Classic History Books


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

Santiago. The American losses totaled fifteen hundred, a number just about made good at this moment by
the arrival of General Duffield's brigade, which had followed the main expedition. The number of the

Spanish force, which was unknown to the Americans, was increased on the 3d of July by the arrival of a

relief expedition under Colonel Escario, with about four thousand men whom the insurgent forces had

failed to meet and block, as had been planned.

On the 2d of July there was desultory fighting, and on the 3d, General Shafter telegraphed to the
Secretary of War that he was considering the withdrawal of his troops to a strong position, about five

miles in the rear. The Secretary immediately replied: "Of course you can judge the situation better than

we can at this end of the line. If, however, you could hold your present position, especially San Juan

Heights, the effect upon the country would be much better than falling back."

The Spanish commanders, however, did not share General Shafter's view as to the danger involving the
Americans. Both Admiral Cervera and General Blanco considered that the joint operations of the

American Army and Navy had rendered the reduction of Santiago only a question of time, but they

differed as to the course to be pursued. In the end, General Blanco, who was in supreme command,

decided, after an exchange of views with the Spanish Government and a consultation with the Captain of

the German cruiser Geier, then at Havana, to order the Spanish squadron to attempt an escape from

Santiago harbor. Cervera's sailors had hitherto been employed in the defense of the city, but with the

arrival of the reinforcements under Escario he found it possible to reman his fleet. An attempt to escape

in the dark seemed impossible because of the unremitting glare of the searchlights of the American

vessels. Cervera determined upon the desperate expedient of steaming out in broad daylight and making

for Cienfuegos.

The blockade systematically planned by Admiral Sampson was conducted with a high degree of
efficiency. Each American ship had its definite place and its particular duty. When vessels were obliged

to coal at Guantanamo, forty miles distant, the next in line covered the cruising interval. The American

combined squadron was about double Cervera's in strength; his ships, however, were supposed to have

the advantage in speed, and it was conceivable that, by turning sharply to the one side or the other, they

might elude the blockading force. On the very day that Cervera made his desperate dash out of the

harbor, as it happened, the New York, Admiral Sampson's flagship, was out of line, taking the Admiral to

a conference with General Shafter at Siboney, a few miles to the eastward. The absence of the flagship,

however, in no way weakened the blockade, for, if Cervera turned westward he would find the squadron

of Schley and the other vessels designated to prevent his escape in that direction, while if he turned

eastward he would almost at once be engaged with the New York, which would then be in an

advantageous position ahead of the chase.

At half-past nine on the morning of the 3d of July, the first vessel of the Spanish fleet emerged from
Santiago Harbor. By 10:10 A.M. all the Spanish ships were outside of the harbor mouth. Commodore

Schley, on the Brooklyn, hoisted the signal to "close up," apparently on the understanding that Sampson's

signal on leaving for Siboney to "Disregard motions of the commander-in-chief" had delegated the

command to him. Though this question of command later involved a bitter dispute, it was at the time of

little moment, for clouds of smoke obscured the signals so frequently that no complicated maneuver

could have been guided by them, and, as far as concerted action was concerned, the whole squadron was

under exactly similar contingent orders from Admiral Sampson. As a matter of fact, the thing to do was

so obvious that the subsequent dispute really raged on the point of who actually gave an order, the sense

of which every one of the commanders would have executed without order. If, therefore, the layman

 

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