The letters below were written by Benjamin Butler Moore, a plumber and pipe fitter aboard the Battleship U.S.S. OREGON. The first was written before the Battle of Santiago, and the second a few days after the battle.
In the first letter it is interesting to find that plumber’s assigned position in battle was in the forward auxiliary magazine used for storing 6 inch shells. The other interesting aspect is the scene alluded to when the OREGON joined a portion of the North Atlantic squadron consisting of many ships based on technology from another period – seagoing monitors (U.S.S. PURITAN, U.S.S. MIANTONOMOH and U.S.S. AMPHITRITE). It must have been an interesting scene as the OREGON – one of the Navy’s most modern vessels – met this technology based on designs from nearly a half century before.
In the second letter there are a number of interesting aspects. Moore’s comments on the bit of plundering that some of the men did when sent aboard the Spanish cruiser CRISTOBAL COLON. Many of the men brought items back. The COLON was purposely run aground and surrendered once it was clear she could not escape her American pursuers. The Spanish surrendered and while Americans went aboard to accept the surrender and transfer the Spanish prisoners of war, they were unaware that the Spanish had opened the stopcocks below decks and sea water was flooding in. The COLON settled somewhat, eventually turning on her side and sliding off the reef on which she was aground. The Americans originally thought she could be salvaged but the actions taken by the Spanish precluded that from happening. Today the COLON still rests on the bottom.
The second interesting aspect is the analysis of prize money. The Spanish American War was the last time prize money – money issued to the naval crews involved in the capture or sinking of enemy ships – was done. Prize money was usually issued by rating (i.e. based on rank - officers got a larger percentage, with the common sailor getting the least). Moore, a plumber and pipe fitter, was midway in the hierarchy. His expected $1,500 to $1,800 would convert to about $55,000 in 2021 dollars.
Lastly, Moore mentions the OREGON passing through the Spanish squadron at night at sea while the was on her dash from the U.S. west coast to the east coast and as the Spanish squadron was heading for Cuba. This was a remarkable unplanned event, but could have had serious implications. Finding himself in this situation Capt. Clark of the OREGON had to quickly come up with a plan of action should his ship be discovered.
Please note that
Moore did not intend for his letters to be read anyone outside of the
family, as he noted. The letters were transcribed as they were written,
including errors in grammar, spelling and puncuation.
The Battleship, U.S.S.
"On board U.S.S. Oregon
May 30 . 98
Dear Mother and the rest of the folks
I just got the address written when I had to go to the “Sound to quarters” which gave us our places mine is 6 in forward auxillary magazine starboard side it really is safer than I want the whole Spanish fleet could not hit me there behind 18 inches of Armour. I send you some pieces of bunting which if you want to can give to Anna I was up on the bridge and there was a fellow a making flags (signal flags) and so I brought then down. I have written to Clara and Anna and If there is a different report in their letters as to where we are going show them this I think this one is correct We have have left the rest of them behind except the Mayflower, Porter and New York and I think we are going to join Schly [Schley] at Santiago de Cuba they are getting the guns ready and ship clear and there is going to be music in the air I hope.
We left Key West and found a fleet out in the ocean composed of the Puritan, Amphitrite, Miantonomoh, Indiana Erickson [Ericsson] Porter Mayflower Montgomery Detroit and some large transports or auxiliary cruisers this morning the New York and Porter and I think 3 other transport came from Key West.
seagoing Monitor U.S.S. MIANTONOMOH, launched in 1875
this with the image of the U.S.S. OREGON, above
It is quiet warm here in the Torrid zone.
There is an old nick name here as on board every man of-war for the master of Arms they call him ‘Johnny Legs’ and my partner the other plumber who came from Chicago went up to one of the sailors and ask him a question he told him he would have to see ‘Johnny Legs’ about it he pointed him out and he went over to him did not know any better and said this Mr. Legs he said that’s what they call me who told you to tell me that he said a man over there he said you that man I want to see him but the man was gone Well it just struck 6 bells 11 oclock and as the paper is nearly written full I will have to close don’t forget them pictures did you get the postal card I directed to myself My address you will find written below did you get them shells I got about 1 mile out in Tampa bay when I was out swimming all right don’t know when you will get these letters Yours as ever.
