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The Great Republic by the Master Historians|
Sinking the Spanish Fleet
by Bancroft, Hubert H.
|The morning of Saturday, April 30, the American squadron was sighted off Cape
Bolinao and at 4 o'clock in the afternoon it rounded to off Subig Bay on the sea
side of the Peninsula that encloses the great bay of Manila on the west. The
distance to the city of Manila was about fifty miles. The cruisers Boston and
Concord were detailed to search Subig Bay for the enemy, the crews of all ships
standing to their guns ready to engage. There was no trace of the Spaniard in
Subig. It was then that Commodore Dewey for the first time made known to the
commanders of his ships his intention to force the entrance of Manila Bay under
cover of night, and to engage the enemy under the fire of the forts. Slow
headway was made down the coast and at 11 o'clock at night the squadron entered
the Boca Grande, the larger of the two entrances to the bay.
The bay of Manila is one of the largest and deepest harbors of the world. It has
an area of 125 square miles, with a depth approximating the ocean itself. The
entrance is twelve miles wide on the south and almost midway rise the rocky
islands of Corregidor and Caballos. Corregidor was strongly fortified, armed
with heavy modern guns and equipped with searchlights that would have enabled
competent defenders to render entering it a hazardous feat. The channel to the
north of Corregidor is called the Boca Chica, or small mouth, and the Boca
Grande is on the south.
More than twelve hours earlier the appearance of the Americans at Cape Bolinao
had been reported to the Spaniards, yet when the squadron in order, with all
lights out, and every man at his station, turned Corregidor and headed up the
Boca Grande towards the city of Manila, there was not a Spanish patrol to give
warning of its approach, and apparently no watch on Corregidor fortress or
tower. On board the American ships every man was at his post, and had been for
eighteen hours, as he was to be for eighteen hours longer, except for brief
moments of rest. Down in the engine and furnace rooms the heat was from 125 to
160 degrees; but no engineer or stoker left his place, save the engineer of the
despatch-boat McCulloch, who dropped dead from heart disease superinduced by the
heat. This happened as the ships were passing in.
Realizing the preparation that could be made by a warned foe, expecting floating
mines, torpedo attacks, and a plunging fire from the lofty fortress on
Corregidor, the Americans, hidden only by darkness, slowly and silently as
possible filed into the channel, led by the flag-ship, and began to run the
terrible gauntlet of unknown dangers without hesitation.
Half the squadron had passed when sparks escaping from one of the funnels were
observed by the watch on Corregidor. Instantly the guns on the fort opened fire
upon the squadron, to which the Boston and McCulloch replied with a few shots,
and then silence again reigned. Past the fort the ships slowed down to bare
steerageway and, all hands resting by their guns, the squadron waited for day to
dawn to begin the terrible work that lay before it in the splendid amphitheatre
of the mountain-locked bay.
At 5 o'clock in the morning the Olympia was five miles from Manila, the spires
of whose churches and the towers of whose fortresses could be dimly seen through
the glasses of the lookouts. The city lies on the east side of the bay, about
twenty-five miles from the entrance, situated upon a low plateau, divided by
Pasig River. Volcanic mountains enclose the coasts at varying distances. Eight
miles south of Manila, on the same side of the bay, is a low point of land
projecting into the water, eked out by the construction of a breakwater, upon
which stand the arsenal and fortress of Cavite, commanding the Spanish navy-
yard. Thus Manila and Cavite were within sea view and gun range of each other,
and the theatre of battle was so designed that the combat might be witnessed by
the 300,000 people dwelling within range.
