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Rear Admiral Frederick V. McNair, Commander, Asiatic Station, to Commodore George Dewey

United States Naval Force on Asiatic Station.



DECEMBER 31, 1897,


1.   In turning over to you the command of the United States Naval Force on Asiatic Station, with the files and records pertaining thereto, I have the honor to acquaint you with certain facts essential to a knowledge of the condition of the command, and to invite your attention to the orders necessary for guidance of the Commander-in-Chief.

2.   The Squadron consists of the following vessels:-

OLYMPIA:  commissioned, Feb. 5th, 1895; arrived on Station, Nov. 9th, 1895; last docked, Dec. 4th -– 8th, 1897; last inspected, Nov. 23d -– 24th, 1897; complement 418 men. The boiler-tubes of this vessel have been condemned and requisition made for new ones to replace them; the defects of the present tubes are not serious and it is questionable if the OLYMPIA’S steaming efficiency is materially impaired. The vessel is in excellent condition and ready for immediate service.

BOSTON:   commissioned Nov. 18th, 1895; arrived on Station, Feb. 26, 1896; last docked, Decbr. 8th –-10th, 1897; last inspected, Sept. 20th, 1897; complement 229 men. Has had some trouble with boiler-tubes; requisition has been made for a new set, and Commander-in-Chief inform- that 500 tubes are en route. (372-D,1897).1 Three boilers must be used with caution, (see No.175-Survey, 1897.) Is otherwise in excellent condition and ready for immediate service. This vessel is in need of a new second whale-boat to replace one condemned by survey; (see No.91-Surveys, 1897;) the estimated cost of a new boat is 700 yen, and  also been condemned; (See 145-S Surveys., 1897); time about two months; (see 752-S., 1897;) her wherry was washed overboard by a sea, and since these surveys, the BOSTON has not been in a port where the boats could be replaced. Is at Chemulpo2 since Sept.26th, 1897, excepting absence of 17 days for docking.

RALEIGH:   Commanding Officer telegraphed on Decbr.19th that he was leaving Smyrna for Asiatic Station, and on Decbr.26th telegraphed his departure from Port Said for Aden.

MONOCACY: last docked, Decbr.1st -- 4th, 1897; last inspected, October 25th, 1897; complement 146 men. Is in excellent condition and ready for immediate service, so far as her age and type permit. Frames, longitudinals, and coal bunker bulkheads are weak, but Department has declined to authorize repairs. (see enclosure 1)3 An order from the Department states that it is considered advisable that this vessel be used exclusively hereafter for service in the YangtseRiver. Is at Shanghai, China, and Commanding Officer4 has authority to proceed to any Yang-tse port where the vessel’s presence may be required, telegraphing the Commander-in-Chief the fact of his departure and reason therefor (see 457-S., 559-S., 1203-S., 1897. Has been at Shanghai since Oct.30th, 1897.

MACHIAS:   under orders to Norfolk, VA. Left Colombo5 for Aden Dec.25th.

PETREL:    commissioned, Dec.16th, 1896; arrived on Station, May 9th, 1897; last docked, Nov.5th, 1897; last inspected, Sept.23, 1897; complement, 122 men. In excellent condition, except for slight weakness of boilers which has necessitated reduction of working steam pressure to 85 lbs; is ready for immediate service. Is at Canton,6 China, where she arrived on Decbr. 29th. Has requested three weeks for overhauling, (1341-S., 1897,) which request has not yet been acted upon.

The Naval Hospital, Yokohama, is under the Commander-in-Chief, and was last inspected May 22d, 1897.

The Commander-in-Chief has been notified that the CONCORD and HELENA would join the Station about December.

3.   In Korea, affairs are always more or less unsettled, owing to the instability of the existing government. The Sovereign has lately assumed the title of Emperor,7 and his tendencies are to place himself and his country under Russian control. (See reports from Senior Officers present, Nos. 1160-s., 1897; 1187-S., 1240-S., 1241-S., and 1280-S., 1897)

It has been the custom to keep a United States naval vessel at Chemulpo continuously, or nearly so, as an outbreak may occur at any time which would render it necessary to send a guard to the U.S. Legation at Seoul, for the protection of the Minister Resident8 and of our citizens; the Commander-in-Chief has been given discretion as to the maintenance of such a guard, and the orders to the Senior Officer present in Korea9 contemplate that officer’s sending a guard on his own responsibility when the circumstances, in his judgment, render such action expedient. (see enclosure 2.) Certain expressions of the views of our Government relating to affairs in Korea are contained in Enclosures 3, 4, and 5. The Department requested by cable, under date October 26th, 1895 to be kept fully informed regarding affairs in Korea, (see enclosure 6). Upon departure of a vessel from Chemulpo, it has been usual to direct the Commanding Officer to turn over to his successor all orders for guidance of the Senior Officer present; or in case of vessel leaving without relief such instructions are left in a sealed package with the Minister to be turned over to the next vessel. 

