The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker

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Chapter II: Inception

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. “Material:

“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.

“Camp Equipage:

“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.

“Tactical Employment:

“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 effectof 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.


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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