The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker

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Chapter V: The March

At early dawn the battery arose, and, after a quick breakfast, resumed the march. Some half-mile farther on they passed a battery of light artillery which had preceded them on the road by some nine hours, and which had camped at this point awaiting forage. At Siboney the detachment stopped to look after the detail from the 13th Infantry, which had not yet reported. The detachment commander sought out the regimental adjutant, who referred him to the regimental commander, Col. Worth. This colonel was at first reluctant to allow the men to go, but, on being informed of the necessity for them, and after inquiring about the orders on the subject, he directed the detail to report immediately. All the members of this detail reported at once, except Corp. Rose, who had been left by his company commander on board ship.

The road from Siboney to the front was not known. There was no one in camp who even knew its general direction. Application was therefore made to Gen. Castillo, who was in command of a body of Cubans at Siboney, for a guide. After a great deal of gesticulation, much excited talk between the general and members of his staff, and numerous messengers had been dispatched hither and thither upon this important and very difficult business, a Cuban officer was sent with instructions to furnish a guide who could conduct the detachment to Gen. Wheeler’s headquarters at the front. In the course of some twenty minutes, a dirty slouchy, swarthy, lousy-looking vagabond was pointed out as the desired guide, and was said to know every by-path and trail between Siboney and Santiago. He was told to go with the detachment to Gen. Wheeler’s headquarters and then return, and the detachment commander started for his command followed by his sable guide. Passing through a group of these brave Cuban heroes, he lost sight of his redoubtable guide for an instant, and has never since found that gentleman.

It would be just as well to add a description of the patriotic Cuban as he was found by the Gatling Gun Detachment during their campaign in behalf of Cuban independence, in the name of humanity; and this description, it is thought, tallies with the experience of all officers in the expedition.

The valiant Cuban! He strikes you first by his color. It ranges from chocolate yellow through all the shades to deepest black with kinky hair; but you never by any chance see a white Cuban, except the fat, sleek, well-groomed, superbly mounted ones in “khaki,” who loaf around headquarters with high-ranking shoulder-straps. These are all imported from the United States. They comprise the few wealthy ones of Spanish descent, who are renegade to their own nativity, and are appealing to the good people of the United States to establish them in their status of master of peons without any overlord who can exact his tithes for the privilege.

The next thing you notice is the furtive look of the thief. No one has ever yet had a chance to look one of these chocolate-colored Cubans straight in the eye. They sneak along. Their gait has in it something of that of the Apache, the same soft moccasined tread, noiseless and always stealthy. Your impressions as to their honesty can be instantly confirmed. Leave anything loose, from a heavy winter overcoat, which no one could possibly use in Cuba, to–oh well, anything–and any Cuban in sight will take great pleasure in dispelling any false impressions that honesty is a native virtue.

Next you notice that he is dirty. His wife does sometimes make a faint attempt at personal cleanliness; this is evident, because in one bright instance a white dress was seen on a native woman, that had been washed sometime in her history. But as to his lordship, the proud male citizen of Cuba libre, you would utterly and bitterly insult him by the intimation that a man of his dignity ought ever to bathe, put on clean clothes, or even wash his hands. He is not merely dirty, he is filthy. He is infested with things that crawl and creep, often visibly, over his half-naked body, and he is so accustomed to it that he does not even scratch.

Next you observe the intense pride of this Cuban libre. It is manifested the very first time you suggest anything like manual labor–he is incapable of any other–even for such purposes as camp sanitation, carrying rations, or for any other purpose. His manly chest swells with pride and he exclaims in accents of wounded dignity, “Yo soy soldado!” Still his pride does not by any chance get him knowingly under fire. At El Poso some of him did get under fire from artillery, accidentally, and it took a strong provost guard to keep him there. If he ever got under fire again there was no officer on the firing-line who knew it.

He is a treacherous, lying cowardly, thieving, worthless, half-breed mongrel; born of a mongrel spawn of Europe, crossed upon the fetiches of darkest Africa and aboriginal America. He is no more capable of self-government than the Hottentots that roam the wilds of Africa or the Bushmen of Australia. He can not be trusted like the Indian, will not work like a negro, and will not fight like a Spaniard; but he will lie like a Castilian with polished suavity, and he will stab you in the dark or in the back with all the dexterity of a renegade graduate of Carlisle.

