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Rear-Admiral Bowman H. McCalla, U.S. Navy
Navy Yard, Mare Island, Cal.

The total destruction of the office and plant of the newspaper of which I was editor [San Francisco News Letter] prevented me from publicly testifying to the admirable work done by the Navy during the disaster of April 18-21. I take this opportunity of placing on record my estimate of what was done by the officers and men sent by your direction to San Francisco.

It is my firm opinion that the naval force under command of Lieutenant F.N. Freeman saved the waterfront of San Francisco from destruction. No praise can be to great for him, for Lieutenant W[allace]. Bertholf, Midshipman J.E. Pond, and P.A. Paymaster Henry de F. Mel and the enlisted men of the force.

From the top of Russian Hill, whence I observed the progress of the fire from 10:00 a.m. of April 18th, until 3:00 a.m. of April 19th, I noticed with astonishment, the apparent immunity from the conflagration of the waterfront from the foot of Broadway to the Transport Dock, (beyond which I could not see). The Ferry Building, the wharves, the Harbor Hospital and the other features of the front remained intact. I was unable to account for the salvation of the waterfront until the afternoon of April 19th (Thursday), when I went there in person and saw the Navy in charge. Although one of the worst sections of the city, lined with low groggeries and peopled with beach-combers and criminals, perfect order prevailed. It was patrolled from ended to end in a manner simply perfect,–the only imperfection was the scarcity of men, for the little party under Lieutenant Freeman, in addition to their own dangerous and difficult duties, had to do the work that should have been performed by the City police, only one of whom I saw in a hour's visit.

I did not see a building on fire the whole length of East Street [now the Embarcadero]; some had been damaged, but the fire had been confined to the west side of the street. The ferries, the wharves, the ferry building, branch postoffice, harbor hospital and coal docks were safe, and to the Navy, and the Navy alone, was their safety due.

Although they had been working hard day and night, in the face of great danger, and often interfered with by worthless waterfront loafers, every officer and man in Lieutenant Freeman's party, when I saw them, was alert, zealous, energetic and eager to do his duty to the utmost.

I write this report entirely of my own volition, without hint or suggestion from anyone, in the hope that the written testimony of an experienced newspaper man, trained to observe closely, may aid in securing for Lieutenant Freeman, his officers and men, some of the credit due them for saving one of the most vitally important parts of the city,–the means of egress for the thousands of refugees.

I have reported only what I personally observed. From numerous other persons I have heard loud praise of the Navy's work.

I was at Fort Mason when the Marines arrived, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lincoln Karmany. I have been much in contact with troops, both American and foreign, but I never saw a finer looking, better disciplined body of men. From the moment of their arrival, the Marines performed their duties like clock-work. Stoves were up, coffee being made and served out, latrines built, prisoners guarded, refugees succored, and everything else done to meet the situation,–and all quietly, methodically and thoroughly.

Very respectfully,

(Signed) Arthur H. Dutton,
Editor, San Francisco "News Letter".
Member, Board of Managers, Press Club of S.F.

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