An Incident Aboard the REINA MERCEDES


General:

On June 3, 1898, Naval Constructor Richmond Hobson attempted to run the old collier U.S.S. MERRIMAC into the narrow channel leading out of Santiago Harbor in an effort to block the channel. The loss of the steering gear to enemy fire as the ship entered the channel rendered the attempt a failure. Later, after the U.S. naval victory at Santiago, the Spanish attempt to do the same thing with the REINA MERCEDES, this time in an attempt to keep the U.S. vessels from entering the harbor. This effort, too, was a failure because of the loss of an anchor line to enemy fire.

When Hobson's attempt failed, he and his volunteer crew were picked up by the Spanish Admiral Cervera. They were taken, in a twist of irony, to the REINA MERCEDES. The following Hobson's account of part of their incarceration.

The Account:

"....The men having gone forward, the [Spanish] executive officer invited me to his state-room, had a bath prepared for me and clothing of his own set out, and invited me to come into the ward-room, when ready, and join him for breakfast. The oil and fine coal that had come to the surface [in the night following the sinking of the U.S.S. MERRIMAC as Hobson and his crew floated near the wreck] had had full chance to permeate and made heavy bath-work, while the executive officer's civilian clothing, made for a different build, was of questionable fit. But the difficulties due to excess girth secured the return of my sword-belt when it had been dried out.

Special full dress, however, could not have brought out a whit more courteous and cordial treatment. After a hearty hand-shake of congratulations, and repeated kind words, the executive officer, with thoughtful reference to our exposure, ordered stimulants. I told him, however, that I was in good shape, none the worse off, and that the breakfast coffee ...would be sufficient. He gave me his card: 'Emilio J. de Acosta y Eyermann, Capitan de Fragata', adding in pencil: '2nd Comandante del Cruc REINA MERCEDES'. ......While eating, we fell into frank and general conversation, all the officers except one having finished breakfast. Captain Acosta gallantly opened the conversation by saying that there was no reason why officers engaged in honorable warfare, though opposing to their utmost in battle, might not be the best of friends. He went on describe how he himself had directed the fire of two heavy guns against the entering vessel, though a large part of his crew were absent manning guns that had been put ashore, and how he had finally sunk her by two Whitehead torpedoes from his bow tubes, remarking that the mines fired at us seemed to have missed, going astern...."

[At this point, Acosta asked Hobson about the armament of his vessel. Hobson, believing he was referring to the NEW YORK, the vessel Hobson had been assigned to, gave him the listing of NEW YORK's armament, reminding Acosta that this information was readily available in any of the navy annuals listing all ships worldwide, and which both navies carried aboard their vessels. Suddenly, Hobson realized that Acosta was referring to the MERRIMAC, which had no guns at all. Acosta had not yet realized that Hobson was trying to block the channel, not run into the harbor and attack the Spanish fleet. Hobson explained this to Acosta.] "...He seemed utterly incredulous. The same was met with in the case of the other Spanish oficers. The explosions of their own projectiles must have been taken for the firing of guns on board the MERRIMAC. Some went so far as to locate two heavy turrets with two guns each, one forward, one aft, and a battery of rapid-fire guns amidships. Apparently the facts were only accepted after information from the outside... [was received]."

(The Spanish actually lost men in the engagement. They were the victims of "friendly fire". Sadly, the gallant Capitan de Acosta y Eyermann was killed in a later attack on the REINA MERCEDES.)


Bibliography:

(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)

Hobson, Richmond Pearson, The Sinking of the Merrimac. . (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987, ISBN: 0-87021-632-5, a reprint of an 1899 edition) 83-84.


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