The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker

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Chapter X: The Sufferings of the Fifth Army Corps

In such a campaign as that of Santiago, a certain amount of suffering is inevitable. In such a climate as that of southern Cuba, a certain amount of disease is unavoidable. In the very hot-bed of yellow fever and malaria, no army could hope to escape without contracting these diseases; and in a campaign conducted with the marvelous celerity of the one at Santiago, some difficulty in forwarding supplies must necessarily be encountered.

The root of all our difficulties lay in the fact that the commanding general had under him supply departments whose officers reported to heads of bureaus not under control of the corps commander. This caused unnecessary delays in obtaining supplies, entailed confusion in their distribution, and led to suffering beyond what was necessarily the result of the climate and the campaign.

A brief description of the method of obtaining supplies will make this point more clear. When a given article was wanted, whether it was soap, quinine, tentage, or transportation, a requisition upon the chief of the proper bureau at Washington had to be made, with full statement of the reasons for the request; this requisition had to be approved by all intermediate commanders and go through military channels to the chief of the bureau, who might or might not be convinced of the necessity for the article wanted. His action being endorsed thereon, the requisition returned through the same devious route, and possibly might be followed in course of time, either by invoices from some distant purchasing agent of the required articles, or by directions of the bureau chief to make further explanations. The usual length of time allowed for an official communication through military channels, in time of peace at home, from any regimental headquarters to Washington and return, is from ten to thirty days. Here was the first cause of suffering.

If the heads of the supply departments in the field, beginning at Tampa, could have acted promptly upon the orders of their respective commanding officers, without the action of any other authority, unnecessary delay would have been avoided.

To illustrate this point: The Gatling Gun Detachment was ordered to be equipped with revolvers upon reporting to the detachment commander, and this order was issued on the 11th of June, before sailing from Port Tampa. They did not so report, and it devolved upon the detachment commander to make requisition for the necessary equipment. This was done, but no revolvers arrived. The invoices for revolvers reached the detachment commander on the 15th of September, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was then, on leave of absence, sick, ten days after the detachment was disbanded.

This is an extreme case, but the same difficulty was experienced in obtaining supplies of all descriptions. It was, therefore, very difficult for a quartermaster, a commissary, a medical officer, or any other officer whose duty it was to obtain supplies, to have the same when emergency demanded it. The necessity for supplies could not always be foreseen, the quantity desired could not always be estimated for with precision, and it followed that sometimes there was a deficiency when the articles were needed.

Again, the transportation of the 5th Army Corps could not be made available at first to carry supplies up from the landing-place. The troops had drawn travel rations, which lasted them until they disembarked. The first supply problem, upon landing, was that of issuing rations; and, at the moment when every available boat was engaged in carrying troops ashore, it became necessary to put rations ashore also. The exigency demanded the speedy disembarkation of the greatest possible number of men. The fight of La Guasimas emphasized the necessity of getting men to the front. It was no time to delay the movement of troops for the purpose of waiting on wagons, tentage, or rations. The safety of the expedition, the fate of the whole campaign, depended upon energetic and rapid movement to the front. Consequently regiments were put forth with only such amounts of rations and tentage as they could carry upon their backs. It will be readily seen that this amount was very limited, and the only tentage possible was the shelter tent.

There were 118 wagons in the hold of the Cherokee, but it was not practicable to delay the disembarkation of the corps and hazard the fate of the whole campaign by utilizing the only wharf and all the boats two or three days to land these wagons. By the time they could be taken off, the rains had made the roads almost impassable, and they could not all be used. It was therefore a daily struggle to get enough rations forward to feed the fighting-line from day to day. Greatly to the credit of those who performed the duty, it can be said that, with rare exceptions, all the soldiers of the 5th Army Corps had every day, when they could possibly cook the same, hardtack and bacon, roast beef, and coffee. This much was accomplished in the face of insurmountable obstacles by the heroic exertions of the pack-train. When the 1st of July arrived, and the battle began, it was ordered that all soldiers carry three days’ rations. The heat was intense, the fight exceedingly hot, and marching through the jungle extremely difficult. The consequence was that the soldiers threw aside all impedimenta in order to fight more effectively, and, of course, the rations went with the blankets and the overcoats. The man who held on to a canteen and haversack was fortunate; very many abandoned the haversack, and a considerable number abandoned everything except rifle and ammunition. That was what won the fight; but it made hungry men, and it caused men to sleep on the wet ground under the open sky, without blankets or tentage. The pack-train continued its magnificent work. During the fighting it had to bring ammunition. The men were supposed to have three days’ rations. As soon as the deficiency became known to the higher officials, the pack-train began to bring food. Commissary depots were established immediately in rear of the firing-line, and issues of hardtack, bacon, and coffee, which were about the only components of the ration that could be brought forward in sufficient quantities, were made without formality or red tape. It was almost impossible to get a sufficient quantity of even these components to the front. Sometimes the ration was a little short. Bacon and hardtack for seventeen consecutive days, after three weeks of travel ration, do not form the most appetizing diet in the world. The exposure consequent upon the fighting and lack of tentage had its inevitable result in sickness.

