Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

Lieutenant Hobson And The Sinking Of The "Merrimac"
by [?]

About three o’clock of a dark morning, whose deep gloom shrouded alike the shores and waters of Cuba’s tropic isle, a large craft left the side of the “New York,” the flag-ship of Admiral Sampson’s fleet off Santiago, and glided towards the throat of the narrow channel leading to its land-locked harbor. This mysterious craft was an old coal-carrier named the “Merrimac.” On board were Richmond P. Hobson, Assistant Naval Constructor, and seven volunteer seamen. Their purpose was to sink the old hulk in the channel and thus to seal up the Spanish ships in Santiago harbor. The fact that there were ten chances to one that they would go to the bottom with their craft, or be riddled with Spanish bullets, did not trouble their daring souls. Their country called, and they obeyed.

Ranged along the sides of the ship, below decks, was a series of torpedoes, prepared to blow the vessel into a hopeless wreck when the proper moment came. A heavy weight in coal had been left on board, to carry her rapidly to the bottom, and there was strong hope that she could be dropped in the channel, “like a cork in the neck of a bottle,” and “bottle” up Admiral Cervera and his cruisers. That it was an errand of imminent risk did not trouble the bold American tars. There were volunteers enough eager to undertake the perilous task to form a ship’s crew, and to the six seamen chosen Coxswain Clausen added himself as a stowaway. The love of adventure was stronger than fear of death or captivity.

It was the morning of June 3, 1898. During the night before an attempt to go in had been made, but the hour was so late that the admiral called the vessel back. Now an earlier start was made, and there was no hinderance to the adventurous voyage. Heavy clouds hid the moon as the “Merrimac” glided in towards the dark line of coast. Not a light was shown, and great skill was needed to strike the narrow channel squarely in the gloom. From the “New York” eager eyes watched the collier until its outlines were lost beneath the shadow of the hills. Eyes continued to peer into the darkness and ears to listen intently, while a tense anxiety strained the nerves of the watching crew. Then came a booming roar from Morro Castle and the flash of a cannon lit up for an instant the gloom. Other flashes and booming sounds followed, and for twenty minutes there seemed a battle going on in the darkness. The “Merrimac” was under fire. She was meeting her doom. What was the fate of Hobson and his men?

Cadet J. W. Powell had followed the collier with a steam launch and four men, prepared to pick up any fugitives from the doomed ship. He went daringly under the batteries and hung about until daylight revealed his small craft, but not a man was seen in the ruffled waters, and he returned disappointed at 6.15 A.M., pestered by spiteful shots from the Spanish guns. He had followed the “Merrimac” until the low-lying smoke from the roaring guns hid her from view. Then came the explosion of the torpedoes. Hobson had done his work. Powell kept under the shelter of the cliffs until full day had dawned, and before leaving he saw a spar of the “Merrimac” rising out of the water of the channel. The sinking had been accomplished, but no one could say with what result to Hobson and his men.

Let us now leave the distant spectators and go on board the “Merrimac,” seeking the company of her devoted crew. It was Hobson’s purpose to sink her in the narrowest part of the channel, dropping the anchor and handling the rudder so as to turn her across the stream. Her length was sufficient to close up completely the deeper channel. He would stop the engines, let fall the anchor, open the traps made for the sea-water to flow in, and explode the torpedoes. Ten of these lay on the port side of the ship, each containing eighty-two pounds of powder, and they were connected so that they could be fired in train. There were two men below, one to reverse the engines, the other to break open the sea-traps with a sledge hammer. Those on deck were to let fall the anchor and set the helm. Then Hobson would touch the electric button and fire the torpedoes, and all would leap overboard and swim to the dingy towing astern, in which they hoped to escape. Such were their plans; but chance, as it so often does, set them sadly astray.