The Crew of the INDIANA Rescues Spanish Naval Crews

Following the Battle of Santago

By William G. Cassard, Chaplain, USN, USS Indiana

General:

This account. written by the chaplain of the INDIANA describes the efforts to rescue the Spanish naval crews from their burning vessels following the Battle of Santiago.

The Account:

While the BROOKLYN, OREGON, TEXAS, and NEW YORK were yet in pursuit of the fleeing COLON, other ships of our fleet were succoring the crews of the three Spanish cruisers and the two torpedo-boat destroyers.  The survivors of the TERESA and the OQUENDO had escaped to the shore, and were gathered at a point near the TERESA, selected because the beach was sandy and level, while the adjacent parts of the coast were extremely rocky and precipitous. As soon as it was apparent that the fight was over, our commanding officer, Captain Taylor, hastened the organization and departure of two volunteer relief parties. Everybody not detained by duty was willing to go. The first party was in command of Lieutenant Benton C. Decker, and went in to the point where the destroyer PLUTON had been run ashore and abandoned. Mr. Decker went in cautiously, with arms lying convenient for use in case of resistance, as the wrecked PLUTON was within the Spanish lines to the westward of Santiago. But the few scattered Spaniards had neither means nor disposition to resist. In abandoning the PLUTON, which lay in the terrific roll of the surf, they had been compelled to swim ashore, had thrown aside their clothing, and were entirely naked. They were, moreover, torn and bleeding from contact with the rocks, against which they had been hurled by the sea; and when Mr. Decker took them into his boat, they lay half dazed and utterly helpless. Seventeen were found at this point and brought off to the INDIANA, where they were received and cared for with all possible kindness. Among this number was Lieutenant Nonval, a young officer from the destroyer FUROR. In jumping from his sinking vessel his foot had been caught in the propeller and cut off above the ankle. He was in the water for quite a while, and when he finally got ashore improvised a tourniquet from a remnant of clothing which, fortunately, had clung to him, and thus stanched the flow of blood from his wound. He was exhausted and helpless, and Mr. Decker had the men of his party lift him carefully into the boat. When he arrived on board the INDIANA, it was found necessary to amputate the leg at a higher point, as the bone had been left jagged and exposed by the accident. This operation was performed in the wardroom by our senior surgeon, Dr. Ferebee, and was borne with great fortitude. The lieutenant received the most sympathetic and considerate treatment from all our officers, Mr. Decker being particularly gentle and unremitting in his ministrations. He was sent North in the hospital ship SOLACE.

The second relief expedition went directly in to the shore, where the survivors of the TERESA and the OQUENDO were gathered. The officers of this party were Captain Waller of the marine corps, Ensign Olmsted, Assistant Surgeon Costigan, Cadet Helm, and the writer. It was known that many wounded  would be found at this point, and we carried large quantities of medical and surgical supplies, in addition to water and hard bread. When we reached the shore we saw a sad and memorable spectacle. On each hand lay the burning ships TERESA and OQUENDO. Explosions on board these ships were frequent, and the guns, which had been left loaded by the escaping crews, were being discharged by the intense heat. The forward magazine of the TERESA, with its tons of powder, was still intact, and the Spanish officers expected it to explode at any moment. The Spanish prisoners and our relief party were in great and constant danger from these sources. However, the work of relief went steadily forward, no attention being paid to the dangers of the situation.

We found about six hundred prisoners from the two ships. The large auxiliary cruiser HARVARD was lying just outside the wrecks, and her boats were carrying off the uninjured. We had our steam-launch, and this was at once put in use towing the HARVARD’s boats. The surf was running high, and our men, in steadying the boats and assisting the prisoners into them, were most of the time in water up to their necks. Not a murmur of complaint was heard, and every one seemed to think of nothing save the work of relief. Before our arrival on shore, owing to the absence of surgeons and medical stores and appliances, nothing had been done for the wounded, of whom there were about forty. We saw only three dead on the beach, and these had been drowned in at tempting to get ashore. The TERESA and the OQUENDO were only a few hundred feet off shore, but their crews, having been exhausted by the dreadful ordeal through which they had passed, had been in no condition to battle with the surf, and it is surprising that so few were drowned. One of the bodies found was that of Captain Lazaga of the OQUENDO, who was reported by several newspapers to have committed suicide. We examined his body carefully, and saw no marks of violence, and we were expressly informed that he had been drowned. Those who had been killed in action were burned where they fell, and doubtless many of the wounded who were in inaccessible parts of the ships shared a similar fate. Those of us who saw the quick and fierce destruction of these vessels were not surprised, when subsequently visiting the wrecks, to find charred bodies on every deck.

We began without delay to care for the wounded, some of whom were on rudely improvised palm-leaf litters, while more lying in the sand, their wounds simply covered with rags. Dr. Costigan went to work with great vigor, and proved himself equal to this emergency of a lifetime. He displayed quick and accurate powers of discrimination in selecting the cases in most urgent need of attention, and great skill and sympathy in his work. Others of our party did all in their power to second the work of the surgeon in the relief of the suffering. One Spanish surgeon had escaped, but was so shattered in nerve and exhausted in body by the awful experiences of the day as to be of little assistance. Yet he said to Dr. Costigan, “We have surrendered; I follow your instructions.” He was one of the few prisoners who spoke English, and I said to him, “War is a sad, sad business.” “Yes,” he answered; “but we have met a brave and kind enemy, and Spanish honor is well now. This will end the war.” All the prisoners were  parched with thirst, and we met first with pitiful appeals for water, and then with profound thanks as, with cup and canteen, we went about doling it out. It was eight o’clock before the last prisoner, including the wounded, had been sent off to the INDIANA and the HARVARD. As darkness came on, the fire from the burning ships threw a pale and uncertain light upon the tragic scene, and this was reinforced by the light of a large bonfire which our sailors had built; and  in the somber-shadowed background, against the black outline of dense undergrowth, stood a group of gaunt, half-clothed Cuban soldiers. When we got back to the INDIANA, between eight and nine o’clock, we found that the care of over two hundred prisoners had fallen to our lot, at least overnight. They had been brought off by our own boats and by the gunboat HIST, and were only the INDIANA’s proportion of the entire number of prisoners. Many of these prisoners, like those rescued by Mr. Decker, were totally destitute of clothing, and the man who had a suit of pajamas or of underclothing was the envy of his companions. Our ship’s stores were liberally drawn upon to meet the emergency. The Spaniards donned the new uniform with calm philosophy and without comment. After the terrible defeat of the morning, they had apparently come to regard everything as a matter of course. Among our prisoners were seven officers (not including the wounded Lieutenant Nonval), and these were entertained in the wardroom, and treated with every courtesy due their rank. They were a modest and gentlemanly set of men, and seemed deeply touched by the consideration shown them. The enlisted men were treated to a bountiful supper, and were then given hammocks on deck, where they slept in peace. On the morning of July 4 the injured were transferred to the SOLACE, to be cared for as tenderly as our own wounded, while the uninjured were put aboard the HARVARD and sent North to well-ordered military prisons. The treatment accorded the Spanish was the spontaneous act of our navy, and shows that the American sailor is as kind as he is brave.



Bibliography:

Cassard, William G., Chaplain, “The Story of the Captains. Rescuing the Enemy,” The Century (New York: The Century Company, May, 1899) Vol. 58, No.1 116-118.


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