THE "OREGON'S" GREAT VOYAGE.
BY LIEUTENANT EDWARD W. EBERLE, U.S.N.
Continued From Page One
Photo Left:The "Oregon" in
Punta Arenas Harbor.
The ship was now on an absolute war footing: no lights were carried, guns were kept loaded and search-lights ready for use, and the men slept at their battle-stations on deck and in the fighting-tops. We exercised frequently at subcaliber target practice with all the guns of the main and the secondary batteries, the Marietta throwing barrels and boxes overboard for us to fire at as we steamed along. During good weather the Marietta maintained a speed of ten knots, but head winds and seas often reduced her speed to seven or eight knots. After getting clear of Magellan Straits and well north in the Atlantic, we had successfully passed through the stormy region of our long trip--the region of heavy seas and severe gales, where European wiseacres had predicted disaster for our 11,000-ton battle-ship. Now, however, began other dangers, and a long period of anxious days and sleepless nights for the dear ones at home; but as our ship plowed her way north through the Atlantic, straining every nerve to reach Cuba in time for the war, our enthusiastic crew had little thought that the nation's eyes were upon us. At 4:30 A. M., April 30, we signaled the Marietta to follow us to Rio de Janeiro, and then we went ahead at a fifteen-knot gait in order to reach Rio in the afternoon, so that we could see what vessels were in port, cable to Washington, select a secure anchorage, and get coal alongside before dark.
Photo Right: The "Oregon" Meeting
With Heavy Weather.
When we steamed into the beautiful bay of Rio at 4 P.M. on the last day of April, we found there the Nietheroy (purchased from Brazil by the United States and renamed the Buffalo). All hands were very anxious for news, and memorable were the cheers that greeted the news that war had been declared. In a few moments our band was on deck, and between the rounds of cheers the strains of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and of "Hail, Columbia" floated over to the Brazilian fleet and the crowds that lined the wharves. The crew uncovered and stood at attention during the playing of the national anthem, and then followed more cheers and the inspiring battle-cry," Remember the Maine!" a watchword often heard about the decks as the men turned to the coal-barges and worked as they had never worked before. The intense heat and the long and trying working-hours of those days and nights were borne without a murmur. In view of the warning despatches concerning the Temerario, we took every
precaution against any treacherous manceuver in a friendly port. The Oregon steamed far up the bay, and took an unusual anchorage in mid-harbor, so that no vessel could have an excuse for approaching us. Then we informed the Brazilian government and the Brazilian admiral that we expected them to prevent any hostile acts by Spanish vessels within neutral waters, and warned them that in self-protection we should sink any Spanish vessel that should attempt to approach within half a mile of our anchorage. The Brazilian government proved very friendly indeed; and realizing the justice of our demands, the admiral promised to prevent any Spanish vessel from entering the harbor at night, or from approaching our anchorage during the day. Our steam-cutters patrolled all night, the search-lights were in use, and the rapid-fire guns were always manned. The Marietta anchored as a picket-vessel in a position covering the harbor entrance. Her orders were: "If a suspicious-looking vessel is sighted entering the harbor, and if she answers to the description and to the picture furnished by the department, inform her that if she approaches the Oregon within half a mile she will be sunk. Blow siren; turn on search-light, and keep it on her all the time. If she is being escorted to an anchorage by a Brazilian man-of-war, turn on search-light and flash it several times to attract attention. The officer of the deck will answer either signal by three blasts of the whistle, and immediately sound the call for general quarters."
Photo Left: Seas Breaking Over The Forward Deck Of
The "Oregon" When Steaming at 12 1-2 Knots, During
A Gale Off The West Coast Of Patagonia.
At night the Brazilian admiral sent a cruiser outside to patrol the harbor entrance, and with her search-lights and those on the forts it would have been impossible for a Spanish vessel to enter the port unseen. It was even necessary to place sentries over our coal-barges, as Spanish sympathizers with bombs in their possession had been apprehended near them. All the coal was carefully examined as it came on board. The Spanish minister protested against our taking coal and remaining in a neutral port longer than twenty-four hours, but the Brazilian government allowed us ample time for coaling and for making necessary repairs.
On the afternoon of the second day of May came the news of Commodore Dewey's superb victory in Manila Bay. The scene that followed the publication of this news might be likened to an Indian war-dance. Our black, coal-begrimed men fairly went wild. They cheered; they danced in the coal-barges and on the decks, and made the harbor ring; and then the coal came on board more rapidly than ever, while the band played patriotic airs. All afternoon and well into the night there was a combination of music, cheers, and shoveling coal. There were cheers for Commodore Dewey, for the
Asiatic Squadron, and for our captain and officers. Our minister and the American colony came on board and joined in the lovefeast. While the crew kept up their rejoicing, the captain and officers were secretly and carefully considering this important despatch from the Navy Department: "Four Spanish armored cruisers, heavy and fast, three torpedo-boat destroyers, sailed April 29 from Cape de Verde to the west, destination unknown. Beware of and study carefully the situation. Must be left to your discretion entirely to avoid this fleet and to reach the United States by West Indies. You can go when and where you desire. Nietheroy and the Marietta subject to the orders of yourself."
