Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Commodore Winfield S. Schley, Commander, Flying Squadron, to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

FLYING SQUADRON.

U.S.Flagship Brooklyn,        

Off Santiago de Cuba,  

May 30, 1898.

S i r : -

     I have the honor to report that the Squadron sailed from Key West on the morning of the 19th instant for Cienfuegos, Cuba, in obedience to orders from Rear Admiral Sampson.1 In company with the Flagship were the MASSACHUSETTS, TEXAS, and SCORPION. En route, passed the MARBLEHEAD, NASHVILLE, and WASP, communicating with the last named vessel. Off Cape San Antonio, communicated with CINCINNATI and VESUVIUS, scouting.

     2.   On the morning of the 22nd instant, the Squadron stood in for the entrance of Cienfuegos Harbor to reconnoitre, and later in the day passed the entrance twice close in. As I had heard the firing of guns on the previous afternoon in the direction of the port, and as there was considerable smoke observed in the harbor, I was led to believe that the Spanish Squadron might have arrived there. That day the DUPONT joined me with despatches from Admiral Sampson, directing that the blockade of Cienfuegos be preserved and that the SCORPION be sent to communicate with the MINNEAPOLIS and HARVARD off Santiago.2 Also, on this day the IOWA joined the Squadron.

     3.   A line of blockade was established about four miles offshore, and at night an inshore line was maintained, consisting variously of the SCORPION, DUPONT,  and CASTINE, the last named vessel arriving on the 23rd, convoying the MERRIMAC.

     4.   Also, on the 23rd instant, the HAWK arrived with despatches from Admiral Sampson, directing me to move eastward with the Squadron to Santiago, if satisfied that the enemy’s vessels were not in Cienfuegos. Not being satisfied at this time that they were not there, I held my position, being further strengthened in my opinion by the fact that I was informed by the captain of the British Steamer ADULA that when he left Kingston, a cablegram had been received on the Thursday preceding my arrival off Cienfuegos, stating that the Spanish Squadron had sailed from Santiago.3

     5.   The IOWA, CASTINE, and DUPONT took coal from the collier on that day, the IOWA particularly needing coal as she had sailed from Key West to join this Squadron before completely and consequently was considerably short.

     6.   On the 24th instant the MARBLEHEAD, VIXEN and EAGLE joined the Squadron, and the MARBLEHEAD and EAGLE were immediately sent to communicate with insurgents to the westward of Cienfuegos, and to furnish them with ammunition, clothing and dynamite. Upon Commander McCalla’s return in the course of the afternoon, he reported to me that he had obtained information that the Spanish Squadron was not in Cienfuegos.4 Despatches were at once sent by the DUPONT to Admiral Sampson and Commodore Remey5 for the Department indicating that this Squadron would move toward Santiago de Cuba.6

     7.   Great difficulty has been experienced in coaling the TEXAS, on account of her projecting sponsons,7 in any seaway whatever, and only under the most favorable conditions can she go alongside a collier. In anything more unfavorable than absolutely smooth water there is great danger of injury either to the TEXAS herself or to the collier. In this connection the advantage of a tumblehome8 to the side is very marked, insuring great freedom from accidents due to projections on the ship’s side.

     8.   After dark on the evening of the 24th, the Squadron stood to sea to the eastward, with the Brooklyn, MASSACHUSETTS, IOWA, and the TEXAS in column natural order; the MARBLEHEAD, VIXEN and EAGLE on the outer flank and the collier inshore of the battleships. The CASTINE was left at Cienfuegos, to notify the SCORPION on her return, should she not be sighted by us, to proceed to Key West in company.

     9.   The run to Santiago was marked by rain and rough weather to such an extent that the EAGLE was unable to keep up a speed of 7.5 to 8.5 knots and fell behind so much as to seriously delay the Squadron, which was forced to slow to a speed of from 4 to 5 knots for her to regain an hold her position. as this rough head sea continued with no apparent prospect of abating and as the EAGLE’S coal supply was becoming dangerously low she was sent to Port Antonio, Jamaica, for coal, with directions to make the best of her way back to Key West.

     10.  On arriving off Santiago de Cuba, the collier MERRIMAC was disabled by the breaking of her intermediate pressure valve stem and the cracking of the stuffing box. This served as a further embarrassment to the Squadron and a source of considerable anxiety, as with the weather conditions that had prevailed since leaving Cienfuegos, it appeared absolutely necessary to abandon the position off Santiago and seek a place where the vessels could be coaled and the collier’s machinery repaired.

     11.  Off Santiago the ST PAUL, YALE and MINNEAPOLIS were sighted and communicated with.9 The MINNEAPOLIS reported that she only had sufficient coal to reach Key West and that her machinery was in bad condition. The coal supply of the other two scouts was also much reduced. Arrangements were at once made whereby the YALE was to tow the collier and as the prospect did not seem favorable for replenishing the meagre coal supply of the other vessels, the Squadron stood to the westward, towing the collier. The operation of taking the collier in tow proved to be quite difficult owing to the size and weight of the two ships and the repeated parting of the tow lines. Finally, however, after twenty four hours’ unremitting exertions the collier’s chain cable was gotten to the YALE and the Squadron proceeded.10 The ST PAUL was ordered to remain off Santiago until her coal supply would no longer permit of further delay.

     12.  After standing to the westward for about three hours or about twenty five miles the conditions became less unfavorable and the SQUADRON stopped. The TEXAS and MARBLEHEAD were sent alongside the collier, whose injury had been temporarily repaired, and coaled during the night.

     13.  In as much, as it was known that in case the Spanish Squadron had reached Santiago, Admiral Sampson was able to block any movement of the enemy through the Bahama channel, my intention in standing to the westward was, should it become necessary, to bar any effort of the enemy to reach Havana by a dash through the Yucatan Passage.

