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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Sea Duty

by
Yates Stirling

published by
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York
1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p44  Chapter IV

The War With Spain


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Until the latter 80's, our naval ships were relics of the Civil War — wooden frigates carrying both sail and steam power and old and obsolete guns. Other nations, especially Great Britain and France, were building warships of steel, and, if we were to keep pace with the trend of the times, it was necessary that we too build them.

Our warships at that time were assigned to foreign stations, such as South and Central America, Europe, and Asia, with the idea mainly of showing the flag in those seas and for the protection and encouragement of our overseas commerce.

These old frigates were picturesque but as fighting ships against the new steel warships of other nations were useless.

Our new steel Navy began with the Dolphin. She was called a dispatch boat, but really was a gunboat. She was of about 1700 tons displacement and authorized by Congress in 1883. In the next ten years fifteen steel gunboats were built. They were Yorktown, Petrel, Concord, Bennington, Machias, Castine, Nashville, Wilmington, Helena, Annapolis, Vicksburg, Newport, Princeton, Wheeling, and Marietta. All were from about 1000 to 1500 tons.

In comparison to the size of our Navy, gunboats today are not built in as large numbers as formerly. They were then thought of as fighting ships, but today they are classed as diplomatic ships, merely to carry the flag and be present in localities of the world where our commercial interests may be affected by the adverse  p45 actions of other and competing nations. These gunboats are in a sense diplomatic observation posts.

About this time or even earlier all the great sea powers began to build larger and ever larger steel warships with bigger and bigger guns, and the United States, if it was to maintain its position on the seas of the world, saw that it must lose no time in doing likewise.

Congress at last began to authorize many large steel warships to give our Navy the needed additional fighting power. The United States had lagged considerably behind in steel warship construction, but now the rapid development of our steel industry made it possible to close up the gap between us and other great nations.

Eight battleships were begun. They were the first great ships of the Navy to be built of steel, if we omit the iron monitors built as far back as the days of the Civil War. These new battleships were: Texas, Maine (blown up in Havana Harbor in 1898), Indiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Iowa, Kearsarge, and Kentucky. They were all very formidable ships in their time, and their addition to our Navy again made this country strong on the seas.

The nation had a sentimental affection for the monitor type, and probably unwisely constructed about this time several new steel monitors. They were: Puritan, Amphitrite, Monadnock, Terror, Miantonomah, and Monterey. These monitors were all poor gun platforms at sea and became useful only as harbor defense ships.

In addition to these rather heavily armored warships, there were built a number of cruisers to be used in wars of the future just as had been frigates in the past. These were: Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Newark, Charleston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Olympia, Cincinnati, Raleigh, Detroit, Marblehead, Columbia, and Minneapolis. We also built the armored cruisers, New York and Brooklyn, which were very fine ships in their time.

The expected effectiveness of the torpedo in modern sea warfare caused all nations to build warships to carry these weapons. These vessels were called torpedo boats. The destroyer developed later from these much smaller ships. The United States during this same time interval, while building up its new steel navy, also constructed twenty torpedo boats. They were: Stiletto, Cushing, Erickson, Foote, Rodgers, Winslow, Porter, DuPont, Rowan, Dahlgren, Craven, Farragut, Davis, Fox, Morris, Talbot, Gwin, McKee, MacKenzie and Stringham.

 p46  The tonnage of our new battleships ranged from about 8000 to 12,000 tons. The cruisers from 2000 to about 8000 tons. The monitors were about 5000 tons and the torpedo boats from 60 to 300 tons. Warships had not been standardized. No one then seemed to have figured out how a modern naval battle was to be fought. Warships were not homogeneous and were of greatly different speeds.

The torpedo as a weapon had awakened the naval imagination, and many counted upon it to spell the doom of the battleship. The same old story of David and Goliath. The torpedo boat was conceived to be able to attack the battleship at night at anchor or to attack the great ships while on blockade outside of a port.

The theory of commerce destruction that had been so devastating to the Union side during the Civil War was an important incentive in the planning of our new Navy. Today, while not having lost sight of that important objective in war, we have concentrated our naval thought mostly on the hoped for grand naval battle between great war fleets which must bring a naval war to a prompt end.

