[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Makers of Naval Tradition

by
Carroll Storrs Alden
and Ralph Earle

published by
Ginn & Company, 1942

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,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 13
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

p247 Chapter XII

George Dewey (1837‑1917)

George Dewey


[image ALT: zzz.]

It was Dewey's good fortune early in his career to serve under one of whom he could say fifty years later, "Farragut has always been my ideal of the naval officer." Dewey's coming to distinction was like Farragut's. Though he was highly appreciated by a small circle of friends, yet even when he had reached the age of sixty‑one he was not conspicuous in the Service and was quite unknown outside. But shortly after he had taken command of the small Asiatic Squadron, there came the Spanish-American War. He says that in the many perplexities which had to be faced he asked himself, "What would Farragut do?" The guiding influence of his ideal won for him a brilliant victory and led him safely through the intricate maze that followed. An important element in Dewey's character consisted in recognizing the worth of a noble tradition and weaving it into his own life and service.

Dewey was appointed to the Naval Academy from Vermont, his native state (he was born at Montpelier, 26 December, 1837). His class entered in 1854, sixty strong. At the end of the first year their number was reduced to thirty-five, and standing thirty-third, two from the foot, was Dewey. Indeed, since he was below passing in geography and history, he would undoubtedly have "bilged" if the rule had not been different from that in operation at the present time. A good p248grade in mathematics, raising the average, saved him. The process of eliminating midshipmen who did not come up to the standard was a severe one. Of Dewey's class only fifteen were graduated. Of these he stood number five; and on the final examination for a commission, after three years at sea, he had risen to number three — a standing which affords an interesting comparison with that of "plebe" year.

In talking over midshipman days at the Naval Academy, he said that he was familiarly known as "Shang" Dewey; why, he did not recall. The picture he drew of the institution on the Severn, before the days of athletic sports and general midshipmen hops, was not a colorful one. The two exciting events he mentioned were a personal combat that occurred in the mess hall when he was called a vile name and promptly held the offender to account, and the midshipmen's expression of their dislike for an assistant professor, known as "Bull Pup," by capturing him and imprisoning him in a glass hood in the chemical laboratory. Even such diversions, it seems, were indulged in only rarely. "The rule was one endless grind of acquiring knowledge."

In his final estimate Dewey placed a high value on the result of this grind; but something still better was to come to him in the course of duty at sea. Early in the Civil War he had been assigned to the side-wheeler frigate Mississippi; and when six officers senior to him had been transferred to other ships he was temporarily made executive, though he was only twenty-three years old. He proved efficient, and his captain liked him; in consequence, though at one time pressure was exerted to give this important billet to an older officer, he was retained. When Farragut began operations p249against New Orleans, the Mississippi was one of the largest units in his command; and during the next two years Dewey was to have many intimate glimpses of the admiral. Years afterwards he wrote, "Valuable as the training of Annapolis was, it was poor schooling beside that of serving under Farragut in time of war."

In the passing of the forts below New Orleans, Farragut had assigned the Mississippi a place in the first division, just behind the Pensacola. Melancthon Smith, commanding the Mississippi, had opposed the idea of running the gantlet at night, expressing his preference for hazarding it at full speed during the day. Then he could see his enemies and follow the tortuous course of the river, which abounded in shoals and obstructions. When final preparations for the battle were being made, he remarked to his executive: "I cannot see in the night. I am going to leave that to you, Dewey. You have younger eyes."

Thus it happened that as the Mississippi steamed up the river, Dewey from his post on the hurricane deck had the responsibility of navigating the ship, the captain giving his attention to the Mississippi's batteries.

