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Chapter 25

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A Short History of the United States Navy

George R. Clark et al.

published by
J. B. Lippincott Company,
Philadelphia & London 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 27
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p445  XXVI
The West Indian Campaign

The Blockade of Cuba

The orders to Sampson of April 21 had definitely forbidden, for the present, an attack on Havana, which had been considered by the captains of his fleet. There were no troops ready to hold what ground the navy might gain. Also, it was of the greatest moment to save the vessels under Sampson's command for the more important work of destroying Spain's naval force. But according to these orders his chief duty for the time being was to institute a blockade. This at once isolated the Spanish army in Cuba, and forced upon Spain a counter naval move, unless she were willing to abandon her most important insular possession in the West Indies. Since the holding of Cuba was the issue of the war, Spain would naturally make every effort to relieve her army in the island.

The United States rightly directed the energy of the navy in the first days to the blockade of Cuba. Some writers maintain that the seizure of private property at sea is a relic of barbarism, and should be tolerated no more than such seizure by troops on land. But if the end can be attained without bloodshed; if, for instance, by a siege on land a garrison can be starved into submission, why waste unnecessarily the lives of men? The blockade, says Mahan, "is the most scientific warfare, because the least sanguinary, and because, like the highest strategy, it is directed against the communications — the resources — not the persons of the enemy. It has been the  p446 glory of sea‑power that its ends are attained by draining men of their dollars instead of their blood."1

The blockade was effective from the very beginning. All told, the United States Navy took about fifty‑six prizes during the war, while the Spanish captured but one, the Saranac, a seizure which was subsequently declared illegal. To avoid any possible conflict with neutral governments regarding the closure of Cuban ports, the United States limited the parts of the island to be blockaded so that there could be no doubt raised as regards the effectiveness of blockade.

In the threatening state of affairs just prior to the breaking out of hostilities, and during the early days of the war, there had been some time to mobilize the vessels on the Atlantic coast. Rear-Admiral Sampson's command comprised two divisions: his own, with its base at Key West, within easy reach of Cuba; and Commodore Schley's "flying squadron," assembled at Newport News in readiness to meet any move of the Spanish fleet under Cervera, who was lying at St. Vincent in the Cape Verde Islands. Also a "northern patrol squadron," under Commodore Howell, was hurriedly organized to protect the coast from Delaware northward. Gradually, as the weakness of Spain's military power and the destination of Cervera's fleet became more apparent, the fears of the coast cities were allayed, and the vessels of Howell's squadron were, one by one, withdrawn to aid in the blockade of Cuba.

Search for Cervera's Squadron

As stated in the last chapter, Admiral Cervera left the Cape Verde Islands on April 29, for an unknown destination. As early as February 12, 1898, he had written to  p447 the Minister of Marine, asking for information regarding the distribution and movements of United States ships, their bases of supplies, charts and plans of the possible theatre of war, and the objective of his fleet in the event of hostilities. "I cannot help thinking," writes the admiral, "of a possible war with the United States, and I believe it would be expedient if I were given all available information." He then enumerated some of the matters on which he sought enlightenment, and continued, "If I had information on these matters, I could go ahead and study, and see just what is best to be done, and if the critical day should arrive, we could enter without vacillation upon the course we are to follow." The reply to this reasonable and pathetic request was vague and unpractical. Again and again Admiral Cervera wrote for information and instructions, and as often he was put off by the incapacity or ignorance of the Minister of Marine. Finally, the orders above mentioned were issued, and Cervera sailed westward with a squadron consisting of the cruisers, Maria Teresa (flagship), Cristobal Colon, Vizcaya and Almirante Oquendo, and the three torpedo-boat destroyers, Furor, Pluton, and Terror.

