Battle of Santiago Bay

Editorial Note: The following account of one of the most remarkable naval battles of the world's history is of intense interest and permanent value, coming as it does not only from an eye­witness, but from a commander of one of the victorious vessels. The story was told to a representative of the Associated Press the day following the battle.
Scanner's note: The Battle of Santiago Bay occurred on July 3, 1898. The American navy's defeat of the Spanish battle fleet marked the end of centuries-long Spanish power in the western hemisphere. 1,800 Spaniards died in the battle, in contrast to one American death and one American wounded sailor. All of the Spanish ships were beached, either burning or sinking. Two weeks later the Spanish forces defending Santiago surrendered and the Spanish-American war ended. The pictures enclosed here are from the Library of Congress' American Memory Collection. For more pictures look in the files of the Detroit Publishing Company.]

"At the time general quarters was sounded, the engine bell rang full speed ahead, and I put the helm to starboard and the Iowa crossed the bows of the Infanta Maria Teresa, the first ship out. As the Spanish admiral swung to the westward the twelve­inch shells from the forward turret of the Iowa seemed to strike him fair in the bow, and the fight was a spectacle.

"As the squadron come out in column, the ships beautifully spaced as to distance, and gradually increasing their speed to thirteen knots, it was superb.

"The Iowa from this moment kept up a steady fire from its heavy guns, heeding all the time to keep the Infanta Maria Teresa on its­starboard bow and hoping to ram one of the leading ships.

"In the meantime, the Oregon, Indiana, Brooklyn and Texas were doing excellent work with their heavy guns. In a short time the enemy's ships were all clear of the harbor mouth and it became evidently impossible for the Iowa to ram either the first or the second ship on account of their speed.

"The range at this time was 2,000 yards from the leading ships. The Iowa's helm was immediately put hard to the starboard and the entire starboard broadside was poured into the Infanta Maria Teresa. The helm was then quickly shifted to port and the ship went across the stern of the Teresa in an effort to head off the Oquendo. All the time the engines were driving at full speed ahead. A perfect torrent of shells from the enemy passed over the smokestacks and superstructure of the ship, but none struck her.

"The Cristobal Colon, being much faster than the rest of the Spanish ships, went rapid]y to the front in an effort to escape. In passing the Iowa, the Colon placed two six­inch shells fairly in our starboard bow. One passed through the cofferdam and dispensary, wrecking the latter and bursting on the berth­deck, doing considerable damage. The other passed through the side at the water line within the cofferdam, where it still remains.

"As it was now obviously impossible to ram any of the Spanish ships on account of their superior speed, the Iowa's helm was put to the starboard and she ran on a course parallel with the enemy. Being then abreast of the Almirante Oquendo, at a distance of 1,100 yards, the Iowa's entire battery, including the rapid­fire guns, was opened on the Oquendo. The punishment was terrific. Many twelve and eight­inch shells were seen to explode inside of her and smoke came through her hatches. The Oquendo seemed to stop her engines for a moment and lost headway, but she immediately resumed her speed and gradually drew ahead of the Iowa and came under the terrific fire of the Oregon and Texas.

"At this moment the alarm of 'torpedo boats' was sounded, and two torpedo boat destroyers were discovered in the starboard quarter at a distance of 4,000 yards. Fire was at once opened on them with the after battery, and a twelve­inch shell cut the stern of one destroyer squarely off. As the shell struck, a small torpedo boat fired back at the battleship, sending a shell within a few feet of my head. I said to Executive Officer Rogers: 'That little chap has got a lot of cheek.' Rogers shouted back: 'She shoots very well, all the same.'

Photo of Vizcaya explosion 
 "Well up among the advancing cruisers, spitting shots at one and then another, was the little Gloucester, shooting first at a cruiser, then at a torpedo boat and hitting a head wherever she saw it. The marvel was that she was not destroyed by the rain of shells. In the meantime the Vizcaya was slowly drawing abeam of the Iowa, and for the space of fifteen minutes it was give and take between the two ships. The Vizcaya fired rapidly, but wildly, not one shot taking effect on the Iowa, while the shells from the Iowa ware tearing great rents in the sides of the Vizcaya. As the latter passed ahead of the Iowa she came under the murderous fire of the Oregon. At this time the Infanta Maria Teresa and the Almirante Oquendo, leading the enemy's column, were seen to be heading for the bench in flames.
The Texas, Oregon and Iowa pounded them unmercifully. They ceased to reply to the fire and in a few moments the Spanish cruises were a mass of flames and on the rocks with their colors down, the Teresa flying a white flag at the fore. [The Vizcaya explosion]

"The crews of the enemy's ships stripped themselves and began jumping overboard, and one of the smaller magazines began to explode.

