« PreviousContinue »
ATTEMPT TO CUT CABLES.
deemed advisable to cut these cables.* The task was both difficult and dangerous, for it would be necessary to approach almost to the shore in light boats in order to grapple for the cables. Every volunteer knew that the chances were that hardly a man could escape injury, yet this knowledge caused no hesitation on their part. As soon as the call was issued, volunteers came from the Nashville, the Marblehead, and the Windom, from whom a squad of picked men was finally selected. Under Lieutenants Winslow and Anderson the party manned four launches and set out on their perilous enterprise. The Nashville and the Marblehead endeavored to protect the men at work by shelling the bushes along the shores, but in
*"The precedents as to such action prior to the war with Spain, were not numerous, since communication by cables is a comparatively recent thing. On the outbreak of the war, the Government of the United States considered the advantage of declaring telegraph cables neutral.' and to that end directed the naval forces in Cuban waters to refrain from interfering with them till further orders. This inhibition, evidently, was soon revoked. Early in May, 1898, two out of three cables were cut near Cienfuegos, with a view to sever connection with Havana. On May
16, an unsuccessful effort was made to cut the Santiago-Jamaica cables; and two days later one of them was severed 1.3 miles off Morro Castle. May 20, the cable connecting Cuba and Hayti was broken outside the marine league off Mole St. Nicholas. July 11, the cable connecting Santa Cruz del Sur, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Havana, with Manzanillo and the east of Cuba,
was cut; as was also, five days later, the line connecting Santa Cruz and Jucaro."- Moore, Digest of International Law, vol. vii., p. 369. See also Wilson, Submarine Telegraph Cables in their International Relations, Naval War College pubs (August, 1901).
spite of this the Spanish rifles kept up a continuous fusillade; the firing at the range of 200 yards becoming at last so furious that the boats were forced to retire before all of the cables were cut. Five men were killed and four wounded in this affair, which, like the one at Cardenas, was distinctly a failure.
Yet in a large sense, neither enterprise was a failure. They revealed that the spirit of the American soldier and sailor was still alive and potent whether in victory or defeat. The first few weeks of the war demonstrated to an expectant world that the younger generation who were now making history possessed in the fullest measure that quality of hardihood and dauntlessness that their fathers and grandfathers had shown at Yorktown, Lake Erie or Gettysburg. The age of heroic achievement had not yet passed.
Cases of individual daring and initiative were not lacking; the necessity for getting in touch with the Cuban army, in particular, calling for those traits. Among those who distinguished themselves in the efforts to bring assistance to the Cubans were Captain Dorst, who commanded several expeditions of the kind, and Lieutenant Rowan, of the 19th Infantry, who made a most hazardous journey to the interior of the island where he conferred with General Gomez, formulating plans for the coöperation of the two armies during the forthcoming campaign.
THE QUEST OF CERVERA.
Theories regarding destination of the Spanish Flying Squadron-Sampson decides in favor of San Juan, Porto Rico, and proceeds against the same-The bombardment of San Juan-The Spanish fleet reported at Martinique and Curacao-The voyage of the Oregon.
It was not until after peace was declared that the American people were permitted to obtain a glimpse of the desperate straits in which the Spanish navy found itself at the outbreak of the war. Had they known then that Admiral Cervera, a brave and kindly man, and an able commander, was forced to leave St. Vincent unprepared and desponding, there would have been less agitation on the sea-coast of the United States. Yet this they could not know, and hence it became imperative to form some conclusions regarding the fleet's destination. All of the problems of the war centered on this one point, for until the Cape Verde fleet was eliminated all other activities must of necessity be subordinated. Four theories were proposed: first, first, that the Philippine Islands were the objective point; second, that Cervera was bound for
*"I send to-day the official letter which I announced yesterday. Its conclusions are indeed conflicting; but can we afford to cherish illusions? Do we not owe to our country not only our lives, if necessary, but the exposition of our beliefs? I am very uneasy about this. I ask myself if it is right for me to keep silent, and thereby make myself an accomplice in adventures which shall surely cause the ruin of Spain." Admiral Cervera, Official correspondence, February 26, 1898.
