The Gatlings at Santiago
By John H. Parker

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Chapter VIII: Tactical Analysis of the Battles At Santiago

The situation of affairs on the night of the 1st of July was rather critical. The plan which the general had laid down had been delayed in execution at El Caney, while the impetuousity of the troops had precipitated an unexpected rapidity of movement at San Juan. Capron’s Battery had opened at El Caney about half past seven o’clock, with badly aimed and ill-directed fire, which did very little damage to the enemy. The troops engaged in this part of the battle were pushed forward until, by about eleven o’clock, they had become pretty thoroughly deployed around the vicinity of Las Guamas Creek. They had also extended slightly to the right and to the left toward the Du Cuorot house. The Spanish forts obstinately held out, and the handful of Spanish soldiers in El Caney and vicinity stubbornly resisted the attack made by our troops.

About nine o’clock, Hamilton’s right piece, No. 3 of Capron’s Battery, succeeded in planting a shell directly in the old stone fort, which knocked a hole in the masonry; but, just at this juncture, the battery was ordered to cease firing at the blockhouse, and to shell the enemy’s trenches. The enemy forthwith utilized the hole made in the wall by the shell as a loop-hole, and continued to fire through it until the fort was taken by the infantry assault at about half-past four o’clock. No worse commentary than this could possibly be made upon the tactical handling of this battery of artillery, because, having obtained perfectly the range of the enemy’s stronghold, it was simply asinine not to knock that block-house to pieces immediately.

So Lawton’s Division had remained in front of El Caney, held by about 1000 Spaniards, while the shadows crept from the west to the north, from the north to the northeast, and from the northeast toward the east. It was coming toward night before the artillery was finally turned loose. One corner and the roof of this block-house were knocked off, but even then the artillery was so poorly handled that the enemy had to be dislodged from this block-house by hand-to-hand fighting, A single Hotchkiss gun, properly handled, should have converted it into ruins in thirty minutes.

While these events were transpiring, Kent and Wheeler, constituting the left wing of the army, had moved forward on the El Poso road, parallel to the Aguadores River, as far as the San Juan had captured the San Juan farm-house, and had gradually deployed to the right and to the left along the San Juan River. About one o’clock their line had swept forward and had captured the first ridge between the San Juan and the city of Santiago, the “San Juan ridge,” driving the enemy on this portion of the field into their last trenches. But the right flank of this wing was entirely unsupported, and the road by the way of Fort Canosa to San Juan, passing by the portion of the line subsequently occupied by the dynamite gun, marked the extreme position of the right of this wing of the army. The enemy was already well toward its right, and had the excellent El Caney road to move upon. He was thoroughly familiar with the country, while the troops composing this wing were exhausted by the charge. This wing had no reserve that the firing-line knew of, and, as a matter of fact, had none except two battalions of the 71st New York, which had not got into battle, and which were scattered along the road from the San Juan River to Siboney.

The position occupied by the left wing of the army was a strong natural position, but had no protection for the right flank. In this, Lawton’s Division did not execute the part of the battle assigned to it. Thus the officers on the San Juan ridge, who knew anything about the plan of the battle, were constantly directing their gaze, at every lull in the fighting, toward El Caney, and to the right of Gen. Wood’s position, but there were no indications of the approach of Gen. Lawton.

Returning now to the right wing: the San Juan block-house and the ridge in its vicinity having been captured, a glance at the map will show that the retreat of the Spanish forces at El Caney was in imminent danger of being cut off. This capture occurred at 1:23-1/2 p. m. The Spanish commander at El Caney had been killed about noon, his men had suffered heavily, and the new commanding officer discovered that his retreat by the El Caney road was threatened. The only other line of retreat was by way of the San Miguel and Cuabitas roads. The Spanish forces at El Caney were also running low in their ammunition, and it was therefore decided to withdraw. Portions of the Spanish troops did withdraw, some by way of the El Caney road toward Santiago; the remainder, some 350 or 400, were crushed in the final charge upon El Caney, between 4 and 4:30 o’clock.

