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Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to Agnes Pierce Long

John D Long


Navy Department,

Washington. Oct. 9, 1898.

Dear Agnes:

     Since writing you this morning, Mr. Snyder1 comes over with the mail. I forgot to write you that yesterday morning I stood with the President2 and some others of the Cabinet on the portico of the White House while he reviewed the Tenth Regular Infantry. It is composed, with the exception of the officers, entirely of colored men. It is one of the regiments which did the very best work in the Santiago campaign,3 and no soldiers fought better or deserved more. They marched with a easy light step; they had the faces of their race. It was a great day for them and for the colored people who cheered them on the way. To me it was a most pathetic sight. I could not help thinking of this race a few years ago in slavery and today freemen and citizens. How barbarous seems the color discrimination, when in every walk of life they are making the same progress as the white man; when their Booker T. Washington is, perhaps, the finest orator in the country and these troops the best fighting soldiers of the war.

     I was amused this morning, reading from the Review of Reviews an article by General A.P. Nettleton,4 whoever he is, justly praising the President and who, among other things, stating that the President dictated the famous order for Dewey5 to go to Manila, on which the destiny of the world hinged, and that he did it against the protest of every member of his Cabinet except one. It happens that there is not a word of truth in this; and yet it is very likely to be accepted. It shows how untrustworthy history is. The war was declared Thursday, April 21st. I immediately went to the President and told him that it was the judgment of the Department and the leading officers there that he should order Dewey immediately to Manila to attack the Spanish forces. He preferred to consider the matter a little longer. On the following Sunday morning I went over again and took with me the dispatch, as it was afterwards signed and sent. Even I did not write the dispatch. It was written in the Bureau of Navigation, as a matter of routine work. The President did not dictate a word of it. No Cabinet officer was consulted about it.6 No one would have objected to it if he had been. The President ordered it sent, and it went that afternoon. A week from that day came the news of the victory.

     I notice too that various papers are beginning to claim credit for causing Dewey to be sent to the Asiatic Squadron. Here again the credit belongs to nobody. When the vacancy in the command of that squadron occurred last fall, there were two Commodores whose turn it was to go to sea and who were under consideration for the place: Howell and Dewey. It is true that there came in, as usual, letters from their friends, but they had no weight at all, the Department having, before the receipt of any of them, made up its mind that Dewey should be sent to the Asiatic Squadron and Howell to the European.7

                                  Your affectionate husband,

Source Note: Transcript, MHi, Papers of John D. Long, Vol. 79, pp. 355-57. Addressed below close: “Mrs. John D. Long,/Hingham, Massachusetts.” Document is on Secretary Long’s Navy department stationary.

Footnote 1: Mr. Snyder was Long’s secretary.

Footnote 2: President William McKinley.

Footnote 3: It is unclear what African American unit Long was actually referring to. There were several regular African American United States Army units who fought in the Santiago Campaign. Long might be referring to the 24th Infantry Regiment, which was part of the attack on San Juan Hill, but more likely, he was referring to the 10th Cavalry Regiment. The 10th Cavalry Regiment was a regular United States Army African American unit commanded by white officers, including Lt. John J. Pershing, that played a significant role in the capture of both San Juan and Kettle Hills during the United States Army’s Santiago Campaign. The confusion may have come from the fact that the 10th Cavalry fought without mounts during the Santiago Campaign, making it tactically an infantry Regiment.

Footnote 4: General Alfred B. Nettleton.

Footnote 5: Commo. George Dewey, Commander, Asiatic Station.

Footnote 6: Long’s recollection of events conflicts with two other accounts that indicate there was an earlier cabinet meeting where Long was not in attendance and where the issue of sending the Asiatic Squadron to attack Manila was decided. See: Humes H. Whittlesey to Long, 28 August 1901; and Samuel C. Hudwell to Capt. Henry A. Baldridge, 22 August 1940.

Footnote 7: According to other accounts Long would seem to be understating the lobbying campaign put forth by advocates for both Dewey and Commo. John A. Howell. Any selection for command would have traditionally come from the Bureau of Navigation, but it is clear from the correspondence of both Asst. Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt and Dewey that pressure was placed on Long from President McKinley and outside parties to appoint Dewey to command the Asiatic Squadron. See: Roosevelt to William Eaton Chandler, 29 September 1897; Redfield Proctor to Dewey, 16 October 1897; and Roosevelt to William Wingate Sewall, 4 May 1898. 

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