The American ships and the Spanish guard at Manila discovered each other at 5
o'clock. As the light increased the Spanish ships were revealed lying under the
guns of Cavite, in line of battle almost east and west. At 15 minutes past 5 the
light permitted action, and three batteries of heavy guns at Manila and two at
Cavite, together with the long-range guns of the Spanish ships, opened fire on
the Americans. The shots were harmless. Two guns were fired at Manila from our
ships, but Commodore Dewey signalled orders not to reply to Manila. It was not
his intention to subject the helpless non-combatants of that crowded city to a
bombardment, but to "smash the Spanish fleet." So that, while the Manila
batteries kept up a continuous fire upon our ships for two hours, without
effect, no shells were thrown into the city, which must have been a thing
greatly marvelled at by those who had described the Americans as pitiless
destroyers and cruel cowards.
Under the cross-fire of the enemy Commodore Dewey formed his squadron for attack
as coolly as if for target practice. His flag-ship Olympia led, followed at
regular intervals in line by the Baltimore, the Raleigh, the Petrel, the
Concord, and the Boston, in the order named, which formation was preserved
without change. Notwithstanding the furious fire of the enemy, our ships moved
steadily without replying for twenty-six minutes, steaming directly for Cavite,
which was some miles distant. Commodore Dewey, with his officers, was on the
bridge of the Olympia, and Captain Gridley, who was fighting the ship, was in
the conning-tower. The day was clear and the heat intense. On every ship the
fighters were stripped to the waist, waiting with natural impatience for firing
orders, and eager for close collision in fighting. As the Olympia steamed to the
attack in the lead two torpedo mines were exploded in her path by the Spaniards,
but too far ahead to affect her. The explosions threw enormous columns of water
to a great height. The power was sufficient to have destroyed the vessel if it
had been successfully managed. In spite of these dangers, and of more to be
apprehended, the Olympia kept steadily on. No other mines were exploded,
however, if any existed.
At 41 minutes past 5 o'clock Commodore Dewey, the Olympia then being bow on,
5,500 yards or about three miles, from the fortress at Cavite, called out to
Captain Gridley: "You may fire when ready." A few moments later the huge 8-inch
guns in the forward turret belched forth flame and steel at the flag-ship of
Admiral Montojo. At this signal to engage the enemy an eye-witness with the
squadron reports that from the throats of the Americans on all the ships rose a
triumphant cheer and the cry, "Remember the Maine." And then, from every ship
that could train guns on the enemy, poured a rain of shot and shell directed by
men who were as deliberate and cool as if they were at play. The deadly accuracy
of American marksmanship was exhibited under circumstances so extraordinary that
it was destined to stand without precedent or comparison in all naval history.
Sheltered under the guns of Cavite the Spanish cruiser Castilla lay anchored by
head and stern, broadside to our fire. On either side Admiral Montojo's flag-
ship, the Reina Cristina, the Don Juan de Austria, and the Velasco moved into
action, while the gunboats behind the breakwater were sheltered to some extent.
The Americans at 5,500 yards filed in line past the enemy and, countermarching
in a circle that extended closer to the Spaniards at every turn, sent in a
crushing rain of fire from each broadside as it was presented.
Lieutenant L. J. Stickney, a former naval officer who was on the bridge of the
Olympia as a volunteer aide to Commodore Dewey and who wrote an account of the
battle as a press correspondent, thus describes the combat after the first fire
of the Americans:
"The Spaniards seemed encouraged to fire faster, knowing exactly our distance,
while we had to guess theirs. Their ships and shore guns were making things hot
for us. The piercing scream of shot was varied often by the bursting of time
fuse shells, fragments of which would lash the water like shrapnel or cut our
hull and rigging. One large shell that was coming straight at the Olympia's
forward bridge fortunately fell within less than one hundred feet. One fragment
cut the rigging; another struck the bridge gratings in line with it; a third
passed under Commodore Dewey and gouged a hole in the deck. Incidents like these
"Our men naturally chafed at being exposed without returning fire from all our
guns, but laughed at danger and chatted good-humoredly. A few nervous fellows
could not help dodging mechanically, when shells would burst right over them, or
close aboard, or would strike the water, or pass overhead with the peculiar
spluttering roar made by a tumbling rifle projectile.
