At the same instant, the boom of a gun on the Iowa attracted attention and a string of little flags up her rigging signaled: “The enemy’s ships are escaping to the westward.”
Continuing The Cuban Campaign,
with a selection from The Rescue of Cuba by Andrew S. Draper published in 1899. This selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Cuban Campaign.
Place: Santiago Area
That Sunday afternoon General Chaffee, riding along the front of his brigade, said to Colonel O’Brien and Major Brush of the Seventeenth Infantry: “Gentlemen, we have lost all we came for; the game has flown; the Spanish fleet is forty miles away on the high seas.” Indeed, that Sunday morning was a fateful hour in the history of the world’s contest for freedom. While the army behind the city of Santiago held the ground they had gained at such cost, and waited for the next onset, knowing how serious it must be, the battleships and cruisers in Admiral Sampson’s squadron were riding at the mouth of Santiago Bay — waiting and hoping for the moment when the trying routine of watching would be dropped for the roar and dash of a great naval engagement.
There was the armored cruiser Brooklyn, capable of twenty- one knots an hour, with Commodore Schley, the second officer in the squadron, on board — the same Schley who years before took out of the arctic snows the dying survivors of the Greely expedition and brought them home. There was the fine battleship Oregon, fresh from her long journey of fifteen thousand miles from Puget Sound, around Cape Horn, and her sister-ship the Indiana, both with their eighteen-inch walls of steel, and thirteen-inch guns which throw a projectile five miles. Every charge in these guns requires more than five hundred pounds of powder; every shell weighs more than half a ton; and every discharge, at the pressure of an electric button, costs five hundred sixty dollars. There was the battleship Texas, called a “hoodoo” because of her many misfortunes, but afterward famous for her brilliant work. There was also the battleship Iowa with ” Fighting Bob ” Evans in command. In the neighborhood was the battleship Massachusetts, as well as other cruisers, torpedo-boats, and ocean liners and pleasure- yachts converted into ships-of-war.
The commander of the fleet, Rear-Admiral Sampson, was absent for the first time in many weeks. Under the orders of President McKinley, and knowing the extremity in which the army was placed, he had steamed a few miles east with the flagship New York to confer with General Shafter and if possible afford relief. He had repeatedly said, “If I go away, something will happen.”
At about half-past nine, just as the bugle sounded for service upon the Texas, the navigator on the forward bridge of the Brooklyn called out through his megaphone: “After bridge there! Report to the Commodore and the captain that the enemy’s ships are coming out.” At the same instant, the boom of a gun on the Iowa attracted attention and a string of little flags up her rigging signaled: “The enemy’s ships are escaping to the westward.”
In an instant, on every vessel, all was commotion where a moment before had been perfect order. But even the excitement showed absolute system, for with a rush every man in all the crews was in his place for battle, every vessel was moving up, and every gun was ready for action. From the warning of the lookout to the boom of the guns the time was less than three minutes.
The New York was just ready to land Rear-Admiral Sampson at a point seven miles east of Morro Castle. In twenty minutes he would have been riding over the hills to the headquarters of the army. But the leap of the ships was seen and the flagship was put about and started under highest steam for the fray.
The Spanish flagship, the Maria Teresa, thrust her nose out of the opening and was followed by the other armored cruisers, the Vizcaya, Cristobal Colon, and Almirante Oquendo, and the torpedo-boat destroyers, Pluton and Furor. The vessels were from eight hundred to twelve hundred yards apart and occupied from twelve to fifteen minutes in passing the cape at the mouth of the harbor. As they did so they turned to the west, most of the American ships being just then a little to the east of the entrance.
As the Spanish cruisers came in range they opened their batteries upon the Americans, but continued to fly westward with all the speed they could make. The two torpedo craft made directly for the Brooklyn. As the American ships closed up, the shore batteries on both sides of the opening began a heavy fire.
The guns of the American fleet opened with terrific effect at the first moment of opportunity. The Brooklyn realized in an instant that it was to be a chase, and that she was to lead it. She steamed at the Spanish flagship and at the Vizcaya at full speed. She had been a rival of the Vizcaya at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee the year before. The Iowa and the Texas rained their great shells upon the enemy with fearful effect.
The little converted yacht Gloucester, under Lieutenant-Commander Richard Wainwright, comprehended that it was her business to take care of the torpedo-boats, and appeared to imagine that she was a battleship instead of an unprotected pleasure-yacht. She ran in at close range, sometimes being completely hidden by smoke, and worked her small rapid-firing guns accurately and with deadly results. The Gloucester received orders by signal to get out of danger, but Wainwright said the signal seemed to him to order him to close in. This commander had a terrible score to settle because of the ill-fated Maine. From the night of her destruction he had been grimly awaiting his opportunity. Now that his chance had come, he fought his little yacht with a fury that bewildered the Spaniards and amazed the American fleet. He explained that he was afraid he might strain his guns if he used them at long range (!) so he got as close to the enemy as he could, firing at the big ships as well as at the torpedo craft. His fire was so rapid and exact that the enemy were not able even to launch their torpedoes; one torpedo squad after another being swept away before they could load their tubes.
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