The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker

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Chapter VII: The Battle

On the 30th day of June, General Shafter pitched his camp about half a mile in advance of Camp Wheeler in a valley, and about five o’clock in the afternoon communicated the plan of battle to the division commanders and to the commander of the Gatling Gun Detachment.

Reconnaissance had developed the fact that the enemy occupied the village of El Caney, and that their first line of works surrounded the city of Santiago at a distance of about a mile, crowning a semicircular ridge. Between the position occupied by the general’s camp and this ridge, a distance of about two and one-half miles, flowed the Aguadores and San Juan rivers, and about one mile from the San Juan River, on the east side, was a ruined plantation and mission house, called El Poso. Midway between El Caney and the Spanish position was a large handsome mansion, called the Du Cuorot house, standing in the midst of a large plantation and owned by a Frenchman, which both sides had agreed to respect as neutral property. The general plan of the battle as given to these officers on the 30th of June was for one division of the army (Lawton’s), assisted by one battery of artillery (Capron’s), to make an attack at daybreak upon the village of El Caney, and drive the enemy out of it. Another division (Kent’s) was to make an attack upon the semicircular ridge of hills south of El Caney as soon as Lawton was well committed to the fight, both for the purpose of preventing reinforcements from going to El Caney and to develop the enemy’s strength. It was expected that Lawton would capture El Caney about eight or nine o’clock in the morning, and pursue the retreating enemy, by the way of the Du Cuorot house, toward Santiago. This movement would cause Lawton to execute, roughly, a left wheel, and it was intended that in executing this maneuver Kent’s right should join, or nearly join, Lawton’s left, after which the whole line was to move forward according to the developments of the fight. Kent’s attack was to be supported by Grimes’ Battery from El Poso. The Gatling Gun Detachment was to move at daylight on the morning of July 1st, take position at El Poso sheltered by the hill, in support of Grimes’ Battery, and there await orders.

This outline of the battle, as laid down by Gen. Shafter on the 30th day of June, was eventually carried out to the letter; its successful operation shut up a superior force in the city of Santiago, and compelled the surrender of the city.

Perhaps no better comment can be made upon the generalship of the corps commander, no higher compliment be paid, than the mere statement that he was able, fifteen hours before a shot was fired in the battle, to prescribe the movements of the different organizations of his command, and to outline the plan of battle as it was finally carried out, with a degree of precision which can be fully appreciated only by those to whom the plan was communicated in advance. In spite of slight changes, made necessary by local failures and unforeseen circumstances; in spite of the very poor cooperation of the artillery arm; in spite of the absence of cavalry, which made good reconnaissance practically impossible; in spite of the fact that he was operating against a superior force in strong intrenchments–the plan of battle thus laid down was finally carried out with perfect success in every detail.

The Gatling Gun Detachment was assembled at six o’clock, and so much of the plan of battle was explained to them as it was proper to give out, with orders that breakfast was to be prepared by four o’clock and the detachment be ready to move at 4:30. The plans were heard with careful attention by the men, and the wisdom of giving to them some idea of the work they were expected to do was fully vindicated on the following day, when they were compelled to lie nearly three hours under a dropping fire, waiting for “Lawton to become well engaged," after which the detachment moved forward, without a man missing, with the utmost steadiness and coolness, to the attack.

There was no nervousness displayed by the men. They knew their work was cut out for them, and each man was eager to play his part in the great drama of the morrow. There was no excited talk indulged in. None of the buzz of preparation nor the hum of anticipation which to the civilian mind should precede a desperate battle, but three or four members of the detachment took out their soldiers’ hand-books and wrote in them their last will and testament, requesting their commander to witness the same and act as executor. The courage evinced by these men was not of that brutal order which ignores danger, but of the moral quality which, fully realizing that somebody must get hurt, quietly resolves to face whatever may happen in the performance of the full measure of duty.

At four o’clock the guard aroused the members of the detachment quietly, and each man found a good hearty breakfast waiting for him, consisting of hardtack, coffee, condensed milk, sugar, bacon, canned roast beef, and some canned fruit, which had been obtained somehow and was opened upon this occasion. It was the last square meal they were to have for several days. At half past four the camp equipage had all been packed upon the guns in such a manner as not to interfere with their instantly getting into action, and the battery started for the front.

The road to El Poso was very good and the mules trotted merrily along, preceded and followed by infantry also bound for the front. The Cubans, too, were in evidence; an irregular, struggling mob of undisciplined barbarians, vociferous, clamorous, noisy, turbulent, excited. Presently the Cubans and infantry in front of the battery halted and it passed beyond them, immediately throwing out the crew of the third gun in front as an advance guard. It reached El Poso at six o’clock, at which time there were no other soldiers there. The battery took position as directed, under cover in rear of the hill and to the right front of the El Poso house. The camp equipage and blanket-rolls, were removed and piled neatly upon the ground, and Priv. Hoft was detailed to guard them, as well as one of the spare mules. About half past seven o’clock Grimes’ Battery arrived, and Col. McClernand, the assistant adjutant-general of the corps. The battery of artillery halted upon the hill near the Gatlings, while its commander, the adjutant-general, the Army and Navy Journal correspondent, and the Gatling gun man climbed to the top of the hill to reconnoiter the enemy. They were accompanied by several attaches and a battalion of newspaper correspondents.

