This account from the Century magazine of the Battle of Manila Bay was written by Colonel George Loud, who was paymaster aboard the Revenue Cutter McCULLOCH and was present at the battle. Loud actually had been relieved while the vessel was in Hong Kong, but obtained permission to stay with the ship for the impending battle. Loud's account was noticed by Commander E. P. Wood of the PETREL, who apparently felt that the actions of the PETREL were not fully portrayed. Wood wrote a letter to the Century magazine with his corrections (to read this letter, click here).
Also, Col. Loud believes the contemporary story that the battle was originally broken off to allow the American ships' crew time for rest and breakfast. The signal for breakfast was raised, but this was only to mislead the Spanish, who Dewey did not want to have know that he was breaking off the battle over concerns about his ammunition supply.
On Sunday, April 17, the HUGH McCULLOCH Captain Daniel B. Hodgsdon, a revenue cutter to which the writer was attached, reported, in accordance with orders received at Singapore, to Admiral George Dewey, commanding the Asiatic Squadron at Hong-Kong. We found there assembled the OLYMPIA, RALEIGH, BOSTON, CONCORD, and PETREL; also the supply-transports NANSHAN and ZAFIRO. The first five, or the fighting ships, made a beautiful sight grouped together, in their snow-white dress, trim and in perfect order, ready for active service. On the 19th this appearance was suddenly changed. In response to an order issued by the admiral, all the fighting ships, including the McCULLOCH, were quickly changed to a slate or drab, their fighting color, and it gave them a grim, business-like appearance. This complete change of color required only from three to six hours’ time.
On Friday, April 22, the BALTIMORE arrived from Yokohama, and in forty-eight hours was docked, bottom scraped and repaired, painted, coaled, and provisioned, and ready for further service. It was remarkable despatch; but as a declaration of war was expected every moment, Captain Dyer did not lose an instant, and his ship was a scene of busy, bustling life, surrounded by a swarm of coal-junks, water-boats, provision-junks, and sampans, all pouring their loads aboard the BALTIMORE, the painting going on at the same time.
The fleet was ordered to leave Hong Kong harbor Sunday, April 24, the English colonial secretary, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, stating that a state of war existed between the United States and Spain, to which Commodore Dewey replied that he would leave the harbor, as requested, although he had as yet received no notice from his country that war existed.
The BOSTON, CONCORD, PETREL, McCULLOCH, NANSHAN, and ZAFIRO left Hong-Kong harbor at 2 P. M. Sunday, the OLYMPIA, BALTIMORE, and RALEIGH following at 10 A. M. Monday, to reassemble at Mirs Bay, thirty miles distant. The departure of our fleet made no little stir in Hong-Kong, the sympathy of the English there being with us. As the OLYMPIA, on which the writer happened to be temporarily, passed the English hospital ships, they gave us three hearty cheers, which were unexpected, but which were most heartily returned. Three steam-launches filled with enthusiastic Americans followed us down the harbor, waving flags and wishing us God-speed. Owing to our being obliged to wait for the arrival of Mr. Williams, our consul at Manila, we did not get away from Mirs Bay until Wednesday, April 27. The consul arrived at 11 A. M. Wednesday, and all commanders were at once signaled to come on board the flagship. Orders then came by signal: “All ships prepare to leave anchorage at 2 P. M.” We were off promptly to the minute, the OLYMPIA leading, her band sending out the inspiring strains of the “El Capitan” march. The order of squadron formation was in two parallel lines, the OLYMPIA, BALTIMORE, RALEIGH, PETREL, CONCORD, and BOSTON forming one, in the order given; and the McCULLOCH, abreast and half a mile distant from the OLYMPIA, followed by her wards, the NANSHAN and the ZAFIRO, forming the second. The purchase of these last two ships by Admiral Dewey just before the declaration of war was a shrewd and well- timed move. The NANSHAN had on board three thousand tons of coal, and the ZAFIRO six hundred tons additional, besides six months’ stores for the fleet.
