[Illustration: General Joseph Wheeler.]
The message from General Shafter flew through the United States, and caused great anxiety. It was sad to think that our troops had drawn near the place they had been striving to reach, had had great labor, had borne much suffering, and that now, after all, they might have to retreat because there were not enough of them to finish the work—not enough to take Santiago.
But that very Sunday something took place that changed the whole color of the scene.
[Illustration: (U.S. flag flying over building)]
The Spanish fleet leaves the harbor.
While our Army had been toiling along narrow roads and through dense forests, wading the streams and storming the forts, on the way to Santiago, our Navy had been keeping up its blockade of the harbor. Perhaps I should explain to you that the Merrimac, sunk by Lieutenant Hobson, did not really close the channel, because the Merrimac had not gone down in the right spot on account of the breaking of the rudder. So our vessels still kept a close blockade.
The Spaniards now felt worried. Our Navy was at one side of Santiago, and our Army at the other. The Spaniards in the city thought our Army was larger than it was, and the word passed round that fifty thousand American soldiers were on the hills. Food was scarce in Santiago; there would soon be danger of starvation. In this state of affairs, Admiral Cervera, taking a wild chance for life and liberty, with the hope of being able afterward to help his countrymen, led his fleet out of the harbor.
Sunday morning, July 3d, was clear and beautiful. The cliffs of the harbor, and the old forts, made a fine show under the blue sky. The red and yellow flag of Spain floated, as usual, on top of Morro Castle. Far in the distance the mountain tops showed plainly—a dark line against the sky. The sea was smooth.
Our vessels were in place near the mouth of the harbor, though a few were missing. The Massachusetts and some smaller vessels had gone to Guantanamo for coal; the flagship New York had gone eastward to a place where Admiral Sampson could go ashore, for he wished to arrange plans with General Shafter. Commodore Schley had been left in charge of the fleet, and his flagship was the Brooklyn. It was at the western end of our half-circle of ships.
On Saturday evening, the night before, some of the men on board the Iowa saw a good deal of smoke rising within the harbor, and thought the Spanish ships might be getting ready to rush out. These men spoke to their captain about the smoke, but the captain thought that the Spaniards were only fixing their fires. The smoke seemed to him no thicker than it had often been before. The men on the deck could not help thinking about the smoke, and tried to ease their minds by making ready the signal, so that it could be run up instantly if the Spanish ships started out. But the night passed away, the signal was not needed, and the men concluded that the smoke really had meant nothing. They never dreamed that the Spaniards would come out in daytime. So it seemed likely that the day would pass quietly.