Gen. Lawton’s Division then proceeded down the El Caney road to Santa Cruz, passing by way of the masonry bridge. This was about dusk. The division marched in columns of fours, with the artillery in front in column of sections, and without even an advance guard thrown out. The artillery had passed the masonry bridge and had nearly reached the Santa Cruz farm-house, when the order was given to halt. The division halted in the road and began to cook supper. Fires were kindled, and coffee put on to boil. Suddenly, a few shots came scattering over the ridge and dropped in among the troops. A messenger was sent back to Gen. Shafter to inform him that further advance in this direction was not practicable, as the enemy had been encountered in force. The position this division was destined, in the beginning, to occupy was within less than 300 yards of where it halted. There was no large body of Spanish troops in that portion of the field. The whole valley between that ridge and Santiago had been swept by machine gun fire during the afternoon. It is possible that there might hare been a few Spanish pickets on the ridge, but this is not believed to be probable. There was some firing about this time from the Spanish trenches near Fort Canosa, at the 13th Infantry upon the hill where the dynamite gun was subsequently placed. A glance at the map will show that these shots, having passed over the hill, would drop in the vicinity of the masonry bridge and the Santa Cruz farm-house. This was the firing that alarmed Lawton’s Division and caused the report mentioned to be sent back to General Shafter.

This statement of the conditions has been necessary in order to understand why the counter-march was made by Lawton’s Division. The position at El Caney had ceased to be of any importance as soon as the San Juan block-house and ridge were taken; any Spanish troops remaining at El Caney were necessarily victims. But it was vitally important to hold the position gained by the left wing. The appearance of a heavy force of the enemy in front of the masonry bridge could signify only one thing, and that was that the left wing, with its right flank in the air, was liable to be doubled up at any moment by a heavy force of the enemy striking it upon that flank. Further, that Gen. Lawton, with this column advancing on the El Caney road as before explained, was liable to be struck at the head of his column and similarly doubled up. The enemy would thus interpose between the two wings of the army, cutting Lawton off, and probably defeating the army in detail, unless something be done immediately.

Of course, it is known now that this operation of the enemy was never probable for an instant; but that was the status of affairs at midnight on July 1st, as then reported to the commanding general.

Lawton was, therefore, ordered to withdraw, by way of the El Caney road, back to Gen. Shafter’s headquarters in rear of El Poso, from which position his division was rushed forward on the El Poso road to San Juan on the 2d of July. His men were marched almost all night, almost all day the next day, and were well-nigh utterly exhausted when they reached a position in rear of the right flank of the left wing. It was supposed, up to this time, at headquarters, that the information on which this marching was ordered was correct.

During the time that Lawton had been countermarching from Santa Cruz, back by way of El Poso, there had been, as before stated, no reserve for the left wing. The independent division of Gen. Bates had been ordered to the front as rapidly as possible. Part of it had reached the vicinity of El Poso, and from there one or two of the regiments had participated in the fight, late on July 1st; but nobody on the firing line knew anything about Bates’ independent division at this time, and it was too much exhausted to be useful as a reserve. The morning of the 2d it was used to extend the lines. It is therefore evident, now that the history of the battle is understood, that the Gatling guns were the only effective reserve which the left wing of the army had during the night of July 1st and all day on the 2d.

Acting on this belief, the Gatling Gun Battery was placed in reserve, in the rear of Fort Roosevelt, on the morning of July 2d, and was held there in reserve all day on July the 2d and 3d. The pieces were placed within twenty yards of the firing-line, just below the crest of the hill. The feed-guides were filled, and the gun crews lay down beside their pieces. The battery was ready to either support the firing-line against a charge, or protect its flank against a turning movement. But it was not considered necessary or desirable to run the pieces up on the firing-line in the open, and participate in the trench-firing, which was the only fighting done on July 2d and 3d. It was considered that the battery was too valuable as a reserve to sacrifice any of its men uselessly. Some very well-meaning officers urged that the battery be rushed up on the hill and put into action, but this was stubbornly refused, under the third clause of the instructions given on the 1st of July, “to make the best use of the guns possible.” Gen. Wood and Col. Roosevelt were consulted, and they concurred with the above views, and the battery remained in reserve.