     4.   Until recently, affairs in China have been comparatively quiet; when outbreaks have occurred in the past, they have usually assumed the form of anti-missionary riots, which take place suddenly and without previous warning. Owing to the isolation of Peking10 during the winter months, England, France, and Germany have joined the United States in signing a protocol by which it is agreed that two vessels shall be maintained at Tientsin11 each winter. (See enclosure 7, a memorandum, relating thereto, from the office of the British Commander-in-Chief; this was obtained by me unofficially, and is the only document on the subject that appears in our records, though a statement that the agreement existed was turned over to me upon assuming command.) During the winters of 1894-5 and 1895-6, owing to the Chino -- Japan war, all the nations sent vessels to Tientsin; during 1896-7 the MONOCACY wintered in Pei-ho, and it need not therefore be regarded as our turn again until 1898-99. The German Commander-in-Chief12 telegraphed, on November 17th, that he had seized KiauchowBay, pending satisfaction for the murder of German missionaries; the Department was informed accordingly. (see 186-M., 341-D., and 343-D., 1897.) This action on the part of Germany has attracted much attention both from natives and foreigners; as the masses of the Chinese class all aliens in the same category, the outcome, as affecting our people, requires careful watching. In response to a telegraphic inquiry, our Minister to China13 telegraphed on December 23d, “American interests not endangered.” (See 230-M., 1897.) Repeated rumors have been current during the past few days regarding the seizure of other territory in China by England, Russia, and France; such rumors lack official or other definite confirmation. Much secrecy has been observed of late in the movement of English and Russian men-of-war. A number of English ships are known to be at Port Hamilton.14

     5.   Since the Hawaiian question15 has arisen, the attitude of the Japanese toward Americans has not been friendly. The Department desires to be forewarned by telegraph of any prospective increase of the Japanese fleet in the Hawaiian Islands, or other significant movements of Japanese forces. (See 213-D., 1897.) If all formalities of ratification are fulfilled, the revised treaties of foreign powers with Japan, (in which extra territorial jurisdiction is abolished and Japan is thrown completely open to foreign residence and commerce,) will go into effect in July 1899. Japan is extensively increasing her naval force, mostly from acquisitions abroad.

     6.   The newspapers have contained accounts, for some time past, of a rebellion in progress in the Philippine Islands. No official information has been received in relation thereto, and no information of any sort that shows American interest to be affected.

     7.   It will be seen that a general state of inquietude prevails in affairs on the Station; this may be expected to continue until some definite action of the European powers more clearly shows the attitude they intend to maintain in Asiatic affairs.

     8.   The Department has directed, (see Enclosure 8,) that the vessels of the Squadron be kept coaled and well in hand, and not scattered unnecessarily. So far as consistent with this order, all treaty ports16 in China and Japan have been visited at such intervals as their importance required. The Department has also directed the holding of tactical exercises at least once in six months when warranted by the condition of affairs. (See enclosure 9.)

     9.   Attention is invited to Paragraph 2 of a letter from the Bureau of Navigation directing transfers of enlisted men upon the prospective return home of the BALTIMORE. (Enclosure 10.) In view of this, and of similar instructions in the orders on the same subject relating to the CHARLESTON and DETROIT, it has been generally intimated to the men that when they re-enlist on board a vessel of the Station they will not be transferred from such vessel when she is ordered home, excepting at their own request. Many men have re-enlisted on the Station who would not have done so but for a knowledge that this rule was followed. Attention is also invited to a letter of the Bureau of Navigation dated February 19, 1896 (Enclosure 11,) deciding that a man originally enlisted at home who re-enlists on the Station does not thereby waive his right to receive transportation ultimately to the coast of the United States upon which he first enlisted.

     10.  There are two marines on duty at the Naval Hospital, Yokohama, who are borne on the muster-roll of the Flagship. (See Enclosures 12 and 13.) The guard of the BOSTON has been allowed three additional men; for correspondence relating thereto see No.353-D and 354-D., 1897. The Colonel Commandant17 has directed that Private H.Fest,18 of the MONOCACY, be sent home by next public vessel. (No352-D) One corporal and eight privates for Station are en route by the HELENA. (No318-D.)

     11.  Various instructions from the Navy Department for the guidance of the Commander-in-Chief are contained in Enclosures 14 to 21 inclusive.