The ships were running without lights, and Dewey's duty, besides keeping in the channel, was to maintain his assigned position behind the Pensacola. The forts, discovering them, had opened with a furious cannonade. Dewey was having his first experience under fire. The Pensacola made a spirited reply to the forts, and as she fired she stopped twice. Why, Dewey did not know, for orders were to pass the forts at full speed; but he checked his progress accordingly. He seems to have had no close encounters with the fire rafts, one of which drove the Hartford aground, but he did have a sharp brush with a curious-looking enemy, first pointed out p250by an observer in the foretop. Emerging from the darkness on their port bow and bearing down upon them was what looked like a gigantic turtle. It was recognized as the Confederate ram Manassas. There was no time for Dewey to consult his captain. As he saw the Manassas maneuvering to ram his ship, he countered by putting his helm over and heading directly for her. However, Commander Warley, an old Union officer, who was captain of the ram, knew his advantage. As he had a craft about a fourth of the size of the Mississippi, he was much quicker in turning. Making a half circle, he not only eluded the side-wheeler but, charging at full speed, struck her just abaft the port paddle wheel, slicing off a piece of solid timber seven feet long. The Mississippi trembled as if she had run aground. Dewey had the pumps started and, finding that the injury was a mere scratch, sped along. Had Warley succeeded in striking the vulnerable paddle wheel, as he might have done but for Dewey's quick decision, he would have crippled his opponent severely.

Later, just as day was breaking, when the leading ships had destroyed or driven off the Confederate River Defense Squadron and were approach quarantine seven miles above the forts, the Mississippi discovered the Manassas stealing back, apparently to make a further attack upon the fleet. Commander Smith obtained permission from Farragut to engage the ram, called upon Dewey to turn the ship, — a delicate task in the narrow and unfamiliar channel, — and sought again to run down the enemy. This time Warley either was caught at a disadvantage or despaired of further combat. As the Mississippi bore down upon her, the Manassas dodged the blow and headed straight into the bank. Two heavy broadsides from the Mississippi p251worked havoc, and soon the crew of the Manassas could be seen crawling ashore over her bows. The guns of the forts, opening again upon the attacking ship, made it impossible for Smith to get the disabled ram and save her for the Union fleet. Consequently, after taking possession of Warley's signal book and diary, he set fire to her and returned to the victorious fleet.

A project of a similar character as planned, but tragic to the old Mississippi as it worked out, followed a year later when, as related in a previous chapter, Farragut attempted to lead his fleet past the batteries of Port Hudson.

It was ten o'clock in the evening when the Union fleet got under way. Only Farragut's flagship, the Hartford, with the Albatross lashed to her side, succeeded in getting past. Both the Richmond and Monongahela, disabled by the heavy fire and by engine trouble, were obliged to return to their starting place. A night mist hung over the river; and the smoke of the ships and guns made an impenetrable gloom for the rear of the column, where the Mississippi came. On the first alarm the Confederates had lighted piles of cordwood soaked with pitch, and by the light of this blaze they used their heavy cannon on all except the Hartford with marked effect. Still the chances for the Mississippi's passing the forts would have been good but for one wrong order. All the ships had been intrusted to river pilots. The pilot on the Mississippi, having led the ship slowly through the darkness to the point above the dangerous shoal, gave the order "helm to starboard and full speed"; but he had miscalculated his position, and a moment later the Mississippi drove high on the sand bar. For half an hour strenuous efforts were made to free her; but the engines raced in vain, and running p252the port guns in made no impression. The Confederates, discovering her plight, trained their guns with increasing accuracy. When the forward storeroom, which contained inflammable materials, was pierced by the hot shot and caught fire, Commander Smith could do nothing except to abandon ship. The one consolation in the painful affair was the coolness of the officers and the good discipline of the crew. It devolved upon Dewey to get the crew off, a task of some difficulty because of the wounded and the reduced number of boats, all on the exposed side having been destroyed by the enemy's shot.

Commander Smith in his report wrote:

I consider that I should be neglecting a most important duty should I omit to mention the coolness of my executive officer, Mr. George Dewey, and the steady, fearless, and gallant manner in which the officers and men of the Mississippi defended her, and the orderly and quiet manner in which she was abandoned.

For the complement of the Mississippi it seemed a gloomy failure; but later Dewey wrote, "In that disaster, as in every action, I myself had gained experience in the midst of danger and confusion when I was still young enough to profit by the lesson."

This ability, the power to learn from experience, — others' as well as his own, — was one of Dewey's marked characteristics. It is not so spectacular in its working as originality and impetuosity, which drive ahead, sometimes right and sometimes wrong. However, it is quite as likely to bring results, and, developed into its highest form, it becomes a kind of genius, certainly a gift that is rare and valuable.

A few weeks later when Smith and Dewey had been assigned to the Monongahela, lying in the Red River p253below Port Hudson, Dewey had opportunity for intimate acquaintance with Farragut. The Hartford continued above the batteries; accordingly, while attending to operations on the lower reaches of the river, Farragut made the Monongahela his flagship and lived mostly on deck.

