Historical Tales: 7—Spanish - Charles Morris

Manila and Santiago

The record of Spain has not been glorious at sea. She has but one great victory, that of Lepanto, to offer in evidence against a number of great defeats, such as those of the Armada, Cape St. Vincent, and Trafalgar. In 1898 two more defeats, those of Manila and Santiago, were added to the list, and with an account of these our series of tales from Spanish history may fitly close.

Exactly three centuries passed from the death of Philip II. (1598) to that of the war with the United States, and during that long period the tide of Spanish affairs moved steadily downward. At its beginning Spain exercised a powerful influence over European politics; at its end she was looked upon with disdainful pity and had no longer a voice in continental affairs. Such was the inevitable result of the weakness and lack of statesmanship with which the kingdom had been misgoverned during the greater part of this period.

In her colonial affairs Spain had shown herself as intolerant and oppressive as at home. When the other nations of Europe were loosening the reins of their colonial policy, Spain kept hers unyieldingly rigid. Colonial revolution was the result, and she lost all her possessions in America but the islands of Cuba and Porto Rico. Yet she had learned no lesson, she seemed incapable of profiting by experience,—and the old policy of tyranny and rapacity was exercised over these islands until Cuba, the largest of them, was driven into insurrection.

In attempting to suppress this insurrection Spain adopted the cruel methods she had exercised against the Moriscos in the sixteenth century, ignoring the fact that the twentieth century was near its dawn, and that a new standard of humane sympathy and moral obligation had arisen in other nations. Her cruelty towards the insurgent Cubans became so intolerable that the great neighboring republic of the United States bade her, in tones of no uncertain meaning, to bring it to an end. In response Spain adopted her favorite method of procrastination, and the frightful reign of starvation in Cuba was maintained. This was more than the American people could endure, and war was declared. With the cause and the general course of that war our readers are familiar, but it embraced two events of signal significance—the naval contests of the war—which are worth telling again as the most striking occurrences in the recent history of Spain.

At early dawn of the 1st of May, 1898, a squadron of United States cruisers appeared before the city of Manila, in the island of Luzon, the largest island of the Philippine archipelago, then a colony of Spain. This squadron, consisting of the cruisers Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh, and Boston, the gunboats Petrel and Concord, and the despatch-boat McCulloch, had entered the bay of Manila during the night, passing unhurt the batteries at its mouth, and at daybreak swept in proud array past the city front, seeking the Spanish fleet, which lay in the little bay of Cavite, opening into the larger bay.

The Spanish ships consisted of five cruisers and three gunboats, inferior in weight and armament to their enemy, but flanked by shore batteries on each end of the line, and with an exact knowledge of the harbor, while the Americans were ignorant of distances and soundings. These advantages on the side of the Spanish made the two fleets practically equal in strength. The battle about to be fought was one of leading importance in naval affairs. It was the second time in history in which two fleets built under the new ideas in naval architecture and armament had met in battle. The result was looked for with intense interest by the world.

Commodore Dewey, the commander of the American squadron, remained fully exposed on the bridge of his flag-ship, the Olympia, as she stood daringly in, followed in line by the Baltimore, Raleigh, Petrel, Concord, and Boston. As they came up, the shore batteries opened fire, followed by the Spanish ships, while two submarine mines, exploded before the Olympia, tossed a shower of water uselessly into the air.

Heedless of all this, the ships continued their course, their guns remaining silent, while the Spanish fire grew continuous. Plunging shells tore up the waters of the bay to right and left, but not a ship was struck, and not a shot came in return from the frowning muzzles of the American guns. The hour of 5:30 had passed and the sun was pouring its beams brightly over the waters of the bay, when from the forward turret of the Olympia boomed a great gun, and an 8-inch shell rushed screaming in towards the Spanish fleet. Within ten minutes more all the ships were in action, and a steady stream of shells were pouring upon the Spanish ships.



