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Santiago, naval battle of

See also Sampson, William Thomas; Schley, Winfield Scott; Spain, War with. United States Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, in a narrative of the American-Spanish War, gives the following graphic history of the great naval engagement off the entrance to the harbor of Santiago de Cuba on July 3, 1898:

It matters little now why Cervera pushed open the door of Santiago Harbor and rushed out to ruin and defeat. The admiral himself would have the world [55] understand that he was forced out by illadvised orders from Havana and Madrid. Very likely this is true. It did not occur to the Spaniards that the entire American army had been flung upon El Caney and San Juan, and that there were no reserves. Their own reports, moreover, from the coast were wild and exaggerated, so that, deceived by these as well as by the daring movements and confident attitude of the American army, they concluded that the city was menaced by not less than 50,000 men. Under these conditions Santiago would soon be surrounded, cut off, starved, and taken. It is true that Admiral Cervera had announced that if the Americans entered Santiago he would shell and destory the city, and he would probably have done so, with complete Spanish indifference to the wanton brutality of such an act. But it is difficult to see how this performance would have helped the army or saved the fleet. With the American army on the heights of San Juan, and extending its lines, the ultimate destruction or capture of the entire squadron was a mere question of time. The process might be made more or less bloody, but the final outcome could not be avoided, and was certain to be complete. On the other hand, a wild rush out of the harbor might result possibly in the escape of one or more ships, and such an escape, properly treated in official despatches, could very well be made to pass in Spain for a victory. In remaining, there could be nothing but utter ruin, however long postponed. In going out, there was at least a chance, however slight, of saving something. So Cervera was ordered to leave the harbor of Santiago. He would have liked to go by night, but the narrow entrance glared out of the darkness brilliant with the white blaze of the search-lights, and beyond lay the enemy, veiled in darkness, waiting and watching. The night was clearly impossible. It must be daylight, if at all. So on Sunday morning at halfpast nine the Spanish fleet with bottled steam came out of the harbor with a rush, the flag-ship Maria Teresa leading; then the other three cruisers, about 800 yards apart; then, at 1,200 yards distance, the two crack Clyde-built torpedo-boat destroyers Furor and Pluton. As Admiral Sampson was to meet General Shafter that morning at Siboney, the New York had started to the eastward, and was 4 miles away from her station when, at the sound of the guns, she swung round and rushed after the running battle-ships, which she could never quite overtake. It was a cruel piece of ill fortune that the admiral, who had made every arrangement for the fight, should, by mere chance of war, have been deprived of his personal share in it. Equally cruel was the fortune which had taken Captain Higginson and the Massachusetts on that day to Guantanamo to coal. These temporary absences left (beginning at the westward) the Brooklyn, Texas, Iowa, Oregon, Indiana, and the two converted yachts Gloucester and Vixen lying near inshore, to meet the escaping enemy. Quick eyes on the Iowa detected first the trailing line of smoke in the narrow channel. Then the

The relative positions of the ships in the battle of July 3, 1898, off Santiago.


The last of the Almirante Oquendo.

Brooklyn saw them, then all the fleet, and there was no need of the signal “enemy escaping,” which went up on the Iowa and Brooklyn. Admiral Sampson's order had long since been given: “If the enemy tries to escape, the ships must close and engage as soon as possible and endeavor to sink his vessels or force them to run ashore.” Every ship was always stripped for action, each captain on the station knew this order, his crew needed no other, and the perfect execution of it was the naval battle at Santiago.

The Spanish ships came out at 8 to 10 knots speed, cleared the Diamond Shoal, and then turned sharply to the westward. As they issued forth they opened a fierce, rapid, but ill-directed fire with all guns, which shrouded them in smoke. The missiles fell most thickly perhaps about the Indiana and Brooklyn, the two ships at the opposite ends of the crescent line, but seemed also to come in a dense flight over the Oregon and the rest. Around the Indiana the projectiles tore the water into foam, and the Brooklyn, which the Spaniards had some vague plan of disabling, because they believed her to be the one fast ship, was struck twenty-five times, but not seriously injured. The Spanish attack, with its sudden burst of fire, was chiefly in the first rush, for it was soon drowned in the fierce reply. The American crews were being mustered for Sunday inspection when the enemy was seen. They were always prepared for action, and as the signal went up the men were already at quarters. There was no need for Admiral Sampson's distant signal to close in and attack, for that was what they did.

