CHAPTER VIII. Dewey And Manila Day

War had begun, but the majority of the American people had hardly considered seriously how they were to fight. Fortunately their navy already existed, and it was upon it that they had to rely in the opening moments of hostility. Ton for ton, gun for gun, it stood on fairly even terms with that of Spain. Captain, later Admiral, Mahan, considered that the loss of the Maine shifted a slight paper advantage from the United States to Spain. In personnel, however, the American Navy soon proved its overwhelming superiority, which was due not solely to innate ability but also to sound professional training.

The Secretary of the Navy, John D. Long, had a thorough appreciation of values. Although Congress had not provided for a general staff, he himself appointed a Naval War Board, which served many of the same purposes. Upon this Board he appointed Rear Admiral Sicard, who but for ill health would have commanded the main fleet; Captain A. S. Crowninshield; and, most important, Captain A. T. Mahan, whose equal as master of the theory and history of naval warfare no navy of the world could show. The spirit of the fighting force was speedily exhibited by such exploits as that of Lieutenant Victor Blue in boldly plunging into the Cuban wilderness to obtain information regarding the position of Admiral Cervera's fleet, though in this dangerous sort of work the individual palm must be given to Lieutenant A. S. Rowan of the army, whose energy and initiative in overcoming obstacles are immortalized in Elbert Hubbard's "Message to Garcia," the best American parable of efficient service since the days of Franklin.

Efficient, however, as was the navy, it was far from being a complete fighting force. Its fighting vessels were totally unsupplied with that cloud of servers - colliers, mother ships, hospital ships, and scouts - which we now know must accompany a fleet. The merchant marine, then at almost its lowest point, was not in a position entirely to fill the need. The United States had no extensive store of munitions. Over all operations there hung a cloud of uncertainty. Except for the short campaign of the Chino-Japanese War of 1894, modern implements of sea war remained untested. Scientific experiment, valuable and necessary as it was, did not carry absolute conviction regarding efficient service. Would the weapons of offense or defense prove most effective? Accidents on shipboard and even the total destruction of vessels had been common to all navies during times of peace. That the Maine had not been a victim of the failure of her own mechanism was not then certain. Such misgivings were in the minds of many officers. Indeed, a report of the total disappearance of two battling fleets would not have found the watchful naval experts of the world absolutely incredulous. So much the higher, therefore, was the heroism of those who led straight to battle that complex and as yet unproved product of the brain - the modern warship.

While negotiations with Spain were in their last stages, at the orders of Secretary Long a swift vessel left San Francisco for Honolulu. There its precious cargo was transferred to the warship Baltimore, which then made hurriedly for Hongkong. It contained the ammunition which was absolutely necessary if Commodore George Dewey, in command of the Asiatic squadron, was to play a part in the war. The position of his squadron, even after it received its ammunition, was indeed singular. After the war began, it was unable to obtain coal or other supplies from any neutral port and at the same time it was equally unable to remain in any such port without being interned for the duration of the war. There remained but one course of action. It must not be forgotten that the Spanish empire stretched eastward as well as westward. Already William Pitt, when he had foreseen in 1760 the entrance of Spain into the war which England was then waging with France, had planned expeditions against both Cuba and the Philippines. Now in 1898 the Navy Department of the United States, anticipating war, saw in the proximity of the American squadron to the Spanish islands of the Philippines an opportunity rather than a problem. Commodore George Dewey, the commander of the Asiatic squadron, was fully prepared to enter into the plan. As early as the seventies, when the Virginius affair* threatened war between Spain and the United States, Dewey, then a commander on the west coast of Mexico, had proposed, in case war were declared, that he sail for the Philippines and capture Manila. Now he was prepared to seek in the hostile ports of those islands the liberty that international law forbade him in the neutral ports of Asia. How narrow a margin of time he had in which to make this bold stroke may be realized from the fact that the Baltimore, his second vessel in size, reached Hongkong on the 22d of April and went into dry dock on the 23d, and that on the following day the squadron was ordered either to leave the port or to intern.

* A dispute between the United States and Spain, arising out of the capture of the Virginius, an American vessel engaged in filibustering off the coast of Cuba, and the execution at Santiago of the captain and a number of the crew and passengers. The vessel and the surviving passengers were finally restored by the Spanish authorities, who agreed to punish the officials responsible for the illegal acts.

The little armada of six vessels with which Dewey started for the Philippines was puny enough from the standpoint of today; yet it was strong enough to cope with the larger but more old-fashioned Spanish fleet, or with the harbor defenses unless these included mines - of whose absence Dewey was at the moment unaware. If, however, the Spanish commander could unite the strength of his vessels and that of the coast defenses, Dewey might find it impossible to destroy the Spanish fleet. In that case, the plight of the American squadron would be precarious, if its ultimate self-destruction or internment did not become necessary.