The difference in effect was striking. The American gunners were trained to accurate aiming; the Spanish idea was simply to load and fire. In consequence few shells from the Spanish guns reached their mark, while few of those from American guns went astray. Soon the fair ships of Spain were frightfully torn and rent and many of their men stretched in death, while hardly a sign of damage was visible on an American hull.

Sweeping down parallel to the Spanish line, and pouring in its fire as it went from a distance of forty-five hundred yards, the American squadron swept round in a long ellipse and sailed back, now bringing its starboard batteries into play. Six times it passed over this course, the last two at the distance of two thousand yards. From the great cannon, and from the batteries of smaller rapid-fire guns, a steady stream of projectiles was hurled inward, frightfully rending the Spanish ships, until at the end of the evolutions three of them were burning fiercely, and the others were little more than wrecks.

Admiral Montojo's flag-ship, the Reina Cristina, made a sudden dash from the line in the middle of the combat, with the evident hope of ramming and sinking the Olympia. The attempt was a desperate one, the fire of the entire fleet being concentrated on the single antagonist, until the storm of projectiles grew so terrific that utter annihilation seemed at hand. The Spanish admiral now swung his ship around and started hastily back. Just as she had fairly started in the reverse course an 8-inch shell from the Olympia struck her fairly in the stern and drove inward through every obstruction, wrecking the aft-boiler and blowing up the deck in its explosion. It was a fatal shot. Clouds of white smoke were soon followed by the red glare of flames. For half an hour longer the crew continued to work their guns. At the end of that time the fire was master of the ship.

Two torpedo-boats came out with the same purpose, and met with the same reception. Such a rain of shell poured on them that they hastily turned and ran back. They had not gone far before one of them, torn by a shell, plunged headlong to the bottom of the bay. The other was beached, her crew flying in terror to the shore.

While death and destruction were thus playing havoc with the Spanish ships, the Spanish fire was mainly wasted upon the sea. Shots struck the Olympia, Baltimore, and Boston, but did little damage. One passed just under Commodore Dewey on the bridge and tore a hole in the deck. One ripped up the main deck of the Baltimore, disabled a 6-inch gun, and exploded a box of ammunition, by which eight men were slightly wounded. These were the only men hurt on the American side during the whole battle.

At 7:35 Commodore Dewey withdrew his ships that the men might breakfast. The Spanish ships were in a hopeless state. Shortly after eleven the Americans returned and ranged up again before the ships of Spain, nearly all of which were in flames. For an hour and a quarter longer the blazing ships were pounded with shot and shell, the Spaniards feebly replying. At the end of that time the work was at an end, the batteries being silenced and the ships sunk, their upper works still blazing. Of their crews, nearly a thousand had perished in the fight.

Thus ended one of the most remarkable naval battles in history. For more than three hours the American ships had been targets for a hot fire from the Spanish fleet and forts, and during all that time not a man had been killed and not a ship seriously injured. Meanwhile, the Spanish fleet had ceased to exist. Its burnt remains lay on the bottom of the bay. The forts had been battered into shapeless heaps of earth, their garrisons killed or put to flight. It was an awful example of the difference between accurate gunnery and firing at random.

Two months later a second example of the same character was made. Spain's finest squadron, consisting of the four first-class armored cruisers Maria Teresa, Vizcaya, Almirante Oquendo, and Cristobal Colon, with two torpedo-boat destroyers, lay in the harbor of Santiago de Cuba, blockaded by a powerful American fleet of battle-ships and cruisers under Admiral Sampson. They were held in a close trap. The town was being besieged by land. Sampson's fleet far outnumbered them at sea. They must either surrender with the town or take the forlorn hope of escape by flight.

The latter was decided upon. On the morning of July 3 the lookout on the Brooklyn, Commodore Schley's flag-ship, reported that a ship was coming out of the harbor. The cloud of moving smoke had been seen at the same instant from the battle-ship Iowa, and in an instant the Sunday morning calm on these vessels was replaced by intense excitement.

