Chaplain William G. Cassard to Rear Admiral Henry C. Taylor
U.S.Naval Training Station,
Newport R. I. February 1st, 1902.
In response to your inquiry concerning the relief party organized on the U.S.S.INDIANA July 3d. 1898 for the purpose of assisting in rescuing the Spanish prisoners, I have the honor to submit the following statement:--
The relief party consisted of one steam cutter and two pulling boats with officers and crews. When the party left the INDIANA the two pulling boats were in tow of the steam cutter but as we passed the point where the Spanish torpedo boat destroyer Pluton1 was beached and wrecked a number of prisoners were seen making signs to us from the shore to take them off. The rear pulling boat was at once detached from the tow and under the command of Benton C. Decker, Lieut. (Jr.grade) U.SN. went in and effected the rescue of a number of survivors of the Pluton and Furor among others Lieutenant Neuval2 of the Spanish navy and officer of the Furor who had lost a leg in the engagement. In the boat with Lieut. Decker was Willis McDowell, Naval Cadet U.S.N.
The steam cutter and remaining pulling boat proceeded to the point where the Spanish cruiser Maria Teresa had gone ashore and participated in effecting the rescue of several hundred prisoners who had escaped from the Oquendo3 and Teresa and were gathered at a common point on the shore almost under the bows of the Teresa as that ship was not over two hundred feet from the point where the work of rescuing the prisoners was accomplished. In going in to the place of rescue our boats passed so close to the Teresa that one of our men touched the side of the ship with a boat-hook. There were still some men aboard the Teresa at the time of our arrival and the whole work of rescue was carried on in close proximity to that ship, as stated, while fixed ammunition in large quantities on the decks of the burning cruiser was constantly exploding and falling about the prisoners and rescuing party. Our steam cutter was employed in towing boats containing prisoners from the shore to the Harvard and on each trip passed within a few feet of the side of the Teresa. Dr. Costigan of our party was the first and only surgeon of the American fleet to reach this particular point, and, as many of the prisoners were wounded, the work of first aid was begun immediately upon our arrival. In this work the other officers of our party rendered such assistance as they were able.
Although apprehending grave danger from the burning and exploding Teresa under whose very shadow the work of rescue was effected, there was no sign of fear nor even of excitement upon the part of any person in the relief party and the work of caring for the wounded and carrying off the prisoners to a place of safety went forward in a rapid and orderly manner until fully accomplished. The officers in the relief party from the INDIANA were: Benton C. Decker, Lieutenant (Jr.grade)U.S.N. Percy N. Olmstead, Ensign U.S.N.; Willis McDowell, Naval Cadet, U.S.N.; Frank P. Helm, Naval Cadet, U.S.N.; George D. Costigan, Assistant Surgeon, U.S.N.; William G. Cassard, Chaplain, U.S.N.; Captain L.W.T.Waller4 U.S. Marine Corps.
Of the men in the crews, I very much regret to state that I can remember the names of two only:--------Alexander, Apothecary and Duke B. Starr an apprentice.
Wm G. Cassard,
Chaplain U.S. Navy.
Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 233. Addressed: “Rear Admiral Henry C. Taylor U.S.Navy.” Handwritten interlineation: “July 3, 1898.”
Footnote 1: That is, Plutón.
Footnote 2: Lt. Luis Noval y Chelis of the Furor lost his foot after jumping into the water and getting his leg caught in the propeller. He was brought aboard Indiana, where Surgeon Nelson M. Ferebee performed further amputation on the leg to clean away severely damaged bone. Noval was then transferred to the hospital ship Solace. William G. Cassard, “The Story of the Captains,” The Century, 58 (May-Oct. 1899): 177.
Footnote 3: That is, Infanta Maria Teresa and Almirante Oquendo.
Footnote 4: Capt. Littleton W. T. Waller, U.S.M.C.