Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

U. S. Flagship New York, 1st Rate,        

Off Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, July 15, 1898.

  Sir: I have the honor to make the following report upon the battle with and the destruction of the Spanish squadron commanded by Admiral Cervera,1 off Santiago de Cuba, on Sunday, July 3, 1898:

     The enemy’s vessels came out of the harbor between 9.35 and 10 a. m., the head of the column appearing around Cay Smith at 9.31 and emerging from the channel five or six minutes later.

     The positions of the vessels of my command off Santiago at that moment were as follows: The flagship New York was 4 miles east of her blockading station and about 7 miles from the harbor entrance. She had started for Siboney, where I intended to land, accompanied by several of my staff, and go to the front to consult with General Shafter.2 A discussion of the situation,3 and a more definite understanding between us of the operations proposed, had been rendered necessary by the unexpectedly strong resistance of the Spanish garrison of Santiago. I had sent my Chief of Staff4 on shore the day before to arrange an interview with General Shafter, who had been suffering from heat prostration. I made arrangements to go to his headquarters, and my flagship was in the position mentioned above when the Spanish Squadron appeared in the channel. The remaining vessels were in or near their usual blockading positions; distributed in a semi circle about the harbor entrance, counting from the eastward to the westward in the following order:-- the “INDIANA” about a mile and a half from shore, the “OREGON”--the “New York’s” place being between these two--the “IOWA”, “TEXAS” and “BROOKLYN”, the latter two miles from the shore West of Santiago. The distance of the vessels from the harbor entrance was from two and one-half to four miles---the latter being the limit of day-blockading distance--. The length of the arch formed by the ships was about eight miles. The ”MASSACHUSETTS” had left at four a.m. for Guantanamo for coal. Her station was between the “IOWA” and “TEXAS”. The auxiliaries Gloucester and Vixen lay close to the land and nearer the harbor entrance than the large vessels, the ”Gloucester” to the eastward, and the “Vixen” to the westward. The torpedo boat “ERICSSON” was in company with the flagship and remained with her during the chase until ordered to discontinue, when she rendered very efficient service in rescuing prisoners from the burning “VISCAYA”. I enclose a diagram showing approximately the position of the vessels as described above.5

     The Spanish vessels came rapidly out of the harbor, at a speed estimated at from 8 to 10 knots, and in the following order:-- “INFANTA MARIA TERESA”-(flagship)-, “VIZACAYA”, “CRISTOBAL COLON”,6 and the “ALMIRANTE OQUENDO”. The distance between these ships was about 800 yards, which means that, from the time the first one became visible in the upper reach of the channel until the last one was out of the harbor, an interval of only about twelve minutes elapsed. Following the “OQUENDO”, at a distance of about 1200 yards, came the Torpedo Boat Destroyer “PLUTON”,7 and after her, the “FUROR”. The armored cruisers, as rapidly as they could being their guns to bear, opened a vigorous fire upon the blockading vessels, and emerged from the channel shrouded in the smoke from their guns.

     The men of our ships in front of the port were at Sunday “quarters for inspection”. The signal was made simultaneously from several vessels “Enemy ships escaping”, and general quarters was sounded. The men cheered as they sprang to their guns, and fire was opened probably within eight minutes by the vessels whose guns commanded the entrance. The “New York” turned about and started for the escaping fleet, flying the signal “Close in toward harbor entrance and attack vessels”, and gradually increasing speed, until toward the end of the chase she was making 16 and one-half knots, and was rapidly closing on the “CRISTOBAL COLON”.  She was not, at any time, within the range of the heavy Spanish ships, and her only part in the firing was to receive the undivided fire from the fort in passing the harbor entrance, and to fire a few shots at one of the destroyers, thought at the moment to be attempting to escape from the “Gloucester”.

     The Spanish vessels, upon clearing the harbor, turned to the westward in column, increasing their speed to the full power of their engines. The heavy blockading vessels, which had closed in towards the Morro at the instant of the enemy’s appearance, and at their best speed, delivered a rapid fire, well sustained and destructive, which speedily overwhelmed and silenced the Spanish fire. The initial speed of the Spaniards carried them rapidly past the blockading vessels and the battle developed into a chase in which the “BROOKLYN” and “TEXAS” had at the start the advantage of position. The “BROOKLYN” maintained this lead. The “OREGON” steaming with amazing speed from the commencement of the action, took first place. The “IOWA” and the “INDIANA” having done good work, and not having the speed of the other ships, were directed by me, in succession at about the time the “VIZCAYA” was beached, to drop out of the chase and resume blockading stations. These vessels rescued many prisoners. The “Vixen”, finding that the rush of the Spanish ships would put her between two fires, ran out side of our own column and remained there during the battle and chase.

