Classic History Books

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

* A patrol squadron of cruisers under Commodore Howell was also established to protect the coast from
the Delaware capes to eastern Maine. "It can scarcely be supposed," writes Admiral Chadwick, "that such

action was taken but in deference to the unreasoning fear of dwellers on the coast."

It was, in fact, Spain which took the initiative and decided the matter. Her West India Squadron was
weak, even on paper, and was in a condition which would have made it madness to attempt to meet the

Americans without reenforcement. She therefore decided to dispatch a fighting fleet from her home

forces. Accordingly on the 29th of April, Admiral Cervera left the Cape Verde Islands and sailed

westward with one fast second-class battleship, the Cristobal Colon, three armored cruisers, and two

torpedo boat destroyers. It was a reasonably powerful fleet as fleets went in the Spanish War, yet it is

difficult to see just what good it could accomplish when it arrived on the scene of action. The naval

superiority in the West Indies would still be in the hands of the concentrated American Navy, for the

Spanish forces would still be divided, only more equally, between Spanish and Caribbean waters. The

American vessels, moreover, would be within easy distance of their home stations, which could supply

them with- every necessity. The islands belonging to Spain, on the other hand, were ill equipped to

become the base of naval operations. Admiral Cervera realized to the full the difficulty of the situation

and protested against an expedition which he feared would mean the fall of Spanish power, but public

opinion forced the ministry, and he was obliged to put to sea.

For nearly a month the Spanish fleet was lost to sight, and dwellers on the American coast were in a
panic of apprehension. Cervera's objective was guessed to be everything from a raid on Bar Harbor to an

attack on the Oregon, then on its shrouded voyage from the Pacific coast. Cities on the Atlantic seaboard

clamored for protection, and the Spanish fleet was magnified by the mist of uncertainty until it became a

national terror. Sampson, rightly divining that Cervera would make for San Juan, the capital and chief

seaport of Porto Rico, detached from his blockading force a fighting squadron with which he sailed east,

but not finding the Spanish fleet he turned back to Key West. Schley, with the Flying Squadron, was then

ordered to Cienfuegos. In the meantime Cervera was escaping detection by the American scouts by

taking an extremely southerly course; and with the information that Sampson was off San Juan, the

Spanish Admiral sailed for Santiago de Cuba, where he arrived on May 19, 1898.

Though Cervera was safe in harbor, the maneuver of the American fleet cannot be called unsuccessful.
Cervera would have preferred to be at San Juan, where there was a navy yard and where his position

would have obliged the American fleet either to split into two divisions separated by eight hundred miles

or to leave him free range of action. Next to San Juan he would have preferred Havana or, Cienfuegos,

which were connected by railroad and near which lay the bulk of the Spanish Army. He found himself

instead at the extreme eastern end of Cuba in a port with no railroad connection with Havana, partly

blocked by the insurgents, and totally unable to supply him with necessities.

Unless Cervera could leave Santiago, his expedition would obviously have been useless. Though it was
the natural function of the American fleet to blockade him, for a week after his arrival there was an

interesting game of hide and seek between the two fleets. The harbors of Cienfuegos and of Santiago are

both landlocked by high hills, and Cervera had entered Santiago without being noticed by the Americans,

as that part of the coast was not under blockade. Schley thought Cervera was at Cienfuegos; Sampson

was of the opinion that he was at Santiago. When it became known that the enemy had taken refuge in

Santiago, Schley began the blockade on the 28th of May, but stated that he could not continue long in

position owing to lack of coal. On the 1st of June Sampson arrived and assumed command of the

blockading squadron.


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