Capture of Guam

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Capture of Guam
Part of the Spanish-American War
Charleston agana.jpg
The USS Charleston entering Agana, the main port of Guam
Date 20–21 June 1898
Location Guam, Pacific Ocean
Result United States victory, Americans capture Guam.
Belligerents
 United States Spain Spain
Commanders and leaders
United States Henry Glass Spain Juan Marina (POW)
Strength
Land:
unknown
Sea:
1 cruiser,
3 transports
54 infantry
4 artillery pieces
Casualties and losses
none 54 captured

The Capture of Guam was a bloodless event between the United States and the Kingdom of Spain during the Spanish-American War. The U.S. Navy sent a single cruiser, the USS Charleston, to capture the island of Guam, then under Spanish control. However, the Spanish garrison on the island had no knowledge of the war and no real defenses. They surrendered without resistance and the island passed into American control. The event was the only conflict of the Spanish-American War on Guam.

Background[edit]

The Australia and the City of Sydney departing from San Francisco, on their way to the Philippines

Guam had been under Spanish control since 1668. By the time of the war, however, Guam had been neglected and there were only light defenses. The last message the authorities on Guam had received from Spain was dated 14 April 1898, a month before war was declared. Henry Glass, Captain of Charleston, was en route from California to Manila when in Honolulu he was joined by three transport ships, City of Peking, City of Sydney, and Australia.[1] Then in the Pacific he opened his sealed orders which said,

NAVY DEPARTMENT
Washington, May 10, 1898.
SIR:
Upon the receipt of this order, which is forwarded by the steamship City of Pekin to you at Honolulu, you will proceed, with the Charleston and the City of Pekin in company, to Manila, Philippine Islands. On your way, you are hereby directed to stop at the Spanish Island of Guam. You will use such force as may be necessary to capture the port of Guam, making prisoners of the governor and other officials and any armed force that may be there. You will also destroy any fortifications on said island and any Spanish naval vessels that may be there, or in the immediate vicinity. These operations at the Island of Guam should be very brief, and should not occupy more than one or two days. Should you find any coal at the Island of Guam, you will make such use of it as you consider desirable. It is left to your discretion whether or not you destroy it. From the Island of Guam, proceed to Manila and report to Rear-Admiral George Dewey, U.S.N., for duty in the squadron under his command.
Very respectfully,
JOHN D. LONG
Secretary Commanding Officer U.S.S. Charleston.[2]

The message created intense excitement and enthusiasm among the seamen. Many of them immediately went to the ship's library and eagerly scrutinized charts, geographies, histories, and encyclopedias for information.[2] While the sailors were in the ship's library learning this information about the island of Guam, Captain Glass altered the direction of the cruiser toward the new destination. The soldiers and sailors on the transports were stirred when they noticed the change in direction, and rumors started instantly. Some thought the expedition was to hoist the American flag over the Caroline Islands and remain there until reinforcements arrived for a stronger descent upon Manila. Others guessed that Charleston was sailing to some mysterious island of Spain, complete with impregnable fortifications, a formidable force of Spanish soldiers, and vast quantities of coal. The rumor mongering stopped the next day, when the correct news was wigwagged to the transports.[3]

Along with the sealed orders were warnings of possible Spanish Men of War in San Luis d'Apra, the main port of Guam, and notification of it being protected by a heavy battery of guns. The existence of the heavy armament was verified by reputable travelers who had visited the island within the two or three years before 1898. Definite information of the size of the Spanish garrison was not given, and in the absence of direct knowledge, the captain of the cruiser had to assume that there might be more than a thousand fighting men on the island who were thoroughly familiar with the terrain. Glass held a conference on Australia, and invited General Anderson, Commander William C. Gibson, naval officer in charge of the transports, and the captains of the three troop carriers were invited to participate in the discussions. Also present at the meeting was T. A. Hallet, third officer of Australia and a former whaling captain, who had been to the Mariana Islands many times. Hallet told the group that on his last visit to Guam, San Luis d'Apra was strongly fortified. Fort Santa Cruz and the battery on Point Orote, he stated, were efficiently manned and equipped. After a complete appraisal of all the known and unknown factors in the impending battle, the officers completed the arrangements for the attack on Guam.[3]

It was soon noticed by the troops that Charleston was expecting a fight, because the cruiser began shooting subcaliber ammunition at boxes tossed from City of Peking. This mild training continued until the afternoon of 15 June, when the American cruiser started circling and firing service charges at pyramidal cloth targets set adrift from the cruiser herself. The range was about 2 mi (1.7 nmi; 3.2 km), and the gun crews, which were composed largely of the green recruits under the command of Second Lieutenant John Twiggs Myers, were shooting accurately enough to cause Captain Glass to smile pleasantly. By the time the convoy crossed the 180th meridian, the officers and men felt they were ready for the enemy.[4]

Capture[edit]

