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The Naval Battle
at Santiago Harbor

 

Because of the high degree of publicity the charge at San Juan Hill received in the media, it is often erroneously though of as the climax to the ground war in Cuba.  To the contrary it was, but for the brief skirmishes at Guantanamo Bay, Cuzco Well and Las Guasimas, the opening volley in that campaign.  Despite a subsequent truce, two weeks of fighting would follow as the American soldiers struggled to survive not only enemy snipers and heavy guns, but deadly tropical illness that would claim more lives than bullets.

When General Shafter's forces took San Juan and Kettle Hills, they simply pushed the Spanish defenders back to their second line of defense, a line perhaps even more formidable than the position they had held on the heights.  Throughout the night following the famous charge, General Lawton's troops moved south from El Caney to link up to the right of the cavalry.  It took until 2 in the morning to move the American artillery forward to support the troops now camped on and around the hills.  Theodore Roosevelt later recorded that:

"We finished digging the trench soon after midnight, and then the worn-out men laid down in rows an their rifles and dropped heavily to sleep.  About one in ten of them had blankets taken from the Spaniards....if the men without blankets had not been so tired that they fell asleep anyhow, they would have been very cold, for, of course, we were all drenched with sweat, and above the waist had on nothing but our flannel shirts, while the night was cool, with a heavy dew.  Before anyone had time to wake from the cold however, we were all awakened by the Spaniards, whose skirmishers suddenly opened fire on us."

The sun rose on July 2nd to cast its light across long lines of trenches in which young soldiers had prepared themselves against an expected counter-attack.  Some of the trenches were filled with water, and the hardships of the night along with the wet tropical climate began taking its toll on the men's health.  

It was near 10 o'clock when the Spanish came.  Though tired and miserable in their trenches, still surrounded by the bodies of dead and dying comrades, the American line was well prepared and repulsed the enemy all along the front.  The total failure of the enemy attack however, did not mean it was any the less deadly.

As the Spanish attacked the trenches held by the 9th U.S. Infantry, a young American was shot in the chest.  Reacting to his agonizing wound, the soldier jumped up and then fell over the embankment...rolling toward the enemy.  One of the nearby leaders was 2nd Lieutenant Ira C. Welborn who, just months earlier, had graduated from West Point.   Heedless of the angry Mauser bullets that whipped through the air and kicked up dirt all along the embankment, Lieutenant Welborn jumped from his sheltered position to rush to the injured private's side.  While his men watched in amazement from their trenches, the young lieutenant, now completely exposed to enemy fire, quickly carried the wounded private to safety.  For that act, Lieutenant Welborn was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor.

Though the initial counter-attack was quickly and soundly repulsed, the bombardment continued throughout the day.  The Spanish were nearly surrounded at Santiago with 16,000 Americans to the east, General Garcia and his 3,000 Cuban insurgents to the west, and the harbor blockaded by the US Navy to the south.  General Vara del Rey had been killed at El Caney the previous day, and when the top ground commander General Arsenio Linares y Pombo was wounded by an American round in his left shoulder, General Jose Toral took command of the Spanish forces at Santiago.  

Estimates of the Spanish strength in Santiago vary, depending upon which historical account one reads.  The numbers range from 6,000 to 10,000 troops, deployed throughout heavily fortified positions.  Though surrounded and outnumbered, they were not ready to admit defeat and comforted themselves with the knowledge that any attempt by the American forces to storm the city would meet with formidable opposition.  During the darkness of night on July 2nd, their numbers were increased when 3,000 Spanish soldiers under Colonel Escario managed to move past General Garcia's insurgents to reinforce the city.

Under that same darkness, American soldiers huddled in their trenches for another chilling night in the jungles.  The not-so-splendid legacy of the Spanish-American war was quickly taking a toll on them.  The trenches themselves were filled knee-deep with mud and water from the daily rain storms, and quickly became breeding grounds for the mosquitoes.  Dysentery, malaria, and yellow fever spread rapidly through the ranks.  Provisions were either non-existent or slow in arriving, and the canned beef that the men referred to as "embalmed beef" was of little value to those who became hungry enough to endure it.

