On November 2, 1899, eight members of the United States Navy were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism and service beyond the call of duty. On the night of June 2, 1898, they had volunteered to scuttle the collier USS Merrimac, with the intention of blocking the entry channel to Santiago de Cuba. On orders of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, who was in command, their intention was to trap Spanish Admiral Cervera’s fleet in the harbor.
Getting the USS Merrimac underway, the eight men navigated the ship towards a predetermined location where sinking her would seal the port. Their course knowingly took them within the range of the Spanish ships and the shore batteries. The sailors were well aware of the danger this put them into, however they put their mission first. Once the Spanish gunners saw what was happening, they realized what the Americans were up to and started firing their heavy artillery from an extremely close range. The channel leading into Santiago is narrow, preventing the ship from taking any evasive action. The American sailors were like fish in a barrel and the Spanish gunners were relentless. In short order, the heavy shelling from the Spanish shore batteries disabled the rudder of the Merrimac and caused the ship to sink prematurely. The USS Merrimac went down without achieving its objective of obstructing navigation and sealing the port.
Fête du Canada or Canada Day is the anniversary of the July 1, 1867, enactment of the Canadian Constitution Act. This weekend Americans also celebrate the United States’, July 4, 1776 birthday, making this time perfect to celebrate George Fredrick Phillips heroic action. Phillips was one of the men mentioned in the story above of the USS Merrimac. He was born on March 8, 1862, in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada and joined the United States Navy in March 1898 in Galveston, Texas. Phillips became a Machinist First Class and displayed extraordinary heroism throughout the Spanish bombardment during their operation. He was discharged from the Navy in August 1903, and died a year later at the age of 42 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His body was returned to Canada where he was interred with honors at the Fernhill Cemetery in his hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick.
Photo Caption: George Fredrick Phillips, Machinist First Class USN (Visit Captain Hank Bracker Facebook for pictures & Photos)
Award winning Captain Hank Bracker, Author and Master Mariner is the author of “The Exciting Story of Cuba” and “Suppressed I Rise.” Both books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, BooksAMillion.com and many Independent Book Stores.