The Navy for some years had observed the chaotic conditions on the Island of Cuba and many of our high-ranking naval officers believed that sooner or later that interminable civil war would involve this country in a war with Spain. Our Navy in 1898 was far better than the Spanish in every particular, and no doubt was entertained that in case of war the United States Navy would win. But there were other perplexing questions to consider. No one knew how other European nations would react to such a war. Could we count upon Great Britain to hold off intervention by other naval powers?

The blowing up of the Maine in the harbor of Havana came as a great shock to the whole country. Everyone then seemed to believe that war was certain. The Navy was ordered to be ready. Our Navy was strong in numbers and class of ships. Our weakness lay in not thinking sufficiently in terms of squadrons and fleets. There was a War College at Newport to teach naval strategy and tactics, but it was being found difficult to win the general approval of the Navy and the Naval Officials in Washington for the use of this college to instruct naval officers of the higher ranks in that important subject, the Art of War.

 p47  We had just emerged from what might be called the single ship era where every captain was a king. It was important that the Navy at once plan how to fight a naval war, using all the new instruments of war on the sea that had been developed in the days since the Civil War between the States.

The whole country attributed the destruction of the Maine, with the loss of hundreds of lives, to an outside explosion. The Court of Inquiry developed the theory of the cause as a mine laid near the warship at anchor in Havana and exploded either on contact with the ship's hull or else through electric wires to the mine from shore. Our naval divers reported the state of the hull proved that the first explosion was from the outside and then the forward magazine exploded also, causing the greater destruction.

Since that time the opinion of an outside explosion has come in for serious doubt. In all these years the culprits have never been discovered. This gives the outside theory a blow. But also it is known now that the construction and arrangement of magazines and coal bunkers at that time were often faulty. In some warships, built in the earlier days of steel construction, magazines were placed adjacent to coal bunkers, without sufficient insulation between them against heat. A fire in a coal bunker has been known since to be capable of heating the bulkheads of magazines adjacent to an extreme heat, probably enough to ignite the powder. Several of our warships since that time have been spared a magazine explosion, ignited from a fire in an adjacent coal bunker with inadequate insulation, by the lucky vigilance of the ship's personnel in discovering the danger in time to avert it.

The United States did not make the destruction of the Maine a cause of war. It was merely a contributing incident. The actual cause was the hopeless situation in Cuba. The war with Spain was necessary to put at an end the intolerable state of affairs at our doorstep. The cruelties inflicted upon the Cubans by the Spanish military, as reported in our newspapers, aroused that "championing of the under dog" complex in our people and we drifted into war.

Sometime about the end of March, I received my orders to the gunboat Dolphin. She had been the yacht of the President of the United States and was very lightly armed. "A pistol in the bow and a shotgun in the stern," would appropriately describe its battery of guns. We sailed from New York early in April for Key West. When the declaration of war came, we at once took station  p48 off Havana as one of the blockading force. The entire coast of Cuba was to be blockaded.

One of the oddest things about this war, especially at the beginning, was the almost childlike attitude of the so‑called war correspondents. They imagined war was just a game and were determined to witness it in every phase. They could not realize that naval movements often have to be made in secret if they are to be successful, and that the Navy could not allow itself to be followed around by a horde of newspaper people on board tugs and yachts, to all intents and purposes actually spying on naval dispositions, and through their cables home giving important information to the enemy. At Key West were gathered many newspapermen, all highly excited and hungry for news. Some managed to get aboard warships, while those who could not hired small vessels to enable them to follow the fleet. Richard Harding Davis, the well-known novelist and playwright, came with us in the Dolphin. He stayed with us until the Army landed in Cuba, when he transferred his activities ashore. We became friends; and after the war, when he needed navy color in his stories or plays, he would always look me up. Years later, when I was in command of a destroyer, I met him on the way down to see me and sent him on to see my executive officer, saying I would be back soon. I was on my way to see the Commandant of the Navy Yard. When I returned to my ship, Davis had left. The executive officer, Ensign J. H. Hoover, a very serious-minded young man, said when he saw me: "Captain, that fellow Davis you sent down certainly is dumb. He looked down into the engine room and asked me what kind of boilers those were, pointing to our turbines."

