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Every occasion finds a man to meet the exigencies of the hour, every conflict brings forth its hero, and every war educates soldiers for a war to come. War begets the warrior. Washington came out of the French and Indian wars, Jackson from the Creek wars; Scott and Taylor both emerged from Chippewa and Lundy's Lane, Grant and Lee from Mexico. So, George Dewey came out of the fierce internecine strife of our Civil War. He came, too, from one of the great sources of the best elements of our American population. The Puritans of New England and the Cavaliers of Virginia sprung from the same soil and a common ancestry, worked side by side, in a widely different manner, but to the same end; and from these two classes have sprung nearly all our great soldiers, statesmen, and authors. From the former came the great naval hero of the Spanish-American War.
Admiral Dewey at Manila Bay.
His career from this time until the close of the year 1897, although important in his development and replete with valuable services in all directions, must be summed up in a few words.
For two years subsequent to the war, he served with the European Squadron, first on the Kearsarge, later on the Colorado. 1867 found him at the Naval Academy. Promoted commander, April 13, 1872, he was assigned to the Narragansett until 1875. After seven years of bureau duty in the Navy Department, October 18, 1882, he commanded the Juniata of the Asiatic Squadron, and then learned the topography of Manila Bay, where he gave his first lesson to the Spaniard in the person of the Port Captain of Manila, who impudently proposed that he "parade his crew," so that some sailors accused of riot might be identified, Dewey's reply being: "The deck of this vessel is United States territory, and I'll parade my men for no foreigner that ever drew breath."
Dewey's health broke down, and in 1884 he was at the Navy Department, but September 27th was commissioned captain and took command of the Dolphin, one of the "White Squadron," the beginning of our "New Navy." He reached the rank of commodore February 28, 1896. On shore he has served as a member of the Lighthouse Board, Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, and Chief of the Board of Inspection and Survey. Late in the year 1897 it became necessary to select a commander of the Asiatic Station. War with Spain was a possibility. It was therefore essential that the Asiatic Station be in command of an able and experienced officer.
It has been said that Commodore Dewey, as also the other commodores, sought the North Atlantic and European Stations, believing that the Atlantic would be "the theatre of the war," and that he was averse to service in the Asiatic. It has also been said that the appointment of Dewey was a mere chance, a matter of routine. I think that these statements are not correct. I believe that Commodore Dewey was too old a sailor, too good a sailor, and too experienced a sailor to attempt to dictate his own orders. Furthermore, in a conversation with the President, this subject being mentioned, the President told me that he had carefully considered the appointment of an officer to command the Asiatic Station and had finally determined upon Dewey--that he wrote upon a card which he sent to the Secretary, of the Navy: "Appoint Dewey to Asiatic Squadron."
In pursuance of the President's action, Commodore George Dewey was detached on November 30th from Bureau work and ordered to the Asiatic Station, of which he took command on January 3, 1898. The opportunity came, and the right man was in the right place.
Commodore Dewey's squadron was composed of four protected cruisers, two gunboats, and a despatch-boat, as follows: The Olympia (flag-ship), a protected cruiser of 5,870 tons, mounting fourteen guns, Captain Gridley and flag-officer, Captain Benjamin P. Lamberton; the Baltimore, a protected cruiser of 4,413 tons and ten guns, Captain Nehemiah M. Dyer; the Raleigh, a protected cruiser of 3,213 tons and eleven guns, Captain Joseph B. Coghlan; the Boston, a protected cruiser of 3,000 tons and eight guns, Captain Frank Wildes; the Concord, a gunboat of 1,710 tons and six guns, Commander Asa Walker; the Petrel, a gunboat of 892 tons and four guns, Commander Wood; and the revenue cutter McCulloch, despatch-boat. Also the transports Zaffiro and Nanshan with provisions and coal. There was no armored vessel in the squadron.
From the day Commodore Dewey took command of the Asiatic Station until April 24th, active preparations for war were going forward. The ships were kept stored to their full capacity with provisions, coal, and ammunition, and there was a continuous round of drill, target practice, manoeuvres, and evolutions. Dewey would be ready when action should become necessary. On April 24th the British authorities notified the American commander that he must quit Hong Kong within twenty-four hours. Dewey moved his squadron to Mirs Bay immediately. At six o'clock on the evening of April 25th, he received the following despatch:
"Washington, April 24, 1898.
"Dewey, Hong Kong:
"War has commenced between the United States and Spain. Proceed at once to the Philippine Islands. Commence operations at once, particularly against the Spanish fleet. You must capture vessels or destroy. Use utmost endeavors.
These orders were all sufficient for Dewey. Even without them he had no alternative. Obliged to leave British, he would soon be debarred from Chinese, waters; he was nearly 8,000 miles from a home-port, and Honolulu, his nearest coaling station, was 6,000 miles away.
