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THE MERRIMACK PREPARED.
experience at Cienfuegos was repeated. It seemed as if every man in the fleet wished to join in the desperate adventure. A careful selection was made, the men from the Merrimack being preferred because of their familiarity with the ship. The following were the ones selected for the attempt: Osborn Deignan, George F. Phillips, and John Kelly of the Merrimack; George Charette and Randolph Clausen of the New York; Daniel Montague of the Brooklyn; and J. C. Murphy of the Iowa. Captain Miller, commander of the Merrimack, entered a vigorous protest a vigorous protest against being thus deprived of his command and ship, but was persuaded by Admiral Sampson to give place to Mr. Hobson under the circumstances.*
For two days the men of the fleet worked desperately to get the Merrimack in condition for the attempt. She was stripped of everything possible; the torpedoes, which had been made in the meanwhile, were rigged to the bottom by cables, an anchor provided at the stern, and the electric batteries arranged for the firing of the charges. Lieutenant Hobson had requested to be allowed to carry some of the war-heads to the regulation
service torpedoes, but this was denied by Sampson because of their danger to the crew.
At last all was ready. had removed all their garments that might interfere with their actions on the vessel or in swimming when overboard. The arduous labors of the preceding days had almost exhausted the men, but the plan to make the attempt on the morning of June 2 was adhered to, and the start was accordingly made just before daybreak. Orders to return, however, came from the flag-ship; Admiral Sampson having decided as the result of his final inspection of the Merrimack that the incompleteness of the preparations and the condition of the men warranted a delay. The young officer and his men were intensely disappointed, and obeyed the command with reluctance; yet in the end it was clear that the recall was wise. One of the men, Mullen, was found to be thoroughly prostrated by the strain, rendering it necessary to substitute Murphy, a coxswain of the Iowa, in his place during the following day. An additional man, Clausen, was also taken on board; not as a stowaway, as has been freely reported, but by permission of Hobson.
At 3:30 the next morning, the Merrimack again got under way towards the narrow pass. Accompanying her was the launch of the New York, under command of Ensign Powell, to whom had been assigned the dangerous task of standing by the entrance
to the harbor to await the result of the sortie in order to pick up those who might escape from the doomed vessel.
In the light of a moon obscured by mist, the Merrimack steamed slowly towards Morro Castle, which was soon towering above the collier and its daring crew. All was silent in in the Spanish fortresses, but just as the narrow cleft in the hills was reached Lieutenant Hobson became assured that his vessel had been perceived, so the command "Full speed ahead!" was given, and the great craft shot forward into the very midst of a waiting foe. When within a hundred yards or more of Morro a shot rang out from a picket-boat concealed in the shadow of the bluffs. This was followed by other shots, the majority of which appeared to be directed against the steering-gear of the Merrimack. Soon the batteries opened up, and as the ship gained the entrance to the channel the water was churned by the rain of projectiles. Although struck numberless times, the vessel continued to answer to its helm, and the orders transmitted to the engineers in the hold were responded to as accurately as if the men were wholly unconscious of their peril. As soon as the position opposite Estrella Point at which it was planned to sink the Merrimack was gained, the command to put the helm hard aport was given, but to the dismay of all she did not swing athwart the channel as was anticipated. This
was but the beginning of failures. In endeavoring to fire the torpedoes, also, it was found that some of the batteries had been destroyed by the enemy's fire, and therefore the charges could not be ignited. In the darkness and wild tumult, Lieutenant Hobson noted that the ship was apparently motionless just off Estrella Point, from whence came a perfect torrent of projectiles. After all, perhaps they were going to succeed! He thought that the anchor provided at the stern had been cut loose, and was holding.* His hopes lasted but a moment, as the vessel had merely grounded, and the tide soon swung the ship off the rocks and swept her out of the narrows into the wider channel opposite Smith Cay. Here the slowly sinking ship became the center of a perfect hell of flames and explosions. The men on board lay flat on the deck, and by some miraculous means none were seriously injured. What Hobson and his own men could not do by means of their own torpedoes, the Spaniards did with theirs, for they launched several from the Mercedes and the Pluton which gave the coup de grace, sinking the Merrimack just off Socapa Point.
During the whole experience the men showed the utmost bravery, obeying orders without a murmur and without hesitation. As the vessel trembled to its final plunge, all gathered around the life raft, to which
* This, however, was not the case, as the whole stern with anchor-rigging had been torn away by a large projectile.
MERRIMACK FAILS TO BLOCK CHANNEL.
they clung, buffeted by the whirling vortex produced by the sinking ship. Only two of the men were wounded to any extent, although all were much bruised by contact with floating objects from the decks of the Merrimack. They were not discovered by the launches from the Spanish fleet, and remained in the freezing water until daybreak, when they were picked up by a launch that contained, as they soon learned, Admiral Cervera himself. He congratulated them on their bravery, and offered to report their capture and safety to the American fleet under flag of truce.
The prisoners were first immured in Morro Castle, which experienced, while they were there, a bombardment by the blockading fleet (June 6). Lieutenant Hobson thought that the placing of his men and himself in this position of great danger but another example of Spanish ideas of honorable warfare. Whether this was true or not, they were transferred June 7 to Santiago, where they were treated as kindly as conditions would permit. In Mr. Hobson's account of his experiences are grateful and enthusiastic references to Admiral Cervera, Captains Acosta and Bustamente, Lieutenant Müller y Tejeiro, the English Consul, Ramsden, and others. They remained as prisoners in Santiago until July 6, when they were exchanged and made a triumphant return to the American lines.
