Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Lieutenant Alexander Sharp, Jr. to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet

 

Copy.                                           U.S.S. Vixen,

Guantanamo, Cuba, July 7th, 1898.

Sir:-

    I have the honor to make the following report as to the part taken by the U.S.S.Vixen in the engagement with the Spanish fleet under the command of Admiral Cervera,1 during the morning and afternoon of Sunday July 3rd, 1898.

    Between 9.35 and 9.45 A.M. the Vixen was at a point about four miles to the westward of Morro, and at a distance of about one and one half miles south of the shore line. At about 9.40 it was reported to me that an explosion had taken place in the entrance of Santiago harbor. I went on deck and almost immediately sighted the leading vessel of the Spanish fleet,2 standing out of the entrance. Some of the vessels of our fleet were closing in towards Morro and firing. The Vixen was heading towards the Morro. The engines were ordered ahead at full speed and the helm put hard-a-port, the object being to cross ahead of the leading Spanish vessel and thus not obstruct the gun fire of our own fleet, the shells from which soon began to fall about the position we had just left.

    The leading Spanish vessel opened fire on this vessel with her starboard bow guns, the projectiles from which passed over us, all being aimed too high. I estimate the number of shots fired at us at this time to have been between five and ten.

    As the Vixen gathered headway her head came to about S by E opening the Brooklyn up about two points on our port bow. Steadied her and steamed on about this course until we had reached a position about a mile to the Sd. and Wd. of the Brooklyn, which was now turning with port helm and firing her guns as they bore on the enemy’s vessels. At 9.50 hoisted signal #252.3 The course was then ordered changed to W.S.W., the intention being to steer a parallel course to that of the Spanish fleet. By some mistake the quartermaster steadied the helm on S.W. by S., which was soon discovered, but not until the Vixen had increased her distance off shore by perhaps another mile. The course W.S.W. was again ordered and when steadied on it, we were at an estimated distance of about five miles from the shore. From about 10.15 the courses and times of changing were as follows:--At 10.15 changed course to W 1/2 S, at 10.56 to N.W. by N., at 11.00 W.N.W., at 11.05 W. by N., at 11.10 N.W. by W., at 11.15 W. by N., at 11.30 W. by S., at [1]1.50 W. by N. All those courses were by the steering compass, and the speed was estimated from twelve to thirteen and one-half knots per hour. Times noted are by deck clock which was five minutes fast of watch time used in the notes enclosed.

    Seeing that the Spanish vessels were out of range of our guns, while we were well within range of theirs, we reserved our fire.

    About 11.06 having approached within range of the Vizcaya, we opened fire with our starboard battery at an elevation of five thousand yards, for the six-pounder guns and extreme elevation for the one-pounders. Continued the fire for six minutes, when, seeing that the ensign of the Vizcaya was not flying, at 11.12 ordered cease firing. Expended 27 six-pounders A.P.4 shells and 18 one-pounder common shells.

    After passing Asseraderro,5 the course was held at from W by N to W by S, heading for the point on the western horizon. Average speed about 12 to 13 1/2 knots, average number of revolutions 105 per minute, average steam pressure 122 1/2 pounds.

    The Brooklyn and Oregon bore on the port and starboard bows respectively, and were gradually dropping the Vixen astern, as was the Cristobal Colon,6 which was running closer in shore. About 12.25 the Oregon opened fire on the Colon as did also the Brooklyn, feeling their way up to the range, which was apparently obtained after the fourth or fifth shot. About 1.20 the Oregon and Brooklyn headed in shore, about four points. About 1.28 the Texas hoisted signal “Enemy has surrendered”. This signal was repeated to the New York by the Vixen. At 2.30 Vixen stopped off Rio Tarquino in the vicinity of the Oregon and Brooklyn. The Cristobal Colon was close in shore, bows on the beach, her colors down, lying on the deck at the foot of her staff.

    I have the honor to enclose a copy of notes, taken during the chase by my orders upon the suggestion of Lieut. Harlow.7 These notes were written by Asst. Paymaster Doherty,8 the incidents and times were given by Lieut. Harlow, whose watch was five minutes slow of deck-clock time. The times taken after 10.30 are accurate, those taken before that time were estimated and may be in error a few minutes.

    Enclosed is a sketch showing positions of vessels at various times.9 It is taken from a chart taken from the Cristobal Colon after the surrender and is enlarged four times. All courses are true.

    I[n] conclusion, I wish to call to your attention the coolness, and strict attention to duty of both officers and men.

Very respectfully

        Alex. Sharp, Jr.,

                      Lieutenant, Commanding.

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Enclosure No. 1.      Notes taken during the engagement with Admiral Cervera’s fleet on July 3rd, 1898.

    These notes were written about 11 A.M., and were drawn from the recollection of events transpiring prior to 10.30.

