The following is the personal account of the Battle of Santiago, written by Capt. F. A. Cook of the Armored Cruiser BROOKLYN.
On the beautiful tropical morning of July 3, 1898, the fleet of Admiral Sampson was continuing its long and tedious vigil at the entrance to Santiago harbor, to prevent the escape of the Spanish fleet under Admiral Cervera. The instructions from Admiral Sampson to meet such an attempt on the part of the enemy were complete, and were understood by all commanding officers.
The BROOKLYN was flying the flag of Commodore W. S. Schley, second in command off Santiago. The flagship NEW YORK left her station at 9 A. M., flying the signal to disregard her movements, and disappeared to the eastward, leaving Commodore Schley in command.
Taking advantage of the exceptionally fine day, instructions had been given by me to the executive officer to go to quarters at 9:30 A.M., and to march the crew aft for general muster and inspection. “White mustering- clothes” had been ordered for the crew, and “all white” for officers. The first call for quarters had been sounded. I had laid out on my bunk my last laundered white coat, and was about to don it for the occasion, when I heard the ringing voice of the executive officer, Lieutenant-Commander Mason, calling, “Clear ship for action!” As I had given no orders, I knew at once from the tone that it “meant business.” I ran to the fore castle, and was there informed from the bridge by Lieutenant Hodgson, the navigator, who was ever alert, that all was connected in the conning-tower and ready. He was the first in this ship to discover the Spaniards coming out from the entrance, and reported it from the bridge, where he had relieved the officer of the deck for quarters. I rang full speed on both engines, ordered steam on all boilers, and directed the helmsman to stand for the head of the Spanish column.
Commodore Schley was standing on the platform erected around the conning-tower, in the best position for communication, and from which he could observe the movements of the fleets and direct the signaling. His aides and signalmen were directly in front of him.
I got out on the forecastle, and a grander sight could not be conceived. Here was to be the culmination of our hopes, and the end of our vigil. I felt that victory was certain, though it was natural to suppose that we should suffer losses.
The Spanish fleet in column was just outside the entrance and heading about southwest. It consisted of the MARIA TERESA (flag), VIZCAYA, COLON, and OQUENDO, followed some time afterward by the destroyers FUROR and PLUTON. I have no personal knowledge of the movements of the torpedo-boats, as they were too far away and were obscured by smoke, and I was intent upon the main fleet.
Within five minutes from the discovery, we opened fire on the leading ship with our port battery, as we stood with port helm to head off the enemy. We gave her a raking fire at about fifteen hundred yards’ range. Our whole fleet was pouring upon them a rapid and destructive fire, The fate of two, the TERESA and the OQUENDO, was soon virtually decided. The enemy turned to the westward and close in to the land. The BROOKLYN was turning rapidly with port helm, and continued to turn, firing all the time with the port battery, and following around until the starboard battery was brought into action. Our “tumbling-in” sides enabled us to maintain a continual fire while turning.
The BROOKLYN, in the lead, was followed by the TEXAS, IOWA, OREGON, INDIANA, and GLOUCESTER. The VIXEN, which had been to the westward on the blockade, ran to the south ward and eastward of us, and kept for some time off our port side, distant about one thousand yards, evidently to be ready to guard against torpedo attack on this ship. The firing from the Spanish ships was now rapid, and the whistling of shell incessant. Most of the projectiles passed over us and fell near the VIXEN, some passing over her. Our escape with so little injury was miraculous, and can be attributed only to the bad marksmanship of the enemy.
