HISTORY OF THE GATLING GUN DETACHMENT FIFTH ARMY CORPS, AT SANTIAGO,
With a Few Unvarnished Truths Concerning that Expedition.
(Short Title: The Gatlings at Santiago)
BY JOHN H. PARKER, 1st Lieut. 13th Inf.
(Late) Commanding Gatling Gun Detachment, Fifth Army Corps, at Santiago.
To the Enlisted Members of the Detachment, Who, by Their Devotion, Courage and Endurance, Made Its Success Possible, this Volume is Dedicated as a Token of Esteem by the Author.
I. L'envoi. II. Inception Of The Scheme. III. The Ordnance Depot. IV. The Voyage And Disembarkation. V. The March. VI. The Battery In Camp Wheeler. VII. The Battle. VIII. Tactical Analysis Of The Battles At Santiago. IX. The Volunteers. X. The Sufferings Of The Fifth Army Corps. XI. Home Again. Appendix I Appendix II Appendix III Index
The photographic illustrations in this work are due to the courage and kindness of Mr. John N. Weigle, of Gettysburg, Pa. This young man was first sergeant of the Gatling Gun Detachment, and took with him a large supply of material. It was his delight to photograph everything that occurred, and his pleasure to furnish a set of photographs for the use of the author. Mr. Weigle was recommended for a commission in the Regular Army of the United States, for his extreme gallantry in action, and is a magnificent type of the American youth. The thanks of the author are tendered to him for the photographic illustrations so generously supplied.
Lieut. John H. Parker, 13th US Infantry, Late Commanding Gatling Guns at Santiago. (Frontispiece) Map—Santiago and Surrounding Area. Skirmish Drill at Tampa. Skirmish Drill at Tampa. Field Bakery. Awaiting Turn to Embark. Baiquiri. The "Hornet." Waiting. Wrecked Locomotives and Machine Shops at Baiquiri. The Landing. Pack Train. Calvary Picket Line. San Juan Hill. Cuban Soldiers as They Were. Wagon Train. Gatling Battery under Artillery Fire at El Poso. Gatling Gun on Firing-Line July 1st. (Taken under fire by Sergeant Weigle). Fort Roosevelt. Sergeant Greene's Gun at Fort Roosevelt. Skirmish Line in Battle. Fort Roosevelt. A Fighting Cuban, and Where He Fought. Map—Siege Lines at Santiago. Gatling Camp and Bomb-Proofs at Fort Roosevelt. Tree Between Lines Showing Bullet Holes. This Tree Grew on Low Ground. Spanish Block-House. Spanish Fort of Three-Inch Guns. Tentage in Cuba. After the Rain. Native Industry. Charge on San Juan Hill. Gatlings at Baiquiri Just Before Starting For the Front. Cuban Cart used by Gatling Gun Detachment, Priv. J. Shiffer Driving. Tiffany at his Gun in the Trench. Relics of the Battle. 1. Range Table of 16-cm. Gun in Spanish Fort, Silenced by Gatlings July 1, '98. 2. Rear Sight of same Gun. 3. Fuse picked up by J. Shiffer July 1. 4. Remington Cartridge used by the Spanish Volunteers, the so-called "Explosive" Brass-covered Bullet. 5. Piece of Coral dug up in the Trenches. 6. Spanish Spurs. Cieba Tree, under Which General Toral Surrendered. Undergrowth in Cuba. Cuban Residence. "Reina Mercedes" Sunk by the "Iowa" near Mouth of Harbor of Santiago.
On the morning of July 1st, the dismounted cavalry, including my regiment, stormed Kettle Hill, driving the Spaniards from their trenches. After taking the crest, I made the men under me turn and begin volley-firing at the San Juan Blockhouse and intrenchments against which Hawkins' and Kent's Infantry were advancing. While thus firing, there suddenly smote on our ears a peculiar drumming sound. One or two of the men cried out, "The Spanish machine guns!" but, after listening a moment, I leaped to my feet and called, "It's the Gatlings, men! It's our Gatlings!" Immediately the troopers began to cheer lustily, for the sound was most inspiring. Whenever the drumming stopped, it was only to open again a little nearer the front. Our artillery, using black powder, had not been able to stand within range of the Spanish rifles, but it was perfectly evident that the Gatlings were troubled by no such consideration, for they were advancing all the while.
Soon the infantry took San Juan Hill, and, after one false start, we in turn rushed the next line of block-houses and intrenchments, and then swung to the left and took the chain of hills immediately fronting Santiago. Here I found myself on the extreme front, in command of the fragments of all six regiments of the cavalry division. I received orders to halt where I was, but to hold the hill at all hazards. The Spaniards were heavily reinforced and they opened a tremendous fire upon us from their batteries and trenches. We laid down just behind the gentle crest of the hill, firing as we got the chance, but, for the most part, taking the fire without responding. As the afternoon wore on, however, the Spaniards became bolder, and made an attack upon the position. They did not push it home, but they did advance, their firing being redoubled. We at once ran forward to the crest and opened on them, and, as we did so, the unmistakable drumming of the Gatlings opened abreast of us, to our right, and the men cheered again. As soon as the attack was definitely repulsed, I strolled over to find out about the Gatlings, and there I found Lieut. Parker with two of his guns right on our left, abreast of our men, who at that time were closer to the Spaniards than any others.
From thence on, Parker's Gatlings were our inseparable companions throughout the siege. They were right up at the front. When we dug our trenches, he took off the wheels of his guns and put them in the trenches. His men and ours slept in the same bomb-proofs and shared with one another whenever either side got a supply of beans or coffee and sugar. At no hour of the day or night was Parker anywhere but where we wished him to be, in the event of an attack. If a troop of my regiment was sent off to guard some road or some break in the lines, we were almost certain to get Parker to send a Gatling along, and, whether the change was made by day or by night, the Gatling went. Sometimes we took the initiative and started to quell the fire of the Spanish trenches; sometimes they opened upon us; but, at whatever hour of the twenty-four the fighting began, the drumming of the Gatlings was soon heard through the cracking of our own carbines.
I have had too little experience to make my judgment final; but certainly, if I were to command either a regiment or a brigade, whether of cavalry or infantry, I would try to get a Gatling battery—under a good man—with me. I feel sure that the greatest possible assistance would be rendered, under almost all circumstances, by such a Gatling battery, if well handled; for I believe that it could be pushed fairly to the front of the firing-line. At any rate, this is the way that Lieut. Parker used his battery when he went into action at San Juan, and when he kept it in the trenches beside the Rough Riders before Santiago.
The history of the Gatling Gun Detachment, Fifth Army Corps, is to a certain extent the history of the Santiago campaign. The detachment was organized on the spur of the moment, to utilize material which would otherwise have been useless, and was with the Fifth Corps in all the campaign. It participated in all the fighting of that campaign, except the fight at La Guasimas, and was disbanded upon the return of the Fifth Corps to Montauk. Whatever hardships were endured by the Fifth Corps were shared by this detachment; whatever dangers were faced by the Fifth Corps were faced by it also; where the hottest fighting occurred this detachment went in and stayed; and at the surrender it was paraded, to use the words of General Shafter, "Upon that portion of the line which it occupied so promptly and defended so well."
But this memoir is not intended as a history of that campaign nor of the Fifth Corps. The author has not the data available to cover so large a field, nor the ability to do justice to the courage, fortitude, and endurance so heroically displayed by that gallant army. That story will be written by abler pens, and will be the wonder of the world when it is told.
This story is that of an experiment. It is told to lay before the general public, as well as the military critic, the work of a little detachment of thirty-seven men, armed with an untried weapon, organized in the short space of four days preceding July 1, 1898, and which without proper equipment, adequate instruction, or previous training, in the face of discouragements and sneers, and in spite of obstacles enough to make the mere retrospect sickening, still achieved for itself a warm place in the hearts of all true soldiers, and covered itself with glory upon the hardest fought battle-field of the Hispano-American War.
This story is to commemorate the gallantry of the enlisted men who helped to make history and revolutionize tactics at Santiago. It will tell of the heroism of the plain American Regular, who, without hope of preferment or possibility of reward, boldly undertook to confute the erroneous theories of military compilers, who, without originality or reason, have unblushingly cribbed the labored efforts of foreign officers, and foisted these compilations of second-hand opinions upon the American Army as military text-books of authority and weight. These literary soldiers declared, following the lead of their foreign guides, that "The value of machine guns on the battle-field is doubtful," and that "Their offensive value is probably very small." They also agreed, with most touching unanimity, that "A direct assault upon a fortified position, occupied by good, unshaken infantry, armed with the modern rifle and plentifully supplied with ammunition is sure to fail, unless made by overwhelming numbers and prepared by strong and accurate fire by artillery."