     12. Certain orders have been given, from time to time, to all Commanding Officers, which have not been included in the Squadron Regulations; these are as follows:-

     Regarding time and mail guns at Yokohoma, (Enclosure 22);

     Regarding wearing of white shoes,            (Enclosure 23);

     Regarding weighing of coal,             (Enclosure 24);

     Regarding boiled milk,                   (Enclosure 25).

Further, whenever the inspection of a vessel has shown her worthy of the privilege, the Commander-in-Chief has sanctioned the omission of afternoon drills at the direction of the Commanding Officer. This privilege has been extended the OLYMPIA, BOSTON, MONCACY, MACHIAS, and PETREL.

     13. Copies of the lease and sub-lease of Lot No. 112, Yokohama, are contained in Enclosure No.26, and copies of correspondence relating to the treatment of American citizens at Yokohama Hospital in enclosure 27.

     14.  There is a quantity of ammunition at Yokohama, (see 1159-S and 1171-S., 1897,) sent out to the Station for the YORKTOWN too late to reach that vessel, which the Department has directed (292-D., 1897,) to be issued to the Squadron. The HELENA is also bringing a quantity of saluting powder to the Station, (339-D., 1897). It is very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain transportation of explosives as freight. Action upon a requisition for ammunition from the PETREL has been withheld pending the distribution of the ammunition. (See 1349-S., 1897.) (See Paragraph 25.)

     15.  The existing Squadron Regulations have received the approval of the Navy Department, and have proved to be in all respects satisfactory. All foreign Commanders-in-Chief except the German have agreed to the provisions regarding salutes and official visits contained in Article 66 of these Regulations; it has been customary, also, to extend the rule therein laid down to salutes to Consular and other civil officials, as it has been found most convenient to interpret the “twelve months” referred to in Article 132, Navy Regulations, as a “calendar year.” The provisions of Article 65, as amended, Squadron Regulations, have been agreed to by all foreign Commanders-in-Chief. Attention is invited to Article 93, as amended, by which the responsibility for expenditure of all ammunition allowed for target practice is made to rest with the Commanding Officers.

     16.  Copies of Larrabee’sCipher Code19 and the key-word therefor are known to all Commanding Officers, to the Surgeon-in-Charge of the Hospital, and to the officials mentioned in Article 69, Squadron Regulations. The Commanding Officer of each vessel is furnished with the Navy Secret Code. The Squadron Key Word for Larrabee’s Code, and the key-word for the signal book blind-leaf case are in Enclosure 28.

     17.  The time and place of docking all vessels has been designated by the Commander-in-Chief. This should be done at least once in six months when practicable, and under no circumstances should a greater period than nine months elapse without docking. (Navy Regulations, Article 1594 (9).)

     18.  A communication from the U.S. Consul General at Shanghai,20 (Enclosure 29) names the forts on the Yang-tse River from which a return salute may be expected.

     19.  Chief Engineer Ransom,21 of the BOSTON, is under orders from the Department to report for duty on board the CONCORD upon the reporting of his relief, Chief Engineer Inch,22 who is now on the CONCORD.

     20.  The Commanding Officer of the BOSTON has reported W. Woods,23 Seaman, for a serious offense that appears to merit a General Court-Martial. It having been inexpedient to order such a court since the report was received, the order has been given that the man be held under such degree of restraint as may be necessary for him safe keeping pending the further action of the Commander-in-Chief. (See 1323-S. and 1318-S., 1897.)

     21.  The Commanding Officer of the PETREL has reported J.F. Gannon,24 bugler, for an offense so aggravated as to warrant a General Court-Martial. Instructions have been given to hold this man in safe keeping; further inquiry has been made regarding this case, to which reply has not yet been received. (See 1257-S and 1260-S., 1897.)

     22.  Frank Epps,25 Apprentice, first class, of the OLYMPIA, was murdered in this harbor on the night of the 12th instant. As the Japanese authorities at first displayed little energy in bringing the offenders to punishment, and as a similar case that occurred last September is still unpunished, the matter has been brought before the Department and the Minister, as well as the Consul.26 Attention is invited to the correspondence on the subject. (See Paragraph 26.)

     23.  J.Soogins, Seaman,27 and E.F. Taylor,28 Apprentice, first class, belonging to the crew of the BOSTON, have been temporarily transferred to the OLYMPIA in order that they might appear as witnesses in the Epps case.

     24.  Certain correspondence has been held with the Bureau of Navigation regarding the new Infantry Tactics. (See 314-D., and 319-D., 1897.)