Providence has reserved a fairer future for this noble country than to be possessed by this horde of tatterdemalions. Under the impetus of American energy and capital, governed by a firm military hand with even justice, it will blossom as the rose; and, in the course of three or four generations, even the Cuban may be brought to appreciate the virtues of cleanliness, temperance, industry, and honesty.

Our good roads ended at Siboney, and from there on to Gen. Wheeler’s headquarters was some of the worst road ever traveled. Part of it lay through deep valleys, where the sun was visible scarcely more than an hour at noontime, and the wet, fetid soil was tramped into a muck of malarial slime under foot of the mules and men. The jungle became ranker, the Spanish bayonets longer and their barbs sharper in these low bottom jangles. The larger undergrowth closed in more sharply on the trail, and its boughs overhung so much in some places that it became necessary to cut them away with axes in order to pass.

These guns were the first wheeled vehicles that had ever disturbed the solitude of this portion of Cuba. The chocolate-colored natives of Cuba sneak; the white native of Cuba, when he travels at all, goes on horseback. He very seldom travels in Cuba at all, because he is not often there. Consequently the roads in Cuba, as a rule, are merely small paths sufficient for the native to walk along, and they carry the machete in order to open a path if necessary. These low places in the valleys were full of miasmatic odors, yellow fever, agues, and all the ills that usually pertain to the West Indian climate.

At other places the road ran along the tops of the foot-hills from one to two hundred feet higher than the bottom of these valleys. Here the country was much more open. The path was usually wide enough for the guns to move with comparative ease. Sometimes one wagon could pass another easily. These parts of the road were usually more or less strewn with boulders. The road was rarely level and frequently the upland parts were washed out. Sometimes it was only the boulder-clad bottom of a ravine; again the water would have washed out the gully on one side so deep as to threaten overturning the guns. The portions of the road between the valleys and the top of these foot-hills were the worst places the detachment had to pass. These ascents and descents were nearly always steep. While not at all difficult for the man upon horseback or for the man on foot, they were frequently almost too steep for draft, and they were always washed out. In places it was necessary to stop and fill up these washouts by shoveling earth and stone into the places before the detachment could pass.

On one of these occasions, while heaving rock to fill up a bad washout, Priv. Jones was stung by a scorpion. Jones did not know what had bitten him, and described it as a little black thing about as long as his finger. Fortunately there was a small supply of whisky with the detachment, and this remedy was applied to Jones internally. Some soldier in the detachment suggested that a quid of tobacco externally would be beneficial, so this also was done. It was not a dressing favorable to an aseptic condition of the wound, perhaps, nor was there anything in the quid of tobacco calculated to withdraw the poison or neutralize its effects, so the doctors may characterize this as a very foolish proceeding; but country people skilled in simples and herb remedies might tell some of these ultra scientific surgeons that the application of a quid of tobacco or of a leaf of tobacco to the sting of a wasp or the bite of a spider, or even the sting of a scorpion, is nearly always attended by beneficial results. In fact, when Jones was stung there was a surgeon, a medical officer, who turned up even before Jones was treated with the whisky cure, and, upon receiving Jones’ explanation that he had been heaving rock and had been bitten on the end of the finger by a little black thing, and after hearing the remarks of the men that it was very probably a scorpion sting, this medical officer very sagely diagnosed the accident to that effect, but was unable to prescribe any remedy because he had not brought along his emergency case. This medical officer, with his two attendant hospital satellites, had left both litter and emergency case upon the transport.

The ordinary line officer or soldier who is somewhat accustomed to carrying weights and does not require a hospital drill to teach him to carry a wounded comrade a few yards, looks with a certain degree of envy upon the possession of a hospital litter with its convenient straps for weight-carrying, and would consider this a very convenient means for carrying a pack. This litter is designed to enable two men, hospital attendants or band men, to pick up a wounded soldier weighing some 160 or 180 pounds and carry him from fifty yards to a mile if necessary, to a dressing-station or hospital shack. The medical field-case No. 1 weighs about sixty pounds filled, and field-case No. 2 weighs about forty pounds. These two cases contain all the medicines necessary to run a division hospital; the case of emergency instruments does not weigh above ten or twelve pounds, and would not be a burden for a child to carry. It is therefore difficult for the small-minded officer of the line to see why the Medical Department was unable to have these medicines up at the front. They had the same means of locomotion provided for the other soldiers, by Nature, and they had, moreover, no particular necessity for all rushing to the extreme front. On the contrary, they had from the 23d of June, when the landing began, at Baiquiri, until the 1st of July, to accomplish a distance of less than twenty miles; and it would seem reasonable that they might have had their medicine-cases up where they were needed by that time.

These gentlemen pose as the most learned, expert, scientific, highly trained body of medical men in the world. They are undoubtedly as well trained, as highly educated, and as thoroughly proficient as the medical officers of any army in the world. A summons of an ordinary practitioner would bring with him his saddle-bags of medicines; no physician in the city would pretend to answer even an ambulance call without having a few simple remedies–in other words, an emergency case; but it was an exception, and a very rare exception at that, to find a medical officer who took the trouble to carry anything upon his aristocratic back on that march to the front.

A conversation overheard between two medical officers on board a transport just before landing may serve to partially explain the state of affairs. Said surgeon No. 1 to surgeon No. 2, “We are going to land this morning; are you going to carry your field-case?” To which surgeon No. 2 indignantly replied, “No, I’m not a pack-mule!” Surgeon No. 1 again inquired, “Are you going to make your hospital men carry it?” To which surgeon No. 2 replied, “No; my men are not beasts of burden.” Both of these medical officers went ashore; one of them had his field case carried; the other did not. Both of them were up at the firing-line, both did good service in rendering first aid. Both of them worked heroically, both seemed deeply touched by the suffering they were compelled to witness, and both contracted the climatic fever. But in the absence of medicines the role of the surgeon can be taken by the private soldier who has been instructed in first aid to the injured; for in the absence of medical cases and surgical instruments the first-aid packet is the only available source of relief, and these first-aid packets were carried by the private soldier, not by the Medical Department.

A little less “theory,” a little less “science,” a little less tendency to dwell on the “officer” part of the business, with a little more devotion to the duty of relieving suffering humanity–in short, a little less insistence upon “rank,” would have vastly improved the medical service of the United States Army in the field at this time.

These remarks do not apply to the heroes like Ebert, Thorpe, Brewer, Kennedy, Warren, and a few others, who fearlessly exposed their lives upon the very firing-line. These men are the very “salt of the earth." The escape of even a “frazzle” of the 5th Corps was due to their superhuman energy and exertions. They did much to redeem the good name of their corps and to alleviate suffering.

But Priv. Jones recovered from the sting of the scorpion. In fact, soldiers were heard to exclaim that they would be glad to find a scorpion when they saw the character of the remedy applied in Jones’ case.

The detachment left Siboney about 10 o’clock in the morning and tramped steadily along the road up hill and down until 12; then, upon finding a convenient place, it halted for dinner. The mules were unharnessed, coffee prepared, and, just as the detachment was about to begin this noonday meal, two of the peripatetic newspaper fraternity joined, en route to the rear. The ubiquitous correspondent had for the first time discovered the Gatling Gun Detachment, and they thought it was Artillery.

One of these gentlemen was a long, slim, frayed-out specimen of humanity, with a wearied and expressive droop of the shoulders; the other was a short, stout, florid, rotund individual, and his “too, too solid flesh” was in the very visible act of melting. The newspaper gentlemen were invited to participate in the noonday meal, and, with some gentle urging, consented. It was only after the meal was over that it was learned that this was the first square meal these men had had in over forty-eight hours. They had been with Gen. Wheeler at La Guasimas, had rejoined Wheeler after reporting that fight, in hopes of making another “scoop,” and were now on their way to Siboney, hoping to buy some provisions. Poor devils! They had worked for a “scoop” at La Guasimas; they had gone up on the firing-line and had sent back authentic accounts of that little skirmish; but they did not make the “scoop.” The “scoop” was made by newspaper men who had remained on board the transports, and who took the excited account of a member of the command who had come back delirious with excitement, crazed with fear, trembling as though he had a congestive chill–who, in fact, had come back faster than he had gone to the front, and in his excited condition had told the story of an ambuscade; that Wheeler, Wood, and Roosevelt were all dead; that the enemy was as thick as the barbs on the Spanish bayonet; and that he, only he, had escaped to tell the tale. This was the account of the battle that got back to the newspapers in the form of a “scoop,” and it was nothing more nor less than the excited imagination of the only coward who at that time or ever afterwards was a member of the famous Rough Riders. He was consequently returned to civil life prematurely.

