Dewey and Other Naval Commanders
by Edward S. Ellis
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It was the fear that the Spanish ships would make a dash on some dark, stormy night and escape that led to one of the most striking and brilliant exploits of the war. That is the sinking of the collier Merrimac in the channel of the harbor by Lieutenant Richmond Pearson Hobson, on the night of June 3. That the effort was not wholly successful does not detract from the glory of the brave men who went unflinchingly to what looked like almost certain death.

The companions of Lieutenant Hobson in this remarkable achievement were Osborn Deignan, George F. Phillips, Francis Kelly, George Charette, Daniel Montague, J.C. Murphy and Randolph Clausen. The last named was not one of the original six chosen, but he had been at work on the Merrimac preparing her for the attempt and hid himself away on the lumbersome craft and they were obliged to take him.

As soon as the Spaniards discovered the approach of the Merrimac, in the darkness, they opened upon her with their batteries from both shores, and she was subjected to a fire which it would seem must riddle her like a sieve and kill every man. But under the direction of the cool-headed and daring Lieutenant the collier was swung into the right position, and, but for the shooting away of the rudder, would have been sunk directly across the channel, which would have been effectively blocked. The position of the wreck as a consequence was diagonal and left the passage partly open.

Having accomplished as nearly as possible the perilous task the brave party were obliged to remain clinging to a raft until morning, when the Spaniards discovered and made them prisoners. Admiral Cervera himself helped to take Hobson out of the water and was so filled with admiration of the extraordinary daring of himself and companions that he sent a flag of truce to Admiral Sampson with the welcome news that all the men were safe in his hands. They were confined first in Morro Castle and later in the city of Santiago. They were treated with the respect their heroism deserved and on July 6 were exchanged for a number of prisoners held by our forces.

Just one month after this exploit, that is on the morning of July 3, 1898, Admiral Cervera attempted to escape from the harbor of Santiago. The smoke of his vessels was discerned over the hills, and the watchful ships outside signalled the fact to the other members of the squadron. A few minutes later the bow of one of the Spanish steamers came into sight from behind the Estrella Battery. The Brooklyn, Iowa and Oregon, some two and a half miles distant, crowded on all steam and headed for the harbor. The first Spanish cruiser to show itself was the Infanta Maria Teresa, followed by the Vizcaya, the Almirante Oquendo and the Cristobal Colon, with the torpedo boats Pluton and Furor bringing up the rear. The Infanta Maria Teresa, leading the procession, was the flagship of Admiral Cervera. He sent a shell toward the American vessels, but, in accordance with the rule, it went wide of the mark. The Texas opened with her big guns and her companions quickly joined in the thunderous chorus.

No sooner were the Spanish ships clear of the harbor than they turned westward and strained every nerve to escape, firing at their pursuers, who were equally determined to overtake or destroy them. The Brooklyn, further away from shore, changed her course so as to follow a parallel direction, and, as soon as she attained a fair range, opened a tremendous and well directed fire. The Texas, whose course was somewhat diagonal, singled out the Vizcaya, and, unable to outspeed her, pounded her savagely with her shells.

Every movement of the splendid battleship was directed by her Captain, John W. Philip. The Texas was struck several times, but did not receive any material damage, while she wrought frightful havoc on the Vizcaya.

The Oregon, the finest ship in our navy, which had come more than 14,000 miles from the Pacific coast, was ploughing forward under forced draught, and, with a tremendous burst of speed, shot past the Texas and drew up on the Brooklyn in the effort to head off the leading fugitive, while the Iowa was doing her utmost to maintain her killing pace and was firing her great guns with splendid precision. Suddenly the Vizcaya broke into flames and headed for shore. Knowing that she was doomed, the Brooklyn and Oregon gave her a few parting shots and kept up their furious pursuit of the Almirante Oquendo and the Cristobal Colon.

