Read CHAPTER VII - FROM ALL QUARTERS of The Boys of 98, free online book, by James Otis, on

May 11. A state of siege proclaimed throughout Spain.  In a dozen cities or more continued rioting and sacking of warehouses.  The seacoast between Cadiz and Malaga no longer lighted.  The second division of the Spanish navy, consisting of the battle-ship Pelayo, the armoured cruiser Carlos V., the protected cruiser Alphonso XIII., the converted cruisers Rapido and Patria, and several torpedo-boats, remain in Cadiz Harbour.

May 12. The story of an attempt to land American troops in Cuba is thus told by one of the officers of the steamer Gussie, which vessel left Tampa on the tenth.

“In an effort to land Companies E and G of the first U. S. Infantry on the shore of Pinar del Rio this afternoon, with five hundred rifles, sixty thousand rounds of ammunition, and some food supplies for the insurgents, the first land fight of the war took place.  Each side may claim a victory, for if the Spaniards frustrated the effort to connect with the insurgents, the Americans got decidedly the better of the battle, killing twelve or more of the enemy, and on their own part suffering not a wound.

“After dark last evening the old-fashioned sidewheel steamer Gussie of the Morgan line, with troops and cargo mentioned, was near the Cuban coast.  At sunrise she fell in with the gunboat Vicksburg on the blockade off Havana.  Other blockading vessels came up also.  The converted revenue cutter Manning, Captain Munger, was detailed to convoy the Gussie, and, three abreast, the steamers moved along the coast.

“The Cuban guides on the Gussie took their machetes to a grindstone on the hurricane-deck.  Our soldiers gathered around to see them sharpen their long knives, but only one could be induced to test the edge of these barbarous instruments with his thumb.

“By the ruined walls of an old stone house Spanish troops were gathered.  Several shots were fired by the gunboat Manning, and presently no troops were visible.  It had been decided to land near here, but the depth of water was not favourable.

“Just west of Port Cabanas Harbour the Gussie anchored, the Manning covering the landing-place with her guns, and the torpedo-boat Wasp came up eager to assist.  The first American soldier to step on the Cuban shore from this expedition was Lieutenant Crofton, Captain O’Connor with the first boatload having gone a longer route.  A reef near the beach threw the men out, and they stumbled through the water up to their breasts.  When they reached dry land they immediately went into the bush to form a picket-line.  Two horses had been forced to swim ashore, when suddenly a rifle-shot, followed by continuous sharp firing, warned the men that the enemy had been in waiting.

“The captain of the transport signalled the war-ships, and the Manning fired into the woods beyond our picket-line.  Shrapnel hissed through the air like hot iron plunged in water.  The Wasp opened with her small guns.  The cannonade began at 3.15 and lasted a quarter of an hour; then our pickets appeared, the ships circled around, and, being told by Captain O’Connor, who had come from shore with the clothing torn from one leg, where the Spaniards were, a hundred shots more were fired in that direction.

“‘Anybody hurt, captain?’ some one asked.

“‘None of our men, but we shot twelve Spaniards,’ he shouted back.

“The soldiers on board the Gussie heard the news without a word, but learning where the enemy were situated, gathered aft on the upper deck, and sent volleys toward the spot.

“The pickets returned to the bush.  Several crept along the beach, but the Spaniards had drawn back.  It was decided that the soldiers should reembark on the Gussie, and that the guides take the horses, seek the insurgents, and make a new appointment.  They rode off to the westward, and disappeared around a point.

“‘Say,’ shouted a man from Company G after them, ’you forgot your grindstone.’”

May 12. On Thursday morning, May 12th, the gunboat Wilmington stood in close to the coast, off the town of Cardenas, with her crew at quarters.

She had come for a specific purpose, which was to avenge the Winslow, and not until she was within range of the gunboats that had decoyed the Winslow did she slacken speed.  Then the masked battery, which had opened on the American boat with such deadly effect, was covered by the Wilmington’s guns.

There were no preliminaries.  The war-vessel was there to teach the Spaniards of Cardenas a lesson, and set about the task without delay.

The town is three miles distant from the gulf entrance to the harbour, therefore no time need be wasted in warning non-combatants, for they were in little or no danger.

During two weeks troops had been gathering near about Cardenas to protect it against American invasion; masked batteries were being planted, earthworks thrown up, and blockhouses erected.  There was no lack of targets.