While we were wearing, the TERESA dropped astern, on fire, and, harassed by the heavy firing of our fleet, soon ran ashore. The fact was communicated through the ship, and the cheering of the crew could be heard amid the roaring of the guns. The VIZCAYA, now leading, and followed by the COLON and the OQUENDO, was rapidly steaming to the westward. The BROOKLYN was engaged with all three as the VIZCAYA forged ahead. The TEXAS, IOWA, and INDIANA were maintaining a rapid fire. The OREGON shot out from among the battle-ships, carrying a large white wave before her, the forced draft puffing thick black smoke spasmodically from her stacks. She soon outstripped the others, and came up to within about six hundred yards of our starboard quarter, and maintained a position from that to within about two thousand yards until the end of the battle. We were making fourteen knots at the time she shot out from the other ships, soon after we made fifteen, and just before the end nearly sixteen knots, reckoning from the revolution counters.
Soon after the falling out of the TERESA, the OQUENDO wavered awhile, and then turned back and inshore, and, in flames, ran aground. Our crew, in transports of joy born of such triumph, were cheering, and forcing their best efforts at the battery.
The VIZCAYA and the COLON continued on, hard pressed by the BROOKLYN and the OREGON. The COLON passed inside of the VIZCAYA, and took the lead. Orders were given to fire as rapidly as possible while the two ships were overlapped and in range. The VIZCAYA, at about 10:50 A.M. was seen to be on fire, and evidently in distress, and at 11 A.M. turned inshore all ablaze, and hauled down her flag. Firing immediately ceased, and we continued the chase of the COLON, now about twelve thousand yards away. The ranges ran from fifteen hundred to three thousand yards with the VIZCAYA as she kept in and out from the coast. When she beached and surrendered, she bore forward of our starboard beam about a point.
The OREGON kept a parallel course about three hundred yards inside of ours. The COLON kept close in to the land, running into all the bights. We steadily gained on her, and were getting more steam all the time. We had four main and one auxiliary boiler on, and the remaining one and the other auxiliary were nearly ready. After running about fifty miles from the entrance, the position of the COLON became desperate. She was already within range of the BROOKLYN and the OREGON., and could not come out without crossing the bows of both and engaging us. We expected her to do so. Our eight-inch shells were passing over her stern at sixty-eight hundred yards, and the OREGON sent a heavy shell just ahead of her, fired at eighty-nine hundred yards. Immediately after this shot, and at 1:15 P.M., the COLON turned in to the beach, fired a lee gun, ran ashore, and hauled down her colors. We had reduced our range to sixty-seven hundred yards, but did not fire. The crews of the BROOKLYN and the OREGON, wild with enthusiasm, cheered each other lustily, and complimentary signals were exchanged.
Commodore Schley sent me to hoard the COLON to receive the surrender. While the boat was being hoisted out from the cradle, I went to my room and changed my black alpaca coat and white sailor’s hat for my uniform blouse and cap, and with a quick “lick and promise” at hands and face, which were covered with perspiration and sulphur, I awaited the boat. Lieutenant Wells and Ensign McCauley accompanied me, and Boatswain Hill took charge of the boat.
I shall ever regret that the snap shot taken of the crew of the boat, as it shoved off from the side, by Mr. Graham, Associated Press correspondent on board, who had stood on deck during the entire action, coolly taking notes, proved to be a failure, the films being ruined by the sulphur. The crew was muscular and well developed, stripped to the waist and their bodies were besmeared with perspiration and the refuse of burnt powder. They were a mild, well-disposed set of men, hut they looked angry.
As we went alongside, some of the crew of the COLON called out to our men, “Bravo, Americanos!” And as I went up the gangway I heard the reply, “Bravo, Espanioles!” I found most of the Spanish officers on deck. Captain Moreu received me with tears in his eyes, and said: “I surrender. You are too much for us.” Commodore Paredes, second in command of the Spanish fleet, was much overcome by grief, and sobbed bitterly. We went to the cabin, which had been wrecked by a shot which had passed through it, throwing table, chairs, and furniture in confusion. We had a pleasant sailor talk for a few moments, and then I told Captain Moreu that his surrender must be unconditional. He replied that the officers wished to retain their personal effects, and I answered that the commander-in-chief was coming up, and no doubt would grant that. [This was done. – Century Editor] I left the ship at about 2:15 P.M., the officers being drawn up as I left the quarter-deck. As I left the COLON, the NEW YORK came in between the BROOKLYN and the COLON. I waited until she backed her engines, and then boarded her, and reported to Admiral Sampson the unconditional surrender of the COLON, mentioning Captain Moren’s request.