The following day was spent in consultation with his commanders in final preparation for his campaign, and waiting for the arrival from Manila of Williams, the American Consul, until the evening of the 27th, when at two o'clock he sailed out of Mirs Bay to find the fleet of Spain. Proceeding across the China Sea, the squadron sighted Cape Bolinas one hundred and fifteen miles north of the entrance to Manila Bay, at 3.30 A.M., on Saturday, April 30th. About thirty miles north of the entrance, a conference of commanders was held. Dewey announced his plans. Rumors of mines and torpedoes had no terrors for Dewey, and, steaming slowly into Manila Bay, his squadron passed between Corregidor and Caballos about midnight.
They arrived opposite Cavite about five o'clock, and, as daylight increased, the Spanish fleet could be seen in the harbor. This fleet, under Admiral Montejo, comprised ten vessels, viz.: The Reina Maria Cristina, a protected cruiser of 3,520 tons; the Castilla, a wooden cruiser of 3,340 tons; the Don Antonio de Ulloa, Don Juan de Austria, and Velasco, steel cruisers of 1,152 tons each; the Isla de Luzon and Isla de Cuba, gunboats of 1,040 tons each; the General Lezo and El Correo, gun vessels of 524 tons each; and the Marques del Duero, despatch-boat of 500 tons; besides tugs, transports, and launches, the latter used as torpedo-boats. There was no armored vessel in this fleet.
Though counting more fighting vessels, the Spanish fleet was inferior to the American squadron in size and armament. The Spanish vessels mounted 116 guns, the American 135. But the Spanish fleet was protected by land batteries and forts armed with modern guns. The Spaniards were, therefore, much superior to the Americans in force and armament.
At ten minutes past five the battle began, the Spaniards opening fire from ships and forts, at a distance of more than four miles. Two great mines were exploded in the path of the Olympia, but too far away to cause damage.
At twenty-three minutes past five Dewey said to Captain Gridley: "You may fire when ready." Almost instantly an eight-inch gun roared out American defiance. As with one voice the blue-jackets of the squadron gave forth the American war-cry, "Remember the Maine!" and the battle was on.
The Castilla lay moored head and stern under the protection of the guns, and surrounded by barges, which made it impossible to strike her below the water-line. The Reina Cristina, Admiral Montejo's flag-ship, and the other vessels of his fleet moved out to the battle protected by the forts and batteries. The Olympia in the lead, followed by the other vessels of the American squadron, headed straight for the centre of the Spanish line; then changing course, ran parallel to the Spanish line at a distance of four thousand yards. After passing the Spanish position the American squadron turned and again passed the Spanish line, decreasing the distance. The Spaniards were in strong position and fighting with consummate courage, but it soon became apparent that nothing could withstand the effects of American gunnery. Still, the Spaniards, knowing the exact distance of our vessels, were doing some damage. Early in the battle a shot struck and passed clean through the Baltimore, and another disabled a six-inch gun and exploded a box of ammunition, wounding eight men but killing no one. The Olympia was struck by a shell which, exploding outside, did little damage, and the signal halyards were cut out of the flag-officer's hands. The lines were immediately replaced by a blue-jacket. The Boston was struck by three shells, one starting a fire in a stateroom and another in the hammock-netting, while a third passed through the foremast near Captain Wildes. The squadron passed four times before the enemy, slightly decreasing the distance on each run, and on the fifth, believing that the depth of water was greater than he had supposed, Dewey took the Olympia closer, until on this last run he was within two thousand yards of the enemy. The Spaniards were suffering terribly and fought with courage and desperation. Admiral Montejo on the Reina Cristina sallied forth alone and made straight for the Olympia at full speed, but the concentrated fire of the whole American squadron drove him back to the protection of the breakwater, and as the flag-ship sped away, a shell from the Olympia struck her, passed through her entire length, and set her on fire.
Captain Cadarso was mortally wounded. Admiral Montejo in an open boat transferred his flag to the gunboat Isla de Cuba. The Castilla was repeatedly hit and was soon burning fiercely. The Don Juan de Austria was blown up by a shell entering the magazine. The other Spanish vessels and all the forts and batteries maintained a terrific firing. The heavy guns of Manila took part in the fight until Dewey sent a message to Governor-General Augusti, that unless they were immediately silenced he would shell the city. The message had its effect. Two small launches or torpedo-boats started out from the Castilla, headed for the Olympia, but the danger to her was averted by the concentrated fire of the squadron, and they hasted in their backward flight. A shell struck and sank one; the other was disabled. A Spanish gunboat slipping out of line made for the McCulloch, lying off with the transports, but nothing escaped the eagle eye on the bridge of the Olympia, and a hail of shells sent the adventurer scurrying back to cover.