The voyage of the fleet, which presented a beautiful sight, was uneventful; and we were off Point Bolinao, on the island of Luzon, the largest of the Philippine group, at daybreak Saturday morning, April 30. At this point there is a cable landing-station, from which advice of our coming, as we expected, and as we afterward learned, was telegraphed to Manila. To economize coal we were, as usual, steaming at eight knots per hour; but at this point the admiral ordered the CONCORD and BOSTON ahead at full speed to reconnoiter Subig Bay; and by eleven o’clock they were out of sight ahead, and at ten o’clock the BALTIMORE was also sent ahead at full speed to assist the CONCORD and BOSTON, if necessary, should the enemy’s fleet be found in force, as was quite probable, in Subig Bay.
At 5 P. M. the entire fleet was in Subig Bay; but none of the enemy was found there, and our commanders were called on board the OLYMPIA for final orders. At 6 P. M. we were off again, steaming at six knots per hour, the admiral’s orders being to pass the Corregidor forts, forty miles farther on, at midnight. The squadron formation was changed, the second line, led by the McCULLOCH, falling in behind the BOSTON, which continued to occupy the last place in the first line. No exposed lights were permitted on any of the ships, except a hooded stern-light on each to guide the following ship; and we went forward, like silent specters, toward the dangerous pass guarded by forts and supposed to be planted with mines and torpedoes.
Corregidor Island is at the entrance to Manila Bay, and thirty miles distant from the city of Manila. On one side of the island, the pass or channel is one mile in width, and on the other side five miles. The crews were all called to quarters at eleven o’clock. As we passed by the island at midnight, steering toward the wide channel, we saw rockets shooting skyward from the summit of Corregidor, and answering rockets from the mainland opposite, and also signal-lights flashing along the shore; and we feared we were discovered, and in for a serious fight before we could gain admission to the bay. We continued, however, silently forward up to the center of the channel, and all the six fighting ships were past the forts, but by this time exposing their stern-lights to the enemy as well as to the following ships. As the McCULLOCH arrived opposite the fort on the mainland [El Fraile battery, on a small island - CENTURY EDITOR], a blinding flash showed from there in the darkness, and we heard the scream of a shot near us, and the resounding report of a heavy gun. It showed that we were at last discovered. A second and a third shot were fired by the fort, and answered by three shots from the six-pound rifles of the McCULLOCH, and two from the guns of the Con cord and the BOSTON, which seemed to satisfy the fort, for we heard and saw no more of them. This was a most thrilling, nerve-trying experience; for we fully realized that at any moment we might receive a fatal shot from the big Krupp guns in that unseen fort, or be lifted out of the water by a sunken mine. The fort on the summit of Corregidor Island is six hundred feet above the water, and would not have been easy to pass in daylight, as we should have been under a plunging fire down upon our decks, which would have been difficult for us to have answered effectually.
After we had passed Corregidor Island, we steamed slowly forward in the darkness, it being a cloudy night, the crews still at quarters, though allowed to rest by lying on the decks at their stations, ready for instant service; and a novel sight the decks presented, covered with the sleeping sailors. All the ships had been put in order for battle. All extra spars and sails were taken down, boats were covered with canvas or nettings to keep splinters from flying from them when hit, everything movable was stowed below or thrown overboard, cabin partitions were taken down, and, as in the BALTIMORE, there being no place below for them, this beautiful woodwork was thrown over the side. The ammunition-hoists in the OLYMPIA and BALTIMORE were temporarily armored by winding the anchor-cables around them, and all was done that Yankee ingenuity could devise to guard against disaster in the fight which we now knew was surely and shortly coming.
In the gray dawn of the coming day we found ourselves in front of and about four miles distant from Manila. It was Sunday, May 1, at about 5:15, that a puff of white smoke was seen on the Manila shore, and a shot struck the water a mile short of our ships; then from the opposite shore, at Cavite, seven miles distant from Manila, came heavy reports, and their shots also fell short of us. The McCULLOCH, with the transports, stopped in the middle of the bay, not so far distant but that shots fell about us during the entire fight. Our fighting ships, without making reply to either attack, steamed rapidly up the bay, which terminates several miles beyond the city. After thus passing, they swung round toward the Cavite side, and steamed straight toward the forts and the Spanish ships which were anchored there, and which now added their rapid fire to that of the forts.