These servile imitators of foreign pen soldiers were destined to see all their pet theories exploded by the grim old mountain puma from California and his brave Fifth Corps. They were to learn, so far as they are capable of learning, that the American Regular makes tactics as he needs them; that the rules of war established by pen soldiers do not form the basis of actual operations in the field; that theories must go to the wall before the stern logic of irrefutable facts; and that deductions based on the drill-made automatons of European armies are not applicable to an army composed of American Volunteer Regulars, led by our trained officers.
We shall see that an army destitute of cavalry, and hence without "eyes"; not supported by artillery; in the most difficult country over which soldiers ever operated, and without maps or reconnaissance—in twenty days shut up and captured an army of twice its own effective strength, in a strongly fortified city, with better served and more numerous artillery.
We shall find that when the "sledge" was not at hand, American ingenuity was able to use the "mallet" instead, making light machine guns perform all the function of artillery, and dispensing altogether, so far as any practical results were concerned, with that expensive and much overrated arm; that the Regular private is capable of meeting all demands upon his intelligence, and that the American non. com. is the superior of foreign officers.
It is also hoped to place before the intelligent American public some correct ideas of the new arm which was tried thoroughly at Santiago for the first time in the history of the world. The machine gun is the latest practical product of American inventive genius applied to war. The first form of this weapon tried, the mitrailleuse, was not very successful. It failed, not on account of faults of construction, or imperfect mechanism, but because its proper tactical employment had not been thought out by the French army. Since that time machine guns have been greatly improved, but no one has succeeded in making their great value appreciated by military authorities. The failures of the French brought the gun into disfavor, and created a prejudice against its employment.
The Artillery of the world, which poses in every country as an elite body of scientific fighters, and is often found on the battle-field to be an aggregation of abstruse theorists, were jealous and contemptuous. They said, "See how easily the artillery knocked out machine guns at Gravelotte." The Cavalry of the world, famous everywhere for an esprit-du-corps which looks haughtily down on all other arms of the service, were too deeply absorbed in the merits of saber vs. revolver, and in the proper length of their spectacular plumes, to give a second thought to this new, untried, and therefore worthless weapon. The world's Infantry, resting upon the assumption that it is the backbone of all armies, and the only real, reliable fighting body under all conditions, left the consideration of these vague dreams of mechanical destructiveness to lunatics, cranks, and philanthropists.
In our own country the Ordnance Department, which is the trial court before which all military inventions must appear, scouted the idea of usefulness of machine guns even after war was declared, and adhered to the view that machine guns, in the very nature of things, could never be useful except in the defense of fortified positions; that they never could be brought up on the battlefield, nor used if they were brought up. This view was that of a prominent young officer of that department who wrote a report on the subject, and it seemed to express the views of the department.
This view must have been that of our War Department, for it did not even acknowledge the receipt of drawings and specifications for a machine gun carriage, offered freely to the Government as a gift by the inventor six months before the war, together with the first correct tactical outline of the proper use of machine guns ever filed in any War Office in the world. This invention was designed to facilitate the use of the machine gun by making its advance with the skirmish line possible on the offensive, and was recommended by the whole staff of the Infantry and Cavalry School as a meritorious device, worthy of trial. The discussion filed with the invention pointed out, for the first time, the correct tactical employment of the weapon, and staked the military reputation and ability of the author and inventor on the correctness of his views.
From these facts it may be gathered that there was required a certain degree of originality and energy to get together and organize a machine gun battery for the Santiago campaign.
The project was conceived and executed. The service rendered by this battery has forever set at rest the question of the proper tactical use of the machine gun arm, both on the offensive and defensive. These things are now beyond the realm of theory. They are a demonstrated problem. The solution is universally acknowledged to be correct.
This is the history of that detachment.
From the 26th of April until the 6th of June, Tampa and Port Tampa were the military centers of greatest interest in the United States. Troops were rushed into these places on special trains and camped on available sites, pending the organization of a proposed expedition to—somewhere. Supplies of every description came pouring in on long trains of express and freight cars; mounted officers and orderlies ploughed their rushing way through great heaps and dunes of ever-shifting sand, leaving behind them stifling clouds of scintillating particles, which filtered through every conceivable crevice and made the effort to breathe a suffocating nightmare. Over all the tumultuous scene a torrid sun beat down from a cloudless sky, while its scorching rays, reflected from the fierce sand under foot, produced a heat so intolerable that even the tropical vegetation looked withered and dying. In this climate officers and men, gathered mostly from Northern posts, were to "acclimate" themselves for a tropical campaign—somewhere.
They never encountered as deadly a heat, nor a more pernicious climate, in Cuba nor in Porto Rico, than that of southern Florida. Its first effect upon men just emerging from a bracing Northern winter was akin to prostration. Then began to follow a decided tendency to languor; after this one was liable to sudden attacks of bowel troubles. The deadly malaria began to insidiously prepare the way for a hospital cot; the patient lost flesh, relish of food became a reminiscence, and an hour's exertion in the sun was enough to put a man on his back for the rest of the day. Exposure to the direct action of the sun's rays was frequently followed by nausea, a slight chill, and then a high fever. The doctors subsequently called this "thermal fever," which is suspected to be a high-sounding name calculated to cover up a very dense ignorance of the nature of the disease, because no one ever obtained any relief from it from them. Recurrence of the exposure brought recurrence of the fever, and, if persisted in, finally produced a severe illness.
One reason for this was that the troops continued to wear the winter clothing they had worn on their arrival. The promised "khaki" did not materialize. Some regiments drew the brown canvas fatigue uniform, but the only use made of it was to put the white blanket-roll through the legs of the trousers, thereby adding to the weight of the roll, without perceptible benefit to the soldier.
Such a climate, under such surroundings, was not conducive to original thought, prolonged exertion, or sustained study. Everybody felt "mean" and was eager for a change. Nobody wanted to listen to any new schemes. The highest ambition seemed to be to get out of it to somewhere with just as little delay and exertion as possible. It was at this juncture that the plan of organizing a Gatling gun battery was conceived, and the attempt to obtain authority began.
The Gatling gun is one of the two machine guns adopted in the land service of the United States. Not to enter into a technical description, but merely to convey a general idea of its working and uses, it may be described as follows:
The gun is a cluster of rifle barrels, without stocks, arranged around a rod, and parallel to it. Each barrel has its own lock or bolt, and the whole cluster can be made to revolve by turning a crank. The bolts are all covered in a brass case at the breech, and the machine is loaded by means of a vertical groove in which cartridges are placed, twenty at a time, and from which they fall into the receivers one at a time. As the cluster of barrels revolves each one is fired at the lowest point, and reloaded as it completes the revolution. The gun is mounted on a wye-shaped trunnion; the lower end of the wye passes down into a socket in the axle. The gun is pointed by a lever just as one points a garden hose or sprinkler, with the advantage that the gun can be clamped at any instant, and will then continue to sprinkle its drops of death over the same row of plants until the clamps are released. The axle is hollow and will hold about a thousand cartridges. It is horizontal, and on its ends are heavy Archibald wheels. There is also a heavy hollow trail, in which tools and additional ammunition can be stored. The limber resembles that used by the Artillery, and is capable of carrying about 9600 rounds of cartridges. The whole gun, thus mounted, can be drawn by two mules, and worked to good advantage by from six to eight men. It is built of various calibers, and can fire from 300 to 900 shots per minute. The guns used by the Gatling Gun Detachment, Fifth Army Corps, were built by the Colt's Arms Co., were the latest improved model, long ten-barrel gun, and fired the Krag-Jorgenson ammunition used by the Regular Army.
The attempt to obtain authority to organize a machine gun battery met with many discouragements and repeated failures. No one seemed to have thought anything about the subject, and Tampa was not a good place nor climate in which to indulge in that form of exercise, apparently. Perhaps the climate was one reason why so little thinking was done, and everything went "at sixes and sevens."
The officer who had conceived the scheme was a young man, too. He was only a second lieutenant ("Second lieutenants are fit for nothing except to take reveille"), and had never, so far as his military superiors knew, heard the whistle of a hostile bullet. He had made no brilliant record at the Academy, had never distinguished himself in the service, and was not anybody's "pet." He was, apparently, a safe man to ignore or snub if occasion or bad temper made it desirable to ignore or snub somebody, and, above all, had no political friends who would be offended thereby.
"Politics" cut quite a figure in Tampa in some respects. An officer who was known to be a personal friend of Senator Somebody, or protege of this or that great man, was regarded with considerable awe and reverence by the common herd. It was ludicrous to see the weight attached to the crumbs of wisdom that fell from the friends of the friends of somebody. They shone only by a reflected light, it is true; but nobody there at Tampa had a lamp of his own, except the few who had won renown in the Civil War, and reflected light was better than none at all. A very young and green second lieutenant who was able to boast that he had declined to be a major in a certain State was at once an oracle to other lieutenants—and to some who were not lieutenants. The policy which governed these appointments was not so well understood at that date in the campaign as it is now.
