The Diary of George W. Robinson (Continued)

Fireman 2nd Division, No. 1 Fire Room

USS OREGON

Contributed by Sean Cox; Transcribed by Jack. L. McSherry, Jr. 
General:
This is a continuation of a rare diary. This portion picks up as the Battleship OREGON is on station off Santiago, and takes us through the Battle of Santiago and beyond. 

The Diary, part 2:

June 5th, Nothing of importance happening, all hands hungry as sharks, manage to catch a few fish over the side, this is our only change from hard tack and New Orleans molasses.  The forts fire a shot at us occasionally but we never answer, they made one good shot at us today, the shot passing between our stacks and striking the water about a hundred feet from the ship.  This is our only excitement today.

June 6th, Got our moneys worth today.  All hands called to quarters at 4:30 a.m. got up ammunition and put on battle hatches, then stood by for an hour waiting for the flag ship to give the signal, finally it came at 5:30 or about that and we stood in shore with the rest of the fleet for our first go at the Spaniards and a go it proved to be.  I had no idea they had so many guns, the whole crest of the ridge for a distance of at least 5 miles seemed to be covered with them and they gave us as good as we sent for at least three solid hours.  They seemed to have all kinds of guns from heavy 10 inch guns down to field pieces, but should think about 6 or 7 inch siege guns were the most numerous.  Our fleet certainly did some good execution, some of our ships getting in to point blank range, the battle ships and heavy cruisers had to be contented at a mile however but this is easy range for us.  In fact three miles is really the best range for our heavy guns.  The Spanish loss must have been heavy as two or three of their batteries were literally cut to pieces.  The OREGON was only struck three times and did not have a man hurt.  Ceased firing about 8:30 but the “Swanee” in having a tussle with a battery three miles east of the Morro drew the entire fleet in again and the bombardment continued hot and heavy till 11:00 a.m. when we fell back but several of the little gun boats continued to annoy the Spaniards till dark.   During the second part of the attack the OREGON made one shot that was quite remarkable, one of the big guns in the eastern battery had been trained on the Swanee [SUWANNEE], this little vessel wasthen being fired on from three directions at once, in order to help her out one of our 13 inch guns was scaled on the eastern battery and the first shot struck exactly under the big gun – it looked to us as if that gun went at least 200 feet straight up into the air accompanied by tons of dirt.  They never fired another shot out of that battery and in fact all their guns were deserted shortly afterward.

Up to 11:30 we had nothing to eat but after the fighting was over we fell back and had a sumptuous feast on hard tack and molasses  -  Oh ye Gods! And they tell us we are going to starve the Spaniards out. Cogswell and two or three other officers were drunk as lords.

Started east alone at 8 p.m. and shortly before midnight entered the harbor of Guantanamo, 40 miles or so from Santiago.  This harbor had been seized by the Marblehead and some of our smaller ships some days before after destroying the battery commanding the bay.

June 7th, Began taking coal from a collier at 1 a.m. and kept at it till 9 p.m.  At 8 a.m. our marines were landed to examine the country in the vicinity of the Spanish works and were kept on shore till 4 p.m. when they were withdrawn.  They found several dead Spaniards but nothing more.  At 4:30 the cruiser “Panther” came in and at once begun  landing Marines of which she had several hundred, their first work was to burn a number of huts that had been used by the Spanish garrison.  Got up anchor at 9 p.m. and started west.

June 8th,  Rejoined the fleet off Santiago at 8 a.m. and one of the boilers being out of order a few of us got to put in the entire day making repairs in a temperature of 160 degrees.

June 11th,  Have done nothing of importance since the 8th , just drifting around hungry looking for some thing to devour.  The ships and forts have a shot at each other occasionally but nothing to speak of, the Spaniards are very poor shots in spite of the fact that they have French and German gunners.  The U. S. Supply ship “Supply” came alongside today but she belied her name for she had no supplies except flour and a kind of macaroni (that is for the men.  She had a full stock of every thing imaginable for the Officers including, beer wine, and all other kind of liquor). [It should be noted that the government did not provide supplies for the officers. The officers had to procure private contracts for their mess, and the contractors supplied them, independent of the navy supplies. in this case, the private contractors were fulfilling their contract to the officers' mess. The navy had fallen down on its job in supplying the crew. This arangement was apparently not understood by Robinson, or, probably, many others on the crew]

An English ship came in today as a prize to the “St. Paul”.  She was caught in the act of coaling a Spanish Torpedo destroyer near San Juan. Don’t know what disposition will be made of her.  The torpedo boat escaped.

At 7:30 p.m. the Spanish batteries are practicing on some of our ships and we are waiting for a call to quarters.  From the shots they are making now it looks as if we were learning them to fight.

June 12th, No excitement today till 10:30 p.m. when the OREGON steamed in to 1400 yards and took her turn at the search lights.  There was some kind of movement inside the harbor and we thought sure the Spanish fleet was going to make a run for it, the crew were called to quarters and a red rocket was fixed as a danger signal to the fleet.  They closed up promptly and as they swung into line across the channel and 12 or 15 search lights were thrown inland it was the grandest picture I ever saw.  Nothing came of it and finally the men were sent on deck but we spoiled the Spaniard’s sleep for they were exchanging signals all night and their sentries fired on our steam launches whenever they came in sight.

June 13th, The Dynamite Cruiser “Vesuvius” and the hospital ship “Solace” came in today.  The former is some three miles away from us and we sincerely hope she will stay that distance away as she carries tons of high explosives and is quite dangerous, if the Spaniards ever hit her she might sink the entire fleet.

11:30 p.m. We have just had a sample of the “Vesuvius”, while the OREGON had her trick at the search light the “Dynamite” ran close under our bow and after carefully estimating the distance, let go three charges of gun cotton (220 lbs each). The object we understood was to explode the mines in the harbor entrance but although the explosion was some thing fearful we saw no results.  After firing three shots in quick succession the Vesuvius run out of range as quick as possible while the Spaniards manned their batteries and let go a regular storm of shot at us.  Glad there was no dynamite near us when they began to fire for some of their shots came close.
 

