Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Warrant Officer George A. Courtright (Ret.) to Warren Reed West

Subject:                                   Hotel Appleton

     Re Capture of Guam Island,             Watsonville, California

     June 1898                             February 18, 1941

Dear Sir:

     Replying to your letter dated January 25, 1941 (postmarked Washington 6 P.M. February 6) attention is invited to the following:

     In order to observe proper sequence of events prior to the seizure of Guam and after, and obtain an intelligent view of the undersigned’s connection with and position held by him in the Military Expeditionary Force, under the command of General T. M. Anderson, U.S.A.,1 will say as briefly as practicable that on May 16, 1898, I received a telegram at St. Paul, Minnesota, from Major S. R. Jones,2 Chief Quartermaster to General Anderson, saying in effect, “Have applied for you to go with me as my assistant to the Philippines, Sail from San Francisco on Saturday,” and on May 17th another telegram from Major Jones saying in effect, “Telegraphic instructions from Quartermaster General direct you join me at San Francisco, Hurry along.” At this time I was purchasing agent in the Quartermaster Depot at St. Paul, a U. S. Civil Service Employee, having resigned from the Army in 1890. And so, I “hurried along.” Reached San Francisco, May 21st, 1898, reported for duty at Headquarters, Palace Hotel, same date. The following day, I learned that the expedition to the Orient from San Francisco, would consist of the following named vessels:

     Navy: “City of Peking” naval charted transport, carrying Naval officers, recruits, marines, and supplies for Admiral Dewey3 at Manila.

     Military: SS “Australia” charter army transport, carrying Headquarters, Military Force, Gen. T. M. Anderson, Commanding, and Staff; 2nd Regiment Oregon Volunteers; supplies, etc; “City of Sidney” chartered Army Transport, carrying Battery Heavy Artillery, San Francisco; Battery Field Artillery, Subsistence supplies, etc.

     Sailed out of the Golden Gate from San Francisco, May 25, 1898, bound for Manila via Honolulu. The three ships, sailing practically abreast at the Gate made an impressive picture as they steamed out of the Bay on the First Expedition to a practically unknown land, people or conditions. The picture and news headline had it: “Going to Help Dewey,” made it all very interesting.4

     The “Australia” had among non-combatant civilians, several war correspondents, among them Oscar King Davis, a relative of Richard Harding Davis,5 who shared my stateroom. Mr. Davis represented Harper’s Weekly and I think the New York Sun. He was later the confidential assistant and party manager to Theodore Roosevelt on the Bull Moose Campaign, 1912.6

     Right here, allow me to say that I am noting these seemingly non-connecting items that you may see that I was in a position to know something about what was going on. I was a member of the Headquarters Mess on the “Australia.” As a matter of fact I had served with Gen. Anderson and Major Jones while in the Army in one of the three Indian Wars I took part in.

     To resume the main subject: after a rather pleasant voyage we reached Honolulu on June 1, 1898. We were well received and entertained by the officials and residents. The islands passed to the control of the United States, shortly after we left for Manila.

     Just prior to sailing we were advised that the cruiser “Charleston”, Captain Glass,7 would convoy the Expedition. The Three transports and the “Charleston” sailed from Honolulu on June 4, 1898. As you probably know, a confidential sealed order, issued May 10, 1898, by the Secretary of the Navy8 was forwarded by the Navy transport “City of Peking” to Captain Glass at Honolulu. A telegram from the Navy Department dated May 24, 1898, directed Capt. Glass to proceed on his way to Mainila and when clear of land to open and comply with the sealed, confidential order of May 10th. This Capt. Glass did and changed his course for the Island of Guam. Before proceeding, however, a conference was called aboard the “Charleston”, when the new order and details were conveyed to Gen. Anderson and the other officials of the three transports.

     From here on I shall endeavor to present such major and minor details of the expedition, happenings, etc., as personally experienced, saw, investigated or heard, if you get what I mean.

     When the news of our destination and object was learned aboard the “Australia” there was considerable excitement, of course, and the cause of many pow-wows as “What about Guam and where is it anyway, and what do we want of it?” was frequently asked and debated. Well it served to keep our minds occupied to some extent as we sailed, O, so slowly, to the West by Southwest towards Guam, the principal and largest island of the Ladrones (thieves)9 or Marianas. Among the Oregon Volunteers were many youngsters who soon began to suffer from that old complaint, homesickness. The regiment of ten companies and band were poorly quartered on the vessel, there being no regular troop transports as yet, down in the storage holds. One company at a time was brought up to the upper decks for fresh air and exercise, remained one or two hours then back below. The masters or Captains of the transports frequently and forcibly expressed themselves at being obliged to loiter along behind the slow sailing “Charleston,” which appeared several miles ahead like a great, gray turtle. The transports, you understand, were all up to date passenger liners, greyhounds of the Pacific.

