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Engagement of the Auxiliary Cruiser Yankee off Cienfuegos, Cuba

As Told by Commander Willard H. Brownson; Contributed by Charles White

U.S.S. Yankee in action at Cienfuegos
"The Action Off Cienfuegos, June  13, 1898"
by Worden G. Wood, Ordinary Seaman

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This account by Commander Brownson concerns an action between the U.S.  Auxiliary Cruiser YANKEE and the Spanish Gunboat First Class VASCO NUNEZ DE BALBOA. In this action, the Spanish gunboat was struck once, with three of her crew killed and ten wounded.

The Account:

"ON Monday, June 13, while lying eight to ten miles southwestward from San Juan Peak, a steamer was seen close inshore to the eastward of the entrance to Cienfuegos, heading to the eastward.

The YANKEE was immediately cleared for action and headed for the entrance, with the crew at quarters, when the steamer turned to the westward, and, after lying dead in the water for some time near Colorado Point, turned towards us.

We had by this time made her out to be a low steamer, about two hundred feet in length, flying the Spanish colors, with one smoke-stack, one mast between pilot-house and stack, and a bridge over the pilot-house. Her awnings were spread over the pilot-house and over the gangways abreast of it.

When the steamer turned towards us we were running directly towards the mouth of the harbor at full speed. When we had approached within two thousand yards, being at the time within about five thousand yards of the batteries at the entrance and approaching them rapidly, I put the helm a port, hoisted our colors for the first time, and opened fire with the port forecastle 5-inch gun, followed at once by all the port battery, whenever they could see the enemy. This fire was immediately and spiritedly returned by the gunboat. The wind was very light at the time, and she was almost constantly shut out, either by the smoke of our guns or of her own. This was notably the case after the first fire from the forecastle gun.

As soon as our helm was put a port the gunboat made the same move, but turned at once towards the harbor, going very fast. We ran to the northward and eastward, with all the port battery bearing on and firing at him, until he was well under the forts to the westward of the entrance.

Commander Willard H. Brownson, Commander of the Auxiliary Cruiser YANKEE

Commander Willard H. Brownson, Commander of the Auxiliary Cruiser YANKEE

The battery to the eastward of the entrance of the harbor, near the ruins of the light-house, opened on us as soon as the gunboat sheered out of range, we being at the time within four thousand yards of it. As the steamer was gradually drawing too far abaft the beam to use our port guns, the helm was put hard a port and the ship swung around to the northward and westward, heading towards the gunboat again, which was lying close under the land near the entrance, and also towards the battery on the hill back of Sabanilla Point.

The two batteries and the gunboat, assisted by another smaller boat which had come out early in the action, kept up an incessant fire on us until we approached within from four thousand to five thousand yards of the Sabanilla batteries, when I swung her again with the starboard helm so as to bring all our starboard guns to bear on the steamers again, and we soon drove both of the enemy’s vessels into the harbor.

I am of the opinion that, had it not been for the serious interference of the smoke with the fire of our guns, we would have destroyed the larger gunboat, notwithstanding the fire of the batteries. But the wind was light from the southward, and it was impossible to manoeuvre the ship so that the smoke did not hang close under our lee, not only shutting out the object, but also preventing our gun pointers from seeing the fall of their shot.

Notwithstanding the large number of shells which dropped near the ship, both from the batteries and from the gunboats, there was only one casualty - that of S. P. Kennedy, landsman, who was struck by a piece of shell which entered the port of No. 8 gun, striking him in the shoulder and inflicting a serious wound.

From the firing of the larger vessel it could be seen that she had at least four guns in broadside-one forward, one aft, and two in waist. The battery on Sabanilla Point apparently had five or six guns.

The last shots we fired, after the steamers had disappeared up the harbor, were directed at the Sabanilla battery, and one of them landed directly in it. From a large volume of smoke that rose a few minutes later, when there was no evidence of a gun having been fired, it was thought that some explosion had taken place in the battery."


Excerpted  from:

Harper’s Pictorial History of the War with Spain, Part 19, (Harper & Brothers, Publishers,
1899) Page 295

The color image is the frontispiece to The U.S.S. YANKEE on the  Cuban Blockade 1898,  published by the Members of the Yankee's Crew in 1928.

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