• [Spanish-American War] Navy Disputes Ambassador Claim That Entire Arsenal Sank When The Maine Was Destroyed In Havana Harbor

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    STEWART WOODFORD, U.S. Ambassador to Spain for months leading up to the Spanish-American War, was appointed United States Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Spain on June 19, 1897. Relations between the United States and Spain became strained under Woodford, who was considered a harsh and demanding negotiator.  On February 15, 1898, while calmly anchored in Havana Harbor, the U.S.S. Maine was blown up, killing 260 officers and men on board, an incident which drew America into the war.


    A few days after the Maine incident, Woodford made a speech at the New York Army and Navy Club, stating that the Maine carried with her all available ammunition possessed by the U.S. Navy to the bottom of Havana Harbor.  He said he had been instructed to prolong negotiations and “to exhaust the arts of peace until April 15th, the earliest date the United States could be ready for war.” Interestingly, Woodford claimed that his information came from the United States government. [Extensive research included]    


    Woodford’s speech obviously embarrassed the Navy and President William McKinley.  In this historically important 3 ½ pp memorandum offered here, Charles O’Neill, Chief of Bureau of Ordnance, provided an extensive report to Navy Secretary John D. Long debunking Woodford’s claim and asserting the Commodore Dewey’s ships were well equipped to handle war time action.  


    Written on Jan. 20, 1899, on Department of Navy stationary, the memorandum stated, “Referring to the reported speech of General Woodford…in which he is quote as saying “that on February 18, 1898, three days after the ‘MAINE’ was blown up in Havana Harbor, he received information by telegraph that this Government did not possess powder enough to provide its war ships and forts with two rounds for each gun:’ So far as relates to the Navy, this is an error, as every vessel was practically filled  with her allowance of ammunition.”


    O’Neill then elaborated that the Navy followed strict regulations regarding ammunition. “The Regulations…prescribe that ‘The reserve ammunition for guns of the main battery…shall not be allowed to fall below 40 rounds per gun for 6-inch caliber and above, nor below 50 rounds per gun for the rapid-fire guns:’ and no vessel of the Navy was reduced so low as this…The Navy had a fair amount in reserve, especially of projectiles. There were less rounds of powder per gun than of shell, and for this reason, by direction of the Secretary, an emergency order was placed for powder on January 15, 1898, just one month before the destruction of the ‘MAINE,’ and by the 15th of February, the date of the catastrophe, the Navy Department had about three-quarters of a million rounds of powder in reserve…


    “So far as relates to the supply of ammunition on board Dewey’s ships, the fact that they were never reduced below the limit prescribed…they could have safely gone into action without receiving further supply…In the Manila engagement…the vessels engaged expended only about one-third of their allowance.


    “On November 2, 1897, orders were issued by the Bureau of Ordnance to the Mare Island Navy Yard to prepare for the ‘OLYMPIA,’ ‘BOSTON,’ and ‘PETREL’ a quantity of ammunition which would completely fill their allowance and give them one quarter target practice in addition. This quantity was ascertained from the reports from the vessels, showing what each had on hand….The ‘CONCORD’ which was destined for the Asiatic Station, was directed to carry as much of this order as she could, and she sailed on January 8, 1898, with a quantity. The remainder was sent by the ‘MOHICAN’ which sailed March 11, 1898, for Honolulu, and was transferred to the ‘BALTIMORE,’ the latter vessel having been ordered to join Dewey’s fleet. She sailed from Honolulu March 25, 1898, and arrived at Hong Kong April 22, 1898, and delivered her ammunition, thus filling up all the vessels of the Asiatic fleet: but without this they were in condition to go into battle.


    “As soon as the Department learned that a battle had been fought, steps were taken to make further shipments to the East Indies and on May 2nd and 3rd, a shipment was made by express from New York to San Francisco of 2,000 5-inch cartridge cases and 3,800 6-pounder cartridges, these being the only articles sent by express, and there were sent to go by the ‘CHARLESTON,’ which was to sail on May 21, 1898, or by the ‘City of Pekin,’ to sell on May 25th


    “These shipments were made in anticipation of possible future needs of the squadron, and it will be observed, were sent after the Battle of Manila Bay.


    “On June 30, 1898, a special fast freight train of 14 cars, loaded with ammunition, was collected at Harrisburg and started for Mare Island Navy Yard. This ammunition was to form a large reserve supply for the Pacific and Asiatic Squadrons, and was the only train load of ammunition sent West. It was to this train that General Woodford probably refers, but it will be seen that he was mistaken in supposing that it reached Dewey in time for the fight of May 1st.


    “In addition to this, large supplies of ammunition were sent to Tampa and Key West.  One hundred and seven auxiliary vessels and 14 newly commissioned regular vessels were supplied with complete outfits of ammunition, and a good reserve supply was maintained at the principal naval stations, so that at no time, either before or during the war, can it be said that the Navy was so short of ammunition that it could not, at any time, have carried on active operations.”


    The war began when the Spanish regime resisted an armed uprising by nationalist guerrillas seeking Cuban independence.  American sentiment was strongly behind Cuban independence and many Americans blamed Spain for the sinking of the Maine. The yellow press, led by William Randolph Hearst, inflamed the situation, which was vigorously supported by hawkish U.S. Senators and Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt.


    The government of Spain declared war on the United States, while the American Congress had already authorized the use of armed force. An American fleet under Commodore Dewey annihilated a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines with casual ease on May 1, 1898, with only seven Americans wounded. On July 1, Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Rough Riders,’ helped African American troopers of the 10th Cavalry take the San Juan Heights above the city of Santiago, which surrendered on the 17th. The Spanish Cuban fleet, which fled Santiago, was hunted down by American battleships and destroyed in four hours.


    When a peace treaty was signed in Paris in December, Spain lost its last colonies in the New World. The United States had taken the Philippines, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Island of Guam and Cuban gained independence.


    Toning, light soiling, paper clip mark at top.  Very fine piece of history.


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