Immediately upon hearing the news, Secretary Long informed Sampson of Cervera's departure and suggested the West Indies as his probable destination. At the same time, the Harvard, St. Louis, and Yale, vessels that had been taken into the navy from the merchant marine, were sent as scouts to cruise off Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Porto Rico, to bring back word of the first appearance of the Spaniards. The strategists at Washington assumed quite naturally that the probable objective of Cervera was Porto Rico; this Spanish possession, lying nearest to the enemy's sources of supplies, would be an excellent stopping place for coaling and for further operations at Cuba or against the Atlantic coast. As the vessels of  p449 Cervera's squadron were credited with great speed, they were expected to arrive in West Indian waters about May 8. To intercept him, Sampson left his naval base, Key West, on May 4, but on account of the slowness of the monitors Terror and Amphitrite, he did not reach San Juan, Porto Rico, until early in the morning of May 12. At once he began a bombardment of the forts defending the city, but as daylight dawned, it became clear that Cervera was not in the harbor. The American fleet, having ascertained the strength of the defenses of San Juan, then turned backward unscathed to its other duty, the blockade of Cuba. Doubtless Sampson could have forced the surrender of San Juan, but, without troops to hold the city, he would have had to keep his fleet at Port Rico, at the risk of not destroying the enemy's fleet, and to the neglect of the blockade.

[image ALT: A map of the Caribbean in which Key West, the Cuban ports of Bahia, Matanzas, Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago, and the Puerto Rican ports of Ponce, Guanica, and San Juan are indicated. It is a map of the Caribbean theater of the Spanish-American War, 1898.]

The first American vessel to get any news of the movements of the enemy's squadron was the Harvard, which on May 11 learned that the Furor had that day called at Fort de France. But the Harvard was detained at St. Pierre by rumors that the enemy were lying in wait for her outside. As a matter of fact, Cervera was at this time making for Curacao. As soon as it became clear that the Spanish fleet was in the southeastern part of the Caribbean, Secretary Long, surmising that the real destination must be Cuba, ordered Schley to proceed to Key West, and on the same day, May 15, he sent the swift scouts Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Harvard to follow Cervera. Sampson, meanwhile, had left his squadron off the north coast of Cuba, and hurried in the New York to Key West, where he met Schley on May 18. On the morning of the 19th, Schley, with his squadron, proceeded to Cienfuegos, at the very hour when Cervera entered Santiago. On nearing his destination, Schley noticed volumes of smoke arising from behind the high  p450 forts that screened the entrance to the harbor, and hence he inferred that the enemy's fleet must be here. The signal corps had, meanwhile, sent the news of the arrival of Cervera at Santiago, but there was considerable doubt in which of the two harbors the enemy was really hidden. This uncertainty entailed considerable delay. Only after thorough confirmation of the Santiago report, and after a reconnoissance of Cienfuegos, did Commodore Schley start, on May 24, for Santiago. As it was thought that Cervera would try to reach Havana, Admiral Sampson did not dare leave the north coast of Cuba until he felt sure that Cervera was bottled up at Santiago. After coaling some of his vessels, Sampson on May 29 withdrew the main part of his force from the blockade of Havana, and hastened to Santiago.

All this shows that despite the weakness of Cervera's squadron, the Spaniards had a great advantage in so far as they prevented concentration of power on the part of the Americans at any one spot. This is only one of the many illustrations in history of what naval strategists call the advantage of a "fleet in being"; that is, a fleet at large, not itself in command of the sea, but sufficiently strong to deny that command to the other side. As long as the Spanish fleet was "in being," especially as its destination was unknown, it threatened not only the military operations in Cuba but the entire coast of the United States.

On his arrival Commodore Schley instituted a blockade of Santiago, after having definitely assured himself that the enemy were in the bay. On May 31 he bombarded the forts guarding the entrance, but without material result. It was evident that well-ordered land operations were indispensable to hold what the navy might gain.

Admiral Sampson, shortly after his arrival early in June, formulated a careful and complete plan of blockade  p451 of Santiago. A mile from the Morro he placed three steam launches as picket boats. Outside of these he stationed the smaller vessels of the fleet, and three or four miles from shore he arranged his battle­ships and cruisers in a semicircle. At night a battle­ship approached to the middle line and kept its searchlight steadily on the harbor entrance, while a sister ship lay close by to answer any fire from the enemy.

