This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.
Written by William H. Thiesen, Coast Guard Atlantic Area historian
Today we continue the story of James Scott’s heroic actions that made him a member of the long blue line. To learn what happened first, read Part One.
After seeing the shelling, Hudson steamed toward the Winslow at full speed and engaged the enemy. By 2:00 pm, the battle raged between the Spanish artillery and gunboats against Winslow, with its one-pounders; the distant USS Wilmington, with its heavier four-inch guns; and Hudson, with its six-pounders. Scott commanded Hudson’s aft six-pound gun, overseeing the gun crew while sitting calmly on an icebox and smoking a cigar.
Early in the firefight, with Spanish gunners closed the range on Winslow. Accurate enemy fire disabled Winslow’s steering gear and one of her engines. Her captain, Lt. John Bernadou, called out to the Hudson, “I am injured; haul me out.” In addition to her battle damage, a strong breeze was pushing the torpedo boat dangerously close to the enemy batteries and shoal water too shallow for Hudson to navigate.
Hudson steamed as close to the stricken torpedo boat as she could while Scott stood on the bow preparing to heave a line to Navy ensign Worth Bagley and several enlisted men on Winslow’s deck. Scott and Bagley were old friends, and Bagley yelled to Scott, “For God’s sake, get us out of that fellow’s fire!” Scott yelled back “Keep your shirt on old man. We’ll get you out in a minute.” But by the time the cutter closed enough for Scott to heave the heavy line, a shell exploded among Winslow’s men, killing Bagley and an enlisted man, and mortally wounding three more men. Bagley and his shipmates were the first Americans killed in the Spanish-American War.
Despite the enemy shells, strong winds and shallow water, Hudson’s crew managed to secure a three-inch hawser to the Winslow and tried to tow it out of range. Due either to tow strain or one of the numerous incoming rounds, the hawser snapped. Determined to succeed, Newcomb exclaimed, “We will make it fast this time” and plowed Hudson through the muddy bottom, backing and filling to carve a path to the stricken Winslow. Scott and his deck crew secured the Winslow alongside the cutter in tugboat fashion and finally hauled the ship out of range of the enemy guns, rescuing the remaining 15 souls aboard.
The men of the Winslow and Hudson had served with honor during the Battle of Cardenas Bay. Congress recognized three of Winslow’s crew for heroism with the Medal of Honor. During the battle, Hudson’s crew also served with distinction as they manned guns and worked on deck without any protection from enemy fire. In addition to rescuing the Winslow in a hailstorm of incoming rounds, the cutter poured 135 six-pound shells into Spanish positions in only twenty minutes and reduced one enemy battery on shore. Overall, the battle resulted in the destruction of two Spanish gunboats and heavy damage to enemy shore batteries.
At the height of the action, Hutch’s 6-pound gun kept up a steady covering fire as the cutter moved in to rescue the crippled Winslow and its surviving crewmembers. Newcomb was the only officer who had seen combat action and he wrote in his after-action report that each of his men performed “in a cool and efficient manner” under fire and that “each and every member of the crew . . . did his whole duty cheerfully and without the least hesitation.” Newcomb also praised the heroic efforts of Scott for his “coolness and intrepidity” in handling his gun crew and securing a line to Winslow “under the most trying circumstances.”
Hudson continued its patrols along Cuba’s coast until early August and the war’s conclusion. On August 12, she returned to New York City to a rousing welcome by local citizens. In a special message to Congress, President William McKinley commended Hudson for rescuing the Winslow “in the face of a most galling fire.” Congress also recognized Hudson’s crew with specially minted medals for their valor. A joint resolution provided Newcomb with the war’s only Congressional Gold Medal. Congress awarded Scott and Hudson’s other officers the Congressional Silver Medal, and bestowed the Congressional Bronze Medal on the enlisted crewmembers.
Scott remained in the Revenue Cutter Service a few more years after the war. He served as executive officer on board the cutter Manhattan, and then received temporary command of Cutter Washington. He also served as navigation officer of Cutter Gresham, when the crew rescued 103 passengers and crew from the grounded Portuguese bark Fraternidada. Throughout his career, Scott carried with him the memory of Cardenas and the dreadful combat loss of his friend.
Scott ended his Revenue Cutter Service career as executive officer of Cutter Perry, resigning on July 1, 1901. He was the first Revenue Cutter Service officer to receive an official letter of regret from the Revenue Cutter Service. Scott was a member of the long blue line and he performed honorably in the face of impossible rescue conditions and fierce enemy fire.