Upon my return to the BROOKLYN, Commodore Schley took the boat and went to the NEW YORK to report to Admiral Sampson. He soon after returned, and informed me that he had orders to go at once in chase of two armored Spanish cruisers, supposed to be the PELAYO and CARLOS V, and reported by the RESOLUTE as being between us and Santiago. The OREGON was to join us. We started at once, under all steam, to eastward. I said to Commodore Schley that it might be the CARLOS, but I knew of no other Spanish ship that could cross the ocean. We soon sighted a large strange vessel coming rapidly west, and made out the Spanish colors. All was excitement and enthusiasm, and the crew went promptly to their stations. We were alone; the OREGON had not started; and we were short of ammunition: but the spirits of the crew were such that they would have been ready for anything. Gunner’s Mate Diggins brought me a book of plates of the Spanish ships, and the appearance of the stranger would answer only to the drawing of the CARDINAL CISNEROS. I so told the commodore, and added that, from all our information, that vessel was a year from completion. Darkness had now set in, and we were heading straight for her. She observed this, and turned her search-lights full on her flag, and also upon an international signal flying at her foremast, informing us that her colors were Austrian. We made out her flag at the same time. She proved to be the Austrian cruiser MARIA THERESA. Au officer from her boarded us, and asked Commodore Schley if she could communicate with the harbor of Santiago in the morning. The commodore told him that he would probably find Admiral Sampson off Santiago in the morning, and that no doubt permission would be granted. He then asked where they had better go for the night. The commodore replied, “Twenty miles off the coast, at least. This is a bad coast tonight for strangers.” The Austrian then said, “We will go forty miles off.”
We now steamed for Santiago. Just as we were abeam of the burning wreck of the VIZCAYA, and at about three quarters of a mile from her, the forward magazine of the wreck blew up, throwing a column of fire and debris high in the air, from which fiery serpents of variegated colors flew in all directions. It was a beautiful display, and, as between the BROOKLYN and the VIZCAYA, “closed the incident.” It was a terrible explosion, but it did not lift her keel, or blow her plates inboard. These two ships had first met at the Queen’s Jubilee, Spithead, England, where they had been sent to represent their respective flags.
We arrived off Santiago at midnight, and steamed close to the INDIANA. It was a clear, starlight night with a calm, smooth sea. The crew of the INDIANA were all up, crowding the turrets and superstructure, eager to get the news. We were hailed, and asked what had become of the COLON. Upon our answer that the COLON was beached about fifty miles up the coast, and had surrendered, the cheering was loud and prolonged. We then steamed down to the IOWA, and found her crew also on deck awaiting news. We were hailed and the same inquiry was made. When we told them of the fate of the COLON, there was some clapping of hands and a stir of voices, but no cheering, and we were immediately informed that Admiral Cervera was on board, and many Spanish wounded. Our men were standing ready for a cheer, but upon hearing this news there was respectful silence, not only because they had learned that there were suffering wounded on board the IOWA, but because every man knew of the nobility displayed by Admiral Cervera in the treatment of Hobson and his men, and they thus recognized it. Commodore Schley went on board and paid his respects to Admiral Cervera. The commodore being an accomplished linguist, and being most courteously received, had a long and pleasant conversation with the admiral, who was dignified and pleasant, though naturally cast down by defeat. He expressed himself as particularly touched by the kind treatment and the consideration shown him by all.
