|THE ROBINSON LIBRARY|
Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Late 19th Century, 1865-1900 >> William McKinley's Administration, 1897-1901
Cervera y Topete
Pascual Cervera y Topete was born in Medina Sidonia, Cįdiz, Spain, on February 18, 1839, the son of an officer in the Spanish Army who had fought against Napoleon's troops during the French invasion of Spain. He entered the Naval Academy of San Fernando in 1852, and was commissioned Midshipman First Class during his first voyage to Havana in 1858.
Early Naval Career
Cervera first gained recognition during the Moroccan Campaign of 1859-60, during which he was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant. He subsequently participated in operations in the Sulu Islands, and was then stationed in the Philippines. While in the Philippines he fought against the Moors, and was almost killed during an assault on Fort Pagalugan. His meritorious performance during the campaign earned him a promotion to Lieutenant. He stayed in the Philippines until 1865, during which time he constructed navigation charts of hundreds of islands in the archipelago; many of those charts remained in use into the 20th century. In 1865, he returned to Spain and got married.
From 1868 to 1873, Cervera was posted to the West Indian station. He then returned to Spain to serve on the Basque coast against the Carlists, during which campaign he distinguished himself while defending the Carraca arsenal near Cądiz against the Federals, in 1873.
In 1876, Cervera returned to the Philippines to become Governor of Jolo. While there he contracted malaria and almost died, but refused to resign his post despite having official permission to do so. Returning to Spain in mid-1879, he was given command of the corvette Ferrolana, a schoolship for midshipmen. At the end of 1880 he was transferred to Maritime Command of Cartagena Harbor, where he served until 1882. From 1885 to 1890 he presided over construction of the battleship Pelavo, and then became its first Commanding Officer.
In May of 1891, Cervera was called by Regent Queen Maria Cristina, mother of King Alfonso XII, to serve in the court as her Naval Adjutant, and promoted to Rear Admiral. Later that same year he was named Technical and Administrative Director of the Nervion Shipyards, where he was charged with overseeing construction of three cruisers. He resigned that position after a few months to become Minister of Marine, but only after being assured by the Spanish government that the naval budget would not be reduced. He resigned after three months when the government reneged on its agreement and reduced his budget. In September 1893, he was appointed Chief of the Naval Commission in London.
As the Cuban Revolution grew more intense and war with the United States became more and more likely, Cervera was named Commanding Officer of the Spanish Fleet, in October 1897. Despite his many pleadings to the Spanish government, however, Cervera found himself in command of a fleet of ships that would be woefully inadequate for an engagement with the U.S. Navy. Most of his crewmen were undertrained, the ships lacked proper provisions, and some of them even had guns missing. Nevertheless, Cervera obeyed orders and led the fleet across the Atlantic toward Spain's colonies in the West Indies.
Cervera's fleet entered Santiago Bay, Cuba, on May 19, 1898, and was immediately blockaded by an American fleet. The fleet stayed in the harbor for the next two months, during which time Cervera's men helped defend the city of Santiago. In July, Cervera was ordered to run the blockade, an action which he knew would be suicidal. Always the faithful officer, however, he felt obligated to follow orders, and, on July 3, his entire fleet was destroyed while trying to get out of Santiago Bay. Cervera and hundreds of his crewmen were taken prisoner. He was released in September, and returned to Spain. Soon after his return, Cervera was tried before a supreme naval and military court of the realm for the loss of his fleet, but was honorably acquitted of all charges.
Cervera held various naval positions over the subsequent years. He was promoted to Vice-Admiral in 1901, appointed Chief of Staff of the Spanish Navy in 1902, made a Life Senator in 1903, and named Commanding Officer of the Maritime Department of Ferrol in 1906.
Cervera retired from active service and moved to Puerto Real in May 1907. He died there on April 3, 1909, and was buried at the Panteen de Marinos Ilustres in San Fernando, a mausoleum for illustrious Navy men.
This page was last updated on January 16, 2017.