The VESUVIUS

June 14th, The collier “Kingston” came alongside and we begun taking coal at sea about in range of the batteries.  There is a stiff sea running and it is difficult work but we manage to take it on at a good rate just the same.  This ship brought a lot more beer and wine for the Officers and some provisions but not a thing for the men.  She also brings news of a battle at Guantanamo Bay between the Marines and Spaniards, according to their accounts it must have been fierce.  Papers from New York received today say that “Sampson's fleet are living on the fat of the land”. If this is the fat I hope I shall never see the lean, the hungriest tramp in the United States would turn up his nose at the stuff we have to eat, - that is the men, the Officers have not been short in either grub or beer but of course they cant be expected to suffer.  The Vesuvius fired three more shots for “target practice” this morning, her crew claim they were only at practice last night too, its great practice all right when a Spaniard has to keep score for us.

The Brooklyn had a good go at the western battery, mostly long range work ant the New Orleans did the same act with a battery at Aguadores. No results in particular.  Ceased coaling and stood in for our turn at the search lights as soon as it got dark.  From dark till daylight some ship has her lights on that entrance continually, those ships inside will never be able to move without us knowing it.

June 15th, Had our usual morning exercise at the batteries and then hauled off shore and coaled ship till 5 p.m.  The hospital ship “Solace” came alongside and sent over some fruit contributed by the “National Relief Association”.  The Officers seized the whole lot but were kind enough to allow each man one orange and two lemons.  Secured 20 pounds of potatoes but they cost us ten cents a pound and there were no more to be had even at that price.  Got the “New York World” of June 8th describing the bombardment of the 6th also the chasing we gave the “Triton”, there is hardly a word of truth in it and it might as well have been written by some one who never saw it at all.   Bob Evans, Sampson, and Schley have a whole page to themselves, (and pay for it at advertising rates no doubt).  Neither one of those three have distinguished themselves here except on paper.

Some firing from the west battery at sundown.  At 11 p.m. the Vesuvius got in her work again while the OREGON held the candle as usual.  Her object this time was a gun that our other guns can not reach, don’t know whether she succeeded or not but she waked the Dagoes up and they sent a shower of shells screaming out our way in a manner that was not pleasant.

This ship is so hot that it is impossible to sleep any where except on the open deck and it is rather hard on the nerves when you are waked up by a shell throwing water on you – that was the experience of at least a hundred men last night.

June 16th, Tried our luck again this morning with the same results.  All hands called at 3:30 a.m. Breakfast (hard tack and molasses) at 4 a.m. and went to quarters immediately afterward.  The fight started at 5 a.m. at 4000 yards range and lasted till 6:30 a.m., the last half hour of the fight the OREGON was only 1100 yards from the beach.  Our Ship literally wiped out every thing in sight and before we got through the Spaniards had deserted every one of their guns except 5 mortars which are situated behind a hill or knoll, our guns can throw shells clear over them but can not drop a shell on them.  It will either require mortars or some thing of their class unless the Vesuvius can do the trick.

These mortars are the only really dangerous guns we have to contend with, they throw their shells up and drop them vertically or nearly so, and they do fair shooting with them too.  If they ever drop a shell on our deck the Lord only knows what the result will be for that is our weak point.  The Texas exploded a magazine in the west battery with one of her shells and it looked as if it tore up the whole battery, there were six guns in the battery and the loss of men must have been great. The Spaniards have improved greatly in shooting since we came here, they gave us a close call at five miles range as we fell back.  No one here seems to understand what we are trying to do, if we are trying to take this place, we have made two good starts but “Sensible Sampson” “Commodore Cant” and “Fightless Bob” always stop fighting as soon as the news paper boat comes in sight and spend the rest of the day telling the Reporters how they done it all.  According to these reports there is only these three men in the fleet, it reminds me of the old gag about how “Me and the old woman killed the bear”.

This is a discouraging siege so far, the men on this ship have not had a full meal this month and the poor half starved devils are losing confidence in every thing.  Its pretty hard to go hungry and see a lot of half drunken Officers having plenty but that’s the situation here exactly.  Any one who saw this crew a month ago would hardly recognize them now, one of the signs is that nothing seems to interest them, today there was not even a cheer, they had all made up their minds that we would quit, and we did.

Lay out a few miles and watched the enemy repairing damages, could see them plain with a glass but did nothing more to bother them.

They opened on us again as we came in for the night blockade but we did not reply.

June 17th, Got under way at 3:30 a.m. for Guantanamo arriving at 7 a.m. and begun taking coal from two ships at once.  Things here are in bad shape.  The 800 Marines that landed here ten days ago have been joined by about 50 Cubans and this small force have been fighting night and day ever since.  The only rest they can get is by falling back under the guns of the fleet.  They have buried over 200 Spaniards by actual count but are nearly worn out themselves, they have a great number of prisoners too on board the Colliers in the bay.

About 9 a.m. a Spanish force made another attack on them but all the ships in the bay turned their secondary batteries on them and they had to fall back – the Marines did not have to fall in at all this time. What prisoners I have seen are a miserable, dirty looking lot, they have not been paid for over a year.  The attacking force today is estimated at 2000 men with 4 pieces of field artillery.

About 4 p.m. we finished coaling for the day and tried our big guns on the Spanish works 7600 yards away. The result was not satisfactory as our gunners could not see their target but had to scale their guns by angles and degrees, after firing 8 shots of which only 2 of the 13 inch were observed to strike the mark we steamed back to Santiago arriving at 7:30 p.m.

June 18th, The Vesuvius threw a few more “Earth Quakers” last night, the Dagoes are getting on to where those shells are fixed from and this time they opened on our search light in earnest.  The men were mostly all asleep when one of their shells came close over the fo’csle, the men were almost stampeded for a moment but some one had sense enough to sing out “High Ball”, the men were laughing at their scare almost at once.