Cienfuegos, as it was reported that he had munitions of war for Havana; third, that he was bound for Santiago de Cuba; and fourth, that San Juan, Porto Rico, was the probable destination of the fleet. The first hypothesis was dismissed as being untenable, leaving the other three to be acted upon. Admiral Sampson, alone, conceived that Santiago would be selected by the Spanish admiral, but considered Cienfuegos, the southern port of supply for Havana, or San Juan, the Porto Rican capital, more logical from a strategical point of view.
With the purpose, therefore of settling the question as far as San Juan was concerned,* he detached the Iowa, Indiana, New York, Detroit, Amphitrite, Wompatuck, and the Montgomery from the blockading fleet and proceeded with them to Porto Rico. The ships arrived opposite the harbor of San Juan just as dawn was breaking on May 11. As soon as it became light
*"Undoubtedly, at the time of leaving the Cape Verde Islands, Cervera knew the disposition of our vessels, and would be deterred from coming to our Northern coast by the presence of these powerful ships. Should he attempt this, it must be done in the face of great difficulties. He must approach our coast short of coal, always a much dreaded misfortune. Then he would be
BOMBARDMENT OF SAN JUAN.
enough to permit of accurate aiming, the order to begin firing was given. At the word the great guns from the turrets of the Iowa opened upon Morro Castle. The other ships followed suit and soon the whole fleet was hurling tons of steel-clad explosives against the Spanish fortifications. So rapid was the firing that the ships in a short time became enveloped in the pall of smoke belched from their guns, which at last became so dense that the command was given to silence the secondary batteries in order that the shore might be seen. The error of judgment that caused the retention of the antiquated black powder was never more emphasized than at the bombardment of San Juan. To this fact was due the low standard shown by the gunnery on this occasion. It is true that a heavy sea was running, and that the fortresses were situated upon points so elevated that aiming was difficult, yet these facts alone could not explain or justify the number of shots that missed or went wild. Indeed, not a few shells passed entirely over Morro and exploded in
likely to have breakdowns; and where could he make repairs, either before or after fighting? The disabling of one of his ships meant delay to all the others, and, in an encounter, meant, besides, the loss of the disabled ship, almost without a blow. Any or all of these things might happen, and I believed he would think the risks too great. So, all things considered, it seemed to me most probable that he would try for San Juan. There he would be at home; only there he could hope to make repairs and there he could be sure of more coal, so necessary to enable him to reach a port in Cuba. Our part was plainly to meet him before he could reach San Juan." — Admiral Sampson, in Century Magazine (April, 1899).
the Iowa, and the Amphitrite were struck by large shells, but their injuries were relatively unimportant.
One man was killed and four wounded on the New York, three wounded on the Iowa, and a gunner's mate suffocated by the appalling heat in the turret of the Amphitrite.
The bombardment of San Juan was little more than a reconnoissance in force, the main object in view being the discovery of the position of the Spanish fleet. It was clear, after the first few minutes, that the vessels of Cervera were not here, so the American fleet did not delay, but headed immediately towards the west, leaving the Spanish garrison possessed of the hallucination that it had repulsed the
In the meantime the fast converted cruisers, the Harvard, Yale, St. Louis and St. Paul, were scouting among the islands and passages of the Antilles hoping to intercept the Spanish fleet should it take its course to some port other than San Juan. It was from
Captain Cotton of the Harvard that the information came that Cervera had touched at St. Pierre, the principal port of the French island of Martinique, and two days later (May 14) came the news from Willemstad, Curaçao, that the Spanish fleet had obtained a small supply of coal for its torpedo boats at that point. Therefore, when Admiral Sampson anchored his vessels in the harbor of Cape Haytien (May 15), he received the information not vouchsafed by the guns of his fleet at San Juan. The same cable line that flashed this to Sampson was also the medium by which the Spanish admiral learned of the assault on San Juan, and he accordingly changed his plans. To go to that port under the circumstances, as he cabled to Minister Bermejo, "would be madness." That the Spanish ministry was aware of his desperate straits is furthermore evidenced by the message received by him from Bermejo while at Martinique to the effect that he could return to Spain if he found it necessary. Nevertheless, in spite of misgivings, he continued toward the coast of Cuba, finally reaching Santiago on May 19. To the Spaniards in Cuba the only
Have received your cipher telegram advising me of pitiful condition of your naval forces. Believe no more can come from Spain, as none were available except Carlos V, Alfonso XIII, and a few destroyers and torpedo boats. Pelayo has not, I believe, her secondary battery installed. Possibly some of the trans-Atlantics purchased may come with stores. I believe there are four; speed good. My coming here has been somewhat accidental; according to instructions I was to go to Porto Rico."- Admiral Cervera to the commandant-general of navy yard at Havana (Manterola), Santiago, May 22, 1898.