Dewey was struck by the simplicity of his methods, the absence of "red tape" and of the usual large amount of paper work. Generally Farragut wrote his orders himself, his knee or the ship's rail often serving as a rest. It will be recalled that he went to sea when he was ten and never entirely overcame the lack of early schooling. This explains the following story related by Dewey, which has in it something delightfully simple and human: One day when the admiral was writing at his impromptu table he looked up and said, "Now, how in the devil do you spell Apalachicola? Some of these educated young fellows from Annapolis must know."

Dewey continued as executive throughout the war, being assigned to various ships, most of them of large tonnage. His last assignment was to the Colorado, on which he had a share in the taking of Fort Fisher. The big frigate with its crew of seven hundred men at first presented a formidable problem in discipline. About a third of the crew were bounty jumpers, as poor as the draft would admit. The previous executive, severe at intervals but erratic, at times had as many as one hundred in irons. On the first morning Dewey tipped unceremoniously out of their hammocks a score who ignored the call to assemble on deck. Later, the ringleader of the trouble-makers, a giant red‑headed Englishman named Webster, who had been put in the hold, broke free of his irons and began smashing stone p254soda and ale bottles stowed there. A master at arms sent to arrest him reported that the man threatened to kill the first person who appeared on the ladder. It was an awkward situation, for in going into the hold an officer's body was exposed on the ladder some seconds before he could use his hands or see. Yet, for the effect on the crew, Dewey saw he must not hesitate. Seizing a revolver, he started for the hold. Webster yelled up his threat as he had to the others. To this the determined officer replied: "Webster, this is the executive officer, Mr. Dewey. I am coming down and, Webster, you may be sure of this, if you raise a finger against me I shall kill you." He slid down the ladder and faced Webster, stone ale bottle in hand and arm drawn back. Webster did not throw the bottle, but quietly submitted to arrest. After this the crew indulged in no more talk of mutiny.

It happened that among the young officers of the Colorado was Sampson. A warm friendship which was to last for life sprang up between Dewey and Sampson.

In 1867, nine years after graduation, Dewey was ordered to the Naval Academy. Here he had his first shore duty, three years in duration, serving under Vice Admiral Porter and later under Rear Admiral Worden. A month after he had received his orders he was married to Susan Boardman Goodwin, daughter of ex‑Governor Goodwin of New Hampshire.

Of his faithful but not conspicuous service during the following twenty-seven years only one incident need be mentioned for our purposes. In 1873, when in command of the third-class sloop Narragansett, he was engaged in making soundings of the Gulf of California. Newspapers brought lurid accounts of the Virginius affair, in which Spain had dealt severely with a filibustering p255expedition to Cuba, showing what was for Spain marvelous dispatch and, as some believed, giving scant consideration to law and the courts. Feeling was so high that war seemed inevitable. Going into the wardroom Dewey found his young officers enveloped in gloom, for, their ship being several thousand miles distant by sea from the theater of operations, they could take no part in the war.

"On the contrary, we shall be very much in it," Dewey responded. "If war with Spain is declared, the Narragansett will take Manila."

He says that already he had read whatever books were available on the Philippines. Thus, at least twenty-five years before Manila Bay became history he had begun preparations.

The next step toward Manila Bay was taken the latter part of 1897. The admiral commanding our Asiatic Squadron was to be relieved. The Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, who was rather autocratic and not friendly to Dewey, was known to be working to give the post to another officer; but Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, sought out Dewey and said: "I want you to go. You are the man who will be equal to the emergency if one arises." This by no means decided it, for it was the President who made the selection, but his choice fell upon Dewey.

Before leaving Washington he spent a month of study in going over such books and charts as he could find. Furthermore, he made inquiry as to the ammunition that the squadron had. To his dismay he learned that the supply was not only insufficient in the event of hostilities but below what was allowed for ships in time of peace; also that Pacific liners would not transport such a cargo, and that the cruiser Charleston, which was p256to forward it, was laid up for six months to undergo an extensive overhauling. Personal insistence if tactfully applied works wonders; and before Dewey sailed from San Francisco on the mail steamer that took him to the East, he had seen half the promised supply loaded on the little Concord. The other half, which was to be shipped later on the old Mohican, reached the squadron only forty-eight hours before it sailed from Hongkong on the announcement that hostilities had begun.

