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Captain Charles S. Cotton to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

U.S.S. Harvard

Saint-Pierre, Martinique

May 13th 1898.


     I have the honor to report my arrival at this port with the “Harvard,” under my command, at 9.30 a.m. on the 11th instant.

2.   Owing to the long time required to work her to berth in the road stead, to some fatigue, and to communicate with our consul1 I was unable to send my first cable to the Department until late in the afternoon, not withstanding that I had previously blocked out the main facts to be reported.

3.   Our Consul and the Captain of the Port had in the mean time called officially, the cutter tendering in behalf of the Governor,2 whose official residence is at Fort de France, some 15 miles distant by water, the usual courtesies of the port, and the former offering his services in any manner in which they would be most useful. After sending my first cablegrams on shore to be dispatched to the Department, Admiral Sampson,3 and Captain Goodrich,4 I went to return the calls of the consul and [tell] Captain of the Port, expecting to sail for St. Thomas the following morning.

4.   While still with the Consul on shore he received at a few minutes before six 6p.m., a telegram from Port de France sent by a man in whom he had confidence, that a Spanish Torpedo Destroyer had arrived at that place at 4 p.m.

5.   I came on board at once to prepare a cablegram to the Department requesting the Consul to get further information if practicable and to communicate it to me as soon as possible.

6.   At 8 p.m. the Captain of the Port came onboard and through him the Governor informed me officially that the Spanish Torpedo Destroyer “Furor” had arrived at Fort de France at 4 p.m., and had departed or would depart, about 7 p.m. and that therefore, in accordance with usage in such cases, our ship could not go to sea before 7 p.m., on the 12th instant.

7.   Being thus unexpectedly detained in port longer than I anticipated I decided to send our Consul and Lieut. Kane,5 U.S.Marine Corps to Fort de France for reliable information.

8.   There being no means of regular transit between here and that place at night they took a small boat, row boat, and arrived there at 2 a.m., the 12th instant, returning here by a small local steamer at 9 a.m.

9.   They reported that they saw and counted, hull down, in the offing, five large steamers; that the Spanish steamer Alicante, a so called hospital or ambulance ship, was lying in the inner harbor and said to have hospital stores and troops onboard; and that as they were leaving the harbor in the steamer bound for this port, they passed at about 815 a.m., a quarter of a mile distant, a large Spanish Torpedo Destroyer standing into the harbor from the direction of, and evidently belonging to the ships in the offing, to the Southward and Westward, which were apparently standing off and on.

10.  The Destroyer was very light, had four small light masts, and was painted black, with a red bottom. Two small guns were seen, one forward and one aft.

11.  At noon yesterday, 12th instant, the Captain of the Port came on board and informed me from the Governor, that the Spanish Destroyer “Terror” had arrived at Fort de France at about 8 a.m., and would probably leave about noon - the destroyer seen by Lieut. Kane and our Consul in the morning - and that I was at liberty to go to sea at 8 p.m. (last evening) if I so desired; but if I did not do so, I would be required to give the Governor Twenty four hours’ notice of my intentions to leave port.

12.  I requested that I might be furnished with a written statement of the Governor’s instructions to him relative to this ship, and the request was readily complied with. The Captain of the Port in person bringing it to me at 4 p.m. (yesterday) and showing me the original telegram in relation to the matter, received by him from the Governor; copy of letter enclosed, marked 1.6

13.  Information from several sources including the Consul, the former consul Mr. Keevil,7 the former Vice-Consul Mr. Daniels,8 who was connected with our Consulate here for some 30 years: Mr. Testart,9 who is, I am informed, our prospective vice-consul; and others, leave me no ground for doubt that this ship is at present practically blockaded by the Spanish Fleet, and under close surveillance by the Spaniards and other friends, particularly at night, that our every movement is watched and reported.

14.  Our friends are very few here or at Fort de France; while those whose sympathies are wholly and openly with Spain are many.

15.  Fishermen and men from the hills report that Spanish cruisers and small steamers have been seen cruising at night near Saint Pierre, and in the straits North and South of the Islands; that strange and unusual signals have been made at sea and in the hills back of the town; that a torpedo cruiser passed near the town going to the Northward and the Southward on the night of May 11thand that one lay off Pearl Island last night, 6 ½ miles north of the town.

16.  As to the signal there is no doubt, for at frequent intervals last night we saw them on shore along the hills back, and north and south of the town, and one colored signal some distance at sea: on the night of the 11th we saw rocket signals from a hill N. E. of the town; and an English gentleman who owns a plantation in that vicinity told Mr. Daniels that some men, known to be Spanish sympathizers, had been found in his place with rockets on the night of the 11th instant.