The stream of wounded that had been making its way to the make-shift hospital back at Siboney was soon joined by scores of soldiers who fell victim to an enemy more formidable than the Spaniards.  If General Shafter's soldiers hoped that by surrounding Santiago they needed only to outlast the isolated Spaniards, they would be doomed to failure.  Quickly the jungle was exacting more American casualties than enemy bullets or artillery.  General Shafter recognized this, and wanted to move quickly.  President McKinley and Secretary of War Alger were all that held him in check, refusing him permission to attack the city in a move that would create a mass grave of American war dead.

In desperation, on the morning of July 3rd, General Shafter cabled Washington, D.C.  to request permission to withdraw his troops five miles to the northeast where they would be further removed from the deadly enemy fire.  Though it would mean giving up the hard earned ground above Santiago, the general saw it as his only salvation.  Secretary of War Alger promptly denied the request.  At a loss for what to do, one of Shafter's aides made an unusual suggestion...that General Shafter issue a demand to the Spanish general to surrender the city.  Within an hour the American commander sent word to General Toral that unless he received word of surrender by 10 o'clock the following day, he would immediately begin shelling the city.

In the open sea along the Cuban shoreline, Admiral Sampson was still at odds with General Shafter's tactics.  Early on the morning of Sunday, July 3rd he sailed east to Siboney aboard his flagship USS New York to meet with the American ground commander.  In a sense, the American ground forces had fallen victim to a third foe, an inter-service rivalry between the Navy and the Army as to how to proceed.  Shafter felt that the Navy was not giving proper support to his troops, and Sampson felt that Shafter had taken the wrong approach to capturing Santiago, denying him the opportunity to engage the blockaded enemy fleet.  Neither man realized that, even as they contemplated the stalemate, events beyond either man's control were unfolding that would settle the matter once and for all.

 

 

 

 

It was a situation that Spanish Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete had predicted from the moment he had received orders from Madrid two months earlier to sail his small squadron from their anchorage in Cape Verde.  At that time he had responded by replying:

"Nothing can be expected of this expedition (to Cuba) except the total destruction of our flotilla.  With a clear conscience I go to the sacrifice, but I cannot understand the (Spanish) navy's decision." 

When the American forces stormed San Juan Hill on July 1st, Cervera's ships had been locked inside Santiago Harbor for six weeks.  As the Spanish soldiers were sent reeling backward by the fierce American assault, many of Cervera's sailors fell back with them.  His ships landlocked, the Spanish Admiral had stripped his ships of some of their bigger guns, outfitted as many sailors as he could with rifles, and sent them ashore to reinforce the Spanish ground positions.  

All Spanish forces in Cuba were under the leadership of Captain General Ramon Blanco y Erenas back in Havana.  Following the American victories of July 1st, General Blanco became concerned that Admiral Cervera's ships might soon fall into the American's hands.  On the early morning of July 2nd he cabled Cervera through General Linares (who had not yet been wounded):

"Ship with the greatest dispatch all your seamen and leave at once with the squadron."

Cervera was incensed.  His squadron of six aging vessels was no match for the naval force arrayed against him outside the harbor.  But  the valiant Spanish Admiral's orders were clear, mingled with the notation that, "If we should lose the squadron without battle, the morale effect in Spain would be disastrous." 

Admiral Cervera sent orders to recover all his seamen serving in the trenches ashore, then assembled the captains of his ships to plan their move.  At the same time he sent a letter to General Linares stating:

"I have considered this squadron lost ever since we left Cape Verde--to think otherwise is madness.  I shall never be one to consider myself responsible before God and history, for the lives sacrificed on the alter of vanity--and not in the true defense of our country."

As the Spanish captains met with Admiral Cervera, the men aboard ship began building up steam in response to Cervera's orders to be prepared to depart by 2:00 P.M.  Meanwhile the discussion centered on the process.  Many of Cervera's captains were seasoned naval veterans who saw the folly of their orders, and some urged their Admiral to defy General Blanco's orders.  Cervera was a man of character, a military man who would never bring himself to disobey an order regardless how insane, and would hear nothing of it.  So the meeting turned to the when and the how.