To the southwest, at a distance of about 3,000 yards, the city of Santiago lay slumbering in the morning sun. The chain of hills which surrounded the city, lying between it and our position, was crowned with rank tropical verdure, and gave no indications of military fortifications. There was no sign of life, a gentle land breeze swayed the tops of the royal palms, and the little birds flitted from bough to bough caroling their morning songs as though no such events were impending as the bombardment of a city and the death of 400 gallant soldiers. The gentle ripple of the creek, lapping over its pebbly bed at the foot of the hill, was distinctly audible.

The artillery officers produced their range-finders and made a scientific guess at the distance from the hill to a red brick building in the northern edge of Santiago. This guess was 2600 yards. They signalled to the lead piece of Grimes’ Light Battery to ascend the hill. It was delayed for a moment while picks and shovels were plied upon the top of the hill to make slight emplacements for the guns, and at last, at ten minutes before eight o’clock, the first piece started the difficult ascent. The drivers stood up in their stirrups and lashed their horses and shouted; the horses plunged and reared and jumped. The piece stuck half way up the hill. The leaders were turned slightly to the right to give new direction and another attempt was made–ten yards gained. The leaders were swung to the left, men and officers standing near by added their shouts and blows from sticks. A tall artillery officer, whose red stripes were conspicuous, jumped up and down and swore; the team gave a few more jumps, then they wheeled the gun by a left about, with its muzzle pointing toward the city. It was quickly unlimbered and run to its place.

The second piece started up the hill. The drivers of this piece sat quietly in their saddles, and, with a cluck, started up the hill at a walk. The tall artillery officer shouted, and a driver muttered under his breath, “Damned fool!” Regardless of the orders to rush their horses, the drivers of this piece continued to walk up the hill. At the steepest part of the hill, they rose slightly in their stirrups, as one man, and applied the spur to the lead horses, and, at the same time, a lash of the quirt to the off horses of the team. The horses sprang forward, and in an instant the second piece was in battery. The third and fourth pieces were taken up in the same manner as the second.

The pieces were loaded; a party of newspaper correspondents produced their lead pencils and pads, and began to take notes; the little birds continued to sing. The Gatling Gun man, the Army and Navy Journal man, and the assistant adjutant-general stepped to the windward a few yards to be clear of the smoke. The range was given by the battery commander–2600 yards; the objective was named, a small, almost indistinguishable redoubt, below the hospital about 300 yards. The cannoneers braced themselves, No. 3 stretched the lanyard taut on his piece, and Grimes remarked, in a conversational tone, “Let her go.”

The report of the field-piece burst with startling suddenness upon the quiet summer morning, and a dense cloud of grayish-colored smoke spurted from the muzzle of the gun. Everybody involuntarily jumped, the sound was so startling, although expected. The piece recoiled eight or ten feet, and the gunners jumped to the wheels and ran it forward again into battery. Field-glasses were glued upon the vicinity of the brick hospital. There was a puff of white smoke and an exclamation, “A trifle too long!” The second piece was aimed and fired. There was no response. The third, and fourth, and fifth, with like results. It was like firing a salute on the Fourth of July. There was no indication of any danger whatever; laugh and jest were beginning to go round.

Suddenly a dull boom was heard from somewhere, the exact direction could not be located. The next thing was a shrill whistle overhead, and then a most startling report. The first Spanish shell exploded about twenty feet above the surface of the ground, and about twenty yards in rear of the crest of the hill. It exploded in the midst of our brave Cuban contingents, killed one and wounded several. The valiant sons of Cuba libre took to their heels, and most of the newspaper correspondents did likewise. The members of Grimes’ Battery, who were not needed at the guns, were sent back to the caissons, and another round of shrapnel was sent in reply. Again a hurtling sound rent the air; again there was the fierce crack of a Spanish shell in our immediate vicinity, and, on looking around to see where this shell struck, it was observed that it had burst over the Gatling battery. Luckily, it had gone six or eight feet beyond the battery before exploding. A fragment of the shell had struck Priv. Bremer upon the hand, producing quite a severe contusion. The Missouri mules stamped the ground impatiently; one of them uttered the characteristic exclamation of his race, “Aw! hee! aw! hee! aw!” and the members of the detachment burst into a merry peal of hearty laughter. It was evident that this detachment was not going to run, and it was equally evident that the Missouri mules would stand fire.

A third shell whistled over the hill. This one burst fairly over Grimes’ third piece, killed the cannoneer, and wounded several men.

The members of the detachment were now directed to lie down under their guns and limbers, except the drivers, who declined to do so, and still stood at the heads of their mules. Priv. Hoft, disdaining to take cover, shouldered his rifle and walked up and down, sentry fashion, over the pile of camp equipage.