When the court of a reigning favorite was established at the Tampa Bay Hotel as a brigadier, and people began to get themselves a little settled into the idea that they knew who was in command, they were suddenly disillusioned by the appointment of another and senior brigadier to the command. They settled down to get acquainted with the new authority, and were just beginning to find out who was who, when the telegraph flashed the news that the deposed potentate had been made a major-general, and, of course, was now in command. The thing was becoming interesting. Bets began to be made as to which would come in ahead under the wire. The other also became a major-general. Then came a period of uncertainty, because the question of rank hinged upon some obscure and musty record of forgotten service some thirty-four years before. From these facts will be apparent the difficulty under which a subordinate labored in trying to create anything.
It is hardly worth while in any case of that sort to waste time with subordinates. The projector of an enterprise had better go straight to the one who has the necessary authority to order what is wanted; if access to him can be had, and he can be brought to recognize the merits of the plan—that settles it; if not—that also settles it. In either case the matter becomes a settled thing, and one knows what to depend upon.
But who was the man to see there at Tampa? Nobody knew.
The first officer approached was the one in direct line of superiority, Col. A. T. Smith, 13th Infantry. The idea was to ascertain his views and try to obtain from him a favorable endorsement upon a written plan to be submitted through military channels to the commanding general at Tampa. Perhaps it was the deadly climate; for the reply to a request for a few minutes' audience on the subject of machine guns was very gruff and curt: "I don't want to hear anything about it. I don't believe in it, and I don't feel like hearing it. If you want to see me about this subject, come to me in office hours." That settled it. Any effort to get a written plan through would have to carry the weight of official disapproval from the start, and even a "shavey" knows that disapproval at the start is enough to kill a paper in the official routine.
The next officers approached were Major William Auman and Capt. H. Cavanaugh, of the 13th Infantry, who were asked for advice. These two officers, both of whom rendered very distinguished services on the battle-field, listened with interest and were convinced. Their advice was: "Get your plan in tangible shape, typewritten, showing just what you propose; then go straight to the commanding general himself. If he listens to you, he will be the responsible party, and will have waived the informality; if he will not receive you, no harm is done."
This advice was followed and the following plan prepared:
Scheme for Organization of Division Galling Gun Detachment.
"Three guns with limbers and caissons; 28 horses and 16 saddles; 6 sets double harness, wheel, and 6 lead; 1 escort wagon, team and driver; and 100,000 rounds, .30 cal.
"One first lieutenant, 3 sergeants, 3 corporals, 1 clerk, 1 cook, and 35 enlisted men selected for their intelligence, activity, and daring; volunteers, if possible to be obtained, as the service will be hazardous.
"Officer: Revolver, saber, or machete, and field-glass.
"Enlisted men: Revolver and knife.
"Fifty rounds to be carried on person for revolver, and 50 in ordnance train.
"Four conical wall-tents, 2 'A' wall-tents, and the ordinary cooking outfit for a company of 41 men.
"In the discretion of the detachment commander, subject to approval of division commander; probably as follows, subject to modifications by experience:
"Three detachments under a sergeant. A detachment to be composed of 1 gunner and 7 men. The gunner should be a corporal.
"The Division Gatling Gun Detachment to be subject only to the orders of the division commander, or higher authority. Its members are carried on 'd. s.' in their respective organizations. Its commander exercises over it the same authority as a company commander, and keeps the same records. Returns, reports, and other business are transacted as in company, except that the detachment commander reports directly to and receives orders directly from Division Headquarters. The detachment is not subject to ordinary guard or fatigue. When used as part of a guard, whole detachments go with their pieces.
"The organization is purely experimental; hence the greatest possible latitude must be allowed the detachment commander, and he should be held accountable for the results. He should not be subjected to the orders or interference of any subordinates, however able, who have made no special study of the tactical use or instruction for machine guns, and who may not have faith in the experiment. It will be useless to expect efficiency of the proposed organization unless this liberty be accorded its organizer. The field is a new one, not yet well discussed by even the text-writers. Organization and instruction must be largely experimental, subject to change as the result of experience; but no change from the plans of the organizer should be made except for good and sufficient reasons.
"This organization is expected to develop:
"(a) The fire-action of good infantry.
"(b) The mobility of cavalry.
"Its qualities, therefore, must be rapidity and accuracy, both of fire and movement.
"Its employment on the defensive is obvious. On the offensive it is expected to be useful with advance guards, rear guards, outposts, raids, and in battle. The last use, novel as it is, will be most important of all. The flanks of the division can be secured by this organization, relieving reserves of this duty; it will give a stiffening to the line of support, and at every opportune occasion will be pushed into action on the firing line. The moral effect of its presence will be very great; it will be able to render valuable assistance by its fire (over the charging line) in many cases. Last, but very important, the occupation of a captured line by this organization at once will supply a powerful, concentrated, and controlled fire, either to repulse a counter-charge or to fire on a discomfited, retiring enemy. Being a horsed organization, it can arrive at the critical point at the vital moment when, the defender's first line having been thrust out, our line being disorganized, a counter-charge by the enemy would be most effective, or controlled fire by our own troops on him would be most useful.
"It is urged that this last use of machine guns is one of the most important functions, and one which has been overlooked by writers and tacticians.
"There is one vital limitation upon the proposed organization; viz., it must not be pitted against artillery.
"It is urgently suggested that this organization can be perfected here and now without difficulty, while it will be very difficult to perfect after the forward movement has begun. Horses and harness can be easily procured at Tampa; there will be no difficulty if some energetic officer be authorized to proceed with the work, and directed to attend to the details.
"Believing earnestly in the utility of the proposed organization, which will convert useless impedimenta into a fourth arm, and realizing the dangerous nature of the proposed service, I respectfully offer my services to carry these plans into effect.
"John H. Parker, "2d Lieut. 13th Infty."
With this plan well digested and with many a plausible argument in its favor all thought out, Col. Arthur McArthur, assistant adjutant-general to Gen. Wade, who was at that moment in command, was approached.
Col. McArthur was a very busy man. He was also a very business-like man, and one of handsome appearance, easy access, and pleasant address. He sandwiched in a fifteen-minute interview between two pressing engagements, and manifested both interest and approval. But nothing could be done at that time. "Come again a week from to-day," said he, "and I will try to obtain you a hearing before one who can do what you wish by a single word. I believe in your scheme and will help you if I can." The week rolled by and a change of commanding generals occurred. Gen. Wade was ordered away, taking McArthur with him, and no progress had been made. It was discouraging.
The next step in the plan was by lucky accident. Lieutenant (now Lieut.-Col.) John T. Thompson, Ordnance Department, who was in charge of the Ordnance Depot at Tampa, accidentally met the would-be machine-gun man, and was promptly buttonholed over a dish of ice cream. Thompson was himself a young man and a student. His department placed an insuperable obstacle in the way of himself carrying out a plan which he, also, had conceived, and he was keen to see the idea, which he fully believed in, demonstrated on the battle-field. He had, moreover, as ordnance officer, just received an invoice of fifteen Gatling guns, complete, of the latest model, and he had access to the commanding general by virtue of being a member of his staff. By reason of the terrible rush of overwork, he needed an assistant, and it seemed practicable to try to kill two birds with one stone. But all he said was, "I believe in the idea; I have long advocated it. It may be possible for me to get you your opportunity, and it may not. If so, you will hear from the matter."
The attempt to get the thing going had been apparently abandoned, when, utterly without notice, the regimental commander received orders per letter, from Headquarters Fifth Army Corps, which resulted in the following orders:
"Headquarters 13th Infantry, in the Field, "Tampa, Fla., May 27, 1898.
"Special Orders No. 22:
"Pursuant to instructions contained in letter from Headquarters 5th Army Corps, May 26, 1898,
2d Lieut. John H. Parker, 13th Infantry. Sergeant Alois Weischaar, Company A, Sergeant William Eyder, Company G, Private Lewis Kastner, Company A. Private Joe Seman, Company B, Private Abram Greenberg, Company C. Private Joseph Hoft, Company D, Private O'Connor L. Jones, Company D, Private Louis Misiak, Company E, Private George C. Murray, Company F, Private John Bremer, Company G, Private Fred H. Chase, Company H, Private Martin Pyne, Company H,
will report to Lieut. J. T. Thompson, ordnance officer, for duty in connection with the Gatling Gun Battery.
"These men will be fully equipped, with the exception of rifle, bayonet, scabbard, and blanket-bag, and will be rationed to include May 31, 1898.
"By order of Colonel Smith.
"M. McFarland, "1st Lieut. 13th Infty., Adjutant."
