Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Lieutenant Humes H. Whittlesey to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

U.S.F.S. NEW YORK, 1st Rate.

Kobe, Japan,

22. August, 1901.

S I R : -

     Replying to your letter of July 8, received today, my recollection of the events to which you refer is:-1

     At the conferences at the White House, Sunday morning,2 no decision was reached, some person opposing the sending of ships to Manila. Sunday afternoon, a cablegram came from Admiral Dewey stating that the Governor of Hong Kong2 requested him to leave Hong Kong within forty-eight hours. I telephoned to the Portland and was informed you had gone to Arlington. Admiral Crowninshield3 was also out. Later the Admiral came to the Bureau, and as soon as he had read the cablegram, took it to the White House, saying something to the effect, that as more than twenty-four hours had elapsed since the Governor had given Admiral Dewey warning, it was not possible to longer delay sending him instructions, and that he would have to go to Manila as there was no other place to which he could be sent.

     The President wished to see you and the Secretary of State and the Admiral went for you.4

     Admiral Crowninshield returned to the Bureau late in the afternoon, and gave me an unsigned dispatch to put in cipher. It was written with lead pencil, in the Admiral’s hand writing, on an unruled sheet torn from a pad the size of typewriting paper. The message began quite two inches from the top of the paper and contained about six or seven lines. Just below the middle, the latter part of one line and the first part of the next, equivalent to about a line in all, had been crossed out, and at the end of the message something had been added. My recollection, of what the Admiral then said, is that after some delay several members of the cabinet were assembled at the White House; that after some discussion he (the Admiral) was told to write out what he considered a proper dispatch to send; that the President then made the changes mentioned, and told the Admiral to have the message put in cipher, but not sent until you had approved it.

     Later you came to the Department and took the dispatch (now ready) to the White House. When you returned and gave back the message, it had been signed. It was then dark. Lights were burning in the White House and Navy Department but the people in the streets could still be seen. Mr Callahan assisted me and remained in the Bureau while you were at the White House.

     After the battle of Manila, Mr O’Laughlin5 of the NEW YORK Herald obtained permission to photograph the original draft of the message, but it had been destroyed in accordance with orders. With permission I then made to him practically the statement here given.6

Very respectfully,

H.H. Wittlesey

Lieutenant, U.S. Navy.

Source Note: CyS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 363. Addressed below close: “The Honorable/John D. Long,/Secretary of the Navy.”

Footnote 1: Date referred to was Sunday, 24 April 1898.

Footnote 2: Commo. George Dewey, Commander, Asiatic Station and Governor General Hong Kong Wilsone Black (British).

Footnote 3: Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Commo. Arent S. Crowninshield.

Footnote 4: President William McKinley and Secretary of State John Sherman.

Footnote 5: John Callan O’Laughlin of the NEW YORK Herald.  

Footnote 6: The exact order of events that lead to a response to Dewey’s request for instructions was a point of contention and the original order written at the Navy Department was lost. This led to a number of rumors ranging from Dewey’s making the decision to attack Manila on his own, to President McKinley making the decision against the wishes of his entire cabinet. For witness descriptions of the controversy surrounding the cable, and the preparation and dispatch of the cable, see: Long to Agnes Pierce Long, 9 October 1898; and Samuel C. Hudwell to Capt. Henry A. Baldridge, 22 August 1940. For a copy of the cable taken from the Papers of George Dewey, see: Long to Dewey, 24 April 1898.

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