The Attack on San Juan, Puerto Rico

By Seaman Edward O'Neill, USS DETROIT  

It was on or about April 29 that the flagship "New York" signaled to us to go to Key West and take on plenty of coal and prepare for a long voyage.  We did so, and then anchored outside with the fleet.  It was rumored that we were to go to Porto Rico [Puerto Rico].  We got up anchor on May 1, and were starting off when Sampson got orders to postpone the trip.  He then ordered us to resume our blockade off Havana.  The men were disappointed, for we thought we were going to have a fight.

About 12 o'clock the next day the "New York" ordered us to get up full steam and follow her.  We picked up the rest of the fleet along the line.  That night the signals were displayed, and the "New York" ordered a sharp lookout, as the Spanish fleet had left the Cape Verde Islands, and was making for Porto Rico.

It was Sampson's intention to steam slow and wait for the fleet, engage in battle and proceed to destroy Porto Rico.  He lay off Hayti two days, but saw no Spaniards.  It was on May 11 that the "New York" came alongside of us and the admiral gave us the following orders:
 

"To-morrow morning we shall be in sight of Porto Rico.  Proceed right up the bay, take soundings, and if they fire on you return fire.  To-night I will transfer my flag to the 'Iowa;' so take orders from her and keep 1,000 yards ahead of her." Thus we had the honor of leading the fight.


At daylight we steamed tip the bay, with the fleet following.  The port was in full view.  We kept on going, as no guns were fired on us.  Sampson thought we were getting too close and ordered us to stop, but the brave "Detroit" kept right on.

The "Iowa" turned her broadside on the forts and fired a small gun in the water.  This was only a ruse, but it worked like a charm, for the Spaniards thought we were firing on them, and they opened fire on us, and we right under their noses -so close that they could not train their guns on us.  The " Iowa" then let go her broadside and took half of the main fort, with it; the "Detroit" followed with a discharge of her six 5-inch, and did terrible work, and the "lndiana" and the monitors joined the band.

One of the "lndiana's " 13-inch struck the barracks and lifted it bodily.  The guns on the main fort spoke only once; that was when they first fired.  They never spoke after the "Detroit's" first volley.  Around the fort we went one by one, emptying our guns. After three hours of terrific fighting the fort at San Juan was silenced.  We then withdrew and the Admiral went back to his own ship and signaled for the number of wounded.  All we lost was one killed on the "New York" and three wounded slightly on the "Iowa." The "Detroit," that was in the midst of it all, did not receive a scratch.



Bibliography:

Holloway, A., Hero Tales of the American Soldier and Sailor. (Philadelphia: Elliott Publishing Company, 1899).


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