The sinking of the Merrimack may
* Hobson, Sinking of the Merrimack in Century Magazine, vol. lvii., (1898-99).
well be classed among the heroic deeds of America, or, in fact, of all history. Though unsuccessful, and, as events proved, perhaps fortunately so, nevertheless the bravery of the men who took part in the enterprise cannot be minimized. The chances against their coming through with their lives were immeasurably great, and every man on board the vessel was well aware of the fact when he volunteered. Their escape, indeed, was nearly miraculous, and has been cited by unsympathetic commentators as merely another example of Yankee luck. Yet, as has been seen, luck was allowed to enter into the plans as little as possible. The preparations for the enterprise were hastily but none the less carefully made, and though Cervera's fleet was not "bottled up," the moral effect of the feat was electric, and contributed powerfully towards the discouragement of the Spanish forces at Santiago.
In the meanwhile the blockade con
tinued steadily. tinued steadily. The semicircle of mighty ships, spread out fan-like on the horizon during the day, closing up to the distance of three or four miles during the night, held the Spanish ships securely as birds in a net. Day and night hundreds of keen eyes were turned on the narrow pass, which was illuminated at night by the rays of powerful search-lights. The tedium. of four weeks of watchful inactivity in torrid seas proved a terrible strain on the men of the fleet, and stories are told of guns fired at imaginary torpedo-boats, at caverns on the rocky
coast, or the smoke from a distant train. The Spanish situation, too, was becoming more and more distressing; beleagured, after June 14, both by land and sea, the authorities saw at last the fatal error of permitting the fleet to remain in Santiago. Imperative orders came to Cervera from Madrid to leave for Cienfuegos, Havana, the Philippines, or anywhere, the Ministry little dreaming that he was as anxious as they for a solution to his problems. He saw clearly, however, one thing to which they were blind-that his fleet was doomed.
On June 6 the American ships bombarded Morro Castle and the near-by fortifications. It was during this attack that a new and terrific engine of war was first brought into play. This was the cruiser Vesuvius, carrying guns arranged to fire dynamite projectiles by the means of compressed air. While this vessel failed to be as efficient as its designers hoped, yet the effect of its enormous shells filled the
Spanish army with dismay. guns when fired were almost noiseless, hence it was not until the mass of steel and nitro-glycerine forming the projectiles exploded with their impact that the presence of the Vesuvius was revealed. Where they struck great caverns were torn in the bluffs, and everything within fifty yards was ground to dust. The Vesuvius, however, had one crowning defect; its guns could not be aimed with any accuracy, hence the destination of its shells was more or less a matter of chance. But chance is an element that must be mercilessly eliminated from modern warfare, so the Vesuvius was the first and last of its kind.
*"One of the projectiles which fell on the northern slope of the Socapa, tore up trees right and left for a distance of about 20 meters.
a certain distance, as I could see the day I went to the Mercedes, it looked as though a road had been opened across the mountain."- Muller y Pereira, Battles and Capitulation of Santiago de Cuba. (In Notes on the Spanish-American War. Pub. by Navy Dept. U. S. Govt. Printing Office.)
LANDING THE ARMY AND THE AFFAIR AT LAS GUASIMAS.
The embarkation - Transports detained Santiago - The fight at Las Guasimas - The
The marines at Guantanamo Congestion at Key West
countermarched at the training camps it seemed as if the opportunity would never come. The camps were but
For more than two months the army had been waiting for its chance to strike against the enemy, and to the men interminably marched and temporary arrangements at the best,
CONDITIONS IN AMERICAN CAMPS.
and had all the evils attendant upon the crowding of large numbers of men within limited space. The food was not seldom of a bad quality, often delayed in transit, and even when obtained was poorly prepared. In no case were the sanitary conditions perfect, and in many they were discreditable. This was due in part to the haste of preparation, in part to the fact that numbers of the medical officers had absolutely no experience in camp sanitation, and in part to the ignorance and negligence of the volunteers, who often refused to take the hygienic precautions enjoined upon them. "Officers and men in these camps were rife for war, and drill, parades, practice marches, and military camp duties occupied the whole of their time and energies. Considerations of domestic economy and sanitation in the companies and regiments were not given proper attention, and men who were being taught to meet the enemy in battle succumbed to the hardships and insanitary conditions of life in their camps of instruction."'* Typhoid, malaria, and other endemic diseases were prevalent in the camps at all times, but soon the horrors were intensified by the outbreak of yellow fever in the Mississippi camps. In view of these facts it is therefore not surprising that up to September 30, 1898, the records of the Surgeon-General show that only 345 men had lost their lives from wounds, and 2,485 from disease. That a good share of That a good share of
Report of Surgeon-General Sternberg, October 17, 1898.
these deaths by disease could have been prevented, there is not the faintest shadow of doubt.
It was therefore with a sense of profound relief that the army learned of a general movement against Santiago. That Cervera was there was a certainty at last, for Lieutenant Victor Blue of the Suwanee, as the result of a daring journey into the Spanish lines, reported June 13 that he had gained an unobstructed view of Santiago Bay and the warships within. This, however, was but the verification of a theory that the administration had been acting upon since June 1. The entire Fifth Army Corps, under command of Major-General W. R. Shafter, had embarked for Cuba as early as June 8, but the transports were hardly under way before they were halted, upon the false rumor that Spanish cruisers had been seen in Nicholas Channel. The transports were turned back to Tampa, and for six days lay off the wharves, filled with fretting and uncomfortable men. At last, however, it was learned that the menacing Spanish fleet had been composed of American ships of war, so on June 14, the fleet again got under way, this time to proceed without interruption to the Cuban coast. This delay was doubtless justified under the circumstances, but would have been needless had the transports been adequately convoyed by battleships. The mistake, however, had been made beyond recall, and there was no remedy.
The question of a landing-place for