The primary consideration was whether to break out under cover of darkness or in the daytime.  Each option had its own set of potentials and perils.  Slipping out in the dark of night posed great risk for those who would navigate the narrow, mined harbor.  If one of the ships was grounded or detonated a mine, it could effectively accomplish what Lieutenant Hobson had failed to do in sinking the Merimac.  Cervera also knew that the darkness was only temporary.  Every night the American ships had illuminated the harbor entrance with their huge search lights.

The final consensus was to make a daylight run, the six ships steaming boldly out of Santiago harbor after navigating the narrow channel, and then turning west in the open waters of the Caribbean to head for Cienfuegos.  But it would not happen on this day.  The following day would be Sunday, and in the early morning many of the sailors aboard the American ships would be at religious services.  Admiral Cervera would lead the way himself in his flagship Infanta Maria Teresa at 9 o'clock in the morning.

For weeks in the earlier month of May, Admiral  Sampson had scoured the Caribbean in search of Admiral Cervera and his squadron from Cape Verde.  When at last he found the elusive Spanish flotilla, it was safely tucked into the harbor at Santiago.  For a month his ships had patrolled the harbor entrance, waiting for the moment when at last he could turn his guns on the legendary naval force to exact a glorious victory.  In an ironic twist of fate, just as Admiral Cervera was preparing to finally engage the US Naval fleet, Sampson's flagship New York was steaming away from Santiago for the commander's meeting at Siboney with General Shafter.

In the darkness of the previous evening Admiral Cervera's ships had taken aboard their smaller gunboats, shortened cables, and prepared their armaments for battle.  The small gunboat Alverado worked throughout the channel, removing six Bustamente torpedoes that had been placed in the harbor entrance as mines.   Admiral Cervera began pulling his ships into single file, first his flagship Teresa, followed by the Vizcaya, then the fast armored cruiser Cristobal Colon, followed by Almirante Oquendo.  All four armored cruisers of the squadron would be followed by the smaller destroyers Pluton and Furor.

As Admiral Cervera prepared to make his dash for freedom, he received news from lookouts at the Morro Castle, informing him of the departure of the New York to the east, a welcome bit of news.  He had also learned that the formidable USS Massachusetts had left its blockading position to re-coal at Guantanamo Bay.  Despite this surprising good report, he knew that once he left the harbor he would be out-manned, out-gunned, and in a race for his life.  The departure of the two US ships could not temper his foreboding sense of disaster...reflected in his speech to his men shortly before the exodus began.

"Crewmen of my Squadron!

"The solemn moment of fighting has come.  The sacred name of Spain and the glorious honor of her flag so demands.  I want you to assist me in this rendezvous with the enemy dressed in our full-dress uniforms.

"I know my order has surprised you because of its inadequacy but its the uniform which Spanish sailors dress in the great solemnities and I do not believe that there is a more solemn time that that when a soldier is going to die for his fatherland.

"The enemy covets our old and glorious hulls.  They have sent the whole power of their young navy against us so as to achieve this goal, but they will be only able to take the splinters of our ships, and they will only be able to take our sabers from us when, as corpses, we remain floating in this waters which belonged and belongs to Spain.  My sons, the enemy is superior to us in strength but they are not in courage.  Hoist the flag and surrender no ship.  Crewmen of my squadron, up with Spain!

"Sound the trumpet for the combat.  May God receive our souls."