On 20 June, Glass arrived off the shore of Guam, and he noticed that the only ship in the harbor was a Japanese ship which was trading copra. Many of the men on USS Charleston were disappointed that there were no Spanish ships to fire at.[4]

As the cruiser proceeded on its way, a small group of curious inhabitants gathered on the shores of Piti, a landing place down the bay. These locals were aware of the presence of the American vessels, for they had been sighted early that morning. All of the important citizens of Guam were there with the exception of the governor, Don Juan Marina. The chief officials present were a lieutenant commander of the navy and captain of the port, Don Francisco Gutierrez, Don Jose Romero, naval surgeon, and Captain Pedro Duarte Anducar of the marine corps, and Don Jose Sixto, civil paymaster. Among the prominent civilians at the beach were Francisco Portusach, the leading merchant of Guam, and his brother Jose Portusach. While the gathering was looking curiously at the cruiser and the three transports, Charleston fired 13 rounds at the old Spanish fortress from three of her guns. There was no return fire, and there was no apparent damage to the fort.[5] Pedro Duarte turned to his companions and said that the ship must be saluting the fort, so he hurriedly dispatched a messenger to Agana, the capital, which was about 6 mi (9.7 km) away, requesting the governor to send artillery to Piti to return the salute. The captain of the port, the naval surgeon, and a native Chamorro named Jose Paloma got into a boat furnished by Francisco Portusach and went out to welcome the visitors. Jose Portusach went along with the party to act as interpreter. When they finally got aboard the deck of the Charleston, Captain Glass immediately informed them that war had been declared between the U.S. and Spain.[5]

The Spanish officials were amazed when they heard this and the news that they were now prisoners of war, because no dispatches or mail had arrived since 9 April to enlighten them. They were then paroled for the day when they promised to return to Agana to inform the governor of the war and notify him to appear on board the American ship immediately. The party then went below deck into the captain's cabin to discuss the surrender of the island.[6]

As they were going below, Francisco Portusach sailed across the bow of Charleston in a whaleboat with the American flag at the topmast. A loud voice from the ship called, "Frank, come on board." Portusach looked up to the deck and saw Captain Hallett, a man whom he had known years before. The skipper of the whaleboat then went to the lee side of the cruiser and clambered aboard. When he reached the deck, he was surprised to find a reporter with whom he was acquainted, a representative of the San Francisco Chronicle. While the reporter and the old whaling captain were talking about old times, Lieutenant William Braunersreuther, the navigator, walked up to Portusach and demanded to know by what right he was hoisting the American flag at the topmast of the little boat. The Guam merchant merely grinned and replied the flag was being flown legally. The lieutenant promptly requested proof, and Portusach produced American naturalization papers from an inside coat pocket and handed them to the doubting Braunersreuther who looked at them and said, "Well! Twenty-second of October, 1888, Chicago, Cook County, State of Illinois." The navigator examined the document more thoroughly and requested Portusach to accompany him to visit Glass. The "welcoming party" had just departed for shore, so the two men entered the captain's cabin, and the lieutenant handed the naturalization papers to Glass who looked at them for a few moments. He had already heard from Jose Portusach that Francisco possessed some lighters and boats, so he greeted the merchant by inquiring if it was possible to obtain the use of two lighters and a boat to transfer coal from the City of Peking to the bunkers of the Charleston and offered to pay for the service. Portusach agreed to furnish the boats without compensation since he felt an obligation, as the only United States citizen on the island, to aid his country in time of war.[6]

The City of Peking, the City of Sydney, and the Australia passing through the Golden Gate

Francisco Portusach returned to Piti where his brother was waiting for him, and was informed that the Spanish officers were under arrest, but had been paroled with the understanding that they would deliver themselves on board Charleston so they might be taken to Manila as prisoners of war. Francisco then ordered his head boatman, Tiburcio de los Santos, and several of his men to deliver the lighters and boats to Charleston early in the morning. The two brothers got into their buggy and started for Agana. On the road home they met several soldiers who were struggling with two small artillery pieces which had been turned back by Captain Duarte since it was not necessary to salute the American cruiser.[6]

When they arrived home, a letter was waiting for Francisco from Governor Marina which said: "If you give any assistance to the American men of war, you will be executed tomorrow morning at the beach. After reading the note, Guam's leading merchant laughed. His wife, an American woman whom he had married in San Francisco, asked what was in the message, and became apprehensive when she learned the contents. Jose warned him to be careful, especially when he learned that boats had already been promised to the Americans. His brother retorted that the boats would be delivered in the morning regardless of the threatening message.[7]

Later that afternoon, Francisco Portusach, despite the display of bravado, was worried, so he returned to Charleston with the threatening note from Marina and showed it to Glass. They had conferred less than half an hour when the governor's secretary came back to the cruiser with a letter which said:

Agana, June 20, 1898.
Mr. Henry Glass,
Captain of the North American Cruiser Charleston:

By the captain of the port in which you have cast anchor I have been courteously requested, as a soldier, and, above all, as a gentleman, to hold a conference with you, adding that you have advised him that war has been declared between our respective nations, and that you have come for the purpose of occupying these Spanish islands.

