Admiral George Dewey

Vermont In The Spanish American War

"Commodore Dewey assumed command of the Asiatic station January 3, 1898. The ships were at the time scattered along the coasts of China and Korea. On February 25 the following secret orders were cabled to Dewey: 'Order squadron, except Monocacy, to Hong-Kong. Keep full of coal. In event of declaration of war with Spain, your duty will be to see that the Spanish squadron does not have the Asiatic coast, and then offensive operations in Philippine Islands. Keep Olympia until further orders." This despatch was signed 'Roosevelt', then assistant secretary of the navy. On the following day another despatch was sent to Dewey, and also to the commanders of all our squadrons: Keep full of coal, the best that can be had. The Olympia, Dewey's flag-ship, had been ordered home for repairs, but this order was revoked in view of the seriousness of the situation.

As soon as the Spanish minister withdrew from Washington, a despatch was sent to Sampson at Key West directing him to blockade the coast of Cuba immediately from Cardenas to Bahia Honda, and to blockade Cienfuegos if it was considered advisable. On April 29, Admiral Cevera's division of the Spanish fleet left the Cape de Verde Islands for an unknown destination, and disappeared for two weeks from the knowledge of the American authorities. This fleet was composed of four armored cruisers, the Infanta Maria Teresa, Cristobal Colon, Oquendo, and Vizcaya, and three torpedo-boat destroyers. It appearance in American waters was eagerly looked for, and interest in the war became intense.

While this fleet was on its way across the Atlantic, a great battle was fought across the Pacific all unknown to the American people, which was destined to open up a new world to them. Admiral Dewey was at Hong-Kong where his ships had been gathered. On April 7 he was ordered to land all woodwork and stores not necessary for operations; and on April 21 he was informed that the naval forces on the Atlantic were blockading Cuba and that war might be declared at any moment; His ships were at once painted slate-color. On the 24th, the day that Spain declared war, Great Britain issued a proclamation of neutrality, and Dewey at once prepared to leave for Mirs Bay, about thirty miles north of Hong-Kong. On the same day the now celebrated cablegram was sent him by the secretary of the navy: 'War has commenced between the United States and Spain. Proceed at once to Philippine Islands. Commence operations at once, particularly against Spanish fleet. you must capture vessels or destroy. Use utmost endeavors.' These were the last instructions Dewey received. His squadron left Mirs Bay, April 27, for the Philippines, and three days later Luzon was sighted. As Dewey had heard that the Spanish admiral proposed to take position at Subig Bay, a few miles north of the entrance to Manila Bay, he directed his course thither, but no signs of the enemy were to be seen. Admiral Montojo had indeed taken his squadron to Subig Bay, but, finding that the modern guns provided for its defence had not been mounted, he left twenty-four hours before Dewey arrived, and returned to Manila Bay, where he stationed his ships under the guns of Cavité. Dewey's squadron was superior to that of Montojo, but the Spanish fleet had the support of the shore batteries. Dewey's fighting force was four cruisers and two gunboats, while the Spanish admiral had two cruisers, eleven gunboats of antiquated type, and a number of smaller craft.

At 11:30 P. M., April 30, 1898, the American squadron entered the Boca Grande, or south channel, leading into the Bay of Manila, steaming at eight knots, the flag-ship Olympia in the lead. When about half through the shore batteries opened fire, but none of the ships was hit; the fire was returned by the Boston and the McCulloch. The squadron continued its even course across the bay, and at daybreak was off Manila, near enough to see the shipping. At 5:15 A. M. they were fired upon by three batteries at Manila and two at Cavité and by the Spanish fleet, which was anchored on a line running almost due east from Cavité. Dewey's squadron quickly turned to the south and proceeded to the attack, the Olympia in the lead, followed at distance by the Baltimore, Raleigh, Petrel, Concord, and Boston. When they had arrived within fifty-six hundred yards, Dewey turned to the captain of the Olympia and said, colly, 'You may fire when you're ready, Gridley,' With quick response one of the eight-inch guns in the forward turret sent forth its charge, and the battle of Manila Bay had begun. Three times Dewey led his ships to the westward and twice to the eastward in front of the Spanish line and shore batteries, keeping up a continuous and accurate fire at ranges varying from five thousand to two thousand yards. The spanish ships and batteries returned the fire vigorously but ineffectively.

At 7:35 A. M. the squadron ceased firing and stood out into the bay. When out of range, Dewey ordered, 'Let the people go to breakfast.' This movement was made under the erroneous impression that the ammuciation was getting low in some of the batteries. The opportunity was taken to let the men, who had had nothing but coffee at 4 A. M., refresh themselves. The batteries at Manila had kept up a steady fire, but at this point Dewey sent a message to the governor-general to the effect that if this was continued the city would be shelled; whereupon the Manila batteries ceased firing. At 11:16 A. M. the squadron returned to complete its work, the Baltimore leading the column. The duel that followed between the Baltimore and the shore batteries is described as the most picturesque scene of the battle. The American fire was overwhelming, and the Spanish flagship and most of the fleet were soon in flames. At 12:40 the squadron withdrew and anchored off Manila, leaving the Petrel to complete the destruction of the smaller gunboats which were behind the point of Cavité. In this remarkable battle the American ships escaped all but slight injury, and only seven men were slightly wounded. On the Spanish side ten ships were destroyed, three batteries silenced, and 381 men killed, besides numbers wounded.

The McCulloch was sent post-haste to Hong-Kong to cable thee news to Washington, where it was received early on the morning of May 6. The public had known little of Dewey's movements or instructions, and the suddenness and unexpected character of the news greatly heightened the enthisiasm with which it was received. The eyes of the nation were at once turned to the Orient, and people who had to search closely on their maps in order to find the Philippine Islands were soon discussing glibly the commercial and strategic importance of the group. President McKinley at once appointed Dewey acting rear-admiral, and recommended that he be promoted to the grade of admiral and receive the thanks of Congress.