Shortly before 9:30 the Infanta Maria Teresa rounded Socapa Point.  Admiral Cervera excused the civilian pilot who had guided the ship through the narrow harbor, encouraging him to depart with great haste and presenting him with a voucher and the words, "Do not forget to show my certificate so that they pay you for today's service."  Beyond the point the sea was calm and a bright sunshine had broken through the morning haze to sparkle across the blue Caribbean and reveal the hulking giants of the United States Navy, laying in wait for just this moment.  Admiral Cervera steeled himself for the moment, looking across the sparkling waters at the gray hulls of four impressive American battleships, the armored cruiser Brooklyn, and two armed yachts.  Perhaps he felt a little like David facing Goliath, only with a sinking feeling that this time the giant would exact his revenge.  Standing crisply at attention, impressive in full dress uniform, he gave the command and the Teresa opened fire as it raced into the open sea and the steel jaws of certain death.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ship's bell had just rung three times... 9:30 A.M., as the Brooklyn's quartermaster noticed a black cloud rising to the sky near the entrance of Santiago Harbor.  It was a cloud that was quickly moving towards the open sea, and he instantly realized what was happening.  "Report to the commodore and the captain that the enemy ships are coming out," he shouted into his megaphone.  There was no need.  Commodore Schley had already witnessed the surprising site on the horizon.  "We'll give it to them now!" he shouted exuberantly.   Looking eastward he could no longer see the New York.  The Admiral's flagship was already well away from the blockade on its brief trip to Siboney for the meeting with General Shafter.  The long awaited Caribbean counterpart to Admiral Dewey's earlier victory  in the Pacific was now in the hands of the fleet's second in command.

As quickly as Admiral Cervera's flagship Teresa cleared the shoals it turned hard to starboard, unleashing a volley of fire on the USS Brooklyn with its forward guns as the captain ordered full speed in a do-or-die race westward.  The USS Iowa was first to return fire, its six-pound guns responding to the Spanish bombardment while the Brooklyn began a quick loop before making a hot pursuit.  Moments later the hull of the Viscaya came into view, turning quickly to follow the Teresa westward.  And then, one-by-one, the remaining ships of the Spanish flotilla followed suit, steaming out in 7-minute intervals "as gaily as brides of the alter," Captain John Woodward Philip of the Texas later recalled.

Despite the galling fire from the American ships, the element of surprise almost worked, throwing the US ships into a brief moment of confusion.  Commodore Schley ordered his flagship hard to starboard to fire its aft turret guns at the Teresa.  Though the move brought Admiral Cervera under a devastating fire that slammed hard into the side of his ship, the move also put the Brooklyn directly in front of the Texas, moving quickly from its position east of the Brooklyn to give chase.  "The smoke from our guns began to hang so heavily and densely over the ship that for a few minutes we could see nothing." Captain John Philip later recalled.  "Suddenly a whiff of breeze and a lull in the firing lifted the pall, and there, bearing towards us and across our bows, turning on her port helm, with big waves curling over her bows and great clouds of black smoke pouring from her funnels was the Brooklyn.  She looked as big as half a dozen Great Easterns and seemed so near that it took our breath away."

The unlikely turn to port by the Brooklyn was never fully explained by Commodore Schley, and would become the subject of debate in years to follow.  It was, by any measure, a fortunate turn of events.  Admiral Cervera knew that the Brooklyn was one of the fastest of the ships in the US fleet, and had turned the Teresa to ram her, only to find his efforts thwarted by the unexpected turn of his target eastward.

"Look out for the Texas, sir!", the Brooklyn's navigator called out as quickly as he noted the very real danger of a collision between the two US vessels.

"Damn the Texas!" Commodore Schley shouted back.  "Let her look out for herself!"  In all probability, it was only the quick action of Captain Philip in reversing both engines, that prevented the two ships from colliding.

Meanwhile, the Teresa was taking a pounding from all five of the big American ships.  Captain Conchas was killed in the initial volley, falling at the side of Admiral Cervera who, in the absence of other officers, personally took command of his flagship.  A 8-inch shell from one of the American ships slammed into one of the Teresa's gunshields, destroying two 5-inch gun positions and killing all members of the gun crew.  Two 13-inch shells from the Oregon slammed into her hull, exploding in the after torpedo room with much destruction and great loss of life.

As the first ship out of the harbor, the Teresa became the first and primary target of the American blockade.  Within minutes it was riddled with gaping holes and fires raged across and throughout the obviously doomed cruiser.  "The enormous American projectiles tore through the sides of our vessels--setting them on fire and dealing death on every side, " Admiral Cervera recalled.  "I signaled my fleet that the hope of escape was impossible, and to hug the shore and wreck their ships rather than allow them to be captured."

