Daniel Montague was one of the crewmen who volunteered for the mission to sink the MERRIMAC in the channel entrance of Santiago Harbor. he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Daniel Montague was born in Wicklow, Ireland on October 22, 1867. When he was still an infant, his family moved to Boodles, England, just outside of Liverpool. Daniel joined the Royal Navy, and married Margaret Corcoran in England. The couple soon had a daughter, the first of four.
By this time it was the 1890’s, a time of massive growth for the U.S. Navy. To obtain skilled crewmen for its rapidly increasing navy, the U.S. Navy made it attractive for members of the Royal Navy to transfer to the U.S. Navy at the end of their enlistments, or even to simply jump ship if they did not want to wait that long. With his family, the second option was out of the question for Daniel Montague. Still, soon he was serving in the U.S. Navy, eventually making his way to the new and speedy cruiser, USS NEW YORK. This vessel was the flagship of Admiral William Sampson of the North Atlantic Squadron.
With the outbreak of the war, the naval forces of Sampson's combined North Atlantic Squadron and the Flying Squadron (under Winfield Scott Schley) began a blockade of Cuba, especially Santiago where the Spanish Squadron under Spanish Admiral Cervera was found to be.
Before he even arrived, Sampson was already making plans to "bottle up" Cervera and his squadron in Santiago harbor by sinking the collier MERRIMAC in the channel entrance. The vessel would be under the command of Naval Constructor Richmond Hobson.
As plans went into their final phase, Hobson was looking for one more man to fill out his very small crew. This man would be charged with loosing the stern anchor at the precise moment. More importantly, however, Hobson wanted a man who could lead the remaining crewmen if he himself was unable to do so through injury or death. Hobson consulted with the executive officer of the NEW YORK. Daniel Montague, the vessel's 29 year old chief master-at-arms (basically the ship's chief of police), was recommended and gladly accepted the position. It was not a position to be taken lightly. The chances of survival of any of the MERRIMAC's crewmen was considered to be very low, as it was expected that all of the available guns at Morro Castle, the Socapa Battery, and aboard the Spanish ships in the area would be opened upon the MERRIMAC.
On the MERRIMAC'S run into the harbor, Montague was at his position by the stern anchor when a large projectile pierced the air, wrecking the stern structure and cutting the anchor lashings. Through the tumult, he promptly reported this information to Hobson who apparently could not hear it . Montague could not have known at that moment, but this same shell may have destroyed the rudder control lines, dooming the mission. When Montague appeared at the rendezvous point aboard ship, Hobson later stated that he knew all attempts to place the ship athwart the channel had failed. If the faithful Montague was there, Hobson knew the stern anchor had been lost, otherwise Montague would still have been at his post.
According to their prearranged plan, the crew abandoned ship, but were unable to escape the channel and regain the American squadron because of the strong current. The next morning the crew was taken aboard a steam launch with none other than Admiral Cervera himself helping to bring the men aboard. The MERRIMAC's crew was soon confined in Morro Castle. Later, they were transferred to the city of Santiago itself. During the march from Morro Castle to Santiago, Hobson placed Daniel Montague in charge of the small contingent, with orders to have the men preserve their military bearing during the march.
Santiago was not kind to the chief master-at-arms. On June 26, Hobson found that Montague was sick with fever. The Spanish surgeon removed him from his quarters for better care and reported Montague's fever to Hobson three times a day. As the remainder of the crew was also beginning to decline, Hobson and the British consul requested that the men be paroled. The request was denied, but the men were moved to a proper hospital where all of the crew, including Montague began to recover quickly. Hobson knew that it would take months for the men to fully recover. In Montague's case, he never fully recovered. However, he found himself to be considered a national hero along with the rest of the MERRIMAC's crew. His action aboard the MERRIMAC resulted in his being rewarded by being awarded the Medal of Honor.
According to his daughters, the last three of whom were born in the U.S. in 1898, 1904, and 1906, Montague served as a mentor to the younger men in the years after the war. Apparently he went into the open sea single handed to successfully rescue a sailor who had fallen overboard, although there appears to be no documentation of this event. His health, still affected by the imprisonment in Santiago, combined with his hero status, allowed him to be given light duty at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, where the last of his daughters was born in 1906. One of his responsibilities was overseeing the maintenance of Admiral Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay, the OLYMPIA. The vessel was being used for midshipman training cruises.
Continuing to suffer from ill health, Montague was hospitalized periodically and given blood transfusions. Unfortunately blood typing was yet discovered, and he was apparently given an incompatible transfusion which led to his demise in 1912.
The Academy Hospital overlooked the
(the building still stands today but has long had a different use) and
Daniel Montague requested burial under a tree which he could see from
hospital room, in lieu of burial in the National Cemetery at Arlington,
(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)
Personal correspondence with Robert Wein, Daniel Montague's sole surviving descendent.
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. V. (Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1970, reprinted 1979).
Hobson, Richmond Pearson, The Sinking of the Merrimac. . (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987, ISBN: 0-87021-632-5, a reprint of an 1899 edition).