The Great Victory Of Manila Bay
DEWEY DESTROYS A FLEET WITHOUT LOSING A MAN
GEORGE DEWEY was a Green Mountain boy, a son of the Vermont hills. Many
good stories are told of his schoolboy days, and when he grew up to be a
man everybody that knew him said that he was a fine fellow, who would
make his mark. And they were right about him, though he had to wait a
long time for the chance to show what he would do.
ewey was sent to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and when the
Civil War began he was a lieutenant in the navy. He was with Farragut on
the Mississippi, and did some gallant deeds on that great river.
When the war with Spain began Dewey was on the Chinese coast with a
squadron of American ships. He had been raised in rank and was
Commodore Dewey then. A commodore, you should know, was next above a
captain and next below an admiral.
Commodore Dewey had four fine ships, the cruisers OLYMPIA, BALTIMORE,
RALEIGH, and BOSTON. He had also two gunboats and a despatch-boat,
making seven in all.
These vessels were at Hong Kong, a British seaport in China. They could
not stay there after war with Spain was declared, for Hong Kong was a
neutral port, and after war begins fighting ships must leave neutral
ports. But Dewey knew where to go, for under the ocean and over the land
there had come to him a telegram from Washington, more than ten thousand
miles away, which said, "Seek the Spanish fleet and capture or destroy
it." Dewey did not waste any time in obeying orders.
He knew where to seek the Spanish fleet. A few hundred miles away to the
east of China lay the fine group of islands called the Philippines,
which then belonged to Spain. In Luzon, the biggest of these islands,
was the fine large City of Manila, the centre of the Spanish power in
the East. So straight across the China Sea Dewey went at all speed
towards this seaport of Spain.
On the morning of Saturday, April 30, 1898, the men on the leading ship
saw land rising in the distance, green and beautiful, and farther away
they beheld the faint blue lines of the mountains of Luzon. Down this
green tropical coast they sped, and when night was near at hand they
came close to the entrance of Manila Bay.
Here there were forts to pass; and the ships were slowed up. Dewey was
ready to fight with ships, but he did not want to fight with forts, so
he waited for darkness to come before going in. He thought that he might
then pass these forts without being seen by the men in them.
They waited until near midnight, steaming slowly along until they came
to the entrance to the bay. The moon was in the sky, but gray clouds hid
its light. They could see the two dark headlands of the harbor's mouth
rising and, between them, a small, low island. On this island were the
forts which they had to pass.
As they came near, all the lights on the ships were put out or hidden,
except a small electric light at the stern of each ship, for the next
one to see and follow.
Steam was put on, and the ships glided swiftly and silently in, like
shadows in the darkness. All was silent in the Spanish forts. The
sentinels seemed fast asleep.
Some of the ships had passed before the Spaniards waked up. Then a
rocket shot up into the air, and there came a deep boom and a flash of
flame. A shell went whizzing through the darkness over the ships and
plunged into the water beyond.
Some shots were fired back, but in a few minutes it was all over and
Dewey's squadron was safe in Manila Bay. The gallant American sailors
had made their way into the lion's den.
The Bay of Manila is a splendid body of water, running many miles into
the land. The City of Manila is about twenty miles from the harbor's
mouth, and the ships had to go far in before its distant lights were
seen, gleaming like faint stars near the earth.
But it was not the city Dewey was after. He was seeking the Spanish
fleet. When the dawn came, and the sun rose behind the city, he saw
sails gleaming in its light. But these were merchant vessels, not the
warships he had come so far to find.
The keen eyes of the commodore soon saw the ships he was after. There
they lay, across the mouth of the little bay of Cavite, south of the
city, a group of ships-of-war, nine or ten in number.
This brings us to the beginning of the great naval battle of the war.
Let us stop now and take a look around. If you had been there I know
what you would have said. You would have said that the Americans were
sure to win, for they had the biggest ships and the best guns. Yes, but
you must remember that the Spaniards were at home, while the Americans
were not; and that makes a great difference. If they had met out on the
open sea Dewey would have had the best of the game. But here were the
Spanish ships drawn up in a line across a narrow passage, with a fort on
the right and a fort on the left, and with dynamite mines under the
water. And they knew all about the distances and soundings and should
have known just how to aim their guns so as to hit a mark at any
distance. All this the Americans knew nothing about.
When we think of this it looks as if Dewey had the worst of the game.
