American Boys' Life of William McKinley/Chapter 22

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Opening of the War with Spain—Task of Preparing for the Contest—Dewey's Victory in Manila Bay—Far-reaching Results of this Naval Battle

The United States had not been on a war footing since our great armies had disbanded in 1865, thirty-three years before; consequently when the conflict with Spain became inevitable, there was an immense amount of work to do. And a large portion of this labor fell upon the shoulders of President McKinley.

He did not shrink from the responsibility imposed upon him. He had done his best to avert war, but the folly of Spain had left no loophole by which peace could be maintained. The Cubans were suffering untold horrors, on the battlefield and through starvation, and something, had to be done. It was not a war of conquest, but only a magnificent public effort to help another nation establish its freedom.

As said before, the work to be done was tremendous. Generally a war is measured entirely by the battles fought and the victories or defeats. Few people think of the labor involved in raising and equipping an army and a navy, and of maintaining them while one is in the field and the other on the high seas. In the army the men have to be gathered together and properly officered, they have to be clothed and fed and taken care of when they are sick or when they are wounded. They have to be properly drilled, and when they wish to move from one place to another without marching, proper transportation facilities have to be provided. In the navy the vessels must be put into the best possible fighting trim. Stations for coaling and for obtaining ammunition and food must be provided, and those who are carrying on the war must study matters closely so as to have the right ships at the right place when the time comes to use them. These are but a few of the thousand and one details which go to make up a competent war service, and yet which seldom reach the ears of the general public.

The days passed swiftly, and President McKinley was kept more than busy. His first call was for one hundred and twenty-five thousand men, and right nobly did the citizens from every state in the Union respond to the call. The militia everywhere was called out, and recruiting went on at all hours of the day. Camps were established in various parts of the country, and here the militia were sworn into the United States service. The writer of this volume visited a number of these camps at the time, and the patriotic impression brought back will never be forgotten.

Strange as it may seem, the first great blow struck by us against Spain was miles away from either the United States or Cuba. When war became a fact. Commodore George Dewey, commanding the Asiatic Squadron of the United States navy, was stationed at the bay of Hong Kong, China. He was immediately ordered to get his squadron into proper shape for fighting, and was further ordered to find a certain Spanish fleet located in or near the Philippine Islands and engage it.

Commodore Dewey had fought in the Civil War, and was a man of quick action. Without delay he coaled his vessels, and on April 27 left Chinese waters, bound for the Philippines. He expected to have no easy task of finding the Spanish fleet, for the Philippines, as said before, are about twelve hundred in number, and there are harbors, big and little, innumerable.

The commodore's squadron consisted of four cruisers, the Olympia, Boston, Baltimore, and Raleigh, three gunboats, the Concord, Petrel, and a small craft named the McCulloch, and two coaling vessels. The largest craft was the Olympia, of fifty-eight hundred tons, which was Dewey's flagship.

The course was for the island of Luzon, the largest by far of the group, and the one upon which is located Manila, the chief city. The run to Luzon took but a few days, and the first stop made was at Subic Bay, a few miles west of Manila Bay. No Spanish warships were sighted, and then Commodore Dewey steered straight for Manila.

The bay of Manila is large, with a very narrow entrance. Corregidor Island partly blocks the channel, and upon this island was located a Spanish fort with a number of heavy guns.

Not wishing to be caught by the fire from the fort, the commodore kept out of sight of the coast line until nightfall. It was a fearfully hot day, and the jackies suffered greatly, but nobody complained. All were anxious to do their duty to the utmost.

As night came on, the squadron approached the entrance to the bay. This was a highly dangerous move, for every vessel ran the risk of being shot at from the fort on the island, and the forts on the mainland, or of being blown up by some hidden mine. Yet Commodore Dewey did not falter, but went straight ahead.

Suddenly a rocket flared up into the air, followed by others, and in the light thus afforded warships and forts stood out in bold relief. In a few seconds came the dull boom of a cannon, and an eight-inch shell passed close by one of the American ships. A few other shots followed, but did no damage, and soon the American squadron was out of reach of the enemy, in the middle of Manila Bay.

The hours to follow were anxious ones, and but little sleep was indulged in by any one. As daylight came on, it was discovered that the Spanish warships were indeed in the bay, drawn up in something of a line from the lower part of Manila to the Cavité peninsula, eight miles further south.

The Spanish fleet was a rather formidable one, embracing four cruisers, the Reina Cristina, Castilla, Don Juan de Austria, and the Don Antonio de Ulloa, several gunboats, including the Isla de Luzon and Isla de Cuba, and a number of smaller craft, including several torpedo boats. At Cavité was a fort mounting a good battery, and there was another battery near the outskirts of Manila.

With the exception of the sea-fight waged off Santiago Bay two months later, the battle of Manila Bay has no parallel in history. For several hours the fight waged furiously, and once the American squadron withdrew for breakfast, and that the commodore might ascertain if any of his vessels were seriously injured. Judge of his astonishment when he learned the good news that not a warship had suffered.

"All's well!" ran down the line.

"Then we'll go in and finish them up/* was the answer, and go in the warships did, and soon . the enemy's colors were struck, and Admiral Montojo surrendered. Every one of the Spanish warships was either burnt or sunk, and the surviving sailors and officers got ashore only with the greatest of difficulty. On the American side not a man was killed or a vessel injured!

This wonderful battle and great blow to the Spanish naval power occurred on May 1, 1898. Word of it was at once carried to Hong Kong, the nearest cable station at that time available for use, and the news was flashed to the United States with all speed.

The result was truly electrifying, and it would seem as if for the moment the people would go mad with joy. The telegraph offices and newspaper offices were literally jammed with people trying to learn the particulars.

"Dewey has met the Spanish fleet in the Philippines! He sunk every ship they had and came out of the fight without a scratch!" So the talk ran on, until the name of the heroic old sea fighter was on every lip.

This battle was important in more ways than one. Since the Civil War our navy had had no opportunity to try its power, and foreign nations were inclined to consider it second-class and of small use against the trained fighters and big warships forming other navies. Noav the eyes of the world were opened to the fact that we were a first-class naval power and could handle our ships as well as the best of them.

The announcement of the victory was received with a good deal of satisfaction by President McKinley, and it was not long before he sent his congratulations and thanks to the hero of Manila Bay, as Dewey was affectionately called. For his great victory Dewey was made admiral of the navy, and Congress voted him a beautiful and costly jewelled sword costing many thousand dollars.