17.  In view of all the encumbrances connected with my situation here; of the presence of a powerful Spanish fleet, including fast destroyers, in our vicinity; of their undoubted intention to capture this ship if possible; of her great value to the U.S.; of her much greater value, sea prize, to Spain; of the fact that it requires nearly one hour after getting underway for this ship to reach a speed of 20 knots; of the peculiar status of the officers and crew, who are serving on board of an armed ship while they do not belong to either branch of the Naval or Military service of the U.S.;10 the doubt as to their treatment by Spain, under the existing conditions would they be captured, -- a long and careful consideration of all those conditions finally led me to the conclusion; that I would be fully justified in not putting to sea at the present time; and I acted accordingly

18.  That we were expected to go to sea last night was evidenced by the lively signaling going on on shore; and that the Spanish Squadron was so distributed as to give us the least possible chance of escape, I have no doubt: what would have been the result had we gone out is conjectural. Two other reasons that weighed with me remaining was that while we are here I may be able to give valuable information relative to the Spanish Fleet, and that we may be such a bait as to induce it to remain in this vicinity until the approach of one of our fleets.

19.  About 9 a.m. today I was informed by our prospective vice consul, Mr. Testart, that influences are being brought to bear upon the Spanish Consul at this place to protest to the Governor against our staying in this port. Mr. Testart at once wired to our Consul, who had gone to Fort de France, to try to get further news of the Spanish Fleet; informing him of his situation and suggesting to him to take counter action immediately, making necessary repairs to our machinery the reason.

20.  It being necessary to act at once to forestall the Spanish Consul, in case he should act out as indicated, and not to place our own Consul in a false or embarrassing position, he then being at Fort de France, when he would probably bring the matter to the Governor’s attention without loss of time, I decided to ask for seven days delay in this port to make necessary repairs to our boilers and engines, and sent the letter on shore by Mr. Testart for transmission to the Governor; a copy of my letter is transmitted herewith, marked 2.4 My reason for asking for seven days delay was to cover a possible period during which the Spanish fleet might sail from this vicinity, or our own fleet might approach.

21.  I have already cabled to the Department all facts of importance here in, and to Admiral Sampson everything that would be of service to him.11

22.  I trust that my actions in a rather trying position, and my reasons therefore, may meet the approval of the Department. In any case I acted, being upon the spot and having to act promptly, in what appeared to me at the time, and appears now, for the best interest of the Government.

23.  I received last evening the Departments cable directing me to go at once to Saint Thomas, etc., and sent a cable in reply this morning.12

                        I am very respectfully

                             Your Obedient servant

                                  C.S. Cotton,

                             Captain, U.S. Navy.


Source Note: ALS, AFNRC, M625, roll 229. Document reference: “No9]” and in a different hand “[Report of operations and information concerning the Spanish Fleet.]” Addressed below close: “To the/Secretary of the Navy,/Navy Department,/Washington, D.C.” Docketed: “U.S.S. “Harvard,”/Cotton, C.S.,/Captain, U.S.N.,/Comdg/Saint Pierre,/Martinique,/May 13, 1898./Events at Saint Pierre,/Information concerning/Spanish Fleet, &c.” Document features a rectangular stamp with “BUREAU OF NAVIGATION,” along the top, “MAY 28,” along the left side, “1898” along the right side, and “NAVY DEPARTMENT,” along the bottom. The numbers, “115077,” are stamped in the middle.

Footnote 1: United States Consul at Martinique George L. Darte.

Footnote 2: Governor General of Martinique Marie Jacques Noël Pardon.

Footnote 3: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 4: Capt. Caspar F. Goodrich, commander of the auxiliary St. Louis.

Footnote 5: 1st Lt. Theodore P. Kane.

Footnote 6: Letter has not been found.

Footnote 7: Former United States Consul at Martinique Alfred B. Keevil.

Footnote 8: Former United States Vice-Consul at Martinique Cooper Daniels.

Footnote 9: AmedeeTestart.

Footnote 10: Most of Harvard’s crew were merchant sailors working for the American Line Steamship Co. who decided stay with the ship when it commissioned into naval service in 1898. 

Footnote 11: Document has not been found.

Footnote 12: Long had ordered Cotton to steam the Harvard to St. Thomas, but changed the order after receiving Consul Darte’s report of the Spanish Fleet commanded by Adm. PascualCerevera y Topete, being at Fort de France. On 13 May, Long told Cotton to:

Vigorously protest against being forced out of the port in the face of superior blockading force, especially as you were detained previously in the port by the French authorities because Spanish men-of-war had sailed from another port... Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 383.

Further diplomatic protests were stayed after the Harvard reported that on 14 May, that the Spanish fleet had departed for Curaçao, save the mechanically crippled Spanish torpedo boat Terror. Ibid., 387.

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