On June 6 Sampson bombarded the Morro, Fort Aguadores, and Socapa. The fleet fired in all about 2000 shots. The batteries were frequently hit and lost three men killed and forty wounded. As the forts were so much above sea level, many of the shells passed over them and did considerable damage in the village on Smith Key. It was by these high shots that the Reina Mercedes, which was lying in the harbor, was injured; she was struck thirty-five times and was twice set on fire. The reply of the Spanish batteries was feeble; the Massachusetts was hit once, but the other vessels of Sampson's fleet were unscathed.

Meanwhile, on the night of June 3, Naval Constructor Hobson, aided by seven volunteers, had attempted to block the narrow outlet from Santiago harbor by sinking the collier Merrimac in the channel, under a fierce fire from the shore batteries. All the men escaped with their lives, as by a miracle, but fell into the hands of the Spaniards. It is most gratifying to note that the bravery of this little band of heroes was cordially appreciated by the Spanish admiral, who sent a flag of truce to notify Admiral Sampson of their safety, and to compliment them on their daring act. They were subsequently exchanged, July 7.

On June 7, the cutting of the last Cuban cable isolated the island. Thereafter the invasion was vigorously prosecuted. Three days later, under a heavy protecting fire, a landing force of 600 marines from the Oregon, Marblehead,  p452 and Yankee, was effected in Guantanamo Bay, where it had been determined to establish a naval station. This important and essential port was taken from the enemy after severe fighting by the marines, who were the first organized force of the United States to land in Cuba.

The position thus won was held in spite of desperate attempts to dislodge our troops. By June 16 additional forces of marines had been landed and strongly intrenched. On June 22 the advance of the invading army under Major-General Shafter made at Daiquiri, about fifteen miles east of Santiago, a landing which was accomplished under great difficulties, but with dispatch. On June 23 the movement against Santiago was begun. On the 24th the first serious engagement took place. By nightfall ground within five miles of Santiago was won, and this advantage was steadily increased. On July 1 a severe battle took place, our forces gaining the outworks of Santiago; on the 2d El Caney and San Juan were taken after a desperate charge, and the investment of the city was completed. The navy co‑operated by shelling the town and the coast forts.

The Battle of Santiago

On the third of July, the day following this success of our land forces, occurred the decisive contest of the war. The line of blockading ships at this time formed a long arc about the harbor entrance, lying at distances varying from one and a half to two miles off shore. The squadron ranged from east to west in the following order: the Indiana, New York, Oregon, Iowa, Texas, and Brooklyn. Shortly before nine o'clock on the morning of the 3d, the flagship New York left her place between the Indiana and the Oregon to go four miles east of her station in order that Admiral Sampson might confer in  p453 person with General Shafter. With the flagship were the converted yacht Hist and the torpedo-boat Ericsson. The auxiliary Gloucester, formerly the yacht Corsair, lay slightly to the east of the Indiana and closer to the harbor; while to the west of the Brooklyn lay the gunboat Vixen.

About forty minutes after the New York left her station, the prow of a Spanish cruiser was discovered heading out of the harbor, and at the same instant several of the American ships hoisted the signal, "Enemy's ships escaping." "General quarters" was sounded throughout the squadron, the men sprang to the guns, and forced draft was applied to the furnaces in the effort to get up enough steam to close in upon the Spanish squadron before it could escape. The Spanish column, headed by the flagship, left the harbor mouth in the following order: Infanta Maria Teresa, Vizcaya, Cristobal Colon, and Almirante Oquendo. As soon as the Maria Teresa cleared the harbor, she turned sharply to the west, followed by the rest of the line, all under full speed.