The New York’s steam launch came alongside today, she was in a fight yesterday while rubbering up the coast, she was literally riddled with bullets but not a man on her was hurt and after a hot fight at 50 yards range the Spaniards gave leg bail – this is a good deal like driving bugs out of a potato patch.

June 19th, The “St Louis” secured and cut the Jamaica cable at 1 o’clock this morning, these cables seem to multiply down here, as soon as one is cut there is another to fish for.

June 20th, Every thing quiet today.  The “Swanee” [SUWANEE]  has been close in shore coaxing the batteries for a fight but cant get it.  There is a large fleet in the offing said to be transports with that much talked of “Army”.  This army has been the subject of all our talk by day and our dreams by night for a month but I have always doubted its coming here – Sampson has done nothing, wonder what the army will do.

June 21st,  The supply ship “Celtic” sent us a few stores this morning and at 9 a.m. we had our first square meal for nearly a month.  The mess I am in has had nothing but hard tack and New Orleans molasses for 22 days except 20 pounds of potatoes and 6 pounds of rice, as there are 26 men in the mess these did not last long.  I have saw the mess fry hard tack in filthy tallow that was sent down here to use on the machinery. That sounds tough but we have been fairly starving.  Our Officers have had plenty.

While patroling the beach in the steam launch today I had an opportunity to see a fight between 55 Cubans of Garcia’s Army and some 400 Spaniards of the Santiago garrison.  This is the first chance we have had to see what the Cubans can do and we took it in from start to finish.  The Cubans fired for a few minutes and then threw down their guns and charged with “Machetes, it was a good 200 yards over open ground and the Spaniards were shooting for all they were worth but it was no use, the Cubans got among them with those “Corn Cutters” and the work they did was awful till the Spaniards run away which was pretty quick.  The Cubans lost 2 killed and 6 wounded, the Spaniards had 37 killed and no wounded at all.  I don’t believe either side killed a man by shooting, their marksmanship was just about the worst I ever saw but when those knives got to work old St Peter was kept busy – providing he is bothered with Spaniards up there.

The Transports with the army on board are here all right and all steam launches and small gun boats are examining the coast for good landing places.  They expect to land tomorrow.

Between 10 and 11 p.m. the Vesuvius threw three more shells while the OREGON held the “candle”, the forts fired at our light as usual and came near getting us too.

June 22nd, Transports begun landing troops this morning by means of boats and steam launches from the fleet.  These troops are not on to themselves at all.  There are not a dozen small boats among all the transports that can be used, some ships that carry a dozen boats have let them dry up and go to pieces till they would hardly hold straw. They could’nt land those men between now and Christmas without the navy.

The army officers were completely lost, some of them could not tell what ship their Regiment was on, one Regiment only had six of its Officers with it and did not know what ship the rest were on.  Every thing was mixed up, Shafter was in command and no one knew any one else who was. There seemed to be no Quartermasters or any thing else – it took three solid hours after they were ready to land before we could find what ship was to begin first, then they sent us to a ship loaded with mules and hardly enough men to take care of them.

The blockading fleet strung out for 16 miles along the coast and shelled the hills all morning but there was little resistance.  At Daiguira where the troops were to land the Spanish troops tried to destroy the Rail Road yard and 4 big freight engines but were prevented by about 1000 Cubans who charged them with those “Corn Cutters” of theirs, aided by the guns of the New Orleans.  These Cubans assisted our troops greatly in landing afterward as the ground swell was very bad and landing was difficult.  The Cubans would rush into the water up to their necks, seize a boat and then as a big wave came in they would run it high up on the beach.  They helped our troops greatly by showing them how to do such work and before night the boys got to be pretty handy themselves, the first few to land were about the most awkward men I ever saw around a boat.

The troops complain of having grub that they cant eat, one of the 1st Infantry inquired if we had anything to eat and when I offered him a handful of coal dust he got mad, I had to explain that I had eat many a bucket full of it, and even then he did’nt seem satisfied.

One of the Officers inquired what ship we belong to and when told he asked if the “OREGON” was one of their transports – and then got mad when it was explained that she was a flying machine.  Its hard to please some folks any way.

The event of the day among the fleet was a duel between the Texas and the west battery, she dropped 23 of her 12 inch shells into the battery but was hit once herself and had 8 men hurt, one of them died a little later.  After the crew were worn out she hauled off and the Indiana tried her luck but came near getting hit too.  There are two 9 inch disappearing guns in this battery and 5 “Whitworth” mortars on Key or “Camp Smith” just inside the harbor that are still manned.  Every battery except these we have destroyed and the appearance of the country has changed since we came here almost as if an earth quake had visited it, the whole face of the hill is marked like it had been plowed up. With a good pair of glasses the course of hundreds of our shells can be traced from one station on the blockade.  The Spanish flag still flies over the  “Moro”only because our gunners never fire at the historic old building.  (There has never been any guns on the “Moro” during this war) [this was untrue - editor]. The Texas today did the best shooting I ever saw, the Spaniards too did much better than usual.

June 23rd, Troops continued landing all day without resistance.  The “Vixen” went in with a flag of truce this morning, no firing during the rest of the day.  Have run out of grub again and are on our old ration again.  Troops continued landing all night, being helped out by the search light on our ships.  A couple of their men fell between two transports and were crushed to death, they also lost one man and several head of mules by drowning.

June 24th, Troops moved westward five miles yesterday as far a Cabannas bay where the last of them landed this morning.  Our boats are still landing their stores and ammunition.

The Spaniards tried an attack on them this morning but our ships stood in and mixed it up with them till they were sick of it and retired, there are reports of fighting farther inland but we have no details. Some of our smaller ships continued firing till dark but the larger vessels quit about noon.

One of the objects of our gun boats now is to prevent the Spaniards from destroying the bridge over the San Juan river at Aquadores and they had their hands full today.  The peculiar part of this performance is this; When we first came here we did our best to destroy this same bridge and partly succeeded a couple of times but they repaired the damage.  Now our Army has 4 Engines and a lot of cars and can use this rail road to great advantage so the other side want to blow it up – Well! They have the advantage of us there but if they succeed it wont be the fault of the “Swanee” [SUWANEE] at least for she has been under fire 18 hours today.