Serg. Weigle, who had brought along a small portable camera, with a large supply of film-rolls, requested permission to photograph the next shot fired by Grimes’ Battery. It was granted. He climbed to the top of the hill, stepped off to the left of the battery, and calmly focused his camera. Grimes fired another salute, and Weigle secured a good picture. A Spanish shell came whistling over the hill; Weigle, judging where it would burst from previous observations, focused his camera, and secured a picture of the burst. He then rejoined his detachment, and photographed it as it stood. He seemed chiefly worried for fear he would not get a picture of everything that happened.

The artillery duel continued for some twenty minutes. The infantry began to pass on, to the front. Grimes no longer needed the support of the Gatling guns, because he now had an infantry support in front of him, and was firing over their heads. Col. McClernand sent orders to the detachment to move to the rear, out of range. The order was obeyed.

Private Hoft, with the instinct of a true soldier, continued to tramp back and forth guarding the pile of camp equipage. The battery moved to the rear at a gentle trot, and, as it turned down the hill into the first ford by the El Poso house, a Spanish shell whistled over the head of Private Shiffer, who was leading the way, and burst just beyond his off mule. Shiffer didn’t duck and nobody was hurt. Providence was taking care of this experiment. Corporal Doyle and two other members of the detachment got lost, and wandered off among the crowd of Cubans, but soon found the battery and rejoined. Orders were given that as soon as the battery was out of range, it should halt and face to the front, at the side of the road.

The battery halted about half a mile to the rear, and the 13th Infantry passed it here, on their way to the front. The comments bestowed were not calculated to soothe the ruffled feelings of people who had been ordered to retreat. “I told you so.” “Why don’t you go to the front?” “Going to begin firing here?” “Is this the place where you shoot?” “Is this all there is of it?” “I knew they would not get into the fight.” “Watch them hang around the rear.” “Going to start in raising bananas back here, John Henry?” “What do you think of machine guns now?” and similar remarks, of a witty but exasperating nature, greeted the detachment, from both officers and men, as the regiment passed on its way to the front. The only thing that could be done was to endure it, in the hope of getting a chance to make a retort later in the day.

About nine o’clock, the artillery firing ceased, and the Gatling Gun Battery returned to El Poso. Grimes’ guns were still up on the hill, but there were no cannoneers; they had ceased to fire, and had left their guns. Two or three dead men were lying on the side of the hill; wounded men were limping around with bandages. Cubans were again passing to the front. These fellows were trying to reach El Caney. They never got into the fight. They did reach the vicinity of El Caney, and the Spanish fired one volley at them. The Cubans set up a great howl, accompanied by vociferous gesticulations–and then “skedaddled.”

During all this time the sound of firing had been heard toward El Caney. It had been opened up there about half an hour before Grimes first spoke at El Poso. The fire in this direction sounded like ranging fire, a shot every two or three minutes, and it was supposed that Capron was trying to locate the enemy. The sharp crack of musketry was heard on our front, it swelled and became continuous. It was evident that quite a fight was going on at El Caney, which was to our right about one mile and to our front perhaps half a mile. Kent’s Division kept pushing forward on the El Poso road. Col. McClernand was asked for instructions for the Gatling Gun Detachment. He replied, “Find the 71st New York, and go in with them, if you can. If this is not practicable, find the best place you can, and make the best use of your guns that you can.” These were the only instructions received by the Gatling Gun Detachment until one o’clock.

The Gatling Gun Detachment moved forward about half a mile. They found the 71st New York lying down by the side of the road, partially blocking it. Troops passing them toward the front were compelled to break into columns of twos, because the road was crowded by the 71st. The colonel and his adjutant were sought and found, and informed of the detachment’s instructions. Information was requested as to when and where the 71st was going into the fight. It appeared that they had a vague idea that they were going in on the left center of the left wing. Lawton’s Division at El Caney will be considered the right wing; Kent’s Division and Wheeler’s Division the left wing of the army at San Juan. The 71st did not seem to know when it was going to move toward the front, nor just where it was going; and there was no apparent effort being made to get further down the road to the front. Wheeler’s Division was also pressing forward on the road, dismounted cavalrymen, with no arms in their hands except their carbines without bayonets. With these same carbines these men were, a little later, to storm the intrenchments, manned by picked and veteran soldiers, who knew how to die at their posts.

With Wheeler’s Division were the Rough Riders, the most unique aggregation of fighting men ever gathered together in any army. There were cowboys, bankers, brokers, merchants, city clubmen, and society dudes; commanded by a doctor, second in command a literary politician; but every man determined to get into the fight. About three-quarters of a mile in advance was the first ford, the ford of the Aguadores River; beyond this a quarter of a mile was another ford, the ford of the San Juan. The road forked about two hundred yards east of the Aguadores ford, turning sharply to the left. Down the road from El Poso crept the military balloon, it halted near this fork–"Balloon Fork.” Two officers were in its basket, six or eight hundred feet above the surface of the ground, observing the movements of the troops and the disposition of the enemy.