Just then the torpedo boat destroyers Pluton and Furor were discovered speeding also to the westward. Lieutenant Commander Richard Wainwright, who was an officer on the Maine when she was destroyed, was now in command of the auxiliary cruiser Gloucester, and, without hesitation, he dashed after the destroyers, though for a part of the time he received the fire of Morro Castle, the Vizcaya and both of the dangerous craft he was chasing. But the Gloucester seemed to bear a charmed life, or, more truthfully speaking, the Spanish gunners didn't know how to shoot.

Unfortunately for Admiral Sampson, he had gone some miles away to hold a conference with General Shafter when the Spanish fleet made its attempt to escape, but he now came up with the New York, eagerly rushing forward to bear a hand in the fight. The Pluton and Furor fled before her, while the Indiana shelled the first destroyer so mercilessly that she turned and headed for the mouth of the harbor, several miles distant. The vigilant Gloucester joined the Indiana and one of the destroyers displayed a flag of truce. She was ablaze from bow to stern and her crew ran her ashore, where she blew up. The second was also beached and deserted by her crew. Meanwhile the Vizcaya ran up the white flag and the Texas stopped firing. She, like the Infanta Maria Teresa, was on fire and her crews could do nothing but take to the shore in the desperate effort to save themselves.

The Almirante Oquendo and the Colon were still fleeing for life, with the Iowa, Oregon, Brooklyn and Texas hard after them. Suddenly the Almirante Oquendo turned toward shore. The Brooklyn and Oregon kept after the Cristobal Colon, leaving the Texas to dispose of the Almirante Oquendo. But the latter was in flames and the flag at her stern was pulled down. The Texas was approaching when the Spanish ship was torn by a tremendous explosion. The Americans broke into cheers. Captain Philip threw up his hand and called:

"Don't cheer, boys; the poor fellows are dying!"

It was chivalrous and thoughtful on the part of the American commander and will never be forgotten.

The Cristobal Colon steamed along the coast with the speed of a race horse, but the Brooklyn, Texas and Oregon seemed to feel the prick of the spur and ran as never before and as their captains did not believe them capable of doing. The Brooklyn gradually drew ahead and the Spaniard, seeing that escape was out of the question, hauled down his flag. Thus the victory became complete.

The news was just in time to help in the universal rejoicing and celebration of the Fourth of July. The Spanish fleet on the other side of the globe had been destroyed and now the second fleet was wiped out. In the former instance not a life was lost and in the latter only one man was killed on our side, while the loss of the enemy was severe. Never was a more decisive victory gained by one nation over another in the whole history of the world.

All my readers are familiar with the events that immediately followed, but perhaps they would like to know something concerning the naval heroes who did so much to contribute to the grand naval victory off Santiago.

William T. Sampson was born in Palmyra, N.Y., February 9, 1840. He was the son of an ordinary day laborer and had few early educational advantages, but he was appointed to the Naval Academy and was graduated at the head of his class. He was on the frigate Potomac, with the rank of master, when the war broke out, but was too young to secure a command during the war. He became a lieutenant in July, 1862, and served with that rank on the practice ship John Adams at the Naval Academy and on the ironclad Patapsco. On January 15, 1865, the Patapsco attempted to force an entrance into the harbor of Charleston, which was one network of mines. Sampson exposed himself fearlessly and the ship met with a fearful disaster by being blown up by a submarine mine. Seventy went down to death as did those on the Maine, while Sampson and more than a score of others, after being blown a hundred feet through the air, saved themselves by swimming until they were picked up. Sampson was commissioned as lieutenant commander in 1866, was at the Naval Academy from 1868 to 1871, cruised for two years in European waters and first commanded the Alert in 1874. Appointed to the superintendency of the Naval Academy in 1888, he held the situation for four years.