I laughed and then told him: "He isn't just Davis. That was Richard Harding Davis the popular novelist and war correspondent."

"Gee!" the executive exclaimed, and I knew he was keen about Davis's book; "who does his writing for him?"

The policy of our country in this war was to make it as nearly bloodless as possible. The desire was to show Spain the hopelessness of a struggle with this country and cause it to make peace and evacuate Cuba. But this wish did not take into count the proverbial pride of the Dons.

The strategical dispositions of our heavy fighting forces were controlled by a strategy board in Washington, of which the great naval historian, Admiral Mahan, was the head. The board's plan  p49 was to organize the large ships into two striking forces according to speed, either force being better than the Spanish squadron on its way to Cuba. The heavier and slower force was under Admiral Sampson. It consisted of: New York, Texas, and Indiana with the available monitors and cruisers. The other force was under Commodore Schley and included: Brooklyn, Iowa, and Massachusetts. The real reason for this division of forces was not strategical but political. It was to placate the powerful political friends of Schley. On the navy list, Schley was senior to Sampson, and by seniority Schley should have been made Commander in Chief of the Fleet. Sampson was chosen by the President of the United States to be Commander in Chief and was promoted from captain to admiral. Schley in spite of his brilliancy, high social connections, and popularity as an Arctic hero, was made second in command. The selection of Sampson undoubtedly was a correct one as far as naval ability, strategy, and tactics were concerned, but unfortunately, as it turned out, Sampson was a very ill man, and Schley knew that Sampson's staff were making naval decisions for him. This occasioned great friction. If Sampson had kept his health, there would have been no contentions. The Navy knew that Sampson was the more capable of the two and would make the better naval leader in war.

It was unfortunate that this conflict within the Navy should have been started at a time when all should have united to win the war as soon as possible. On its account naval council was divided. There were distinctly Sampson men and Schley men. The Navy not only had an external war on its hands in the Atlantic but also an internal war. Spain's navy, however, was too weak to profit by our personal cabals.

Practically every warship in the Atlantic was sent to blockade Cuba. Then the people of our coast cities began to have hysteria and demand naval protection. The demand was so insistent that the Navy Department was forced to heed it and sent monitors and other warships to the several coast cities to quiet the unnecessary alarm.

The knowledge of the sailing of Admiral Cervera's squadron from the Cape Verde Islands gave our country the greatest worry. Cervera's ships consisted of the armored cruisers Colon, Oquendo, Vizcaya, and Maria Teresa. Two torpedo boats accompanied the cruiser. No one knew the destination of the Spaniards, but ostensibly it was Cuba, and most probably Havana. However,  p50 the sailing of this enemy force gave our people a bad case of nerves. They fully expected these terrible warships to elude our more numerous ships and appear off our coast; laying in waste our great cities by bombardment.

When there seemed no doubt that Cervera was heading for the West Indies, our Naval Strategy Board decided to meet up with his squadron before it could reach a Cuban port. Admiral Sampson's squadron reconnoitered as far east as Porto Rico, where his ships engaged the forts at San Juan in order to observe the harbor. Cervera's ships were not there. After that all our heavy ships were kept in the vicinity of the Cuban coast. Everyone expected that Spanish ships would make every effort to reach Havana without an engagement. Havana would have given our Army and Navy a very difficult problem. It was well fortified, and there were many Spanish troops in that vicinity.

After many alarms, Cervera's "terrible" squadron was reported to have entered the harbor of Cienfuegos, Cuba. The Dolphin had been lazily rolling for many days, even weeks, in the ever-restless sea off Havana. We had sighted and searched a few merchant ships during that time that had attempted to enter the harbor. We could make no captures because none of the ships searched had received formal warning of the blockade and all were neutral ships. One dark night the Dolphin was on her station about four miles from the entrance to Havana Harbor. All lights out. I was officer of the deck on the bridge when most startlingly there came a gruff voice out of the night: "Dolphin, Ahoy." Not two hundred yards away from us was the converted yacht Hawk, commanded by Lieutenant Commander John Hood. Why none of us had seen her earlier, I cannot imagine, unless our enemies had become fatigued, constantly peering through the darkness for something we never found. But there was the Hawk as plain as day.

