Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Lieutenant Commander James K. Cogswell to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet

(Copy)

U. S. S. Oregon,1st Rate,

Off Santiago de Cuba,

July 4th,1898.

Sir:--

1.   After the action of the 3rd.,inst,1with the Spanish squadron,in obedience to your order,I repaired aboard the Cristobal Colon,which had run ashore and surrendered. The ship was found to have 15 feet of water in engine room,up to cylinders,and 10 to 12 feet in fireroom. This could only be explained by the Kingston valves being left open.2

2.   The hold forward was perfectly dry. The vessel was aground forward and had about seventy feet of water under her stern. There was a large hole at the water line,on the starboard quarter,caused by a shell (probably 8”) passing through the ship from port to starboard. A leak-stopper and mattress were placed in this as soon as possible; it continued to leak,however.

3.   The tiller room was leaking badly,but the source could not [be] discovered. I caused the water tight doors and hatches,throughout the ship, to be closed. The gun ports and scupper valves,3which had been left open,were also closed. The ship continued to leak and list to starboard.

4.   The flood tide and swell floated the ship about 7:00 P.M.,and as she got into deeper water I let go the starboard anchor in about eight fathoms and afterwards the port anchor.

5.   As the vessel continued to leak and list to starboard she was forced broadside to the beach by the flagship New York pushing [t]he starboard quarter with her bow. A 5 inch hawser was run ashore from t[he] port quarter and made fast to a tree. The stern took the bottom and t the ship pounded heavily, increasing the leaks.

6.   All the Spanish crew,530,including officers, were transferre[d] to the Resolute and Vixen. One man killed was buried and three wounded sent to the Oregon. The working party were returned to their ships except eight men,as it was evident that the ship would bilge an[d] go on her beams ends to starboard.

7.   About 10:30 I left the ship with the few remaining officers and men and in a few minutes she turned over on her starboard beam,going over easily.

8.   The ship appeared to be little damaged on the port side and,an examination the following day,showed her to be in the same positio[n] as the previous evening,when she keeled over. The port batter[y]. 8 in. guns,are in place. The hull on the port side is in very fair condition.

9.   The water line,as the ship now lies,is about a foot below the bilge keel. The port screw is out of water,and apparently uninjured. The vessel lies with her stern to the shore,nearly perpendicular with the beach. There is twenty-four feet of water under the stern. She is about a hundred yards from the beach.

10.  The Paymaster of the Colon informed me that there was $4.000.00 in silver in the safe and delivered the keys to me. Seals were placed on the lock by Paymaster S.R. Colhoun of the Oregon.4

I should judge that it would be well worth the attempt to have the ship examined by a wrecking company with a view to raising her.

11.  I desire to add that the Paymaster of the Cristobal Colon opened the safe in my presence, showed me two bags of money, which he stated contained silver, and that there was no gold. He explained the manner of opening the safe, which was a lock similar to the “Yale” and not a combination. However, after he had closed the safe and attempted to open it a second time, it could not be opened.

12.  Possibly it was owing to the straining of the ship, which may have jammed the door. When the ship showed evidence of filling it was too late to make any attempt to save the safe, which was heavy. I will also state that I questioned the Executive Officer and Chief Engineer about the Kingston valves, but could get no information.

Very respectfully,                   

J.K. Cogswell,                   

Lieutenant Commander, U.S.N 

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 313, Entry 44. Addressed below close: “The Commander-in-Chief.” At top center: “9 (Copy).”

Footnote 1: The abbreviation “inst” is for “instant,” which means this month.

Footnote 2: That is Cristóbal Colón. A Kingston valve is a type of seacock that connects the sea to the ship; under normal conditions the sea pressure keeps it closed but it can be manually opened to allow water in the ship.

Footnote 3: A scupper valve is designed to keep water from entering the scupper drain, which removes excess seawater and deposits it back to the sea or into the bilge.

Footnote 4: Paymaster Samuel R. Colhoun.

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