Classic History Books


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

With the bottling up of Cervera, the first stage of the war passed. The navy had performed its primary
function: it had established its superiority and had obtained the control of the seas. The American coast

was safe; American commerce was safe except in the vicinity of Spain; and the sea was open for the

passage of an American expeditionary force. Nearly the whole island of Cuba was now under blockade,

and the insurgents were receiving supplies from the United States. It had been proved that the fairly even

balance of the two fleets, so anxiously scanned when it was reported in the newspapers in April, was

entirely deceptive when it came to real efficiency in action. Moreover, the skillful handling of the fleets

by the Naval War Board as well as by the immediate commanders had redoubled the actual superiority of

the American naval forces.

A fleet in being, even though inferior and immobilized, still counts as a factor in naval warfare, and
Cervera, though immobilized by Sampson, himself immobilized the greater number of American vessels

necessary to blockade him. The importance of this fact was evident to every one when, in the middle of

June, the remainder of the Spanish home fleet, whipped hastily into a semblance of fighting condition,

set out eastward under Admiral Camara to contest the Philippines with Dewey. It was impossible for the

United States to detach a force sufficient to cross the Atlantic and, without a base, meet this fleet in its

home waters. Even if a smaller squadron were dispatched from the Atlantic round Cape Horn, it would

arrive in the Philippines too late to be of assistance to Dewey. The two monitors on the Pacific coast, the

Monterey and the Monadnock, had already been ordered across the Pacific, a voyage perilous for vessels

of their structure and agonizing to their crews; but it was doubtful whether they or Camara would arrive

first in the Philippines.

The logic of the situation demanded that the main American fleet be released. Cervera must be destroyed
or held in some other way than at the expense of inactivity on the part of the American warships.

Santiago could not be forced by the navy. Two methods remained. The first and simpler expedient was to

make the harbor mouth impassable and in this way to bottle up the Spanish fleet. It was decided to sink

the collier Merrimac at a narrow point in the channel, where, lying full length, she would completely

prevent egress. It was a delicate task and one of extraordinary danger. It was characteristic of the spirit of

the fleet that, as Admiral Chadwick says, practically all the men were volunteers. The honor of the

command was given to Lieutenant Richmond Pearson Hobson, Assistant Naval Constructor, who had

been in charge of the preparations. With a crew of six men he entered the harbor mouth on the night of

the 3d of June. A shell disabled the steering gear of the Merrimac, and the ship sank too far within the

harbor to block the entrance entirely. Admiral Cervera himself rescued the crew, assured Sampson of

their safety in an appreciative note; and one of the best designed and most heroic episodes in our history

just missed success.

The failure of the Merrimac experiment left the situation as it had been and forced the American
command to consider the second method which would release the American fleet. This new plan

contemplated the reduction of Santiago by a combined military and naval attack. Cervera's choice of

Santiago therefore practically determined the direction of the first American overseas military

expedition, which had been in preparation since the war began.

 

CHAPTER X. The Preparation Of The Army

 

When one compares the conditions under which the Spanish American War was fought with those of the

 

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