Mast-head signals told the other ships of what was in view, the men rushed in mad haste to quarters, the guns were made ready for service, ammunition was hoisted, coal hurled into the furnaces, and every man on the alert. It was like a man suddenly awoke from sleep with an alarm cry: at one moment silent and inert, in the next moment thrilling with intense life and activity.

This was not a battle; it was a flight and pursuit. The Spaniards as soon as the harbor was cleared opened a hot fire on the Brooklyn, their nearest antagonist, which they wished to disable through fear of her superior speed. But their gunnery here was like that at Manila, their shells being wasted through unskilful handling. On the other hand the fire from the American ships was frightful, precise, and destructive, the fugitive ships being rapidly torn by such a rain of shells as had rarely been seen before.

Turning down the coast, the fugitive ships drove onward at their utmost speed. After them came the Cruiser Brooklyn and the battle-ships Texas, Iowa, Oregon, and Indiana, hurling shells from their great guns in their wake. The New York, Admiral Sampson's flag-ship, was distant several miles up the coast, too far away to take part in the fight.

Such a hail of shot, sent with such accurate aim, could not long be endured. The Maria Teresa, Admiral Cervera's flag-ship, was quickly in flames, while shells were piercing her sides and bursting within. The main steam-pipe was severed, the pump was put out of service, the captain was killed. Lowering her flag, the vessel headed for the shore, where she was quickly beached.

The Almirante Oquendo, equally punished, followed the same example, a mass of flames shrouding her as she rushed for the beach. The Vizcaya was the next to succumb, after a futile effort to ram the Brooklyn. One shell from the cruiser went the entire length of her gun-deck, killing or wounding all the men on it. The Oregon was pouring shells into her hull, and she in turn, burning fiercely, was run ashore. She had made a flight of twenty miles.

Only one of the Spanish cruisers remained,—the Cristobal Colon. She had passed all her consorts, and when the Vizcaya went ashore was six miles ahead of the Brooklyn and more than seven miles from the Oregon. It looked as if she might escape. But she would have to round Cape Cruz by a long detour, and the Brooklyn was headed straight for the cape, while the Oregon kept on the Colon's trail.

An hour, a second hour, passed; the pursuers were gaining mile by mile; the spurt of speed of the Colon was at an end. One of the great 13-inch shells of the Oregon, fired from four miles away, struck the water near the Colon. A second fell beyond her. An 8-inch shell from the Brooklyn pierced her above her armor-belt. At one o'clock both ships were pounding away at her, an ineffective fire being returned. At 1:20 she hauled down her flag, and, like her consorts, ran ashore. She had made a run of forty-eight miles.

About six hundred men were killed on the Spanish ships; the American loss was one man killed and one wounded. The ships of Spain were blazing wrecks; those of the United States were none the worse for the fight. It was like the victory at Manila repeated. It resembled the latter in another particular, two torpedo-boats taking part in the affair. These were attacked by the Gloucester, a yacht converted into a gunboat, and dealt with so shrewdly that both of them were sunk.

The battle ended, efforts to save on the part of the American ships succeeded the effort to destroy, the Yankee tars showing as much courage and daring in their attempts to rescue the wounded from the decks of the burning ships as they had done in the fight. The ships were blazing fore and aft, their guns were exploding from the heat, at any moment the fire might reach the main magazines. A heavy surf made the work of rescue doubly dangerous; yet no risk could deter the American sailors while the chance to save one of the wounded remained, and they made as proud a record on the decks of the burning ships as they had done behind the guns.

These two signal victories were the great events of the war. Conjoined with one victory on land, they put an end to the conflict. Without a fleet, and with no means of aiding her Cuban troops, Spain was helpless, and the naval victories at Manila and Santiago, in which one man was killed, virtually settled the question of Cuban independence, and taught the nations of Europe that a new and great naval power had arisen, with which they would have to deal when they next sought to settle the destinies of the world.