June 25th, The “Scorpion”, Gloucester”, Swanee [SUWANEE] and the torpedo boat “Porter” are making the fur fly down at the bridge yet.  The New Orleans turned her search lights on the bridge for them last night and they have not quit firing since yesterday morning.  Vesuvius fired 5 more shots last night.

Can get no information in regard to what the army is doing, they advanced some few miles westward yesterday but this base is still the same.  It is reported that another fight is taking place but there is no way for us to find out except to wait.  Lord, but this work is tiresome – and hungry.

June 26th, Got under way at 3:30 a.m. for Guantanamo, arriving at 7:30 and begun taking coal from two ships at once, continued all day and night, all hands working the full time.

June 27th, Continued coaling all day and finishing at 7 p.m.  This makes more than 36 hours of work without rest.  There was a ship in the bay with plenty of provisions but they would sell to no one but Officers. When we went to the Executive Officer and asked permission to buy provisions out of our own pockets he nearly had a fit, he inquired if we did not get enough to eat and when told, he made about this answer, “Hard tack and molasses is too d—d good for you.  Get forward and shut up.”  That was Mr. Cogswell – an Officer and a Gentleman by an act of Congress.  He has been drunk almost continualy since this war begins, he has proved himself a coward in every fight we have had.

Got under way for Santiago at 7:30 but blew the packing out of the stuffing box of one of the main engines and had to stop for repairs. This is the first time this ship ever had to stop for any thing at sea. After repairing machinery continued our course and arrived with the fleet at 3 a.m. (28th), 45 hours of duty out of 48.

June 28th,  Have been laying far out to sea all day repairing machinery.  The Scorpion  and Swanee [SUWANEE] were ;having “target practice” at the Spanish troops around Aguadoris but the “Yankee” (manned by New York naval Reserves) starting in to help them out and spoiled it all with her first shot. She knocked down a whole span of the very bridge they have worked night and day to protect (That means, of course the Glouster [GLOUCESTER] and Swanee [SUWANEE])  Nothing else worth recording today.

June 29th,  Nothing moving today, this has been about the dullest day of this dull blockade.  Our ships were shelling Aguadores bridge this morning but got no reply – The Spaniards had nothing to fight for there since the Yankee did their work for them yesterday.  The supply ship Celtic came alongside and sent us a few provisions but a very few think the Captain of that ship imagined he was like the Lord when he fed the multitudes.  We were told that he left “Gods Country” with 100 barrels of flour to feed 4000 men and 1700 barrels of bottled beer for the use of about 400 Officers.  They had every thing that a well stocked grocery usually has and plenty of it but an enlisted man could get nothing, for love or money.  Mr. Cogswell and a pet of his who was fired out of the U. S. Army for being a thief, have perfected a little plan to rob us in broad day light and they are working it to perfection too.  Got some papers from home today but they only serve to make us tired, nothing but advertising for the “Imortal three” (Sensible Sampson” “Commodore Cant” and that other notorious fraud “Bob Evans”) The later is known in the fleet as “Newspaper Bob” from the fact that his deeds always appear in the Advertising column of the New York World.  The fact is that we have done nothing but show our own officers up since we came here.  We have whipped every thing we could get at time and again but are always ordered back when every Spanish gun is silenced.  Upon my word!  I almost believe Sampson has some interest in prolonging this war.

June 30th, Still busy doing nothing but coasting and starving. Interesting work, very.

The New York and three of our fastest cruisers have just finished a race after a vessel which they mistook for a blockade runner but after a 20 mile chase she gave up – it was one of our transports with a funny Captain.  A rope at the yard arm would stop some of this funny work and I should like to help use it too.

July1st, One of the tubes in No 2 boiler collapsed this morning and had to be shut down for repairs.  All hands were called at 4:30 and after a “hard tack feast” were sent to quarters and the ship stood in shore about 5:30.  Waited till 10 a.m. for the army to move from Siboney. Finaly they showed up with a line of Skirmishers, supported by two train loads of troops.  They proceeded with the trains as far as the San Juan bridge (You remember that the Cubans captured these engines and trains on the 21st) Here they were obliged to halt as the Yankee had blown a span out of the bridge on the 29th.  The army of course had no boats or pontoons so they could not cross either.    They finaly moved inland and we lost sight of them although we tried to help them out by shelling the hills, we could hear them firing but could not see them.  They lost 25 killed up to 2 p.m. 23 of whom were Cubans.  At 2 p.m. they came back and all hands were put on board the cars and sent back to Siboney leaving their dead on the beach under cover of our guns.

We were kept at quarters till dark – all hands completely played out by heat, smoke and starvation.

The Army had a furious battle farther inland during the day but could not learn the results.  They sent up a baloon during the day and kept it up quite a while.

July 2nd, Worked all night repairing No 2 boiler, finished and lit fires as all hands were called at 4 a.m.  This was another “24 solid”.

Were sent to quarters at 4:30, some had breakfast but not many.  Stood in for the Channel and started in to pulverize every thing in sight. All five of the battle ships turned loose on the west battery and the dust wont quit falling for a week.  After about an hours work the “Iowa”was ordered in to close quarters, this is what Bob Evans has been begging for every bombardment we have had but today he was in to big a hurry to get to the news paper boat, so he signaled that his turrets were out of order and dropped out all together  - ten minutes later he had a reporter on board and was telling him how the “Iowa” did it all. It just happened that it was not all over but that made no difference to a man like “Fightless Bob”.  After the Iowa went to look for notoriety the OREGON took her place and went looking for trouble, we run into the mouth of the harbor within 300 yards of the Morro and turned loose for fair, we knocked the corner off the old Morro, tore the flag down and then started a duel with the “Blanco” battery like the Texas had with the other one, it was a duel too for nearly an hour.  Times have been dull on this blockade but they were lively enough for that hour to suit any one.  We were only hit once and not a man was hurt but we did fearful work with our own guns.  I doubt if ever a battery was destroyed as that one was, the range was easy and the men were in about as savage a temper as it is possible to get them in.  From the time we begun on that battery till we let up it looked like a sand storm was taking place in it.  We could see guns, logs, men and every thing else thrown up by our shot.  That battery was literaly wiped out.  Capt. Clark signaled for permission to go in after the fleet but was ordered to fall back.