With the construction of the new navy, Sampson commanded in turn two modern ships, the cruiser San Francisco and the battleship Iowa. He was a close student of ordnance matters, gave special attention to torpedo work and was chief of the Bureau of Naval Ordnance from 1893 to 1897. There can be no question of his fine ability nor that, had the opportunity presented, Rear Admiral Sampson, as he had become, would have proven himself among the foremost officers in our navy. It was a great personal misfortune that he happened to be absent from the front of Santiago when the Spanish fleet made its venture, but it must not be forgotten that, in anticipation of such action, he had planned the battle that was fought by the American ships.

Winfield Scott Schley was born in Frederick, Md., October 9, 1839, and was graduated from the Naval Academy at the beginning of the Civil War. After brief service on the storeship Potomac he was promoted to master in 1861, and served on the Winona, of the West Gulf blockading squadron, 1862-63. He there gained a taste of real war and performed a number of exploits which proved his coolness and daring. He received honorable mention for his services in the engagements which led to the capture of Port Hudson. He was commissioned lieutenant in July, 1862, and was executive officer of the Wateree from 1864 to 1865, having been made lieutenant commander in July, 1866, after which he spent three years again at the Naval Academy, serving as instructor of modern languages.

Admiral Schley has done brilliant service outside of what is generally considered the routine duty of his profession. When he was in Eastern waters in 1864 he landed 100 men, who protected the American consulate when threatened during a native insurrection among the natives of the Chin-Chi Islands. His most famous exploit was the rescue of the Greely Arctic expedition. In 1881 Lieutenant Adolphus W. Greely commanded an expedition of twenty-five men, which established an observation station at the farthest point in the polar regions then attained. The expedition, when in a starving condition and with only seven men alive, was rescued at Cape Sabine, Grinnell Land, in 1884 by Captain Schley. He was rewarded for this service by a gold medal from Congress and promoted by President Arthur to chief of the Bureau of Equipment and made captain in 1888.

After resigning this position Captain Schley commanded the cruiser Baltimore, which bore the remains of Ericsson, the great Swedish inventor, to his native land, whose king presented Schley with a gold medal in recognition of this service. He won the commendation of the Navy Department for his tactful success in settling threatened trouble over the stoning of a number of American sailors from the Baltimore by a party of Chilians at Valparaiso. Commodore Schley is a fine tactician, possesses a winning personality and his work with the Brooklyn, off Santiago, on July 3, was neither more nor less than his friends expected of him.

Robley D. Evans, known everywhere as "Fighting Bob," was born in Virginia in 1846. When his father died he made his home with his uncle in Washington, D.C., where he attended Gonzaga College. In 1859 a Congressional Representative from Utah appointed him to the Naval Academy. It was necessary for the boy to take up a nominal residence in that distant territory, and on the journey thither and back he encountered many personal dangers through all of which he conducted himself with the pluck and bravery which afterward distinguished him in the service of his country. He entered the academy in 1860 and upon his graduation became a midshipman and ensign, first on the frigate Powhatan, and before he had attained his majority took part in the desperate assault on Fort Fisher. He was stretched on the ground, dreadfully wounded and with so many dead men piled upon him that he barely escaped suffocation. He was wounded twice in the body and shot through both legs. It seemed scarcely possible for him to live, and he lay in the hospital for months. But when a surgeon prepared to amputate one of his legs Evans, who had managed to procure a revolver, warned him that upon his first attempt to do so he would shoot him. The leg was saved, but Evans was lamed for life.

As soon as he was able to get about he applied for active service and his application was granted. He was engaged in various duties and in October, 1891, he arrived in command of the Yorktown at Valparaiso, directly after the attack of a mob of Chilians upon the sailors of the Baltimore. When some of the refugees fled for safety to the Yorktown and the Chilians demanded their surrender "Fighting Bob" replied that he would defend them until the Yorktown went to the bottom. Some time later the captain's launch was stoned, for the Chilians hated the Americans as intensely as did the Spaniards. Captain Evans placed a rapid fire gun in the bow of the launch, filled her with armed men and went ashore. Hunting out the authorities, he notified them that if any more stones were thrown at his launch he would make life a burden for every Chilian within reach of the Yorktown's guns. The launch was not stoned again.