Carefully, precisely, as if at practice, the Wilmington opened fire from her 4-inch guns, throwing shells here, there, everywhere; but more particularly in the direction of that masked battery which had trained its guns on the Winslow, and as the Spaniards, panic-stricken, hearing a death-knell in the sighing, whistling missiles, fled in mad terror, the gunboats’ machine guns were called into play.

It is safe to assert that the one especial object of the American sailors’ vengeance was completely destroyed.  Not a gun remained mounted, not a man was alive, save those whose wounds were mortal.  The punishment was terrible, but complete.

Until this moment the Spaniards at Cardenas had believed they might with impunity open fire on any craft flying the American flag; but now they began to understand that such sport was in the highest degree dangerous.

During a full hour - and in that time nearly three hundred shells had been sent on errands of destruction - the Wilmington continued her bombardment of the defences.

When the work was completed two gunboats had been sunk so quickly that their crews had no more than sufficient time to escape.  Two schooners were converted into wrecks at their moorings.  One blockhouse was consumed by flames, and signal-stations, masked batteries, and forts were in ruins.

While this lesson was in progress the Spaniards did their best to bring it to a close; but despite all efforts the Wilmington was unharmed.  There was absolutely no evidence of conflict about her when she finally steamed away, save such as might have been read on the smoke-begrimed faces of the hard-worked but triumphant and satisfied crew.

May 13. An English correspondent, cabling from Hongkong regarding the Spaniards in the Philippine Islands, made the following statement: 

“They are in a position to give the Americans a deal of trouble.  There are twenty-five thousand Spanish soldiers in the garrison at Manila, and one hundred thousand volunteers enrolled.  Scores of coasting steamers are imprisoned on the river Pasig, which is blocked at the mouth by some sunken schooners.

“Mr. Wildman, the American consul here, tells me that, according to his despatches, a flag of truce is flying over Manila, and the people are allowed to proceed freely to and from the ships in the harbour.

“The Americans are on duty night and day on the lookout for boats which endeavour to run the blockade with food supplies.  The hospital is supported by the Americans.  The Spaniards are boasting that their big battle-ship Pelayo is coming, and will demolish the Americans in ten minutes.”

On the afternoon of May 13th the flying squadron, Commodore W. S. Schley commanding, set sail from Old Point Comfort, heading southeast.  The following vessels comprised the fleet.  The cruiser Brooklyn, the flag-ship, the battle-ships Massachusetts and Texas, and the torpedo-boat destroyer Scorpion.  The Sterling, with 4,000 tons of coal, was the collier of the squadron.  At eight o’clock in the evening the Minneapolis followed, and Captain Sigsbee of the St. Paul received orders to get under way at midnight.

May 14. Eleven steamers, chartered by the government as troop-ships, sailed from New York for Key West.  At San Francisco, the cruiser Charleston, with supplies and reinforcements for Admiral Dewey’s fleet at Manila, had been made ready for sea.

At Havana General Blanco had shown great energy in preparing for the expected siege by American forces.  The city and forts were reported as being provisioned sufficiently for three or four months, and Havana was surrounded by entrenchments for a distance of thirty miles.  The troops in the garrison numbered seventy thousand, and a like number were in the interior fighting the insurgents.

The condition of the reconcentrados in Havana had grown steadily worse.  The mortality increased among this wretched class, who had taken to begging morsels of food.

Nobody in Havana except a few higher officers knew that the Spanish fleet was annihilated at Manila, and the story was believed that the Americans were beaten there.

At Madrid in the Chamber of Deputies Senor Bores asked the government to inform the house of the condition of the Philippines.  After the pacification of the islands, he said, outbreaks had occurred at Pansy and Cebú and even in Manila.  Was this a new rebellion, he asked, or a continuation of the old one?  If it was a continuation of the old rebellion, then General Prima de Rivera’s pacification of the islands had been a perfect fraud.  General Correa, Minister of War, replied that the old insurrection was absolutely over.  The present one, he said, arose from the incitements of the Americans.

Senor Bores retorted that he had received a private letter from the Philippines, dated April 10th, prior to the arising of any fear of war with the United States, giving pessimistic accounts of the risings there, and passengers arriving by the steamer Leon III. had told similar stories.  Now, he declared, the Spanish troops in the Philippines were in a terrible condition, being between two fires, the natives and the Americans.  Senor Bores’s remarks created a profound sensation.