The sharp crackle of the musketry began in front, and still the Gatling Gun Detachment lay beside the road with the 71st, waiting, swearing, broiling, stewing in their own perspiration, mad with thirst, and crazed with the fever of the battle. The colonel of the 71st was again approached, to ascertain whether he was now going to the front, but still there were no signs of any indication to move forward. So the long-eared steed was mounted and the ford of the Aguadores reconnoitered. The bullets were zipping through the rank tropical jungle. Two or three men were hit. Those who moved forward were going single file, crouching low, at a dog trot. There was no evidence of hesitation or fear here. Some of the “Brunettes” passed, their blue shirts unbuttoned, corded veins protruding as they slightly raised their heads to look forward, great drops of perspiration rolling down their sleek, shiny, black skins. There was a level spot, slightly open, beyond the ford of the Aguadores, which offered a place for going into battery; from this place the enemy’s works on San Juan were visible, a faint streak along the crest of the hill illumined from time to time by the flash of Mausers.

On return to the battery, there were no signs of being able to enter the action with the gallant 71st, and, acting under the second clause of the instructions, the Gatling battery was moved forward at a gallop. Major Sharpe, a mounted member of Gen. Shafter’s staff, helped to open a way through this regiment to enable the guns to pass. The reception of the battery by these valiant men was very different from that so recently given by the 13th Regulars. “Give ’em hell, boys!" “Let ’er go, Gallagher!” “Goin’ to let the woodpeckers go off?"–and cheer after cheer went up as the battery passed through. Vain efforts were made to check this vociferous clamor, which was plainly audible to the enemy, less than 1500 yards away. The bullets of the enemy began to drop lower. The cheering had furnished them the clew they needed. They had located our position, and the 71st atoned for this thoughtlessness by the loss of nearly eighty men, as it lay cowering in the underbrush near Balloon Fork.

Just before reaching the Aguadores ford, the battery was met by Col. Derby, who had been observing the disposition of the troops, from the balloon, and had afterward ridden to the front on horseback. The colonel was riding along, to push the infantry forward in position from the rear, as coolly as if on the parade-ground. A blade of grass had gotten twisted around a button of his uniform and hung down like a buttonhole bouquet over his breast. There was a genial smile on his handsome face as he inquired, “Where are you going?” and, on being informed of the orders of the detachment and of the intention to put the battery into action, he replied, “The infantry are not deployed enough to take advantage of your fire. I would advise that you wait a short time. I will send you word when the time comes.” The advice was acted upon, the guns were turned out by the side of the road, and the men directed to lie down.

During the gallop to the front they had been compelled to run to keep up, there not being sufficient accommodation for them to all go mounted on the guns. They were panting heavily, and they obeyed the order and crept under the guns, taking advantage of such little shade as was offered. Troops continued to pass to the front. The crackle of musketry gradually extended to the right and to the left, showing that the deployment was being completed. More men were hit, but no complaints or groans were heard. A ball struck a limber-chest; a man lying on his face in the road, during a momentary pause of one of the companies, was perforated from head to foot: he never moved–just continued to lie there; the flies began to buzz around the spot and settle on the clotted blood, that poured out from the fractured skull, in the dust of the road. Down at the ford, some twenty-five or thirty yards in advance, men were being hit continually.

Shots came down from the trees around. The sharpshooters of the Spanish forces, who had been up in the trees during the artillery duel, and beyond whom our advance had swept, fully believing that they would be murdered if captured, expecting no quarter, were recklessly shooting at everything in sight. They made a special target of every man who wore any indication of rank. Some of our heaviest losses during the day, especially among commissioned officers, were caused by these sharpshooters. They shot indiscriminately at wounded, at hospital nurses, at medical officers wearing the red cross, and at fighting men going to the front.

The firing became too warm, and the Gatling battery was moved back about fifty yards, again halted, and faced to the front. It was now nearly one o’clock. The members of the detachment had picked up their haversacks on leaving El Poso, and now began to nibble pieces of hardtack. A bullet broke a piece of hardtack which a man was lifting to his mouth; without even stopping in the act of lifting it to his mouth, he ate the piece, with a jest.

Suddenly the clatter of hoofs was heard from the front. Lieut. Miley dashed up and said, “Gen. Shafter directs that you give one piece to me, and take the other three beyond the ford, where the dynamite gun is, find some position, and go into action.” Sergeant Weigle’s gun was placed at Miley’s disposal, and the other pieces dashed forward at a dead run, led by the musical mule who uttered his characteristic exclamation as he dashed through the ford of the Aguadores.