It was half-past seven; the battle had raged incessantly for two hours, during which Commodore Dewey with his flag-officer had remained exposed on the bridge of the Olympia. The men had been undergoing a constant strain for twenty-four hours and had been served only with coffee, so at a quarter before eight the Olympia ceased firing, and the Commodore ordered the squadron to retire. It was time for "Dewey's Breakfast."
When the marvellous news was signalled from ship to ship: "No damage, not a man killed," the joy and enthusiasm was unbounded.
The Spanish Admiral, not comprehending the meaning of the American withdrawal, wired to Madrid a report of a wonderful victory. The Minister of Marine replied with fulsome compliments. This was the last news sent out of Manila by cable, and for a week the American people were in painful suspense.
In the meantime a sumptuous breakfast was served aboard the American squadron and a conference of commanders held. The two functions consumed more than three hours, and at a quarter after eleven the battle was renewed. The big guns at Cavite were hard at work, and the Baltimore was ordered to silence them. This she speedily accomplished, destroying the entire battery. The Olympia and other ships soon took part, and in an hour nothing was left of the Spanish fleet except sunken and burning hulks. More than a thousand of the enemy were killed and drowned and six hundred wounded. At half-past twelve the Americans ceased to fire, and at twelve-forty the Spanish flag was lowered and the white flag of surrender took its place.
Commodore Dewey immediately requested Governor-General Augusti to allow him to cable to Washington. On the Governor-General's refusal the Commodore promptly cut the cable to Hong Kong. The only means of communication left to him was by despatch-boat to Hong Kong, but he was unable to start the McCulloch for several days, when he sent two despatches, one penned on the day of battle, the other on May 4th. These two telegrams, announcing what Captain Mahan has characterized as "the greatest naval victory recorded in history," reached Hong Kong on the 8th of May, one week after the battle, and were received in Washington on the same evening. The intense anxiety which had pervaded America and the whole English-speaking world, from the day Dewey sailed from Mirs Bay, was changed to enthusiasm and gratification. These two despatches, which will go down in history alongside Perry's from Lake Erie, formed the clearest and most concise account of the Battle of Manila and its immediate results.
The first despatch: "May 1st.--Squadron arrived at Manila at daybreak this morning. Immediately engaged the enemy and destroyed the following vessels: Reina Cristina, Castilla, Don Antonio de Ulloa, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba, General Lezo, Marques del Duero, Correo, Velasco, Isla de Mindanao, a transport and a water battery. The squadron is uninjured, and only a few men are slightly wounded. Only means of telegraphing is to American Consul at Hong Kong. Shall communicate with him.
The second despatch: "Cavite, May 4th.--I have taken possession of naval station at Cavite on Philippine Islands. Have destroyed the fortifications at bay entrance, paroling garrison. I control bay completely and can take city at any time. The squadron is in excellent health and spirits. The Spanish loss not fully known, but very heavy; one hundred and fifty killed, including captain of Reina Cristina. Am assisting in protecting Spanish sick and wounded; two hundred and fifty sick and wounded in hospitals within our lines. Much excitement at Manila. Will protect foreign residents.
Cavite in his possession, Dewey now entered upon the most difficult part of his enterprise. Although to take possession of Manila would be comparatively easy, to hold it with his force would be another matter. He had to cope with Spanish deceit and Malay craft, with the ill-concealed antagonism of the German and the unexpressed jealousy of Japan. Not knowing when to expect another Spanish fleet, he was obliged to force the representative of Germany to observe the decorum and etiquette demanded by the situation. Hence the friction with Von Diederich, when Dewey demanded to know whether his country and ours were at war, for if so, he was ready to do his part of the fighting. By July 31st troops in sufficient numbers, under General Merritt, had arrived; and on August 13th the city was assaulted and surrendered.
The grade of Admiral has been revived by Congress and bestowed upon Dewey. Never was enacted a more dramatic scene in the House of Representatives than that when Mr. Moody of Massachusetts, fearing that in the hurry of the latter days of the Fifty-fifth Congress the bill passed by the Senate might be overlooked, offered it as a new section of the Naval Appropriation Bill then under consideration. The suggestion was received with bursts of applause and acted upon immediately. A few days afterward the senate bill was passed by the House.
Only twice before has the grade of Admiral been conferred on an officer of the United States Navy. Farragut and Porter earned it by their work in the Civil War. Numerous as are the heroes of our naval history, none surpass Dewey, and the country is grateful to the President and Congress that his worth has been recognized.
The fighting in the Philippines is not over, and Dewey remains to secure the territory won by his fearless entry into Manila Bay and the magnificent plan of battle that made him victorious on that first May morning of 1898.
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