Lt. Hobson and the Sinking of the Merrimac at Santiago, Cuba, 1898
As Spanish patrol boats scoured the dark surface of Santiago Harbor with searchlights, rifles at the ready,
eight sailors clung precariously to a piece of a wooden catamaran, trying not to be seen or heard.
The men had just escaped with their lives, surviving gunfire, explosions,
and the sinking of their ship as they carried out one of the most dangerous missions ever attempted by a US Navy crew.
Fear of capture or being shot rivaled dying from exposure or shark attack, but they would live to tell the tale.
Although their mission had failed,
the story of their courage would take its rightful place among the heroic tales that are the grist of United States Naval history and tradition.
Newspaper headlines across the United States soon heralded their daring.
Towns, babies, a waltz, and a cigar would be named after the young lieutenant who had planned and carried out the raid.
To the American citizenry, Lieutenant Hobson would become the third member of a gallant triumvirate of Spanish American War heroes,
achieving the heroic stature of Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and Admiral George Dewey.
In the early days of the war with Spain, the US Navy’s primary task was to blockade the sea approaches to Cuba and Puerto Rico,
paying particul ar attention to ports the Spanish navy might use to resupply its army.
On 29 April 1898, Naval Intelligence alerted North Atlantic Fleet commander, Rear Admiral William T.
Sampson, that a contingent of Spanish warships, four armored cruisers and three torpedo boat destroyers under.
The command of Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete, had departed the Cape Verde Islands with the Caribbean as a probable destination.
The Navy’s immediate objective was to confront this force at sea and prevent it from disrupting
American military operations in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
After several port ca lls on the periphery of the Caribbean, Cervera’s squadron steamed into the harbor of Santiago de Cuba on 19 May 1898.
Sampson had concentrated his blockading ships at the more likely destinations ofHavana, San Juan, Matanzas, and Cienfuegos, where the Spanish might readily bunker and reprovision.
By excluding Santiago from the blockade, he enabled Cervera to avoid a confrontation at sea.
The presence of Spanish warships at Santiago de Cuba was not confirmed until 29 May.
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