Less than half-an-hour had passed since the Teresa had emerged from Santiago Harbor when Admiral Cervera ordered the burning Spanish cruiser to head towards the shoreline.  His hopes of scuttling his flagship were thwarted by the fires that prevented surviving sailors from reaching the sea cocks that would flood the vessel and send it to the bottom.  Near the shore only a few miles from the opening at Santiago Harbor, Cervera struck the colors and ordered his men to leave the ship and swim for the shore.  Stripped to his underwear and assisted by his son, Lieutenant Angel Cervera, the legendary Spanish admiral then followed his crew to safety.  The Infanta Maria Teresa had taken 29 direct hits from the American guns.

 

Following behind the wake of the Teresa came the Vizcaya and Cristobal Colon, neatly spaced at to emerge at 7 minute intervals.  While Admiral Cervera's flag ship was taking the full force of the American blockade, these managed to emerge nearly unscathed to turn hard towards the west.  Hugging the coast, both ships traveled under a full head of steam and managed to initially break free of the cordon.  As the Teresa had turned in flames towards its final demise near Nima-Nima cove, the fourth ship in the line was beginning its run.  With the quickly escaping Vizcaya and Colon moving beyond range of the American guns, it was the Almirante Oquendo that became the primary target of the guns that had just destroyed the Teresa.

The full fury of the American guns of four battleships and one cruiser shredded the armored hull of the Oquendo, and within fifteen minutes her Captain was among the numerous casualties.  His executive officer took command, only to be completely severed by the next salvo to bombard the ship.  The third officer in command quickly met the same fate, and within ten minutes all remaining officers were killed or seriously wounded.   It mattered little, for few survivors remained for any officer to command.  The bodies of more than 100 of the Oqauendo's crew littered the decks.

The attrition in the ranks forced the wounded Captain Lazaga to resume command of his own doomed ship.  He ordered all remaining torpedoes launched in a desperate hope of exacting some damage on the American war ships before he lost his own, then ordered the decks of the Qquendo sprayed with oil and set on fire to insure that his vessel would never be salvaged by his enemies.  Only ten minutes after the Teresa was abandoned, the Oquendo ran aground less than a mile from the flagship and broke in two.  Fifty-seven large rounds had pierced the armor of the Oquendo to seal its fate.  Captain Lazaga was not among the few survivors, and was assumed lost in the flames that destroyed his once proud armored cruiser.  

 

In slightly more than half an hour, two of Cervera's ships had been totally destroyed.  His sole hope of any victory lay in the prospect of the Vizcaya and Colon out-running the American ships.  Both had emerged from the harbor prepared for a race, but the surprised American fleet was not.  Only the USS Iowa on the eastern edge of the blockade was up to full steam.  The nearer Brooklyn, among the speediest of the American warships, had been at half-power to conserve coal.  It would take twenty minutes for most of the American ships to reach full steam and give chase.  Meanwhile, the last two ships of Cervera's squadron had emerged.  They were the smaller destroyers Pluton and Furor, capable of outrunning most larger warships but no match for their big guns.  Even worse, the reason that these small destroyers were capable of high speeds was the fact that each was only lightly armored.  The big shells that began to rain around them were quickly spelling certain doom.

Stationed just to the east entrance of the harbor opening was the Glouchester, an equally small but well prepared gunboat.  The former yacht of J. Pierpont Morgan named the Corsair, it had been purchased for $225,000 by the Navy at the outbreak of the war and rechristened the Glouchester.

Lieutenant Commander Richard Wainwright, the former Executive Officer of the USS Maine, had wisely held his position when the first four cruisers of Cervera's squadron emerged to clash with the larger warships of the US Navy.  When the Pluton emerged the USS Indiana signaled "Torpedo boats coming out."  Despite orders to remain back while the larger warships dropped their heavy shells on the small destroyers, Wainwright ordered the Glouchester into action.  (He later claimed he miss-read the Indiana's signal to say, "Gunboats close in!"  It remains for historians to guess if this was true, or if it was simply the eager Lieutenant Commander's excuse for ignoring orders to get his share of the action.)