The same difficulties which had beset the quartermaster and commissary departments were also encountered by the surgeons. Hospital accommodations were scanty, the quantity of medicines available was very limited, the number of wounded men disproportionately large, and, when sickness was added to the wounds, the small number of surgeons available at the front were not able to give the individual attention and scientific treatment which forms a part of our admirable medical system in time of peace. There were only three or four ambulances available until after the 11th of July. A considerable number of the surgeons were on duty at the general hospitals far in the rear; the number at the front was not sufficient to attend to all the duties which devolved upon them. This deplorable condition reacted, causing a greater amount of illness. To add to this difficulty, the Volunteers began to suffer excessively from the results of their own ignorance and carelessness; and when the yellow fever scourge was added to all the other difficulties which beset the 5th Corps, the outlook became gloomy.

The attempt has been made in the foregoing exposition of the conditions at Santiago to represent fairly the difficulties under which all parts of the army labored. The fact remains, nevertheless, that there was an appalling amount of suffering due to causes which might have been foreseen and which were easily preventable.

On the 18th day of July the transports entered the harbor of Santiago. From that day forward there was unlimited wharfage at disposal, and there were excellent macadamized roads leading to all parts of the command. The fall of Santiago had been foreseen more than a week, and if there was not a sufficient quantity of wagons present on board the ships, there had been ample time to make telegraphic requisition for them to Washington. Up to the surrender, the suffering from sickness had been exceedingly light. There was something stimulating about the nervous strain and excitement of the time which kept the men up to their work; but the inadequacy of the medical supplies on hand had been amply demonstrated by the 10th. and it had become fully apparent that the medical corps was unable to handle the number of patients on hand. The previous remark about the practicability of telegraphing to headquarters for additional force applies to this department also.

The principal sufferings after the surrender were due to four causes: first, improper clothes; second, improper food; third, lack of shelter; fourth, lack of proper medical attention.

In regard to clothing and these other necessaries, it should be borne in mind that the corps which went to Santiago was virtually the Regular Army. Every regiment which went to Tampa went there ready for service. Its equipment was just as complete on the 26th of April as it was on the 6th of June. There should have been no problems to solve in regard to them–and yet there were many.


The troops wore the same clothing to Cuba they had brought from Sheridan, Assinniboine, and Sherman. They wore winter clothing for their service in the torrid zone, and those who received summer clothing at all received it late in August, just in time to return to the bracing breezes of Montauk Point, where, in their enfeebled condition, winter clothing would have been more suitable. It did not require a professor of hygiene to foresee that the winter clothing used in northern Michigan would not be suitable for campaigning in southern Cuba in July; or that summer clothing suitable for southern Cuba would be too light for men returning to the northern part of Long Island. Is it to be concluded that it was impossible to obtain summer clothing for 18,000 men between the 26th of April and the 6th of June?

Second–Improper Food.

Most of the troops were embarked upon the transports by the 10th of June. Their food on transport consisted of the travel ration: canned roast beef, canned baked beans, canned tomatoes, and hardtack, with coffee, were the components. They subsisted upon this food, imprisoned in fetid holds of foul transports, unfit for the proper transportation of convicts, until the 25th day of June, when they disembarked. On drawing rations for the field it was found that the field ration would be of the same components, with the addition of bacon and minus the baked beans and tomatoes. During the emergency, up to include the 18th day of July, this was the ration. Occasionally a few cans of tomatoes found their way to camp, but rarely. The ration was always short, such as it was, but this the soldiers could have endured and did endure without a murmur.

But on the 18th of July, with unlimited wharfage at a distance of two miles and a half, with excellent roads, and with abundance of transportation (see Gen. Shafter’s Official Report), and with surrender foreknown for a sufficient length of time to have brought any quantity of vegetables from New York City, the ration continued to be bacon, canned beef, hardtack, and coffee. Finally, about the 25th of July, small amounts of soft bread began to be doled out, and an occasional issue of frozen fresh beef was made. It was soon demonstrated that not sufficient fresh beef could be made available. The vegetables which had been brought had nearly all spoiled on the transports. Hundreds of barrels of potatoes and onions were unloaded upon the docks and were so badly decayed as to make them useless. These vegetables had been drifting about the Caribbean Sea and upon the Atlantic Ocean since the 9th and 10th of June. Occasionally it was practicable to get a quarter or a half ration of potatoes and half of the usual allowance of canned tomatoes, but that was all.