Ben B. Moore U.S.N.
Tell tut I am going to fix her when I get ahold of her.
I send you a picture of Santiago de Cuba which I drew this morning it will give you a general idea of the place the forts may not look very big but the one where the Spanish flag is represented is (180) one hundred and eighty ft. above the water.
You will notice a small hill which seems to show or block the entrance of the harbor now that is a small island in the harbor which you may see if you get a map out of almost any newspaper.
The army is located N.E. (north east) of the forts of the forts to the right and top of the picture. You will see the place marked City well it is very near that place it is you may say a small hollow, it is all surrounded by hills and mountains and the army is having a hard job in getting there as the place is very strongly intrenched.
You may also notice in the lower right hand corner a drawing supposed to represent a bridge well that is what it is intended for. It is there that we stood by one day to guard the troops, the black places represent forts you may see some to the left of the bridge that was there to guard the forts but it is not there now the whole place in the west or to the left of there lean to Morro Castle to a certain extent especially near Morro Castle was all lined with earth works in behind the bluff it was as so strong that the army had to abandon the idea of entering there they are in fact having a rather hard job to take the place.
You see the Spanish
Army has been working for well we were
here a month before the troops came and no telling how much longer they
fortify the place.
I did not go abord but most of those who did brought back some of the silver service with the ships initials on an a crown, pistols, guns, spoons, flags in fact about every thing they could lay their hands on and there now is (4) four persons locked up in the “brig” for drinking on her I do not know wheather or no they were drunk or not. I would not have taken a thing even if I could have got the chance its all right enough for pirates and half civilized people to do so but for a genuine American I think he ought to have enough self respect for him self and his nation to leave alone those things and not rank him self or his country which he is trying to protect with those who care only to steal and plunder after the enemy has surrendered whose personal God may be gold and his commandment the oft suggested (11th) eleventh “that thou shall not be found out”
After I have served my time and get from the Government of the United States of America an honorable discharge and perhaps there yet may be a medal and also my prize money I will be satisfied that I have done my simple duty and have the very best proof and as good a recommend as can be given anybody
Now that the officers or them whose duty it is now taking down the names, rates, wages per month and ttotal for the year I trust it will go through this way anyway it will be more than enough to all our debts and fix up the house until a No. 1 Bath Room or sell it and then build a new one.
You see the Oregon and Brooklyn will get the most We come in on all of them and the last two (2) boats we have between us the “Viscaya” and Christobal Colon We also get 100 dollars apiece on the crew of 1600 captured 350 killed and 175 wounded which makes about $200,000 dollars in all.
We did all the work from beginning to end I suppose you may have read about the Iowa & its supposed to be fighter of a Captain Well I cant tell it all now but I know the story of the whole affair.
It is reported here that the Commanding Officer of the Colon when he saw he was doomed took his whole crew out on deck and said there is just (2) two things we can do – go to sea and go down with colors flying or fun her aground and surrender they the cowards chose of course the latter but you will never in times back or in the present or future hear the statement proven to a fact where any American crew ever did the surrendering act never did or never will
The Flag in triumph through a civil war will never surrender and for my part – one of Uncle Sam’s $5,000,00 five million dollar coffins is good enough for me.
Well I must close but he I do that I want to tell you something that you do not know and that is this When the Oregon was coming here and after leaving Bahia in Brizil she passed through the Spanish fleet that she destroyed on the 3rd of July. The story is this they reported lights on all sides I think 3 on one side & 2 or 4 on the other it was at night & dark that was what was told me by sailors on board here and was generally supposed to be what was the Spanish fleet Now one of the Marines a Spianard who was jwounded a captured and now on board here said this that that night the 12 of May they saw this ship but supposed it to be one of theirs until the next day they picked up a flour barrel marked “Paymaster” “U.S.S. Oregon” “San Francisco” it was a close shave and I am glad they made the mistake and waited till I got abord.
Now don’t tell every body what I write espically make all newspaper reporters keep away
Closing for the preset at 9 o’clock of July 6th I am your faithful Son as ever