 

    At 9.45 A.M. reported tug coming out of harbor. Mr. Harlow examined it through a glass and discovered it to be a Spanish cruiser flying what was probably an Admiral’s flag. Notified commanding officer; called all hands to quarters and stood to southward, Brooklyn hoisted signal 250.10 The leading vessel had about changed course to West, when second vessel appeared, followed shortly afterward by the Colon. The first two vessels were evidently the Vizcaya and Oquendo or Maria Teresa.11 Fleet closing in and opening fire. About 10.00 A.M. leading enemy’s vessel had headed to West, standing to North, engaged leading two ships. At this time two leading ships were quite close together, with a interval of perhaps 3/4 of a mile between second ship and Colon. About 10.05 the Brooklyn began to turn with port helm and made a complete turn to eastward, coming around so that when again heading west, the two leading enemy’s ships bore well on her starboard quarter.12 For the next 15 minutes the Brooklyn sustained and returned the fire of the two leading ships with an occasional shot from the Colon. The Vixen steered courses of various time, intervals of S., S.W. by S., and about 10.15 was going ahead full speed W. 1/2 S. (steering compass). The shells that went over Brooklyn struck close ahead, astern and on starboard beam of Vixen and several passed directly over, a piece of bursting shell going through the flag at mainmast head.

 

    Notes taken by Lieut. Harlow during the engagement with Admiral Cervera’s fleet on July 3rd, 1898. These notes are accurate, as viewed from the Vixen. The watch used was at practically the same reading as the deck clock of the Brooklyn. Accuracy of position is not claimed for any vessel. Position and bearings are relative only. Incidents recounted are accurate.

 

    10.32 A.M. Colon and first boat close together just clear of Brooklyns bow, Colon evidently passing ahead. The first ship that came out of harbor stopped off Juan Gonzales, undoubtedly on fire. Oregon forging ahead and firing ahead. Enemy’s destroyers to westward of Cabanas, evidently engaged by Iowa and Texas and apparently on fire. Indiana a little to westward of Morro.

    At 10.34 Colon still gaining. Ship which led before rapidly dropping behind, and two on fire near Juan Gonzales. Colon reserving fire. Colon commenced firing again at 10.37. No other U.S. vessels in sight. Texas and Iowa in rear of Oregon five to six miles. Distance between Iowa and Indiana about four. Colon slacking up. At 10.40 second vessel just clear of stern of Brooklyn. Vixen distant about five miles. Oregon gaining rapidly. Colon using only smokeless powder. At 10.46 Brooklyn forged ahead from our point of view. Oregon fired 13 inch from forward gun. At 10.47 Texas considerably ahead of Iowa and gaining rapidly. At 10.48 shell from Brooklyn’s burst apparently alongside of second vessel. Texas passed Juan Gonzales at 10.49. Indiana off Cabanas at 10.49. Vixen at 10.50 veered in shore heading about W.N.W. At 10.53 Texas gaining. Iowa off Gonzales. Yacht13 and Indiana off Guyacabon. At 10.54 Vizcaya(?) evidently on fire and heading for beach, with a heavy list to port quarter. At 10.56 Vizcaya heading for Asseraderos. Texas coming up five miles distant. Vizcaya at 11, with colors flying, nearly ashore at Asseraderos. At 11.01 Vizcaya ported helm and headed about east. Texas firing forward gun. Iowa and New York close off shore and torpedo boat14 stood close inshore. At 11.05 Vixen opened fire on Vizcaya and at 11.07 her colors came down and orders were given on board the Vixen to cease firing. At 11.09 sudden burst of fire from her and probably sinking. At 11.15 Texas and other ships reserved their fire. Iowa gaining on Massachusetts.15 Vessels in sight at 11.16, Iowa and Indiana, Indiana at least 10 miles from Colon. Vessel ashore at Asseraderos probably flagship.16 At 11.20 Iowa evidently had stopped. At 11.24 flames were seen bursting from the Vizcaya. At 11.26 Vizcaya exploded, followed at 11.30 by another explosion, probably magazine, with large sheets of flame. Other explosions at 11.33.30, 11.35.15, 11.36.15, and 11.41. At 11.42 the position of the ships as seen from the Vixen was as follows:--the Colon close in shore distant about seven miles from the Vixen, the Oregon about one point on the starboard bow, distant about 1 1/2 miles, the Brooklyn one point on starboard bow distant about 3 miles, the Texas on starboard quarter distant about one mile, Iowa 2 points on starboard quarter distant about 8 miles. New York 1 point on starboard quarters distant about 10 miles, the two latter appeared apparently off Boca del Rio. No other vessels in sight. Smoke of ships destroyed off Juan Gonzales in sight, but hulls invisible. At 11.52 another explosion occurred on the Vizcaya. Position at noon practically the same, except Texas gaining rapidly.17 Vixen abreast of Cevilla,18 30 miles west of Santiago. Texas bearing 3 points on starboard quarter distant 1 mile, Oregon and Brooklyn one point on starboard and port bows respectively, distant 4 and 5 miles. Colon two points on starboard bow, distant about 10 miles, close under 4th hill (see sketch),19 Bayamite. Vixen shifted Nos. 2 and 3 1 pdr. guns upon their mounts at 12.03 No. 3 1 pdr. being disabled.

