Read CHAPTER XIV - MINOR EVENTS of The Boys of 98, free online book, by James Otis, on ReadCentral.com.

June 24. The details of the bloodless capture of the principal of the Ladrone Islands are thus told by a private letter from the naval officer who figured in the leading rôle of the exploit, Lieutenant William Braunerzruther, executive officer of the cruiser Charleston

“U.  S. S. CHARLESTON, AT SEA AND ONE
“THOUSAND MILES FROM MANILA,
“June 24, 1898.

“We have just carried out our orders to capture the Spanish authorities at the capital of the Ladrone Islands, Agana.  I was selected by the captain to undertake this job, and given 160 men to land as a starter.

“I went ashore to have a talk with the governor about affairs, and the results were that I did not lose even a single man.  The matter was all settled in one day, and we are carrying with us fifty-four soldiers (Spanish) and six officers, besides a lot of Mauser rifles and nearly ten thousand pounds of ammunition.

“I had the whole to handle, and did it quickly.  The captain’s instructions were to wait a half hour for his answer to our ultimatum, then use my troops.  I waited, and in just twenty-nine minutes the governor handed me his sealed reply addressed to the captain of our ship out in the harbour about four or five miles off.

“I knew this was sealed with the sole object of gaining time, and hence I broke the seal, read the contents, the governor protesting and saying that was a letter for my captain.  I replied:  ’I represent him here.  You are now my prisoners, and will have to come on board ship with me.’

“They protested and pleaded, and finally the governor said: 

“’You came on shore to talk over matters, and you make us prisoners instead.’  I replied:  ’I came on shore to hand you a letter and to get your reply; in this reply, now in my hand, you agree to surrender all under your jurisdiction.  If this means anything at all, it means that you will accede to any demands I may deem proper to make.  You will at once write an order to your military man at Agana (the capital; this place was five miles distant), directing him to deliver at this place at four P. M. (it was 10.30 A. M., June 21st) all ammunition and flags in the island, each soldier to bring his own rifle and ammunition, and all soldiers, native and Spanish, with their officers, must witness this.’

“They protested and demurred, saying there was not time enough to do it, but I said:  ‘Senors, it must be done.’

“The letter was written, read by me, and sent.  I took all the officers with me in a boat, and at four P. M. went ashore again and rounded in the whole outfit.  I was three miles away from my troops, and I had only four men with me.  At four P. M., when I disarmed 108 men and two officers, I had forty-six men and three officers with me.

“The key-note to the whole business was my breaking the seal of that letter and acting at once.  They had no time to delay or prepare any treacherous tricks, and I got the ‘drop’ on the whole outfit, as they say out West.

“The native troops I released and allowed to return to their homes unrestricted; they had manifested great joy in being relieved from Spanish rule.  While it is harsh, it is war, and in connection with the Spanish treachery it was all that could be done.

“Twenty-four hours would have - yes, I believe even four hours with a leader such as the governor was, a lieutenant-colonel in the Spanish army - given them a chance to hide along the road to Agana, and at intervals in the dense tropical foliage they could have almost annihilated any force that could land.

“The approaches to the landing over shallow coral reefs would have made a landing without a terrible loss of life almost an impossibility.

“We have increased by conquest the population of the United States by nearly twelve thousand people.  The capital has a population of six thousand people.  This harbour in which we were is beautiful, easy of access, plenty of deep water, admitting of the presence of a large number of vessels at the same time, and is an ideal place for a coaling station.

“If our government decided to hold the Philippines it would then come in so well; San Francisco to Honolulu twenty-one hundred miles, Honolulu to island of Guam thirty-three hundred, and thence to Manila sixteen hundred miles.  With a chain of supply stations like this, we could send troops the whole year round if necessary, and any vessel with a steaming capacity of thirty-five hundred miles could reach a base of supplies.

“The details I have scarcely touched upon, but had the officers and soldiers dreamed for one moment that they were to be torn from their homes, there would, I feel sure, have been another story to tell, and I am firmly convinced this letter would never have been written.

“The captain, in extending to me his congratulations, remarked:  ’Braunerzruther, you’ll never, as long as you live, have another experience such as this.  I congratulate you on your work.’