The only disadvantage at the outset was that they were under low steam, and it took time to gather way, so that the Spaniards, with a full head of steam, gained in the first rush. But this did not check the closing in, nor the heavy broadsides which were poured upon the Spanish ships as they came by and turned to the westward. Then it was that the Maria Teresa and the Oquendo received their death-wounds. Then it was that a 13-inch shell from the Indiana struck the Teresa, exploding under the quarter-deck; and that the broadsides of the Iowa, flung on each cruiser as it headed her in turn, and of the Oregon and Texas, tore [57] the sides of the Oquendo, the Vizcaya, and the flag-ship. The Spanish fire sank under that of the American gunners, shooting coolly as if at target practice, and sweeping the Spanish decks with a fire which drove the men from the guns. On went the Spanish ships in their desperate flight, the American ships firing rapidly and steadily upon them, always closing in, and beginning now to gather speed. The race was a short one to two of the Spanish ships, fatally wounded in the first savage encounter.

In little more than half an hour the Spanish flag-ship Maria Teresa was headed to the shore, and at a quarter past ten she was a sunken, burning wreck upon the beach at Nima Nima, a distance of about 6 miles from Santiago. Fifteen minutes later, and half a mile farther on, the Oquendo was beached near Juan Gonzales, a mass of flames, shot to pieces, and a hopeless wreck. For these two ships of the Spanish navy, flight and fight were alike over.

At the start, the Brooklyn, putting her helm to port, had gone round, bearing away from the land, and then steamed to the westward, so that, as she was the fastest in our squadron, she might be sure to head off the swiftest Spanish ship. In the lead with the Brooklyn was the Texas, holding the next position in the line. But the Oregon was about to add to the laurels she had already won in her great voyage from ocean to ocean. With a burst of speed which astonished all who saw her, and which seemed almost incredible in a battle-ship, she forged ahead to the second place in the chase, for such it had now become. the Teresa and Oquendo had gone to wreck, torn by the fire of all the ships. the Vizcaya had also suffered severely, but struggled on, pursued by the leading ships, and under their fire, especially that of the Oregon, until, at a quarter past eleven, she too was turned to the shore and beached, at Acerraderos, 15 miles from Santiago, a shattered, blazing hulk.

In the mean time the two torpedo-boats, coming out last from the harbor, about ten o'clock, had made a rush to get by the American ships; but their high speed availed them nothing. The secondary batteries of the battle-ships were turned upon them with disastrous effect, and they also met an enemy especially reserved for them.

The Gloucester and the Spanish torpedo-boats.

[58] the Gloucester, a converted yacht, with no armor, but with a battery of small rapidfire guns, was lying inshore when the Spaniards made their break for liberty. Undauntedly firing her light shells at the great cruisers as they passed, the Gloucester waited, gathering steam, for the destroyers. The moment these boats appeared, Lieutenant-Commander Wainwright, unheeding the fire of the Socapa battery, drove the Gloucester straight upon them at top speed, giving them no time to use their torpedoes, even if they had so desired. The fierce, rapid, well-directed fire of the Gloucester swept the decks of the torpedo-boats, and tore their upper works and sides. Shattered by the shells from the battle-ships, and overwhelmed by the close and savage attack of the Gloucester, which fought in absolute disregard of the fire from either ships or shore, the race of the torpedo-boat destroyers was soon run. Within twenty minutes of their rush from the harbor's mouth the Furor was beached and sunk, and the Pluton had gone down in deep water. At the risk of their lives the officers and men of the Gloucester boarded their sinking enemies, whose decks looked like shambles, and saved all those who could be saved. There were but few to rescue. Nineteen were taken from the Furor, twenty-six from the Pluton; all the rest of the sixty-four men on each boat were killed or drowned. It is worth while to make a little comparison here. the Furor and Pluton were 370 tons each, with a complement together of 134 men. They had together four 11-pounders, four 6-pounders, and four Maxim guns, in addition to their torpedoes. the Gloucester was of 800 tons, with ninety-three men, four 6-pounders, four 3-pounders, and two Colt automatic guns. The Spanish ships were fatally wounded probably by the secondary batteries of the battle-ships, but they were hunted down and destroyed by the Gloucester, which, regardless of the fire of the Socapa battery, closed with them and overwhelmed them. There is a very interesting exhibition here of the superior quality of the American sailor. The fierce, rapid, gallant attack of the Gloucester carried all before it, and showed that spirit of daring sea-fighting without which the best ships and the finest guns are of little avail, and which has made the English-speaking man the victor on the ocean from the days of the Armada.

