Classic History Books


The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

common to all navies during times of peace. That the Maine had not been a victim of the failure of her
own mechanism was not then certain. Such misgivings were in the minds of many officers. Indeed, a

report of the total disappearance of two battling fleets would not have found the watchful naval experts

of the world absolutely incredulous. So much the higher, therefore, was the heroism of those who led

straight to battle that complex and as yet unproved product of the brain - the modern warship.

While negotiations with Spain were in their last stages, at the orders of Secretary Long a swift vessel left
San Francisco for Honolulu. There its precious cargo was transferred to the warship Baltimore, which

then made hurriedly for Hongkong. It contained the ammunition which was absolutely necessary if

Commodore George Dewey, in command of the Asiatic squadron, was to play a part in the war. The

position of his squadron, even after it received its ammunition, was indeed singular. After the war began,

it was unable to obtain coal or other supplies from any neutral port and at the same time it was equally

unable to remain in any such port without being interned for the duration of the war. There remained but

one course of action. It must not be forgotten that the Spanish empire stretched eastward as well as

westward. Already William Pitt, when he had foreseen in 1760 the entrance of Spain into the war which

England was then waging with France, had planned expeditions against both Cuba and the Philippines.

Now in 1898 the Navy Department of the United States, anticipating war, saw in the proximity of the

American squadron to the Spanish islands of the Philippines an opportunity rather than a problem.

Commodore George Dewey, the commander of the Asiatic squadron, was fully prepared to enter into the

plan. As early as the seventies, when the Virginius affair* threatened war between Spain and the United

States, Dewey, then a commander on the west coast of Mexico, had proposed, in case war were declared,

that he sail for the Philippines and capture Manila. Now he was prepared to seek in the hostile ports of

those islands the liberty that international law forbade him in the neutral ports of Asia. How narrow a

margin of time he had in which to make this bold stroke may be realized from the fact that the Baltimore,

his second vessel in size, reached Hongkong on the 22d of April and went into dry dock on the 23d, and

that on the following day the squadron was ordered either to leave the port or to intern.

* A dispute between the United States and Spain, arising out of the capture of the Virginius, an American
vessel engaged in filibustering off the coast of Cuba, and the execution at Santiago of the captain and a

number of the crew and passengers. The vessel and the surviving passengers were finally restored by the

Spanish authorities, who agreed to punish the officials responsible for the illegal acts.

The little armada of six vessels with which Dewey started for the Philippines was puny enough from the
standpoint of today; yet it was strong enough to cope with the larger but more old-fashioned Spanish

fleet, or with the harbor defenses unless these included mines - of whose absence Dewey was at the

moment unaware. If, however, the Spanish commander could unite the strength of his vessels and that of

the coast defenses, Dewey might find it impossible to destroy the Spanish fleet. In that case, the plight of

the American squadron would be precarious, if its ultimate self-destruction or internment did not become

necessary.

Commodore Dewey belonged to that school of American naval officers who combine the spirit of
Farragut's "Damn the torpedoes" with a thorough knowledge of the latest scientific devices. Though he

would take all precautions, he would not allow the unknown to hold him back. After a brief rendezvous

for tuning up at Mirs Bay near Hongkong on the Chinese coast, Dewey steered straight for Subig Bay in

the Philippines, where he expected to meet his opponent. Finding the Bay empty, he steamed on without

pause and entered the Boca Grande, the southern channel leading to Manila Bay, at midnight of the 30th

of April. Slowly, awaiting daylight, but steadily he approached Manila. Coming within three miles of the

 

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