War between the United States and Spain, fought that Cuba might be freed from further desolation and misery, was declared by Congress to have begun 21 April, 1898. Communications from Washington had been scant and infrequent, but the official announcement received by Dewey on the 25th came as no surprise. One of the significant features of the naval events in the Far East through all that most important year was the way Dewey had foreseen what was going to happen and had carefully prepared. As a result, when the various emergencies arose, no further preparation was required. All was in readiness.

For two months Dewey's squadron had been assembled at Hongkong, and the crews had been drilled in everything relating to war. Knowing that when hostilities began the British government, observing strict neutrality, would grant no further harbor facilities, he had quietly improvised a base at Mirs Bay, not far distant, where he arranged to have sent stores of various kinds secured from the less punctilious Chinese. Also he had purchased two supply ships.

Thus on the 23d, when there came a communication from the governor of Hongkong inclosing a copy of the British war‑neutrality proclamation and asking that the American squadron leave not later than the 25th, p257there was no confusion on Dewey's part; he sailed to Mirs Bay on the 24th. He was equally calm the next day, when there came a cable from the Secretary of the Navy:

War has commenced between the United States and Spain. Proceed at once to Philippine Islands. Commence operations particularly against the Spanish fleet. You must capture vessels or destroy. Use utmost endeavor.

Only the first sentence of the message was required.

The American consul at Manila, Mr. O. F. Williams, had remained at his post as long as possible in order that he might bring the very last information of the defenses. Just as soon as he joined the American squadron, two days later, the signal was given to make preparations for getting under way.

A cautious commodore would have hesitated before sailing forth as Dewey did to meet the unknown. Mr. Williams brought news that the islands commanding the entrance to Manila Bay had been fortified — there were six modern rifles besides lesser guns bearing on Boca Grande, through which the ships were to pass — and that the channel had been mined. Several formidable batteries were located on the water front of Manila. They mounted thirty-nine heavy guns, the largest ones rifles of greater caliber than any in the American Squadron. Other batteries were placed at Sangley Point and Canacao, guarding Cavite. Dewey had seven ships to the enemy's six, with fifty-three guns over 4‑inch caliber to their thirty‑one, but as both squadrons were unarmored the heavy land guns were regarded as much more than offsetting this advantage. The Hongkong papers had constantly dwelt on the strength of the forts, which, being supplemented by the Spanish p258ships and mines, they affirmed were impregnable. In sentiment the British were favorable to the Americans, but at the Hongkong Club no one would take a chance on the attacking squadron, even with heavy odds offered. On the eve of departure, when a Britain regiment entertained a group of officers, it is said that the comment freely expressed by the hosts was, "A fine set of fellows, but unhappily we shall never see them again."

Dewey was far from minimizing what he must meet; but he and his officers in a conference had already reached the conclusion that the difficulties of mining the entrance to Manila Bay were so great that what the Spaniards had accomplished need not be greatly feared. Moreover, Dewey counted much on the carefulness of American preparation and the ability of his gunners to handle their pieces in battle. The result showed that this competence decided the day and not the preponderance of force.

As we read of the other side, the Spaniards at home and in the Philippines had for some months been not altogether blind to the prospect of war. On the 15th of March the governor-general of the Philippines called a meeting at Manila to consider what steps should be taken. At this Admiral Montojo, commanding the naval forces, expressed the opinion that his "poor squadron would not be able to withstand the onslaught of the American ships and that he was firmly convinced that it would be destroyed." This in the drama of life cannot be regarded as other than a hint of a tragic ending.

On the trip from Mirs Bay to Manila the officers and men of the American squadron busied themselves by throwing overboard superfluous woodwork; they coiled p259chain cables around the ammunition hoists; and they went through constant drills for battle as well as for making quick repairs in case of injury.

Just as the American consul left Manila, Montojo sailed thirty miles north to Subig Bay, which he deemed better for defense than Manila; but he promptly returned when he found that improvised fortifications had not been made. To make sure that he was not still there, Dewey on the morning of 30 April sent forward the Boston and the Concord to reconnoiter; he was not going to make the mistake of leaving the enemy on his flank as he attacked Manila. On returning they signaled that the bay was empty.