     25.  There are 120 boxes of 6-pdr. and 1-pdr. E.F.29 ammunition at Yokohama for the OLYMPIA, which arrived in October last, and for which it has been impossible to obtain transportation. (See Paragraph 14, and correspondence therein referred to.)

     26.  The Department telegraphed, under date of the 29th instant, (328-D.), “At the request of the State Department, keep the United States Minister Plenipotentiary informed in all matters in relation to Epps murder.” As will be seen from the correspondence referred to in Paragraph 22, the Minister has been kept fully informed of all developments of the case to date.

     27.  The Commanding Officer of the BOSTON telegraphed on the 30th instant, from Chemulpo, that the English fleet was outside and would probably make a demonstration or prevent landing of Russian troops in Korea. He has been instructed to report by telegraph all occurrences of importance in connection with English fleet and Russian troops. (See 1355-S. and 1357-S., 1897.) The information was not deemed sufficiently definite to warrant telegraphing the Department.                   FV MCNAIR

Source Note: Cy, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 362. Document reference: “No. 1352-S.” F.V. McNair’s signature is handwritten in all capital letters and may have been added at a later date because the document itself is missing the customary typed signature that would have been made at the bottom. Report is for Commodore George Dewey who took command of the Asiatic Station in January, 1898. Document on, “United States Naval Force on Asiatic Station,” stationary.

Footnote 1: These alpha numeric sets refer to the reference numbers of individual documents.

Footnote 2: Chemulpo is modern day Incheon.

Footnote 3: None of the enclosures in this document have been found.

Footnote 4: Cmdr. Oscar W. Farenholt.

Footnote 5: Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Footnote 6: Canton is modern day Guangzhou. 

Footnote 7: Emperor Gwangmu (1852-1919).

Footnote 8: United States Consul at Seoul Horace Allen.

Footnote 9: Capt. Frank Wildes.

Footnote 10: Peking is modern day Beijing.

Footnote 11: Tientsin is modern day Tianjin.

Footnote 12: RAdm. Albert Wilhelm Heinrich Prinz Von Preuzin (Prince of Prussia).

Footnote 13: United States Minister to China Edwin H. Conger.

Footnote 14: Port Hamilton is modern day Geomun-do, Korea.

Footnote 15: The “Hawaiian Question,” referred to recent actions taken by the United States government to annex the Hawaiian Islands.

Footnote 16: Treaty Ports on the Asiatic were those where Western military and merchant ships had guaranteed access by treaty.  

Footnote 17: Colonel Commandant Charles Heywood (U.S.M.C.).

Footnote 18: Pvt. H. Fest (U.S.M.C.).

Footnote 19: Larabee’s Cipher Code was an alpha-numeric system used by the United States Navy to send secret messages over telegraph cables. 

Footnote 20: United States Consul at Shanghai John Goodnow.

Footnote 21: Chief Engineer George B. Ransom.

Footnote 22: Chief Engineer Richard Inch.

Footnote 23: Sea. William Woods.

Footnote 24: Cmdr. Edward P. Wood was the commanding officer of PETREL and the Bugler’s name was J.F. Gannon.

Footnote 25: Sea. Frank Epps was killed in an altercation with two Japanese men in Yokohama. The 22 January 1898 edition of the English language, Japan Daily Mail, states:

In the judgment delivered by the Nagasaki Court in the Epps murder case, appear the following paragraph, according to the Nagasaki Press translation:- “These facts are gleaned by the examination-That on the 12th Dec., 30th year of Meiji at about 10 o’clock p.m., the defendants, Yomosaku and Hiakuiaro too in their sampanat Sagarimatsu Hatoba, Frank Epps first class apprentice of the U.S.F.S OLYMPIA, which was in the harbor at that time, having been sked by him to do so, and rowed towards the OLYMPIA. That the evidence is not conclusive to prove that on their way to the OLYMPIA the defendants began a quarrel with Epps and pushed him into the water. That the  defendants were well aware that Epps was drowned, but they rowed away without rescuing him and caused his death, notwithstanding there was a full hour to rescue him if they had wished to do so. Nakamura Yomosaku, is fined yen 100 (one hundred yen). Kawada Hiakuiaro, fined yen 50 (fifty yen). The boathook seized to be returned to Nagasaki Water Police Station.” 

Footnote 26: United States Minister to Japan, Alfred E. Buck and Consul General at Yokohama John F. Gowey.

Footnote 27: Sea. Joseph Scoggins.

Footnote 28: App. 1st Class ElensF. Taylor.

Footnote 29: “E.F.” is a typo. The ammunition was for an R.F., or rapid fire, gun.