Fighting Bob Evans
Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, 1901.
Robley Evans was the gruff captain commanding the USS Iowa, the U.S.’s largest and newest battleship, at the Battle of Santiago.
Robley Dunglison Evans (18 August 1846-3 January 1912) was born in Floyd County, Virginia. At theoutbreak of the Civil War, he was a student at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis,graduating in 1863 and beginning his active service with the U.S. fleet. He served in the United States Navy from the American Civil War to the Spanish-American War, attaining the rank of rear admiral. In 1907-1908 he commanded the Great White Fleet on its worldwide cruise from the Atlantic Ocean through the Straits of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean.
In 1859 Utah Territory delegate William Henry Hooper offered Evans the territory’s nomination to the United States Naval Academy. After establishing residency in Utah, he entered the academy in 1860. Evans was ordered to active duty in September 1863 and graduated from the academy in the class of 1864.
American Civil War service
In the attacks on Fort Fisher, North Carolina during the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, he exhibited great gallantry under fire on 15 January 1865. He led his landing party of United States Marines through heavy fire to charge the Confederate defenses. Evans continued to fight even after his fourth wound, drawing his pistol and threatened to kill any man who attempted to amputate his leg in surgery when he was evacuated. |
See: Wasmuth – Historic Ship of the Past
USS Powhatan (Ensign Robley D. Evans and private Henry Wasmuth participated
in the Battle of Fort Fisher in North Caralina from this ship in 1865)
Late in the American Civil War, on the 15th of January, 1865, at 10:40 A.M., a party consisting of 100 seamen and marines left the USS POWHATAN in company with detachments from other ships of the fleet to attack Fort Fisher, North Carolina, held by the Confederates. The men in the naval landing force were all volunteers. Among them was Ensign Robley D. Evans and private Henry Wasmuth. As he proceeded toward the fort, Evans was shot in the thigh. Not letting the painful wound deter him, he wrapped a handkerchief around it and led his men toward the Fort. In a short span, he was shot several more times. Ensign Robley D. Evans fell wounded from a Confederate sharpshooter’s bullet to the knee. Private Wasmuth picked up the seriously wounded young officer and carried him to a place of comparative safety-—a shell hole on the beach. The private stayed with Ensign Robley D. Evans (the future admiral), ignoring the latter’s urgings to take cover, until a sharpshooter’s bullet pierced Wasmuth’s neck, cutting the jugular vein. Within a few minutes, Wasmuth dropped in the edge of the surf and died (Evans later wrote: “He was an honor to his uniform”).
As the battle continued, and while under severe fire from the fort, Evans and other wounded men were rescued by a detachment from the U.S.S. PEQUOT, led by Acting Ensign Anthony Smalley . The wounded were taken to the U.S.S. NEREUS, then transferred to the SANTIAGO DE CUBA for passage to the hospital at Norfolk.
Because of his serious wounds, as he lay helpless in the hospital, he was approached by a surgeon who suggested amputation. Evans pulled out a pistol from under his pillow and said he would shoot at the first sign of a surgeon’s saw. The surgeon concluded that Evans would die, and did not press for amputation. Obviously, the young ensign survived. However, these injuries left him with a limp and severe pain for the rest of hislife. Because of this limp, later in his life, while in command of the Great White Fleet in 1907, he was affectionately known as “ Gimpy Evans” by the crews of the ships under his command.
After the Civil War, because of his injuries, he was medically retired from the U.S. Navy. After many years, and after appealing to Congress for reinstatement, he was again placed into active duty in the Navy.
”Fighting Bob” Evans
Evans held numerous important sea commands during the 1890s. In 1891 and 1892, commanding Yorktown on the Pacific Squadron, he won great acclaim for his firm and skillful handling of a tense situation with Chile, becoming known as “Fighting Bob” Evans. Though he evidently took pride in his nickname, his reputation for profanity also led to his being chastised by Leonard Woolsey Bacon, pastor of the Congregational Church in Litchfield, Connecticut, in a letter to The New York Times.
The gunboat, U.S.S. YORKTOWN, arrived in Valparaiso under the command of the irrepressible Commander Robley D. Evans. Evans made his feelings about the affair quite clear, in very undiplomatic way. He stated ” [Schley’s] men were probably drunk on shore, properly drunk; which they did on Chilean rum paid for with good United States money. When in this condition they were more entitled to protection [from the Chilean government] than if they had been sober.”
After the departure of the USS Baltimore, the interests of the United States were guarded by the USS Yorktown under Evans, a determined and forceful man. He attempted to heal the differences by showing courtesy to the people of Chile. However, according to his writings, his crew members and himself were subjected to insults from the people of Chile.
Evans advised the Chilean officials that he believed that they were incapable of maintaining order on the streets. He suggested that he would arm his crewmen when they were required to go ashore, and have them shoot anyone that threatened them or insulted them. Evans was getting irritated with the situation and began to become nasty, which was not difficult for him to do.
