Oscar F. Williams'
Initial Report to the U.S. State Department on the Battle of Manila Bay
Consul Williams left Manila, and journeyed to Hong Kong to meet with Dewey prior to the American squadron's departure from China for the Philippines. He attempted to provide intelligence data to the Commodore. Below is Williams' initial report of the Battle of Manila Bay to the U.S. State Department.
It appears that Williams was not fully informed of the outcome of the battle. The Spanish actually lost a dozen vessels, not just the eight warships reported. Also, eight Americans were wounded in the battle, not the six he reports (seven on BALTIMORE, and one on BOSTON).
The style in which the report is written (missing obvious articles
and similar words) indicates that the account was intended to be sent by
telegraph. Williams was saving the government money by not having it pay
for the transmission of unnecessary words.
Consul of the United States
Bay of Manila, Philippine Islands
May 4, 1898
The Hon. Judge Day, Assistant Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.
SIR: I have the honor to briefly report to you concerning the battle of Manila Bay, fought on May 1, 1898. Heeding your mandate, and by repeated request of Commodore George Dewey, of the United States Asiatic squadron, I left Manila on Saturday, April 23d, and on Wednesday, April 27th, at about one o’clock, P.M., boarded the flagship OLYMPIA in Mirs Bay, near Hongkong. After meeting the commodore and his captain and commanders in council, the commodore at once ordered his fleet to start at 2 P.M. for manila Bay. On Saturday, April 30th, Subig Bay was reconnoitered because of reported hiding of Spanish fleet in its inner harbor; but no fleet being there found, the commodore proceeded at once to the south channel entrance to manila Bay, and while by many reports mines, torpedoes and land defenses obstructed entrance, yet the flagship led the van, and between 10 P.M. April 30th, and 2 A.M., May 1st, our fleet of six warships, one despatch boat and two coal-laden transports, passed all channel dangers unharmed despite shots from forts, and at 2 A.M. were all safe on the broad expanse of Manila Bay.
After my departure, April 23d, and by drawing fire, to save Manila if possible, all Spanish warships went to their strongly fortified naval station at Cavite, where the inner harbor gave refuge and where potential support could be had from several forts and well-equipped batteries, which extended several miles right and from Port Cavite.
At about 5:30 A.M., Sunday, May 1st, the Spanish guns opened fire, at both the manila breakwater battery and at Cavite, from fleet and forts. With magnificent coolness and order, but with the greatest promptness, our fleet, in battle array, headed by the flagship, answered the Spanish attack, and for about two and a half hours a most terrific fire ensued.
The method of our operations could not have shown greater system, our guns greater effectiveness, or our officers and crews greater bravery, and while Spanish resistance was stubborn and the bravery of the Spanish forces such as to challenge admiration, yet they were outclassed, weighed in the balance of war against the methods, training, aim, and bravery shown on our decks, and after less than three hours’ perilous and intense combat one of Spanish warships was sinking, two others were burning, and all others, with land defenses, had severely suffered, when our squadron, with no harm done to its ships, retired for breakfast.
At about ten o’clock, A.M., Commodore Dewey renewed the battle, and with effects most fatal with each evolution. No better evidence of Spanish bravery need be sought than that, after castigation of our first engagement, her ships and forts should again answer our fire. But Spanish efforts were futile; ship after ship and battery after battery went to destruction before the onslaught of American energy and training, and an hour and a half of our second engagement wrought the annihilation of the Spanish fleet and forts, with several hundred Spanish killed and wounded, and millions in value of their government’s property destroyed, while amazing, almost unbelievable, as it seems, not a ship or gun of our fleet had been disabled, and ,except on the BALTIMORE, not a man had been hurt. One of the crew of the BALTIMORE had a leg fractured by slipping, and another was hurt in the ankle in a similar manner, while four received slight flesh wounds from splinters thrown by a six-inch projectile, which pierced the starboard side of the cruiser.
But in the battle of Manila Bay, the United States squadron of six war-ships totally destroyed the Spanish fleet of eight war-ships, many forts and batteries, and accomplished this work without the loss of a man. History has only contrasts. These is no couplet to forma comparison. The only finish fight between the modern warships of civilized nations has proved the prowess of American naval men and methods, and the glory is a legacy for the while people. Our crews are all hoarse from cheering, and while we suffer for cough drops and throat doctors, we have no use for liniment or surgeons.
To every ship, officer and crew all praise be given. As Victoria was answered years ago ‘Your majesty, there is no second,’ so may I report to your department as to our war-ships conquering the Spanish fleet in the battle of Manila Bay there is no first, ‘there is no second.’ The cool bravery and efficiency of the commodore were echoed by every captain and commander, and down through the lines by every officer and man, and naval history of the dawning century will be rich if it furnishes to the world so glorious a display of intelligent command and successful service as must be placed to the credit of the United States Asiatic squadron under date of may 1, 1898.
It was my lot to stand on the bridge on the BALTIMORE by the side of Captain Dwyer during the first engagement , and to be called to the flagship OLYMPIA by the commodore, at whose side on the bridge I stood during the second engagement, and when the clouds roll by and I have again a settled habitation, it will be my honor and pleasure to transmit a report showing the scene somewhat I detail, and for which commanders promise data. Meanwhile, our commodore will officially inform you of events which will rival the American history the exploits of Paul Jones.
I have the honor to be, sir, you most obedient servant
Oscar F. Williams
United States Consul, Manila
Clemens, Will M., Life of Admiral George Dewey. (New York: Street & Smith) 110-114.
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