"Still the flag-ship steered for the centre of the Spanish line, and as our
other ships were astern, the Olympia received most of the Spaniards' attention.
"Owing to our deep draught, Commodore Dewey felt constrained to change his
course at a distance of 4,000 yards and run parallel to the Spanish column.
"`Open with all guns,' he ordered, and the ship brought her port broadside
bearing. The roar of all the flag-ship's 5-inch rapid-firers was followed by the
deep diapason of her turret 8-inchers. Soon our other vessels were equally hard
at work, and we could see that our shells were making Cavite harbor hotter for
the Spaniards than they had made the approach for us.
"Protected by their shore batteries and made safe from close attack by shallow
water, the Spaniards were in a strong position. They put up a gallant fight.
"One shot struck the Baltimore and passed clean through her, fortunately hitting
no one. Another ripped the upper main deck, disabled a 6-inch gun, and exploded
a box of 3-pounder ammunition, wounding eight men. The Olympia was struck
abreast the gun in the wardroom by a shell, which burst outside, doing little
damage. The signal halyards were cut from the officer's hand on the after
bridge. A sailor climbed up in the rain of shot and mended the line.
"A shell entered the Boston's port quarter and burst in Ensign Dodridge's
stateroom, starting a hot fire, and fire was also caused by a shell which burst
in the port hammock netting. Both these fires were quickly put out. Another
shell passed through the Boston's foremast just in front of Captain Wildes, on
"After having made four runs along the Spanish line, finding the chart
incorrect, Lieutenant Calkins, the Olympia's navigator, told the Commodore he
believed he could take the ship nearer the enemy, with lead going to watch the
depth of water. The flag-ship started over the course for the fifth time,
running within 2,000 yards of the enemy, followed by all the American vessels,
and, as even the 6-pounder guns were effective at such short range, the storm of
shot and shell launched against the Spaniard was destructive beyond
Two small launches were sent out from the Castilla and boldly advanced towards
the Olympia. They were supposed to be provided with torpedoes to be discharged
against the flag-ship. No sooner was their purpose suspected than the small guns
of the Olympia were turned upon the two boats with deadly effect. One was
riddled and sunk at the first fire and the other, badly damaged, turned back and
The enemy fought with desperation. Admiral Montojo with the Reina Cristina,
sallied forth from his line against the Olympia, but was met with a concentrated
fire from our ships so frightful that he could not advance. The Reina Cristina
turned and was making for the breakwater, when an 8-inch shell from the Olympia
was sent whizzing through her stern, penetrating the whole extent of the ship to
her engine-room where it exploded with awful destruction, setting fire to the
vessel and rendering her unmanageable.
The fire made such headway that Admiral Montojo abandoned his vessel and taking
his flag in an open boat, was transferred to the gunboat Isla de Cuba, whence he
continued to issue his orders. It was an act of personal bravery so marked that
it elicited admiration from all the Americans and was especially commented upon
by Commodore Dewey in his report of the battle. Captain Cadarso, of the Reina
Cristina, a Spaniard of noble family at Madrid, was mortally wounded with many
others on his ship, but refused to be carried off. He remained with his men and
went down with his ship. A shell entered the magazine of the Don Juan de Austria
and that vessel was blown up. The Castilla at her moorings was also on fire by
this time, but the firing from the other vessels and the forts was maintained
with wild desperation.
The heavy guns from Manila were also keeping up their attack. Commodore Dewey
sent a flag messenger to the Governor-General bearing notice that if the firing
from that quarter did not instantly cease he would shell the city. The message
at once silenced the batteries.
It was now 7:35 o'clock and the men had been in suspense or in exhaustive action
for nearly thirty hours. During the two hours of fighting they had been served
with only a cup of coffee each. Observing the destruction in the enemy's ranks
and desiring to give him time for reflection, but mainly to give his own men
refreshment and new strength, Commodore Dewey ordered action to cease and the
ships to retire beyond range. This they did, the squadron filing past the
Olympia with triumphant cheers and steaming across the bay, followed by the
sullen fire of the enemy. The Olympia brought up the rear, and orders were
issued to-serve breakfast bountifully on all the ships.