Cavite is the government arsenal and naval depot, and there the Spanish admiral had chosen his fighting-ground. As the flagship came on she opened fire at 5:35 with her forward eight-inch rifles, and, swinging round in front of the fort, sent in broadside after broadside from her rapid-fire five-inch guns of the port battery. The other ships, in usual order, followed in and opened fire, and now the battle was fast and furious. Never, it seemed to us on the McCULLOCH, did spectators watch a more desperate game; for from the continual rain of shot we saw poured into our ships it seemed certain that there would be heavy loss of life, and some of our ships probably crippled or sunk, before the fight was over.
As we watched with breathless interest, we saw that our ships had passed and had turned a half-circle. Slowly back they went past the forts, now working their starboard batteries as rapidly as possible, the fire from the shore showing no signs of abatement Again they wheeled and came down the line. We saw a large white ship move out to meet the OLYMPIA. We suspected it was (and it afterward proved to be) the Spanish admiral’s flagship, the REINA CHRISTINA. She was met by such a storm of shot, all the fleet which were in range joining in, that she could not reach the OLYMPIA at close quarters, and, wheeling about, tried to make back for the little harbor at Cavite from which she came; but at the instant when her stern swung in line, one of the big eight-inch rifles in the forward turret of the OLYMPIA hurled a 250- pound percussion shell, which, true to its aim, raked her from her stern forward, exploding her boiler, and completely wrecking the ship and setting her on fire. This shot, the Spanish surgeons told us, killed the captain and sixty men; and the entire loss on this ship in the admiral’s desperate sally was one hundred and forty killed and more than two hundred wounded.
The admiral changed his flag to another ship, the ISLA DE CUBA, but fared no better, being driven back and the ship sunk at the entrance of the little harbor. It was at this time that the OLYMPIA had her moment of greatest peril. We could see two black boats, which turned out to be torpedo launches, coolly awaiting her approach; and as the OLYMPIA came on they started for her at full speed. The OLYMPIA’s gunners realized the danger to their ship, but were not “rattled” for an instant. Failing to hit the small targets with the large guns, as the launches rapidly approached within eight hundred yards the secondary battery of rapid-fire six-pounders poured in their shells with such deadly effect that the first launch blew up, one of our shots either exploding its boiler or the torpedo, for with our glasses we could see a huge column of water go up, and the boat instantly disappear, with all her crew. The second launch was riddled with shot, and was beached. It was afterward found by us with a dozen or more shot-holes through it, and all bespattered with blood. It was a brave effort on the part of the Spaniards, but American marksmanship checkmated their bold move. Back a fourth time, and then a fifth, went the fleet past the batteries and ships; and then, at 7:45, we saw the OLYMPIA heading toward us instead of starting for her sixth time down the line. What did it mean? It looked to us until the last half-hour as though we had stirred up a hornet’s nest and our fleet, had met its match. Why were they coming out of the fight? Was it because they had been disabled or badly injured, or had the loss of life been such that we were repulsed? What could it mean? It was a quarter of an hour of terrible anxiety and suspense to us all, until the OLYMPIA neared us. No signs of serious damage could we see, and as our crew gave them three hearty cheers, they came back to us with such a happy ring that it boded well. All commanders were summoned on board the flag-ship, and our anxiety was relieved, on Captain Hodgsdon’s return, by the happy news that not a man had been killed, and on the BALTIMORE only six slightly wounded; and not a shot had done our ships serious damage. We learned that the ships had come out only to give our men a little much-needed rest, and breakfast, of which they also stood greatly in need. The sun had come up in a cloudless sky, the air perfectly calm, and the heat of this tropical climate, with the stifling powder-smoke (which much of the time settled around the ships in a dense cloud), made it imperative that the men have a few moments’ rest in purer air. While the interval or cessation of battle, as we now know, was from no serious cause, the Spaniards thought, as we afterward learned, that we had retired to bury our dead, and, in fact, that they had repulsed us. They were, however, quickly undeceived. At 10:45 the BALTIMORE was ordered to go at her highest speed in front of the forts. She disappeared in a dense cloud of smoke from her two huge funnels, and shortly after we could hear the quick, ringing reports from her six- and eight-inch guns, and the battle was on again. The forts bravely replied at first, but soon their fire slackened. For two hours past we had seen several ships burning fiercely, and it was now plain that their naval force was out of the fight.
