The turn of the 20th century is sometimes referred to as the age of jingoism after little ditties like; We don’t want to fight, but by jingo if we do, We’ve got the men, We’ve got the ships and, We’ve got the money too! In many ways the Promethean herald of the age was Theodore Roosevelt who was fond of quoting the African proverb, Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far. One of our big sticks was the first USS Texas.
The first battleship named USS Texas was a 6315-ton second-class battleship that was originally designated as an armored cruiser, was built at the Norfolk Navy Yard. Commissioned in August 1895, her initial service was spent along the U.S. east and Gulf coasts. Texas was distinguished from a light cruiser by its belt armor plating on the hull to protect the ship from shellfire from enemy guns. With armored upper and middle decks and a side belt both above and below the waterline to protect against torpedoes. Further protection came from lateral coal bunkers and the machinery was arranged in the protected spaces above the double-bottom in an effort to make the ship as safe as possible.
The USS Texas was the sister ship of the USS Maine and in the photograph above Captain Charles D. Sigsbee is serving as master of the Texas in this picture. He was a long serving officer having been appointed acting midshipman on the 16th July 1862 and he served aboard Monongahela, Wyoming, and Shenandoah from 1863 to 1869 when he was assigned to duty at the Naval Academy and, in 1871, to the Hydrographic Office. He was in command of various ships from 1873 to 1891 and served as a hydrographer in the Bureau of Navigation from 1893 to 1897. Sigsbee commanded St. Paul in 1898 then Texas and finally Maine. Sigsbee would be the Captain of the USS Maine when she was blown up in Havana harbor effectively starting the Spanish-American war.
The war had been a long time coming. During the Civil War Cuba had been sometimes a haven for blockade runners and just as often a trap for them and the attitudes of the Anglo Americans were almost genetically in opposition to the Spaniards. The more proximate cause of tension between Spain and the United States came from attempts by Cubans to liberate their island. The first Cuban insurrection was unsuccessful and lasted between 1868 and 1878 and American sympathies were with the revolutionaries, and war with Spain nearly erupted when the filibuster ship Virginius was captured and most of the crew (including many American citizens) were executed. The Cuban revolutionaries continued to plan and raise support in the United States and even with limited autonomy being promised late in 1897 the U.S. government was mistrustful and the revolutionaries refused to accept anything short of total independence.
The Maine arrived in Havana on the 25th of January 1898. Spanish authorities in Havana were wary of American intentions, but afforded Captain Sigsbee and his officers every courtesy. In order to avoid the possibility of trouble, Sigsbee cancelled all leave and did not allow enlisted men to go on shore. Sigsbee and the consul at Havana, Fitzhugh Lee, reported that the Navy’s presence appeared to have a calming effect on the situation, and both recommended that the Navy send another battleship to Havana when it came time to relieve Maine.
At 9:40 on the evening of the 15th of February, a terrible explosion shattered the stillness in Havana Harbor. Later investigations revealed that more than five tons of powder charges for the vessel’s six and ten-inch guns ignited, virtually obliterating the forward third of the ship. The remaining wreckage rapidly settled to the bottom of the harbor. Most of Maine’s crew were sleeping or resting in the enlisted quarters in the forward part of the ship when the explosion occurred. Two hundred and sixty-six men lost their lives as a result of the disaster: 260 died in the explosion or shortly thereafter, and six more died later from injuries. Captain Sigsbee and most of the officers survived because their quarters were in the aft portion of the ship.
Spanish officials and the crew of the civilian steamer City of Washington acted quickly in rescuing survivors and caring for the wounded. The attitude and actions of the former allayed initial suspicions that hostile action caused the explosion, and led Sigsbee to include at the bottom of his initial telegram: Public opinion should be suspended until further report. A true warrior he did everything he could for peace.
The Navy immediately formed a board of inquiry to determine the reason for Maine’s destruction and they concluded that a mine had detonated under the ship. When the Navy’s verdict was announced, the American public given the choice between righteousness and peace, chose righteousness. Although he continued to press for a diplomatic settlement to the Cuban problem, President McKinley accelerated military preparations begun in January 1898 when an impasse appeared likely. The Spanish position on Cuban independence hardened, and McKinley asked Congress on the 11th of April for permission to intervene. On the 21st of April, the President ordered the Navy to begin a blockade of Cuba which Spain followed with a declaration of war on the 23rd of April and the American Congress responded with a formal declaration of war on the 25th of April. As with a later war there would be all sorts of second guessing however the wmd pictured on the deck of the Texas should, but hasn’t yet, quieted the second guessers.
The Spanish-American war and the battle of Santiago would be the moments of Glory for the Texas. On the 29th of April Admiral Cervera’s fleet composed of the armored cruisers and torpedo gunboats sailed from the Cape de Verde Islands. On May 19th the Flying Squadron, composed of the Brooklyn, Texas, Massachusetts, and Scorpion, sailed from Key West with instructions to establish a blockade.