While the men were refreshing themselves, the commanders of the ships were
summoned aboard the Olympia to make reports of their condition and for
conference. It was then the discovery was made--almost incredible--that no
material casualty had occurred to the Americans during an engagement filled with
such disaster to the enemy. It seemed miraculous to have gone through a hail of
fire without one man being killed or a ship disabled. Meanwhile the Spanish had
viewed the withdrawal of our ships with exultation. With the fatuity of
overconfidence in their own courage they had construed the American pause for
rest as a retreat. To that effect they cabled the Spanish Government, where the
news caused excited rejoicings. The Minister of Marine cabled a message of
bombastic compliments to Admiral Montojo upon the glory of Spanish sailors.
While these messages were yet passing under the ocean the second attack was in
progress that was to turn exultation to despair and set the Spanish populace at
Madrid on fire with angry protests of deception and betrayal.
After three and a half hours of recuperation, the American squadron got under
way at a quarter past eleven o'clock and advanced again to attack the enemy.
Buoyed up by the early morning results, the gunners aimed with perfect
deliberation and, under orders for "close action," the line steamed up as near
as the water-depth permitted, and poured a remorseless fire into the enemy's
ships that were now replying slowly. But the guns of Cavite were hard at work
and the Baltimore was ordered to silence the arsenal. The bay was filled with
smoke, and into this the Baltimore steered straight for the point of attack.
When close up she opened all her batteries, and in a moment the powder magazine
of the arsenal blew up with a deafening roar, and the battery of Cavite was
The Boston, Concord and Petrel were ordered to enter the bay and destroy the
ships there. The Petrel being of very light draught was able to penetrate behind
the breakwater up to the gunboats. The Spaniards on board made haste to
surrender, and their ships were then scuttled and fired. The only ship left was
a transport belonging to the coast survey, and she was taken possession of by
our forces. At 40 minutes past 12 o'clock, the Spanish flag had been hauled down
from Cavite and the white flag of surrender was flying. The Olympia stood off
towards Manila, leaving the other vessels to take care of the wounded on shore.
In this battle the Spanish lost the following vessels: Reina Cristina, Castilla,
Don Antonio de Ulloa, sunk; Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba,
General Lezo, Marquis del Duero, El Correo, Velasco and Isla de Mindanao,
burned; the Manila and several tugs and launches captured. There were 1,000
Spaniards killed in the engagement and more than 600 wounded, among the latter
Admiral Montojo and his son, a lieutenant, both slightly. The wounded were
removed to the arsenal in Cavite, where they were attended by the American
surgeons, who gave their skill, science, and labor to succor the unfortunate.
Yet while this work of humanity was in progress the Archbishop of Manila was
issuing a pastoral letter to his flock in which he called upon all Christians in
the island to defend the faith against heretics who designed to erect an
insuperable barrier to salvation, intending to enslave the people and forbid the
sacraments of baptism, matrimony, and burial, and the consolation of absolution.
He declared that if the Americans were allowed to possess the islands, altars
would be desecrated and the churches changed into Protestant chapels. Instead of
there being pure morality, as then existed, examples of vice only would be
inculcated. He closed by appointing May 17 as a day of rejoicing over the
renewed consecration of the islands to "the Sacred Heart of Jesus."
Commodore Dewey sent a message to Governor-General Augusti in Manila proposing
to be permitted to use the submarine cable to Hong-Kong for the purpose of
communicating his reports to the government at Washington. Augusti refused the
permission and Commodore Dewey cut the cable, thus rendering impossible all
communication with the world except by mail, by way of Hong-Kong, three days'
sail distant. He then anchored before Manila to await reinforcements and orders,
the revolutionists under General Aguinaldo cutting off all supplies from the
landside, and investing the city in effective siege.