George Burton Meek, a fireman first class aboard the torpedo boat Winslow, was killed in action during the battle of Cardenas Bay on May 11, 1898.
The engagement also cost the life of first U.S. naval officer to be killed in the war and three other crewmembers, before the Winslow was towed to safety by the crew of the cutter Hudson.
The Winslow and the Hudson were participating in the blockade of Cuba in the Cardenas Bay area.
According to various sources, the Winslow, the Hudson and a gunboat, having spotted Cuban gunboats in the harbor, moved in to attack.
The Winslow, commanded by Lt. John B. Bernadon, sped ahead, possibly hoping to capture a gunboat for which naval officers could receive prize money at the time.
Unfortunately for the crew of the Winslow, came under heavy fire from Spanish shore batteries.
Two Spanish gunboats were sunk, but the Winslow eventually was hit hard.
Lt. Bernadon, in his official report of the action, had this to say:
"The first shot that pierced the Winslow rendered her steam and hand-steering gear inoperative. ... For a short time the vessel was held on her bows in position by use of her propellers. She then swung broadside to the enemy. A shell now pierced her engine room rendering one engine inoperative. I directed my attention to maintaining fire from her 1-pounder guns, to keep the vessel constantly in movement, so as to reduce the chances of her being hit, to endeavoring to withdraw from short range, and to keeping clear of the line of fire of the Wilmington and Hudson. ... Under the heavy fire of the Wilmington, the fire of the enemy slackened. The Spanish gunboat was silenced and put out of action early in the engagement.
"The Winslow now being practically disabled, I signaled to the Hudson to tow us out of action. She very gallantly approached us, and we succeeded in getting a line to her. ... A shell hitting, I believe, a hose reel, exploded instantly, killing Ensign Bagley and two others and mortally wounding two. This accident, which occurred at the close of the action, was virtually its end; the enemy fired a few more shots, but was soon completely silenced by the heavy fire of the Wilmington."
Ens. Bagley was the first U.S. naval officer killed in the war. I don't know if Meek was killed when the engine room was hit or at the time that Bagley was killed, but it somehow was determined that he was the first U.S. sailor to die.
A $100 check was sent to George's father, John Meek, with this message:
"A Cuban gentleman, who signs himself Cambreis, from the City of Mexico, sent General Tomas Estrado Palma, of New York, an order for $100 to be given to the wife, children or parents of the first American-born sailor who should die in the war to free Cuba. I have just now been informed that your son, George B. Meek, fireman of the first class on board the torpedo boat Winslow, was the first hero to shed his blood for the independence of our unfortunate and downtrodden people."
George Burton Meek, who was born in 1873, was buried in Clyde's McPherson Cemetery. A statue and monument mark his grave.
Nearly two years after the battle, Congress honored Newcomb and his crew with the creation of the Cardenas Medal of Honor:
'(I)n recognition of the gallantry of First Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb, of the Revenue Cutter Service, commanding the revenue cutter Hudson, his officers and the men of his command, for their intrepid and heroic gallantry in the action at Cardenas, Cuba ... when the Hudson rescued the United States naval torpedo boat Winslow in the face of the most galling fire from the enemy's guns, the Winslow being disabled, her captain wounded, her only other officer and half her crew killed. The commander of the Hudson kept his vessel in the very center of the hottest fire of the action, although in constant danger of going ashore on account of the shallow water, until finally he got a line made fast to the Winslow and towed that vessel out of range of the enemy's guns."
Unfortunately, it was too late for Fireman First Class George Burton Meek, a Sandusky Countian reputed to be the first U.S. Sailor killed in the Spanish American War.
Copyright © 2014 historianaval.org For information: