The bloodless capture of the island of Guam gave the United States its first possession in the Pacific. Guam, a Spanish possession, had been desired as a possible coaling station for the U.S. Navy.
Guam, the largest island of the Marianas island chain, was under Spanish control since 1668, when a Spanish mission was founded on the island. As the Spanish American War approached, Spain apparently made no effort to reinforce this outlying post of its empire. As a matter of fact, the last communication that the governor of the island had with Spain was dated April 14, 1898, before war was declared between the two countries.
The United States military apparently had an inkling of the situation in Guam. On June 4, 1898, the USS CHARLESTON, in company with the transports CITY OF PEKIN, CITY OF SYDNEY and AUSTRALIA, left Honolulu enroute for Manila, P.I. Once at sea, Captain Henry Glass of the CHARLESTON opened his sealed orders. Within the orders was the directive for the cruiser and transports to proceed to Guam and take the island. It was anticipated that these actions "should not occupy more than one or two days."
As the vessel headed for Guam, the CHARLESTON periodically held sub-caliber drill with its guns at boxes dropped from the CITY OF PEKIN. On June 15, 1898, gun drill was made more serious. Drill was held with full charges at regular cloth targets. The CHARLESTON's commanding officer wanted his "green" crew to be prepared since ithad been rumored in Honolulu that there was a Spanish gunboat at Guam.
The American forces reached Guam on the squally morning of June 20, 1898. The signal station at Point Ritidian was avoided, and the CHARLESTON cleared for action. The vessel steamed into Agana bay, with the transports following her movements, about a half mile farther out to sea. The CHARLESTON passed Devil's Point and, as she rounded Apepas Island, she made out a vessel at anchor in the bay of San Luis d'Apra. This ship turned out not to be the expected Spanish gunboat, but the Japanese brigantine MINATOGAWA, trading in copra. The CHARLESTON continued onward until it came in range of fort Santa Cruz. Unable to determine if the fort was occupied, The CHARLESTON opened up on this fort with its three-pounder guns, firing thirteen rounds in four minutes. There was no response from the fort, so Captain Glass ordered theCHARLESTON anchored in a position to control the harbor.
Captain Glass had ordered an officer sent to the Japanese vessel to obtain information as to the status of the island, when a vessel flying the Spanish flag was seen approaching the American warship. On board were Lt. Garcia Gutierrez, of the Spanish Navy and who was in charge of the port, and Dr. Romero of the Spanish army, the port health officer. When they arrived on the CHARLESTON, they asked about the health of theship's crew, and stated that they would reply to the CHARLESTON's salute, if theycould borrow some powder! It was immediately apparent, however unlikely, that the Spanish government had failed to notify this remote outpost that a state of war had existed with the United States for nearly two months.
The shocked Spanish officers were brought up to date on the state of affairs in their area of the world - the defeat of the Spanish fleet at Manila, and that they were now prisoners of war.
On finding the state of the Spanish military on the island consisted only of 54 Spanish soldiers armed with 1896 Mausers, and 54 Chamorros, armed with Remington 45-90's, the two men were paroled, with the requirement that they carry a message to the governor that he should come to the vessel as soon as possible.
The governor, Juan Marina, responded that Spanish law forbade him from coming aboard the vessel, but asked the American captain to come to him instead, guaranteeing the captain's safe return. When the governor's letter arrived, it was getting late in the day. The governor was informed that an officer would be sent ashore the next morning.
At 8:30 a.m., Lt. William Braunersreuther, the CHARLESTON's navigator,
went ashore to meet the governor and his party at Piti. Simultaneously,
landing forces were formed, placed in landing boats and started for the
beach. The lieutenant presented a letter fromCaptain Glass of the CHARLESTON
which demanded the surrender of the island within one half-hour of receiving
the note, while verbally reminding the governor that a heavily armed vessel
and several transports loaded with troops were awaiting offshore. Twenty-nine
minutes later, the governor returned with a reply. The reply was addressed
to Lt. Braunersreuther's commanding officer, and the Spanish governor protested
as the lieutenant opened it. Braunersreuther responded that he was acting
on behalf of his commander. The brief letter stated in part:
"Being without defenses of any kind and without means for meeting the present situation, I am under the sad necessity of being unable to resist such superior forces and regretfully to accede to your demands, at the same time protesting against this act of violence, when I have received no information from my government to the effect that Spain is in war with your nations."With that, Spanish rule in Guam fell and the United States had gained its first possession in the Pacific.
Lt. Braunersreuther had the governor order the small contingent of Spanish troops to be at the pier in Piti to be disarmed at 4:00 p.m. On completing this, and writing a letter to his wife, a tearful Governor Marina set foot in a launch along with his staff and were taken aboard the CHARLESTON. The landing forces were stopped and Captain Glass took a large U.S. flag and proceeded to Fort Santa Cruz, where he raised the flag. A salute was fired by the CHARLESTON while the bands on the AUSTRALIAN and CITY OF PEKIN played the "Star Spangled Banner".
At 4:00 p.m., marines from the CHARLESTON disarmed the Spanish troops
and the Chamorros without incident. The Spaniards were to be taken
aboard the CITY OF SYDNEY. The Chamorros, surprisingly, celebrated
the departure of their former comrades, ripping the buttons off
of their own uniforms and giving them to the
Americans as souvenirs.
Captain Glass had been ordered to destroy the Spanish fortifications. However, on visiting the forts, he determined that they were in such a state of disrepair, that they were of no military value. One fort contained the only cannons found - four old cast iron guns that were even unsafe for saluting purposes. It was also determined that no Spanish war vessels had visited the island in the last year and a half.
On June 22, 1898, the CHARLESTON and the transports left Guam to
continue on their way to Manila.
(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)
Collier's World Atlas and Gazeteer, New York: P.F. Collier & Son Corp., 1940, p.166.
Clerk of the Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement: Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899, Vol. IV, p. 151-157.
Davis, Oskar King, Harpers Weekly, New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers, August 20, 1898, p. 829-830.
O'Toole, G.J.A., The Spanish War : An American Epic--1898. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1984).