The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker

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Chapter III: Inception

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:

First Endorsement.

“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.”

Second Endorsement.

“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.


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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