It is a mistaken though general impression of "Fighting Bob" that he is simply a headlong and reckless fighter. Such is far from being the case, for he is deliberate, thoughtful and tactful. He is a fine scholar, possesses a thorough knowledge of international law and is simply resolute in protecting the rights of himself and countrymen. This was proven by his conduct when in charge of the American fleet in the Bering Sea, placed there to prevent the illegal killing of seals. There was a good deal of friction at that time between this country and England and had Captain Evans been the reckless "scrapper" that many supposed he could not have failed to involve us in trouble with that country. There was not a word of censure upon his course. Out of 108 vessels engaged in the illegal trade he captured 98 and of the several hundred seals unlawfully killed he captured every one. Like all the other officers and sailors who took part in the destruction of Cervera's fleet, he was energetic, skilful, brave and chivalrous, for when Captain Eulate, of the captured Vizcaya, offered his sword to the Captain of the Iowa that gentleman kindly waved him back and told him to keep the weapon he had used so well.

Captain Evans does not like the name "Fighting Bob", for he feels he has no more claim to the distinction than the rest of his associates. Many of the stories told of his roughness of speech and profanity are not true, though it cannot be denied that he has a habit of expressing himself very vigorously when his feelings are stirred. By his own request, Captain Evans was relieved, September 15, 1898, of the command of the Iowa, he having served more than his regular term of sea service. At present he is a member of the Board of Inspection and Survey.

John C. Watson was born in Frankfort, Ky., August 24, 1842, and is a member of one of the leading families of the State. He entered the Naval Academy at the age of fourteen and was graduated near the head of his class in June, 1860. He was a midshipman on the Susquehanna in Europe, at the breaking out of the war, and was made master in August, 1861.

It is proof of the worth of the man that he was assigned as navigator of the flagship Hartford, commanded by the lion-hearted Farragut. He became lieutenant in June, 1862, and flag lieutenant to Farragut in January, 1864.

The reader of these pages has learned something of the great battles of New Orleans, Mobile Bay, Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Watson took part in all of them and none acquitted himself better. In a letter to his son, Admiral Farragut wrote: "I am almost as fond of Watson as I am of your own dear self." In his report of the battle of Mobile Bay, where Watson was wounded, Farragut wrote: "Lieutenant Watson has been brought to your attention in former times. He was on the poop attending to the signals and performed his duty, as might be expected, thoroughly. He is a scion worthy of the noble stock he springs from, and I commend him to your attention."

A squadron of invincible power was made up for Watson in the summer of 1898, with which it was intended Commodore Watson should pay a hostile visit to the coast of Spain. But for the signing of the peace protocol, that visit under its gallant and distinguished commander would have proved one that the decrepit monarchy would remember to the end of time.

Captain John W. Philip, promoted to the rank of commodore for his superb work with the Texas off Santiago, is brave, modest, devout and fond of practical joking. He is genial, exceedingly popular with his associates and men and one of the finest officers in the navy. The little incident well illustrates his character, when, in the midst of the wild rejoicing of his men over the destruction of the Spanish fleet, he checked them with the words: "Don't cheer, boys; the poor fellows are dying!"

Lieutenant Commander Richard Wainwright performed an unequalled exploit when in command of the Gloucester, formerly the yacht Corsair, he wiped out the two torpedo boat destroyers Pluton and Furor. At the time of that exploit he was only forty-eight years old and the youngest man of his grade in the navy. He is a fine officer and is a son of the late Commodore Wainwright, who died in the service of his country during the Civil War. Like many of our naval heroes, he seems to inherit his fine fighting qualities, though it would not be far from the truth to say that such is the rightful heritage of every American soldier and sailor.


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