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by Miguel Hernandez

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The USS YOSEMITE was an auxiliary cruiser manned by members of the Michigan Naval Brigade, a unit of the United States Naval Militia. The vessel saw action several times during the war.


The PURISSIMA CONCEPCION was a Spanish troopship bound for Cuba and rumored to be carrying $100,000 in gold to pay the Spanish troops stationed there and on June 16th at about 5:00 a.m. USS YOSEMITE, came upon her as she was leaving neutral Jamaican waters. What happened next became a matter of considerable controversy for immediately on spotting the Spanish ship Lt. Gilbert Wilkes, one of the U-M sailors notified commander Emory who was in his cabin, immediately below the bridge. However, there was no response from him. Concerned, Wilkes called to the captain once again. Still he got no answer. Wilkes then made a third and final call that Emory also failed to acknowledge, and the PURISSIMA CONCEPCION slid past the USS YOSEMITE without even so much as a hale.

There was no entry in the log of this incident but somehow, word of it got back to the newspapers in Michigan and there was speculation that Emory was drunk or still feeling the effects of drink. In any event, the log reported that on that morning the weather was "clear" yet Emory in recounting the war in his memoir, "The Life of an American Sailor" wrote (of the morning in contention) "weather so thick as not to be able to distinguish objects". This memoir and another book, "The Story of the USS YOSEMITE" added fuel to the fire because the author, a crewman, Joseph S. Stringham, wrote, "We missed capturing the Spanish prize through some unexplained carelessness or bungling by the officers on watch".

This sparked yet another book, "The USS YOSEMITE, PURISSIMA CONCEPCION Incident, June 16, 1898". The author was Henry B. Joy, chief boatswain's mate on the USS YOSEMITE. He said that he was part of the deck crew that morning and that the PURISSIMA CONCEPCION was clearly visible. He stated that he himself saw Commander Emory's face appear at the porthole of his cabin several times and look in the direction of the PURISSIMA CONCEPCION and that, "Emory remained in his cabin and did not come on deck or on to the bridge." Joy went on to conclude the "the facts of that unhappy morning were known to many of the crew of "Yosemite" and reflect no discredit on Lt. Wilkes, the officer on watch. The only person upon whom the facts do denigrate is the captain of our ship, Commander William H. Emory." Apparently there had been some attempt to blame Wilkes for the failure to confront the PURISSIMA CONCEPCION and that charge did not set well with his fellow Michigan Reservists.


Joy, Henry B., The U.S.S. Yosemite, Purissima Concepcion Incident, June 16, 1898". (Detroit MI, 1937) Self-Published Memoir.

Stringham, Joseph S., The Story of the USS Yosemite.   (Detroit, MI 1929) Self-Published Memoir

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