On the morning of the 2d of July a handsome young soldier, in the uniform of a Rough Rider, approached the battery commander, saluted, and said, “Col. Roosevelt directs me to report to you with my two guns.” Inquiry elicited the fact that the young trooper was Serg. William Tiffany, that he had command of two Colt’s automatic rapid-fire guns, with a crew consisting of Corp. Stevens and six men, and that he had 4,000 rounds of 7-millimeter ammunition. Four thousand was not a very large supply for two guns which could fire at the rate of 500 shots each per minute. Fortunately, the Gatling Gun Detachment had found time, on the 1st of July, to collect about 10,000 rounds of Mauser ammunition in the captured trenches, and a comparison of the Mauser with the 7-millimeter ammunition at once disclosed the fact that it was precisely the same ammunition which Tiffany had brought along for his guns. The problem of ammunition supply for Tiffany’s guns was solved. He now had 14,000 rounds, and his guns became a very powerful reinforcement at this point.

Serg. Tiff any and his men had carried these guns from Siboney to the firing-line upon their backs. How they got the four boxes of ammunition through they themselves could hardly tell. The firing was too heavy to mount the tripods in the trenches during the daytime, so placing the guns was deferred until night. For some reason it was not practicable to place the tripods on the night of the 2d, and they were finally placed on the night of the 3d; Serg. Tiffany, with two of his men, aiding in digging the emplacements.

While digging, suddenly a burst of firing broke out, and it was believed by many that a serious night attack had been made. During the firing, Capt. Ayers, of the 10th Cavalry, and Col. Roosevelt again displayed those characteristics of fearless bravery which so endeared these two gallant officers to their men. Some of the troops in the trenches had begun to fire wildly. In fact, all the firing was done wild; there was no sense in any of it; there was no occasion for it. Intent listening to the enemy’s fire made it absolutely certain that their firing never approached nearer our lines. There may have been some small body seeking to explore the road, but there was no indication of any attack in force. At any rate, Roosevelt and Ayers determined to stop the firing of our line, and suddenly, above the din of battle, these two officers could be heard, tramping up and down the trench in front of their men, haranguing, commanding, ridiculing their men for shooting in the dark. Ayers told his men that they were no better than the Cubans, upon which the burly black troopers burst into a loud guffaw, and then stopped firing altogether. Roosevelt told his men that he was ashamed of them. He was ashamed to see them firing valuable ammunition into the darkness of the night, aiming at nothing; that he thought cowboys were men who shot only when they could see the “whites of the other fellow’s eyes.” They also stopped firing. The enemy’s bullets continued to whiz by for a few minutes, and they too ceased firing, and everybody began to laugh at everybody else. Tiffany had joined the two officers in their walk up and down, exposing himself with the utmost coolness. He and his men now succeeded in placing his guns in the trench, and, from that time until the end of the fight, they could hardly be induced to leave them long enough to eat; they didn’t leave them to sleep–they slept in the trench by the guns.

About one o’clock on the 3d there was a lull in the firing, during which a flag of truce was sent with a communication to General Toral, notifying him that a bombardment would follow unless he surrendered. The firing was resumed and continued until about half past twelve on the 4th of July, at which time another flag of truce went up, and there was no more firing until the 10th of July at about three o’clock. Troops, however, were compelled to lie on their arms; the relief was constantly in the trenches, and the nervous strain was even worse than the actual dangers of battle.

Negotiations for capitulation having failed, firing was resumed about three o’clock on the 10th, and continued until one o’clock on the 11th of July. In this firing all four of the Gatling guns were used; Tiffany’s guns and the dynamite gun under Serg. Borrowe participated. Three of the Gatling guns had been placed in the trench on the night of July 3d. The wheels were taken off and laid on the ground in the rear of the pieces; sand-bag revetments were built up in front of the guns, and each crew divided into two reliefs. One relief was required to be constantly at the gun and always ready for instant action. The fourth gun, the one that had been temporarily disabled, was repaired on the 4th, thoroughly cleaned, and placed in reserve behind the crest of the hill. On the 4th of July, Serg. Borrowe had been directed to obey any instructions given him by the Gatling gun commander, and the dynamite gun had been placed in position to cooperate with the battery of machine guns. There were now, therefore, seven pieces in the battery. It was the most powerful and unique battery ever used in battle.

The Sims-Dudley pneumatic dynamite gun throws a Whitehead torpedo, carrying a charge of four and one-half pounds of explosive gelatine; the effective force of this charge is equal to that of nine pounds of dynamite, No. 1. The charge explodes, on striking, by means of a percussion fuse, and steadiness of flight is secured by means of a vane. The propelling force is a charge of seven ounces of smokeless powder. The gun is pointed in the same manner as a mortar, and fired in the same manner as a field-piece. During the 10th and 11th considerable attention was devoted to the tactical cooperation of the guns composing this unique battery.