The place formerly selected for going into action had been again twice reconnoitered during the wait, and a better place had been found about thirty yards beyond the ford of the San Juan River. The dynamite gun had stuck in the ford of the Aguadores; a shell had got jammed in it. The Gatlings were compelled to go around it. They dashed through the intervening space, across the San Juan ford, and up on the opening beyond. The position for the battery, partially hidden from the view of the enemy by a small clump of underbrush, was indicated. The right piece, Serg. Green’s, was compelled to go into action in the middle of the road, and in plain sight of the enemy. While the pieces were being unlimbered, which was only the work of an instant, an inquiry was made of Captain Boughton, of the 3d Cavalry, whose troop had just reached this point, as to the position of our troops and of the enemy, with the further remark that the battery had been under fire since eight o’clock, and had not seen a Spaniard. “I can show you plenty of Spaniards,” replied Boughton, and, raising his hand, pointed toward the San Juan blockhouse and the ridge in its vicinity, sweeping his hand toward the right. It was enough. Before his hand had fallen to his side, the pieces were musically singing.

Corp. Steigerwald turned and asked, “What is the range, sir?” To which was instantly replied, “Block-house, 600 yards; the ridge to the right, 800 yards,” and Steigerwald’s piece was grinding 500 shots a minute within a quarter of a second, playing upon the San Juan block-house. Serg. Green took 800 yards, and began to send his compliments to the ridge beyond the block-house. In an instant Priv. Sine, at Green’s gun, who was feeding, fell backward dead. At the same instant Priv. Kastner fell out. Sine was shot through the heart, Kastner through the head and neck. At this time Ryder’s gun began to talk. It spoke very voluble and eloquent orations, which, although not delivered in the Spanish language, were well understood by our friends, the enemy, upon the hill.

Serg. Green, at the right gun, had run back for ammunition, and Corp. Doyle, when Sine fell, seized the pointing lever, and was coolly turning the crank while he sighted the gun at the same time. He was for the moment the only member of the detachment left at the piece, but was given assistance, and a moment later Green arrived and began to feed the gun.

Steigerwald was short-handed. Some of his men had been sun-struck during the run, and he, too, was compelled to work his gun with only one assistant. Then some of those who had been unable to keep up arrived at the battery and began to render assistance. Priv. Van Vaningham, who had gotten lost from his own command, began to pass ammunition. Priv. Merryman, who was holding his team back in the river, was impressed by a doctor to help carry wounded men, and Priv. Burkley, another man lost from his command, stepped into Merryman’s place. Priv. Chase left his team, seeing the piece short-handed, and began to pass ammunition. The mules merely wagged their ears backward and forward and stamped on account of the flies.

All these changes were accomplished, and the pieces had not even ceased fire. Doyle had fed about 100 rounds, alone. Capt. Landis, of the 1st Cavalry, arrived just at this time, and volunteered to assist in observing the effect of the fire. He stood fearlessly out in the middle of the road, just to the right of Green’s piece, in the very best position for observation, but, at the same time, a most conspicuous target for the enemy, and observed the effect of the Gatling fire, as though he were at target practice, reporting the same, continually, to the battery commander.

For the first two minutes the enemy seemed dazed, then suddenly a perfect hell of leaden hail swept through the foliage. The only thing that saved the battery from absolute destruction was that the enemy’s shots were a little high. As it was, many of them struck the ground between the guns, and several hit the pieces. Three members of the detachment were slightly hurt. One mule was shot through the ear. He sang the usual song of the mule, shook his head, and was suddenly hit again on the fore leg. He plunged a little, but Priv. Shiffer patted him on the head and he became quiet. A bullet passed by Shiffer’s head, so close that he felt the wind fan his whiskers, and buried itself in the saddle on the same mule. This sudden concentration of the enemy’s fire lasted about two minutes.

About the same time the detachment heard a wild cheer start on the left and gradually sweep around to the left and right, until in every direction, sounding high above the din of battle and the crackling of the Mausers, even above the rattle of the Gatling guns, was heard the yell of recognition from our own troops. There was, for an instant, a furious fusillade on our right and left, and in a few moments the whole line of our troops had risen and were moving forward to the San Juan ridge. While moving forward, they necessarily almost ceased to fire, but the fire of the Gatlings continued, deadly and accurate. A troop of the 10th Cavalry, from our right and rear, came up, part of the squadron commanded by Col. Baldwin. Some of this troop did not understand the Gatling gun drama, and were in the act of firing a volley into our backs, when Lieut. Smith, who was to so heroically lose his life within ten minutes afterward, sprang out in front of the excited troopers, and, with tears in his eyes, implored them not to fire, that these were “our own Gatlings.” They did not fire in our direction, but they did give a most thrilling and welcome cheer, as the squadron swept forward by our right. Col. Baldwin ran up, and shouted that he would place two troops in support of the battery as long as they were needed. It was the first time the battery had ever had a support of any kind.

After a couple of minutes, the enemy’s fire perceptibly slackened. It was evident they were seeking cover from our fire in the bottom of their ditches, and our fire at this time was being made chiefly from the Gatling battery. This cessation of fire on the part of the enemy lasted about two minutes, and then the Gatling gunners observed the Spaniards climbing from their trenches. Until that time the Gatling battery had been worked with dogged persistency and grim silence, but from that moment every member of the battery yelled at the top of his voice until the command “Cease firing” was given. Groups of the enemy, as they climbed from their trenches, were caught by the fire of the guns, and were seen to melt away like a lump of salt in a glass of water. Bodies the size of a company would practically disappear an instant after a gun had been turned upon them.