The Rio papers were filled with startling rumors about Admiral Cervera's fleet and the little Temerario, and each day reported the enemy's fleet awaiting us outside the harbor. On May 3 the official despatch, "Inform the department of your plans. The Spanish fleet in Philippine Islands annihilated by our naval force on the Asiatic station," caused a repetition of the preceding day's enthusiasm. Our reply to the department was as follows: "The receipt of telegram of May 3 is acknowledged. Will proceed in obedience to orders I have received. Keeping near the Brazilian coast, as the Navy Department considers the Spanish fleet from Cape de Verde Islands superior, will be unsuitable. I can coal from the Nietheroy, if necessity compels it, to reach the United States. If the Nictheroy delays too much I shall hasten passage, leaving her with the Marietta. Every department of the Oregon in fine condition."
Photo Right: Boiler-Room Of The "Oregon."
Then, at seven o'clock in the morning of May 4, the Oregon and the Marietta steamed majestically out of the harbor of Rio. Many of the good people of Rio were confident that we were going to certain destruction, for the papers had led them to believe that Admiral Cervera was awaiting us outside, and the Brazilian admiral even sent a cruiser out ahead of us in order to prevent an engagement in neutral waters.
At the request of the government of Brazil, we had agreed to sail twelve hours in advance of the Nictheroy. We steamed about fifty miles from Rio, and then back again to meet the Nictheroy. We lay off the harbor entrance all night, steaming away before daylight in order to prevent detection; but, to our dismay, the Nietheroy did not come out, and so we sent the Marietta back in the direction of Rio to wait another twelve hours. After waiting thirty-six hours in all, we sighted the Nietheroy coming out with the Marietta; but as she could not make more than seven knots, the question arose whether we should remain with this slow vessel or continue northward at high speed. The Oreqon would be an important addition to Admiral Sampson's fleet; the department had been urging us to make a quick passage; the enemy's fleet was supposed to be seeking us, and we felt that we could make a better fight single-handed than if accompanied by slow vessels that would have to be protected. All these considerations were weighed, and our gallant captain decided to part company with the two vessels, and to proceed north at full speed. So in the middle of the night we signaled the Marietta: "Proceed with the Nictheroy to Bahia, and cable the department," which message she answered with "Good-by and good luck." Then we went ahead full speed.
The following day, when upon the high seas, all hands were called aft on the quarterdeck, and the captain read to the men a portion of the message, which told that the Spanish fleet was supposed to be in search of the Oregon. This was followed by a scene of great enthusiasm, five hundred men joining in an outburst of cheers for the Oregon, her captain, and her officers. Every preparation was made to meet the enemy's fleet. The ship was "cleared for action." All woodwork was torn out. Even the expensive mahogany pilot-house was reduced to a skeleton in order to prevent its being set on fire by Spanish shell. The ship was painted the dull gray war color, and the graceful white vessel that had steamed out of Rio harbor was transformed into an ugly lead-colored fighter. To lessen the danger of conflagration, preparations were made to throw overboard all our boats upon sighting the enemy's fleet. Everybody was eager for active duty at any odds.
Before leaving Rio, our men had purchased a large supply of red ribbon, of which they made cap-bands, bearing in letters cut out of brass the inspiring words," Remember the Maine"; and this legend the cap of every Oregon man bore throughout the war.
We now steamed to the northward along the coast of Brazil, intending to touch at Bahia or Pernambuco to communicate with the Navy Department. One forenoon was spent at target practice, all the guns being fired, and the shooting being excellent.
On May 8, after dark, we anchored in the harbor of Bahia, and early next morning sent the following cable message to Washington: "Much delayed by the Marietta and the Nictheroy. Left them near Cape Frio,with orders to come home or beach, if necessity compels it, to avoid capture. The Oregon could steam fourteen knots for hours, and in a running fight might beat off and even cripple the Spanish fleet. With present amount of coal on board will be in good fighting trim, and could reach West Indies. If more should be taken here I could reach Key West; but, in that case, belt-armor, cellulose belt, and protective deck would be below water-line. Whereabouts of Spanish fleet requested." We made arrangements for coal, but in the evening this answer to the captain's message was received: "Proceed at once to West Indies without further stop Brazil. No authentic news the Spanish fleet. Avoid if possible. We believe that you will defeat it if met."
And then in the middle of the night the ship went to sea, standing well off the coast in order to make a wide sweep around Cape St. Roque, where Admiral Cervera's fleet was supposed to be awaiting us. Captain Clark's plan of battle was as follows: Upon sighting the Spanish fleet, we were to sound to general quarters, go ahead full speed under forced draft, and head away from the enemy. The purpose of this manGeuver was to "string out" the enemy's vessels in their chase after us. When their leading vessel should approach within close range, we were to turn on her and destroy her with our terrific broadsides, and then devote our attention to the other vessels in succession. We were confident that not more than two of these vessels could equal our speed; and by making
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