The plan adopted was for the dynamite gun to throw a shell toward a designated point. Upon the explosion of this shell the Spanish soldiers invariably exposed themselves, and were immediately assailed by machine gun fire. Occasionally a dynamite shell would fall with sufficient accuracy to do efficient work on its own account. On the afternoon of the 10th a dynamite shell fell in a long trench near Fort Canosa, clearing out the trench. The Spanish survivors were cut down almost to a man by the machine gun fire, and the Spanish troops were unable to occupy this trench until the following morning, when the operation was repeated, practically destroying the usefulness of this trench during the whole fight. Capt. Duncan, of the 21st Infantry, states that this relieved his battalion of an enfilading fire, and was a valuable service to them. Another dynamite shell, on the afternoon of the 10th, fell into a Spanish battery of artillery, near the brick hospital, and completely destroyed the battery, which consisted of two 3-inch guns. In all, about a dozen dynamite shells were thrown with some degree of accuracy, and with good effect.

The fourth Gatling gun, which had been held in reserve, was used during the afternoon of July 10th, and all day on the 11th, to pour a vertical fire upon the city of Santiago, beyond that portion that was visible to the American troops. Perhaps 6,000 or 7,000 shots were thus dropped into the heart of the city, making the streets unsafe, communication difficult, and striking terror to the hearts of the Spanish troops who were held there in reserve. Gen. Toral, in his official statement to his own government, specifically mentions this fire as one of his principal reasons for surrender.

On the afternoon of the 10th and during the 11th of July a battery of mortars, under command of Capt. Ennis, posted about half a mile to the right of the machine gun battery, threw a few shells at the enemy’s intrenchments. There were four of these mortars in action and they were placed behind the ridge in a perfectly safe position. They threw, perhaps, twenty-five shells all told. The first eight or ten failed to explode for the reason that the fuses had not been punched. Finally, Capt. Ennis discovered that his shells were not exploding, and, on inquiry, found that there was no fuse-punch in the battery. He succeeded in finding a brad-awl, which, luckily, some member of the battery had in his pocket, and showed a sergeant how to punch the fuse with a brad-awl. After this the mortar shells exploded all right. None of this fire, however, was directed at the city; it was directed at the trenches of the enemy, and not over eight or ten of the shells fell with any precision. The mortar fire was effective in the sense that it tended to demoralize the enemy, but its material effect was very small.

There was no firing of field-pieces during all this time of which any account is necessary. The field-pieces were even less useful during this time than they were on the 1st of July, if such a thing could be possible.

On the night of the 4th of July the reserve Gatling gun was posted to command the Fort Canosa road, in support of a picket on that road, and from that time until the surrender this piece was posted there every night. The members, therefore, of this detachment did practically double duty. This was the gun in charge of Sergts. Weischaar and Ryder, referred to in the official report. Luckily, it was not fired, but there can be no doubt of the immense value it would have had if its use had been necessary.

Summing up the use of machine guns from the 2d to the 11th of July, inclusive, it may be said that they demonstrated the use of the arm as a tactical reserve and an auxiliary to an outpost, and that, in combination with a dynamite gun, they demonstrated that a new arm of the service had been formed which can live at closer range to the enemy, and do far more effective work, than artillery. Nor is this all to be considered. It should be remembered that a field-piece throws a shell which breaks into 273 fragments. The machine gun throws 1000 shots, and each of these shots is aimed with absolute precision. Therefore, at any effective range, the machine gun is far superior to a field-piece against anything except material obstacles. Of course the machine guns will not do to batter down stone walls, nor to destroy block-houses. It had already been demonstrated on the 1st of July that “machine guns can go forward with the charging-line to the lodgment in the enemy’s position,” and that “their presence on the field of battle, with a supply of ammunition for ten minutes, is a decisive factor in the engagement.”

These were the principal points claimed for the machine gun in the discussion of the subject on the 1st of January. The use of the machine gun for advance and rear guards was not demonstrated at Santiago, for the reason that no opportunity was presented.


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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