Preferring to pass the batteries at the entrance to Manila Bay under the cover of darkness, Dewey delayed his approach, first slowing down and finally stopping. Calling all the captains to the flagship in the afternoon, he held a short conference. This was largely social in its character, and was rather for an exchange of confidence than for anything else. Dewey remarks: "There was no discussion and no written order and no further particulars as to preparation. For every preparation that had occurred to us in our councils had already been made."

Before they left, he said, "We shall enter Manila Bay tonight, and you will follow the motions and movements of the flagship, which will lead."

Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) Fiske describes the final approach to the bay:

As darkness slowly descended, the scene took on a character at once soothing and disturbing; soothing, because everything was so beautiful and so calm; disturbing, because of the grim preparations evident. The guns were all ready; considerable ammunition was on deck, and the men lay or p260sat or stood by their guns. As few lamps as possible were lit, and all lights which would shine outward were screened, except one small light over the stern of each ship. The night was clear and calm, and the hours from eight to twelve rather dragged. There was nothing to do, for all preparations had been made; there was nothing to see, except the dim outlines of a few ships and the vague outline of the coast two or three miles distant; and there was nothing to hear, except the sound of the engine and the swish of water along the sides.

Dewey went back in thought to the night thirty‑six years before when the Union fleet ran the forts below New Orleans, and the memory gave him confidence. He wrote afterwards:

Whenever I have been in a difficult situation, or in the midst of such a confusion of details that the simple and right thing to do seemed hazy, I have often asked myself, "What would Farragut do?" In the course of the preparations for Manila Bay I often asked myself this question, and I confess that I was thinking of him the night that we entered the Bay, and with the conviction that I was doing precisely what he would have done.

Though Dewey was now not lieutenant but commodore, responsible for all the American forces within a circle of several thousand miles. Farragut was still his leader.

The Olympia passed at a distance of half a mile the small island of El Fraile, on which there were known to be fortifications commanding Boca Grande, and then laid her course to northeast by north, heading up the bay. No ships had been discovered cruising off the entrance; no torpedo launches had dashed forward to attack; and the mines were as silent as have been expected. Various signals displayed on shore had been p261noticed; otherwise all was quiet. Indeed, Dewey began to hope, as he steamed on at full speed, that his ships had not been observed. But at 12.10, when the rear of his column was between the islands of Corregidor and El Fraile, the El Fraile battery opened with a shot that passed between the Petrel and the Raleigh. The Boston, the Concord, the Raleigh, and the McCulloch promptly returned the fire. Two more shots followed from the island, and then the East seemed to have returned to her slumbers. All was peaceful as the squadron proceeded slowly up the broad bay toward Manila, twenty-five miles away, which Dewey purposed not to reach until dawn.

As later revealed, the Spaniards at Manila had been fully informed as to the movements of the American forces: a cable had told of their sailing from Mirs Bay for Manila, and a telegram reported their being sighted at Subig Bay. Yet that very evening Admiral Montojo and his officers left their ships at Cavite to attend a ball given by the admiral's wife at Manila, six miles distant. As the guns boomed in the distant forts at midnight — a sound that might well have been interpreted as a salute to America on her occupation of the Philippines — Montojo was leisurely returning by carriage. Some of his officers did not get back till the next morning when fighting had begun. This, the second hint of a tragic ending, presaged utter defeat as plainly as did the similar occurrence at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War, when the Russian officers on shore at Port Arthur drank their cares away while the Japanese with their torpedo boats crept into the harbor to strike the first telling blow.

In the gray mist of morning Dewey, slowly circling toward Manila, looked in at the harbor but found only p262merchantmen. A few minutes later when the haze of tropical dawn had cleared, he made out the Spanish squadron drawn up six miles distant in front of Cavite. They were "formed in an irregular crescent," protected at one extremity by the Cavite battery and that at Sangley Point, and at the other by the shoals off Las Pinas. They had taken position here rather than before Manila, in order that the city might be spared injury in bombardment. It may have been a beautiful sentiment to save the city intact; but since this meant that the ships were thus deprived of the much-needed support of the heavy Manila batteries, it was, from a military point of view, a grave error. To Spain the loss of the squadron meant the giving up not only of the city but of all the Philippines.

