Postscripts To History

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UNSNARLING A SNAFU

Much as we strive for accuracy, we must report a considerable error in our October, 1972, issue. A number of readers wrote to call attention to faults in our caption for Fred Pansing’s splendid painting of the naval parade in the Hudson River, which we said was held in 1899 in honor of Admiral George Dewey’s victory at Manila Bay. Probably the most authoritative correction came from the noted submarine skipper of World War it, Edward L. Beach, author of Run Silent, Run Deep and the new and exciting novel Dust on the Sea . Writes Captain Beach: The overall quality of the magazine is so high, and I have so much enjoyed it, that I cannot forbear squaring you away just this once.… The ship in the foreground is clearly not the Olympia , which had only two stacks, but is instead the cruiser New York , bearing the flag of Admiral Sampson. I know the ship well, for my father served in her in the 1890’s. She was the Navy’s favorite ship for many years, a 21-knot cruiser mounting 8-inch guns in two turrets. When the battleship New York was built, which my father later commanded during World War I, the old New York was changed to Saratoga , and later Rochester . Finally, sad to say, she was converted into razor blades.

The Olympia was a smaller cruiser with only two stacks, and is thus easily distinguishable from the New York . She is still in Philadelphia, having been restored externally as nearly as possible to her appearance at the Battle of Manila Bay.

The second ship in column is the battleship Iowa , Battleship #4 (very tall stacks, two rows of portholes, and higher freeboard than the battleships following).

The third ship in column is one of the three identical sisters, Battleships #1, 2, and 3, the Indiana, Massachusetts , and Oregon (shorter stacks than Iowa , lower freeboard, single row of ports).

The fourth ship has got to be the cruiser Brooklyn , famous for her three extraordinarily high stacks, which were 1OO feet from furnace to cap.

The fifth and sixth ships are of the Oregon class again. (You’ll note that the artist was pretty careful with his masts, stacks, and cranes,'all very distinguishing features of these ships.)

The seventh and last ship in column I could not identify but am told by the Navy historical museum here in Washington that it is supposed to be the old battleship Texas , a ship somewhat similar to the Maine , which was blown up in Havana Harbor.

Thus you have named most of the ships correctly, but have gone hopelessly off the track with the first two.

The picture, according to the Navy museum, is titled Sampson and Schley Leading the Fleet into New York Harbor , and the date of the occasion is given as August 20, 1898.… The New York was Admiral Sampson’s flagship, and he clearly is on board, for a two-star admiral’s flag is flying at the mainmast head (which must be slightly in error because the flag would not be put on the same hoist as the national colors, which the picture seems to show). The Brooklyn was Admiral Schley’s flagship, but no admiral’s flag can be seen flying from her, and so there is a question as to whether he was there. There was a great controversy between his supporters and Admiral Sampson’s as to who was in actual command at the Battle of Santiago.… Thus, it is possible that Admiral Schley found it necessary to be absent when Sampson’s triumph took place.

Another point of interest is the positions of the speed cones at the ends of the yardarms of all the ships. Being point up and “two-blocked” all the way up, they indicate that all the ships are making standard speed ahead, which would probably be 12-15 knots. Clearly, the ships are not going anything like 12 knots, nor would they have been allowed to do so in the Hudson River with all those other boats around—and for that matter the fleet of tugs, yachts, and ferryboats would have been unable to keep up if they were. As a guess, the artist made his preliminary sketches as the fleet steamed in and later completed his drawings after it had anchored, probably with the help of official photographs of the ships themselves, for his details are extremely accurate.

I am puzzled with the display of the union jack on the bow of each of the ships, for the standard naval custom is to display it in this position only when the ship is at anchor. But, of course, it could have been directed by Sampson at the same time as he ordered the national ensign flown from the top of each mast throughout his fleet.…