The Fighting Doctor: Dudley Newcomb Carpenter at the Battle of Manila Bay

Dudley Newcomb Carpenter

Dudley Newcomb Carpenter, a doctor on a ship that fought at the Battle of Manila Bay, reached the rank of captain in the US Navy.

What can one say about Dudley Newcomb Carpenter, whom one newspaper called “one of the finest looking, most sociable and brightest officers of his grade in the navy”?1 Not much, really. I searched the Internet with Google and perused the databases on ALADIN, entering every iteration of Carpenter’s name I could imagine, but I still could not find a lot beyond a rough summary of his life. He entered this world on June 28, 1874, in Kittery, Maine,2 and left it on March 26, 1955, in Bremerton, Washington. After graduating from Harvard Medical School, Carpenter worked as a surgeon in the United States Navy, where he eventually achieved the rank of captain.3 During his naval career, Carpenter participated in the Spanish-American War of 1898,4 helped establish hospitals at such locations as Bas Obispo, Mexico; Bremerton, Washington; and Baguio, Philippines; he also served as the Reserve Fleet surgeon in the 1910’s, commanded the Division of Planning and Publication at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery from 1923 to 1927, and sat on the Medical Examining and Retiring Board during the Second World War. Carpenter apparently wrote pieces for the Naval Medical Bulletin,5 though I could not find any of them.6

Fortunately, Carpenter kept a journal of one of his stints, from May 18, 1897 to August 15, 1898 aboard the USS Raleigh, which along with the letters and clippings that accompany it in his collection at the Library of Congress, provides the only detail about Carpenter’s life available. In his journal, Carpenter describes such locations as Italy, Northern Africa, the Middle East, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippines, where Carpenter fought in the Battle of Manila Bay.7 The section of the journal in which the Battle rages stimulates the most excitement, so that portion, in addition to Carpenter’s letters about the Battle, was the focus of my research.

Before I recount Carpenter’s experiences during the Battle, I should provide some details about the Battle itself. It took place on May 1, 1898, a few days after the United States had declared war on Spain. An American naval fleet—Commodore George Dewey’s8 Asiatic Squadron9—steamed into Manila Bay10 hoping to find and destroy the Spanish Navy’s Pacific fleet,11 under the command of Spanish Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón,12 thus eliminating any threat it might pose to America’s West Coast. Even though Dewey’s ships lacked full stocks of ammunition, they annihilated the Spanish flotilla at Cavite,13 experiencing no casualties themselves while inflicting 381 deaths and injuries on their Spanish counterparts. After the Battle of Manila Bay, Spanish naval power in the Pacific vanished.14

According to Carpenter, the Raleigh received an official telegram of the war declaration on Tuesday, April 26, 1898.15 The Raleigh, which had anchored in Hong Kong, then departed for Mirs Bay, a short distance away, alongside the Olympia and the Baltimore, with British sailors cheering on the Americans from the Hong Kong shore.16 After rendezvousing with the Asiatic Squadron inside Mirs Bay, the Raleigh sat with the rest of the fleet until 2 PM Wednesday. While the ships were waiting, Carpenter writes, “Our one thought is on Manilla [sic].”

The Asiatic Squadron could not head for Manila before Wednesday because it had to wait for the American consul from Manila, who had difficulty leaving the city because of “rough seas.”17 (Engine trouble on the Raleigh, because a “careless oiler” had damaged the port circulating pump,18 had also threatened to delay the Squadron, but the ship’s engineers had repaired the pump 12 hours before the consul arrived.) With the consul safely in American hands, Dewey’s fleet stormed towards Bolinoin19 at eight knots.20

The consul, though, provided one of the ship captains with intelligence that convinced the fleet commanders to go straight to Manila Bay.21 Carpenter describes the three-day journey as “auspicious,” with “lovely cool days and beautiful moonlight [sic] nights.” The ocean was so calm Carpenter hardly knew he was afloat. Drills for general quarters, fire, and collision kept the crew prepared for combat, and target practice kept the gunners’ eyes sharp. During both day and night, the fleet practiced signaling each other, with red and white flashes on the foremasts of various ships.22

Before the Asiatic Squadron attacked the Spanish fleet, the Boston and the Concord searched Subic Bay23 for Spanish gunboats. After those two ships found the Bay empty, the whole fleet anchored there; Carpenter had expected the fleet to stay the night, but a council of war among the fleet commanders decided not to wait for dawn. To make itself harder to see in the darkness, the Raleigh extinguished all of its running lights but for a shielded one on its rear, as did the other ships. Thusly prepared, the Squadron moved to commence its assault.24