It did not require a professor of hygienic dietetics to predict that men fed in the tropics upon a diet suited to the icy shores of Greenland would become ill, especially when they were clad in a manner suited to the climate of Labrador. Are we to conclude that it was impossible to get rice, beans, canned fruits, canned corn, and other vegetables to take the place of potatoes and onions?

Third–Lack of Shelter.

The allowance of tentage was prescribed for each regiment. Granted that it was impossible to get tentage up until after the surrender; yet it should have been practicable to forward tentage over two and one-half miles of macadamized roads. Yet whole regiments remained without tentage until they embarked for the United States. The 13th Infantry did not get tentage until the 5th of August. The 20th Infantry and the 3d Infantry obtained a portion of their tentage about the same time, but a large part of these regiments remained under shelter tents until they reembarked. The 1st Illinois and the 34th Michigan remained in shelter tents until the 15th of August, at which time the author embarked for the United States. These regiments are fair examples.

The Gatling Gun Detachment was provided with shelter-halves and remained under them until the 10th of August. Repeated applications for proper tentage were made, accompanied by medical certificates that the issue of tentage was imperatively necessary for the health of the command. Endorsements thereon by the chief quartermaster of the 5th Corps as late as the 5th of August show that there was no available tentage for issue. Application was made to the regimental commander, 13th Infantry, for a portion of regimental tentage for the detachment of the 13th Infantry; but, in spite of the fact that the reduced regiment had on hand all the canvas prescribed for the full regiment, none could be obtained for the detachment. The detachment commander was entirely without tentage from the 25th of June until the 5th of August–forty-five days in the rainy season in Cuba, exposed to the torrid sun by day, to chilling dews by night, and the drenching rains of the afternoon, without shelter from any inclemencies of the weather, and this in spite of repeated applications to proper authorities for the suitable allowance of tentage. Is it any wonder that men grew sick, and that death stalked broadcast through the camp of the 5th Corps, under these conditions?

Fourth–Lack of Proper Medical Attendance.

The surgeons who were at the front with the firing-line worked heroically, but were burdened beyond their physical powers. Owing to the foregoing causes, great numbers of men became ill as soon as the strain and tension of the battle were relieved. It was not uncommon to find twenty or twenty-five per cent of a command on the sick-report, and in some cases the sick-list went as high as fifty per cent. There were no well men in the 5th Army Corps. Those who refused to go on the sick-report were, nevertheless, sick. The author has yet to find a single member of the expedition who did not suffer from the climatic fever. The surgeons themselves were not exempt, and the very limited supply of doctors was speedily decreased by sickness. Were there no doctors in the United States who were willing to come to Cuba?

Up to the 25th of July the supply of medicines was very deficient. There was never a sufficient supply of ambulances. The accommodations in the hospitals were even worse than those on the firing-line. A sick soldier on the firing-line could always find some comrade who would cut green boughs or gather grass for a bed, but the one who went to the hospital had to lie on the ground. The supply of hospital cots was ridiculously inadequate, and this condition did not improve.

The difficulty of obtaining adequate medical attendance may be illustrated by the case of Priv. Fred C. Elkins, of the 17th Infantry, member of the Gatling Gun Detachment. Priv. Elkins had been hurt in the fight on the 1st of July and had been sent to the hospital. He found the accommodations so wretched that he feigned improvement and returned to his detachment. He remained with the detachment until the 14th of July, improving so far as his injury was concerned, but contracted the climatic fever. During this time he was prescribed for twice by the assistant surgeon with the Rough Riders, Dr. Thorpe, previous to the time this regiment was moved westward on the firing-line. His condition became worse, and on the 12th of July Dr. Brewer, 1st lieutenant and assistant surgeon with the 10th Cavalry, was called upon to examine him. This surgeon had then under treatment over 100 cases pertaining to his proper command, and was himself ill, but he readily came and inspected the patient. He promised to send medicines for him, but in the rush of overwork forgot to do so, and on the 13th of July he was again summoned. This time he sent a hospital attendant to take the patient’s temperature, which was 104 degrees. No medicines were sent. On the 14th of July the patient became delirious. The detachment commander went in person to request the same surgeon to attend to the case, he being the only one available at that time. The hospital attendant was again ordered to take the temperature. At the end of an hour even this had been neglected. The hospital man was sick, and had been without sleep for fifty hours. Priv. Elkins was put upon a board and carried to Brewer’s tent, with his descriptive list in his pocket. The surgeon was told the name of the patient and the facts that he was related to a distinguished family and had been recommended for a commission for gallantry upon the field of battle. Dr. Brewer was himself suffering at the time, with a temperature of 103 degrees, but he rose from his own sick-bed and administered remedies which relieved the patient. The following day, the third of his illness, Dr. Brewer was found to be suffering from yellow fever, and was carried back to the yellow fever hospital at Siboney along with Priv. Elkins. He had been sick all the time, but had done his best. Priv. Elkins improved sufficiently to write a letter to his commanding officer from the hospital at Siboney, on the 25th of July, which reached that officer at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on the 12th day of September. In spite of the fact that the patient was furnished with descriptive list, and was specially commended to the care of the surgeon as a soldier marked for extreme gallantry, all trace of him had been lost; and although two private detectives were searching for him a month, no further clew had been found to his whereabouts or fate as late as the 1st of October. Even if his descriptive list had not been furnished with this man, the fact that he was alive and rational enough on the 25th day of July to write a letter concerning his approaching discharge should have made it easy for some record of his case to have been kept.