These men were selected by their company commanders. It is not known whether the selections were made with a view to special fitness or not. They had no notice that the detail was to be anything but a transient character; in fact, one company commander actually detailed the cook of his private mess, and was intensely disgusted when he found that the detail was to be permanent or semi-permanent. The men were sent fully armed and equipped; carrying rifles, knapsacks, etc., and marched down to the Ordnance Depot for instructions. These instructions were to return to camp, turn in their rifles, bayonets, cartridges, belts, and knapsacks, and return early the following morning equipped with blanket-roll complete, haversack, and canteen. Each man, after full explanation of the hazardous duty, was given a chance to withdraw, but all volunteered to stay.
The instructions were obeyed, and the Gatling Gun Detachment was born—a pigmy.
THE ORDNANCE DEPOT.
The Ordnance Depot at Tampa was located on Lafayette Street, at the end of the bridge over the river, next to the Tampa Bay Hotel. The river washed the sides of the building, which was occupied by the Tampa Athletic Club, and had formerly been used as a club-house. There were two stories and a basement. The basement was nearly on a level with the river, the main floor on a level with the bridge, and there was also a spacious upper floor. The main floor was used for storage of light articles of ordnance; the basement for heavy articles and ammunition. Hundreds of thousands of rounds of rifle and revolver ball cartridges, thousands of rounds of Hotchkiss fixed ammunition, and many hundreds of pounds of powder charges for field artillery and mortars were here stored. Miscellaneous assortments were daily coming in, generally without any mark on the box by which to learn what were the contents. The name of the arsenal, if from an arsenal, was usually stamped on the seal; generally there was no mark whatever to designate the origin or contents of the many boxes which came from ordinary posts. The invoices came from a week to ten days behind or in advance of the arrival of the boxes, and there was not the slightest clue to be gained from them. Consequently those who had to check up invoices and prepare for issues were at their wits' end to keep things straight. A requisition for so many articles would come in, duly approved; unless the boxes containing these articles happened to have been unpacked, it was uncertain whether they were on hand or not. No wholesale merchant of any sense would ship out boxes of goods without some indication of their contents; but that was exactly what was done from all over the country to the Ordnance Depot at Tampa.
The upper floor consisted of one large room. A rope railing was placed around it to preserve clear space around the desks. There were several of these for the ordnance officer and the various clerks. A chief clerk, an assistant clerk, a stenographer, and two ordnance sergeants looked after the red tape. An overseer with four subordinates and a gang of negro stevedores attended to loading and unloading boxes, storing them, counting out articles for issue or receipt, and such other duties as they were called on to perform. There was an old janitor named McGee, a veteran of the Civil War, whose business it was to look after the sweeping and keep the floors clean.
Four guns in their original boxes were issued to the detachment on the 27th of May. They were new, and apparently had never been assembled. On assembling them it was found that the parts had been constructed with such "scientific" accuracy that the use of a mallet was necessary. The binder-box on the pointing lever was so tight that in attempting to depress the muzzle of the gun it was possible to lift the trail off the ground before the binder-box would slide on the lever. The axis-pin had to be driven in and out with an axe, using a block of wood, of course, to prevent battering. A truly pretty state of affairs for a gun the value of which depends on the ease with which it can be pointed in any direction.
Inquiry after the war at the factory where the guns are made disclosed the fact that these parts are rigidly tested by a gauge by the Government inspectors, and that looseness is regarded as a fatal defect. Even play of half a hundredth of an inch is enough to insure the rejection of a piece. The very first thing done by the Gatling Gun Detachment, upon assembling these guns, was to obtain a set of armorers' tools and to file away these parts by hand until the aim of the piece could be changed by the touch of a feather. The detachment was ordered to rely upon the friction clutches for steadiness of aim, when necessary, and not upon the tight fit of the parts. It was ordered that there must be no doubt whatever of easy, perfectly free manipulation at any and all times, even if the pointing lever should become rusted. This precaution proved on July 1st to have been of great value.
The instruction of the detachment began immediately, and consisted, at first, of unpacking, mounting, dismounting, and repacking the guns. The four guns were mounted and a drill held each time in the loading and firing of the piece. This system of instruction was continued until the detachment was ordered on board ship on the 6th of June. During this instruction members of the detachment were designated by name to fall out, and the remainder of the detachment required to execute all the maneuvers of the piece as before. In fact, this instruction was carried to such a point that one man alone was required to load, aim, and fire the gun at designated objects without any assistance.
The detachment at once assumed the position of an independent command. It reported directly to Maj.-Gen. W. R. Shafter, commanding the 5th Corps, in everything so far as its duties with Gatling guns were concerned, was regarded as an independent command, kept its own records in the same manner as a company, obtained cooking utensils from the quartermaster and ran its own mess, and furnished its own guard. This status, that of a separate command, continued until the detachment was finally disbanded at Montauk.
On the 27th of May the detachment commander was summoned to Gen. Wheeler's headquarters and there requested to explain to the general in person his plans for organizing a Gatling gun detachment. Gen. Wheeler had just assumed command of all the Cavalry belonging to the 5th Army Corps. His headquarters, instead of being in a suite of rooms in the palatial Tampa Bay Hotel, where all the other general officers had their headquarters, were located about half a mile from the hotel in a treeless pasture. The cavalry guidon floating from a lance-head was the only indication of headquarters, and the half-dozen "A" tents in an irregular line gave no sign that one of the most distinguished generals in the world had here his headquarters in the field.
The general was easily accessible. The first thing that impressed one of him was his extraordinary quickness. His eye seemed to take in everything within sight of him at a single glance, and to read one's thoughts before the tongue could give expression to them. He grasped ideas when they were only half uttered and immediately drew deductions from mere statements of simple facts, the result of years of careful study. These deductions, which Gen. Wheeler drew instantly, were in every case correct, and showed a keener and more correct appreciation of the proper tactical employment of machine guns than was shown by any other officer of the 5th Corps. The result of the interview with the general was that a scheme for the organization of a tactical unit to be composed of three Gatling guns and to be employed with the cavalry division, was drawn up on the spot, under Gen. Wheeler's personal direction, and was submitted by him to Gen. Shafter, with the request that authority be granted for the organization of this command for the purpose indicated.
In the application Gen. Wheeler stated that he believed that such a battery of machine guns, if properly handled, could go anywhere that cavalry could go, could take the place of infantry supports, could dash up and hold any ground or advantageous position that a body of cavalry might seize, could be thrown out to one flank of the enemy and assist in his demoralization in preparation for the cavalry charge, and would be of particular service in case the enemy attempted to form infantry squares, which were at that time supposed to be the main part of the Spanish tactics of battle. This application was disapproved.
On the 30th of May, Gen. Lee sent for the detachment commander for an interview on the subject of Gatling guns. Gen. Lee was at this time quartered at the Tampa Bay Hotel, and was engaged in the organization of the 7th Army Corps. It was supposed that the 7th Corps was designed for the Havana campaign, and it was believed that the attack upon Havana would begin at a very early date. The result of the interview with Gen. Lee was that he directed a scheme for the organization of a tactical unit to be composed of 9 guns, 3 batteries of 3 guns each, to be prepared for service with the 7th Army Corps.
It was desired that this organization be a volunteer organization, and the application was therefore made for authority from the President, under that law of Congress authorizing the employment of special troops. Col. Guild, well and favorably known from his connection with the Massachusetts National Guard, was prepared to furnish a volunteer organization already in existence, well drilled and already officered, composed of the flower of the youth of Massachusetts, very largely of college graduates, who had already been communicated with on the subject, and who were even at that time expecting momentarily a telegram calling them to this duty. Nothing resulted from this effort.
Meantime the drill instruction of the little detachment continued. Its members had acquired a considerable degree of proficiency in the mechanical handling of their guns, and were beginning to appreciate the destructive possibilities of their weapon. They were enjoying a degree of liberty which they had not found in their regimental camp, because when not on duty they were free to come and go at will, when and where they pleased. The hours for instruction were designated in the morning and in the cool of the afternoon, leaving the middle of the day and the evening for the men's own recreation. The result of this system of treatment was that esprit-du-corps began to be developed in the detachment. They began to feel that they were a special organization, expected to do special work, and that they were receiving very special treatment. They began to be proud of being members of the Gatling Gun Detachment, to take greater interest in the work, and when on the first of June they received their monthly pay not a single member of the detachment committed any excesses in consequence of this unusual degree of freedom. No one was intoxicated. No one was absent without permission.
The detachment had not been at the Ordnance Depot very long before an opportunity occurred for some of its members to exhibit those qualities which made the success of the battery so conspicuous on the battle-field afterward. The detachment commander had been detailed by verbal orders on the first of June in charge of the issues of ordnance property to the Santiago expedition. This was in addition to his duties with the Gatling guns. The work would commence about 6 o'clock in the morning, and from that time until dark there was a continual stream of wagons carrying away stores such as rifles, haversacks, meat ration cans, tin cups, and all the articles needed by troops in the field during a campaign. The ammunition which was issued to the troops at this time was drawn at the same place.