"Meantime, the Brooklyn and the Cristobal Colon were exchanging compliments in lively fashion at apparently long range, and the Oregon, with her locomotive speed, was hanging well on the Colon, also paying attention to the Vizcaya. The Teresa and the Oquendo were in flames on the beach just twenty minutes after the first shot was fired. Fifty minutes after the first shot was fired, the Vizcaya put her helm to port with a great burst of flame from the afterpart of the ship and headed slowly for the rocks at Acceraderes, where she found her last resting place.
"As it was apparent that the Iowa could not possibly catch the Cristobal Colon, and that the Oregon and Brooklyn undoubtedly would, and as the fast New York was also on her trail, I decided that the calls of humanity should be answered and attention given to the 1,200 or 1,500 Spanish officers and men who had struck their colors to the American squadron commanded by Admiral Sampson. I therefore headed for the wreck of the Vizcaya, now burning furiously fore and aft. When I was in as far as the depth of water would admit, I lowered all my boats and sent them at once to the assistance of the unfortunate men, who were being drowned by dozens or roasted on the decks.
Photo of Vizcaya wreck
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 boats' crews worked manfully and succeeded in saving many of the wounded from the burning ship. One man, who will be recommended for promotion, clambered up the side of the Vizcaya and saved three men from burning to death. The smaller magazines of the Vizcaya were exploding with magnificent 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, on more properly, devotion to discipline and duty, could never be surpassed. 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.

"Immediately after him came a strong-hearted sailor whose left leg had been shot oft above the knee. He was hoisted on board the Iowa with a tackle, but never a whimper came from him. Gradually the mangled bodies and naked men accumulated until it would have been almost difficult to recognize the Iowa as a United States battleship.

"Blood was all over her usually white quarter-deck, and 272 naked men were being supplied with water and food by those who a few minutes before had been using a rapid­fire battery on them. Finally came the boat with Capt. Eulate, commander of the Vizcaya, for whom a chair was lowered over the side, as he was evidently wounded. The captain's guard of marines was drawn up on the quarter-deck to salute him and I stood waiting to welcome him.

"As the chair was placed on the deck the marina presented arms. Capt. Eulate aloofly raised himself in the chair, saluted me with grave dignity, unbuckled his sword­belt and, holding the hilt of the sword before him, kissed it reverently, with tears in his eyes, and then surrendered it to me.

"Of course, I declined to receive it, and as the crew of the Iowa saw this they cheered like wild men. As I started to take Capt. Eulate into the cabin to let the doctors examine his wounds, the magazines on board the Vizcaya exploded with a tremendous burst of flame. The captain, extending his hands, said, 'Adios, Vizcaya. There goes my beautiful ship, captain,' and so we passed on to the cabin where the doctors dressed his three wounds.

"In the meantime, thirty officers of the Vizcaya had been picked up, besides 272 of her crew. Our wardroom and steerage officers gave up their staterooms and furnished food, clothing and tobacco to the naked officers from the Spanish vessel. The paymaster issued uniforms to the naked sailors, and each was given all the corned beef, coffee and hardtack he could eat. The war had assumed another aspect.

"As I knew the crews of the first two ships wrecked had not been visited by any of our vessels, I ran down to them. I found the Gloucester with Admiral Cervera and a number of his officers aboard, and also a large number of wounded, some in a frightfully mangled condition. Many prisoners had been killed on shore by the fire of the Cubans. The Harvard came off and I requested Capt. Cotton to go in and take off the crews of the Infanta Maria Teresa and the Almirante Oquendo, and by midnight the Harvard had 976 prisoners aboard, a great number of them wounded.
 Photo of a fattened pig that crew took from the Spanish
"As I knew the crews of the first two ships wrecked had not been visited by any of our vessels, I ran down to them. I found the Gloucester with Admiral Cervera and a number of his officers aboard, and also a large number of wounded, some in a frightfully mangled condition. Many prisoners had been killed on shore by the fire of the Cubans. The Harvard came off and I requested Capt. Cotton to go in and take off the crews of the Infanta Maria Teresa and the Almirante Oquendo, and by midnight the Harvard had 976 prisoners aboard, a great number of them wounded.p>"For courage and dash, there is no parallel in history to this action of the Spanish admiral. He came, as he knew, to absolute destruction. There was one single hope-that was that the Cristobal Colon would steam faster than the Brooklyn.
The spectacle of two torpedo­boat destroyers, paper shells at best, deliberately steaming out in broad daylight in the face of the fire of a battleship, can be described in one way: It was Spanish, and it was ordered by Blanco. The same must be said of the entire movement.

"In contrast to this Spanish fashion was the cool, deliberate Yankee work. The American squadron was without sentiment apparently. The ships went at their Spanish opponents and literally tore them to pieces. But the moment the Spanish flag came down, it must have been evident that the sentiment was among the Americans and not among the Spaniards.

"I took Admiral Cervera aboard the Iowa from the Gloucester and received him with a full admiral's guard. The crew of the Iowa crowded aft over the turrets, half­naked and black with powder, as Cervera stepped over the side bareheaded. Over his undershirt he wore a thin suit of flannel borrowed from Lieut. Commander Wainwright, of the Gloucester. The crew cheered vociferously. Cervera was every inch an admiral, even if he had no hat. He submitted to the fortunes of war with a grace that proclaimed him a thoroughbred."

Photo of USS Iowa men

Source: Our Day (Volume 18), August 1891, pp. 337-40

Images Source: Library of Congress' American Memory Collection