Our captain, Commander Harry Lyons, was on the bridge and he answered the hail. Then in Hood's deep voice:

"I'm nearly out of coal and must go to Key West at once. Will you carry the message I have for Admiral Sampson from Commodore Schley? You will find the Admiral in the Bahama Channel off Camaguey."

I got a pencil and paper and stood by with a light a light to write. It was short. "Commodore Schley reports Cervera's squadron is in Cienfuegos," was the message.

 p51  Immediately the Dolphin was staging at full speed to the eastward. Some time early in the morning we sighted the New York, Indiana, and Texas with a number of lesser vessels cruising at slow speed in the channel. A grim watch for the Spanish fleet. The Dolphin dramatically rounded up within short hailing distance of Sampson's flagship, the New York, and our captain gave the message from Schley. There was a cheer from those on deck at the early hour.

Sampson headed his fleet at once toward the southern coast of Cuba. Lieutenant Victor Blue meanwhile had landed among friendly Cubans and from the mountains surrounding the bay of Santiago had seen with his own trustworthy eyes all four of the Spanish armored cruisers at anchor there. Schley's message had not been fact. He had not seen Cervera's squadron through trustworthy eyes. He had taken the word of a Cuban pilot.

Sampson then recalled Schley and his squadron from Cienfuegos to join him, and with all the heavy ships established a close blockade of Santiago. There were the New York, Brooklyn, Iowa, Texas, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Oregon. The latter had raced from San Francisco, via the Straits of Magellan, to join Sampson. The big ships were placed on an arc of a circle with the entrance to the harbor as a center. The day position was about eight miles and the night position four miles out. Inside this iron ring were stationed lighter ships: cruisers, gunboats, and converted yachts to act as vedettes. The Dolphin was assigned a position nearest the entrance to the eastward. We all felt very proud of the trust placed in us. Our duty was to prevent the escape of the Spanish torpedo boats at any time, but especially at night, should they decide to risk an attack upon the American battleships. There were several false alarms. I remember one night the cruiser New Orleans (bought from Great Britain just before the war together with the Albany), on station just outside of us, fired Very signal stars, indicating a torpedo attack, and opened fire with all its guns.

The little Dolphin charged ahead until it found itself almost on the rocks. The officer of the deck saw a trail of smoke above the cliffs and a lone light moving rapidly along the shore line. Our guns began to add to the confusion. Searchlights were turned on by all ships. I cannot imagine what the Spaniards thought it was all about. The escaping torpedo boat, or destroyer, turned out to be a railroad train traveling along the coast line and soon disappearing into a tunnel.

 p52  Early in June, Admiral Sampson began a series of bombardments of the forts at Santiago, the fleet moving in to rather short range. What the real object was I am not sure, probably to give the fleet target practice against live targets; for a reduction and seizure of the fortifications could not have been accomplished without troops, and as yet there were none available.

In one bombardment the Dolphin had been so busy shelling a railroad train, supposed to contain troops, that it found the fleet had withdrawn and left it right under the guns of the forts. As we were withdrawing beyond range, Ensign Carey Cole, our officer of the deck, noticed through his binoculars that sheer legs had been erected by the Spaniards on the eastern battery and thought that probably they were remounting guns dismounted in the bombardment. From our close‑up view the firing of the ships seemed most effective. We saw shells bursting on all the parapets of the forts, throwing up great quantities of earth and mortar.

Cole wrote out a signal as follows: "Spaniards have mounted sheer legs on east battery and are remounting guns. Permission to interrupt with four-inch shell." He sent the message down the time of Captain, who was in the aftercabin, to receive his O.K. The Captain, apparently without reading the message, believing it was only one of routine, sent back word to Cole to send the message. It went to the flagship, and we soon received a reply to go ahead. When the Captain learned of the contents of the signal and the answer, he was in a rage. But there was nothing else to do; so the little Dolphin started in to perform a task worthy of a battleship, no less. We steamed in to a range of about 3000 yards, or over a mile, with the eyes of the fleet upon us. The culprit Cole himself sighted the four-inch gun on the forecastle, our largest gun. The navigator by crossbearings gave him the range. The first shot hit the water short, the second went halfway up and the third right to the foot of the sheer legs. Everyone cheered. Then suddenly there were two puffs of smoke and flame from the battery. This was not anticipated.

