The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker

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Chapter XI: The Cause

The causes of these conditions are not far to seek. The United States has not had an army since 1866. There has been no such a thing as a brigade, a division, or a corps. There has been no opportunity to study and practice on a large scale, in a practical way, the problems of organization and supply. The Army has been administered as a unit, and the usual routine of business gradually became such that not a wheel could be turned nor a nail driven in any of the supply departments without express permission, previously obtained from the bureau chief in Washington. The same remarks apply equally to all the other staff departments. The administration had become a bureaucracy because the whole Army for thirty years had been administered as one body, without the subdivisions into organizations which are inevitable in war-time and in larger bodies.

War became a reality with great suddenness. Those who have grown gray in the service, and whose capacity, honesty, and industry had never been and can not be impeached, found themselves confronted with the problem of handling nearly three hundred thousand men, without authority to change the system of supply and transportation. The minutest acts of officers of these departments are regulated by laws of Congress, enacted with a view of the small regular force in time of peace, and with no provisions for modifications in war. In authorizing the formation of large volunteer armies, Congress did not authorize any change in the system of administration or make any emergency provision. As before, every detail of supply and transportation had to be authorized from the central head.

The administrative bureaus were handicapped to some extent by incompetent and ignorant members. Late in the campaign it was learned that the way to a “soft snap” was through the Capitol, and some came in that way who would certainly never have entered the Army in any other.

There were alleged staff officers who had tried to enter the service through the regular channels and who had failed, either by lack of ability or bad conduct, to keep up with the pace set by classmates at the Academy; there were others who were known as failures in civil life and as the “black sheep” of eminent families; and there were some who must have been utterly unknown before the war, as they will be afterward.

How these persons ever obtained places high above deserving officers of capacity and experience is a question which cries aloud for exposure–but in a good many cases they did. Indeed, it is to be observed that, for that matter, the next register of the Army will show a great many more promotions into the Volunteer service, of officers who never heard a hostile bullet during the war, who never left the United States at all, than it will of deserving officers who bore the heat and burden of the march and the battle.

The most discouraging thing about it all to a line officer is that this same register will afford no means of determining who did the service and who did the “baby act.” Lieut. Blank will be borne thereon as major and subsequently colonel of the Steenth Volunteers (which never left the State rendezvous, probably) during the war with Spain; Lieut. Blank No. 2 will be carried on the same book as second lieutenant, –– Infantry, during the same war. The gentle reader will at once “spot” the man who was so highly promoted as a gallant fellow who distinguished himself upon the bloody field; the other will be set down as the man who did nothing and deserved nothing.

Yet–the ones who went received no promotion, and those who staid behind and by their careless incompetence permitted camps amid the peaceful scenes of homes and plenty to become the hot-beds of fever and disease–these are the ones borne as field and other officers of the Volunteers.

To illustrate some of the material with big titles sent to “assist” in running the staff departments, two incidents will suffice.

On the 11th of June, at a certain headquarters, it was desired to send a message, demanding reply, to each transport. A gray-haired officer turned to another and said, “Whom shall we send with this? Will So-and-so do?” naming one of the before-mentioned civil appointments. “For heaven’s sake, no! He would tie up the whole business. Send an orderly,” was the reply. The orderly, an enlisted man of the Regulars, was sent. The officer thus adjudged less competent to carry a message than a private soldier was perhaps actuated by a high sense of duty; but he filled a place which should have been occupied by an experienced and able officer–no, he did not fill it, but he prevented such a man from doing so.

The second incident was related by an officer on a transport bound for home. Say his name was–oh well, Smith.

Smith went, on the 20th of July, to a certain headquarters in the field on business. Those who could have attended to it were absent, but there was one of the recent arrivals, a high-ranking aide, there, and he, sorry for Smith’s worn-out look of hunger, heat, and thirst, asked if he would have a drink. Smith, expecting at the best a canteen of San Juan River water, said he was a little dry.

The newly-arrived clapped his hands, and, at the summons, a colored waiter in spotless white duck appeared. “Waitah, take this gentleman’s ordah,” said the host. Smith, greatly astonished, asked what could be had, and was yet more astonished to learn that he could be served with Canadian or domestic whisky, claret, champagne, or sherry. Much bewildered, and utterly forgetting the awful dangers of liquor in the tropics, he called for Canadian Club. When it came, on a napkin-covered tray, he looked for water, and was about to use some from a bucket full of ice which he at that moment espied. “Aw! hold on,” exclaimed the host; “we nevah use that, don’t y’ know, except to cool the apollinaris. Waitah, bring the gentleman a bottle of apollinaris to wash down his liquor.”

Within half a mile were soldiers and officers lying sick in hospital on the ground, eating hardtack and bacon, and drinking San Juan straight, because hospital supplies and rations could not be got to the front!

It was this same officer who explained that he approached his headquarters “by rushes,” upon his arrival, for fear the enemy would see him and consider this reinforcement a violation of the truce.

These are two examples of some of the able assistants from civil life who were sent to help feed, clothe, and transport the 5th Corps.

With such assistants, is it any wonder that, under such extraordinary circumstances as those encountered in Cuba, a system designed for peace and 25,000 men weakened in some respects when the attempt was made to apply it to 300,000 in time of war?

The great wonder is that it did the work as well as it did. And this was due to the superhuman exertions of the chief officers of the supply departments and their experienced assistants. These men knew no rest. They were untiring and zealous. On their own responsibility they cut the red tape to the very smallest limit. Instead of the regular returns and requisitions, the merest form of lead-pencil memorandum was sufficient to obtain the necessary supplies, whenever they were available. This much was absolutely necessary, for these officers were personally responsible for every dollar’s worth of supplies and had to protect themselves in some degree. As it is now, many of them will find it years before their accounts are finally settled, unless some provision be made by law for their relief. This disregard of routine was essential; but how much to be desired is a system suited to the exigencies of the service, both in peace and war!

There is a lesson to be learned from these experiences, and it is this: The commanding officer of any army organization should not be hampered in the matter of supplies by having to obtain the approval or disapproval of a junior in rank, in a distant bureau, who knows nothing about the circumstances. In other words, the system which causes the staff departments of the United States Army to regard a civilian as their head, and makes them virtually independent of their line commanders, is an utterly vicious system. If an officer is competent to command an organization, he should be considered competent to look after the details of its administration, and should be held responsible, not only for its serviceable condition at all times, but for the care of its property and for all the other details connected with its service.

The quartermaster, or commissary, or other officer of a supply department should not know any authority on earth higher or other than the officer in command of the force he is to serve, except those in the line above such chief, and then only when such orders come through his chief.

The commanding officer having ordered supplies to be procured, there should be no question whatever in regard to their being furnished. They should come at once and without fail. If they were not necessary, hold him responsible.

This theory of administration eliminates the bureaucracy which has insidiously crept upon the Army, and relegates to their proper position the supply departments.

The General Staff proper has a higher field of usefulness than the mere problems of supply. Its business is to care for the organization, mobilization, and strategic disposition of all the forces, both naval and military, of the United States. Its head should be the President, and the two divisions should be under the general commanding the Army and the admiral commanding the Navy. The remainder of this staff should be composed of a small but select personnel, and should limit its duties exclusively to those set forth above.


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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The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker
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