hope of saving the island lay in succor from the Mother Country. They well knew that the naval and military forces already available could hold out but a short time against the wellnigh unlimited resources of the United States. Any illusions they may have had were wholly dispelled by the coming of Cervera's fleet. Instead of a dozen battleships and a flotilla of lesser craft, here were only six vessels in all, some of them clearly crippled by the voyage across the Atlantic. The fleet, instead of proving a savior, soon proved to be an incubus, only adding heavier burdens to the beleaguered city. The additional 2,000 mouths to feed hastened the famine already imminent, and, furthermore the coming of Admiral Cervera, himself, soon resulted in a collision of authority between him and General Blanco that in the end proved disastrous to the plans of both.
For one week Cervera was unmolested in the harbor of Santiago, and if he had hunted throughout the harbors of the world he could not have found a more secure hiding-place. It was SO secure, indeed, that once within, the problem would be to get out. Under favorable conditions the city could hold out against almost any force, military or naval, for nature has done everything to render it impregnable. The entire line of the coast of the southern extension of Cuba is marked by mountains of heights varying from less than a thousand to 8,000 feet. These in many places rise sheer from the waters of
SCHLEY AND THE FLYING SQUADRON.
the sea, which, not far from the coast, assumes a depth of 6,000 feet. Here and there along this natural barricade are bays and inlets, which run back into the mountains. The largest of these are Guantanamo and Santiago. It is almost impossible for a person unwarned of its presence to discover the entrance to the latter, so narrow is it and so beset with mountains. The channel, though less than 200 yards in width, is of sufficient depth, and is feasible to the largest battleships. Guarding this entrance is the ancient Morro Castle, the largest and most interesting of the three in Cuba and
Porto Rico. It has all the character
istics of a medieval castle, and though it appears impregnable on its frowning height, 200 feet above the sea, it would be but poor protection against modern gun-fire. Santiago is at the head of the bay, four miles from Morro. Founded by Velasquez, the conqueror of Cuba (1514), it is perhaps the oldest city established by Europeans, and still retains many vestiges of its ancient origin.
The week following the departure of Cervera from Curaçao was a busy one for the American navy. It was assumed that he was bound for a Cuban port, for it was announced at Willemstad that San Juan was the objective point, and familiarity with Spanish diplomatic methods was not calculated to inspire faith in a statement made under such circumstances. As a consequence San Juan was largely ignored for the time being. It was decided to envelop the island of Cuba
with the entire naval force, and in furtherance of this plan Commodore Schley was ordered to proceed with the Atlantic flying squadron to Cienfuegos by the way of Yucatan Channel, thus sweeping the western end of the island in order to intercept Cervera should he attempt to reach Havana by that route. As Sampson's fleet was guarding the eastern end, the latter conceived that the escape of the Spanish fleet would be an impossibility.
Schley proceeded to Cienfuegos without discovering any traces of the foe, and finally stationed himself at that port, acting with such deliberation that he drew upon his head the ire of Secretary Long and Admiral Sampson, which resulted in the issuance of orders placing his squadron under command of Sampson. He was ordered to leave Cienfuegos on May 25 and proceed to Santiago de Cuba, but delayed his departure, acting on the assumption that Cervera was in the former port. His reports also contain a number of references to lack of fuel, and the difficulty of coaling off the Cuban coast. He arrived, however, at Santiago May 28, and immediately threw the navy department into a panic by threatening to return to Key West for supplies.* Impera
* We have no desire to enter into the unfortu nate controversy that arose as a result of Admiral Schley's actions in the Santiago affair. The facts given are taken substantially from the documents themselves, and, although the Court of Inquiry requested by Schley himself decided (Admiral Dewey dissenting) that he had failed in his duty from the strictest point of view, yet