“All this whole affair was transacted in Spanish.  I had an interpreter with me, but forgot all about using him.  I did not want them to get a chance to think, even, before it was too late.”

June 25. The Florida and the Fanita left Key West Saturday, June 25th, under convoy of the Peoria, commanded by Lieut.  C. W. Rice.  On board the steamers were 650 Cubans under Gen. Emilio Nunez, fifty troopers of the Tenth U. S. Cavalry under Lieutenants Johnson and Ahearn, and twenty-five Rough Riders under Winthrop Chanler, brother of Col.  William Astor Chanler.

The cargoes were enormous.  There were the horses of the cavalry and 167 sacks of oats and 216 bales of hay to feed them.  Topping the list of arms were two dynamite guns, with 50-pound projectiles to fit them, and two full batteries of light field-pieces, ten 3-inch rifles of regular ordnance pattern, with harnesses that go with them, and 1,500 cartridges.  In the matter of infantry rifles there were 4,000 Springfields, with 954,000 cartridges, and 200 Mausers, with 2,000 shells.

Fifty of the Cubans aboard were armed with Mausers, and the others had Springfields.  For the insurgent officers were provided 200 army Colts and 2,700 cartridges.  Two hundred books of United States cavalry and infantry tactics, translated into Spanish, were taken along.  In the expedition were also 1,475 saddles, 950 saddle-cloths, and 450 bridles.  For the Cuban soldiers there were taken 7,663 uniforms, 5,080 pairs of shoes, 1,275 blankets, 400 shirts, 450 hats and 250 hammocks.

There were these commissary stores carried, calculated by pounds:  Bacon, 67,275; corn-meal, 31,250; roasted coffee, 10,200; raw coffee, 3,250; sugar, 2,425; mess pork and beef, 9,600; corned beef, 24,000; beans 18,900; hardtack, 1,250; cans of corn, 1250.

June 29. The expectation was that the landing would be effected at San Juan Point, on the south coast of Cuba, midway between Cienfuegos and Trinidad.  This place was reached Wednesday evening, June 29th.  A scouting party put off in a small boat and sculled toward shore, but had made only half the distance when there came a lively fire from what had been taken to be an abandoned blockhouse near the point.  The men were called back and the three ships moved to the eastward.  About four o’clock the next afternoon they arrived at Las Tunas, forty miles away.

Four miles west of the town, at the mouth of the Tallabacoa River, stood a large fort built of railroad iron and surrounded by earthworks.  The Peoria ran boldly in and fired several shots from her 3-pounders, but brought no response and no signs of life.  Here was thought to be the desired opportunity, and another scouting party was organised.  This was made up of fifteen volunteers under Winthrop Chanler, and as many Cubans under Captain Nunez.

The Peoria took a position within short range of the fort to protect a landing or cover a retreat, and the small boats headed for the shore.  They reached it five hundred yards east of the fort; the boats were beached, and their occupants cautiously scrambled toward the brush.  But at almost the very moment they set foot on the sand, the fort and the entrenchments around it burst into flame, and shot and shell screamed about the little band of invaders.  Captain Nunez was stepping from his boat when a shot struck him between the eyes and he went down dead.  Chanler fell with a broken arm.  The others safely gained a thicket and replied with a sharp fire directed at the entrenchments.

Meanwhile the Peoria set all her guns at work, and rained shells upon the fort until the enemy’s fire ceased.  The moment the gunboat slackened fire, however, the Spanish fire was renewed with fury, and it became evident that their forces were too large to allow a landing there.  A retreat was ordered, and the party on shore rushed to the boats, but volley after volley came from the shore, and they were compelled to throw themselves into the water, and paddle alongside the boats with only their heads exposed, until the ships were reached.  The Spaniards had the range, however, and five Cubans were wounded, though none seriously.  Returning to the Peoria, the men reported that a vicious fire had come from a grove of cocoanut palms to the eastward of the fort.  The Peoria opened her guns on the place indicated, and must have killed many Spaniards, for her shells dropped into the smoke and flash of the adversary’s fire, silenced it at once, and forced them to send up rockets for help.

