DANFS

Footnote 7: Because Goodrich’s recommendation for these commendations were not endorsed by Sampson before they were sent to the Secretary of the Navy, they returned to Sampson, who on 19 July, added the endorsement, writing:

Captain Goodrich from the first rendered valuable assistance in severing telegraphic communication between Cuba and the outside world. This has been difficult because the Cubans had placed dummy cables so that it was impossible to learn when a cable was cut. Every cable cut between Cuba on the south side was cut by Captain Goodrich. The Adria, which was sent down here for the special purpose of destroying communication, did not succeed in cutting a single live cable in more than a month’s work.” Annual Report of the Navy Department, 213.

In honor of their participation in this engagement, the crew was later awarded the Navy’ West Indies Naval Campaign Medal (the “Sampson medal”). Proceedings of the Stated Convention of the  31st National Encampment, United Spanish War Veterans [Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1930], 211.

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