For instance, one day the Chileans were practicing maneuvers and torpedo
use in the harbor. In so doing, they came very close to the YORKTOWN, seemingly to intimidate the Americans. Evans protested. The president of Chile replied that the Chilean ships could travel wherever they desired in Chilean waters. At this, Evans stated that the YORKTOWN was the property of the United States government, and if the paint of the ship was so much as scratched, he would sink the offending torpedo boat.
As the two nations argued over the events surrounding the USS Baltimore’s crew, the threat of war became a strong probability. Robley Evans received a message ordering him to keep his ship full of coal, which led him to wonder, “they regarded me at the [Navy] Department as some kind of idiot. Of course I [as commander of the YORKTOWN] was full of coal and everything else I should need when the time foraction came”.
On January 23, 1892, the Chilean government sent a message to President Harrison expressing a willingness to pay reparations for the dead and injured sailors. This led to a cessation of hostile actions and the incident was concluded.
Because of his strong stand against the Chileans, Robley Evans was nicknamed ”Fighting Bob Evans.” Evans later commented that this nickname seemed odd, since, by his actions, he managed to skillfully avoid a fight. Evans, because of hisforthright, if gruff, manner had won the grudging respect of the Chileans.
The United States’ first sea going battleship, USS Indiana (BB-1) was placed in commission 20 November 1895, with Captain Evans in command. Former President Benjamin Harrison with a committee from the state of Indiana presented a set of silver to Evans for the battleship on 16 September 1896 at Tompkinsville, New York.
Spanish-American War service
During the Spanish-American War he commanded the battleship USS Iowa (BB-4) in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba.
When the Spanish American War began, Captain Robley D. Evans found himself in command of the U.S.’s newest and largest battleship, the USS Iowa. She had only been commissioned less than a year earlier.
On May 12, 1898, the USS Iowa with Evans in command, joined the other ships of the squadron and entered the firing line against the Morro Battery and theEastern Battery at San Juan de Puerto Rico. After firing on the Spanish batteries forabout two hours, the fleet discontinued action. During the course of this event, the USS Iowa was struck by ashell from the Eastern Battery, which wounded three men and caused some damage on deck.
On the 3rd of July, 1898, the USS Iowa, was in its blockade position at the entrance of Santiago de Cuba. The Spanish ship, Infanta Maria Teresa, AdmiralCervera’sflagship, was sighted coming out of the harbor. She was followed by the Vizcaya, Cristobal Colon, and the Almirante Oquendo. The USS Iowa headed for the Infanta Maria Teresa and fired at her until she moved beyond range, then the USS Iowa concentrated on the Vizcaya. The attack then went against the Cristobal Colon and the Almirante Oquendo. Of the Oquendo, Evans commented inadmiration that, in spite of being hit hard, she “pluckily held on her course and fairly smothered us with a shower of shells and machine gun [fire].”
As the engagement continued, the Spanish torpedo boat destroyers Furor and Pluton approached and were also fired on by the USS Iowa. With fire from the USS Iowa, USS Indiana, USS Gloucester, and other vessels of the squadron, the Furor and Pluton were sunk. The Oquendo and Maria Teresa were both on fire and sunk by the guns of other American ships. The USS Iowa continued firing on the Vizcaya until she struck her colors and had run aground. With other ships of the fleet involved in the pursuit of the escaping Cristobal Colon, Evans chose to goto the aid of the crew of the Vizcaya. The Spanish crewmen, while trying to escape the burning vessel and climb onto the beach, were being attacked by the Cubans.Evans was incensed bythis attack on defenseless men who had fought to the best of their ability. Lowering boats, a landing party was sent ashore to defend the Spaniards against the Cubans. An officer was sent to find the Cuban commander and inform him that “unless they ceased their infamous work,” Evans would turn the immense guns of the USS Iowa on the Cubans themselves. Lt. Cmdr. Wainwright of the Gloucester similarly threatened the Cubans. The combination of forces caused the Cubans to cease their action. The USS Iowa’s crew rescued Captain Eulate, the commanding officer of the Vizcaya,along with 23 officers and about 248 men of the Spanish crew. Five dead of the Spanish crew were buried with honors, the wounded were cared for, and the remaining became prisoners of war. As he always did, Captain Evans included complimentary statements in his reports pertaining to his “admiration for his magnificent crew”.
The USS Iowa had suffered no losses to the crew in the action, something that would have extra meaning to Evans. Serving under him aboard the USS Iowa was his son, a naval cadet.
Robley Dunglison Evans was named president of the Board of Inspection and Survey from February 1901 to April 1902.