     Arrived in sight of and off the north coast of Guam at dawn June 20, 1898, approximately a sixteen-day voyage from Honolulu. This in the tropics in the month of June, on over-crowded ships loaded with passengers, probably 90% of whom had never been at sea or in low latitudes. Personally, I did not experience any real discomfort--my former three year army service along the Rio Grande in Texas and on the Mexican border, as to head--and preparedness as to proper clothing and equipment beforehand, so thoroughly understood and drilled into Army men who should be ready for any emergency when called upon.

     The early morning of June 20, 1898, I recall very well. I was up early and out on the promenade deck near my stateroom window, glasses in hand, watching every move of the “Charleston” as she drew near the port of Agana, the capital of Guam and Mariana Group.10

     Captain Glass had earlier signaled the transports to maintain safe positions to the north and outside and await orders.

     Later in the day I learned that the “Charleston” had discovered no boats of any kind at Agana, so moved, as I plainly perceived, west along the coast to the harbor of Apra (formerly San Luis d’Apra). I saw the cruiser’s approach to the cape or Point Orote, NW cape of Guam. Here Captain Glass found old Fort Santiago abandoned and in ruins so moved directly into the harbor of Apra. I saw the “Charleston” outlined fairly plain against the high western bluffs or cliffs as she slowly sailed in. Suddenly I saw the puffs of smoke from her guns as she fired several shots at old Fort Santa Cruz, lower end of harbor, to get the range and learn if the ancient fort was garrisoned, as Capt. Glass later stated. Of course, there was no reply from Santa Cruz as it had been long abandoned and was in the same condition as Fort Santiago.

     So, the bombardment ceased, the “Charleston” came to anchor in strategic position in harbor and some time later we were signaled in. I should have stated before that the morning, especially, and the day of June 20, 1898, was very fine, not too warm and the sea and harbor placid as a pond, visibility excellent.

     Early on the morning of June 21st the flag officer of the “Charleston”, Lieut. Braunersreuther,11 was sent ashore at Piti (landing place) carrying a flag of truce with a written demand for immediate surrender. I learned later that one half hour was given the Spanish.

     At about noon we saw the boat return to the “Charleston” and later learned that Lieut. B. had with him the Governor12 and several staff officers, also that Lieut. B. handed to Capt. Glass a communication, letter from the Governor accepting the terms of surrender as stipulated by Capt. Glass. About 3:00 PM Capt. Glass assumed control and took over the Island of Guam and all thereto pertaining to the Spanish Government. Hoisted the American flag over or on old Fort Santa Cruz and saluted it with 21 guns from the “Charleston.”

     The expedition proceeded later to Manila sailing via coast of northern Luzon, P.I., to the China Sea, thence down west coast to Manila Bay, anchoring off Cavite, about seven miles across the northern part of Bay from Manila, the latter still being held by the Spanish forces, as you are aware. We arrived at Cavite on or about July 1, 1898. I have the unique distinction of being the first Quartermaster Dept., employee U. S. A., to land in the Philippine Islands.

     I will now proceed to discuss the episode referred to by you, evidently being the chief or principal object or reason for your letter to me of January 25th last.

     I know of no formal or particular apology being offered by the Governor of Guam or any member of his staff. To my knowledge there was no real official statement made by anyone as to lack of ammunition, unserviceable guns, etc., etc. This was all in the course of general conversation between the officers held at the meeting under the flag of truce and confirmed afterwards at mess dinners in ward rooms and especially at the dinner on the “Australia” that evening.

     Boiled down, the following practically covers the case in question:

     There was not on hand at Guam any suitable ammunition or efficient guns capable of returning the salute that the officials thought was being fired when Capt. Glass pounded away at a long since dismantled fort, to get range and ascertain whether there was anyone “at home.”

     At dinner that evening on the “Australia” I was at the Commander’s table. Among those present, Gen. T. M. Anderson, Captain Glass and his Aide, Major S. R. Jones (my chief), Major Sidney Clowan, Major H. P. McCain (Adj. general),13 and several other officers and civilians, among the latter, Oscar Davis King of Harpers Weekly, etc., one of the McCutcheons (I think Geo. B.)14 of Chicago Daily News, War Correspondents, several smaller fry of which I was one.

     This dinner was, in a way, a momentous occasion, a celebration of the Victory of the day. Bloodless to be sure, but still the capture of Guam. By the way, the Spanish officials at Guam did not know, of course, that there was a war on between the U. S. and Spain. There was no Spanish gunboat or naval vessel there of any kind. There had not been time for them to receive any news from Manila of the war and I feel certain that Admiral Dewey had seen to that after the Battle of Manila Bay in May.