As the American ships turned from Manila toward the south, the Manila batteries opened fire, but their shot passed over. Only the Boston and the Concord deigned to reply, the rest saving their ammunition for the real business of the morning. The Olympia was now heading toward the Spanish line by a converging course, the other ships following at intervals of two hundred yards. Ten minutes after the Manila forts had opened, the Cavite batteries and the Spanish ships began firing, but their shell fell short. For twenty-five minutes more, though the American gunners constantly kept their pieces trained on the enemy, the ships steamed forward in silence. They could make out, besides many small vessels, six or eight fairly large craft, two of them at anchor with springs on their cables, the rest steaming about somewhat erratically, as they continued to do through the battle.

The contrast of names in the opposing squadrons suggests the character of the conflict. The American p263force, in the order in which they steamed, were the Olympia (flag), the Baltimore, the Raleigh, the Petrel, the Concord, and the Boston. The Spanish line of battle consisted of the Reina Cristina (flag), the Castilla, the Don Juan de Austria, the Don Antonio de Ulloa, the Isla de Luzón, the Isla de Cuba, and the Marqués del Duero. When champions representing modern American cities are pitted against decadent remnants of grandiose Spanish feudalism, the combat is unequal to the last degree. It was une affaire d'honneur, and honor would not permit the Spanish queen and dons to yield until they had suffered fatal injuries.

At 5.40, when the range had been reduced to two and a half miles, Dewey, standing on the bridge, quietly gave the order "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley." From his station in the conning tower Captain Gridley communicated the word to the eager gunners. An 8‑inch gun spoke first, giving the signal for general action.

When the American flagship neared the five-fathom curve off Cavite, she turned westward, bringing her port batteries to bear. The rest of the squadron followed and passed along the Spanish line until north of Sangley Point and about fifteen hundred yards distant. There the column, with helm to port, came about and passed again along the enemy line, this time using their starboard broadsides. Thus constantly changing the range, they continued their circle of fire, making three runs to westward and two to eastward. Leadsmen throughout were making soundings to guard against grounding. In the last run past, finding that the depth warranted it, Dewey led the ships nearer the enemy forces than before. The Spanish returned the fire spiritedly, but their great inaccuracy showed that the p264rapid fire of the American squadron and the changing range had utterly confused them. The American attack was focused especially upon the two largest units, the Reina Cristina and the Castilla.

A torpedo launch which was detected coming out was quickly overwhelmed by the guns of the secondary batteries and went down, bows first. The Don Juan de Austria, and then the Reina Cristina, made gallant attempts to charge the Olympia; but each in turn was swept by the concentrated fire of all ships bearing and was driven back. Admiral Montojo gives testimony to the effectiveness of the American fire in his official report:

The enemy shortened the distance between us, and rectifying his aim, covered us with a rain of rapid-fire projectiles. About 7.30 one shell destroyed completely the steering gear. I ordered to steer by hand, remaining without steering power in this interval, which was lengthened by the explosion of another shell on the poop, which put out of action nine men. Another destroyed the mizzen masthead and gaff, bridging down the ensign and my flag, which were replaced immediately. A fresh shell exploded in the officers' cabin, covering the hospital with blood, destroying the wounded who were being treated there. Another exploded in the ammunition-room astern, filling the quarters with smoke and preventing the working of the hand steering gear. As it was impossible to control the fire, I had to flood the magazines when it was already beginning to reach the cartridge-room.

Shortly after this Montojo gave orders to abandon ship, scuttling her as he transferred his flag to the Isla de Cuba. The captain of the Reina, Don Luis Cadarso, though wounded, gallantly directed the rescue of his men. While thus engaged he was struck by a shell and killed.

p265 At 7.35, when the action had been in progress not quite two hours, the report was brought to the bridge of the Olympia that there remained only fifteen rounds per gun for the 5‑gun battery. Such a supply would last hardly more than five minutes; and the battle, to all appearances, was far from being concluded. The prospect was so serious that Dewey promptly signaled to cease action, and withdrew to give opportunity for a redistribution of ammunition and to decide upon more effective methods of attack. One of Dewey's staff wrote:

As we hauled off into the bay the gloom on the bridge of the Olympia was thicker than a London fog in November. Neither Commodore Dewey nor any of the staff believed that the Spanish ships had been sufficiently injured by our fire to prevent them from renewing the battle quite as furiously as they had previously fought. Indeed, we had all been distinctly disappointed in the results of our fire. Our projectiles seemed to go too high or too low — just as had been the case with those fired by the Spaniards. Several times the commodore had expressed dissatisfaction with the failure of our gunners to hit the enemy. . . .