And this is war.  We have to do this all over again next time.

July 3rd [Battle of Santiago],  Every thing was quiet this morning till 9:30.  The Oregon was on her station in front of and a little east of the channel, the Texas was off our port bow, the Brooklyn was three miles further west.  The rest of the ships were scattered around farther out but within range though as it turned out, one of them had steam up sufficient to start at a fair rate of speed.  The Iowa was three miles off her station, she ought to have been near us but was five miles out instead of two. I was on watch and having just finished cleaning fires was up taking a final breath of fresh air before morning quarters when the Spanish fleet came out.  A six pounder was fired at them by a marine named O’Shea and then the men went to quarters without the usual signal.  I waited perhaps two minutes and then slid into my fire room by means of the ventilator.  The sight of those ships coming out of that harbor was the grandest sight I ever saw.  The man who commanded them must have been a thorough sailor and it is almost a pity he could not fight as well as sail.

As to the fight that followed I prefer to let Fighting Bob tell.  He took one of our best battle ships out of the fight as soon as he saw a newpaper boar.  As a spectator is supposed to see such things best, this news paper hero ought to be the best judge in all our navy.  The main part of the fight lasted a little over an hour and in that time the Oregon fired over 1700 shots including 60 thirteen inch – these guns use 550 pounds of powder at a charge.  If there is any worse place in this world than our fire room during this hour I never want to see it.  The smoke from the guns was forced into the fire rooms by the fans till we could hardly see or breathe while the concussion of the big guns was almost beyond endurance.  We had to work for all there was in us to get the ship along at the pace the Spanish ships were setting for us but we stayed it out although every one of our ships dropped out except the Brooklyn – She got out of range and then followed up, keeping us between her and danger [In fact, Brooklyn suffered the brunt of the battle for the American squadron - editor].  After the “viscaya” went on the beach and blew up our guns took a rest and for nearly three hours it was a test of grit between the fire men on the ship and those on the “Christobal Colon”. The latter had got a ten mile start while the fight was going on and being a fast cruiser it realy looked as if she had shook us off but by hard work and every trick known in the trade we finaly got within about 7,500 yards of her and our big guns begun to talk again.  After being hit 41 times she hauled down her flag, fired a gun to leeward and started for the beach.

During the entire race, even when it seemed sure that the Spanish ship was escaping, the Brooklyn either could not or would not go ahead.  At the time the “Colon” hauled down her flag the Brooklyn was a good three miles off our port quarter and nearly 8 miles from the Colon but when Clark signaled that she had give up old “Comodore Cant” took the the Brooklyn past us at a speed that was surprising and the Colon actualy surrendered to the Brooklyn.  Old “Commodore Cant” (Schley by name and Sly by nature) had the unlimited nerve to signal to Captain Clark, “thanks for your assistance”.

We started in at once making preparations to send a prize crew on board but owing to lack of small boats this was slow work, the Brooklyn too had the prize and this just took the very life out of our boys, besides which Schley seemed to be lost, he hardly seemed to know whether to seize that ship or salute her.  Finaly an hour after it was all over the “New York”, “Texas” and “Resolute” came up and Sampson took charge, then Brooklyn was sent back to Santiago and the Oregon took the prize and sent a crew on board under Mr. Cogswell who was drunk.  As soon as he got aboard the prize he begun shaking hands with the Spanish officers and they got him into the cabin and filled him up with wine till he hardly knew whether he was an American or a Spaniard.  In the mean time the ship was sinking.  The Spaniards had opened her sea connections, sawed away the valve stems and there was no way of closing them at this time.  If we had acted promptly there is no reason why we should not have saved this ship and she was a good one too. I have no doubt in the world that we could have changed ships with them and whipped them justthe same, this ship was one of the best cruisers in Europe with 12” of armor and one of the finest rapid fire batteries I ever saw, they also had the advantage of us in using smokeless powder.

All the prisoners were sent to the Resolute except a dozen or so wounded who were divided among the ships present, the Oregon taking three, the dead were thrown over board.  We had lively work to get them 700 prisoners off the ship with the few boats we had.  The ship was taking water fast and turning over steadily and as there was no means of stopping the leak the engineers force devoted their time to securing every thing so the ship could be raised again.  Finally about 11:30 she gave a lurch to starboard and the boats had to shove off, the men who were left on board had to swim for it but all of us made the boats without accident and a few minutes later the Colon turned over on her beam ends.

We reached the Oregon about mid-night, many of us had been on the hardest kind of duty for 28 hours and in that time we had one meal – hard tack and molasses.  They talked about starving the Spaniards out of Santiago but the men on those ships were fat as pigs vompared to us.  I stole a piece of meat off of that ship before she went down and it was the first meat I had tasted in weeks, if we had not been as much pressed for time, we could have got plenty of provisions out of her.

Our firemen are in a horrible condition as a result of this days work, they fired during that fight without regard to consequences.  One of them accidently run his hand into the furnace and had every nail burned off that hand but he never stopped work for a minute.  One of them had his head burned till the hair is coming off.  Every one of them are burned and blistered beyond belief, several of them have broken down under the strain and for the present at least are out of their minds. And Schley will get the credit for it all.

July 4th,  Stood by the wreck till daylight, then as we could do nothing more we started back to Santiago.  The Chief Engineer having got  scared to death yesterday tried to take his spite out on us today by making us “Shake it up” as he termed it but he took that steam just as fast as we seen fit to make it and no faster.  There is not a single fireman in the ship fit to work and many of them never will be able to do a hard days work again.  It was some thing frightful today to look over the work we did yesterday, the “Viscaya” was the first one of the wrecks we came to, she is a solid mass of fire, her magazines had exploded and torn her decks all to pieces.  Her big 11 inch Hontoria still points over her stern and looks as defiant as she did yesterday.  Many of her dead – and there were many of them – were being wasted on her deck today and could be smelled many miles at sea, it was simply horrible.  According to the estimate of her own Officers a single 13 inch shell from the Oregon yesterday killed or wounded nearly 100 men beside setting the ship on fire from one end to the other.  She was the hardest nut in the fleet to crack and lost more than half of her 700 men.  Those people cant fight a little bit but they had the courage of devils.