When wagons arrived to receive issues, stevedores were directed to count out the different articles under the direction of an overseer, and these piles of articles were verified by the officer in charge of the issues. The stevedores then loaded them on the wagons which were to haul them to the different camps. Receipts in duplicate were always taken and invoices in duplicate were always given, in the name, of course, of Lieut. John T. Thompson, who was responsible for the stores.
On the 4th of June issues were being made of rifle-ball cartridges. These cartridges came packed in boxes of 1000 rounds each, and each box weighed 78 pounds. A great quantity of it was stored in the basement, where there was also a considerable quantity of fixed Hotchkiss ammunition, as well as several thousand rounds of powder charges in boxes. The Hotchkiss ammunition, which comes with projectile and powder both set in a brass case, is bad ammunition to pack; for, no matter how carefully it is handled, there is almost always some leakage of powder from the cartridge case, thus causing a certain amount of loose powder to sift into the box in which it is packed.
About half past 11 o'clock on this morning a negro stevedore accidentally dropped a box of rifle ammunition near a pile of Hotchkiss fixed, and the next instant the laborers saw smoke ascending toward the ceiling of the basement. They yelled "Fire! fire!" at the top of their voices, and everybody in the basement at once made a rush for the two doors. It was a panic. The danger was imminent. The smoke curled up to the ceiling and then curled down again, and the excited, panic-stricken faces of the negroes as they rushed through the door made an awful picture of human terror. People on the outside of the building began to shout "Fire!"
At this juncture McGee, the old janitor, who had just reached the door, cried out, "Lieutenant, there is a box in here on fire!" speaking to Lieut. Parker, who was verifying issues just outside the door. The lieutenant replied, "Let's throw it into the river," and dashed toward the box through the door, pushing the excited negroes to each side in order to assist McGee, who had instantly started for the box. When Lieut. Parker reached the box, he found that McGee had already taken it up, and was staggering under its weight. He placed one arm around McGee's shoulder and with the other assisted him to support the box, from which the smoke was still ascending, and the two rushed for the door, throwing the whole momentum of their weight and speed against the crowd of frightened negroes, who were falling over each other in their panic-stricken efforts to escape. Priv. Greenberg, of the 13th Infantry, a member of the Gatling Gun Detachment, who was the sentinel on post at the time, saw the two men coming with the box, and with great presence of mind added his own weight with a rapid rush to the shock they had produced, thus enabling them to break their way through the dense throng at the door. It was only the work of an instant to then throw the box in the river, where it sank in the water and for a moment the blue smoke continued to bubble up from the box, which lay clearly visible on the bed of the river, the water being only about two feet deep at this point, which was, however, enough to entirely cover the box and thus extinguish the fire. At the outcry of "Fire!" Lieut. H. L. Kinnison, of the 25th Infantry, who was waiting outside of the basement with a wagon, started in at the other door, and Serg. Weischaar, acting first sergeant of the Gatling Gun Detachment, started for water. Just as the two men emerged from the door carrying the box, Lieut. Kinnison reached the spot where the fire had originated, and Serg. Weischaar appeared with two buckets of water. He and Lieut. Kinnison at once flooded the floor, seized a woolen cloth which happened to be near, and wetted down the boxes of Hotchkiss ammunition as a measure of precaution.
McGee, the hero of this episode, is an old veteran of the Civil War, having served three years in the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the war, and five years in the Regular Army after the war. He has never drawn a pension nor applied for one, although he suffers considerably from disease and wounds contracted and received during the war, and certainly should be rewarded by a grateful government for his conspicuous heroism. The explosion of this magazine would have brought the whole expedition to a standstill, besides inflicting tremendous destruction of property and frightful loss of life.
The same day the Artillery of the army began to draw its material for the campaign, and for a period of thirty-nine hours there was no rest for anybody connected with the issue of ordnance stores. It was at this time that the lack of intelligent marking and packing of the boxes was keenly felt. The greatest difficulty was experienced in selecting, from the mass of stores in the depot, the stores that were required by the Artillery. It was especially difficult during the work by night, when the only light that could possibly be allowed was a single lantern, on account of the danger of fire.
At the close of this thirty-nine hours of arduous duty, the officer in command of the Gatling Gun Detachment learned that orders had been issued for the embarkation of the 5th Army Corps at Port Tampa, and that no reference had been made to the Gatling Gun Detachment in these orders. He at once sought Lieut. Thompson, who could offer no light on the omission, but said, "I have orders to send at once to the Cherokee 521,000 rounds of rifle-ball cartridges and all the revolver ammunition on hand. This is the reserve ammunition of the 5th Army Corps. I will send you in charge of this ammunition and you will see it to its destination. You may take an escort or not, as you please. The ammunition is to go on the 4 o'clock train and you must make all the arrangements in regard to it. Get box-cars, haul the ammunition over there and put it in the cars, see that it goes on that train, and as soon as it arrives at Port Tampa, see that it is properly put on board the Cherokee."
In order to fully understand the situation of the Gatling Gun Detachment at this juncture, the following correspondence on the subject is necessary:
"Office of Ordnance Officer, "Lafayette Street, West of Bridge, "Tampa, Fla., June 3, 1898.
"The Assistant Adjutant-General, 5th Army Corps, Tampa, Florida:
"Sir,—Replying to your letter of June 1,1898, in reference to Gatling Gun Detachment, I have the honor to submit the following report:
Guns, men, and equipment required for a 4-gun detachment:
Guns. Serg. Corp. Priv. Total required: 4 5 4 28 On hand: 4 2 0 10 Required: 3 4 18
The gun crews thus organized will give most effective service for the detachment.
Ammunition: Each limber carries 9,840 rounds cal. .30. Four limbers, 27,360; necessary reserve, 32,640; total, 60,000.
Tentage: Two conical wall-tents for enlisted men; one 'A' wall-tent for officer.
Camp equipage, in addition to that on hand in Gatling Gun Detachment: one buzzacot, small; four mess-pans, one dish-pan, one coffee-mill.
Blanket-roll complete; revolver with 50 rounds per man; waist-belts and entrenching-knives.
"It is recommended that Priv. Butz, 'G' Co., 13th Infantry, Corp. Robert S. Smith, 'C' Co., 13th Infantry, and Serg. Weigle, 9th Infantry, be members of the detachment; and that detachment be taken from 9th Infantry, which has some well-instructed men.
"It is further recommended that the detachment be fully horsed as soon as practicable, and that the whole be placed under the command of Lieut. John H. Parker, 13th Infantry, as acting captain.
"I recommend that I be authorized to issue the 4 Gatling guns and parts to him.
"The details should carry the rations prescribed in General Orders 5th, May 31, 1898, 5th Army Corps. Very respectfully,
(Signed) "Jno. T. Thompson, "1st Lieut., Ord. Dept, U. S. A."
This letter, prepared by Lieut. Parker and signed by Lieut. Thompson, was endorsed as follows:
"Headquarters 5th Army Corps, "Tampa, Fla., June 5, 1898.
"Respectfully returned to Lieut. J. T. Thompson, Ordnance Officer.
"If Lieut. Parker, in charge of the detachment as at present constituted, can make the arrangements suggested within, he may take action; but, in view of the limited time remaining, it is thought the detachment already organized will answer.
"By command of Maj.-Gen. Shafter.
"E. J. McClernand, "Assistant Adjutant-General."
"Office of the Ordnance Officer, "Lafayette Street Bridge, "Tampa, Fla., June 5, 1898.
"Respectfully referred to Lieut. John H. Parker for his information.
"Jno. T. Thompson, "1st Lieut., Ordnance Dept, U. S. A."
It will be seen from the first endorsement that a certain amount of discretion was left to the detachment commander. He was authorized to take action if he could make the arrangements suggested within. Lieut. Thompson had authorized an escort for the reserve ammunition, if it was considered necessary. The detachment commander resolved to take action by using his whole detachment as an escort, putting it on board the Cherokee, with the reserve ammunition, and accompanying it to its destination—in Cuba, trusting to the future to enable him to complete the detachment according to the first endorsement.
It was now 11 o'clock in the forenoon. Between that time and 4 o'clock it was necessary to obtain two freight cars, have them placed upon the siding at a convenient point, have more than twenty wagon-loads of ammunition, camp equipage, etc., placed in these cars, have the four guns with their limbers placed on board, and, more difficult than all the rest, go through the necessary red tape at the quartermaster's office in order to get the two cars moved to Port Tampa. It was all accomplished.
The general freight agent was bluffed into believing that unless the two cars were instantly set where they were wanted his whole railroad would be tied up. The quartermaster was hypnotized and dropped formality, putting all the clerks to work upon papers and making out the necessary bill of lading, invoices, etc., in time to catch the 4 o'clock train. He also issued the necessary transportation for the officer and men of the detachment from Tampa to Port Tampa, accepting the first endorsement above as sufficient orders for that purpose.