This flight of the enemy from their trenches had been caused by the fact that the charging line had cut through the barb-wire fences at the foot of the hill, and had started up the slope. The Spaniards were unable to stay with their heads above the trenches to fire at the charging-line, because of the missiles of death poured in by the machine guns; and to remain there awaiting the charge was certain death. They did not have the nerve to wait for the cold steel. They were demoralized because they had been compelled to seek the bottom of their trenches. American troops would have awaited the charge, knowing that the machine gun fire must cease before contact could occur, but the Spaniards forgot this in their excitement, and made the fatal mistake of running.

The Gatlings had the range to perfection. Capt. Boughton, who was one of the first officers upon the hill, stated, on the 1st of September at Montauk, that he visited a portion of the Spanish trenches immediately upon arriving at the crest, and that the trenches which he inspected were literally filled with writhing, squirming, tangled masses of dead and wounded Spaniards, and that the edge of the trenches was covered with wounded and dead Spaniards, who had been shot in the act of climbing out. This execution was done mainly by the machine guns, because the infantry and cavalry were not firing much when it was done; they were running up the hill to the charge.

Colonel Egbert, who commanded the 6th Infantry, states, in his official report, that when his regiment reached the sharp incline near the top of the hill they were brought to a standstill because the Gatling bullets were striking along the crest. The officers of the 13th Infantry state the same thing. It was Lieut. Ferguson, of the 13th, who when the troops had climbed as high as possible under the leaden canopy which the Gatlings made to cover their charge, waved his white handkerchief as a signal to cease firing. At the same moment Landis exclaimed, “Better stop; our men are climbing the hill now.” A shrill whistle gave the signal “Cease firing,” and the Gatling Gun Battery, to a man, rose to their feet and gazed with absorbing interest as the long, thin, blue line swept forward and crowned the crest of the hill. An instant later an American flag floated proudly from the San Juan block-house; then the roar of musketry and the volley of rifles indicated that the fleeing enemy was receiving warm messengers as he ran down the hill toward his second line of intrenchments.

The next immediate duty confronting the detachment was to take stock of losses and to occupy the captured position in case of necessity.

Private Sine had been killed and Private Kastner was supposed to be mortally wounded. Private Elkins fell exhausted just as the Stars and Stripes were run up on the block-house. He had been knocked down by the pole of a limber, which struck him over the kidneys, but had continued to feed his gun until the very last. He was utterly exhausted. Sergeant Green had been wounded slightly in the foot, but not enough to disable him. Private Bremer had been hit early in the morning by the fragment of a shell on the hand. One or two other members had been merely touched, grazed by balls. Private Greenberg had been overcome by the heat. Merryman, one of the teamsters, as stated before, had been seized to carry wounded. Private Lauer was missing and Dellett sunstruck. Private Hoft had joined the battery on hearing it go into action, and it was necessary to send someone back as guard over the camp equipage. A volunteer was called for, and it was with the utmost difficulty that a member of the detachment, Private Pyne, was induced to take this duty. He shot four Spanish sharpshooters, who were shooting at our wounded and our medical officers, out of trees near El Poso, during the remainder of the day. Private Chase had sprained his back so badly as to be unable to ride a mule; and two places were vacant for drivers. It was necessary to instantly supply this deficiency. Private Burkley, 16th Infantry, who had assisted in passing ammunition during the firing, volunteered to drive one of the teams, and Private Correll the other. Private Raymond, 6th Cavalry, and Private Van Vaningham, of the same regiment, also joined the detachment at this point, being separated from their own commands.

The pieces were limbered up as soon as these dispositions could be made, except Sergeant Ryder’s gun, which had bent the pintle-pin and consequently could not be limbered quickly. The other two pieces and the limber belonging to Ryder’s gun were moved forward on a run to the captured position on the San Juan ridge, gun crews riding or following as best they could. Both pieces went into action on the right of the road. A limber was then sent back for Ryder’s gun, and it was brought up, Priv. Shiffer performing this duty under a perfect hail of dropping fire. In advancing from the position at the ford to the captured position it was necessary to cut three barb-wire fences. The members of the detachment behaved with the utmost coolness, all working together to remove these obstructions, and not a man sought shelter, although a dropping fire was striking around the detachment, from some source. Where this fire came from it was impossible to tell; but it did not come from the enemy.

The two pieces which first reached the top of the hill were halted under shelter of the crest, while the ground above was reconnoitered. It was instantly observed that the enemy was coming back for a counter-charge. Accordingly the pieces were immediately run to the top of the hill, the drivers, Shiffer and Correll, riding boldly up and executing a left-about on the skirmish line, where the skirmishers were lying down. The pieces were unlimbered and instantly put into action at point-blank range, the skirmishers giving way to the right and left to make way for the guns. The enemy was less than 300 yards away, and apparently bent on recovering the position.