Our chief engineer and I were standing on the poop deck. He said: "They say you can see shells coming towards you." We both looked. Then we heard a dreadful screeching noise and both found ourselves seeking cover behind the mast. The shells passed over us and hit the water a hundred yards beyond. One hit and we would have been finished. The Captain rang up full speed and headed out to sea. Ben Bryan ran down to the engine room  p53 to be sure of all the speed possible. The next two shots struck where we had been at the last salvo. Before the next shots were fired from the battery, we were almost out of range. The Dolphin had broken her speed record.

Then to add insult to injury the flagship hoisted a signal: "Report your casualties." The Captain expressed himself very positively after we had gained a position of safety: "The next time I go to sea," he said, "I want to go with a lot of old fools like myself."

Admiral Sampson knew that any hope that might have been felt earlier of Cervera willingly coming out and offering battle was doomed. Cervera would have to be forced out, and the Army was coming down for that purpose. Summer and the tropical storm period was approaching. A violent hurricane, such as are frequent enough during summer months in that vicinity to cause some worry, would force the blockading fleet to seek shelter, and meanwhile, before the blockading fleet could return to its station, Cervera's ships might escape and make a run for Havana around the west end of Cuba, sinking all our small blockading ships on the way.

To prevent such a calamity from occurring, Sampson decided to block Cervera's ships in Santiago Harbor by sinking a merchant ship in the narrowest part of the channel. Where the channel was to be blocked would be in sight of the blockaders, and any wrecking outfit to clear the channel would be under Sampson's guns.

The sinking of a merchant ship so as to block the channel would have to be done under the heavy fire of the forts and the soldiers of the garrison. The old collier Merrimac was selected, and Assistant Naval Constructor R. P. Hobson was chosen to perform this dangerous work and command the Merrimac. There was much adverse criticism over this selection of a staff officer for this distinctly "line" detail. Such duty was supposed to belong to the executive branch. There had been many volunteers. Hobson had carefully planned the method of sinking the ship in the channel, but it was thought that the navigating of the ship into the proper place for sinking should be performed by a line officer.

Of course we all knew of the preparations being made and had daily seen the Merrimac lying near the flagship. Each night we waited to observe this daring act, but each morning showed her yet afloat and the channel still open. Each night we steamed in as close as we dared to the forts without drawing their fire. Then  p54 one morning when daylight was fast approaching we saw the black hull of the Merrimac, hugging the coast coming from the westward. Then we saw her turn into the entrance to the Santiago channel. The dark mass of ship seemed almost to fill the space between the two guarding forts at the entrance.

A million flashes of fire seemed to be directed upon the helpless ship. The two sides of the channel resembled myriads of fireflies shedding their light on the scene. Daylight soon came, revealing the Merrimac, yet afloat but apparently sinking. There was no way of telling from our position whether the sinking had been successful. It did not appear that any of the Merrimac's crew could possibly be alive. As it became lighter, we discovered a small ship's launch coming from the entrance. It was being fired upon the forts. We steamed toward the launch which we saw was flying our flag. It was in command of Naval Cadet Joseph W. Powell and had accompanied the Merrimac to the harbor in hopes of being able to rescue Hobson and his men after the sinking was done. Hobson had ordered Powell to return when he realized that daylight would arrive before the Merrimac had sunk and that for the launch to remain longer would mean the useless sacrifice of more lives.

The act was a most daring venture and deserved to have been successful. The ship sank outside the channel and did not block it. The next day we learned through a flag of truce that Hobson and his men were prisoners.

The Army landed sometime later and fought their way to positions surrounding the city of Santiago. The Army general, William Shafter, demanded that Admiral Sampson capture the forts at the entrance to the harbor, enter the bay with his battleships, and destroy Cervera's squadron. The Army had lost many men, and there was a strong feeling in Army councils that the Navy should be willing to share sacrifices. But there was more than just the loss of men involved in such a dangerous venture.

