Skip to main content

Captain Francis J. Higginson to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet


U.S.S.Massachusetts, 1st Rate,

Guantanamo Bay,[Cuba]

August 6th, 1898.


     1.   In obedience to your instructions of July 22nd, 1898 I have the honor to submit the following report of my operations from the time of leaving Key West, May 19th, until the 1st of June 1898:

May 19th. At Key West. At 8:20 a.m. in obedience to signal from the U.S.F.S.NewYork, the Flying Squadron composed of the Brooklyn, Massachusetts, Texas and Scorpion got under way for Cienfuegos, via West Coast of Cuba.

May 20th.

          Off Cape San Antonio. Passed and spoke the Cincinnati and Vesuvius standing to the eastward.

May 21st. Off Isle of Pines.

May 22nd. Fleet came off Cienfuegos shortly after daybreak and took up the blockade. The Dupont arrived at 9:a.m. At 1:15 p.m. the Iowa joined the fleet from the S’d . from the eastward. At 3:45 p.m. headed in towards the entrance and at 5:00 p.m. turned and stood out till 6:35 p.m. when fleet stopped and took up blockading positions, Dupont steamed inshore, Scorpion left to South of Eastward.

May 23rd. Off Cienfuegos. At 7:30 a.m. the Hawk arrived with dispatches. At 11:45 a.m. the British steamer Adula was permitted to enter the port of Cienfuegos. The Hawk left at 11:30 a.m. Took up blockading positions for the night, Castine and Dupont close inshore.

May 24th. At 6:00 sighted the Marblehead, Vixen, and Eagle. Coaled ship from the Merrimac. AT 8:00 p.m. the fleet left for Santiago de Cuba, with orders to rendezvous at Gonaives Bay1 in case of separation. The Dupont was left behind to go to Key West. The Castine was obliged to remain on account of trouble with machinery. Steamed in two columns.


Brooklyn (Flag)









May 25th. En route for Santiago de Cuba. Weather rough and squally. The Eagle fell behind retarding the progress of the fleet. Noon position; Latitude 20° , 29’ N. Longitude 79° , 16’ W. Average speed of fleet about seven knots.

May 26th. Sighted land at 6:55 a.m. on port beam and quarter, western point bearing NE. Noon position: Latitude 19° , 29’ N., Longitude 76° , 37’ W. At 5:00 p.m. about 18 miles south of Santiago. Flagship exchanged signals with the Minneapolis, Yale and St. Paul. At 7:45 p.m. the Flagship signaled “Destination Key West via south side of Cuba and Yucatan Channel as soon as collier is ready, speed nine knots.” At 9:20 formed in column natural order2 and steamed West. At 11:25 p.m. stopped in order to repair an accident reported on the Yale--required 4 hours to repair.

May 27th. Squadron lying to, engines stopped. Out of all formation. At daylight the Yale gave a line to the Merrimac and took her in tow. Harvard joined us at 8:45 a.m. from the E’d and left at noon to the S’d. Noon position: Lat. 19°, 34’ N. Long. 76°, 01’W. At 3:40 p.m. started ahead column natural order, course West (mag).3 At 7:15 p.m. squadron stopped and lay to. The Texas and Marblehead coaled from the Merrimac during the night.

May 28th. Lay to with engines stopped until 1:10 p.m. when formed column heading E ½ N, speed 6 knots; Merrimac and Vixen steaming on starboard hand, Marblehead and Minneapolis on port hand, the former being about two miles inshore. Lay to off Santiago at 7:40 p.m. Small vessels sent inside as pickets. At about 10:00 p.m. saw search light to the S’d which later proved to be that of the St. Paul. Several signal lights seen on the shore near the batteries.

May 29th. Off the entrance to Santiago harbor; Squadron steaming to and fro before entrance. The St. Paul sighted at 7:00 a.m. coming from the E’d. At daybreak made out a man-of-war lying at anchor inside the harbor entrance; and later a second man-of-war and two smaller vessels.4 Coaled ship from the Merrimac; received 183 tons. At 8:50 p.m. the Vixen at right of entrance made signal signifying “Enemy’s torpedo boat sighted”, and the squadron went to quarters. The Massachusetts fired several 6 pdrs and secured at 10:15 p.m. Learned later that the supposed torpedo boat was a narrow gauge rail-road train that runs close to the beach and crosses a bridge at Aguadores.

May 30th. Collier Merrimac sighted at daylight steaming towards the squadron. Fleet in column following movements of Flagship. Marblehead and Vixen scouting off the port. During forenoon H.M.S.Indefatigable came up, her commanding officer5 visiting the Flagship, and soon after she steamed off to the S’d again. At 12:45 p.m. the New Orleans came in from the E’d and at 1:40 p.m. the Stirling arrived. The tug Triton came in but left soon after, steaming to the S’d. Enemy still in sight in the entrance. Flagship and Iowa engaged in coaling. The Massachusetts, New Orleans, and Texas in column on the blockade.

May 31st. At At 6:30 a.m. the Harvard came in from the S’d. The Massachusetts, New Orleans, and Iowa in column holding blockade about six miles off entrance. The Brooklyn and Marblehead coaled from the Merrimac, and Texas coaled from the Stirling. The Commander-in-Chief left the Brooklyn,6 hoisted his flag on the Vixen at 10:30 a.m. came on board the Massachusetts and hoisted his flag on this vessel. He was accompanied by his personal staff, Lieut. L. Sears, Lieut. B. Wells, and Ensign McCauley.7 At 11:10 a.m. the following signal was sent from this vessel: “The Massachusetts, New Orleans, and Iowa will go in after dinner to a distance of 7000 yards and fire at the Cristobal Colon, with 8” 12” and 13” guns. speed about 10 knots.” At 1:30 p.m. the Massachusetts, leading the New Orleans and Iowa steamed in to about 8000 yards, than turned to the eastward, passed the entrance and opened fire with the port 8” and 13” guns, the range used increasing from 7500 to 500 yards. At 2:05 p.m. the column turned to the southward, battery. Hauled off at 2:13 p.m., total time of firing being 7 min 35 sec. Five 13” and nine 8” were fired from the Massachusetts, all being good line shots but range general short. Some damage was done to the enemy, several casualties being reported the following day by the Cubans. The enemy returned our fire almost immediately from ship and batteries but without any affect. Toward the latter part of the engagement they seemed to obtain our range and several shots came close to or passed over the ship. The Spaniards kept up a desultory fire after the fleet had withdrawn. There were no casualties in the fleet. The mechanism of the guns and turrets worked very satisfactorily. Accompanying sketch of the harbor entrance gives the position of the enemy’s ships as they were thought to be located.

     The sea was calm, light airs from the Southward.

Very respectfully,

(signed) Francis J. Higginson,

Captain, U. S. N.                


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 313, Entry 44. Addressed below close: “The Commander-in-Chief,/U.S.Naval Force,/North Atlantic Station.”

Footnote 1: Gonaives Bay is on the west coast of Haiti and South East of Santiago de Cuba.

Footnote 2: The phrase “natural order” refers to a pre-planned formation.

Footnote 3: Magnetic West.

Footnote 4: The ships identified were the: Christoból Colón, Infanta Maria Teresa, Plutón and Furor. Trask, War with Spain, 127.

Footnote 5: Capt. George A. Primrose.

Footnote 6: Commo. Winfield S. Schley, Commander, Flying Squadron.

Footnote 7: Lt. Walter J. Sears, Lt. Benjamin Wells, Jr., and Ens. Edward McCauley Jr.

Footnote 8: This sketch has not been found.

Related Content