A dozen miles or so further east we came up to two more of our “targets” of yesterday, there were the “Oquenda” and “Maria Teresa”, all these ships are still burning and the odor of burning flesh was sickening. The glossy black sides of these ships have been burned till they are a dull gray – the Yankee war color.  Wherever we got a good look at one of them we could see holes in plenty to show where our gunners transferred ammunition” yesterday.  Shortly after passing the last two wrecks we became aware of another by running through a number of floating dead, these were likely from the torpedo boats which were the first to be destroyed.  One of them made the beach before sinking but the other was cut all to pieces.

Joined the fleet off Santiago about 1 p.m.   There were two British and one Austrian Cruisers looking over the situation. (If they want our view of it they have only to look along the beach).

Comodore Watson came on board shortly after we arrived and raised his flag, this making us a “Flag Ship” but the honor failed to drive any one wild with joy.  In a speech he made to the crew he told us we did well but intimated that we would have done better if he had been in command. As he never did any thing that any one knows of we all hold our own opinions on the subject.

The sole remaining cruiser of the Spanish fleet which failed to come out on the 3rd was run out at 11 p.m. today – most likely with the intention of sinking her in the channel as the Merrimac was sunk, but our ships caught on to the move and sunk her before she reached the proper position.  The effective work was probably due the “Massachusetts” though the Texas helped.  When the firing begun the “Iowa” was laying in such a position that she could not have fired an effective shot if she had tried but the minute news paper Bob learned what had taken place he fired a few shots toward the beach and then fun for sea as hard as the ship could go.  A few minutes later we could see his search lights swinging to every point of the compass in search of a news paper boat and he never let up till he found one either.  I would be willing to bet my neck that he claimed to have sunk that ship but as a matter of fact not one of his shells came within six miles of it.  I forgot to state that the national salute was fired by all ships present at 12. m.  As a novelty our guns were loaded with shell and pointed toward Santiago (This is a literal fact though it may sound like a joke.)

July 5th,  Taking things as easy today  as our half starved condition will permit.  Our Army and Navy Officers don’t pull together worth a cent.  They resemble a pair of balky horses and are just about as effective.  We could hear the troops firing last night and know there was some kind of fight going on but can get little news from the field. Admiral Sampson has a bulletin of events published once a week and distributed among the fleet but to our disgust we find him a bigger liar than Bob Evans, - if that is possible.

July 6th,  Some excitement was caused this morning before daylight by a general alarm being sprung, we all got to quarters and stayed there an hour or more but nothing came of it.  It was said afterward that a meteor fell among the fleet and one of them mistook it for an alarm rocket and passed the signal on.

July 7th,  Comodore Watson hauled down his flag today and went back to the “Newark”, I havent noticed any tears being she over his departure, in fact he was not at all well liked by the men, there was too much saluting and salaaming entirely to suit men as tired and hungry as we are.  One of the worst features of this half starved condition is that men lose their patience too easy, it just makes every one hate themselves and every one else.

The Associated Press dispatch boat “Dandy” came alongside and gave us a paper or two.  They report the Spanish Commander as saying that he is’nt half whipped yet.  The Spanish admiral has’nt made any remarks to that effect lately that we know of.

Got under way at 4 p.m. for Guantanamo, stopped at Briguia and left a Steam launch to help transfer some wounded soldiers.  There are a fearful lot of wounded and sick there and they don’t seem able to care for them at all, if it was not for the navy they could not even transfer them to their ships.  They have very few boats and cant handle what they have.

Passed the “Harvard” out bound with prisoners from the fleet – or what was the Spanish fleet before the 3rd.   Arrived at Guantanamo at 10:30 p.m.

July 8th,  Let all fires die out in main boilers and started fires in the auxilaries.  This is the first time this has happened since leaving San Francisco.  The concussion of the guns on the 3rd shook every thing to pieces and almost every piece of machinery in the ship needs repairing.

The supply ship “Celtic” came alongside and begun delivering four months supplies. Great God! But we are hungry.  Looking back now I can hardly remember when we last had enough to eat, not since May 4th I am sure. Its almost a sin to spoil a good apetite like this by eating.

This supply we are getting now is short on a good many articles, salt especialy.

The “Harvard” came in this evening and reports that her prisoners mutinied and tried to capture the ship.  A good many of them were killed or wounded in the fight that followed.  In this fight the crew were fighting with monkey wrenches or any thing they could get hold of as they had no time to arm themselves.  This is the first time I believe that the Blue Jackets have had a chance at close quarters during this so called war.

They also bring the news of the transfer of the Merrimac crew – the best news of all.

July 9th,  All of the fire room force scaling boilers today, a hot, dirty job.  There is no air in this bay at all and the ship is like an oven.

Every thing is quiet here, there is some talk of us going home but no one knows sure what is in store for us.  An examination of the ships bottom shows her to be foul and in need of paint, guess we wore all the paint off coming around.

Took in the last of our supplies today, are quite out of several articles yet, salt in particular.

Sent all our empty powder tanks back, we are quite short of ammunition now, we had plenty when we came down here, but, have “transferred” quite a lot of it to the Spaniards at one time or annother.  There is one consolation though, we put a good deal of it where it would do the most good.  We fired nearly 1900 shots on the 3rd including sixty 13 inch, while the 2nd took nearly as many more.

July 10th,  Knocked off all work today.  Got my first days rest since the 11th of last February.