A number of volleys were sent at the Peoria with a view to disabling her gunners, but they were badly directed, and fell against her side and into the water.  When the small boats reached the ship it was dark.  Then the discovery was made that, besides Captain Nunez, whose body was left on the beach, there were missing, Chanler, Doctors Lund and Abbott, Lieutenant Agramonte, and two Cubans.  It was reported that Chanler had been mortally wounded, and was kept hidden in the bushes along the shore by the two doctors.  Rescue parties were immediately organised, composed of volunteers, and no less than four were sent ashore during the night.  Toward morning Lieutenant Ahearn, in charge of one of these, found Chanler and his companion.

Chanler’s wound proved to be in the right elbow.  After sunrise Agramonte and his Cubans were discovered and brought off.

July 1. The next day the gunboat Helena, under Captain Swynburn, arrived, and she and the Peoria steamed in toward Las Tunas, which the Spaniards had been vigorously fortifying.

Tunas is connected by rail with Sancti Spiritus, a town of considerable size, and reinforcements and artillery had been rapidly coming in.  Range buoys had been placed in the bay, but avoiding these, the ships drew in to close range, and opened fire, the Peoria at twelve hundred and the Helena at fourteen hundred yards.  The Spaniards had several Krupp field-pieces of three or four inches, mounted on earthworks along the water-front, and they began a vigorous, but ill-directed reply with shell and shrapnel.  The fire of the American ships was most accurate and terribly destructive.  The Spanish gunners had not fired more than fifteen or twenty shots before their guns were flying in the air, their earthworks a mass of blood-stained dust, and their gunners running for their lives.  Both the Peoria and the Helena were struck several times, chiefly by shrapnel, but no one on either ship was injured.  As they withdrew, several buildings on shore were in flames.

That afternoon both ships again turned their attention to the fort and the entrenchments at the mouth of the Tallabacoa River, and for half an hour poured a wicked fire upon them.  The Spaniards had been largely reinforced during the day, and some field-pieces had been mounted near the fort.  These replied to the American fire, but without effect, and the shells of the two ships speedily silenced them.  The iron blockhouse was struck repeatedly, and the earthworks were partially destroyed.  No damage was done to the ships, and they again withdrew.

That night the Spaniards burned a large wharf and the adjacent buildings, evidently expecting a landing in force the next day.

It was learned from various sources that reinforcements were pouring into Las Tunas from all directions; a newspaper from Sancti Spiritus stated that two thousand men had been despatched from the nearest trocha.  It was determined to proceed during the night to Palo Alto, fifty miles to the eastward, the Helena remaining at Las Tunas to confirm the Spaniards in the belief that an attempt was to be made to land there.

July 2. At ten o’clock Saturday night, while the Helena lay offshore, making lively play with her search-lights toward shore, the Peoria, the Florida, and the Fanita, with all lights out, slipped silently away.  Palo Alto was reached at daybreak.  There was not a Spaniard to be seen, and the men and cargo were put ashore without a single obstacle.

July 4. Gomez, with two thousand men, was known to be in the vicinity, and scouts hurried into his lines.  On Monday the old warrior appeared in person at Palo Alto.

July 5. A steamer was sighted about midnight by the U. S. S. Hawk, formerly the yacht Hermione, off the north coast of Pinar del Rio, steaming eastward, close inshore.  She paid no attention to three shots across her bow, or a signal to heave to.  The Hawk then opened fire and gave chase.

Twenty-five shots were fired, of which only three were without effect.  The vessel was soon on fire, and flew signals of distress while making full speed head on to the beach.  The Hawk ceased firing, and manned a relief-boat just as the Spaniard ran high and dry on a reef, under cover of Fort Mariel.

Though the Spaniard as yet had not fired a shot in response to the Hawk’s attack, and was burning signals calling for help, the American relief-boat was received with a joint volley from both the sinking steamer and the neighbouring fort, turning her back, luckily unscathed, By this time daylight was breaking, and another Yankee ship, the gunboat Castine, hove in sight, reinforcing the Hawk.

The two opened fire upon the Spanish vessel and fort.  A well-directed 4-inch shell from the Castine blew the steamer up.