Early on the morning of the 29th of May a Spanish man-of-war, the Cristobal Colon, was seen lying at anchor inside the Santiago harbor entrance, and later a second man-of-war and two smaller vessels. On June 1st Admiral Sampson arrived off Santiago and found Commodore Schley’s squadron and upon the concentration of these two forces at Santiago a close and efficient blockade was established. The harbor was closely guarded day and night by our ships in a semicircle. Powerful search-lights were thrown upon its entrance during the dark. A plan of attack, by which our vessels were to close in at once upon any of the enemy’s coming out, was provided for in standing orders.
On June 10 the first battalion of marines was landed there and went into camp. For three days and nights these men, supported by the Marblehead and Dolphin, fought almost constantly. The position which they defended was a most important one for the fleet, as it was necessary to have near at hand a harbor in which ships could be coaled and repaired in safety. On June 15 the fort on Cayo del Toro in Guantanamo Bay was destroyed by the Texas, Marblehead, and Suwanee.
On the morning of July 3 at 9:30 a.m. The vessels of the blockading squadron were in position, making a semicircle about the harbor entrance Indiana, Oregon, Iowa, Texas, and Brooklyn. The Gloucester and Vixen lay to the eastward and westward of the harbor entrance, close to the land. Admiral Cervera’s squadron came out of the harbor. The New York turned and steamed for the escaping fleet, flying the signal to close in toward the harbor entrance and attack vessels, but our ships had already, in accordance with standing orders, at once engaged the Spanish ships and in the course of a running fight, which continued until 1:20 p.m., the latter were completely destroyed and sunk and the famous victory was won. On July 4, at night, the Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes, which had not left Santiago with Cervera’s squadron, was seen steaming out of the harbor. She was sunk just before reaching the narrow part of the entrance channel, presumably by the fire of the Massachusetts and Texas. Among the trophies contributed to by the Texas were:
- Vizcaya, a 6890-ton armored cruiser of the Infanta Maria Teresa class, was launched at Bilbao, Spain, in July 1891. During the Spanish-American War, she was part of the squadron under Admiral Cervera that was sent to the West Indies. Vizcaya was lost in the Battle of Santiago, Cuba, on 3 July 1898.
- Infanta Maria Teresa, a 6890-ton armored cruiser, was launched at Bilbao, Spain, in August 1890. During the Spanish-American War she was flagship of Admiral Cervera’s squadron, and was beached and burned in the Battle of Santiago, Cuba, on 3 July 1898.
- Reina Mercedes, a 3042-ton Alfonso XII class cruiser, was launched at Cartagena, Spain, in September 1887. By 1898 she was stationed in Cuban waters. During the Spanish-American War, she acted as guard ship at Santiago. Partially disarmed to provide guns for coast-defense batteries, she was scuttled to block the Santiago harbor entrance following the great naval battle of 3 July 1898.
- Cristobal Colon, a 6800-ton armored cruiser of the Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi class, was built in Italy. Purchased by Spain while under construction, she was launched in 1896 and delivered in 1897. Although her main battery of two ten-inch guns was never fitted, she was part of Admiral Cervera’s squadron that was sent to the West Indies during the Spanish-American War. Cristobal Colon was run ashore and scuttled in the Battle of Santiago, Cuba, on 3 July 1898.
- Almirante Oquendo, a 6890-ton Infanta Maria Teresa class armored cruiser, was launched at Bilbao, Spain, in October 1891. A unit of Admiral Cervera’s Spanish-American War squadron, she was wrecked by gunfire in the Battle of Santiago, Cuba, on 3 July 1898.
- Pluton, a 400-ton Audaz class torpedo boat destroyer, was built in Scotland in 1897. During the Spanish-American War, she was part of Admiral Cervera’s squadron, and was lost in the Battle of Santiago, Cuba, on 3 July 1898.
- Furor, a 370-ton torpedo boat destroyer, was built in Scotland in 1896. During the Spanish-American War, she was part of Admiral Cervera’s squadron, and was lost in the Battle of Santiago, Cuba, on 3 July 1898.
Immediately to the left of Capt. Charles D. Sigsbee in the picture of the ship’s officers earlier in this posting is seated his executive officer, John W. Philip, who served as the captain of the Texas throughout the Spanish-American war. He to was a lifer, appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in September 1856, graduated in June 1861 and spending the next years on Civil War service in the Gulf of Mexico. After he became Commanding Officer of the battleship Texas, in which he participated in the capture of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Battle of Santiago during the Spanish-American War, his distinguished war service produced advancement to Commodore in August 1898, and he then was given command of one unit of the North Atlantic Squadron.
By having the leadership [Theodore Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy who dispatched the fleet to Cuban waters] and the men like Sigsbee and Philip in command of the officers, chief’s and crew members of ships like the Texas made Pax-Americana possible. Roosevelt would go on to be the only great president of that name and would win a deserved Nobel Peace Prize and leave the presidency as the most respected man in the world because – as he put it – I am an American; free-born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.