Samuel C. Hudwell to Captain Henry A. Baldridge
C O P Y
UNITED STATES CUSTOMS COURT
201 Varisk Street
August 22, 1940.
Captain H. A. Baldridge, U. S. Navy,
Curator, The Museum, Navy Academy,
Dear Captain Baldridge:-
I have been advised by Rear-Admiral C. H. Woodward, U. S. Navy Commandant of the Navy Yard, New York, of the receipt of a letter from you, in which you enclosed a communication from Dr. John E. Washington, of 465 Florida Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., concerning my connection with the receipt of a cablegram from Admiral Dewey, commanding the Asiatic Fleet, and the Navy Department’s reply cable, immediately preceding the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and the Kingdom of Spain in the Spanish-American War: and that you desired an historical account of same for the files of the Museum.
About a year ago I met Dr. Washington, whom I had known when I resided in Washington, and in the course of our conversation it developed that Dr. Washington was engaged in historical research work and I told him of my connection with Spanish-American War activities, and particularly with the handling of the cablegrams referred to. He expressed a desire at the time for a written narrative of my experiences, which I neglected to furnish him.
I deem it well at the outset to furnish as a background my connection with the Navy Department. I was appointed a stenographer in the Bureau of Navigation on May 7, 1897, and in the latter part of that year was brought to the office of then Chief of that Bureau, Commodore ArentSchuyler Crowninshield, U.S. Navy, where I handled official correspondence with the fleets, and secretarial duties for Commodore Crowninshield, and in addition prepared under the direction of his aides the Annual Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation for the years 1897, 1898, 1899, and 1900. In August of 1900, shortly before the expiration of his tour of duty as Chief of Bureau, I was at my own request, transferred to the office of the Commandant of the Navy Yard, New York, under Admiral A.S. Barker; was subsequently appointed stenographer to the General Court-Martial at that Navy Yard, in which capacity I served for many years. During the World War I was in charge of the court reporting of courts-martial, court of inquiry and investigations convened at the Navy Yard, New York, within the jurisdiction of the Commandant of the Third Naval District. In 1922, after 24 years and 11 months service under the Navy Department, I severed my commission therewith by resignation in order to accept a position on the court reporting staff of the United States Customs Court, where I am at present so engaged.
Following the blowing up of the U.S.S. MAINE, in Havana harbor, in February, 1898, when war was becoming more and more imminent, there was constant vigilance throughout the Naval Service. There was then formed what was generally styled in the Navy Department as the Navy Strategy Board, but officially known as the Naval War Board, among the members of which were, as I now recall, Rear-Admiral Montgomery Sicard, as president, after he relinquished the command of the North Atlantic Fleet to Rear-Admiral (then Captain) W.T. Sampson, Commodore Crowninshield, and Captain A.S. Barker. The office of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation was open day and night. Sundays included. The aides to Commodore Crowninshield, Lt. HumesH.Whittlesey and Ensign Henry Heber Ward, alternated on night duty, sleeping accommodations having been provided for them in the shape of a folding bed in the office of the Chief, with stenographers available by alternation in the evenings and on Sunday, so that the Board, and through the Board, the Secretary of the Navy, might keep in constant touch with the threatening war situation.
It happened to be my turn on duty as stenographer, to cover Sunday morning, April 24th, 1898. On arriving at the office there was delivered to me a cablegram, in cipher, from Admiral Dewey. I immediately communicated with Lieutenant Whittlesey informing him of it s receipt. He came to the office shortly thereafter, and proceeded to decode the cablegram, which was to the effect that the British Governor at Hong Kong had advised Admiral Dewey that a state of war existed between the United States and the Kingdom of Spain, and that, as I recall, he had been ordered, or requested, to leave the harbor of Hong Kong within a specified time; and requesting instructions.
Commodore Crowninshield and Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable John D. Long, had meanwhile been communicated with, and shortly after their arrival they proceeded to the White House, where a Cabinet meeting was held. If my recollection serves me well, a state of war had been deemed to have existed since April 21st, the Spanish Ambassador having been handed his passport, though there had been no formal declaration of war up to that time, April 24th. Congress actually declared war, I believe, on April 26th.