The newspaper correspondent in Cuba was of a distinguished type. You recognized him immediately. He was utterly fearless; he delighted in getting up on the firing-line–that is, a few of him did. Among these few might be mentioned Marshall, and Davis, and Remington, and Marcotte, and King, and some half-dozen others; but there was another type of newspaper correspondent in Cuba, who hung around from two miles and a half to three miles in rear of the firing-line, and never by any possibility got closer to the enemy than that. The members of this guild of the newspaper fraternity were necessarily nearer the cable office than their more daring comrades; in fact, there were a few who were known to have been eight or nine miles nearer to the cable office during battles, and those correspondents were the ones who made the great “scoop” in the New York papers, by which a regiment that laid down and skulked in the woods, or ran wildly to the rear, was made to do all the fighting on the first day of July. This latter class of journalists were a menace to the army, a disgrace to their profession, and a blot upon humanity. Even the Cubans were ashamed of them.

The detachment resumed the march at half past 1, and encountered some very difficult road, difficult because it needed repairs. The most difficult places were the ascents and descents of the hills, and in nearly every case fifteen or twenty minutes’ careful investigation was able to discover a means of getting around the worst places in the road. When it was not practicable to go around, J. Shiffer and his three fellow-teamsters would take a twist of their hands in the manes of their long-eared chargers, and apparently lift them down, or up, as the case might be, always landing on their feet and always safely. It was merely a question of good driving and will to go through. The worst places were repaired by the detachment before these reckless attempts at precipice-scaling were made. At one place there was a detachment of the 24th Infantry engaged in an alleged effort to repair the road. They did not seem to work with much vim. Chaplain Springer, having in the morning exhorted them to repentance and a better life and to doing good works unto their brethren, the enemy, was engaged at this point in the afternoon, it being Sunday, in a practical demonstration of what he considered good works. In other words, the chaplain, whose religious enthusiasm no one doubts, was engaged in heaving rocks with his own hands to show these colored soldiers how they ought to make good road, and he was doing “good works.”

It is but a just tribute to Chaplains Springer and Swift, of the Regulars, to say that they were conspicuous in the hour of danger at the point of greatest peril. In the fearless discharge of their holy office, they faced all the dangers of battle; nor did they neglect the care of the body while ministering to the spiritual needs of the soldiers. Springer, for example, collected wood and made coffee for all on the firing-line, within 400 yards of the block-house at El Caney; and Swift was equally conspicuous in relieving suffering, binding up wounds, and caring for the sick. There were probably others equally as daring; but the author knows of the deeds of these men, and desires to pay a tribute of respect to them. Chaplains of this stamp are always listened to with respectful attention when they express their views of the true course of life to obtain a blessed hereafter. They were in very sharp contrast to the long-visaged clerical gentlemen who were so much in evidence at Tampa, and who never got within 500 miles of danger.

The detachment safely passed all the bad places and obstacles in the road, arriving at Gen. Wheeler’s headquarters about half past 4 o’clock, and reported. It was assigned a position between the advance outposts and directed to dispose of its guns in such a manner as to sweep the hills on which these outposts were placed. High hills to the right at a distance of about 2000 yards were supposed to be infested by the enemy, and a blockhouse which stood out against the sky-line was thought to contain a Spanish detachment. A high hill to the left at a distance of about 1000 yards had not yet been explored, and it was thought probable that some of the enemy was concealed on this hill also. The detachment commander was directed to report, after posting his battery, in which duty he was assisted by Col. Dorst, to Gen. Chaffee, who had charge of the outposts. The General inquired what the battery consisted of, and upon being informed that “It consists of four Gatling guns, posted so as to command the neighboring hills," remarked in a very contemptuous manner, “You can’t command anything." Gen. Chaffee subsequently had reason to revise his opinion, if not to regret the expression of it.


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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By John H. Parker
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