It would give me great pleasure to comply with his request and see you personally, but, as the military laws of my country prohibit me from going on board a foreign vessel, I regret to have to decline this honor and to ask that you will kindly come on shore, where I await you to accede to your wishes as far as possible, and to agree as to our mutual situations. Asking your pardon for the trouble I cause you, I guarantee your safe return to your ship.

Very respectfully,
JUAN MARINA
The Governor [7]

By this time, Glass suspected that the governor was perpetrating a trick. An ultimatum was prepared for delivery to the governor of Guam and arrangements were made for a presentation of it on the following morning. At 08:00 the next morning, Lieutenant Braunersreuther was waiting to take command of a landing party composed of the marine guard of the Charleston, the marines from City of Peking, and two companies of the Oregon regiment of volunteers from Australia. He was in possession of specific instructions to go ashore and capture the governor, his officers, and any armed forces on the island.[7]

The men had difficulty in getting the boats ready, so the lieutenant left without them in a small boat, merely taking with him Ensign Waldo Evans, four sailors, and two newspaper reporters, Douglas White and Sol Sheridan. He landed at the harbor of Piti under a flag of truce and there he was met by Governor Marina and his staff. After formal introduction, Braunersreuther handed the governor this ultimatum from Captain Glass: "Sir: In reply to your communication of this date I have now, in compliance with the orders of my government, to demand the immediate surrender of the defenses of the Island of Guam, with arms of all kinds, all officials and persons in the military service of Spain now in this island. This communication will be handed you tomorrow morning by an officer who is ordered to wait not over one half hour for your reply."[8]

The village of Piti

Then Braunersreuther called the governor's attention to the fact that only 30 minutes were allowed for a reply, and casually reminded him of the three transports loaded with troops and the formidable war vessel in the harbor. Marina and his advisers went into a nearby boatshed for consultation. Twenty-nine minutes later, they reappeared and handed the lieutenant a sealed envelope addressed to the commanding officer of Charleston. The captain's emissary, amid vigorous protestations from the governor, broke the seal and read the message which contained a notification of the surrender of the island of Guam. He then said, "Gentlemen, you are now my prisoners; you will have to repair on board the Charleston with me."[8]

The governor protested, claiming that he had not expected such action. He accused the lieutenant of treachery, as the Americans had come ashore under a flag of truce, before making the Spaniards prisoners of war. Braunersreuther replied that he had merely been instructed to deliver a letter and since he was now in possession of an offer of complete surrender, the Americans were permitted to make any demand they wished. The Spanish officials were allowed to write letters to their families. Afterward, Marina and his staff were taken to City of Sydney after sending an order to Agana for the Spanish soldiery and native militia to be at Piti landing no later than four o'clock that afternoon.[8]

Braunsreuther then returned to the ships, obtained the marine guard, and returned to shore. There, according to agreement, the Spanish soldiers were lined up awaiting surrender. Lieutenant John Twiggs Myers, later known for his command during the Boxer Rebellion, marched the Marines through the boathouse and lined them up so that the Spanish and native troops were between the Americans and the ocean.[8] The 54 Spanish regulars and two lieutenants were disarmed, placed in a sampan, and transported to City of Sydney.

Aftermath[edit]

Glass went ashore and raised an American flag over the fortifications while the bands aboard the Australia and Peking played "The Star-Spangled Banner". His orders included destroying the island's forts, but Glass decided that they were in such disrepair that he left them as they were.[1]

The local people began to trade with the American soldiers on the transports. They sailed to the American ships in small boats loaded with a variety of fruits. The natives believed a nickel (5¢ coin) was worth more than a dime (10¢ coin). The Americans took advantage of this to obtain twice as much fruit for the larger coin as they would for the smaller one. The American troops finally exhausted their supply of coins and thereafter defrauded the locals using polished brass beer checks.[citation needed]

Francisco Portusach and his workers finally completed transferring the coal from City of Peking to Charleston on 22 June. Afterward, Glass took him to his cabin, and appointed him Governor of the island, until the arrival of proper American authority. After saying goodbye to the natives, Charleston and the three transports left the harbor at 16:00, and later joined George Dewey's fleet at Manila.[9]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Patrick McSherry, The Capture of Guam, Spanamwar.com
  2. ^ a b Walker p.3
  3. ^ a b Walker p.5
  4. ^ a b Walker p.6
  5. ^ a b Walker p.7
  6. ^ a b c Walker p.8
  7. ^ a b c Walker p.9
  8. ^ a b c d Walker p.10
  9. ^ Walker p.11

References[edit]