The cruiser Charleston was reported as being ready to sail from San Francisco for Manila.  Three hundred sailors and marines to reinforce Admiral Dewey’s fleet were to be sent on the cruiser.

The U. S. S. Oregon, Marietta, and Nictheroy arrived at Bahia, Brazil.

The Spanish torpedo-boat Terror, of the Cape Verde fleet, reported as yet remaining at Port de France, Martinique.

A press correspondent gives the following spirited account, under the date of May 14th, of a second attempt to entice the American blockading squadron within range of the Santa Clara battery guns: 

“Captain-General Blanco, two hours before sunset to-night, attempted to execute a ruse, which, if successful, would have cleared the front of Havana of six ships on that blockading station.

“Unable to come out to do battle, he adopted the tactics of the spider, and cunningly planned to draw the prey into his net, but, though a clever and pretty scheme as an original proposition, it was practically a repetition of the trick by which the gunboat Vicksburg and the little converted revenue cutter Morrill were last week decoyed by a fishing-smack under the big Krupp guns of Santa Clara batteries.

“Thanks to bad gunnery, both ships on that occasion managed to get out of range without being sunk, though some of the shells burst close aboard, and the Vicksburg’s Jacob’s-ladder was cut adrift.

“Late this afternoon the ships on the Havana station were dumfounded to see two vessels steam out of Havana Harbour and head east.  Dense smoke was streaming like black ribbons from their stacks, and a glance showed that they were under full head of steam.

“By aid of glasses Commander Lilly of the Mayflower, which was flying the pennant, made out the larger vessel of the two, which was two hundred feet long and about forty-five hundred tons displacement, to be the cruiser Alphonso XII., and the small one to be the gunboat Legaspi, both of which were known to be bottled up in Havana Harbour.

“At first he supposed that they were taking advantage of the absence of the heavy fighting-ships, and were making a bona-fide run for the open sea.

“As superior officer, he immediately signalled the other war-ships on the station, the Vicksburg, Annapolis, Wasp, Tecumseh, and Osceola.  The little squadron gave chase to the flying Spaniards, keeping up a running fire as they advanced.  The Alphonso and her consort circled inshore about five miles below Havana, and headed back for Morro Castle.

“Our gunboats and the vessels of the mosquito fleet did not follow them in.  Commander Lilly saw that the wily Spanish ruse was to draw them in under the guns of the heavy batteries, where Spanish artillery officers could plot out the exact range with their telemeters.  So the return was made in line ahead, parallel with the shore.

“Commander Lilly had not been mistaken.  As his ships came abreast of Santa Clara battery the big guns opened, and fired thirteen shells at a distance of about five miles.  The range was badly judged, as more than half the missiles overshot the mark, and others fell short, some as much as a mile.

“The big Alphonso and her convoy steamed swiftly from the dark shadow of the harbour’s mouth, and, turning sharply east, ran along the coast as though to slip through the cordon of blockade.

“It was a bold trick and not at first transparent, although the folly of it created a suspicion.

“The Spanish boats crowded on steam and stood along the coast as long as they dared, to give zest to the chase.  The Mayflower signalled her consorts, ‘Close in and charge.’

“Seeing that the bait had apparently taken, the Spaniards veered about, and, bringing their stern-chasers to bear on the Americans, doubled back for Morro.

“Two of the shells from the Vicksburg burst in the rigging of the Alphonso, and some of it came down, but it was, of course, impossible to know whether any fatalities occurred.  The American fire was much more accurate than the Spanish, as every shell of the latter fell short of their pursuers.

“The Spaniards were a mile off Morro, and our ships fully four miles out, when flame leaped from the batteries of the Santa Clara forts, and clouds of white smoke drifted up the coast.  Half a minute later a dull, heavy roar of a great gun came like a deep diapason of an organ on high treble of smaller guns.  It was from one of the 12-inch Krupp guns mounted there, and an 85-pound projectile plunged into the water half a mile inside of the American line, throwing up a tower of white spray.  It ricochetted and struck again half a mile outside.

“The mask was now off.  Maddened by the failure of their plot, the Spaniards continued to fire at intervals of about ten minutes.  In all, thirteen shots were fired, but not one struck within two hundred yards of our ships.

“As soon as the battery opened, Commander Lilly signalled, and his fleet stood offshore.  Captain McKensie, on the bridge of the Vicksburg, watched the fall of the shells, but he considered it useless to waste ammunition at that distance.  He appeased the desire of the men at the guns, however, by letting go a final broadside at the Spanish ships, in the chance hope of making them pay for their daring before they gained the harbour, but they steamed under Morro’s guns untouched, and, as they disappeared, discharged several guns.