The OLYMPIA, after an interval of twenty minutes, followed the BALTIMORE, pushing the latter on, and the other ships, following each in turn, stopped or slowed down in front of the Cavite forts, and rained their broad- sides into them. Two of our ships, now that resistance had weakened, lay idle in the bay beyond the forts, while the other four were pressing the fight to a finish. With our glasses we watched as shot after shot struck the huge sand embankment, bursting, and sending clouds of sand a hundred feet in the air. The fighting plan was now different from the morning work. The ships moved into proper distance, stopped, got accurate range, and then, with deliberation, sent in shot after shot, with the obvious determination that every shot should count. The saucy little PETREL, with her main battery of four six-inch guns, being of light draft, steamed in nearer than any of the rest, and coolly banged away as though she were an armored battle-ship. Quiet Captain Wood won the admiration of the whole fleet, and the PETREL was on the spot rechristened the Baby Battleship. At 12:45 the Spanish flag was still flying, and the PETREL, BOSTON, and RALEIGH were at the front, the other three resting. At 1:05 r. M. the three ships at the front rattled in a continuous fire, which finished the fight, and the PETREL signaled that the enemy had “struck,” or hauled down their flag.
It was a happy moment. We all shook hands over the fortunate termination of the first battle of the war. Our crew was sent into the rigging, and three cheers for the Asiatic Squadron were called for by the executive officer, and never were any cheers given with more thankful hearts.
We cannot fail, however, to give justice to our enemy, for all agreed that the Spaniard is a tough fighter, even if he cannot shoot straight. It was a most astounding result of four to five hours’ shooting, partly from the finest Krupp rifled cannon, that no harm worthy of mention was done to our ships, and only six men were slightly wounded on the BALTIMORE from flying splinters. There was no excuse for such bad marksmanship, as we gave them the full broadsides of our ships at short range for targets.
At 2 P. M. the OLYMPIA ranged up alongside of us, showing only a few honorable dents; and a beautiful sight she was, with strings of signal-flags on fore and after spars. All the ships through the fight carried three large American battleflags, one at each masthead, and a third at the main gaff or after flagstaff; and a magnificent sight it made in the second part of the engagement, when a fresh breeze had sprung up, keeping the smoke away from our ships, and causing the flags to stand out in beautiful relief against the cloudless sky.
The consul, Mr. Williams, was sent aboard the McCULLOCH, and transferred by us to one of the English merchantmen anchored in front of the city. At 3 P. M. we anchored near the flagship again. At the same moment the BOSTON came up within hail, and it thrilled our hearts to hear the plucky crews give each other the hearty, happy cheers for a victory in which each had borne so creditable a part. In fact, at this moment each crew was more than ever in love with their ship and their captain, and all adored the plucky commodore, who had not lost a move in the game since war was declared. During the fight he had his station on the OLYMPIA’s forward bridge, with no protection whatever from the flying shot and shell around him. None could have been cooler under fire than Admiral Dewey. Commander Lamberton, the flag-captain and the admiral’s chief of staff, and Lieutenant Brumby were with him on the bridge.1 A shot came within three or four feet of their heads, cutting off the signal halyards, but he did not appear to notice it. The commanders of all the ships acquitted themselves with the greatest credit, Captains Gridley and Dyer, old veterans that they were, and all the others, behaving with the greatest pluck and skill possible, not one of them all using his conning-tower.
The BOSTON, in regard to her small boats, was the most damaged ship in the fleet, and her boats were shattered, with one exception, not by the enemy’s fire, but by the concussion of her own guns, which will indicate the terrific explosive power of these modern high-power guns. Only two boats out of her ten could be used after the fight. Paymaster John R. Martin, of the BOSTON, not being especially busy in his proper sphere while the fight was at its hottest, made his appearance with a tin cup in one hand, and in the other a pot of coffee, made over a spirit-lamp, no fires in the galleys being permitted in action, and he continued all through the fight to make and serve the refreshing drink to the thirsty men, though a shell which burst in Ensign Doddridge’s room, close at hand, came near ending his enterprise. This shell, in exploding, wrecked the contents of the ensign’s room, and set it on fire; but the flames were quickly extinguished by the ship’s fire department, always ready for such an emergency. Chaplain J. B. Frazier of the OLYMPIA had his head out of a port-hole, watching the fight with the greatest interest, when a Spanish shell struck the side of the ship only a few feet away, and burst. His head suddenly disappeared inside that port-hole, and he is still counting himself in luck that he has a head left to tell the story.