     The skillful handling and gallant fighting of the “Gloucester” excited the admiration of everyone who witnessed it, and merits the commendation of the Navy Department. She is a fast and entirely unprotected auxiliary vessel---the yacht “CORSAIR”---and has a good battery of light R. F.8 Guns. She was about two miles from the harbor entrance, to the southward and eastward, and immediately steamed in, opening fire upon the large ships. Anticipating the appearance of the “PLUTON” and “FUROR”, the “Gloucester” was slowed, thereby gaining more rapidly a high pressure of steam, and when the destroyers came out she steamed for them at full speed, and was able to close to short range, where her fire was accurate, deadly, and of great volume. During the fight the “Gloucester” was under the fire of the Socapa Battery. Within twenty minutes from the time they steamed from Santiago harbor, the careers of the “FUROR” and the “PLUTON” were ended, and two-thirds of their people killed. The “FUROR” was beached and sunk in the surf; the “PLUTON” sank in deep water a few minutes later. The destroyers probably suffered much injury from the fire of the secondary batteries of the battle-ships “IOWA”, “INDIANA” and the “TEXAS”, yet I think a very considerable factor in the speedy destruction was the fire, at close range, of the “Gloucester’s” battery. After rescuing the survivors of the destroyers, the “Gloucester” did expedient service in landing and securing the crew of the “INFANTA MARIA TERESA”.

     The method of escape attempted by the Spaniards---all steering in the same direction, and in formation, removed all tactical doubts or difficulties, and made plain the duty of every United States vessel to close in, immediately engage, and pursue. This was promptly and effectively done. As already stated, the first rush of the Spanish Squadron carried it passed a number of the blockading ships, which could not immediately work up to their best speed; but they suffered heavily in passing, and the “INFANTA MARIA TERESA” and the “OQUENDO” were probably set on fire by shells fired during the first fifteen minutes of the engagement. It was afterwards learned that the “INFANTA MARIA TERESA” fire main had been cut by one of our first shots, and that she was unable to extinguish fire. With large volumes of smoke rising from their own decks aft, these vessels gave up both fight and flight, and ran in on the beach--the “INFANTA MARIA TERESA” at about 10:15 a.m.--at Nima Nima, six and one-half miles from Santiago harbor entrance, and the “ALMIRANTE OQUENDO” at about 10:30 a.m. at Juan Gonzales, seven miles from the port.

     The “VIZCAYA” was still under the fire of the leading vessels; the “CRISTOBAL COLON” had drawn ahead, leading the chase, and soon passed beyond the range of the guns in the leading American ships. The “VIZCAYA” was soon set on fire, and, at 11:15 she turned in shore and was beached at Aserraderos, 15 miles from Santiago, burning fiercely, and with her reserve of ammunition on deck already beginning to explode. When about ten miles West of Santiago the “INDIANA” had been signaled to go back to the Harbor entrance, and at Aserraderos the “IOWA” was signaled to “Resume blockading station”. The “IOWA”, assisted by the “ERICSSON” and the “HIST”, took off the crew of the “VIZCAYA”, while the “HARVARD” and the “GLOOUCESTER” rescued those of the “INFANTA MARIA TERESA” and the “ALMIRANTE OQUENDO”. This rescue of prisoners, including the wounded, from the burning Spanish vessels, was the occasion of some of the most daring and valiant conduct of the day. The ships were burning fore and aft, their guns and reserve ammunition were exploding, and it was not known at what moment the fire would reach the main magazines. In addition to this a heavy surf was running just inside of the Spanish ships, but no risk deterred our Officers and men until their work of humanity was complete.