Commodore Dewey belonged to that school of American naval officers who combine the spirit of Farragut's "Damn the torpedoes" with a thorough knowledge of the latest scientific devices. Though he would take all precautions, he would not allow the unknown to hold him back. After a brief rendezvous for tuning up at Mirs Bay near Hongkong on the Chinese coast, Dewey steered straight for Subig Bay in the Philippines, where he expected to meet his opponent. Finding the Bay empty, he steamed on without pause and entered the Boca Grande, the southern channel leading to Manila Bay, at midnight of the 30th of April. Slowly, awaiting daylight, but steadily he approached Manila. Coming within three miles of the city, he discovered the Spanish fleet, half a dozen miles to the southeast, at the naval station of Cavite. Still without a pause, the American squadron moved to the attack.

The Spanish Admiral Montojo tried, though ineffectually, to come to close quarters, for his guns were of smaller caliber than those of the American ships, but he was forced to keep his vessels for the most part in line between the Americans and the shore. Commodore Dewey sailed back and forth five times, raking the Spanish ships and the shore batteries with his fire. Having guns of longer range than those of the Spaniards, he could have kept out of their fire and slowly hammered them to pieces; but he preferred a closer position where he could use more guns and therefore do quicker work. How well he was justified in taking this risk is shown by the fact that no man was killed on the American fleet that day and only a few were wounded. After a few hours' fighting, with a curious interval when the Americans withdrew and breakfasted, Dewey completed the destruction or capture of the Spanish fleet, and found himself the victor with his own ships uninjured and in full fighting trim. By the 3d of May, the naval station at Cavite and the batteries at the entrance of Manila Bay were in the hands of Commodore Dewey, and the Asiatic squadron had wrested a safe and commodious harbor from the enemy.

Secure for the moment and free, Dewey found himself in as precarious a strategic position as has ever confronted a naval officer. With his six war vessels and 1707 men, he was unsupported and at least a month's voyage from America. It was two months, indeed, before any American troops or additional ships reached him. Meanwhile the Spaniards held Manila, and a Spanish fleet, formidable under the circumstances, began to sail for the Philippines. Nevertheless Dewey proceeded to blockade Manila, which was besieged on the land side by the Filipino insurgents under Aguinaldo. This siege was indeed an advantage to the Americans as it distressed the enemy and gave an opportunity to obtain supplies from the mainland. Dewey, however, placed no confidence in Aguinaldo, and further was instructed by Secretary Long on the 26th of May as follows: "It is desirable, as far as possible, and consistent for your success and safety, not to have political alliances with the insurgents or any faction in the islands that would incur liability to maintain their cause in the future." Meanwhile foreign nations were rushing vessels to this critical spot in the Pacific. On the 17th of June, Dewey sent a cable, which had to be relayed to Hongkong by boat, reporting that there were collected, in Manila Bay, a French and a Japanese warship, two British, and three German. Another German man-of-war was expected, which would make the German squadron as strong as the American.

The presence of so large a German force, it was felt, could hardly fail to have definite significance, and therefore caused an anxiety at home which would, indeed, have been all the keener had Admiral Dewey not kept many of his troubles to himself. European sympathy was almost wholly with Spain. The French, for instance, had invested heavily in Spanish bonds, many of which were secured on the Cuban revenues. There was also perhaps some sense of solidarity among the Latin races in Europe and a feeling that the United States was a colossus willfully exerting itself against a weak antagonist. It was not likely that this feeling was strong enough to lead to action, but at least during that summer of 1898 it was somewhat unpleasant for American tourists in Paris, and an untoward episode might easily have brought unfriendly sentiment to a dangerous head. Austria had never been very friendly to the United States, particularly since the execution of the Emperor Maximilian in Mexico, which his brother Francis Joseph believed the United States could have prevented, and was tied to Spain by the fact that the Queen Regent was an Austrian Hapsburg.

It was evident, moreover, that in Europe there was a vague but nevertheless real dread of the economic potentialities of the United States - a fear which led, in the next few years, to the suggestion that the American invasion of trade should be resisted by a general European economic organization which would even overrule the natural tendency of powers to group themselves into hostile camps. In 1898 it seemed possible that the United States was consciously planning to become a world military power also, and a feeling, not exactly like Blaine's "America for the Americans" but rather of "the world for Europeans," gathered force to meet any attempt at American expansion.

Even before war had broken out between Spain and the United States, this sentiment had sufficiently crystallized to result in a not quite usual diplomatic action. On April 6, 1898, the representatives of Great Britain, Germany, France, Austro-Hungary, Russia, and Italy, presented a note to the Government of the United States making "a pressing appeal to the feelings of humanity and moderation of the President and of the American people in their differences with Spain. They earnestly hope that further negotiations will lead to an agreement which, while securing the maintenance of peace, will afford all necessary guarantees for the reestablishment of order in Cuba."