As a last resort, such an undertaking, even though it entailed risking valuable warships, which are hard or impossible to replace, might have had to be attempted by the Navy. Sampson, however, at this time, was unwilling to carry out the General's wishes, and he was sustained in his decision by Washington. A single ship sunk in the narrow channel would have barred entrance to the others. It was the Navy's belief that when the Army had completely invested the city, Cervera would make a sortie with his  p55 ships in hopes of reaching Havana. The Spanish ships on paper were speedier than the American battleships.

It may have been considered by Sampson's flagship that the Dolphin's gun battery was inadequate to cope with what might be required in case the Spanish ships attempted to escape. Also, more ships were needed at Guantanamo, where the marines had landed. Whatever the reason, we received a signal to report to Commander Bowman McCalla in the Marblehead at once. McCalla was in command of the new fleet base at Guantanamo Bay.

The marine regiment had established a camp near the entrance to the bay and was expecting an attack from the Spanish troops in the vicinity. The attack on the marines came almost immediately after our arrival. The attack was made at night. The next morning the marines advanced and drove the Spaniards from all positions dangerous to the security of the camp. The fighting for a time was severe. The warships were used effectively to shell Spanish positions located by scouts and signaled back to them.

Admiral Sampson, needing a secure anchorage, had seized the Bay of Guantanamo and would use it as a base where he could anchor his colliers, supply ships, and other auxiliaries. Then the blockading fleet could send warships, one at a time or as they could be spared, to coal and provision without too greatly weakening the fighting ships off Santiago. Guantanamo furthermore would give the fleet a port of refuge in case of violent West Indian hurricanes.

Several days later the Texas, after coaling, and before returning to the blockade, in company with the Marblehead entered the Caimanera River at the head of the bay leading to the city of Guantanamo, still in the hands of the Spaniards. Their object was to shell the forts guarding the approaches to that city.

A marine sentry on board the Texas, stationed on the life buoy, reported to the ship's bridge that a channel buoy was foul of the propeller. An officer was sent aft to investigate. He discovered the object was not a buoy but a contact mine! The ships withdrew without injury.

The next day Commander McCalla called for volunteers to sweep the Caimanera River for mines. Four officers were accepted. They were: Lieutenant Francis Boughter, Ensign Carey Cole, Walter Gherardi, and I. The sweeping for contact mines was supposed to be very hazardous work. Not only was there the risk of mine explosions, but the personnel of the boats would be  p56 exposed to rifle fire from the enemy at short range, concealed in the thick jungles on both sides of the narrow river.

We employed two whaleboats and two steam launches for the work. The launches each took a whaleboat alongside and the chain sweep was stretched between the whaleboats. The Marblehead and Dolphin took station at the mouth of the river to support the party in case it was attacked, and the Helena anchored in position to flank the causeway, the only entrance and exit to positions on shore that could menace the boats.

The boats steamed boldly into the river. I recall wondering when the Spaniards would open fire, for I could not imagine our sweeping of the channel would be unopposed. Both sides of the offered perfect concealment. I shall never forget the sensation when we grappled the first mine and heaved it up to the surface between the whaleboats. It was a very ugly-looking customer with its numerous prongs or firing levers. A heavy blow on any one of them and we would all be blown to kingdom come.

After the mine had been disarmed by the gunner's mates and the wire anchor cable cut, Boughter sent a signal by hand flags back to Commander McCalla in the Marblehead. It read: "One mine." McCall's reply by flags was "Good." When the next mine was similarly treated and reported by signal, the answer was: "Fine." Then "Splendid," "Superb," "Marvelous." We raised near twenty mines the first day; Commander McCalla never repeated himself, and each word of praise was of a higher value than those that had gone before. McCalla was most fluent. I think he used the word "colossal," which now seems to have been pre‑empted by movie producers.a