One member of the detachment, Priv. Murray, had been very ill with what we afterward learned to call the Cuban fever, and, while apparently convalescent, was entirely too weak to accompany the detachment. He was a splendid fellow, and the tears rolled down his emaciated face when he was told he must remain behind. He was furnished with a descriptive list and a letter was written to the chief surgeon of the Division Hospital, requesting him to send an ambulance immediately for the sick man. One member of the detachment carried this letter to Tampa Heights, and so sharp was the work of getting away that this man had to board a moving train as it was pulling out to keep from getting left; but Priv. Murray was taken to the hospital and cared for, and Priv. Bremer did not get left.
The detachment reached Port Tampa about sundown, and Maj. Cushing, who had charge of the loading of the transports, at once authorized the cars to be set alongside the Cherokee. The ammunition, guns, camp equipage, men, and all were promptly put aboard. The training in packing and unpacking the guns was the only thing which enabled the work to be done in the limited time allotted. Not so much as a ten-penny nail belonging to the detachment was left behind.
During the night the troops that were to occupy the Cherokee came on board, and it was found the next morning that five or six tons of regimental baggage had been piled on top of the guns, making it practically impossible to disembark, even if such a movement should be ordered.
THE VOYAGE AND DISEMBARKATION.
It seemed that the work had been accomplished none too soon, for on the morning of June 7th orders came to the Cherokee to leave the slip and proceed down the bay. There were on board at this time, beside the little Gatling Gun Detachment, the 17th Infantry, under command of Col. Haskell, and a battalion of the 12th Infantry, under command of Col. Comba, who was the senior officer on board. The ship was frightfully crowded. The berth deck and lower deck had been arranged for the accommodation of the men by nailing rows of two 2x4 scantlings just far enough apart to leave room for a man to lie down, and fastening three tiers of bunks to these scantlings. The men were packed in these bunks like sardines in a box. The ventilation was conspicuous by its absence, the heat below deck was frightful and the misery entailed by such accommodations was beyond description. But the men were very cheerful, and, being allowed the privilege of the upper deck, very little in the way of complaint was heard. Everybody was anxious to be off. The hope most frequently expressed was for a quick passage and a sharp, swift campaign. It was easily foreseen by the officers on board the ship that a long sojourn on shipboard under such conditions would have a very bad effect on the men.
The ship dropped down the bay to the quarantine station, starting about noon, and there lay to, waiting, as was supposed, for the remainder of the fleet. Suddenly, about 8 p. m., one of the torpedo cruisers came tearing down the bay under full steam, and we heard the message sounded through the megaphone: "Return to port. Three Spanish cruisers within three hours' sail of the offing." It was a thrilling moment. Officers and men were lounging, taking, as they supposed, their last view of the American shores, without a suspicion of present danger, when they were rapidly brought to a realizing sense that "war is hell," by a notice that the enemy was upon them. Whether they were in danger or not, the danger was deadly real and imminent to them at the time.
The Cherokee had been anchored pretty well inside. She immediately got up steam and went out to warn other vessels farther out in the offing, and then made safely for the harbor. Officers and men behaved with perfect coolness. It was hopeless to attempt to escape by concealment, so Col. Comba ordered out the band of the 17th Infantry and the good ship fled up the bay, in momentary expectation of a smashing shot from the enemy, to the strains of "There'll be a hot time." What little excitement there was displayed itself in a feverish searching of the bay with field-glasses for signs of the enemy. The older officers, upon whom the responsibility was resting, sat upon the quarter-deck, smoking their pipes and discussing the situation. The captains quietly moved about, assigning stations to their companies, in case of attack, with the view of trying the effect of the modern rifle upon the armored sides of a Spanish man-of-war, and two of the younger officers took advantage of the catchy air which the band was playing to dance a two-step on the quarter-deck. So the evening wore away. The moon went down. The myriad little stars came out, twinkling in the deep blue sky, and at last both officers and men, tired of looking for an enemy who was never to appear, turned in for such sleep as they could get, leaving a small guard on deck to keep a lookout. When they awoke next morning, the ship was in the deepest part of the nearest slip, moored fast by her guy-ropes to the dock. Thus ended the first engagement with the enemy.
From the 8th until the 13th, the Cherokee lay at anchor in the slip. She was relieved on the 10th of about 200 men, thus slightly lightening her overcrowded condition. In the meantime, this overcrowded condition of the ship had led to some discussion as to who could best be moved on board some other ship, with some prospect that the Gatling Gun Detachment might be disturbed. The situation was not at all satisfactory. With four guns, no mules, no harness, no authority, and only twelve men, the Gatling Gun Detachment did not appear to be in a very fair way toward inflicting much damage upon the enemy. So on the 11th of June the detachment commander visited Gen. Shafter at his headquarters, determined to bring the matter to an issue, definitely, one way or the other. This was the first time he had met the general, and, under the circumstances, the manner of his reception appeared to be doubtful.
Gen. Shafter is a big man. This is not noticed at first glance. He is above the average height, but his corpulent figure does not indicate that he is full five feet nine inches in height, because his girth is of like proportion. His hands are big; his arm is big; his head is big. The occiput is especially full, and the width of head just over the ears is noticeable. There is plenty of room for the organs of combativeness. One would think he is probably a lover of children; during this interview he patted the head of an inquisitive dog, which evidently belonged somewhere on board the flag-ship, and which strayed into the room. His eyes are big, very full and very keen. As you enter he says curtly, "Take a seat." He waits, looking down, for you to state your business, then suddenly fixes you with a piercing glance, and goes to the heart of the subject by one incisive sentence, which leaves no more to be said. This description is a general type of several interviews with him. On this occasion the general inquired concerning the facts, looking keenly, searchingly, and meditatively at the detachment commander. The machine gun man was "on trial." Then the general broke the silence by one short question, "What do you want?" and the reply was in kind, "Twenty men, general, with the privilege of selecting them." The general suggested the advisability of taking a complete organization; to which was replied, "That at this late hour in the expedition it is imperative to have selected men in order to perform the required duty; that men taken at random, as would be the case in a complete organization such as a company, would not be likely to have the required characteristics." The general tersely remarked, "You may have them. Make out your list, name any man in the corps that you want, and hand the list to me. I will send the men to you." The trial was over, and the Machine Gun Detachment was a settled fact.
Accordingly on the following day Special Orders No. 16 were issued, as follows:
"Headquarters 5th Army Corps, "On Board S. S. Seguransa, "Tampa Bay, Fla., June 11, 1898.
"Special Orders, No. 16:
* * * * *
"4. The following named enlisted men are detailed for duty with the Gatling Gun Detachment, 5th Army Corps, and will report at once to 2d Lieut. John H. Parker, 13th Infantry, commanding the detachment for duty:
"9th Infantry: Sergeant Weigle.
"12th Infantry: Privates Voelker, Company A; Anderson, Lauer, and Timberly, Company C; Prazak, Company E.
"13th Infantry: Sergeant Green, Company H; Corporals Stiegerwald, Company A; Doyle, Smith, and Rose, Company C; Privates Corey and Power, Company A; Barts, Company E; and Schmadt, Company G.
"17th Infantry: Privates Merryman and Schulze, Company A; McDonald, Company B; Elkins, Dellett, and McGoin, Company D; Click, Needle, Shiffer, and Sine, Company E.
"Each of the soldiers will report equipped as follows: Blanket-roll complete, haversack and contents, canteen, waist-belt of leather, hunting-knife, and revolver, and they will be rationed with ten days' travel rations. Descriptive lists of these men will be sent to the commanding officer of the detachment.
* * * * *
"By command of Maj.-Gen. Shafter.
"Official. J. D. Miley, E. J. McClernand, "Aide. Asst. Adj.-Gen."
"Headquarters 5th Army Corps, "On Board S. S. Seguransa, "Tampa Bay, June 11, 1898.
"Special Orders, No. 16:
* * * * *
"5. 2d Lieut. John H. Parker, 13th Infantry, commanding the Gatling Gun Detachment, 5th Army Corps, is authorized to make the usual requisitions for supplies.
* * * * *
"By command of Maj.-Gen. Shafter.
"Official. J. D. Miley, E. J. McClernand, "Aide. Asst. Adj.-Gen."
The organization was thus perfected by a single stroke of the general's pen on the 11th of June, theoretically; practically it was the 14th of June before the details from the 12th and 17th Infantry reported, and when they did, instead of being equipped as directed, they carried rifles with 100 rounds of ammunition.
Serg. Weigle, of the 9th Infantry, who reported at the same time, carried a revolver. On the 14th a wigwag message was received from the 13th Infantry, inquiring whether the detail was desired to report at once or not, to which the reply was sent that it was desired to report at the earliest possible moment. It did not report.