Have been visiting among the different ships in the harbor, the New York, Iowa, New Orleans and several others are for coal and provisions but none of them seemed to be at all friendly except the Texas and a few of the Smaller ships.  Got a good look at that notorious fake “News paper Bob” any way.  He has quite a limp, owing it is said to being shot in the stern sheets with a bale of hay while running away from Fort Fisher during the civil war.  The Iowa’s crew are a little sore over the way we scooped them on the 3rd but its not our fault that Capt Evans took his ship out of the fight in order to be the first to get to a news paper boat.  The fun of the thing is that at the very time he was telling the reporter how he whipped the entire fleet the Oregon was fighting two of their ships at once in plain sight of him.  There is nothing like gall and he has it.

Went in swimming in the evening, the water is fine but the sharks are as thick as flies, they did not bother us any though, I guess they know a live Yankee form a dead Spaniard.  If one of them had got hold of me he would have found the toughest piece of pork he ever tackled – I weigh about 140 pounds now, I weighed over 190 when we left Frisco.

July 11th,  Hauled the four masted Schooner “Mary E. Palmer” alongside and begun taking coal, the New Orleans begun taking coal from the opposite side at the same time so the two crews had a chance to visit when not too busy.  Her crew are nearly all east coast fishermen and sailors from the cradle up, its no wonder she made a record for herself, there is not another crew like them in the navy.

Knocked off work at 8 o’clock in order to give the crew a whole night in but instead of turning in they got our band over on the deck of theSchooner and had a Jollification till 10 p.m. then they ended up by cheering every ship in the harbor except the Iowa.

Queer people these sailors are, if I knew what they would eat I would catch one and try to tame it.  I forgot to mention that the Oregon has one of the best bands of peace disturbers in the navy – on circus music, and they can even play one or two tunes, including yankee-doodle.

July 12th,   Continued taking in coal today, the New Orleans left this morning and we cheered her out of the harbor.  Her place was taken later by the gun boat “Wilmington” which arrived this morning in company with the Helena from Havana.  They report the same kind of monkey work up there that we had before Santiago.  Got the Key West papers of the 4th with a fair description of the Naval Battle, there are some mistakes but it is a more impartial account than any one expected.  Are waiting for the New York papers now, the World will swear that Evans did it all, the Journal will give it all  to Schley and the Lord only know which one will stick up for Sampson -  he was twelve miles away but that cuts no figure in the “war”.

Some of the steam launches had a fight today in the upper bay with a Spanish outpost.  Our fleet is not making any effort to clear the upper part of the bay.  We have no particular use for it at present and the Spaniards are doing us no harm.  This is just one more mystery in this mysterious war.  If they would only promise to be good they could play in our back yard, I guess.

Begun getting ready to light fires at 8 p.m.  There must have been something urgent for they rushed us for all we were worth and we did finaly get fires going at 11:30 p.m.

July 13th, Got under way at 4:30 for Santiago, arrived at 7 a.m. and reported to the flag ship, then steamed down to Baiguira [Daiquiri-editor] where we begun taking powder and 13” shells from the “Fern”.  These shells are what the Spaniards call “Yankee Pigs” I believe, on account of the way they rooted up the ground around their batteries at Santiago.

Let No 4 boiler die out and begun scaling inside before it got cool.  A real nice, warm job for the winter time, temperature inside the boiler 160 and not much cooler in the fire rooms.  If these firemen ever die and go where we are all likely to the Devil wont dare to look us in the face.

The “Columbia” and “Minneapolis” are both here, the fastest things in our navy if not in the world.  This is my first sight of them and they certainly do look grand.

Comodore Watson came aboard again and raised that “broad pennant” of his so we are a flag ship again.  In a speech he made to the crew he told then that he “wanted no better ship than the Oregon”.  I wonder where in the world he expected to find a better one if he did want it.   There is’nt a better one floating in salt water today by actual test.  For an old granny that never did any thing he certainly has a nerve.  I think he copied that expression from one of Coopers novels any way.

July 14th, All hands were called at 4:30 and had coffee served out, this is a luxury we have long been without but we have plenty of it now.  We were told that there was no time for breakfast as we were going in for a finish, all hands were just in the humor for that kind of work  - even Cogswell who was drunk as he always is where there is any sign of a fight, made us a speech from the top of the 8 inch turret telling us how he expected to distinguish himself and ended up by telling us all about ourselves.  He had got to the point where he called us a lot of drunken loafers hen he pitched head first from the turret to the Super-structure deck.  I thought for a while he had Extinguished himself but a drunken fool cant be killed except by lightning.

After waiting till eight bells for the signal that never came, breakfast was piped and time passed again till dinner.  Finaly late in the after noon a launch came over from the flag ship and reported that Santiago had surrendered.  I don’t know how the rest of the fleet took it but I don’t think there was a cheer on the Oregon.  There was a general feeling on this ship that we should have carried that harbor by the run on the 1st of June.  If we had done this it would have saved the lives of some 2000 of our soldiers but with all the news paper heros we have in this fleet and a board of strategy at home to act as a drag on every move we make it is a wonder we done so well.

The work of Comodore Watson today is a sample of what we have to contend with.  When the men went to quarters this morning he took his bible and went inside the conning tower.  The bible is all right in its way but it is out of place in a case like this  With one Officer drunk and another scared to death the ship could hardly do much in a fight.

Taken all together this siege has been no credit to us as a fleet, the individual value of the different ships has been well tested but that is about all.

Got under way for Guantanamo at 5 p.m. on three boilers arriving at 8 in company with the Texas and Indiana.  Lit fires in auxiliary boilers at once and let main boilers die out.

July 15th,  Begun overhauling machinery this morning, hotter than the times in “old town”.

A collier came alongside at noon and we begun filling our after bunkers.  There must be some move in store for us but what it is we cant guess.  Every thing is now done under hurry orders.

We can only hope that the next move will be something final as we are nearly worn out.  The fire room gang on this ship look like a lot of grey hounds, many of them physically exhausted and all will be soon at this rate.

July 16th,  Still coaling and over hauling machinery.  Nothing moving except mosquitos, there are plenty of them.