As the ships slid into Manila Bay, bright bolts of lightning pierced their shroud of darkness.25 Spanish forts launched torpedoes at the Americans, all of which the Americans avoided.26 Soon afterwards, the crews saw flashes on the northern shore, after which a “small black rock,” which was really a Spanish fort, lobbed a shell with a “shrill, curdling whirr” at the Raleigh as it passed. The Raleigh gave its opinion of that with its five-inch guns, firing the introductory American shots of the Battle of Manila Bay. The fort continued its assault, until the Boston eliminated its artillery battery. With that peril overcome, the fleet sailed merrily up the Bay.

Even though the crew knew a more fierce battle with the Spanish fleet was coming, one would not have known it by observing their behavior, writes Carpenter. He says they could have been going to a “festive occasion, from their jokes and general good spirits.” Below decks on the Raleigh, the crew even danced to an accordion and a guitar. This continued until the dawn of May 1, 1898, which brought the Battle proper in its wake.27

In the light of early morning, the Americans could see the Spanish ships waiting for them at Cavite. The Americans charged at the Spanish without fear, paying no heed to the Spanish shells that were falling around them but not hitting them.28 Withholding their response, the American ships drew to within 4,000 yards of the Spanish, at which point the Olympia, leading the American attack,29 let loose with its eight-inch guns. The firing accelerated from both sides, orchestrating a cacophony of violence with “the whirr of shells” and “the whiz of shrapnel.”30 The Americans circled around, and in what Carpenter calls “a stirring sight,” they pummeled the Spanish with the eight-inch guns of the Olympia and the Baltimore and the six-inch guns of the Raleigh. Fire started to ravage the Castilla, and the Reina Christina began to sink.31

Some Spanish torpedo boats, cloaking themselves with the smoke of the burning ships, tried to assail the Americans by surprise, but the Americans forced them to withdraw; the torpedo boats only tried again by going along the shoreline. They did not even get to retreat that time, “as one doubled like a jackknife” after a shell hit it, and its partner fled to the beach and hemorrhaged its crew, who “scampered like scared rabbits over the embankment.” The defeat of the torpedo boats terminated Spanish attempts to sink the American fleet with torpedoes.32

By that period of the Battle of Manila Bay, the Americans had experienced no significant casualties: only six sailors on the Baltimore had suffered injury. Carpenter writes that at this time, 7:45 AM, the Americans pulled back in order to facilitate a meeting of the fleet commanders and to have breakfast.33 As the captains were discussing the Battle, “We cheered each other while the bands of the Baltimore and the Olympia played.” Once the meeting and the breakfast concluded, the Americans, fully refreshed after a good rest, rejoined the Battle at 11 AM, with the Baltimore in front.

This was when the Americans knew they had achieved victory. The Castilla and the Reina Christina sat under blankets of fire, and the only other Spanish ship in sight was the Don Antonio de Ulloa. Carpenter says the most exciting part of the Battle then took place. The Baltimore approached the shore,34 and she swept along the whole coast, firing “shot after shot” at Spanish artillery batteries as they revealed themselves, churning up large billows of dust that showed where the Baltimore had directed her fury. The Baltimore then came upon a fort with two water batteries in front of it.

The Baltimore rammed the batteries, fiercely pushing away whatever was in her path.35

With the batteries annihilated, the Olympia, the Boston, and the Raleigh bombarded the Spanish arsenal at Cavite. They also sank the Don Antonio de Ulloa,36 “which defiantly waved the Spanish flag.” Carpenter gives the crew of the Don Antonio credit by recording they “stood up nobly,”37 even though their ship went down in 15 minutes.38

Meanwhile, the Concord stalked a merchantman that attempted to claim English affiliation, but the captain of the Concord “decided that as they were good Spaniards in the morning they had better be so all day.” After allowing the merchantman a little while to reach the shore, and watching that time expire, the Concord’s captain ordered his crew to shell the merchantman,39 which the Raleigh observed flaming as it passed the crippled merchantman on its way to the city of Manila itself.

