This was a bleak, unfriendly kind of day. A heavy mist settled over the water, and there was a suggestion of fall in the air. Our crew was anxious to get underway, and the officers were chafing under the tedious waiting.
Every passing day gives the Spanish more time to prepare for our attack on Manila. No one knows this better than the commodore, and consequently this awareness adds to the general uneasiness aboard the fleet.
About 11 A.M., a tugboat entered the bay and steamed alongside the Olympia. On deck was Oscar F. Williams, the American consul to the Philippines, who had just arrived from Manila. Williams hurriedly climbed aboard the flagship, and Dewey immediately signaled his squadron to prepare to get underway at two o’clock. A feverish surge of activity swept the fleet, and volumes of black smoke began pouring from ship funnels.
Lieutenant Elliot and I made a quick trip over to the Nanshan and Zafiro. There were hasty introductions, and much strained joking on how the squadron would soon be bursting into Manila Bay. Many a hope was expressed that we would be drinking to one another’s health in Manila within a few days.
We returned to the McCulloch about one-thirty, and at 2 p.M. sharp the Olympia hoisted anchor. The flagship’s marine detachment assembled on the quarterdeck, and the band struck up the inspiring march from “El Capitan.”
Only a few curious junks were on hand to see us off. And, with radio silence, we knew that from this moment on, we would be cut off from the rest of the world. The McCulloch’s crew was lined up on deck, and Captain Hodgsdon read aloud the Spanish declaration of war as issued by the authorities at Manila. It was an inflammatory cry to the people of the Philippines to unite them against the sacrilegious vandals who were
coming to loot their churches and insult their women. At the conclusion of the statement—which also contained a number of infuriating remarks about American sailors, as well as Uncle Sam—the crew broke into three rousing cheers for the Stars and Stripes.
The Raleigh was steaming on the starboard quarter of the Olympia, while the McCulloch took her assigned position about a hundred yards abeam of the Raleigh’s stern. The Baltimore moved up to the port beam of the Raleigh, and the Petrel took her place on the Baltimore’s port quarter. A white flag with red diagonal crossbars—the commodore’s pennant—fluttered from the Olympia’s foremast. And, from her mainmast, the American flag waved with authority.
The sky was overcast like the color of dull lead. There was a gentle swell, and a soft breeze blowing in from the China Sea. A purple hue covered the headlands that form the northern side of Mirs Bay.
The squadron’s formation was gradually changing. The McCulloch moved to a position on the starboard beam of the Olympia. Two lines were formed. Steaming in the first column were the Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh, Petrel, Concord and Boston, in that order. The McCulloch headed the second column that was comprised of the Nanshan and Zafiro.
At dark, the fleet was steaming southeast at eight knots. The ships were marked by only a few lights—even the outlines of their hulls had dissolved into the blackness. The string of lights, stretching for a mile through the night, was ghostlike, harmless in appearance, but deadly in reality.
The Olympia flashed her orders to the squadron—regulating speed and other matters. The red and white signal lights winked like fireflies as they sent their messages through the pitch-black darkness. Every now and then, the flagship fired a red rocket high in the sky. The bright light would float off to the stern for a moment, then vanish—snuffed out like a candle.