Lieutenant W. P. Elliott, executive officer of the BALTIMORE, but during the Manila battle in charge of the auxiliary squadron, the McCULLOCH, NANSHAN, and ZAFIRO, was the most disappointed man in the fleet at not being able to take a hand in the fight. Captain Hodgsdon kept the McCULLOCH close up behind the fighting ships, where the shot flew over and about her, and, with big hawsers on deck, he awaited an opportunity to go in to the assistance of any of the fighting ships, should one be disabled under the fire of the forts.
The only shot which pierced our ships worthy of mention was on the BALTIMORE. It was a 4.7 armor-piercing shot, and struck and entered at the upper deck-line, deflecting slightly upward, scattering splinters from the three or four feet of deck next the ship’s side, which slightly wounded five or six of Ensign Irwin’s gun crew. It went through both sides of the coaming of the engine-room hatch, and then, glancing on the recoil-chamber of one of the six-inch guns, struck the circular shield of heavy steel in front of it. Following around the concave surface of the shield, the shot came back across the deck toward the side from which it entered, struck and bent a ladder on one of the big ventilators, and fell spent upon the deck. One of the gun’s crew leaning against the ventilator was thrown senseless on the deck, and was carried below, but shortly surprised the surgeons by getting up and walking back to his gun, where he did his duty to the end of the fight.
The conduct of our men in this their first fight was beyond praise. Not a man flinched, but each remained at his post, doing his duty coolly and well. As to the loss of the enemy, it is impossible to learn with accuracy, for the dead on the burning Spanish ships were not removed, but were burned with them. From what can be learned from the Spanish surgeons, there were upward of eight hundred killed, and double that number wounded. The McCULLOCH having anchored in Cavite harbor on the day after the fight, we saw hospital-flags, the Geneva cross of red in a white field, flying over the cathedral, the hospital, and another large building. The writer was with Lieutenant Hodges, who had command of the side-wheel steamer ISABELLA I, one of our prizes, when on Tuesday afternoon he started to convey the wounded from Cavite across to Manila. On the one trip made that afternoon two hundred and one were taken over, which did not comprise one half the number to be transferred. We were not allowed to enter the river Pasig at Manila with these wounded, but steam-launches came out and transferred them from our boat to the shore. When the boats from our ships first went ashore after the fight at Cavite, a procession of priests and Sisters of Charity came out to meet them, and asked that we would not kill those who lay wounded in the hospitals, which revealed their idea of the bloodthirstiness of the terrible “Americanos.” His very idea quickly vanished when they found that we were anxious to assist them in every way possible, and to protect them from their own people, a mob of whom started to loot the houses and even the hospital itself.
The physique of the Spanish crews, as shown by the wounded, was far below that of men we would enlist on our ships; in fact, we would think our ships poorly manned with such material.
It was a grand sight, through the night after the fight, to see the burning ships, which lighted up the sky with their flames. Occasionally an explosion would be seen and heard as the magazines ignited. A sample of the horrors of war was seen by the writer on Monday afternoon, when in a rowboat we rowed around the charred skeleton of the REINA CHRISTINA. Rounding the stern, something unusual showed on the projecting sponson of a forward gun, which, on nearer inspection, proved to be the corpse of a Spaniard, nude, save for a belt about his waist, both legs shot off at the knee, and bearing other horrible wounds. Owing to the body being on the sponson outside the hull, it had not been burned. It was one of the most gruesome sights I have ever seen. I could not be thankful enough that no such sights were to be seen on our ships.
During the second part of the fight the OLYMPIA at one time was in the background, while some of the other ships were at work in front of the forts. The big guns in the forward turret of the OLYMPIA (or it may have been the turret mechanism) were not working satisfactorily. Admiral Dewey pointed to a large Spanish transport which had been beached during the early morning down in the end of the bay, about two miles distant from the ship, and suggested that they try a shot. Captain Gridley gave the order, and the first shot went through the transport, and the second also went through, within ten feet of the first. The admiral laughed, and said he could find no fault with those guns, or with the gunners either. The crew of the transport went flying over the side, and the boat was soon a mass of flames.