The Americans thought the city of Manila would wage yet more battle against them, as it had constantly shelled the American fleet before and after breakfast. Manila instead erected the white flag of peace, 40 and promised not to attack unless the Americans fired first, so the Americans anchored nearby, amongst a fleet of sailing vessels.41

The Battle of Manila Bay was over, and the Americans had won.42 The ships of the Spanish Navy’s Pacific fleet were lying either in American hands or at the bottom of the Bay.43 One hundred twenty men perished on the Castilla and fifty-six died on the Reina Christina, and eighty men on the latter ship had wounds. Of the Spanish, Carpenter says they demonstrated admirable courage and possessed excellent weapons, but “they could not shoot straight” with them.

During the Battle, only one American died: an engineer on the McCulloch from heat exhaustion. As an assistant surgeon, Carpenter had little to do but rescue four firemen and take them to sickbay. This afforded Carpenter the opportunity to witness almost the entire Battle, during which he contributed to the Reina Christina’s death by shooting it a few times with a six-pounder. He also observed the activities of the normal gunners, such as “Old Rodman,” who would say before firing on the Spanish, “Farewell, vain ship.”44

After reading some of Carpenter’s journal and letters, I have learned much about the Battle of Manila Bay. Before doing this research project, I knew only that the Americans had shattered Spanish Pacific naval power during the Battle; I remained ignorant of most of the details. Now, however, I can play the Battle in my mind, from the “small black rock” treacherously shelling the Americans to the Baltimore crusading against the batteries to the Spanish fleet burning and sinking, with the happiness and confidence of the Americans providing texture to the whole picture.

One thing I still cannot do, though, is understand Carpenter. Throughout the writings of his I read, he relates little beyond what he saw and some of his gut reactions to that. Carpenter fails to record his deep thoughts or feelings, to provide context for the facts of his memories. While he does demonstrate awe at the sight of American shells crashing into Spanish ships, and excitement at the adventure of the Baltimore fighting the Spanish artillery, all that reveals is his basic humanity. Bright lights and loud sounds thrill normal people. As a researcher, I take dissatisfaction in the fact that Carpenter, at least in his descriptions of the Battle of Manila Bay, provided only enough for me to conclude he was normal. By definition, that does not distinguish him from most individuals.

Perhaps some other sections of Carpenter’s journal might convey his ruminations and emotions. Maybe Carpenter left something else somewhere that would allow a researcher to discover him, not just his factual recollections. If not, then, unfortunately, history really has lost him.


(The various appendices referred to below took the form of photocopies, which I no longer possess. I am therefore unable to reproduce them on this site.)

1 Dudley Newcomb Carpenter, papers (1897-1901). Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. Washington, D.C. 1 container (ca. 17 items). This particular bit of information comes from a newspaper clipping. For more information about the collection, see Appendix A. To see the clipping, look at Appendix J.

2 Or Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as the National Cyclopedia, cited below, insists.

3 “Deaths,” Journal of the American Medical Association 158 (28 May 1955): 324. See Appendix B.

4 Naval Historical Center, “Manila Bay Medal – USS Raleigh” <http://www.history.navy.mil/medals/dewey/dewey3.htm> and “Photo # NH 43347 picture data” <http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/h43000/h43347c.htm>, 9 December 2002, along with Patrick McSherry, “USS Raleigh Crew Roster” <://www.spanamwar.com/Raleighcrew.html>, 21 October 2002. Even though these are web sites, I deem them credible, because the first two are from a body attached to the Department of the Navy, and the last is from someone who maintains an elaborate web site full of information that jibes (mostly) with that of the Center and with that contained in Carpenter’s material.

5 National Cyclopædia of American Biography, s.v. “Carpenter, Dudley Newcomb.” See Appendix C.

6 I could find, however, two other articles Carpenter wrote: “Visit to the Chefoo, China, School for the Deaf,” Association Review 9 (1907): 359-362; and “Gunshot Wounds as Seen in the Philippines,” Medical News (6 August 1898): 174-176. I located the former in the Adams Building of the Library of Congress, and I discovered the latter in the back of Carpenter’s journal. A copy of “Gunshot Wounds” appears in Appendix D.