When the Vizcaya went ashore at a quarter past eleven, only one Spanish ship remained, the Cristobal Colon. She was the newest, the fastest, and the best of the squadron. With their bottled steam, all the Spanish cruisers gained at first, while the American ships were gathering and increasing their pressure, but the Colon gained most of all. She did, apparently, comparatively little firing, kept inside of her consorts, hugging the shore, and then raced ahead, gaining on all the American ships except the Brooklyn, which kept on outside to head her off. When the Vizcaya went ashore, the Colon had a lead of about 6 miles over the Brooklyn and the Oregon, which had forged to the front, with the Texas and Vixen following at their best speed. As the New York came tearing along the coast, striving with might and main to get into the fight, now so nearly done, Admiral Sampson saw, after he passed the wreck of the Vizcaya, that the American ships were overhauling the Spaniard. the Colon had a contract speed 5 knots faster than the contract speed of the Oregon. But the Spaniard's best was 7 knots below her contract speed, while the Oregon, fresh from her 14,000 miles of travel, was going a little faster than her contract speed, a very splendid thing, worthy of much thought and consideration as to the value of perfect and honest workmanship done quite obscurely in the builder's yard, and of the skill, energy, and exact training which could then get more than any one had a right to expect from both ship and engines. On they went, the Americans coming ever nearer, until at last, at ten minutes before one, the Brooklyn and the Oregon opened fire. A thirteen-inch shell from the great battle-ship, crushing her way at top speed through the water, fell in the sea beyond the Colon; the eightinch shells of the Brooklyn began to drop about her; more big shells from the Oregon turret followed; and then, without firing another shot, the Spaniard hauled down her flag and ran at full speed ashore upon the beach at Rio Tarquino, 45 miles from Santiago. Captain Cook of the Brooklyn boarded her, received the [59] surrender, and reported it to Admiral Sampson, who had come up finally just in time to share in the last act of the drama. the Colon was only slightly hurt by shells, but it was soon found that the Spaniards, to whom the point of honor is very dear, had opened and broken her sea-valve after surrendering her, and that she was filling fast. the New York pushed her in nearer the shore, and she sank, comparatively uninjured, in shoal water.