Prince Henry of Prussia
President Theodore Roosevelt selected Admiral Robley D. Evans to host His Royal Highness Heinrich of Prussia brother of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. 15 February 1902 Admiral Evans, as Commander-in-Chief of a special honor squadron hoisted his flag on the battleship, USS Illinois (BB-7) at the New York Navy Yard. Evans feted Prince Henry during the visit of the Kaiserliche Marine Imperial German Navy. After the departure of the German prince, 28 February 1902, Evans flag was hauled down on Illinois.
Commander-in-Chief – Asiatic Fleet
Admiral Evans transferred his flag from armored cruiser, USS New York (ACR-2) on 4 November 1902 to battleship, USS Kentucky (BB-6) at Yokohama, Japan. 5 December 1903 the Kentucky left Japanese waters for Hawaii. 16 December 1903, the Kentucky arrived at Pearl Harbor Naval Station, Hawaii. Admiral Evans hosted a Christmas dinner for the officers of Kentucky at the Moana Hotel in Waikiki. Evans flagship departed Honolulu for Guam. Kentucky arrived in Cavite, Philippines on 18 January 1904. Admiral Evans called on the new Governor-General of the Philippines, Luke Edward Wright at the Malacanang Palace. Evans flagship departed Manila on 13 March 1904. The Kentucky coaled at Hong Kong and Colombo. Sailing through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea to the port of Naples, Italy. The voyage continued to Gibraltar coaling at Madeira; the flagship Kentucky arrived at the New York Navy Yard, 23 May 1904. Admiral Evans hauled down his flag, 27 May 1904 from battleship, Kentucky.
Commander-in-Chief – North Atlantic Fleet
31 March 1905, a 13 gun salute was fired by battleship, USS Maine (BB-10) at Pensacola, Florida as the flag of Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, Commander-in-Chief of the North Atlantic Fleet was broken at the main mast. The fleet sailed on 7 May 1905 for Hampton Roads, Virginia. Admiral Evans returned to his Alma Mater the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland on 30 October 1905. The British Fleet under command of His Serene Highness, Prince Louis of Battenberg arrived at Annapolis. 1 November 1905, the Prince visited Evans on Maine. Admiral Evans gave Prince Louis, a tour of the Naval Academy and battleship Maine. A reception by Evans was held later in the week on battleship, Maine for Governor Edwin Warfield of Maryland. Admiral Evans in flagship, Maine sailed on 7 November 1905 from Annapolis to New York. Admiral Evans stayed onboard Maine during repairs from 20 November 1905 to January 1906. After winter quarters in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on 3 May 1906 Evans returned the fleet to New York. 2 September 1906 Maine anchored next to the presidential yacht, USS Mayflower (PY-1) off Oyster Bay, Long Island. President Theodore Roosevelt came on board Maine to confer with Evans. Admiral Evans in flagship Maine departed New York, December 28 for winter quarters in Cuban waters. 15 April 1907 Evans flagship, Maine returned to Hampton Roads. 16 April 1907 Evans hauled down his flag on Maine and then hoisted it on the battleship, USS Connecticut (BB-18), flagship for the World Cruise.
The Great White Fleet
USS Connecticuit (BB-18) ) – Flagship
USS Connecticut steaming at high speed on trials (1906)
The USS Connecticut was Rear Admiral Rodley D. Evan’s Flagship, part of the First Division, of the Great White Fleet.
Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans commanded President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet” of sixteen battleships on the first leg of its long world cruise. The fleet left Hampton Roads, Virginia on December 16, 1907, and after cruising around South America, passing through the Strait of Magellan, and visiting many countries along the way, the fleet, arrived in San Francisco Bay on May 6, 1908. The cruise was not a good experience for Evans. He had spent most of his time in bed with his pain and illness.
In San Francisco, an enfeebled Evans relinquished his command to Rear Admiral Charles Mitchell Thomas. However, Thomas being in ill health was replaced five days later by Rear Admiral Charles Stillman Sperry. The “Great White Fleet” then continued its triumphant cruise, stopping at ports in countries all around the world, and verifying that the United States was indeed a world naval power. Having circled the world, the fleet returned to Hampton Roads on February 22, 1909.
Rear Admiral Evans commanded the Great White Fleet 16 April 1907 from Hampton Roads, Virginia in its passage from the Atlantic Ocean through the Straits of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean, where he was relieved of command Rear Admiral R.D. Evans in San Francisco, California 9 May 1908 because of ill health.
Great White Fleet
Post Navy service
He died in Washington, D.C. on 3 January 1912.
Rear Admiral Evans was entitled to the Civil War Campaign Medal, Sampson Medal and Spanish Campaign Medal.
Two destroyers, USS Evans (DD-78), launched 30 October 1918, and USS Evans (DD-552),launched 4 October 1942, were named in his honor.
Theodore Roosevelt owned a guinea pig named Fighting Bob Evans.