We found out after the war that a battalion of Spanish soldiers was concealed in trenches in the woods a few hundred yards away from the sweeping boats, but their officers would not give the word to fire. The presence of the warships, especially the Helena, which commanded their only means of exit and escape, gave them pause. These soldiers all left during the night. The next day we raised about twenty more of these Bustamente mines without casualty. I have been told that the enlisted men of the two boats afterward received medals of honor for their services, but the officers, as far as I know, never were recognized even by a letter of appreciation from the Navy Department. Two of the officers, Boughter and Cole, are dead. Possibly self-appreciation is enough reward.

 p57  The battle of Santiago, in which Cervera's entire squadron was destroyed, occurred only a few weeks later. Of course, the Dolphin was not in that battle. Ten days before the battle we had been ordered back to the northern blockade to become the flagship of Commodore J. C. Watson. The Commodore was then in the Newark, which was wanted for other duty. The two ships sighted each other just before dawn. As it happened, there was a reserve officer, as officer of the deck, on each ship. Recognition signals were the indirect cause of the casualty. Our red lights in that signal had been made by covering white lamps with red bunting; in the early morning light our recognition signal seemed faked to the officer of the deck on the Newark, and he took us for an enemy. We came very near to being fired upon. It looked as if both ships had attempted to ram. The Dolphin's bow was stripped back to the collision bulkhead. The ship was no longer seaworthy, and we were sent posthaste to the Norfolk Navy Yard for repairs. The Newark's injury was slight.

The war was over before we could return to Cuban waters, and almost before we knew it the Dolphin was back again to her old assignment as the yacht for the President and the Secretary of the Navy.

From my point of view it had been a most disappointing war. I had missed all the fighting, and I envied those who could say they had been in the Navy Battle of Santiago. I suppose it was the fortunes of war. Anyway this disappointment gave me the urge to obtain more active service than I would get in the Dolphin.

When the Philippine insurrection broke out, I began to lay plans to be sent out there. I suppose it was merely a youthful zest for new dangers. Duty in the Dolphin, tied up most of the time to the dock at the Washington Navy Yard, soon became a bore, especially as the young woman on whom I had lavished my attentions had decided to marry a wealthy railroad man.

One day I was told by Carey Cole, senior watch officer, that I was expected at a theater box party given by the Secretary of the Navy the next night. I frankly explained that I had already accepted an invitation to a party at the same theater. Cole warned me that I would get myself in wrong with our boss. An invitation from the Secretary was an order. I was obdurate. The worse that could happen would be detachment from the Dolphin and I would welcome that.

During the intermission the next evening I went to the Secretary's  p58 box to pay my respects. I knew the Secretary and his family well and liked them. Of course he knew I had refused his invitation, and I could not blame him for being annoyed. "Cherchez la femme," he said, giving me a sour smile. Then he added:

"You are anxious to go out to the Philippines, I hear."

My face lit up. "Nothing would please me more," I exclaimed.

About a week later I received immediate orders to the Badger at Norfolk. I was disappointed when I learned that the Badger was merely going to the Pacific and not to the Philippines. I tried to have the orders changed but the Secretary was out of town, and as he had signed my orders nothing could be done until his return. I went to the Badger and found things so congenial that I made no further complaint. On our way out to the Pacific coast we stopped only at Montevideo, Punta Arenas in the Straits of Magellan, and Callao.

Then, after receiving the Samoan Commission at San Francisco, we headed for Samoa. On arrival there we found a very complicated and dangerous situation. Chief Mataafa, backed by German advice and guns, had revolted against the elected king, Maleatoa. The city of Apia was under siege. Mataafa was much the stronger, and to prevent the town being taken the British and American sailors had been landed. The British also organized a native regiment and armed them with rifles from the warships.

