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

NAVY DEPARTMENT

Washington             

April 29, 1898.

Sir:

     You are informed that we have telegrams from St. Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, stating in effect that the armored cruisers InfantaMaria Teresa, Cristobal Colon, Oquendo and Vizcaya; also the three torpedo-boat destroyers Pluton, Terror and Furor, sailed it is claimed “for Cuba” this morning. That at1 the same time the transports Ciudad de Cadiz and San Francisco, and the three torpedo-boats, Rayo, Ariete and Azor, left for the Canary Islands.  The transports and torpedo-boats returned shortly after leaving port, owing to a slight collision between the Ariete and Rayo at sea.

     There are also reports that the Pelayo is in Cadiz, but this had not been confirmed by reliable telegrams, though it is thought to be true.  The Department does not find any reliable information of her having left Spain for the Atlantic.2

     In order to obtain information regarding the Spanish fleet above mentioned, in case it should go to the West Indies, the Department has sent out two of the American Liners, the St. Louis and the Harvard, to cruise to the eastward of Guadeloupe and Martinique.  A copy of the orders to these vessels is appended.3

     It is also in contemplation to send a third Liner to cruise around the Island of Puerto Rico4 for the same object;all three vessels to telegraph to the Department and yourself as soon as they obtain reliable information.

     Though this Spanish squadron is reported in the telegrams above mentioned as being bound “for Cuba,” it seems very doubtful whether it would proceed immediately to your neighborhood; but it might possibly go into San Juan, Porto Rico, or to some other part of that Island, or to the eastern part of Cuba.  It is presumed that if they do take refuge in a port as above mentioned, that movement would be favorable to your operations against them.

      It has been frequently suggested that this Spanish squadron, or part of it, might proceed to the vicinity of Cape Saint Roque5 for the purpose of intercepting the Oregon and Marietta, now known to be on their way to reinforce you, and which are expected to arrive at Rio about the end of this month.

     Of course the Department need not remind you of the importance of confining the enemy in San Juan, Porto Rico, in case they go in there for coal or other supplies. It was a matter of common rumor some time ago that the Spanish authorities were preparing an old hulk or hulks, loaded with stone, for the purpose of obstructing the entrance to the harbor.  Whether these have been placed is not positively known.

     It has of course been suspected that the destination of the four Spanish armored cruisers and torpedo-destroyers might be the Atlantic Coast of the United States, probably to the northward, for the purpose of inflicting what injury they could upon our coastwise cities and towns, and capturing such of our merchant ships and smaller men-of-war as they might fall in with.  If this proves to be the case it may be considered necessary to detach one of the battleships of the squadron operating on the Coast of Cuba, to proceed to the northward and reinforce the flying squadron6 and such other vessels as we might have in that region, Therefore, in reflecting upon the situation you must be prepared to entertain the possibility of such detachment. It would seem that after such a detachment had been made, the squadron on the coast of Cuba would be still strong enough to meet any other Spanish ships that might appear, or to meet the four armored cruisers and the destroyers above mentioned, in case they should leave the northern coast and suddenly appear upon the Cuban coast; but if the four Spanish armored cruisers, after feinting upon the northern coast, proceed to the West Indies for the purpose of there joining the Pelayo, Alfonso Xlll, and Carlos V, it would be supposed that our northern squadron would follow them and reenforce you in operating against them.

     Of course the above is mostly speculation, and is given to you for what it may be worth; the matter of the combinations of the Spanish ships being doubtless one that you have reflected upon very much.

          Very respectfully

                             John D. Long

                                  Secretary.

Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 313, Entry 47. Addressed on separate page: “Rear Admiral/W. T. Sampson, U.S.N.,/Commanding U.S. Naval Force,/North Atlantic Station.” Printed on John D. Long/Secretary”stationery with a handwritten reference number: “106592.”

Footnote 1: That is, Cristoból Colón, Almirante Oquendo, and Plutón. The words “it is claimed” and “That at” are handwritten interlineations.

Footnote 2: Pelayo was unprepared to sail and was later assigned to the Squadron of Adm. Manuel de la Cámara y Libermoore. Trask, War with Spain, 142.

Footnote 4: Yale was selected to patrol off the coast of San Juan. For a report of its action, see, Capt. William C. Wise to Long, 13 May 1898, Report of the Bureau of Navigation, 1898, 367.

Footnote 5: Cape Saint Roque, Brazil.

Footnote 6: At the time, the Flying Squadron was based out of Hampton Roads, Virginia and intended to protect the East Coast of the United States until being ordered to Key West. See: Schley to Long, 18 May 1898.

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