The detachment was at once organized as well as possible for the trip on board the transport, and the guns brought up from the hold of the ship and mounted in such a way that they would be ready for instant use. It was not known but that the detachment might have to participate in a naval engagement, and the value of machine guns in the navy has long been demonstrated. At any rate, it was determined to be ready to give a warm reception to any torpedo vessel which might attempt to attack the Cherokee. One object of getting the guns up was to give instruction to the new men who reported on the 14th. Sergt. Weigle was well instructed in the use of Gatling guns, but none of the other members of the detachment had ever received any instruction, and had been selected rather on the ground of their superior intelligence and courage than on any special knowledge of machine guns. They were given a drill each day in loading and firing the piece, during the time they remained on board the transport, when the weather permitted.
The condition of the troops on board the transport was miserable. The following extract from a letter written at that time will convey some idea of the crowded, ill-ventilated condition of the vessel:
"We have now been on board the transport a week, and are getting into a frame of mind suitable for desperate work. If you can imagine 1000 men crowded into space needed for 500, and then kept there without room to stand or move or sit for seven days, under a tropical sun, in foul holds utterly without ventilation (just imagine it!), endured without a single murmur or complaint, not stoically, but patiently and intelligently, while every officer on board is kicking as hard and as often as possible for the relief of his men, then you will have some idea of the situation. The men are very patient, but they know someone has blundered. Talk about the heroism of the Light Brigade! It is nothing to the heroism that goes cheerfully and uncomplainingly into the Black Hole of Calcutta (there is nothing else that will compare with these transports), all because it is duty. When will the people appreciate the heroism of the Regular Army?"
This was the actual condition of affairs on board the Cherokee up to the time of leaving port on the 14th of June, and it was modified only by the hoisting of wind-sails, after we got under way. These were not very efficient and there were only two of them, so very little relief was given to the overcrowded berth-deck. Most of the men spent their time on the upper deck, and one whole company was quartered there. At night, after 8 o'clock, Col. Comba authorized the men to sleep on deck, and there was always a rush, when the ship's bell struck the hour, for good places on the quarter-deck. The only thing that made the voyage endurable was the good weather which prevailed. This prevented seasickness, to a certain extent.
The squadron reached Santiago de Cuba, and after tacking about for several days, either for the purpose of deceiving the enemy, or of waiting a decision as to the landing-place, finally approached Baiquiri, which had been selected for the landing. The troops on the Cherokee began to land on the 23d of June, the battalion of the 12th Infantry going first. This was followed by the 17th Infantry, and upon its departure the captain of the Cherokee put to sea. The reason for this maneuver is not known. The orders issued by Gen. Shafter in regard to the landing were that the Gatling Gun Detachment should accompany Gen. Lawton's Division. This movement of the Cherokee completely blocked the landing of the Gatling guns. The ship's captain was finally induced to put back into the bay and speak to the Seguransa, and Gen. Shafter directed that the detachment should be taken off the next morning.
An effort was made, therefore, to obtain the use of a lighter which was not at that time in use, but the Commissary Department refused to yield the boat, and it remained until 11 o'clock the next morning tied up to the wharf with half a load of commissaries on board before it became available, and then was seized by the Quartermaster's Department. An effort was then made to obtain the use of three pontoons, belonging to the Engineer Department, which had been drawn up to the shore and were of no use to anybody. The young engineer officer in charge of these boats, a premature graduate of the class of '98, was "afraid the boats might get smashed in the surf," and could not consent without seeing Col. Derby. Col. Derby could not be found.
A wigwag came from Gen. Shafter, asking whether the Gatling guns had been landed. The reply, "No; may I use pontoons?" was answered at once, "Use pontoons, and get off immediately." On returning to shore with a party to work the pontoons, the party was stopped in the act of launching the first boat by Gen. Sumner, and ordered to proceed to the Cherokee, take her out into the offing, and order another to take her place to unload. Protesting against this action, and informing Gen. Sumner of the urgent orders for the Gatling guns to disembark at once, that officer inquired the opinion of the prematurely graduated engineer as to the practicability of using the pontoons, and this experienced young man again expressed the fear that the boats might be injured in the surf. To the detachment commander's indignant exclamation, "What the h— were these boats made for, if they are not to be used and smashed?" Gen. Sumner responded by a peremptory order to warp the Cherokee out from the pier and send the other vessels in. The order was obeyed, and all the circumstances reported to Gen. Shafter the same evening, with the expression of the opinion that if the general wanted the Gatling guns landed, he would have to attend to it personally, because the Gatling gun commander did not have sufficient rank to accomplish it in the face of all these obstacles. Early on the morning of June 25th, therefore, Gen. Shafter sent peremptory orders to the lighter to lay alongside the Cherokee, take the Gatling guns and detachment on board, and land them on the dock. The transfer began at 8 o'clock in the morning, Gen. Shafter coming out in person in his steam launch to see that his order was executed. By 11 o'clock the guns, carriages, 30,000 rounds of ammunition, four sets of double harness, and the detachment were on board the lighter. This had been accomplished a mile outside in the offing, with the vessel rolling and pitching in the trough of the sea and on the crest of the gigantic rollers in so violent a manner that it was almost impossible for men to stand on their feet, much less handle such heavy material as guns and ammunition. The lighter was warped to the pier at 11 o'clock, and the general tied his steam launch alongside to see that it was not disturbed until the debarkation was completed. At 1 o'clock everything was ashore, and, in compliance with the general's instructions, the best mules in the corral were taken, and as they were led away from the corral-gate, a fat, sleek, black streaked, long-eared specimen, which had been selected for a saddle-mule, set up a cheerful "Aw! hee haw! haw!" which produced a burst of laughter and cheering from the members of the detachment and the soldiers in the vicinity. It was a cheerful omen. These Missouri mules were capable of pulling anything loose at both ends, and four experienced drivers had been selected from the detachment who were capable of riding anything that walked on four feet, or driving anything from an Arab courser to a pair of Shetland ponies.
Priv. J. Shiffer had been selected as corral boss of the detachment. The most picturesque figure, the most boyish member, and as brave a soldier as ever shouldered a musket; broad of shoulder, stout of limb, full of joke, as cheerful as a ray of sunlight, this man was the incarnation of courage and devotion. He loved a mule. He was proud of the job. With the instinct of a true teamster, he had snapped up the best pair of mules in the whole corral and was out before the detachment commander had selected a single mule. This team was as black as Shiffer's shoes and as strong as a pair of elephants. They were worked harder than any other team in the 5th Army Corps, and when they were turned in to the quartermaster in August, they were as fat, as sleek, as strong, and as hardy as on the day they were taken from the corral in Baiquiri. The other three teamsters were like unto the first. They were all handy men. They were as capable of fighting or aiming a gun as of driving a team. Any one of the four could take a team of mules up a mountain-side or down a vertical precipice in perfect safety. They could do the impossible with a team of mules, and they had to do it before the detachment reached the firing-line. The success of the battery was to depend to a very large degree upon the coolness, good judgment, and perfect bravery of these four teamsters.
It should be noted that the use of mules was an experiment. The "scientific" branch of service has always held that the proper animal to draw a field-piece is the horse. They expatiate with great delight upon the almost human intelligence and sagacity of that noble animal; upon his courage "when he snuffeth the battle afar," and upon the undaunted spirit with which he rushes upon the enemy, and assists his master to work the destruction of his foes. The Artillery claims that mules are entirely too stubborn, too cowardly, and too hard to manage for the purpose of their arm of the service. It was also an experiment to use two mules per gun. The Engineer Department had reported that the road to the front was impassable for wheeled vehicles, and even the general had apparently thought that four mules per gun would be necessary. The necessity of economizing mules, and the opinion of the detachment commander that two mules per gun would be sufficient, had led to the issue of that number. Those who despise the army mule for the purposes of field artillery know very little of the capacity of this equine product of Missouri when properly handled. It was demonstrated that two mules can pull a Gatling gun with 10,000 rounds of ammunition, loaded down with rations and forage, where eight horses are required to draw a field-piece; and that mules are equally as easy to manage under fire as horses.
The landing was completed and the detachment organized at 3 p. m., having rations, forage, and ammunition complete. There was no tentage, except the shelter-halves which some of the men had brought with them. Capt. Henry Marcotte, retired, the correspondent of the Army and Navy Journal, requested permission to accompany the detachment, which was granted, and soon all were en route for the front, entrusted with the task of opening the way for wheeled transportation and of demonstrating the practicability of the road for army wagons and field artillery.
For the first mile the road was excellent. It lay through one of the most fertile parts of the most fertile island in the world. A little stream trickling along the side of the road furnished plenty of water for both men and animals. At the end of the mile the detachment found a steep hill to descend. The Ordnance Department, which designed and built the carriage for the Gatling guns, had never foreseen the necessity for a brake, and it was therefore necessary to cut down bushes from the roadside and fasten the rear wheels by placing a stout pole between the spokes and over the trail of the piece. This locked the wheels, and the guns were thus enabled to slide down the steep hill without danger of a runaway. From this point the road became a narrow defile. The rank jungle closed in upon the trail, the long barbed leaves of the Spanish bayonet hung across and lacerated the legs of the mules until the blood trickled down to the hoofs; the boughs of the trees hung down over it so that even the men on foot had to stoop to pass under them, and the tortuous path winding in and out amid the dense tropical undergrowth made it impossible to see in places more than twenty-five or thirty yards ahead at a time.