     There remained now of the Spanish ships only the “CRISTOBAL COLON”--but she was their best and fastest vessel. Forced by the situation to hug the Cuban coast, her only chance of escape was by superior and sustained speed. When the “VIZCAYA” went ashore, the “COLON” was about six miles ahead of the “BROOKLYN” and the “OREGON”; but her spurt was finished, and the American ships were now gaining upon her. Behind the “BROOKLYN” and the “OREGON” came the “TEXAS”, “Vixen”, and “New York”. It was evident from the bridge of the “New York” that all the American ships were gradually overhauling the chase, and that she had no chance of escape. At 12:50 the “BROOKLYN” and the “OREGON” opened fire and got her range--- the “OREGON’S” heavy shell striking beyond her--, and at 1:20 she gave up without firing another shot, hauled down her colors, and ran ashore at Rio Torquino, 48 miles from Santiago. Captain Cook,9 of the “BROOKLYN”, went on board to receive the surrender. While his boat was alongside I came up in the “New York”, received his report, and placed the “OREGON” in charge of the wreck to save her, if possible; and directed the prisoners to be transferred to the “RESOLUTE”, which had followed the chase. Commodore Schley, whose Chief of Staff10 had gone on board to receive the surrender, had directed that all their personal effects should be retained by the Officers. This order I did not modify. The “CRISTOBAL COLON” was not injured by our firing, and probably is not much injured by beaching, though she ran ashore at high speed. The beach was so steep that she came off by the working of the sea. But her sea-valves were opened and broken, treacherously, I am sure, after her surrender, and despite all efforts, she sank. When it became evident that she could not be kept afloat, she was pushed by the “New York” bodily up on the beach---the “New York’s” stem being placed against her for this purpose---the ship being handled by Captain Chadwick with admirable judgment---and sank in shoal water and may be saved. Had this not been done she would have gone down in deep water and would have been, to a certainty, a total loss.11

     I regard this complete and important victory over the Spanish forces as the successful finish of several weeks of arduous and close blockade, so stringent and effective during the night that the enemy was deterred from making the attempt to escape at night, and deliberately elected to make the attempt in day-light. That this was the case I was informed by the Commanding Officer of the “CRISTOBAL COLON”.12

     It seems proper to briefly describe here the manner in which this was accomplished. The harbor of Santiago is naturally easy to blockade-- there being but one entrance--and that a narrow one, and the deep water extending close up to the shoreline presenting no difficulties of navigation outside of the entrance. At the time of my arrival before the port--June 1st--the moon was at its full, and there was sufficient light during the night to enable any movement outside of the entrance to be detected; but with the waning of the moon, and the coming of dark nights, there was opportunity for the enemy to escape, or for his torpedo boats to make an attack upon the blockading vessels. It was ascertained with fair conclusiveness that the “MERRIMAC” so gallantly taken into the channel on June 3rd, did not obstruct it. I therefore maintained the blockade as follows:--to the battle ships was assigned the duty, in turn, of lighting the channel. Moving up to the port, at a distance of from 1 to 2 miles from the Morro--dependent upon the condition of the atmosphere,-- they threw a search-light beam directly up the channel, and held it steadily there. This lighted up the entire breadth of the channel for half a mile inside of the entrance so brilliantly that the movement of small boats could be detected. Why the batteries never opened fire upon the search light ship was always a matter of surprise to me; but they never did. Stationed close to the entrance of the port were three picket launches, and, at a little distance further out three small picket vessels-- usually converted yachts--; and, when they were available, one or two of our torpedo boats. With this arrangement there was at least a certainty that nothing could get out of the harbor undetected. After the arrival of the Army, when the situation forced upon the Spanish Admiral a decision, our vigilance increased. The night blockading distance was reduced to two miles for all vessels and a battle-ship was placed alongside the search light ship, with her broadside trained upon the channel in readiness to fire the instant a Spanish ship should appear. The Commanding Officers merit the greatest praise for the perfect manner in which they entered into this plan and put it into execution. The “MASSACHUSETTS”, who, according to routine, was sent that morning to coal at Guantanamo, like the others had spent weary nights upon this work, and deserved a better fate than to be absent that morning. I enclose, for the information of the Department, copies of orders and memorandums issued from time to time, relating to the manner of maintaining the blockade.13