Upon the return of Commodore Crowninshield from the White House he turned over to Lieutenant Whittlesey a cablegram which had been drawn up at the White House, to be put into code and dispatched to Admiral Dewey. The original draft of this cablegram was signed “LONG,” and I am pretty sure bore on its face the signed approval of President McKinley. Lieutenant Whittlesey thereupon proceeded to put the cablegram into Navy cipher code, and then dictated the same to me, and I typed it as he called off (spelled out) the code words; and I then filed it with the telegraph operator in the Navy Department, whose office was but a short distance from the corridor in the old War, State and Navy Building.
After 42 years it is impossible to remember the exact text of this cablegram, but in substance it was to “proceed immediately to the Philippine Islands (or Manila Bay) and capture or destroy the Spanish Fleet.” My recollection is that the cablegram was sent to Hong Kong, and that the Asiatic Fleet had meanwhile or subsequently left that port for MirsBay, China, and thence proceeded to Manila Bay, where the Spanish Fleet was engaged in battle and destroyed on May 1st, 1898.
As I think, in the light of reminiscence, of my experiences while in the service of the Navy Department, there are few things of which I had personal cognizance, or connection with, though in a small way, which I view with pride. Among them may I note:
While taking down letters for Commodore Crowninshield in his private office, his faithful messenger announced Commodore Schley, who was then the head of the Light-House Board, in the Treasury Department. Commodore Winfield Scott Schley was ushered in, and I recall the following as a part of the conversation which ensued:
Commodore Schley: Hello, Schuyler.
Commodore Crowninshield: Hello, Scott. I sent for you to advise you that we are organizing what will be known as the “Flying Squadron.” The Secretary has asked me to select an officer for its command; and I know of no one better qualified than you. Your orders will be issued immediately.
Commodore Schley: Thank you for the honor. I shall hold myself in readiness.
The orders designating Commodore Schley as commander of the “Flying Squadron” were issued shortly thereafter, and he was directed to sail from Hampton Roads under sealed orders, which took him to Key West, thence to Cienfuegos, and finally to Santiago, to bottle up the Spanish Fleet under Admiral Cervera. I narrate the above as evidencing the fact that there was the most cordial feeling existing between Commodore Crowninshield and Commodore Schley, and not enmity as some writers have tried to make it appear.
Hardly had the war been concluded when there arose the bitter Schley-Sampson Controversy, as to which of these officers was in command at Santiago. The Secretary of the Navy, seeking to promote them, recommended to Congress the creation of the grade of Vice-Admiral and to include in that grade Rear-Admiral Sampson (who had been given the temporary rank of Rear-Admiral - though actually a captain - upon succeeding Rear-Admiral Sicard in command of the North Atlantic Fleet), and Commodore Schley.
In response to a Congressional Resolution calling upon the Secretary of the Navy for a report as to why he recommended Rear-Admiral Sampson to head the proposed grade of Vice-Admiral, the Secretary of the Navy appointed a Court of Inquiry, of which Captain Robley (“Fighting Bob”) D. Evans, U.S. Navy, was the president, to assemble the facts. I do not recall the full personnel of the court, but among those present were Commander J.H. Sears and Ensign Henry M. Ward. It happened to be my fortune to have been assigned as the stenographer of the court. I have very vivid recollection of a rather animated colloquy between Captain Evans and another member of the court, who was pro-Schley in his attitude, in which the much publicized navigational maneuver in the handling of the helm of the Flagship Brooklyn (of the Flying Squadron) during the Battle of Santiago was under discussion. The Statement attributed to Commodore Schley, “Damn the Texas. Let her take care of herself,” was on the one hand characterized as the “master maneuver of the battle.” Captain Evan’s rejoinder was, “As to that, Commander, there are many who have a different opinion.”
I trust you will pardon my lengthy narrative, but when a fellow in a reminiscent mood talks of things which happened over 42 years ago, it is difficult to be brief.
Very truly yours,
/s/ Samuel C. Hudwell