July 17th,  Got through coaling at last but there is plenty of work to keep us busy for 14 hours a day.

We have a coal supply now good for 7000 miles if  necessary.  Understand we are to go to Spain – Well! If they will only nail old bible back Watson to the cross before we start I am willing but he is taking the very life out of the crew.  One of his past times is to call the crew aft during meal hours and while they stand in the burning sun he sits under an awning with a nigger to fan him and reads the bible to them. They ought to take him home and build a church for him – or crucify him one.

The “Yale” came in today with 2500 troops aboard, (‘two Kentucky Regiments) and the “Rita” with an Illinoise Regiment but as they did not seem to understand the wig-wag we had no way of communicating with them.  About the only thing they did make us understand was that they were hungry.  It is said that they are bound for Porto Rica.  There is annother ship in with troops but cant make out her name.  They don’t seem to understand signals at all, this is a favorite pass time with us, its a wonder they don’t learn it.

July 18th,  Cleaned ship today inside and out and begun painting her inside.

There are some forty ships here now and the harbor at night is a sight that has never been seen before in this world.  I dont actually think there is a fleet in the world powerful enough to whip the one we have here now.

July 18th,  We were officialy assigned today as flag ship of the European Squadron with headquarters or Station on the Mediteranean, this means of course that we are to have a go at the Spanish coast.  There are about a dozen vessels here that are to comprise the fleet including every battleship we have.  If they will cut out the “Indiana” we will surely have a fast fleet but she never could run fast enough to leave a wake and Just now she is broken down altogether.

They have established a port of entry here and a Quarantine station. Every vessel that comes in now is forced to fly the yellow flag for luck although I don’t think there is a case of ‘Yellow jack” here.  Just the same I should be glad of a move even if we got nothing but a breath of fresh air – a thing we cant get in here.  Another thing that bothers us is a lack of salt.  They are feeding us on fresh meat here, (and it is good meat too) but for want of salt we can hardly eat it.

It seems queer that a nation that can furnish so much beer for the Officers cant send Salt to the men but thats the case here.  The Salt works must be shut down at home and the breweries working over time. The New York papers are saying that we are laying here to rest the men -  I wish the man who wrote that had to “rest” in the boiler with me for about one day, he would’nt want another days rest as long as he lived.

July 19th,  Every thing moving about as usual today, finished painting ship but are still overhauling machinery.  There is plenty of it and it all needs repairs but we are only giving it a lick and a promise this time.  Five of our fire room force were sent north today – there insane, one broken down and one discharged, their places were taken by five negroes from the New York – black as the ace of spades every one of them.

Another ship came in today with troops, dont know what Regiment or the name of the ship.

July 20th,  One of the “Torpedo – gunboats” captured at Santiago came in today.  She is a smart looking boat but can hardly be called a gun boat by our ratings, in fact she is of a type between a small tug and a torpedo boat, we have none of this class of vessels in our navy.  She is said to have a speed of 19 knots.

Comodore Watson is still stirring up trouble with the men.  Every time the wind moves that “broad pennant” of his he wants it saluted, they have fired three salutes today – one for him, one for his bible and another for his nigger.

We are not allowed on deck now except in spotless white and as we are not allowed water to wash in that means that us “Underground Savages” are not allowed on deck at all in daylight and the Lord knows we need a breath of fresh air when we can get it.  The men are all covered with prickly heat and many of them with running sores from the fact that we could not get water to wash with, many of them have not been able to wear a shirt at all for a couple of months, some of the Relief associations sent down bandages and many other things for us (as a gift) but Cogswell and that other thief, the Ships Writer put them in the commisary and are selling to the men at foul prices and putting the money in their own pockets.

There is going to be a change on this ship soon or there will be a mutiny as sure as fate.

July 21st,  Several of the Merchant Vessels captured in Santiago bay came in last night, there are some 40 in all ranging from small coasting steamers to Ocean liners.

The “Imortal three” Sampson, Schley, Evans & Co worked their usual flim-flam game at Santiago by sending all the other ship away before they went in after these ships.  Now if they are allowed prize money for them their share will be simply enormous while the rest of the fleet wont get a cent.  Those three are bashful enough when there is any fighting to do but work like this is where they shine.

All the transports got up their anchors today and left for San Juan. One of the ships that was loaded with mules turned them all loose for exercise on the beach today, glad I didnt have the job of helping load them again for they certainly did make up for the week or so that they had been confined on shipboard.

One of our Monitors just come in with mail, she is either the “Puritan” or “Furor” but as they are just alike we cant tell which from here.

July 22nd,  The Spanish Garrison at Caimaneira sent a gun boat down with a flag of truce today, did not learn their object.  This place is in the Province of Santiago and the troops here were surrendered by Gen Toral but they have held out so far, as they are surrounded now it is only a matter of time till they must give in even if they are not bothered at all.

The “Yankee” came in last night from Key West with mail and ammunition for us.  They have sent us smokeless powder at last.  So far we have been using the old prismatic powder that smokes like a burning hay stack every time it is fired.

After July 22nd I gave up keeping a diary, partly owing to lack of paper but mostly owing to our over work.  Capt. Clark left us about August 1st and his place was taken by Capt Barker.   The latter had been in command of the ship before and was well liked by the men but he came back to us a badly disapointed man and a very disagreeable Captain, he did however straighten things out for a while but there was trouble in the ship till I left her in September.

Capt. Charles Clark

We left Guantanamo bay for New York with the fleet on Aug 15th and arrived of the20th, on the way up the fire room force was almost in open mutiny, they blew the man-hole gaskets out of one boiler twice and wasted some 15000 gallons of water.  They clogged the pumps and done every thing they could to injure the ship.  In fact instead of being the best ship in the fleet as she always had been the Oregon became for the time being slower that even the Indiana.

After reaching New york the ship was sent to the Brooklyn Navy yard to be docked and after trying till Sept 15th to get the old fire room force to work they finaly gave up in disgust and transferred us to the “Vermont” where I served till Jan 6th when I was discharged by application.
 
 

The End of the diary


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