The cutting of the telegraph cable was an incident showing the complete information that the admiral had of everything pertaining to Manila Bay. The Spaniards refused to allow us to send any cable messages from the Manila cable office, which they must shortly have had great reason to regret; for, being informed of the exact location of the submerged cable in the bay, the transport ZAFIRO, by the admiral’s orders, within three hours grappled for, obtained, cut, and buoyed the ends of it, effectually cutting off Spanish communication with the outside world, and leaving the cable in readiness for our use as soon as proper instruments and experts could be obtained.
We had been told before the fleet reached Manila that the Spanish guns were obsolete; that they would jump out of their mountings at the first discharge. The old battery on the mole at the entrance of Pasig River was not used in the fight by the Spaniards. Their shore batteries at Cavite and Corregidor contained some of the finest modern Krupp guns, well mounted, and of larger caliber than any guns in our fleet. The idea that our fleet was opposed only by antiquated, decrepit artillery is nonsense, as we learned when our men were sent ashore at Cavite, after the fight, to blow up the batteries and destroy the guns.
Besides the side-wheel boat ISABELLA I, already mentioned, we captured a number of steam-launches and boats; but the best of them was a fine transport, the Manila, which had on board, among other supplies, six hundred tons of coal and a lot of beef cattle. The latter were shortly satisfying American appetites. As spoil of war, the arsenal, with its complete outfit of machinery for naval repairs and for the manufacture of military equipment, and the pile of eight hundred tons of coal and other stores, are items not to be despised.
At the time the McCULLOCH was passing the Corregidor forts a sad event occurred. Overcome by the heat in the engine-room, as the firing of the guns on deck was going on, Chief Engineer Randall was seized with apoplectic convulsions, sinking into a comatose condition, and expiring two hours later. At four o’clock Sunday afternoon the McCULLOCH steamed down the bay, and with an impressive service his body was lowered into the sea.
We were greatly delayed in getting official news of the fight and our victory to the outside world. Our inability to use the cable from Manila made it necessary to send a despatch-boat to Hong-Kong. On May 3 the McCULLOCH was ordered to coal up from the NANSHAN to the fullest capacity for this trip, for we knew we could obtain no coal at Hong- Kong for the return trip. It was slow work, and in the tropical heat terribly hard on our men coaling our ship; for we could not, of course, obtain laborers from shore to do so. At noon Thursday, May 5, we were off. Flag Lieutenant Brumby ; Lieutenant-Commander Briggs, executive officer of the BALTIMORE during the fight; J. C. Evans, gunner of the BOSTON; Dr. Kindleberger of the OLYMPIA; and the war correspondents Stickney, Harden, and McCutcheon, went to Hong-Kong with us. At 12:55 the signal which came to us from the flag-ship read: “Be ready to sail in five minutes”; and on the instant we were off, the band on the OLYMPIA sending us sweet strains of music in farewell as we passed her. In passing the BALTIMORE, their band gave us “Auld Lang Syne” as an appropriate fare- well to their able executive officer Lieutenant Briggs, who went with us to the hospital at Yokohama. Although suffering from rheumatism, he would not leave his ship until all chance of fighting was past.
The BOSTON and the CONCORD escorted us out past Corregidor, where we sighted the military tops of a man-of-war. We thought a fight was in prospect, and all cleared for action; but as we came nearer the ship proved to be the French cruiser BRUIX. The usual running time for passenger-boats from Manila to Hong-Kong is sixty hours, but in forty-eight hours we were in the harbor, and the cable-lines were soon hot with the long messages our war correspondents were hurrying forward. It was most pleas- ing to us all to see the gratification of the English people at Hong-Kong over our victory. It seemed as though our friends at home could not be more delighted. As they put it: Blood is thicker than water.
Loud, George A, Col. "The Battle of Manila Bay - The Destruction of the Spanish Fleet as Told by Eye-Witnesses, Part I, Col. George Loud's Narrative of the Battle of Manila Bay," The Century. Vol. 56, No. 4 (New York: The Century Company, August, 1898) 611-618.