The advance guard, consisting of all the members of one gun crew, had been organized at once upon starting, and this guard moved along the road about two hundred and fifty yards in advance of the detachment, scouting every path vigilantly to the right and left, and keeping a constant, careful lookout to the front. Their orders were, in case of encountering the enemy, to scatter in the underbrush, open fire with magazines, so as to produce the impression upon the enemy that there was a large force, and then slowly fall back upon the battery. The plan was, upon the first alarm, to bring the two leading guns into battery upon the road, with the fourth gun ready to be opened to either flank, while the gun crew of the third gun, which formed the advance guard, were to act as infantry support to the battery. It was hoped that the enemy would follow the advance guard as it retreated, and it was believed that the Gatling gun battery could take care of two or three regiments of Spaniards without help if necessary.
This form for the march had been adopted as the result of mature reflection. The general had offered a cavalry escort of two troops, and Gen. Sumner had rather urged the use of an escort, but it was desired to demonstrate that a battery of machine guns, properly manned and equipped, is capable of independent action, and does not need the assistance of either arm of the service. In fact, the Gatling gun men would have been rather pleased than not to have had a brush with the enemy without the assistance of either infantry or cavalry. But it was not to be.
The march was continued until darkness fell over the landscape, and the battery arrived at a beautiful camping-place about one mile east of Siboney, where a break in the water-pipe near the railroad track gave an ample supply of excellent water, and a ruined plantation, now overgrown with luxuriant sugar-cane, provided ample forage for the mules. The two troops of cavalry, which had been offered and refused as an escort, had reached this camping-place some time before, so that the wearied members of the detachment found pleasant camp-fires already throwing their weird lights and shadows over the drooping branches of the royal palm.
Here, in the midst of the jungle, they pitched their first camp in Cuba. The condition of the mules was duly looked to, their shoulders washed down with strong salty water, their feet carefully examined, and the animals then tethered to graze their fill on the succulent sugar-cane, after having had a bountiful supply of oats. Meantime the camp cooks had a kettle full of coffee simmering, and canned roast beef warming over the fire, and after a hearty meal the tired men stretched themselves upon the ground, with no canopy except the stars and only one sentinel over the camp, and slept more soundly than they had on board the tossing Cherokee.
At early dawn the battery arose, and, after a quick breakfast, resumed the march. Some half-mile farther on they passed a battery of light artillery which had preceded them on the road by some nine hours, and which had camped at this point awaiting forage. At Siboney the detachment stopped to look after the detail from the 13th Infantry, which had not yet reported. The detachment commander sought out the regimental adjutant, who referred him to the regimental commander, Col. Worth. This colonel was at first reluctant to allow the men to go, but, on being informed of the necessity for them, and after inquiring about the orders on the subject, he directed the detail to report immediately. All the members of this detail reported at once, except Corp. Rose, who had been left by his company commander on board ship.
The road from Siboney to the front was not known. There was no one in camp who even knew its general direction. Application was therefore made to Gen. Castillo, who was in command of a body of Cubans at Siboney, for a guide. After a great deal of gesticulation, much excited talk between the general and members of his staff, and numerous messengers had been dispatched hither and thither upon this important and very difficult business, a Cuban officer was sent with instructions to furnish a guide who could conduct the detachment to Gen. Wheeler's headquarters at the front. In the course of some twenty minutes, a dirty slouchy, swarthy, lousy-looking vagabond was pointed out as the desired guide, and was said to know every by-path and trail between Siboney and Santiago. He was told to go with the detachment to Gen. Wheeler's headquarters and then return, and the detachment commander started for his command followed by his sable guide. Passing through a group of these brave Cuban heroes, he lost sight of his redoubtable guide for an instant, and has never since found that gentleman.
It would be just as well to add a description of the patriotic Cuban as he was found by the Gatling Gun Detachment during their campaign in behalf of Cuban independence, in the name of humanity; and this description, it is thought, tallies with the experience of all officers in the expedition.
The valiant Cuban! He strikes you first by his color. It ranges from chocolate yellow through all the shades to deepest black with kinky hair; but you never by any chance see a white Cuban, except the fat, sleek, well-groomed, superbly mounted ones in "khaki," who loaf around headquarters with high-ranking shoulder-straps. These are all imported from the United States. They comprise the few wealthy ones of Spanish descent, who are renegade to their own nativity, and are appealing to the good people of the United States to establish them in their status of master of peons without any overlord who can exact his tithes for the privilege.
The next thing you notice is the furtive look of the thief. No one has ever yet had a chance to look one of these chocolate-colored Cubans straight in the eye. They sneak along. Their gait has in it something of that of the Apache, the same soft moccasined tread, noiseless and always stealthy. Your impressions as to their honesty can be instantly confirmed. Leave anything loose, from a heavy winter overcoat, which no one could possibly use in Cuba, to—oh well, anything—and any Cuban in sight will take great pleasure in dispelling any false impressions that honesty is a native virtue.
Next you notice that he is dirty. His wife does sometimes make a faint attempt at personal cleanliness; this is evident, because in one bright instance a white dress was seen on a native woman, that had been washed sometime in her history. But as to his lordship, the proud male citizen of Cuba libre, you would utterly and bitterly insult him by the intimation that a man of his dignity ought ever to bathe, put on clean clothes, or even wash his hands. He is not merely dirty, he is filthy. He is infested with things that crawl and creep, often visibly, over his half-naked body, and he is so accustomed to it that he does not even scratch.
Next you observe the intense pride of this Cuban libre. It is manifested the very first time you suggest anything like manual labor—he is incapable of any other—even for such purposes as camp sanitation, carrying rations, or for any other purpose. His manly chest swells with pride and he exclaims in accents of wounded dignity, "Yo soy soldado!" Still his pride does not by any chance get him knowingly under fire. At El Poso some of him did get under fire from artillery, accidentally, and it took a strong provost guard to keep him there. If he ever got under fire again there was no officer on the firing-line who knew it.
He is a treacherous, lying cowardly, thieving, worthless, half-breed mongrel; born of a mongrel spawn of Europe, crossed upon the fetiches of darkest Africa and aboriginal America. He is no more capable of self-government than the Hottentots that roam the wilds of Africa or the Bushmen of Australia. He can not be trusted like the Indian, will not work like a negro, and will not fight like a Spaniard; but he will lie like a Castilian with polished suavity, and he will stab you in the dark or in the back with all the dexterity of a renegade graduate of Carlisle.
Providence has reserved a fairer future for this noble country than to be possessed by this horde of tatterdemalions. Under the impetus of American energy and capital, governed by a firm military hand with even justice, it will blossom as the rose; and, in the course of three or four generations, even the Cuban may be brought to appreciate the virtues of cleanliness, temperance, industry, and honesty.
Our good roads ended at Siboney, and from there on to Gen. Wheeler's headquarters was some of the worst road ever traveled. Part of it lay through deep valleys, where the sun was visible scarcely more than an hour at noontime, and the wet, fetid soil was tramped into a muck of malarial slime under foot of the mules and men. The jungle became ranker, the Spanish bayonets longer and their barbs sharper in these low bottom jangles. The larger undergrowth closed in more sharply on the trail, and its boughs overhung so much in some places that it became necessary to cut them away with axes in order to pass.
These guns were the first wheeled vehicles that had ever disturbed the solitude of this portion of Cuba. The chocolate-colored natives of Cuba sneak; the white native of Cuba, when he travels at all, goes on horseback. He very seldom travels in Cuba at all, because he is not often there. Consequently the roads in Cuba, as a rule, are merely small paths sufficient for the native to walk along, and they carry the machete in order to open a path if necessary. These low places in the valleys were full of miasmatic odors, yellow fever, agues, and all the ills that usually pertain to the West Indian climate.
At other places the road ran along the tops of the foot-hills from one to two hundred feet higher than the bottom of these valleys. Here the country was much more open. The path was usually wide enough for the guns to move with comparative ease. Sometimes one wagon could pass another easily. These parts of the road were usually more or less strewn with boulders. The road was rarely level and frequently the upland parts were washed out. Sometimes it was only the boulder-clad bottom of a ravine; again the water would have washed out the gully on one side so deep as to threaten overturning the guns. The portions of the road between the valleys and the top of these foot-hills were the worst places the detachment had to pass. These ascents and descents were nearly always steep. While not at all difficult for the man upon horseback or for the man on foot, they were frequently almost too steep for draft, and they were always washed out. In places it was necessary to stop and fill up these washouts by shoveling earth and stone into the places before the detachment could pass.