The German Emperor was accumulating colonies. Everyone knew that Mataafa was pro‑German and if successful he would ask to belong to Germany. Just before we arrived, a military party of American and British sailors and marines had been ambushed by Mataafa's men near a German plantation. Three officers, among them Lieutenant Landsdown and Ensign Monohan, had been killed and their heads taken and paraded through the Samoan villages. Evidence pointed to a German plantation manager and even German naval men as leading the attackers. British and American warships were ready and anxious to attack the two German warships in Apia Harbor. The British leader ashore, Commander Sturdee, was a fire-eater, and the saner council of the Americans alone prevented open hostilities between the Germans and the British. Commander Sturdee was a much-disappointed man when the Commission ordered him to withdraw all his sailors on board ship. Shortly after, all the warships were withdrawn in order to remove their influence from the peaceful intentions of the diplomats.

 p59  It was evident to those in the Badger that the head of the Commission, Bartlett Trippe, leaned toward the German member, von Sternberg, a fine diplomat and a personal friend of Teddy Roosevelt. Sternberg and the Secretary of the commission, Edwin Morgan, afterwards our Ambassador to Brazil, were always in conference. No one was surprised when it was known that Germany had received the Samoan group, all except Pago Pago, which was given to the United States.

The natives were all disarmed. Each man was paid a fabulous price for his gun. The Badger with the Commission and a few of the head chiefs visited all the Islands, and the diplomats made speeches to the natives. In every village visited we were regaled with feasts and siva-siva dances.

Chief Seumana of Apia had known my father when he was in the Iroquois, a corvette of the old days. He showed me an album that his wife had kept in which was a picture of the officers of that ship taken in a group on the quarterdeck. I was much pleased when he said he would give me a siva-siva dance. He did, and it was a great success. All our officers were present and many of the prominent people of the town. I did not realize at the time what this attention on Seumana's part would lead to. It meant that any time Seumana or his daughter, Avao, the Tapiu of Apia, came on board the Badger, it would be my privilege to load them down with all manner of small stores from the paymaster's storeroom, such as navy cloth, flannel, cap ribbons, plug tobacco, and anything else they took a fancy to. In exchange I received mats, fans, war clubs, and kava bowls. I found the honor of being given a siva-siva very expensive one.

Some day Samoa may become an important crossroad in the Southern Pacific. It appears that all three nations, Great Britain, Germany, and the United States, must have believed the Islands were valuable in other ways than their mere fertility. The principal thing raised was coconuts. It must have been their geographical position on the map that caused all the trouble. Before the Commission divided up the Islands, there had been a tri‑party government composed of the three consuls and a Chief Justice as arbitrator. German arrogance prevented harmony. Intrigue was rampant. Germany early had made up its mind to obtain the group of Islands, and her ruthless diplomatic hand everyone believed was at the bottom of all the trouble. When I think of Germany today, my mind goes back to Samoa, nearly forty years  p60 ago, where I saw the German official in his true colors, and I think how brutal and unbending a German can be when he has been told to be that way by his masters. Samoa now belongs to New Zealand. Will the Hitler demand for the return of the colonies make that dictatorial power a near neighbor to us in Samoa?

I still cherished the hope that I was on my way to the Philippines, by a rather indirect route to be sure. On our return to San Francisco, the Badger was placed out of commission, and I went to the Ranger. I learned the Ranger was sailing soon to survey the coast of Mexico. I was disgusted and considered myself much abused. I had boasted that I was on my way to the Orient, and my shipmates had much fun at my expense. They would send me all manner of faked telegrams very cleverly drawn up. I was quite convinced that Secretary of the Navy had broken his promise to me, although he really had not. I made up my mind to try to force the Department's hand. Governor Brown of Maryland, my home State, was a friend of the family, and I knew his daughter well. I wired him and asked him to get me orders to the Philippines. It was, I suppose, a nervy thing to do. I also wired the daughter. The Governor promptly wired back some encouragement after making a trip to Washington in my behalf.

In due course I received an official letter from the Bureau of Navigation, calling my attention to Naval Regulations, that forbid the use of political influence in obtaining assignments. The letter did not seriously bother me. If I had tried to keep myself out of a war and gone on the peaceful duty of surveying, then I might have been able to understand the inappropriateness of my actions. But when I was merely doing my best to get into a war, I could not bring myself to believe I was committing a wrong. I waited as patiently as I could, and just before the Ranger was due to sail, I received orders to proceed to Manila in the Army Transport Sheridan. For this I can thank the persistence of Governor Brown.


Thayer's Note:

a It's just marginally conceivable, or so at least it seems to me, that Commander McCalla's impressive thesaurus-like fluency might have been due to the author's drudge-work of a few years before! See p30.


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