But some of you may say that the battle will tell best which side had
the best and which the worst. Yes, that's true; but we must always study
our players before we begin our game.
George Dewey did not stop long to think and study. He was there to take
his chances. The minute he saw the Spanish ships he went for them as a
football player goes for the line of his opponents.
Forward went the American squadron, with the Stars and Stripes floating
proudly at every mast-head. First of all was the flagship Olympia,
with Dewey standing on its bridge. Behind came the other ships in a long
As they swept down in front of the city the great guns of the forts sent
out their balls. Then the batteries on shore began to fire. Then the
Spanish ships joined in. There was a terrible roar. Just in front of the
Olympia two mines exploded, sending tons of water into the air. But
they had been set off too soon, and no harm was done.
All this time the American ships swept grandly on, not firing a gun; and
Dewey stood still on the bridge while shot and shell from the Spanish
guns went hurling past. He was there to see, and danger did not count
As they drove on an old sea-dog raised the cry, "Remember the Maine!"
and in a minute the shout ran through the ship. Still on went the
Olympia, like a great mastiff at which curs are barking. At length
"You may fire when you are ready, Captain Gridley," he said. Captain
Gridley was ready and waiting. In an instant a great eight-inch shell
from the Olympia went screaming through the air.
This was the signal. The Baltimore and the Boston followed, and
before five minutes had passed every ship was pouring shot and shell on
the Spanish squadron and forts. Great guns and small guns, slow-fire
guns and rapid-fire guns, hand guns and machine guns, all boomed and
barked together, and their shot whistled and screamed, until it sounded
like a mighty carnival of death.
Down the Spanish line swept the American ships. Then they turned and
swept back, firing from the other side of the ships. Six times, this
way, they passed the Spanish ships, while the air was full of great iron
balls and dense clouds of smoke floated over all.
You will not ask which side had the best of the battle after I tell you
one thing. The Americans had been trained to aim and fire, and the
Spaniards had not. Here overhead flew a Spanish shell. There another
plunged into the water without reaching a ship. Hardly one of them
reached its mark. Not an American was killed or wounded. A box of powder
went off and hurt a few men, and that was all.
But the Spanish ships were rent and torn like deer when lions get among
them, and their men fell by dozens at a time. It was one of the most
one-sided fights ever seen.
Admiral Montojo, of the Spanish fleet, could not stand this. He started
out with his flagship, named the Reina Cristina, straight for the
Olympia, which he hoped to cut in two. But as soon as his ship
appeared all the American ships turned their guns on it, and riddled it
with a frightful storm of iron.
The brave Spaniard saw that his ship would be sunk if he went on. He
turned to run back, but as he did so a great eight-inch shell struck his
ship in the stern and went clear through to the bow, scattering death
and destruction on every side. It exploded one of the boilers. It blew
open the deck. It set the ship on fire. White smoke came curling up. The
ship fought on as the fire burned, but she was past hope.
Two torpedo-boats came out, but they could not stand the storm any
better than the Reina Cristina. In a few minutes one of them was cut
through and went like a stone to the bottom. The other ran in faster
than she had come out and went ashore.
For two hours this dreadful work went on. Then Dewey thought it was time
to give his men a rest and let them have some breakfast, so he steamed
away. Three of the Spanish ships were burning like so much tinder, and
it was plain that the battle was as good as won.
A little after eleven o'clock the American ships came back fresh as
ever, all of them with the Stars and Stripes afloat. The Spanish flag
was flying too, but nearly every ship was in flames. But the Spaniards
were not whipped yet. They began to fire again, and so for another hour
the fight went on. At the end of that time the guns were silenced, the
flags had gone down, and the battle was won.
That was the end of the most one-sided victory in the history of the
American navy. All the Spanish ships were on fire and had sunk in the
shallow bay. Hundreds of their men were dead or wounded. The American
ships were nearly as good as ever, for hardly a shot had struck them,
and only eight men were slightly hurt. The Spaniards had fired fast
enough, but they had wasted nearly all their shot.
When the people of the United States heard of this great victory they
were wild with delight. Before that very few had heard of George Dewey;
now he was looked on as one of our greatest naval heroes. "Dewey on the
bridge," with shot and shell screaming about him, was as fine a figure
as "Farragut in the shrouds" had once been.
Congress made him a rear-admiral at once, and soon after they made him
an admiral. This is the highest rank in the American navy. Only Farragut
and Porter had borne it before.