“Half a dozen shots were sent after them at that moment by the Annapolis, which dropped inside the harbour, probably creating consternation among scores of boats on the water-front.”

May 15. The Spanish cruisers Maria Teresa, Vizcaya, Almirante Oquendo, and Cristobal Colon, and torpedo-boat destroyers, which arrived off the port of Curacoa, sailed at sunset on the 15th, after having purchased coal and provisions.

The flying squadron under command of Commodore Schley arrived off Charleston, S. C.

Admiral Sampson’s squadron passed Cape Haytien.

All the members of the Spanish Cabinet have resigned.

A report from Ponce, Porto Rico, under date of May 15th, describes the inhabitants of the island as living in constant fear of a renewal of the bombardment of San Juan by Admiral’s Sampson’s fleet.  There are no submarine mines in the harbour of Ponce, and the generally unprotected condition of the place is a cause of much anxiety.

May 16. Freeman Halstead, an American newspaper correspondent, arrested at San Juan de Porto Rico, while in the act of making photographs of the fortifications.  He was sentenced by a military tribunal to nine years’ imprisonment.

In a general order issued at the War Department, the assignments to the different corps and other important commands were announced.  The order is as follows: 

“The following assignments of general officers to command is hereby made by the President: 

“Maj.-Gen. Wesley Merritt, U. S. A., the Department of the Pacific.

“Maj.-Gen. John R. Brooke, U. S. A., the first corps and the Department of the Gulf.

“Maj.-Gen. W. M. Graham, U. S. Volunteers, the second corps, with headquarters at Falls Church, Va.

“Maj.-Gen. James M. Wade, U. S. Volunteers, the third corps, reporting to Major-General Brooke, Chickamauga.

“Maj.-Gen. John J. Coppinger, U. S. Volunteers, the fourth corps, Mobile, Ala.

“Maj.-Gen. William R. Shafter, U. S. Volunteers, the fifth corps, Tampa, Fla.

“Maj.-Gen. Elwell S. Otis, U. S. Volunteers, to report to Major-General
Merritt, U. S. A., for duty with troops in the Department of the Pacific.

“Maj.-Gen. James H. Wilson, U. S. Volunteers, the sixth corps, Chickamauga, reporting to Major-General Brooke.

“Maj.-Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, U. S. Volunteers, the seventh corps, Tampa, Fla.

“Maj.-Gen. Joseph H. Wheeler, U. S. Volunteers, the cavalry division, Tampa, Fla.”

Orders were given by Admiral Sampson to Captain Goodrich of the St. Louis, on May 15th, to take the fleet tender in tow and proceed to Santiago de Cuba to cut the cables at that point.  The grappling implements were secured from the tug Wampatuck on May 16th, and at eleven P. M. the expedition, in the small boats, left the cruiser for the entrance of Santiago.  It was then perfectly dark and hazy, but the Santiago light was burning brightly.  Moonrise was not until 3.45 A. M. At three A. M. on May 17th the expedition returned with part of one cable, but it had failed to find a second cable, which is close under the fort, and was protected by two patrol-boats.  Then a start was made to cut the cable on the other side of the island.  At seven A. M. the St. Louis fired her first gun at the forts protecting the entrance to Santiago Harbour, and after a little time the fire was returned by what must have been a 2-pounder.

At eight A. M. the St. Louis was about two miles distant from the fort, which seemed to be unprovided with modern guns.  After three hours grappling in over five hundred fathoms, the cable had not been found.  At 12.15 P. M. the guns of Morro Castle opened fire, followed by the shore battery on the southerly point, and also the west battery.  The St. _Louis_ kept up a constant fire from her bow guns, and soon succeeded in silencing the guns of Morro Castle, the Spaniards running in all directions.

Most of the shots from the fort fell short of the ship.  Shells from the mortar battery went over the cruiser and exploded in the water quite close to the St. Louis.  The mortar battery ceased at 12.56 P. M., after a fusilade of forty-one minutes.  After firing the cable was grappled, hauled on board, and cut.

May 17. The Spanish squadron reported as yet remaining at Cadiz.

The U. S. S. Wilmington had a slight action with a Spanish gunboat off the Cuban coast, during which the latter was disabled.