     At the dinner above referred to there was full discussion of the informal statements made that day by the Spanish officials relative to failure to return the “Charleston’s salute, and both Gen. Anderson and Capt. Glass there and then cautioned the War Correspondents present to refrain from mentioning in their stories this humiliating incident of the seizure of Guam. Later I met and talked with the Chief Yeoman (Chief Clerk) to Capt. Glass on the events of the day. We talked of the surrender and of the letter from the Governor (above referred to) to Capt. Glass. The Yeoman told me that the said letter became a part of the ship’s records and only such portions of the letter as directly pertained to the unconditional surrender and capitulation would be quoted in Capt. Glass’ formal report to the Navy Department. So we may rest assured if any mention was made (which I doubt) in this letter as to why the salute was not returned, it was treated as strictly confidential by the Captain.

     Before closing this reply, already too long, I wish to say as pertinent to the subject, that after arrival at Cavite, the unloading and storing of supplies became a big job, inadequate warerooms, and rooms for issues, offices, etc. Very little competent help for work in warerooms, issues of supplies, etc., was to be had, so the officials turned over to work under my orders, several Spanish prisoners, soldiers, that were captured at Guam and brought to Cavite. In charge of these men was a Spanish Sergeant, a Top or First Sergeant, an intelligent chap who could speak fairly good English. From him I was very fortunate in learning some very interesting things as to the conditions on Guam where he served in charge of the company. Now as to their supply of ammunition, guns, etc., he said they had very little use for them except a little hunting now and then with some old rifles they had. No one seemed to care much about asking for a supply of anything of this sort. They know but little of the outside world and did not particularly care anyway, a happy-go-lucky, lazy existence, or so it seemed. He heard, of course the “salute” of the “Charleston.” Said he could not recall anything like it happening before at Guam. Did not know what in the world any naval vessel would stop at Guam for. He said it sure woke us up, made us put on our shoes and dress up a bit and the officers got into their gold lace coats and chapeaus. They received mail fairly regular by tramp steamers and a call once in a while by Spanish Navy boats from Manila.

     I learned later that Guam was a sort of penal colony where soldiers were sent to serve sentence for serious misdemeanors. The tales of the Sergeant to me may be on some interest to you.

     Of course, you know the Guam of today is a first class Naval Station, a high officer of the Navy as Chief Executive. Prosperous in every way as to buildings, schools, social affairs, etc.

     On my third trip to the Philippines our transport called at Guam, there on Christmas Day 1907. I saw then at first hand the differences, so very great an improvement, from what it was on June 20, 1898.

* * * * * * * * *

     Now, then, my dear Professor, in closing I wish to say relative to the “Episode” you refer to: While it actually occurred, it was most humiliating to the vanquished and embarrassing, to say the least, to the Victors, and in my humble opinion, should in no way appear in official records or regarded as an historical incident among first class nations at war.

Sincerely yours,  

(signed) GEO. A. COURTRIGHT

Warrant Officer, U. S. A.

Retired  

Source Note: CbCy, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 364. Addressed before opening: “To: W. Reed West/Professor of Political Science/The George Washington University/Washington, D. C.” Included at the bottom of the last page: “NOTE: This is a carbon of a letter typed from the long-hand notes of Mr. Courtright.”

Footnote 1: Brig. Gen. Thomas M. Anderson.

Footnote 2: Chief Quartermaster Samuel R. Jones.

Footnote 3: RAdm. George Dewey, Commander, Asiatic Squadron.

Footnote 4: Harper’s Weekly in its edition of 11 June 1898, ran on its front page a drawing entitled “Going to Help Dewey” based on a photograph taken of the departure of City of Peking from San Francisco.

Footnote 5: Oscar King Davis was a correspondent for the New York Times and an author. Richard Harding Davis was a noted American journalist and novelist.

Footnote 6: The first Progressive Party (known popularly as Bull Moose) was started by dissidents at the Republican Convention in 1912. The three-way campaign of its candidate Theodore Roosevelt, Republican President William H. Taft, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson resulted in the victory of the latter.

Footnote 7: Capt. Henry Glass.

Footnote 8: Secretary of the Navy John D. Long. For the confidential instructions, see: Long to Glass, 10 May 1898.

Footnote 9: The Ladrone Islands (Marianas) i.e., the “Islands of Thieves,” were given this name by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 because he thought that the natives were thieves.

Footnote 10: That is, Agaña Bay. Today it is called Hagåtña Bay.

Footnote 11: Lt. William Braunersreuther.

Footnote 12: The last Spanish Governor of the Mariana Islands, Juan Marina Vega.

Footnote 13: Adjutant General Henry P. McCain.

Footnote 14: George B. McCutcheon (1866-1928) was a well-known playwright and author.

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