As the Glouchester raced towards the Pluton, its presence forced the Indiana to cease fire to avoid destroying the armored American yacht.  For minutes the three smaller vessels traded shots with their smaller guns, the Glouchester daring to pit itself against both the Pluton and Furor.  Suddenly a 12-inch shell from one of the larger American warships crashed into the Pluton's side, piercing the light armor to crash into the forward boilers.  The resulting explosion literally ripped the small destroyer's decks to shreds.  Yawing to the starboard and moving towards the beach, the Pluton struck the headland causing a large section of the bow to sheer off.  

Meanwhile the Furor lost momentum and began turning in circles, the tiller ropes fouled by the remains of one of the ship's dead boatswains.  In grisly desperation, Spanish sailors were cutting the body in pieces to free the steering mechanisms when another shell destroyed the boat's engine.  Quickly the surviving Spaniards abandoned ship and not a moment too soon.  A large shell from the Oregon slammed into the engine room, blowing the entire ship into small pieces.  The fast sinking destroyer would be the only Spanish ship in the squadron that would not reach the shoreline in the course of the battle.

It was nearly 10:30, and in less than one hour the US Navy had utterly destroyed four of Cervera's six ships.  The cannonade had been among the worst ever witnessed in any Naval battle.  Hundreds of Spaniards had died, many were wounded, and survivors strained against the sea to reach the safety of shore.  Unfortunately for many, Cuban insurgents were scouring the shoreline for these survivors, and the insurgents were NOT intent on taking prisoners.  Amazingly, as two enemy ships sped towards Cienfuegos, and while four others lay sinking and burning, not a single American had been killed in the battle. 

Meanwhile the Brooklyn was in hot pursuit of the remaining enemy ships, followed closely by the Texas and Oregon, these having built up steam for the case.  The faster Colon had overtaken the Viscaya, which had received some hits as it left the harbor.  Both ships had become handicapped by their long period of idleness inside Santiago Harbor.  Their hulls were now covered with the natural organisms of the sea that had accumulated during the period of activity.  This created a drag to slow them down.  Usually capable of 20 or more knots, both were able only to muster close to 15 knots, and their speed dropped with each passing minute allowing the Brooklyn to overtake the Viscaya as the Colon moved into the lead of the race.

The Texas and Brooklyn began firing as they came broadside of the Viscaya, unleashing a deadly rain from their guns.  The Spanish cruiser had heavy armor, but quickly began to crumple beneath the sheer force of the multiple guns.  The Spaniards returned fire, but most was ineffective.  Two or three enemy rounds did crash through the superstructure of the Brooklyn, one of them piercing the gun deck.  Commodore Schely instructed Captain Cook to obtain a casualty report, only to learn that two men had been slightly wounded.  Certain the report was in error and that there must indeed be a higher rate of casualty, Captain Cook ordered the messenger to, "Go down to the hospital and tell Dr. Fitzsimons to report to me the number of dead and wounded."  As the messenger departed to reconfirm the amazing but good news that the American sailors had escaped danger, the only major American casualty of the day fell.

Twenty-five year old George Ellis was a clean-cut, devoutly religious young sailor who had often lamented the lack of a chaplain aboard his ship.  The day prior to the naval battle at Santiago, he had received a number of religious tracts in the mail from his church back home, and quickly distributed them among his fellow sailors.  One of the Brooklyn's officers stated, "he had impressed me very much because he had what so few of us have, the courage to acknowledge in the presence of a conglomerate lot of men, such as you find on the warships, his belief in God, and his love for his religion and his church."  That morning the Chief Yeoman had visited with the same officer, sharing with him a recently received photo of his wife and baby.

As the guns of the Viscaya attempted to respond to the incoming fire from the American ships, Yeoman Ellis was on the conning tower with Commodore Schley and Captain Cook.  It was his job to mark the range between the warring ships, a job that required him to make readings from in front of the 8-inch turret, a dangerous and exposed position.  

