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Builders of Our Country: Book II by  Gertrude van Duyn Southworth


 

 

GEORGE DEWEY

"THE HERO OF MANILA"

[256] THE splendid battleship Maine rode peacefully at anchor in Havana Harbor. Over her floated the stars and stripes. Cuba was in revolt against Spain, and the little island was suffering tortures from Spanish cruelties; but the United States battleship was there to take no part in the war. She was a neutral vessel, merely paying a visit to the harbor.


[Illustration]

HOW BATTLESHIPS HAVE CHANGED IN HALF A CENTURY: THE "MAINE" AND THE OLD "CONSTITUTION".

It was the 15th of February, 1898, and the officers and sailors aboard the Maine were performing their daily duties. Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion, and two hundred and sixty-six American seamen were killed. The Maine had been blown to pieces, and all that was left of the splendid battleship was a mass of wreckage.

What caused this frightful disaster? Who was responsible for the dastardly deed? Was the explosion an accident, or was it a piece of Spanish treachery? Americans north, south, east, and west clamored for an explanation. A Court of Inquiry was appointed to sift the matter to the bottom and find the cause. And after many days came the report, "The Maine was destroyed by the explosion of a submarine mine."

It was late in March when the Court of Inquiry made its report. In April, Congress resolved to recognize the [257] independence of Cuba, and demanded that Spain give the Cubans their liberty.

Spain refused. Then the United States resolved to take up arms in Cuba's behalf. Troops were called out. Ships were sent to blockade the Cuban ports. President McKinley telegraphed Commodore George Dewey, in command of our Asiatic squadron at Hong Kong, China, to go at once to Manila and to capture or destroy the Spanish fleet guarding that port.

With all dispatch Dewey started for the Philippine Islands, and the last night of April saw his six war vessels outlined in the moonlight off Manila Bay.

Before them opened the harbor, planted with submarine mines and protected by Spanish batteries. In the harbor lay the fleet Dewey had come to "capture or destroy." And he meant to do it, cost what it might. Through the darkness of the night, the moonlight having waned, his flagship, the Olympia, led the way. By daylight the ships were off Manila and were fired upon by [258] five batteries and the Spanish fleet. Two mines exploded ahead of Dewey's flagship, but failed to harm it.

In line, one behind another, our ships advanced to battle. Commodore Dewey was on the flagship's bridge. At last the moment of attack came, and Captain Gridley heard him say, "You may fire when ready, Gridley."


[Illustration]

DEWEY ON THE BRIDGE OF THE "OLYMPIA".

Our squadron opened fire at 5:41 that morning. About 7:30 the signal went up to stop firing and to withdraw from ac tion. What had happened? The Commodore had tried to find out how many rounds. of ammunition were left on his ship, and by mistake had been told that only fifteen remained. That could not be! But to make sure, the ships were ordered to withdraw from the battle. While the crews had breakfast, the officers consulted and learned that all was right with the ammunition.

Then back to the battle went the American ships, and in an hour and a half the Spaniards ceased firing. Their ships had been sunk, burned, or riddled; and Dewey's work was done. Throughout May and June the war went [259] on. Then in July an American fleet destroyed another Spanish fleet in the harbor of Santiago. And a few days later the city of Santiago was surrendered to an American army. The Spaniards had now had enough and sought terms of peace. The treaty which closed the war gave the Cubans their freedom and ceded to the United States Porto Rico and the Philippine Islands, for which we agreed to pay $20,000,000.

In the rough and tumble of a village school, the stricter discipline of a military preparatory school, and the still more severe training of the united States Naval Academy at Annapolis, George Dewey received his education.

He was graduated from Annapolis in 1858. Three years later came the Civil War. And under Farragut, Lieutenant Dewey was assigned to the warship Mississippi and had a share in the attack on New Orleans.

One year after the battle of New Orleans, eight American vessels made their way up the Mississippi River and tried to weather the deadly fire of nearly four miles of Southern batteries. It was the attack upon Port Hudson. The flagship and another passed the batteries safely. At last the Mississippi was almost by. She put on steam and shot ahead a little faster. But amidst the smoke of battle she lost her bearings and ran aground. There was no chance to set her free. She must be burned and abandoned, so the torch was applied. Almost the last to leave the ill-fated ship was Lieutenant Dewey.

In Annapolis Dewey was carefully taught the duties of a naval officer. In the Civil War he learned to put this knowledge to the test. And these two schools—the one of studies, the other of experience—successfully prepared him to become "The Hero of Manila" and Admiral of the American Navy.


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