     When all the work was done so well it is difficult to discriminate in praise. The object of the blockade of Cervera’s Squadron was fully accomplished, and each individual bore well his part in it,---the Commodore in command on the second division, the Captains of ships, their officers and men. The fire of the battle ships was powerful and destructive, and the resistance of the Spanish Squadron was, in great part, broken almost before they had got beyond the range of their own forts. The fine speed of the “OREGON” enabled her to take a front position in the chase, and the “CRISTOBAL COLON” did not give up until the “OREGON” had thrown a 13-inch shell beyond her. This performance adds to the already brilliant record of this fine battle-ship, and speaks highly of the skill and care which her admirable efficiency has been maintained during a service unprecedented in the history of vessels of her class. The “BROOKLYN’s” westerly blockading position gave her an advantage in the chase which she maintained to the end, and she employed her fine battery with telling effect. The “TEXAS” and the “New York” were gaining on the chase during the last hour, and had any accident befallen the “BROOKLYN” or the “OREGON”, would have speedily overhauled the “CRISTOBAL COLON”. From the moment the Spanish vessel exhausted her first burst of speed the result was never in doubt. She fell, in fact, far below what might reasonably have been expected of her. Careful measurements of time and distance give her an average speed---from the time she cleared the harbor mouth until the time she was run on shore at Rio Tarquino---of 13.7 knots. Neither the “New York” nor the “BROOKLYN” stopped to couple up their forward engines, but ran out the chase with one pair, getting steam, of course, as rapidly as possible on all boilers. To stop to couple up the forward engines would have meant a delay of fifteen minutes---or four miles in the chase.

     Several of the ships were struck, the “BROOKLYN” more often than the others, but very slight material injury was done, the greatest being aboard the “IOWA”. Our loss was one man killed14 and one wounded, both on the “BROOKLYN”. It is difficult to explain this immunity from loss of life or injury to ships in a combat with modern vessels of the best type; but the Spanish gunnery is poor at the best, and the superior weight and accuracy of our fire speedily drove the men from their guns and silenced their fire. This is borne out by the statements of prisoners, and by observation. The Spanish vessels, as they dashed out of the harbor, were covered with the smoke from their own guns, but this speedily diminished in volume and soon almost disappeared. The fire from the rapid-fire batteries of the battle-ships appears to have been remarkably destructive. An examination of the stranded vessels shows that the “ALMIRANTE OQUENDO” especially had suffered terribly from this fire. Her sides are everywhere pierced and her decks were strewn with the charred remains of those who had fallen.

     The reports of Commodore W. S. Schley, and of the Commanding Officers, are enclosed.15

     A Board, appointed by me several days ago, has made a critical examination of the stranded vessels, both with a view of reporting upon the result of our fire and the military features involved, and of reporting upon the chance of saving any of them and of wrecking the remainder. The report of the Board will be speedily forwarded.16

          Very respectfully

              W.T. Sampson

              Rear Admiral, U.S.Navy.

          Commander in Chief, U.S.Naval Force,

              North Atlantic Station.   

Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 233. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.” Document reference: “No.212.]” Docketed: “U. S. Flagship New York,/(1st RATE.)/Off Santiago de Cuba/July 16, 1898/SAMPSON, W. T.,/Rear Admiral,/Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Naval Force,/North Atlantic Station./SUBJECT/Report of the Destruction/of Cervera’s Fleet off/Santiago de Cuba, July 3/Enclosures reports of/Commo Schley & Captains/of ships.” First page of the report was missing and transcript has been supplemented by the copy of the report from the, Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, p. 506.

Footnote 1: RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete.

Footnote 2: Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter.

Footnote 3: Transcription from the original document begins here.

Footnote 4: Capt. French E. Chadwick.

Footnote 5: Diagram has not been found.

Footnote 6: That is the, Cristóbal Colón.

Footnote 7: This is the, Plutón.

Footnote 8: Rapid Fire.

Footnote 9: Capt. Francis A. Cook.

Footnote 10: Commo. Winfield S. Schley, Commander of the Second Squadron. Schley’s Chief of Staff was Capt. Francis A. Cook, commanding officer of Brooklyn.

Footnote 11: The United States Navy was unable to recover the sunken Cristóbal Colón.

Footnote 12: Capt. Emilio Díaz-Moreu y Quintana.

Footnote 13: Memorandum mentioned were not attached and have not been found.

Footnote 14: Chief Yeoman George H. Ellis was killed in the battle.

Footnote 15: For a selection of these reports see: The Battle of Santiago Bay. For all the reports, see, DNA, AFNRC, M625, Roll 233.

Footnote 16: This report has not been found.

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