Commodore Schley noted that the Viscaya seemed to be turning and Yeoman Ellis rushed to his position to take a new reading.  "Twelve hundred yards," he shouted back to the commanders.  The American's adjusted their guns, as the Viscaya continued to unleash volleys of its own fire.  Most of the enemy shells were high but with a discernible thump, one of the shells slammed into Yeoman Ellis, decapitating him and dropping his lifeless torso to the deck.  Blood and brain matter sprayed the conning tower, staining the uniforms of the commanders.  Dr. DeValin rushed forward, noting quickly that the young sailor was dead.  Another sailor stepped to the doctor's side to assist him in throwing the headless body into the sea, a harsh but commonly necessary action during a battle at sea.  From the conning tower Commodore noted their actions and shouted quickly, "Don't throw that body overboard.  Take it below, and we'll give it a Christian burial."  Chief Yeoman Ellis was the only American killed on any of the American ships during the naval battle at Santiago.

The continued pounding had taken its toll on the Viscaya.  The reason Schley had noticed a change in the range was because the besieged Spanish cruiser had made a swift turn to the south as if to ram the Brooklyn.  Moments after Yeoman Ellis was struck down a big shell from either the Brooklyn or Oregon crashed into the torpedo room of the Viscaya, setting off an explosion that tore off her bow.  As the men of the USS Texas continued to pound the battered enemy ship, its fate was sealed.  Cheers erupted across the decks as the Americans watched the Viscaya turn towards the shoreline in its death throes.  Above the din Captain John Phillip ordered, "Don't cheer boys!  Those poor devils are dying."

In the sick bay of the Vizcaya Captain Eulate, a naval officer highly respected by both sides, lay while being treated for his own wounds.  "Almost faint from the loss of blood I resigned my command to the executive officer with clear and positive instructions not to surrender the ship but rather to beach and burn her," he recounted.  "In the sick bay I met Ensign Luis Fajardo, who was having a serious wound dressed.  When I asked him what was the matter with him he answered that they had wounded him in one arm but he still had one left for his country.  I immediately convened the officers who were nearest and asked them whether there was anyone among them who though we could do anything more in the defense of our country and our honor, and the unanimous reply was that nothing more could be done."  As the Viscaya moved towards the shore at Acceraderes, her decks were awash with flames.  As it struck the ground that would mark the end of her gallant but futile race, burning sailors leaped into the sea to swim for safety.  The American battleships had ceased firing, and the USS Iowa, now catching up to the other three ships of Schley's squadron, diverted for a humanitarian mission.

The Colon was six miles ahead of the battle, but slowing as the Brooklyn and Oregon continued pursuit.  The resulting run would last until nearly one o'clock, and would cover sixty miles.  Shortly after noon the Colon had used all of its good Spanish coal, and switched to the inferior coal obtained at Santiago.  Loosing speed, the American warships began overtaking her, firing big guns in its path.  All hope of escape vanishing, the Colon struck her colors and headed for shore, sailors opening the sea cocks to completely sink the vessel.  When at last the Colon slipped beneath the Caribbean swells, only her port guns remained visible, pointing skyward.  The naval battle of Santiago harbor was over, and Admiral Cervera's fleet was utterly destroyed.

The Naval Battle at Santiago Harbor

 

Valor abounded on both sides during the battle that destroyed an empire, the majority of which lasted less than two hours.  For his courage aboard the USS Brooklyn in the face of the enemy fire, Marine Private Harry MacNeal was awarded the Medal of Honor.  He was the last Marine of the Spanish-American war to earn that honor as, indeed for all practical purposes, the "Splendid Little War" ended with the destruction of Admiral Cervera's fleet.  Hostilities would continue for a brief time, and there was to be yet a campaign in Puerto Rico before the formal end of the conflict.  As the hulking ruins of the once mighty Spanish Armada burned along the southeastern coast of Cuba, it became the eulogy for an ancient world order and the birth of a new world super power from the west.

 

No account of the naval battle at Santiago can be completed however, without consideration of the empathy of the victors in the aftermath, or the dignity of the vanquished in their defeat.  Admiral Sampson returned in the New York, too late to participate in the victory he had longed for, to find his sailors still risking their lives to rescue the battered enemy.