So the fight ended. Every Spanish ship which had dashed out of the harbor in the morning was a half-sunken wreck on the Cuban coast at half-past 1. The officers and men of the Iowa, assisted by the Ericsson and Hist, took off the Spanish crews from the red-hot decks and amid the exploding batteries and ammunition of the Vizcaya. The same work was done by the Gloucester and Harvard for the Oquendo and Maria Teresa. From the water and the surf, from the beaches, and from the burning wrecks, at greater peril than they had endured all day, American officers and crews rescued their beaten foes. A very noble conclusion to a very perfect victory. The Spanish lost, according to their own accounts and the best estimates, 350 killed or drowned, 160 wounded, and ninety-nine officers and 1,675 men prisoners, including, of course, those on the Furor and Pluton, as already given. The American loss was one man killed and one wounded, both on the Brooklyn. Such completeness of result and such perfection of execution are as striking here as at Manila, and Europe, which had been disposed at first to belittle Manila, saw at Santiago that these things were not accidental, and considered the performances of the American navy in a surprised and flattering, but by no means happy, silence. At Santiago the Spaniards had the best types of modern cruisers, three built by British workmen in Spanish yards, and one, the Colon, in Italy, while the torpedo-boat destroyers were fresh from the Clyde, and the very last expression of English skill. The American ships were heavier in armament and armor, but much slower. The Americans could throw a heavier weight of metal, but the Spaniards had more quick-fire guns, and ought to have been able to fire at the rate of seventy-seven more shots in five minutes than their opponents. According to the contract speed, the Spanish cruisers had a great advantage over all their American opponents, with the exception of the Brooklyn, and of the New York, which was absent. If they had lived up to their qualities as set down in every naval register, they ought to have made a most brilliant fight, and some of them ought to have escaped. They also had the advantage of coming out under a full head of steam, which their opponents lacked, and yet in less than two hours all but one were shattered wrecks along the shore, and in less than two hours more that one survivor had been run down and had met the same fate. It is no explanation to say, what we know now to be true, that the Colon did not have her 10-inch guns, that the Vizcaya was foul-bottomed, that much of the ammunition was bad, and the other ships more or less out of order. One of the conditions of naval success, just as important as any other, is that the ships should be kept in every respect in the highest possible efficiency, and that the best work of which the machine and the organization are capable should be got out of them. The Americans fulfilled these conditions, the Spaniards did not; the Oregon surpassed all that the most exacting had a right to demand; the Colon and Vizcaya did far less; hence one reason for American victory. It is also said with truth that the Spanish gunnery was bad, but this is merely stating again that they fell short in a point essential to success. They fired with great rapidity as they issued from the harbor, and although most of the shots went wide, many were anything but wild, for the Brooklyn was hit twenty-five times, the Iowa repeatedly, and the other ships more or less. When the American fire fell upon them, their fire, as at Manila, slackened, became ineffective, and died away. Again it was shown that the volume and accuracy of the American fire were so great that the fire of the opponents was smothered, and that the crews were swept away from the guns. The overwhelming American victory was due not to the shortcomings of the Spaniards, but to the efficiency of the navy of the United States and to the quality of the crews. The officers and seamen, the gunners and engineers, surpassed the [60]

The last of Cervera's fleet.

Spaniards in their organization and in their handling of the machinery they used. They were thoroughly prepared; no surprise was possible to them; they knew just what they meant to do when the hour of battle came, and they did it coolly, effectively, and with perfect discipline. They were proficient and accurate marksmen, and got the utmost from their guns as from their ships. Last, and most important of all, they had that greatest quality of a strong, living, virile race, the power of daring, incessant, dashing attack, with no thought of the punishment they might themselves be obliged to take. The whole war showed, and the defeat of Cervera most conspicuously, that the Spaniards had utterly lost the power of attack, a sure sign of a broken race, and for which no amount of fortitude in facing death can compensate.

No generous man can fail to admire and to praise the despairing courage which held El Caney and carried Cervera's fleet out of the narrow channel of Santiago; but it is not the kind of courage which leads to victory, such as that was which sent American soldiers up the hills of San Juan and into the blood-stained village streets of El Caney, or which made the American ships swoop down, carrying utter destruction, upon the flying Spanish cruisers.

Thus the long chase of the Spanish fleet ended in its wreck and ruin beneath American guns. As one tells the story, the utter inadequacy of the narrative to the great fact seems painfully apparent. One wanders among the absorbing details which cross and recross the reader's path, full of interest and infinite in their complexity. The more details one gathers, puzzling what to keep and what to reject, the denser seems the complexity, and the dimmer and more confused the picture. The historian writing calmly in the distant future will weave them into a full and dispassionate narrative; the antiquarian will write monographs on all incidents, small or large, with unwearying patience; the naval critic and expert will even now draw many technical and scientific lessons from everything that happened, and will debate and dispute about it, to the great advantage of himself and his profession. And yet these are not the things which appeal now, or will appeal in the days to come, to the hearts of men. The details, the number of shots, the ranges, the part taken by each ship, the positions of the fleet—all alike have begun to fade from recollection even now, [61] and will grow still dimmer as the years recede. But out of the mist of events and the gathering darkness of passing time the great fact and the great deed stand forth for the American people and their children's children, as white and shining as the Santiago channel glaring under the search-lights through the Cuban night.