7 He was then an assistant surgeon. From a crew roster in the Library of Congress collection. (Appendix G)

8 George Dewey (1837-1917), aside from leading the Asiatic Squadron in the Spanish-American War, also participated in the American Civil War, fighting with the Union Navy in battles at the Louisiana cities of New Orlean (1862), Port Hudson, and Donaldsonville (both in 1863), then with the blockade forces in 1864 through 1865. After the Spanish-American War, in March 1899, Congress fashioned for Dewey the rank of Admiral of the Navy, the highest any naval officer has ever achieved. From Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

9 The Squadron’s members included the Olympia, which was the flagship, the Baltimore, the Raleigh, the Boston, the Concord, the Petrel, the McCulloch, the Nanshan, and the Zafiro. From Patrick McSherry, “The Battle of Manila Bay (Cavite)” < http://www.spanamwar.com/mbay.htm>, 21 October 2002.

10 Manila Bay reaches from the South China Sea into Luzon, the Philippines. The Spanish started constructing the city of Manila in 1571. Aside from hosting a key battle of the Spanish-American War, Manila Bay also witnessed naval and aerial battles during World War II. From EBO.

11 This fleet comprised Admiral Montojo’s flagship, the Reina Christina, the Castilla, the Isla de Cuba, the Isla de Luzon, the Don Antonio de Ulloa, the Don Juan de Austria, the Marques del Duero, the El Cano, and the Argos. From McSherry, “Battle of Manila Bay.”

12 Patricio Montojo y Pasarón (1839-1917) served on various assignments in the Philippines and elsewhere before taking charge of the Spanish Pacific fleet. After he lost the Battle of Manila Bay, the Spanish court-martialed and imprisoned him. Later, the military exonerated Montojo, but he could not regain his commission. Ironically, Dewey testified in Montojo’s defense. From Jose Poncet, “Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón” <http://www.spanamwar.com/montojo.htm>, 16 December 2002. (The EBO had nothing on Montojo!)

13 Cavite, on the southern peninsular coast of Manila Bay, contained the Spanish naval base the Asiatic Squadron seized after the Battle of Manila Bay. From EBO. Admiral Montojo located his fleet there to avoid harming Manila during the confrontation with the Americans. From McSherry, “Battle of Manila Bay.”

14 McSherry, “Battle of Manila Bay.” See Appendix E.

15 Carpenter’s journal, p. 282.

16 Dudley Newcomb Carpenter, Manila Bay, to Anna Carpenter (his mother), 3 May 1898, letter in Library of Congress collection. A copy is in Appendix F.

17 Carpenter’s journal, p. 282.

18 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898.

19 I searched for this city or place on the Internet, but I could find no reference to it. Perhaps Carpenter spelled it incorrectly.

20 Carpenter’s journal, p. 282.

21 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898.

22 Carpenter’s journal, p. 282.

23 Subic Bay lies in Luzon, Philippines, 35 miles northwest of Manila Bay. From EBO. Admiral Montojo had stationed his fleet there for the confrontation with the Americans, but the artillery that was to fire on the Americans from Grande Island was not in place, so Montojo took his ships back to Manila. From “History of Subic Bay” <http://www.subicbay.net/Collections/The%20Subic%20Bay%20History.htm>, 12 December 2002. I think this web site is reliable because it fits with McSherry’s description of the Battle of Manila Bay.

24 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898.

25 Carpenter’s journal, p. 283.

26 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898. The Spanish said the Americans “must have had a map of their torpedos [sic].”

27 Carpenter’s journal, p. 283.

28 Ibid., pp. 283-284.

29 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898.

30 Carpenter’s journal, p. 284.

31 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898.

32 Carpenter’s journal, p. 284.

33 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898.

34 Carpenter’s journal, p. 285.

35 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898. Carpenter says the Baltimore shoved “everything before her,” which I presume to mean the batteries because ramming a fort and surviving is quite improbable.

36 I think Carpenter might have gotten the names of the Spanish ships confused, because in his 3 May 1898 letter to his mother, Carpenter identifies the ship as the San Juan, even though Don Antonio de Ulloa is the correct name, as McSherry indicates in his description of the Battle.

37 Carpenter’s journal, p. 285.

38 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898.

39 Carpenter’s journal, p. 286.

40 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898.

41 Carpenter’s journal, p. 286.

42 McSherry, “Battle of Manila Bay.”

43 A typed tally sheet pasted to the inside back cover of Carpenter’s journal.

44 Letter to mother, 3 May 1898.

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Written by Jason Vines

I'm Jason Vines, a web developer at a research institution in Washington, DC. I graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor's degree in political science, with a minor in journalism. I enjoy philosophy and web scripting, as well as reading, writing, history, video games, travel, and photography.