Of all the European powers none was more interested than Germany in the situation in the Western Hemisphere. There seems to be no doubt that the Kaiser made the remark to an Englishman with reference to the Spanish American War: "If I had had a larger fleet I would have taken Uncle Sam by the scruff of his neck." Though the reason for Germany's attitude has never been proven by documents, circumstantial evidence points convincingly to the explanation. The quest for a colonial empire, upon which Bismarck had embarked rather reluctantly and late, had been taken up with feverish zeal by William II, his successor in the direction of German policy. Not content with the commercial conquests which German trade was making in all countries of the earth, the Kaiser wanted a place in the sun exclusively his own. The world seemed, however, as firmly closed to the late-comer in search of colonies as it was open to him as the bearer of cheap and useful goods. Such remnants of territory as lay on the counter he quickly seized, but they hardly made an empire.

It is not, therefore, a daring conjecture that the Kaiser was as carefully watching the decrepit empire of Spain as he was the traditional sick man of Europe, the empire of Turkey. In 1898 revolutions were sapping both the extremities of the Spanish dominions. The Kaiser, while he doubtless realized that Cuba would not fall to him, in all probability expected that he would be able to get the Philippines. Certain it is that at the close of the Spanish American War he bought all the remaining Spanish possessions in the Pacific. If such had been his expectations with regard to the Philippines, the news of Dewey's victory must have brought him a bitter disappointment, while at the same time the careless and indiscreet remark of an American official to certain Germans - "We don't want the Philippines; why don't you take them?" - may well have given him a feeling that perhaps the question was still open.

Under such circumstances, with Europe none too well-disposed and the Kaiser watching events with a jealous eye, it was very important to the United States not to be without a friend. In England sympathy for America ran strong and deep. The British Government was somewhat in alarm over the political solitude in which Great Britain found herself, even though its head, Lord Salisbury, described the position as one of "splendid isolation." The unexpected reaction of friendliness on the part of Great Britain which had followed the Venezuela affair continued to augment, and relations between the two countries were kept smooth by the new American Ambassador, John Hay, whom Queen Victoria described as "the most interesting of all the ambassadors I have known." More important still, in Great Britain alone was there a public who appreciated the real sentiment of humanity underlying the entrance of the United States into the war with Spain; and this public actually had some weight in politics. The people of both Great Britain and the United States were easily moved to respond with money and personal service to the cry of suffering anywhere in the world. Just before the Spanish American War, Gladstone had made his last great campaign protesting against the new massacres in Armenia; and in the United States the Republican platform of 1896 had declared that "the massacres in Armenia have aroused the deep sympathy and just indignation of the American people, and we believe that the United States should exercise all the influence it can properly exert to bring these atrocities to an end."

John Hay wrote to Henry Cabot Lodge, of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, April 5, 1898, as follows: "For the first time in my life I find the drawing-room sentiment altogether with us. If we wanted it - which, of course, we do not - we could have the practical assistance of the British Navy - on the do ut des principle, naturally." On the 25th of May he added: "It is a moment of immense importance, not only for the present, but for all the future. It is hardly too much to say the interests of civilization are bound up in the direction the relations of England and America are to take in the next few months." Already on the 15th of May, Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, had said to the Birmingham Liberal Unionists: "What is our next duty? It is to establish and to maintain bonds of permanent amity with our kinsmen across the Atlantic. There is a powerful and a generous nation.... Their laws, their literature, their standpoint upon every question are the same as ours."

In Manila Harbor, where Dewey lay with his squadron, these distant forces of European colonial policy were at work. The presence of representative foreign warships to observe the maintenance of the blockade was a natural and usual naval circumstance. The arrival of two German vessels therefore caused no remark, although they failed to pay the usual respects to the blockading squadron. On the 12th of May a third arrived and created some technical inconvenience by being commanded by an officer who outranked Commodore Dewey. A German transport which was in the harbor made the total number of German personnel superior to that of the Americans, and the arrival of the Kaiser on the 12th of June gave the Germans distinct naval preponderance.

The presence of so powerful a squadron in itself closely approached an international discourtesy. Disregarding the laws of blockade, as Dewey, trained in the Civil War blockade of the South, interpreted them, the German officers were actively familiar both with the Spanish officials of Manila and with the insurgents. Finally they ensconced themselves in the quarantine station at the entrance of the Bay, and Admiral Diedrichs took up land quarters. Further, they interfered between the insurgents and the Spaniards outside of Manila Bay. In the controversy between Diedrichs and Dewey which grew out of these difficulties, Captain Chichester, commanding the British squadron, supported Dewey's course unqualifiedly and, moreover, let it be clearly known that, in the event of hostilities, the British vessels would take their stand with the Americans.