     14.  On the 28th instant, continued coaling the TEXAS and MARBLEHEAD and later the VIXEN. In the afternoon, having managed to get sufficient coal into these vessels to enable them to remain with the squadron, shaped course for Santiago, off which port we arrived about dusk. Established an inner picket line consisting of the VIXEN and MARBLEHEAD, the remainder of the squadron lying to off the entrance of the port about four to five miles out.

     15.  The next morning, 29th instant, steamed in to examine the entrance to the harbor, and sighted the CRISTOBAL COLON apparently moored head and stern across the western channel around Cay Smith, also one of the vessels of the Vizcaya or InfantaMaria Teresa class moored in the eastern channel, and two small torpedo boats. Later in the day made out the military tops of the third vessel farther up the harbor.

     16.  A close blockade of the harbor has been maintained and no vessels have entered or left since our arrival. Yesterday morning H.M.S.INDEFATIGABLE came up to the line of blockade and made signal “request permission to communicate with the Commodore”, which was of course granted. A boarding officer came on board the flagship with a letter from the Commanding Officer, Captain L.A.Primrose,11 requesting permission for his vessel to pass the line of blockade in order to communicate with H.M. Consul at this port.12 My reply was that there could not be the slightest objection to his doing so. Instead, however, of availing himself of the permission, the INDEFATIGABLE at once steamed off in the direction from whence she came, signaling “No harm done for courtesy”. It may have been that his learning that the Spanish fleet was in this port was of more importance than H.M. Consul and he may have desired first to communicate with his government from Jamaica.

     17.  On the 30th instant, the NEW ORLEANS arrived convoying the collier STERLING.

     18. Concerning the coaling of a large fleet of vessels I would particularly call the Department’s attention to the necessity for heavy bags holding about 800 pounds in addition to buckets which have not proved of much use. They should also be provided with at least six cotton bales or heavy wooden camels six 6 to eight 8 feet broad to be used as fenders to take the thrust of the ships and to permit coaling in rougher weather then is now possible with the means at our disposal. At present we are coaling on all favorable occasions in plain sight of the enemy’s fleet.

                        Very respectfully,

                        W.S. Schley

                             Commodore, U.S. Navy,

                        Commander-in-Chief Flying Squadron.

Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 230. Document reference: “117822/ 162.” Docketed: Flagship Brooklyn/Off Santiago, Cuba,/June 1, 1898/Schley, WS, Commodore U.S.N/Comdr in Chief Flying Squadron/Report movements/of Squadron.” The first stamp is rectangular with the following: “BUREAU OF NAVIGATION,” “JUN 8,” “1898,” and “NAVY DEPARTMENT” with reference no. “117822.” There is also a forwarding stamp: “BUREAU OF NAVIGATION/navy department./Received and forwarded/ JUN 13 1898/To the Bureau of/Equipment/A.S. CROWNINSHIELD,/Chief of Bureau”.

Footnote 1: RAdm. William T. Sampson. For orders, see: Sampson to Schley, 19 May 1898.

Footnote 3: For the dispatch delivered by Hawk, see: Sampson to Schley, 21 May 1898. It is possible that Schley may have been misled. The Adula was later captured attempting to enter Guantanamo, albeit under a different captain. Although the Adula was a British ship, at the time of its capture, it carried a suspicious log book and a recognized Spanish purchasing agent named J.R. Solis from Manzanillo. Solis’ brother was a well-known guerilla fighter serving with the Spanish military in Cuba. It was believed that the Adula was attempting to make contact with a Spanish naval Officer named Verdilio Lopez Chavez, but he was not found on board at the time. After determining Adula had been warned not to attempt entry to Guantanamo by United States Consul at Jamaica Luis A. Dent, the ship was condemned. See, Cmdr. Bowman H. McCalla to Sampson, 1 July 1898, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 233; Sampson to Dent, 8 July 1898, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 234; and Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 318.

Footnote 4: Cmdr. Bowman H. McCalla. The signal system that McCalla set up a signal system for communicating with Cuban insurgents on the ground. The system involved lighting three signal fires or placing three horse on the shore in plain sight. Record of Proceedings of A Court of Inquiry in the Case of Rear-Admiral Winfield S. Schley, Vol. 2 (Washington: Government Printing Officer, 1902), 1352-1353, 1359.

Footnote 5: Commo. George C. Remey, Commandant, Key West Naval Base.

Footnote 7: Sponsons are elements that project from the sides of a ship. Examples might include lifeboats, cranes, or guns. TEXAS’ primary gun turrets extended outward from the sides of the ship making it difficult to approach and transfer coal to in rough weather.

Footnote 8: Tumblehome is the practice of designing ships with the top deck narrower the widest beam of the ship. This provides stability in rough seas, but it also makes coaling difficult by making the distance between the decks of two ships or a dock larger. William Burney, ed., Falconers New Universal Dictionary of the Marine (London: Chatham Publishing, 2006), 585.

Footnote 9: Communication with St. Paul included a discussion with Cuban Pilot and Capt. Charles D. Sigsbee that cast doubt on the possibility of the Spanish fleet being in the Harbor. James Bradford, ed., Crucible of Empire: The Spanish-American War & Its Aftermath (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1993), 78.

Footnote 10: Schley intended to go to Key West to coal against the direct order of Secretary of the Navy Long and RAdm. Sampson that he remain at Santiago. See: Schley to Long, 27 May 1898.

Footnote 11: “L.A. Primrose” is an error. The captain of the Indefatigable was actually George A. Primrose.

Footnote 12: British Consul at Santiago Frederick W. Ramsden.

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