Upon the return of Commodore Schley, we steamed to a station south of the Morro for the remainder of the night. Several vessels came within hail and asked for news of the COLON. The little terror SUWANEE, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Delehanty, finally came up for news. Upon our reply, and after hearty cheering by the crew, Lieutenant-Commander Delehanty called out, “Well, they wouldn’t have gotten away from the entrance if the Suwanee had been here.” Loud laughter greeted this remark, but we all felt that the Suwanee would have been “in the thick of it” could she have had a chance.
It was a glorious victory, in which all shared alike. We have a
to be proud of the fact that every vessel did her full duty, and that
was left undone. No better evidence of the readiness and efficiency of
the fleet could be furnished than that it cannot be determined which
first discovered the enemy. The IOWA was first
signal the fact, but the other vessels were in the act of hoisting the
signal arranged by the admiral. Certain it is that within five minutes
from the discovery our fleet was
firing at the Spanish vessels.
The BROOKLYN was little injured, and lost but one man killed, George Ellis, chief yeoman, and one wounded, J. Burns, fireman, first-class.
Ellis acted as my clerk. He had a clear and excellent record. He had served his time as a naval apprentice, and had received an honorable discharge. He re-enlisted, after a while on shore, and had been advanced to chief yeoman on account of his superior qualifications as a writer. His station in battle was to assist the navigator in getting ranges. He had been instructed and had become proficient in the use of the stadiometer. While engaged with the VIZCAYA, he stepped forward of the turret on the forecastle and measured the distance from the enemy. He had returned, read aloud the distance, and communicated it to the navigator, when a shot passing over thedeck struck his head, and he was instantly killed.
Burns belonged to the reserve engineer’s force, and was stationed in the fire brigade. A shot passing through the superstructure near the forecastle, in which hammocks were stowed, set them on fire. Burns drew them out on deck, and was in the act of stamping out the fire when a one-pounder shot glanced from the casing of a superstructure door, burst near him, and several pieces passed through the fleshy parts of his legs, with, however, no serious injury.
It had been reported to me early in the engagement that a large shot had passed through the sides in a berth-deck compartment and had exploded inside and wrecked the surroundings. Knowing that many of the crew were stationed in the compartments of the berth-deck belonging to the supply division, I thought that some must be wounded, if not killed. During the first moments of respite after the surrender of the VIZCAYA, I sent one of my orderlies to the officers of the divisions to ascertain the casualties. I can never forget my surprise and gratification to find that there were none to report.
The ship was struck twenty times by whole shots, but no material damage was done. The rigging, flags, and halyards were cut by flying projectiles high above the decks. A six-pounder passed through the bell of the escape-pipe of the middle smokestack, eighty feet from deck. A five-inch and a one-pounder shot passed through the middle stack. The BROOKLYN’s high smokestacks have been the subject of much comment. Experience has proved that they not only furnish a great natural draft, but also a fine decoy for the enemy’s shot; it might be well to add another hundred feet. The most damage done was by a six-inch shot which entered the berth-deck at the midship compartment, passed through both parts of the heavy coal-chute leading from the outside coaling-port to the bunkers, and exploded. The deck was badly torn up from this point to the bulkheads of the drum-room of the middle smoke-stack. Pieces tore through the iron deck and coal-bunkers, bulkheads, ladders, box-racks, etc. It is difficult to understand how any of the eight men stationed in that compartment escaped. Some were dazed awhile, but none were touched.
The BROOKLYN is a magnificent fighting machine. American skill designed her, and American workmen built her, and every particle of the material was produced from American factories. No detail of her build escaped thorough workmanship. She has been over two years in commission, and has passed through some severe tests, - much more severe than could ever be given in experiment or trial, —and has never shown a sign of weakness or defect. Her organization was complete, and her crew had been continually instructed and drilled. Every officer and man knew his duty in battle, and did it. It was my simple duty to push the button, and their work was done.
Cook, Francis A. "The Story of the Captains: The Brooklyn at Santiago," The Century. (New York: The Century Company, May, 1899) Vol. 56, No.1 95-102.