As the Spanish American War was about to commence, the new cutter was steaming via the Suez Canal and the Far East to her first station at San Francisco. Upon her arrival in Singapore on 8 April 1898, two full weeks before war was declared, orders directed McCulloch to report to Commodore Dewey on the Asiatic station.
Dewey’s squadron was composed of cruisers Olympia, Boston, Baltimore, and Raleigh; gunboats Concord and Petrel; and cutter McCulloch, with her charges, the valuable store ships Nanshan and Zafire. The squadron stood out of Mirs Bay, China, on 27 April 1898, and entered Manila Bay the evening of 30 April 1898. By midnight Olympia had stealthily passed into the harbor. Successive ships followed in close order.
Just as McCulloch brought El Fraile Rock abaft the starboard beam. the block stillness was broken. Soot in the cutter’s stack caught fire and sent up a column of fire like a signal light. Immediately thereafter a battery on El Fraile took McCulloch under fire. Boston, in column just ahead of the cutter, answered the battery, as did McCulloch, and the Spanish gun emplacement was silenced.
As the rock fell astern, Dewey reduced speed to 4 knots so as to reach the head of the Bay in time to join action with the Spanish Fleet at daybreak. His order of battle required McCulloch to guard the precious store ships from enemy gunboats. She was also to protect the ships in line of battle from surprise attack, to tow any disabled ship out of range of gunfire, and to take her place in the line.
Americans present off Cavite that day, long recalled, with satisfaction, that McCulloch found no need to tow any warship out of the battle line. During five firing runs, made at close range, the accurate gunners of Dewey’s squadron wrought devastation upon the Spaniards. The battle, which began at 05:40, was over in 7 hours. All of the Spanish warships were destroyed, and 381 Spanish seamen were killed. No American warship was seriously damaged, and only eight American sailors were wounded.
In a message to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long, Dewey commended Captain Hogsdon for the efficiency and readiness of his ship. After the battle, because of her speed, McCulloch was dispatched to the closest cable facility, that at Hong Kong, bearing the first dispatches of the great naval victory. According to Samuel Eliot Morison, the United States wrested an American empire from Spain after 10 weeks’ fighting, and “it was control of the ocean that did it.”
On May 17, the McCulloch left Hong Kong with Emilio Aguinaldo on board, the Philippine revolutionary who will lead the Philippine forces in the Philippine-American War, arriving in Cavite in Manila Bay on May 19.
McCulloch arrived at San Francisco on 10 January 1899 and operated on patrol out of that port, cruising from the Mexican border to Cape Blanco. Designated to enforce fur seal regulations 9 August 1906, she operated in the vicinity of the Pribilof Islands until 1912. During these years of service in the Bering Sea patrol, she was especially well known because of her services as a floating court to the Alaskan towns. Upon return to San Francisco in 1912, McCulloch resumed patrol operations in her regular West Coast cruising district.
Transferred to the U.S. Navy on 6 April 1917, she continued patrol operations along the Pacific coast. She sank on 13 June 1917, three miles northwest of Point Conception, California, after colliding with the Pacific Steamship Company’s steamer Governor.
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- USCG Ship's History 
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