As I went aft the men asked me what we were hauling off for. They were in a distinctly different humor from that which prevailed on the bridge. They believed they had done well, and that the other ships had done likewise. The Olympia cheered the Baltimore, and the Baltimore returned the cheers with interest. . . . I told one of them [a gun captain] that we were merely hauling off for breakfast, which statement elicited the appeal to Captain Lamberton [Dewey's Chief of Staff], as he came past a moment later:

"For God's sake, captain, don't let us stop now. To hell with breakfast!"

Upon inquiry Dewey was relieved to learn that the report on 5‑inch shells had been incorrectly transmitted, p266and that only 40 per cent had been expended. The supply of 8‑inch shells was as yet hardly touched. The officers and crews, having had nothing but coffee at four o'clock, ate breakfast with hearty relish now that the extreme tension was lessened.

An hour later, at a signal from the Olympia, the different captains came on board the flagship. Each, with the report that his own ship had suffered slight or no injuries, thought his good fortune had been exceptional, and listened with amazement when he heard the same from all. The Olympia had been hulled five times, but not a man had been injured. The Baltimore had received five hits; one shell, entering forward of the starboard gangway, had pursued an erratic course, in its travels exploding a box of 3‑pound ammunition; this was responsible for the wounding of two officers and six men. Hits that were mere scratches had been received by the other vessels except the Concord. She had not been touched.

When Dewey withdrew from the engagement and thus undesignedly honored the breakfast hour, the victory was won, though he did not know it. While breakfast, the counting of ammunition, and the conference of the captains were in progress, the Spanish battle line was discovered to be melting away. The effectiveness of the American gunnery was realized when the Castilla burst into flames, the Reina Cristina blew up, and the smaller vessels fled for refuge behind the arsenal at Cavite. Only the Don Antonio de Ulloa kept her ensign flying and held to her original position beside the battery at Sangley Point.

At 11.16 Dewey, signaling for battle formation, led the way again into action. Under the concentrated fire of the American ships the Ulloa soon went down, p267sinking with her colors still flying. About 12.30 the Spanish forces in the Government House at Cavite (where Montojo and his officers had taken refuge) surrendered, replacing the Spanish ensign with a white flag. Meanwhile the Petrel, whose shallow draft made her particularly useful for inshore work, had been sent to finish the craft abandoned in shallow water or concealed in the harbor of Cavite. She did thorough work, not returning until late in the afternoon, when she towed a long string of tugs and launches.

Commodore Dewey had carried out his instructions to the letter. Not a single Spanish fighting ship remained afloat. That night he summed it all up in his diary:

Reached Manila at daylight. Immediately engaged the Spanish ships and batteries at Cavite. Destroyed eight of the former, including the Reina Cristina and Castilla. Anchored at noon off Manila.

The situation that now confronted Dewey has well been compared with that faced by Farragut after passing the forts below New Orleans. A large city lay helpless under his guns; but before demanding its surrender and taking it over he wanted to make sure of a force to hold it. The small contingent on his ships were quite unequal to such a task even if they had not been required afloat. It was indeed to have the coöperation of the army. This he promptly brought to the attention of the government, sending a dispatch boat to Hongkong to cable his message.

In the caution, firmness, and sound judgment displayed in the trying situation that developed during the three and a half remaining months of the war, Dewey showed power almost equal to that of gaining the initial victory.

p268 At once Spain began to take measures for regaining her ascendancy in the Philippines and fitted out a fleet under Admiral Camara which in tonnage, type of ship, and guns was superior to Dewey's unarmored cruiser squadron. This was to sail by the short route through Suez. Further, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan hurried certain of their ships already in the East to Manila. Intervention was urged by one of the European powers and, as events showed, was no remote possibility. Finally, Filipino insurgents swarmed about Manila and Cavite in increasing numbers and, disappointed at the limiting of their opportunities to loot, threatened to break loose at any moment.