Most of the latter’s crew and passengers by this time had, however, escaped by rowing or swimming ashore.  Just at sunrise, while the Castine and Hawk were reconnoitring in the vicinity of the wreck, a big Spanish gunboat hove in sight, training all her batteries on the two American boats.  It was an exciting moment.

The Castine’s 4-inchers opened promptly, and the Spaniard returned at full speed to cover, under Morro Castle.

The Spanish fleet, commanded by Admiral Camara, arrived at Suez, and was notified by the officials of the Egyptian government that it must leave the port within twenty-four hours.

The government also notified Admiral Camara that he would not be allowed to coal.

While the U. S. gunboat Eagle was on the blockading route in the vicinity of the Isle of Pines, on the south Cuban coast, about five miles from the shore, she sighted the schooner Gallito, provision laden.  She immediately gave chase, and the schooner ran in until about a quarter of a mile from the shore, when she dropped her anchor, and those aboard slipped over her side and swam ashore.

Ensign J. H. Roys and a crew of eight men from the Eagle were sent in a small boat to board the schooner.  They found her deserted, and while examining her were fired upon by her crew from the beach.  Several rifle-shots went through the schooner’s sails, but no one was injured.  The Eagle drew closer in, and sent half a dozen shots toward the beach from her 6-pounders, whereupon the Spaniards disappeared.  The Gallito was taken into Key West.

July 7. Congress having passed resolutions to the effect that Hawaii be annexed to the United States, the President added his signature, and a new territory was thus added to the American nation.

Secretary Long gave orders for the departure of the Philadelphia from Mare Island for Hawaii.  She was to carry the flag of the United States to those islands and include them within the Union.  Admiral Miller, commanding the Pacific station, was charged with the function of hoisting the flag.

July 8. Admiral Camara, commander of the Spanish fleet, which was bound for the Philippines, informed the Egyptian government that he had been ordered to return home, and would, therefore, reenter the Suez Canal.

July 12. The auxiliary gunboat Eagle sighted the Spanish steamer Santo Domingo, fifty-five hundred tons, aground near the Cuban coast, off Cape Francis, and opened fire with her 6-pounders, sending seventy shots at her, nearly all of which took effect.

While this was going on, another steamer came out of the bay and took off the officers and crew of the Santo Domingo.  When the men from the Eagle boarded the latter they found that she carried two 5-inch and two 12-inch guns, the latter being loaded and her magazines open.  The steamer had been drawing twenty-four feet of water and had gone aground in twenty feet.

The men from the Eagle decided that the steamer could not be floated, and she was set on fire after fifty head of cattle, which were on board, had been shot.

The Santo Domingo carried a large cargo of grain, corn, etc.  While the steamer was burning, the vessel which had previously taken off the crew emerged from the bay, and tried to get off some of the cargo, but failed.  The Spanish steamer burned for three days, and was totally destroyed.

July 17. The cruiser New Orleans captured the French steamer Olinde Rodriguez off San Juan de Porto Rico, as she was trying to enter the port with passengers and a cargo of coffee and tobacco.

The U. S. S. Mayflower captured the British steamer Newfoundland off Cienfuegos while the latter was trying to run the Cuban blockade.

The Spanish sloop Domingo Aurello was captured by the U. S. S. Maple as the former was leaving the port of Sagua de Tanamo, province of Santiago, with a cargo of tobacco.

July 22. The following cablegram was received at the Navy Department: 

“PLAYA, July 22.

“Expedition to Nipe has been entirely successful, although the mines have not been removed for want of time.

“The Spanish cruiser Jorge Juan, defending the place, was destroyed, without loss on our part.

“The Annapolis and Wasp afterward proceeded from Nipe to assist in the landing of the commanding general of the army on arrival at Porto Rico.

(Signed) “SAMPSON.”

July 30. Another “jackie” achieved the reputation of a hero.  He is boatswain’s mate Nevis of the gunboat Bancroft, and the tale of his valour is not unmixed with humour.

The Bancroft, accompanied by the converted yacht Eagle, which had been covering the blockading station around the Isle of Pines, sighted a small Spanish schooner in Sigunea Bay.