As the Viscaya reached the shore and the three faster American warships continued pursuit of the Colon, the USS Iowa began dropping its smaller boats to pick up Spanish sailors who were now battling the sea, as well as new dangers.  Captain Robley Evans later recalled the aftermath thus:

"Men...were being drowned by dozens or roasted on the decks (of the Vizcaya).  I soon discovered that the insurgent Cubans from the shore were shooting men who were struggling in the water, after having surrendered to us.  I immediately put a stop to this, but I could not put a stop to the mutilation of many bodies by the sharks inside the reef.  These creatures had become excited by the blood from the wounded mixing with the water.

"My boat's crews worked manfully and succeeded in saving many of the wounded from the burning ship.  One man...clambered up the side of the Vizcaya and saved three men from burning to death.  The smaller magazines of the Vizcaya were exploding with magnificant effects.  The boats were coming alongside in a steady string and willing hands were helping the lacerated Spanish officers and sailors onto the Iowa's quarter deck.  All the Spaniards were absolutely without clothes.  Some had their legs torn off by fragments of shells.  Others were mutilated in every conceivable way.

"The bottoms of the boats held two or three inches of blood.  In many cases dead men were lying in it.  Five poor chaps died on the way to the ship.  They were afterward buried with military honors from the Iowa.  Some examples of heroism, or more properly, devotion to discipline and duty, could never be passed.  One man on the Vizcaya had his left arm almost shot off just below the shoulder.  The fragments were hanging by a small piece of skin, but he climbed unassisted over the side and saluted as if on a visit of ceremony."

 

Among the wounded rescued by the Iowa was Captain Eulate, a naval officer most of the Americans had heard of and come to respect by reputation as a fine military man, long before the battle at Santiago.  Before lowering a chair to hoist the wounded enemy captain aboard the Iowa, Captain Evans ordered the guard of marines on the quarter-deck to salute him as he came aboard.  When the Spanish captain was aboard, he slowly and painfully rose from his chair, saluted Captain Evans and, with tears in his eyes, kissed the hilt of his sword before extending it towards the conqueror.  In an unusual gesture, Captain Evans declined to accept the proffered sword.  Suddenly the Viscaya exploded in flames as Captain Eulate extended his arms and anguished, "Adios, Vizcaya.  There goes my beautiful ship, captain."  Turning, Captain Evans led the wounded enemy commander to the cabin where doctors treated his wounds.

In all, the Iowa rescued 272 crewmen and 30 officers from the Viscaya.  The Iowa's  paymaster issued uniforms to the naked enemy soldiers, and each man was provided dinner and encouraged to eat his fill.  The American wardroom and steerage officers gave up their staterooms to house the battered enemy sailors.

Nearer the mouth of the harbor, the small Glouchester was engaged in similar rescue efforts, picking up survivors and transferring them to the nearby Harvard.  By nightfall, nearly 1,000 former enemy, many of them seriously wounded, were aboard the latter.  Among those rescued by the Glouchester was Admiral Cervera.  Cervera was transferred to the Iowa, where he boarded wearing a thin flannel suit over his undershirt, a suit given him by Lieutenant Commander Wainwright of the Glouchester.  

The crew of the Iowa crowded the deck as the half-naked Spanish Admiral came aboard hatless and in a borrowed suit, to receive a full admiral's guard.  The American crew cheered the legendary naval officer loudly, rendering every courtesy and respect.  With quiet dignity, the gray-haired Spanish officer dutifully proffered his sword in surrender.  Again, the American captain declined the symbol, opting to return to the valiant warrior of the seas, the dignity he deserved.  Said Captain Evans, "He was every inch and admiral, even if he had no hat.  He submitted to the fortunes of war with a grace that proclaimed him a thoroughbred."

Perhaps, however, no person summed up so simply yet eloquently, the naval battle at Santiago as did Lieutenant Huse, the executive officer of the Iowa.  On the day after the historic battle he addressed the captured Spaniards and stated:

"We have gained the victory.......

......but the glory is YOURS!"

 

 

A Splendid Little War

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