The forts at Manila had been silenced by the threat of a bombardment of the city. Mindful of what had happened to the Maine in Havana, Dewey took every precaution for safeguarding his ships from what conceivably might be attempted by the large force of the defeated enemy now concentrated within the walls of Manila. Thus, when a German launch approached one night without warning and continued to advance after being picked up by searchlights, Dewey ordered a 6‑pound shot to fire over her and a marine to open with small arms. This made her stop and disclose her identity.

He had at once established a commercial blockade, but permitted the men of war of neutral nations to enter and leave the bay as they pleased, subject to the commonly recognized rules governing blockaded waters. British, French, and Japanese warships, recognizing that Dewey was supreme, reported on arrival and asked where they should anchor; but the German cruiser Irene came in without the least formality and chose her own anchorage. Three days later the German cruiser p269Cormoran was about to do the same thing, although it was three o'clock in the morning. A launch, sent to ascertain her identity, receiving no attention, the Raleigh fired a shot across her bows. This peremptory summons brought the apparently surprised captain to his senses, and he stopped. The next incident in this unpleasant series was furnished by the arrival of a German transport with a force of fourteen hundred. She brought them as relief crews; but inasmuch as she remained day after day with a contingent equal in size to almost all in the American squadron, her presence caused uneasiness. When on the 12th of May, Vice Admiral von Diedrichs, with his flagship the Kaiserin Augusta, joined the aggregation, and it was reported that another German cruiser would follow shortly, Dewey, on making his official call, remarked that German commercial interests at Manila were giving great concern, though they were extremely slight in comparison with those of Great Britain, which was represented by only two cruisers. To this gentle remonstrance von Diedrichs bluntly replied, "I am here by order of the Kaiser, sir."

The German ships were guilty of frequently visiting Spanish posts and in many little ways ignoring the blockade. Finally, as Captain Coghlan of the Raleigh afterwards related, Dewey spoke very plainly to the German admiral's aid, who was sent to remonstrate at being obliged to stop their ships on an American officer's order:

Tell your admiral I am blockading here. I am tired of the character of his conduct. I have made it as lenient as possible for him. Now the time has arrived when he must stop. Listen to me. Tell your admiral that the slightest infraction of these orders by himself or his officers will mean but one p270thing. Tell him what I say — it will mean war. Make no mistake when I say it will mean war. If you people are ready for war with the United States, you can have it in five minutes.

It was an embarrassing situation, to be thus affronted several thousand miles from home by a naval force stronger than his own. As it turned out, when von Diedrichs urged Captain Chichester, the senior British officer, to join him in defying the blockade order, Captain Chichester promptly refused, telling von Diedrichs emphatically that Dewey was in the right. After that the Germans gave no further trouble.

A part of Dewey's long preparation for service in Manila Bay had consisted of a close study of international law, and he knew what he had a right to command.

In August, when transports had brought the required American troops, Dewey coöperated with Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Merritt, commanding the army, in investing Manila. Though garrisoned by about thirteen thousand soldiers in or about the city, Manila surrendered on the 13th of August after only feeble signs of resistance.

The battle of Manila Bay of course did not decide the war; but, coming at a time when several nations were jeering at the new American Navy and were discussing intervention, it had a very salutary effect. Moreover, it was needed by America herself; for the whole Atlantic seaboard was suffering from an attack of nerves, occasioned by uncertainty as to where Cervera might strike and distrust of the navy's power to meet him. Montojo's squadron, which many neutrals had picked to win, suffered 161 killed and 210 wounded, contrasting with the losses of their western opponents, 8 slightly wounded. There was promise in the new navy.

p271 After the battle of Manila Bay, Hawaii was quickly annexed by joint resolution of Congress, and Guam was occupied. A marked change came in the position of America. She had ceased to be a youthful and negligible member among the nations. Her isolation was over; before she herself had recognized the fact, she had a place in the circle of world powers.

Dewey, on his return, was honored and lionized as no other naval officer of our day. He accepted it all with great modesty. Very simply he explained, "It was the ceaseless routine of hard work and preparation in time of peace that won Manila and Santiago." Shortly after his victory he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral, and in March, 1899, was made admiral. Again he was following in the steps of his naval hero, Farragut.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 26 Apr 13