They remember, and will always remember, that hot summer morning, and the anxiety, only half whispered, which overspread the land. They see, and will always see, the American ships rolling lazily on the long seas, and the sailors just going to Sunday inspection. Then comes the long, thin trail of smoke drawing nearer the harbor's mouth. The ships see it, and we can hear the cheers ring out, for the enemy is coming, and the American sailor rejoices mightily to know that the battle is set. There is no need of signals, no need of orders. The patient, long-watching admiral has given direction for every chance that may befall. Every ship is in place; every ship rushes forward, closing in upon the advancing enemy, fiercely pouring shells from broadside and turret. There is the Gloucester firing her little shots at the great cruisers, and then driving down to grapple with the torpedo-boats. There are the Spanish ships, already mortally hurt, running along the shore, shattered and breaking under the fire of the Indiana, the Iowa, and the Texas; there is the Brooklyn racing by to head the fugitives, and the Oregon dealing death-strokes as she rushes forward, forging to the front, and leaving her mark everywhere as she goes. It is a captains' fight, and they all fight as if they were one man with one ship. On they go, driving through the water, firing steadily and ever getting closer, and presently the Spanish cruisers, helpless, burning, twisted wrecks of iron, are piled along the shore, and we see the younger officers and the men of the victorious ships perilling their lives to save their beaten enemies. We see Wainwright on the Gloucester, as eager in rescue as he was swift in fight to avenge the Maine. We hear Philip cry out: “Don't cheer. The poor devils are dying.” We watch Evans as he hands back the sword to the wounded Eulate, and then writes in his report: “I cannot express my admiration for my magnificent crew. So long as the enemy showed his flag, they fought like American seamen; but when the flag came down, they were as gentle and tender as American women.” They all stand out to us, these gallant figures, from admiral to seaman, with an intense human interest, fearless in fight, brave and merciful in the hour of victory.

And far away along the hot ridges of the San Juan heights lie the American soldiers, who have been fighting, and winning, and digging intrenchments for forty-eight hours, sleeping little and eating less. There they are under the tropic sun that Sunday morning, and presently the heavy sound of guns comes rolling up the bay, and is flung back with many echoes from the surrounding hills. It goes on and on, so fast, so deep and loud, that it is like continuous thunder filling all the air. A battle is on; they know that. Wild rumors begin to fly about, drifting up from the coast. They hear that the American fleet is coming into the harbor; then for an hour that it has been defeated; and then the truth begins to come, and before nightfall they know that the Spanish fleet is no more, and the American soldier cheers the American sailor, and is filled anew with the glow of victory, and the assurance that he and his comrades have not fought and suffered and died in vain.

The thought of the moment is of the present victory, but there are men there who recognize the deeper and more distant meanings of that Sunday's work, now sinking into the past. They are stirred by the knowledge that the sea-power of Spain has perished, and that the Spanish West Indies, which Columbus gave to Leon and Castile, shall know Spain no more. They lift the veil of the historic past, and see that on that July morning a great empire had met its end, and passed finally out of the New World, because it was unfit to rule and govern men. And they and all men see now, and ever more clearly will see, that in the fight off Santiago another great fact had reasserted itself for the consideration of the world. For that fight had displayed once more the victorious sea spirit of a conquering race. It is the spirit of the Jomsberg Viking, who, alone and wounded, springs into the sea from his sinking boat with defiance on [62]

Santiago from the Harbor.

his lips. It comes down through Grenville and Drake and Howard and Blake, on to Perry and Macdonough and Hull and Decatur. Here on this summer Sunday it has been shown again to be as vital and as clear as ever, even as it was with Nelson dying at Trafalgar, and with Farragut and his men in the fights of bay and river more than thirty years before.

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