American Boys' Life of William McKinley/Chapter 25

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Blockade of Santiago Bay—Sinking of the Merrimac—"The Enemy is Escaping!"—Destruction of the Spanish War-ships—End of the War with Spain

The gallant work done by our army in Cuba was hailed with great satisfaction by the whole Nation, but it is safe to say that nobody was more pleased with results than was President McKinley. Having been on a peace footing for so many years, many had imagined, both at home and abroad, that our soldiers could do little or nothing when put in the field, and some had even gone so far as to call them "paper soldiers." But the battles of El Caney and San Juan let the world know that Americans could fight on land as well as on sea, and henceforth grumbling in all quarters became a thing of the past.

Now that Admiral Cervera was "bottled up," as it was termed, in Santiago Bay, those in authority were very much afraid that he with his war-ships would try to escape during some dark night or in a dense fog, when the American ships would fail to see him, even with their search-lights. The blockade was made as effective as possible, but at times foul weather made it necessary for the ships to stand off miles from the coast.

"You must not permit them to escape," said the President to the Secretary of War. "If they attempt to do so, they must be struck down as were the ships in Manila Bay."

Late in May there had been some talk of blockading the channel leading to Santiago Bay, and early in June the attempt was made by Assistant Naval Constructor Richmond P. Hobson. Lieutenant Hobson's plan, approved by his superior, was to sink an iron steamboat, the Merrimac, directly in the centre of the channel, thus blocking it completely. Volunteers were called for; and although the mission was known to be highly dangerous, for the ship would have to be taken in close to the Spanish batteries, hundreds begged to be allowed to serve.

The crew for the occasion was composed of seven as heroic men as can be found anywhere, and the run toward the mouth of the bay was made early in the morning of June 3d. The Merrimac was sunk partly in and partly out of the channel, swinging somewhat out of her course while settling, and thus failing to accomplish the purpose of the daring plan. Those on board tried to escape, but were discovered, and amid a rain of shot and shell were followed by a Spanish launch and made prisoners. It may be as well to state that later on Hobson and his men were set free. Their daring attempt will live in history for many years to come.

On July 1 and 2 occurred the land battles just described, and on the morning of July 3 Admiral Cervera attempted to run the blockade which Admiral Sampson and Commodore Schley had kept up so vigilantly. It was a Sunday morning, bright and clear, and Admiral Sampson had gone off with his flagship, the New York, to confer with General Shafter at Siboney, leaving the blockade in charge of Commodore Schley, with his flagship, the cruiser Brooklyn, and with the battle-ships Oregon, Iowa, Indiana, and Texas, the converted yacht Gloucester, and the Vixen. There were other vessels, but they were too far off to get into the soul-stirring contest which followed.

The Spanish fleet under Admiral Cervera consisted of four cruisers, the Vizcaya, the Maria Teresa, the Almirante Oquendo, and the Cristobal Colon, and two torpedo boats, the Furor and Pluton. The Maria Teresa was the first war-ship to show herself around the bend of the channel leading out of the harbor, and at once there was a commotion throughout all the American ships which had waited in the hot summer sun so long for this fight.

"The enemy is escaping!" was the signal that was hoisted, and soon a cannon boomed out, followed by another and then another. "Remember the Maine!" was the rallying cry, and at once all steam was being put on and gunners were stripping for this contest, which was to equal in many respects the remarkable battle of Manila Bay.

As the Spanish ships turned to run along the western coast beyond Santiago Bay, the American ships sent a storm of steel in upon them, while the Gloucester ran in and speedily sunk one of the torpedo boats. One of the first of the ships in the battle was our noble Oregon, which had made the journey from San Francisco clear round Cape Horn, South America, to be on hand when needed! And right well did the Oregon show her mettle, as did every other war-ship around her.

The sinking of one torpedo boat was followed by the sinking of the second. The fight was now bent on the cruisers, and soon the Teresa was so badly riddled that she was run ashore to save her crew from drowning. Half a mile farther on the Oquendo also turned in, burning fiercely from stem to stern.

But to bring these vessels down had taken time, and now the two remaining ships were doing their best to escape, knowing full well that to stand and engage our powerful ships with their well-trained gunners would be suicidal. In the lead was the Colon, with the Vizcaya not far behind.

"We must catch them! We mustn't let a ship get away!" was the cry which rang out on one American ship and another, and on went the fastest of our ships, the Oregon leading, and the Texas and Brooklyn not far behind. The Iowa and Indiana now dropped out to keep an eye on the ships which had gone ashore and on the harbor, for it was thought there might still be other Spanish ships in hiding there.

At last it was seen that the Vizcaya was burning fiercely, and that she, too, was turning in shore. At this point on land was a portion of the Cuban army, and the Iowa was directed to stand by and see that the suffering enemy was cared for, for there had been several serious explosions on the Vizcaya, and it was known that hundreds must be dead or dying.

Only the Colon now remained in the race, and she was straining every nerve to get away. But the Oregon and Brooklyn followed her relentlessly, and when their heaviest guns fired over and into her she hauled down her flag and turned in shore.

The news of the combined victories on land and sea in the vicinity of Santiago Bay reached this country on the evening of July 3, and never was there a greater or more glorious Fourth of July than that which followed. Cannons boomed as never before, parades were had everywhere, and bonfires and fireworks lasted far into the night. Of our ships, although struck many times, not one was seriously injured, while but one man had been killed and only half a dozen hurt.

President McKinley had worked hard to bring the campaign against Santiago to a speedy and victorious conclusion. He had urged all in command to hurry matters as much as possible, and the result proved the wisdom of his course. In less than ninety days after war became a certainty he had the army and navy on a proper war footing and Spain was given two blows on the sea and one blow on land from which recovery was well-nigh impossible. It was the President himself who dictated the message to Dewey which resulted in the victory of Manila Bay, and this message was sent after a number of his advisers had protested, on the ground that we were hardly prepared to meet the enemy. It was the President who hurried the Regulars, the Rough Riders, and other troops into Cuba, and who ordered that the blockade of Santiago Bay must be made absolutely perfect. Not only this, but he sent a part of the army, under General Miles, into Porto Rico to subdue that Spanish possession, and asked the War Department to hold a fleet of ships in readiness to harass the coast of Spain itself, should it become necessary to do so. Throughout the whole contest he showed himself really and truly not alone the Chief Magistrate, but also the Commander in Chief of the Army and the Navy.

With her war-ships at the bottom of the sea, and her army around Santiago and in Porto Rico reduced and hemmed in, Spain could scarcely hope to continue the struggle, and soon came a cessation of hostilities pending negotiations for peace. The matter was placed in the hands of President McKinley and his advisers, and on August 9, Spain accepted the terms of peace as offered by our President. Thus the war with Spain came to an end.