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Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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

LETTER

Washington, [D.C.] July 15, 1898.

Sir:

     As has been previously stated, the Department sometime since decided to send a squadron to Manila to reinforce Admiral Dewey.1 This decision was arrived at, in view of the then recent departure of Admiral Camara’s2 squadron from Spain for the Philippine Islands.

     2.  Though Admiral Camara has returned from the Suez Canal to Spain, the Department still intends to send a reinforcing squadron to Manila; and as Camara’s force, when united with other armored ships, now presumably disposable in Spanish waters, would be, on paper, stronger than the squadron proposed to be sent to the East Indies, it has been decided to send with the latter a covering squadron strong enough to guarantee against the possible efforts of all such armored ships of the Spanish Navy as may now be in condition for cruising in the straits of Gibraltar, and to hold any such force as Spain may collect, blockaded in its own ports until our squadron for the East is well on its way.

     3.  With this end in view, the Department has directed the two squadrons to be prepared at once, as below designated, the whole to be under one command until separated by order of the Commander-in-Chief:

     4.   Covering Squadron.      Eastern Squadron.

          Armored Ships.          Armored Ships.

          NEW YORK                 MASSACHUSETTS

          BROOKLYN                 OREGON

          IOWA

          INDIANA

          Cruisers.               Cruisers.

          NEWARK                  YOSEMITE

          NEW ORLEANS              DIXIE

          BADGER

          YANKEE

          MAYFLOWER               Food Ships.

With the proper number of

colliers to be designated by the Department.

     5.  The men-of-war composing this expedition are to be filled with provisions, coal, ammunition, etc., and will sail from the point that is thought most convenient in the vicinity of the Windward Passage, directly to a point 200 miles, W.S.W., magnetic from the town of Punta Delgada, in the Azores, where the Department will direct the colliers to rendezvous, the latter sailing from Hampton Roads under convoy of a cruiser, which will be designated by the Department.

     6.  As it is the desire of the Department to conceal the movements of this fleet as much as possible, it is thought best that only a single small vessel should be sent in to Punta Delgada, and this without showing an Admiral’s or Commodore’s flag. Communication should be had with the U.S.Consul,3 to whom will be addressed any important matter for the Commander-in-Chief.

     7.  It is not now thought expedient that the fleet should coal at this rendezvous, unless found necessary, but it should proceed to such a point on the coast of Morocco or the coast of Spain as can be occupied in comparative safety from Spanish attack, sufficiently near the straits of Gibraltar, and smooth enough for coaling of ships. In this connection the coast between Cadiz and Huelva, and between Melilla4 and other points on the African coast, should be considered.

     8. As the speed of the fleet is regulated by that of the colliers, it would appear that about ten knots per hour can probably be maintained, in ordinary weather, though it is thought that the most economical speed of several of the men-of-war may perhaps be more than that. Great care must be taken to keep the machinery and boilers of the colliers in an efficient working condition. A few of them could, under favorable conditions, make twelve knots; but as a rule, ten will probably be as much as should be expected of most of them.

     9. During the operation of coaling, which should be conducted as speedily as practicable, a vigilant lookout must be kept against the enemy’s torpedo craft, the fleet being got underway, if necessary, at nightfall, to stand off shore or to shift position, as may be thought best.

     10.  It must also be habitually so disposed as to properly meet any attack of the enemy’s men-of-war, or torpedo boats, and to cover the colliers and weaker vessels, the cruisers being expected to guarantee all against the attacks of torpedoboats and destroyers.

     11.  After coaling the fleet, such colliers as may be nearly empty should be discharged into the others - enough coal being left in the “empties” to enable them to reach the United States, or some port where it is certain that they can procure coal.

     12.  It might, perhaps, be more desirable to pass the straits at night, carrying the whole fleet into the Mediterranean, far enough to the eastward of the coast of Spain to make it difficult for the Spanish torpedo boats to act conveniently, and then anchoring on the north coast of Africa, or elsewhere, accomplish the coaling as rapidly as possible. However, the Commander-in-Chief will follow any plan that may seem to him most convenient, the fleet’s safety being secure by proper arrangements on his part. If off the coast of a neutral country, it will be necessary to coal beyond the marine league from shore, if practicable.5

     13.  After the operation of coaling, the entire fleet has been completed, the division for the East Indies and the colliers detailed for it, will be directed to proceed as mentioned at close of sixteenth paragraph. The separation should, if possible, be made by night, and the covering squadron will then hold the Spanish fleet under observation and blockade it if necessary, till time has been allowed the Eastern Squadron to reach the Suez Canal. The covering squadron will then return to the United States, sending a vessel into Lisbon to inquire if there be any orders for it.

     14.  In conclusion, the Department attaches importance to preserving the armored fleet in full efficiency. Therefore, while any opportunity that may offer to destroy the enemy’s armed ships must be used to the utmost, the vessels must not be exposed any more than may be imperatively necessary, to the fire of the coast fortifications.

     15.  On approaching the coast of Europe, one of the cruisers will be sent ahead to call on the Minister at Lisbon6 for any orders the Department may have sent to his care; the cruiser to depart from Lisbon immediately and rejoin off Cape St. Vincent, or any other point that may be designated by the commander of the combined force.

     16.  The Department designated by the commander of the combined force, Eastern Squadron. Admiral Sampson will command the covering squadron and also the combined force until it separates, when Commodore Watson7 will proceed, without delay, with the “MASSACHUSETTS,” “OREGON,” colliers and store ship, to Manila, using every endeavor to make his way without any other delays than those that are absolutely necessary.8

     17.  You will furnish Commodore Watson with a copy of this order, and you will hold the vessels designated, in such a state of readiness that they will be able to sail at the earliest practicable moment after the receipt by you of an order from the Department for them to proceed.

     18. You will inform the Department, by telegraph, when they are ready for the service herein mentioned.

Very respectfully,               

John D. Long,          

Secretary.        

Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 80, Entry 194, vol. 1, pp. 281-284. Addressed before opening: “Commander-in-Chief,/U.S.Naval Force,/North Atlantic Station.”

Footnote 1: RAdm. George Dewey, Commander, Asiatic Squadron.

Footnote 2: Vice Adm. Manuel de la Cámara y Libermoore.

Footnote 3: United States Consul at Ponta Delgada, George H. Pickerell.

Footnote 4: Melilla is an autonomous Spanish city of the Mediterranean coast of Morocco.

Footnote 5: A Marine League is 3 Nautical Miles. 

Footnote 6: American Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal Lawrence Townsend.

Footnote 7: Commo. John C. Watson, Commander, Eastern Squadron.

Footnote 8: Long sent a correction to Sampson on 23 July, concerning a contradiction in his orders. He wrote:

The Eastern Squadron, as mentioned in Department’s letter number one twenty six nine naught two was, at the time, intended to be as given on second page of said letter; the omission of the two cruisers, send class in the sixteenth paragraph was an error. When convenient and time of departure of the combined squadrons approaches, direct Commodore Schley to shift flag to a suitable vessel, to be designated by you from those that are to serve in the Western Atlantic. DNA, RG 80, Entry 194, vol. 1, 315.

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