    At 12.05 New York was in line with burning ship at Aserraderos, about 9 miles distant. At 12.15 Texas on starboard quarter, Vixen heading W. by S. (p.c.)20 New York 2 points on starboard quarter and evidently gaining. Oregon 1/2 point on starboard bow. Brooklyn one point on port bow, distant 9 miles. Colon one point on starboard bow, distant 10 miles, half way between 3rd and 4th hills. Oregon started firing at 12.20 her shot falling short. Fired only one shot from 13” gun. At 12.23 Oregon fired again, shot struck a little ahead of Colon and appeared to pass over her. Colon is almost hull down from the Vixen. Brooklyn started firing at 12.26, struck very short, about 2/3 of distance to Colon, 3rd shot at 12.27.15, about 4/5 distance to Colon. 4th shot about 5/6 of distance. At 12.29.30 Oregon fired again, shot went over. There were 13 seconds between the flash of the Brooklyn’s shot and the time the shell struck the water. At 12.50 the Texas bore one point forward of the starboard beam. At 1.15 the Brooklyn and Oregon headed in about four points. At 1.23 the Texas hoisted signal 4169. (Enemy has surrendered) The Colon lying at Rio Turquino. Boat from Brooklyn went alongside Colon’s starboard side at 2.00 o’clock.

   

Very respectfully, C.H. Harlow, Lieut. U.S.N.

The Commanding Officer, U.S.S. Vixen.

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Enclosure No. 2.                  U.S.S. Vixen, Off Santiago de Cuba, July 4th, 1898.

Sir:-

    In accordance with Art. #525, U.S. Navy Regulations, I have the honor to report that during the engagement with Adm. Cervera’s Fleet on July 3rd, 1898, the Ordnance of this vessel worked well, with the exception of the lever of No. 3, 1 pdr. aut., which broke, necessitating the shifting of guns X No. 2 and 3 on their mounts.

    This vessel received the first fire from the advanced vessel of the enemy and for an hour or more was within the zone of fire of the three leading vessels-many shells that passed over the Brooklyn falling about us.

           Respectfully, C.H. Harlow, Lieut. U.S.N. & Exec.

The Comdg. Officer, U.S.S. Vixen.

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|fn17: Other accounts of the battle, including that of the captain of Texas, write that it was Oregon, not Texas, that was overtaking the other American battleships. See: John W. Philip to Josefa Philip, 4 July 1898; and Joseph M. Reeves to Frances B. Reeves, 7 July 1898.

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 313, Entry 44. Addressed below close: “Cmdr.-in-Chief,/U.S.Naval Forces, N.A. Station.”

Footnote 1: RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete.

Footnote 2: Cervera’s flagship, the Infanta Maria Teresa.

Footnote 3: Signal 252: Enemy’s ships escaping to Westward-number by numeral signal follows. See: North Atlantic Station, Squadron General Order No. 9, 7 June 1898.

Footnote 4: “A.P.” is an abbreviation for armor piercing.

Footnote 5: That is, Aserraderos, Cuba, which is some twenty-one miles west of Santiago de Cuba. For this and other places given in this document, see: the map in the illustrations section attached to this section.

Footnote 6: That is, Cristóbal Colón.

Footnote 7: Lt. Charles H. Harlow.

Footnote 8: Assistant Paymaster William H. Doherty.

Footnote 9: This sketch was not included with the documents.

Footnote 10: Signal 250: Enemy’s ships escaping-number by numeral signal follows. See: North Atlantic Fleet, Squadron General Order No. 9, 7 June 1898.

Footnote 11: The order of the Spanish vessels coming out of Santiago de Cuba’s harbor was: Infanta Maria Teresa (flagship), Vizcaya, Cristóbal Colón, Almirante Oquendo, Plutón, and Furor.

Footnote 12: This maneuver by Brooklyn was later investigated as part of the Court Martial proceedings of Commo.Winfield S. Schley. It was later charged that Schley almost caused a collision with Texas. Harlow’s notes say nothing about the possibility of a collision. See: Capt. John C. Philip to RAdm. Sampson, 4 July 1898.

Footnote 13: The “Yacht” was the armed auxiliary Gloucester.

Footnote 14: Ericsson, which had accompanied New York to Siboney and returned with the battleship to the battle. See: Sampson to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long, 15 July 1898.

Footnote 15: This is incorrect. Massachusetts was at Guantánamo Bay re-coaling and missed the battle. According to a depiction of the battle by Capt. French E. Chadwick, at 11:15 New York, Iowa, and Indiana were bunched together with New York having passed both Iowa and Indiana, so possibly Harlow is referring to New York although, according to Chadwick, it was New York that was gaining on the other two battleships. See, “Positions of Ships during Battle of Santiago,” Chadwick, The Spanish-American War, 1: insert between pages 130-31.

Footnote 16: The Spanish cruiser Vizcaya grounded near Aserraderos.

Footnote 18: In his map of the battle, Chadwick called this place Rincon de Sevilla, Cuba. Chadwick, The Spanish-American War, 1: insert between pages 130-31.

Footnote 19: This sketch was not included with the documents.

Footnote 20: The abbreviation “p.c.” stands for point of compass.

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