May 1, 1898: Dewey destroys Spanish fleet at Manila Bay
On April 22, 1898, the US Asiatic Fleet commanded by Commodore George Dewey was riding at anchor in the British port of Hong Kong. Navy Secretary John Davis Long (LEFT) cabled the commodore that the United States had begun a blockade of Cuban ports, but that war had not yet been officially announced.
On April 25, Dewey (RIGHT) was notified that war had begun and received his sailing orders from Secretary Long : “War has commenced between the United States and Spain. Proceed at once to Philippine Islands. Commence operations at once, particularly against the Spanish fleet. You must capture vessels or destroy. Use utmost endeavors.”
On that day, due to British neutrality regulations, the American squadron was ordered to leave Hong Kong (ABOVE, in 1898). While Dewey’s ships steamed out from the British port, military bands on English vessels played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and their crews cheered the American sailors.
Commodore Dewey violated China’s neutrality and anchored his fleet about 30 miles (50 km) down the Chinese coast, at Mirs Bay, and waited for further instructions. The squadron consisted of 1,744 officers and men, and 9 vessels: the cruisers Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh and Boston, the gunboats Concord and Petrel, the revenue cutter McCulloch, and the transport ships Zafiro and Nanshan.
The Chinese did not bother to protest, and for two days the crews drilled with torpedoes and quick-fire guns, and aimed their eight-inchers at cliffside targets on Kowloon Peninsula.
At 2:00 p.m. on April 27, the American squadron raised anchor and left Mirs Bay for the 628-mile run to the Philippines (1,162 km). The Olympia‘s band blared “El Capitan” and the men shouted, “Remember the Maine!”
On May 1, the squadron destroyed the antiquated Spanish fleet commanded by Admiral Patricio Montojo in Manila Bay; sunk were 8 vessels: the cruisers Reina Cristina and Castilla, gunboats Don Antonio de Ulloa, Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba, Velasco, and Argos.
One hundred sixty-one Spanish sailors died and 210 were wounded, eight Americans were wounded and there was one non-combat related fatality (heart attack).
Admiral Montojo (LEFT) escaped to Manila in a small boat.
Montojo was summoned to Madrid in order to explain his defeat in Cavite before the Supreme Court-Martial. He left Manila in October and arrived in Madrid on Nov. 11, 1898.
By judicial decree of the Spanish Supreme Court-Martial, (March 1899), Montojo was imprisoned. Later, he was absolved by the Court-Martial but was discharged. In an odd change of events, one of those who defended Admiral Montojo was his former adversary at Cavite, Admiral George Dewey. Montojo died in Madrid, Spain, on Sept. 30, 1917 (Dewey died earlier in the same year, on January 16).
The victory gave to the US fleet the complete control of Manila Bay and the naval facilities at Cavite and Sangley Point.
When the news of the victory reached the U.S., Americans cheered ecstatically. Dewey became an instant national hero. Stores soon filled with merchandise bearing his image. Few Americans knew what and where the Philippines were, but the press assured them that the islands were a welcome possession.
President McKinley told his confidant, H.H. Kohlsaat, Editor of the Chicago-Times Herald: “When we received the cable from Admiral Dewey telling of the taking of the Philippines I looked up their location on the globe. I could not have told where those darned islands were within 2,000 miles!” [Some months later he said: “If old Dewey had just sailed away when he smashed that Spanish fleet, what a lot of trouble he would have saved us.”]
On the morning of May 2nd, Dewey notified the Spanish Governor-General that since the underwater Manila-Hong Kong telegraph cable was Manila’s only link to the outside world, it should be considered neutral so that he could use it as well. When the Governor-General refused, Dewey dredged up and cut the cable, ending the direct flow of information out of the Philippines. The cable was operated by the British-owned Eastern Extension Australasia China Telegraph Company. [On May 23, Dewey also cut the company’s Manila-Capiz cable, severing the electronic connection between Manila and the central Philippine islands of Panay, Cebu, and Negros].
The Spanish Governor-General and military commander, General Basilio de Agustin y Davila (LEFT), through the British consul, Edward H. Rawson-Walker, intimated to Dewey his willingness to surrender to the American squadron.
But Dewey could not entertain the proposition because he had no force with which to occupy Manila.
He said, “…I would not for a moment consider the possibility of turning it over to the undisciplined insurgents, who, I feared, might wreak their vengeance upon the Spaniards and indulge in a carnival of loot.”
The Spanish army garrisoned in Manila consisted of about 13,332 soldiers (8,382 Spanish, 4,950 Filipino).
With no ground troops to attack the city, Dewey blockaded the harbor. He also soon became aware of the dual risks of a Spanish relief expedition and intervention by another power.
He cabled Washington and asked for reinforcements.
The US Army started to marshall a force at the Presidio, San Francisco, California, that became the 8th Army Corps, dubbed the Philippine Expeditionary Force, under Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt.
On May 11, 1898, Dewey was promoted to Rear Admiral.
The few major warships left in the eastern Pacific were also ordered to reinforce Dewey. The cruiser Charleston accompanied the first Army expedition, bringing with her a much-needed ammunition resupply. To provide the Asiatic Squadron with heavy firepower, the monitors Monterey and Monadnock left California in June. These slow ships were nearly two months in passage. Monterey was ready in time to help with Manila’s capture, while Monadnock arrived a few days after the Spanish surrender.
1st Colorado Volunteers parading down 17th Street in Denver, Colorado, enroute to San Francisco, California, the embarkation point for the Philippines. Photo was taken on May 15, 1898.