But this one isolated case sinks into insignificance beside the condition in which some of the sick were left by commands returning to the United States. All cases of yellow fever suspects were left behind, and in the mad scramble to embark for the return voyage many of these were left without proper attention or supplies.

Gen. Kent’s Division had left by the 11th of August. The following extract from a letter dated Santiago de Cuba, August 12, 1898, will convey some idea of the condition in which the sick of this division were left:

“Yesterday Gen. Kent’s Division left for Montauk, and they left behind 350 sick, many of them too ill to care for themselves. This humane country, of course, left ample care for them? There was left one surgeon, one steward, and one case of medicines. Many of these men are too ill to rise. They are ’suspected’ of having yellow fever. They are suffering from Cuban malaria, and many of them from diarrhea. There was not left a single bed-pan for this battalion of bed-ridden, suffering humanity, nor any well men to nurse the sick. There was not even left any to cook food for them. Those left by the 9th Infantry had to bribe marauding, pilfering Cubans, with a part of their rations, to carry food to the camp of the 13th, where there were a few less ill, to get it cooked.

“They are too sick to dig sinks; some are delirious. When the poor emaciated wrecks of manhood have to obey the calls of Nature, they must either wallow in their own filth or stagger a few paces from their wet beds on the slimy soil to deposit more germs of disease and death on the surface already reeking with ghastly, joint-racking rheums.

“There were left less than fifty cots for these 350 sick men–men compelled by sheer weakness to lie on the ground which will soon lie on them, if enough strong men are left by that time to cover them mercifully over with the loathsome, reeking vegetable detritus which passes here for soil, and which is so fairly animate that you can see every spadeful of it writhe and wriggle as you throw it over the rotting hour-dead shell of what was a free American citizen and a Chevalier Bayard.

“When the last man and wagon of the flying division disappeared over the hill toward health and home, a despairing wail went up from the doomed 350 left in this condition of indescribable horror. ’We are abandoned to die!’ they cried; ’we are deserted by our own comrades in the hour of danger and left to helplessly perish!’

“These men are those who fought the climate, hunger, and the enemy on the battle-field which has shed so much undying glory on the American arms. They are the men who have accomplished unheard-of feats of endurance and performed incredible feats of valor on the same ground–not for Cuba, but at the call of duty. They are citizens. They are brave soldiers who have done their full duty because it was duty.”

The mail facilities were wretched. Cords of mail were stacked up at Siboney for weeks; and although there was more transportation on hand than could be used, the officer detailed to attend to the mail business of the corps, Lieut. Saville, of the 10th Infantry, could not succeed in securing a wagon to haul this mail to the front. Since the corps returned to the United States a dozen letters have reached the author which have chased him by way of Santiago and Montauk, since dates between the 1st and 20th of July, inclusive. The person to whom these letters were addressed was well known to every officer and employee in the corps, and if the mail addressed to one so well known could go astray in this manner, what could an unknown private expect? This may seem like a little hardship, but to men in the weakened and enfeebled condition of the survivors of the 5th Corps a letter from home was both food and medicine. Scores of men who are to-day rotting in Cuban graves died of nostalgia, and might have lived if they had received the letters from home which were sent to them.


Preface  •  Chapter I: L’Envoi  •  Chapter II: Inception  •  Chapter III: Inception  •  Chapter IV: The Voyage and Disembarkation  •  Chapter V: The March  •  Chapter VI: The Battery in Camp Wheeler  •  Chapter VII: The Battle  •  Chapter VIII: Tactical Analysis of the Battles At Santiago  •  Chapter IX: The Volunteers  •  Chapter X: The Sufferings of the Fifth Army Corps  •  Chapter XI: The Cause  •  Chapter XII: The Voyage Home and the End of the Gatling Gun Detachment  •  Appendix I  •  Appendix II  •  “G. O. 5  •  Disembarkation in Cuba  •  “G. O. 18  •  Preparing For the Advance  •  The Battle of El Caney  •  The Battle of Santiago  •  Summoning the Enemy to Surrender  •  Operations After Santiago–our Losses  •  Negotiations With General Toral  •  Difficulties Encountered in the Campaign  •  Appendix III

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