The New York, lying so far to the eastward, could take no part in the early stages of the action, though her engines were taxed to the limit in the effort to get within range. As soon as the enemy was sighted, she flew the admiral's signal, "Close in toward harbor entrance and attack vessels," but the other ships of the squadron, owing to the complete preparation that had been made for every emergency, needed no orders to begin the engagement. In a few minutes the Spanish cruisers, with their running start, had swung past the blockading line, and the battle became a chase, in which the Texas and the Brooklyn had the advantage of position.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Commander Wainwright of the Gloucester, as soon as he saw the enemy heading west, steamed directly toward the Spanish vessels and opened fire upon them with his light guns. Then, anticipating  p454 the appearance of the two torpedo-boat destroyers, Pluton and Furor, he slowed down, giving his ship a heavy head of steam, so that when the destroyers appeared at the end of the column, he dashed for them at full speed and opened fire at close quarters. The Gloucester was entirely unprotected, and had a battery inferior in weight to that of either of the destroyers. In a few minutes the leading destroyer, the Pluton, turned and ran upon the beach, where a moment later she was broken in two by an explosion. The Furor kept going a few minutes longer, though in evident distress, hounded by the guns of the Gloucester and the secondary battery of the Indiana. Finally, a shot from the approaching New York sent her to the bottom in deep water. It should be added that during this plucky attack at close quarters, the Gloucester was under the fire of the Socapa shore battery as well as that of the destroyers, but it is an astonishing fact that she was not hit once by either.

Hardly had the cruisers turned westward before they began to show the effect of the American guns. In about fifteen minutes the Maria Teresa caught fire, and in less than three-quarters of an hour from the time she was sighted in the harbor entrance, she turned and ran ashore in flames. Five minutes later, the Oquendo also was beached in the same condition. The Colon, the fastest vessel in the two squadrons, now passed the Vizcaya and forged ahead, beyond the range of the leading American ships. Shortly before the Maria Teresa had run aground she made a desperate effort to ram the Brooklyn. The latter, which was heading toward the approaching Teresa, suddenly ported her helm and made a wide turn to the south off shore. She then resumed a course parallel to that of the Spanish column, though at a greater range. The Brooklyn thus avoided being rammed but, by putting the helm to port instead of to starboard, she lost ground in  p455 pursuit and nearly collided with the Texas. This much-discussed maneuver was due, according to Commodore Schley's testimony before the Senate Committee, to a desire to avoid blanketing the fire of the other American vessels.

At about eleven o'clock the Vizcaya also was set on fire, and was compelled to turn and run ashore. At this time the speedy Colon, the only remaining vessel of the Spanish squadron, was six miles ahead of the Brooklyn and the Oregon. In the pursuit the latter vessel had outstripped and passed both the Iowa and the Texas and taken second place. As the Colon was supposed to have a speed of twenty knots, she seemed to have an excellent chance of escape.

Sampson now detailed the slower vessels to remain behind to attend to the rescue of prisoners, and with the New York joined the Brooklyn, Vixen, Oregon, and Texas in the chase. By the end of an hour it was evident that the Colon, for some reason, was not able to keep up her spurt, and that the American ships were gaining. About one o'clock the Oregon dropped a 13‑inch shell just ahead of the Spaniard, and fifteen minutes later, though practically uninjured, the latter fired a gun to leeward, lowered her colors, and ran ashore. After striking on the beach, her crew treacherously opened the sea valves and sank her. This incident completed the destruction of Admiral Cervera's fleet.

The following extract from Admiral Sampson's report of the battle bears gratifying testimony to the efforts of the American officers and men in the work of rescue:

"When about ten miles west of Santiago the Indiana had been signaled to go back to the harbor entrance, and at Acerraderos the Iowa was signaled to 'resume blockading station.' The Iowa, assisted by the Ericsson and the Hist, took off the crew of the Vizcaya, while the Harvard and the Gloucester rescued those of the Infanta  p456 Maria Teresa and the Almirante Oquendo. This rescue of prisoners, including the wounded from the burning Spanish vessels, was the occasion of some of the most daring and gallant conduct of the day. The ships were burning fore and aft, their guns and reserve ammunition were exploding, and it was not known at what moment the fire would reach the main magazine. In addition to this, a heavy surf was running just inside of the Spanish ships. But no risk deterred our officers and men until their work of humanity was complete."​2

The number of prisoners amounted to 1300, including the Spanish admiral. According to the latter's estimate, some 600 Spaniards were killed. On the American side but one man was killed (on the Brooklyn), and one man was seriously wounded. Although some of our ships were repeatedly struck, not one was seriously injured; and the Oregon, Indiana, Gloucester, Vixen, and New York were untouched.