May 18. The U. S. cruiser Charleston left San Francisco for the Philippines with supplies for Commodore Dewey’s fleet.

May 19. By cable from Madrid it was learned that the Spanish fleet had arrived at Santiago de Cuba.

The cruiser Charleston, which sailed for Manila, returned to Mare Island navy yard with her condensers out of order.

May 21. An order was despatched to San Francisco to prepare the Monterey for a voyage to Manila, where she would join Commodore Dewey’s fleet.  The Monterey is probably the most formidable monitor in the world; technically described she is a barbed turret, low freeboard monitor of four thousand tons displacement, 256 feet long, fifty-nine feet beam, and fourteen feet six inches draught.  She carries in two turrets, surrounded by barbettes, two 12-inch and two 10-inch guns, while on her superstructure, between the turrets, are mounted six 6-pounders, four 1-pounders, and two Gatlings.  The turrets are seven and one-half and eight inches thick, and the surrounding barbettes are fourteen inches and eleven and one-half inches of steel.

One of the most important prizes captured during the war was taken by the U. S. S. Minneapolis off the eastern coast of Cuba.  The craft was the Spanish brig Santa Maria de Lourdes, loaded with coal, ammunition, arms, and supplies for Admiral Cervera.

Nearly four hundred men, with a pack-train and a large quantity of arms and ammunition, sailed for a point about twenty-five miles east of Havana, on the steamer Florida.  These men and their equipment constituted an expedition able to operate independently, and to defend itself against any body of Spanish troops which might oppose it.

The Florida returned to Key West on the thirty-first, after having successfully landed the ammunition and men.

May 22. The U. S. S. Charleston again left San Francisco, bound for Manila.

May 25. The U. S. S. St. Paul captured the British steamer Restormel, loaded with coal, off Santiago de Cuba.  The prize is a long, low tramp collier belonging to the Troy company of Cardiff, Wales.  She left there on April 22d, the day before war was declared, with twenty-eight hundred tons of the finest grade of Cardiff coal consigned to a Spanish firm in San Juan de Porto Rico, where the Spanish fleet was supposed to make its first stop.

“When we reached San Juan,” said the captain of the Restormel, “the consignees told me very curtly that the persons for whom the coal was destined were in Curacoa.  At Porto Rico I learned that war had been declared.  I began to suspect that the coal was going to Cervera’s fleet, but my Spanish consignees said it would be all right.  They told me not to ask any questions, but to go to Curacoa as soon as possible.  I did so, placing my cargo under orders.

“The consignee at Curacoa was a Spanish officer.  He said there had been another change of base, and that the coal was wanted at Santiago de Cuba.  I tried to cable my owners for instructions, but found that the cables had been cut.  Under the circumstances there was nothing for me to do but to go to Santiago.  By this time I was pretty well convinced that the cargo was for Cervera.  I suspected that coal had been made a contraband of war, so I wasn’t a bit surprised when the St. Paul brought us to, with a shot, three and a half miles from shore.”

In the prize court it was decided to confiscate the coal, and release the steamer.

The President issued a proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand men.

Three troop-ships, laden with soldiers, sailed from San Francisco for Manila.

May 26. The battle-ship Oregon, which left San Francisco March 19th, arrived at Key West.

May 27. The Spanish torpedo-boat destroyer arrived at San Juan de Porto Rico.

May 28. From Commodore Dewey the following cablegram was received: 

“CAVITE, May 25th, via Hongkong, May 27th.

Secretary Navy, Washington: - No change in the situation of the blockade.  Is effective.  It is impossible for the people of Manila to buy provisions, except rice.

“The captain of the Olympia, Gridley, condemned by medical survey.  Is ordered home.  Leaves by Occidental and Oriental steamship from Hongkong the twenty-eighth.  Commander Lamberton appointed commander of the Olympia.”

May 29. Maj.-Gen. Wesley Merritt issued an order formally announcing that he had taken command of the Philippine forces and expeditions.

May 31. United States troops board transports for Cuba.

The beginning of June saw the opening of the first regular campaign of the war, and it is eminently proper the operations around and about Santiago de Cuba be told in a continuous narrative, rather than with any further attempt at giving the news from the various parts of the world in chronological order.

Therefore such events, aside from the Santiago campaign, as are worthy a place in history, will be set down in regular sequence after certain deeds of the boys of ’98 have been related in such detail as is warranted by the heroism displayed.