The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker

Presented by

Public Domain Books

Chapter IV: 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.


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

[Buy at Amazon]
The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker
At Amazon