A comparison of forces at the battle of Santiago shows that the advantage lay with the Americans. Cervera's four cruisers were modern steel vessels, three of 7000 tons, and one of 6840 tons. Besides these he had two destroyers.​3 On the other hand, Sampson had four battle­ships of more than 10,000 tons, besides two armored carriers upward of 8000 tons and a small converted yacht.

Comments on the Battle

Commander Jacobsen, of the German Navy, made the following suggestive comments on the disastrous attempt of Cervera's fleet:

"There was only one chance for the success of the  p457 sortie. It should have been made at night in scattered formation. After a personal investigation of the locality, it is my opinion that it is entirely practicable for a fleet to leave Santiago harbor at night. The wreck of the Merrimac did not constitute an obstruction. The dark nights at the time of the new moon about the middle of June would have been best suited for the enterprise. The vessels should have steered different courses, previously determined, with orders not to fight except when compelled to do so by the immediate vicinity of a hostile ship or when there was no possibility of escaping the enemy in the darkness. A rendezvous should have been fixed for the next day, where the ships that succeeded in escaping were to assemble.

"If the fleet did not dare to attempt a night sortie, and was nevertheless compelled to leave the harbor in obedience to orders, then the ships should have been headed straight at the enemy. All weapons, including the torpedo and the ram, should have been used. A bold account in close formation was the only chance of success against the superior hostile fighting forces, who would hardly have found time to form their lines."​4

In connection with the views of Commander Jacobsen, it is interesting to note that at conferences called on board the Spanish flagship in Santiago harbor on May 26 and June 8, to consider the advisability and means of a sortie, the chief of staff, Captain Bustamente, and Captain Concas of the Maria Teresa, voted in favor of an immediate sortie at night, in which the vessels should scatter and create as much confusion in the blockading squadron as possible, in much the same manner as that suggested by the German officer. The other officers of  p458 the squadron, including the admiral, voted against the sortie.

Commander Jacobsen mentions among the lessons to be learned from this battle the following: the abolition of all woodwork and of unprotected torpedo tubes; better protection for gun crews and for fire extinguishing apparatus against shell fire; the greatest possible simplicity in gun mechanism, and the greatest possible rapidity of fire; good speed of ships under normal conditions; and thorough training of crews in all branches of the service.5

The capitulation of Santiago followed very shortly after the destruction of the Spanish fleet. The city had been closely besieged by land, and the entrance of our ships into the harbor had cut off all relief on that side. On the 17th General Shafter occupied the city. The capitulation embraced the entire eastern end of Cuba. The number of Spanish soldiers surrendered was 22,000, all of whom were subsequently conveyed to Spain at the charge of the United States.

Occupation of Porto Rico

With the fall of Santiago, the occupation of Porto Rico became the next strategic necessity. General Miles had previously been assigned to organize an expedition for that purpose. Fortunately he was already at Santiago, where he had arrived on the 11th of July with reinforcements for General Shafter's army. With these troops, consisting of 3415 infantry and artillery, two companies of engineers, and one company of the Signal Corps, General Miles left Guantanamo on July 21, having nine transports convoyed by a squadron under Captain Higginson. The expedition landed at Guanica, Porto Rico, July 25, which port was entered with little opposition.  p459 From here two of the ships went to San Juan and thence to Fajardo and Ponce. On July 27 the major-general commanding entered Ponce, one of the most important ports of the island, from which place he thereafter directed operations for the capture of the island.

