On this date in 1898, Rear Admiral William T. Sampson’s squadron destroyed the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Santiago, Cuba. The article Sampson and Shafter at Santiago, by Commander Louis J. Gulliver, U.S. Navy, which detailed the battle and aftermath, was originally published in The Proceedings in June, 1939.
SAMPSON AND SHAFTER AT SANTIAGO
The inherent and ancient difficulties involved in joint operations of army and naval forces in war have never been more unhappily illustrated than in the war with Spain when army troops under General William R. Shafter, U. S. Army, encircled Santiago, and the Fleet commanded by Admiral William T. Sampson blockaded the port during the months of June and July, 1898. Here where success of joint action depended vitally on the sine qua non of swift and sure communications and the maximum in co-operation, one observes evidence of lamentably poor communications from shore to ship and vice versa, a condition that can be understood and partially excused. Not so easy to account for, however, are the relations-not making for co-operation that existed between General Shafter and Admiral Sampson. It is with these relations, as they are revealed in the communications between the two officers, that this article is concerned.
The question most likely to puzzle the reader as he examines the Sampson-Shafter communications, as each strove, for the most part at cross purposes with the other, to capture or destroy the enemy, is why the two commanders in chief neglected to employ the conference method for composing their radically differing opinions instead of standing apart and firing letters, telegrams, telephone messages, and bridge signals at each other. They conferred only once during the period of hostilities and then only for a short time on the day that Shafter arrived in Cuba, before co-operative joint action could be effectively got under way.
The reasons why the two commanders never conferred thereafter are not easy to understand. Only a few miles of relatively smooth water on which no enemy could threaten separated the General’s headquarters tent at Siboney on the coast and the Admiral’s blockading station outside Santiago. Conceivably, General Shafter could have come out to the flagship, though the boat trip for one of his reported excessive weight might be considered hazardous. Absences from the fleet to engage in conferences on shore were forbidden to Admiral Sampson at the outset by the exigencies of the situation; he never left the blockading line but once and that, the fates alone can explain, was on the morning of July 3, when he set out in the ‘ flagship New York for Siboney to confer with General Shafter. At that precise moment, the Spanish Admiral Cervera decided to lead his fleet out of Santiago Harbor.