Winfield Scott Schley




NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Age of Steam and Steel (1866-1920)








Naval officer� [He gained] an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1856. An affable and natural leader, Schley graduated in 1860, eighteenth in a class of twenty-five, and was assigned to the frigate Niagara as a passed midshipman. By the time the ship had completed a voyage to Japan, China, and various ports in Africa, the Civil War had begun. Without hesitation Schley took the oath of loyalty required of officers. He remained on the Niagara when it went on blockade duty off Charleston, South Carolina.

In the summer of 1862 Schley was promoted to lieutenant and transferred to the steam gunboat Winona as executive officer. His action in reporting the ship's commander as medically unfit was upheld by the senior naval officer in the Mobile area� In March 1863 Schley was transferred to the sloop Richmond, after which he served for three months at the ordnance factory of the Washington Navy Yard� Schley returned to sea in 1864 as executive officer of the Wateree, a small, uncomfortable ship intended for service on rivers. During Schley's two years aboard, the Wateree spent most of its time cruising the Pacific, mainly in the area of Panama. In 1866 he was promoted to lieutenant commander and assigned to the naval academy as a member of the Department of Discipline. The following year he moved over to the Department of Modern Languages to teach Spanish.

Following his tour at Annapolis, Schley became executive officer of the Benicia (1869-1872), a new steam sloop attached to the Asiatic Squadron� Schley's next assignments were at the naval academy, where he headed the Department of Modern Languages (1872-1875), and command of the screw steamer Essex (1875-1879). He reported to Boston in 1880 to head the Second District of the Lighthouse Board. He had oversight of all lighthouses, ship lights, and buoys within an area bounded by Newburyport, Massachusetts, on the north and Newport, Rhode Island, on the south�

Having been promoted to commander in 1874 and to captain in 1888, Schley took command of the new cruiser Baltimore in 1889, his first experience on a steel-clad ship� Between 1892 and 1898 Schley had two tours with the Lighthouse Board (1892-1895 and 1897-1898), the second in Washington as its elected chairman, and one tour at sea commanding the armored cruiser New York (1895-1897). Schley was promoted to commodore in February 1898 and six weeks later received command of the Flying Squadron, a newly created force of some half-dozen ships assigned to cover the Atlantic seaboard between the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay in the event of war between Spain and the United States� War began in late April. Schley's force remained at Hampton Roads until mid-May, when it was ascertained that Spanish warships had arrived in the West Indies and posed no threat to the eastern seaboard. Schley was ordered to lead the Flying Squadron to [Cuba]�

The Flying Squadron arrived at Santiago on the night of 28 May to discover that Cervera's ships were already inside the fortified harbor� Although several of his officers advised him to close the range and return the enemy fire, Schley had orders from the Navy Department not to risk his ships by entering into action against enemy land guns. Cervera did not venture forth from the harbor� For weeks the blockade continued while U.S. Army troops, who had landed to the east, closed in on Santiago. On 3 July Sampson headed east in his flagship to confer with General William Shafter, the commander of ground operations. Four other ships, including a battleship and two cruisers, had also left their stations to recoal. Aware that the U.S. forces seemed weaker than usual, Cervera steamed forth to reach the open seas� One by one the Spanish ships were disabled, while Sampson, informed by a lookout that a battle was about to commence, ordered his flagship back to the scene. By the time Sampson reached the edge of the combat zone, the firing had stopped.

Partisans of Sampson and Schley quickly commenced a public debate over which officer deserved credit for the victory and whether Schley had acted properly prior to and during the battle� Schley� died on a visit to New York City.

Related Images

Date: 1898
Date: 1898