The campaign, which met with no serious resistance, was now prosecuted with great vigor, and by the 12th of August much of Porto Rico was in our possession, and the acquisition of the remainder was only a matter of a short time. At most of the points in the island our troops were enthusiastically welcomed.

Conclusion of the War

With the account of Santiago, Spain's efforts upon the ocean virtually ceased. A spasmodic attempt toward the end of June to send her Mediterranean fleet under Admiral Camara to relieve Manila was abandoned, the expedition being recalled after it had passed through the Suez Canal.

The last scene of the war was enacted at Manila, its starting place. On August 13, after a brief assault upon the works by the land forces, in which the squadron assisted, the capital surrendered unconditionally. The casualties were comparatively few. By this the conquest of the Philippine Islands, virtually accomplished when the Spanish capacity for resistance was destroyed by Admiral Dewey's victory of the 1st of May, was formally sealed.

The total casualties in the American Navy in killed and wounded during the war were: killed, seventeen; wounded, 67; died as a result of wounds, one; invalided from service, six; total, ninety‑one. Among the number of American killed was Ensign Worth Bagley, who lost his life on the torpedo-boat Winslow in its attack  p460 on May 11, on some batteries at Cardenas, Cuba. On the other hand, the Spaniards had at least 1000 killed and wounded; this is a conservative estimate, as Cervera reported 600 and Montojo 381 killed and wounded in the two great battles. This disparity in casualties was caused by the greater accuracy of Dewey's and Sampson's gunnery. Even if we admit that the American weight of metal was fifty per cent greater than the Spanish — a conservative estimate — it nevertheless remains true that the hits were out of all proportion to the respective numbers of guns, or respective weight of metal thrown. For instance, at Santiago the United States vessels made about 123 hits to thirty-five of the Spaniards,​6 and the latter were mostly by small projectiles that did little or no damage. With such a difference, the enemy might have had a much larger number of ships and guns, with the victory still on the side of the United States.

It is noteworthy, further, that while the American Navy was engaged in two great battles, besides difficult and perilous undertakings in blockade and bombardment, and transported more than 50,000 troops to the scenes of action, it did not lose a gun or a ship, and the crew of the Merrimac were the only prisoners captured by the Spaniards during the war.

The Peace Treaty

The annihilation of Admiral Cervera's fleet, followed by the capitulation of Santiago, brought to the Spanish Government a realizing sense of the hopelessness of continuing a struggle now become wholly unequal; and overtures of peace were made through the French ambassador,  p461 who had acted as the friendly representative of Spanish interests during the war. On the afternoon of August 12, M. Cambon, as the plenipotentiary of Spain, and our Secretary of State, as the plenipotentiary of the United States, signed a proto­col which suspended hostilities.

The proto­col was followed by the treaty of peace between the United States and the kingdom of Spain, signed at Paris, December 10, 1898, and ratified and proclaimed at Washington, April 11, 1899. It was, in brief, as follows:

Article I. Spain relinquishes all claim of sovereignty over and title to Cuba.

Article II. Spain cedes to the United States the island of Porto Rico and other islands now under Spanish sovereignty in the West Indies, and the island of Guam in the Marianas or Ladrones.

Article III. Spain cedes to the United States the archipelago known as the Philippine Islands. The United States will pay Spain the sum of twenty million dollars ($20,000,000) within three months after the exchange of the ratifications of the present treaty.

The Authors' Notes:

1 Mahan, Lessons of the War with Spain, p106.

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2 Goode, With Sampson Through the War, p299.

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3 Admiral Cervera had to leave his third destroyer, the Terror, at Martinique.

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4 Jacobsen, Sketches from the Spanish-American War, Office of Naval Intelligence, War Notes, No. IV, pp17, 18.

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5 Jacobsen, Sketches from the Spanish-American War, Office of Naval Intelligence, War Notes, No. IV, p18.

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6 Figures compiled by the Scientific American, from the official report of the Survey Board, quoted by Spears, Our Navy in the War with Spain, p341.

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