The fire immediately became very hot. A skirmisher, who had thought to gain a little cover by lying down beside the wheel of the right gun (Green’s), was shot through the arm. “I knowed it,” he growled; “I might have knowed that if I got near that durned gun, I’d get potted." He rolled down behind the crest; a soldier produced an emergency packet, staunched the blood, and the wounded soldier, finding no bones broken, returned to the firing-line and resumed his work. The enemy, at this part of the line, began to waver and again broke toward his second line of intrenchments.

Just at this moment, Lieut. Traub came up and shouted, “Gen. Wood orders you to send one or two of your guns over to help Roosevelt." The order to move the guns was disregarded, but Traub pointed out the enemy, which was menacing Col. Roosevelt’s position, and insisted. About 600 yards to the right, oblique from the position of the guns and perhaps 200 yards, or less, in front of the salient occupied by Col. Roosevelt and the 3d Cavalry (afterward called Fort Roosevelt), there was a group of about 400 of the enemy, apparently endeavoring to charge the position. There was no time to notify the second piece. Serg. Green’s gun was instantly turned upon this group, at point-blank elevation. The group melted away. Capt. Marcotte states that, after the surrender, some Spanish officers, whom he met, and who were members of this group, described this to him, stating that the enemy seen at this point was a body of about 600 escaping from El Caney; that they were struck at this point by machine gun fire so effectively that only forty of them ever got back to Santiago; the rest were killed.

Serg. Green’s gun, already heated to a red heat by the continuous firing of the day, had been worked to its extreme limit of rapidity while firing at this body of the enemy, and on ceasing to fire, several cartridges exploded in the gun before they could be withdrawn. A ball lodged in one barrel from one of these explosions, and this piece was drawn down out of action just as the piece which had been left at the ford returned. Subsequently the disabled piece was sent back to the ford, with the idea that that would be a safer place to overhaul it than immediately in rear of the firing-line. The piece remained at the ford until the night of the 3d of July, when it was brought up to the battery, then at Fort Roosevelt, and on the 4th was finally overhauled and put into action. This led to the impression, on the part of some of the command, that one of the Gatlings had been blown up, which was not true. The gun was not injured, except that one barrel could not be used during the remainder of the fighting, but the gun was used on the morning of the 4th, and during the whole of the engagement on the 10th and 11th, as well as on outpost duty, using nine barrels instead of ten.

Following this repulse of the enemy, which occurred about 4:30 p. m., there was a lull in the firing. Advantage was taken of this to visit Col. Roosevelt’s position and inspect the line of battle. Upon reaching the salient, Col. Roosevelt was seen walking up and down behind his line, encouraging his men, while a group of them was held, just in the rear of the crest, in charge of Maj. Jenkins, to support the firing-line if necessary. On the right of the Rough Riders, the 3d Cavalry were in the fight, and Capt. Boughton was again encountered.

The firing suddenly began again, and it was remarkable to observe the coolness with which these two officers sauntered up and down the line, utterly regardless of the bullets, which were cutting the grass in every direction. There were no soft places on this part of the hill. The enemy’s sharpshooters, up in high trees, were able to see every point of the crest, and were dropping their shots accurately behind it at all points.

Just at this moment, Serg. Weigle came up with his gun. Serg. Weigle had had a hard time. His gun had been taken, under direction of Lieut. Miley, to a point near the San Juan farm-house, and pulled to the top of the hill. Weigle, whose only idea of a battle, at this time, was a chance to shoot, had been, to his intense disgust, restrained from opening fire. Then the piece had been taken down from the hill and around to the left of the line, where Lieut. Miley’s duty as aide had carried him, to observe the progress of the battle, and Weigle had been again denied the privilege of “potting” a Spaniard. He was the most disgusted man in the American Army; he was furious; he was white-hot; he was so mad that the tears rolled down his cheeks, as he reported with a soldierly salute, “Sir, Serg. Weigle reports, with his gun. Lieut. Miley did not allow me to open fire. I would like to have orders.”

In spite of the critical condition of the engagement, it was extremely ludicrous; but the reopening of the fire at this moment presented an opportunity to accommodate the sergeant to his heart’s content. He was directed to run his piece up on the firing-line, report to the officer in charge thereof, and go into action as soon as he pleased. Within thirty seconds he was getting his coveted opportunity. He fired until his gun became accidentally jammed, pulled it down behind the crest of the hill and removed the defective cartridge, returned it and repeated this operation, actually bringing the gun down three times, and returning it into action, doing very effective work, and all the time displaying the utmost coolness and good judgment. A sharpshooter began to make a target of Weigle’s gun, and “potted” a couple of men belonging to the cavalry near it. This made Weigle so mad that he turned the gun, for a moment, upon the tree in which the sharp-shooter was concealed. That sharpshooter never shot again. Finally, Weigle’s gun got so hot, and he himself so cool, that he concluded the piece was too warm for further firing. So he ran it down behind the hill, and ran his detachment back on the hill with rifles, and, during the remainder of the evening, the members of this crew practiced with “long Toms” upon the Spanish soldiers.