The Bancroft’s steam launch, in charge of Nevis and one seaman, each armed with a rifle, were sent in to take the schooner.  This was only a task of minutes, and the launch returned with the prize, which proved to be the schooner Nito, little more than a smack, and with no cargo.

Commander Clover sent Nevis in with her to anchor near the wreck of the Spanish transatlantic liner Santo Domingo, sunk by the Eagle a few weeks ago.  Then the Bancroft and Eagle cruised off to Mangle Point, where they happened to be put in communication with the insurgent camp.

Two hours later they returned.  For a time nothing could be seen of the launch or the prize.  Suddenly Commander Clover, who was scanning the waters with his glass, shouted to Captain Sutherland of the Eagle:  “By heavens, they have recaptured my prize.”  The little schooner lay near the wrecked steamer, but the Spanish flag was flying from her mast, and, instead of only Nevis and his companion, she was apparently filled with men.

Meanwhile the gunboat Maple had drawn up, and Commander Clover ordered her into the work of rescue.  With guns ready she steamed toward the schooner, but the sight that greeted her was not what was expected.

Nevis and his companion sat at one end of the boat attempting to navigate her out of the harbour.  Each had his rifle across his knee and was keeping a wary eye on a party of half a dozen cowering Spaniards huddled in the other end of the boat.

The Maple asked for information, and offered Nevis a tow, but he replied with a joke and declined the proffered assistance.  Then it developed that, in going in to anchor, he had observed two other small Spanish boats near the wreck of the Santo Domingo, and had resolved to capture them, too.  He knew it was hazardous work, but “bluff” carried him through.

He took the Spanish colours of the schooner, ran them up, and boldly sailed in.  There were six men on the two other boats, and they watched the approach of their supposed compatriots with calmness that speedily changed to consternation when Nevis and the other “jackie” suddenly whipped their rifles to their shoulders, and demanded an immediate surrender.

The scared Spanish seamen lost no time in complying, and had the unique experience of surrendering to their own flag.  Then, scorning all aid, Nevis took them out to his ship, and in the most matter-of-fact manner reported the adventure to his astonished commander.

The capture was no mean one, for these six men gave important information to the American ships.

August 1. The Norwegian steamer Franklin, of about five hundred tons, bound from Vera Cruz with a cargo of food supplies, was captured by the converted yacht Siren off Francis Key, near Caibarien.

August 6. The Norwegian steamer Aladdin, sugar-laden, was captured by the auxiliary gunboat Hawk off Cadiz Light, Isle of Pines.

August 7. The auxiliary gunboat Viking captured the Norwegian steamer Bergen off Francis Key.

August 8. General Shafter and the Spanish General Toral held a consultation at the palace in Santiago, with regard to the embarkation of the Spanish prisoners of war.  As a result of the conference, one thousand of the Spanish sick and wounded were taken on board the Alicante next morning, to be sent to Spain as soon as the vessel was properly loaded.

August 10. The President to-day promoted Sampson and Schley to be rear-admirals, ranking in the order named.

A department of the army, to be known as the Department of Santiago, was created, and Maj.-Gen. Henry W. Lawton assigned to its command.

The Norwegian steamers Aladdin and Bergen were released, by orders from Washington.

August 12. The flag-ship San Francisco, the monitor Miantonomah, and the auxiliary yacht Sylvia were fired upon by the Havana batteries.  One 10 or 12-inch shell struck the San Francisco’s stern as she turned to get out of range, and tore a hole about a foot in diameter, completely wrecking Commodore Howell’s quarters, and smashing his book-case to fragments.  Nobody was injured, and, being under orders not to attack the batteries, the ships retreated as fast as their engines could carry them.

August 13. General Shafter, at Santiago, learned that Manzanillo had been bombarded for twenty hours.

General Shafter at once cabled to the Spanish commander at Manzanillo that peace had been declared,(35) and requesting him to advise the American commander of the fact under a flag of truce, which he did, and the shelling of the town ceased.

August 16. The following message was the first received in this country from the territory so lately annexed: 

“HONOLULU, August 16.

Day, State Department: - Flag raised Friday, the twelfth, at noon.  Ceremonies of transfer produced excellent impression.

(Signed) “SEWALL.”