The secret of Dewey's success in this engagement--a victory gained with no loss to him--is to be found in the steadiness and precision of the fire from his ships, which was the reult of continued and skilful training; in the undaunted courage and suberb morale of the officers and men of our navy; and, most important of all, in the inspiring presence of a leader possessing mature judgment and unswerving strength of purpose, a disciplinarian and a fighter, one who had learned from Farragut the lesson, "Be thoroughly prepared before you go ahead and then fight enemy wherever he is to be found.'

In spite of his great victory, Dewey's position was critical. A few days after the battle he cabled the department that he could take Manila at any time, but did not have the men to occupy it. Ammunition and men were forwarded as soon as possible, but with the utmost endeavors they did not leave San Francisco before May 21. For more than two months Dewey was left without reinforcements. The most serious cause for embarrassment was the presence in Manila Bay of the warships of European powers which were assigned to duty there after the destruction of the Spanish fleet. Germany, whose interests in the Philippines were very slight, sent five men-of-war, Great Britain three, France one, and Japan one. The German force was stronger than Dewey's, and displayed open sympathy for the Spaniards, committing breaches of international and naval etiquette. They undertook to disregard the blockage and to land provisions. Dewey promptly sent his flag-lieutenant, Brumby, to present his compliments to Rear-Admiral Diederichs, to inform him of his "extraordinary disregard of the usual courtesis of naval intercourse," and to tell him that 'if he wants a fight he can have it right now.' The German Admiral at once disavowed the act, and thereafter treated the Americans with more consideration. No satisfactory explanation of Admiral Diederichs' conduct has ever been given.1

"After a stubborn fight in which the enemy suffered great loss, their vessels were destroyed or completely disabled, and the water battery at Cavit&eamp; silenced.

By direction of the President, Secretary Long sent the following cable dispatch to Commodore Dewey:

"Washington, May 7.---Dewey, Manila: The President, in the name of the American people, thanks you and your officers and men for your splendid achievement and overwhelming victory.

In recognition he has appointed you Acting Rear Admiral, and will recommend a vote of thanks to you by Congress.


Message of President McKinley to Congress

Executive Mansion

Washington, D. C., May 9, 1898

"To the Congress of the United States:

"On the 24th of April I directed the Secretary of the Navy to telegraph orders to Commodore George Dewey, of the United States Navy, commanding the Asiatic Squadron, then lying in the port of Hong Kong, to proceed forthwith to the Philippine Islands, there to commence operations, and engage the assembled Spanish fleet.

"Promptly obeying that order, the United States Squadron, consisting of the flagship Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh, Boston, Concord and Petrel, and the revenue cutter McCullough, as an auxiliary despatch boat, entered the harbor of Manila at daybreak on May 1, and immediately engaged the entire Spanish fleet of 11 ships, which were under the protection of the fire of the land forts.

"Of our brave officers and men not one was lost, and only eight injured, and those slightly. All of our ships escaped any serious damage.

"By the 4th of May Commodore Dewey, had taken possession of the naval station at Cavit&eamp;, destroying the fortifications there and at the entrance of the bay, and paroling their garrisons. The waters of the bay are under his complete control. He has established hospitals within the American lines, where 250 of the Spanish sick and wounded are assisted and protected.

"The magnitude of this victory can hardly be measured by the ordinary standards of naval warfare. Outweighing any material advantage is the moral effect of this initial success.

"At this unsurpassed achievement, the great heart of our nation throbs, not with boasting or with greed of conquest, but with deep gratitude that his triumph has come in a just cause, and that by the grace of God an effective step has thus been taken toward the attainment of the wished-for-peace.

"To those whose skill, courage and devotion have won the fight, to the gallant commander and the brave officers and men who aided him, our country owes an incalculable debt.

"Feeling as our people feel, and speaking in their name, I at once sent a message to Commodore Dewey, thanking him and his officer and men for their splendid achievement and overwhelming victory, and informing him that I had appointed him an acting rear admiral.

"I now recommend that following our national precedents, and expressing the fervent gratitude of every patriotic heart, the thanks of Congress be given to Acting Rear Admiral George Dewey, of the United States Navy, of his highly distinguished conduct in the conflict with the enemy, and to the officers and men under his command for their gallantry in the destruction of the enemy's fleet and the capture of the enemy's fortifications in the Bay of Manila.


1Vol. 25, America as a World Power, J. H. Latan&eamp;

Joint resolution tendering the thanks of Congress to Commodore George Dewey, U. S. N., and to the officers and men of the squadron under his command:

"Resolved: By the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that in pursuance of the recommendation of the president, made in accordance with the provisions of section 1108, revised statutes, the thanks of Congress and of the American people are hereby tendered to Commodore George Dewey, U. S. N., Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Squadron, of his highly distinguished conduct with the enemy, as displayed by him in the destruction of the Spanish fleet and batteries in the harbor of Manila, Philippine Islands, May 1, 1898.

"Section 2.---That the thanks of Congross and the American people are hereby extended, through Commodore Dewey, to the officers and men under his command, for the gallantry and skill exhibited by them on that occasion.

"Section 3.---It is further resolved, that the President of the United States be requested to cause this resolution to be communicated to Commodore Dewey, and through him to the officers and men under his command.


President of the Senate."

Thus the first great American victory was won in the Spanish-American War by a Vermonter.

Commodore George Dewey was made a full Admiral by act of Congress on March 2nd, 1899.

[ Vermont In The Spanish American War ]