On returning to the other two pieces near the road, they were moved to another position, on the other side of the road. This precaution was judicious in order to conceal the pieces, or change their position, because the enemy had pretty thoroughly located them in the previous brush, and it was rather dangerous to remain at that place. It was now nearly sundown. Scarcely had the pieces opened at this new position, when a battery of the enemy’s artillery, located near the hospital, began to fire at them. There was a heavy gun, which made a deep rumbling sound, and this sound was supplemented by the sharp crack of a field-piece. A shell came whistling overhead and exploded within thirty yards of the battery, just beyond it. Another one came, and this time the enemy’s artillery was located. Quick as a flash, the two Gatlings were turned upon the enemy’s guns at the 2000-yard range. Another shell came whistling along and exploded about ten feet overhead and twenty feet in rear of the battery. It tore up the grass in rear of the battery. After this engagement was over, Priv. Shiffer picked up the still hot fuse of this last shell. It was a large brass combination fuse, and set at eight seconds, which justified the estimated range. This third shell was the last one the enemy was able to fire from these pieces. The powerful field-glasses which were used in locating the battery revealed the fact that as soon as the Gatling guns were turned on it, the Spanish gunners ran away from their pieces. The big gun turned out to be a 16-centimeter converted bronze piece, mounted on a pintle in barbette, rifled and using smokeless powder. It was also found that they were firing four 3-inch field-pieces of a similar character in this battery, as well as two mountain guns.

It is claimed that this is the first time in the history of land fighting that a battery of heavy guns was ever put out of action by machine-gun fire. This battery of the Spanish was never afterward able to get into action. Their pieces, which had been loaded for the fourth shot, were found on the 18th of July, still loaded, and a Spanish officer gave the information that they had lost more than forty men trying to work that battery, since the 1st of July. This is accounted for by the fact that this Spanish battery was made the subject of critical observation by the Gatling Gun Detachment from this time on.

During this last engagement it had been necessary to obtain more men to assist in carrying ammunition, and Capt. Ayers, of the 10th Cavalry, had furnished a detail, consisting of Serg. Graham and Privates Smith and Taylor, Troop E, 10th Cavalry. These colored soldiers proved to be excellent. They remained with the battery until the end of the fighting on the 17th, and were in every respect the peers of any soldier in the detachment. Serg. Graham was recommended for a medal of honor. Privates Smith and Taylor did as good service, were as willing, as obedient, as prompt, and as energetic in the discharge of their duties as any commanding officer could wish to have. It is a great pleasure to be able to give this testimony to the merits of our colored troopers, and to say, in addition, that no soldiers ever fought better than the “Brunettes” of the 9th and 10th Cavalry, who fought from the 3d of July until the 12th, near or with the Gatlings.

After the firing at the ford had ceased, Capt. Marcotte had returned to El Poso to investigate the movements of our artillery. These were then, and have remained, one of those inscrutable and mysterious phenomena of a battle; incomprehensible to the ordinary layman, and capable of being understood only by “scientific” soldiers. The charge upon the San Juan ridge was practically unsupported by artillery. No American shells had struck the San Juan block-house; none had struck or burst in its vicinity; not even a moral effect by our artillery had assisted in the assault. So Marcotte had gone to investigate the artillery arm. He returned at sundown, and brought the information that our baggage was safe at El Poso; that Private Pyne, still alive and unhurt, had been doing good work against the enemy’s sharpshooters; and, better than all this, had brought back with him a canteen of water from the San Juan River and a pocket full of hardtack. He poured out his hardtack, and it was equally distributed among the members of the detachment, each man’s share amounting to two pieces. Each man was also given a sup of water from the canteen, and this constituted their only supper on that night, as they had been compelled to throw away everything to keep up with the guns. Having disposed of that, exhausted Nature could do no more; they lay down in the mud where they stood, and slept so soundly that even the firing which occurred that night did not arouse them from their slumbers. They were not disturbed until Best’s Battery began to occupy this hill about four o’clock in the morning. They were then aroused and the Gatling guns were drawn down, and the whole battery moved to the salient occupied by the Rough Riders, because their position was at that time closest to the enemy, and, as was determined by the previous day’s reconnaissance, offered a chance to enfilade several of the enemy’s trenches with machine gun fire.

To dispose of the subject of artillery, it may be said that Best’s Battery and some other artillery occupied the ground vacated by the Gatlings on the morning of July 2d, fired four shots, and then withdrew with more haste than dignity. They remarked, “This is the hottest fire to which artillery has been subjected in modern times," and lit out to find a cooler place. They found it–so far in rear that their fire was almost equally dangerous to friends and foes on account of the close proximity of the two firing-lines. The obvious conclusion is that machine guns can live at close ranges, where artillery can not stay. There is no better light artillery in the world than that which had to withdraw from San Juan block-house and its vicinity, on the morning of July 2d.


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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