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    Description

    John A. LeJeune Fine Content Autograph Letter Signed. Three pages, 16 x 10.25", Apia, Samoa, March 23, 1889 to Lieutenant J.W. Carlin "Commanding Survivors U.S.S. Vandalia". A fascinating letter by the future Marine Corps Commandant while serving as a naval cadet midshipman reporting on the wreck of the U.S.S. Vandalia following the 1889 Apia Cyclone. The disaster's importance lay in the fact that the Vandalia was part of a U.S. squadron sent to counterbalance the presence of German gunboats at Samoa resulting in a tense standoff in the late winter of 1889 over division of the islands. Rather than abandon their positions on the first hint of disaster, the four German ships, together with the American squadron, and a British ship, chose to remain in the harbor until the last minute. The resultant scramble to open sea was a disaster; only the British ship made it out. The German and American ships were wrecked against the reefs and beaches killing nearly 150 sailors. Naval Cadet LeJeune was charged to compose a full report on the Vandalia's experience in the incident. He writes, in small part: "...On the 14th inst. signs of bad weather were noted, the barometer began to fall and the wind blew in gusts...and there were frequent rain & showers...During the day the wind blew in squalls to very stiff breeze and there were frequent rain squalls...I stood watch on Forecastle from 4 to 6 P.M. and Bar[ometer] was as low as 29.8 after which it rose somewhat. At 12 Mid[night]. I began my watch on Forecastle; two...anchors were down...We did not drag our anchors up to 4 A.M. At about 3.30 A.M...first sea...came over port board and washed every one about the forecastle off their feet and across the deck...At about 4.40 A.M. all hands were called and the hatches were battened down...Ongoing on the T. G. Forecastle I noticed that we had dragged a considerable distance...After day light order was given to get chains ready for slipping...We had now drifted down near the H[is]. B[rittanic] m[ajesty's] s[hip] Calliope and just managed to clear her ram, her jib beam sinking on the poop and was carried away. She bore down on us three times, and carried away our quarter oats[?] and gig, and the last time stuck us aft on the St[ar]b[oar]d quarter carrying away the quarter gallery. In avoiding the Calliope drifted near the Western reef where the German Men of war Eber and Adler were wrecked; but we escaped this reef and headed her towards the beach as a last resort. She was run in a short distance from the Nipsie but drifting astern our stern struck the reef, and we settled down; immense seas washing over us until finally all hands were forced to leave the deck and take refuge in the tops and rigging. In the meanwhile several attempts had been made to float different things ashore with a line attached but to no purpose as a swift current was setting out to sea. Two men...attempted to carry lines ashore but were drowned...the ship finally settled down and tremendous seas washed over her, and the rain also fell in blinding sheets and the wind blew a hurricane...[it seemed to defy] the bounds of possibility for the men in the rigging to endure such terrible strain and cold especially as very few had had anything to eat or any sleep for 24 hours and as the darkness drew over us we all expected to perish before morning. About 8 Pm however the Trenton drifted down on us striking us about amid ships and the people in the main rigging were saved, then a line being made fast to our foremast hauled taut and belayed she lay along side the Vandalia, and the people from the Fore and Mizzen went on Board. On the morning of the 17th the wind and sea having subsided, the Vandalia's officers and crew were sent ashore..." A superb letter illustrating the superb discipline and character of the "greatest of all Leathernecks." Partial separation at folds, very light foxing, else very good.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2008
    21st-22nd Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
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