As is true with all research, when you turn up some of the fascinating and also not so fascinating facts that you are seeking, other great stories and people also crop up, blending in with the subject of your own research and making you want to delve deeper into the story. And that’s happened this week, thanks to the widely read pages of the Atlantic Highlands Herald!
Seaman, later Chief Robert Blume, is the former lighthouse keeper at the Twin Lights who earned a Medal of Honor at the cable cutting in Cienfuegos, Cuba, during the 1898 Spanish American War.
While the Highlands Historical Society and the Friends of the Twin Lights are laying out all the groundwork to secure Chief Blume’s Medal for display and honor at the Twin Lights Museum, something I feel certain will happen thanks to the excellence of the Friends of the Twin Lights and its members, a History and Happenings column on Blume from the Atlantic Highlands Herald was being read in Canada!
It seems there were a number of Canadian born Sailors and Marines who were also at that battle. And four of them were right alongside our Chief Blume in one of those two small boats filled with daring seamen who braved enemy fire to cut underwater cables and thus cut off contact between Spain and their forces in Cuba. These four Canadian born military personnel had all signed up in our military, three from Massachusetts and one from New York and all received the same Medal of Honor with the same inscription, as our own Chief Blume.
The 52 men who earned the Medal at Cienfuegos for action on May 11, 1898, were serving on two different ships, the Marblehead and the Nashville, Blume’s ship. All were in the United States Marine Corps or Navy, and their medals are all inscribed with the same simple explanation: “On board the U.S.S. Nashville (or the USS Marblehead) during the cutting of the cable leading from Cienfuegos, Cuba, 11 May 1898. Facing the heavy fire of the enemy, (the Sailor or Marine’s name) set an example of extraordinary bravery and coolness throughout this action.”
Our nation was 122 years old when we faced the Spanish to help Cuba. We were a proud country, we still recalled how we had fought for our own freedom from the most formidable nation on earth; we fought them again, successfully, in 1812, and we had less proudly come through our own awful Civil War. And still we were a country of immigrants, very brave immigrants at that, judging from the roles of those who earned those Medals at Cienfuegos.
While each Medal is credited to the state from whence its hero had signed on in the military, their places of birth show a startling diversity of birth lands. There were ten military members from Germany, another six from Ireland, and a smattering of others from England, Finland, Sweden, Scotland, Norway, Austria Hungary, as well as a little more than half American born. And the four Medal of Honor recipients from that battle from our nearest neighbor, Canada.
Canada had played other roles in this particular war as well. Our consular officials north of the border could report on Spanish espionage, ship movement and Spanish efforts to purchase coal. Canadian support for the US helped force Spanish spies based in Montreal to leave. And while Canadian citizens could not serve in the war because of Great Britain’s neutrality laws, it didn’t stop the Canadians from somehow managing to provide fuel for our ships and give us the moral support that is always helpful from friends and neighbors.
As to the Canadian born who served and received the Medal: Two were brothers, Harry Herbert and Willard Miller. Both medals are credited to Massachusetts, both Sailors served on the Nashville, most likely alongside our own Chief Blume, and both were seaman. A third, also from Massachusetts, was Pvt. Daniel Campbell, a Marine, and the fourth, Henry P. Russell of New York, both of whom served on the Marblehead. Russell had signed on in the Navy as a Landman, a rank the Navy posted from 1838 to 1921, and reserved for those enlistees who had no sea experience at all. They generally did unskilled labor aboard a ship and if they accomplished that without any problems, could be advanced to seaman after three years. Landman Russell certainly showed America and his own native country that he was truly fearless and more than capable of doing more than unskilled labor!
Back to why History & Happenings continued research into the Canadian born heroes. Bart Armstrong is the son of military heroes himself, and apparently a lifelong historian bent on letting the world know how many Canadian born military members have earned our prestigious award. He read the Herald story, contacted the editor, and shared information, stories, and a great pride in what ancestors on both sides of the US/Canada border have done for our nations. Visit his blog and learn more at https://canadianmedalofhonor.com. Just don’t pay any attention to his mis-information about our present dayAmerican border guards!