War with Spain - Charles Morris

The Army of Invasion

On the 23rd of April President McKinley, as already stated, called forth a volunteer force of 125,000 men for two years' service, apportioning them among the States and Territories in accordance with population. These were recruited from the existing National Guard organizations, vacancies being filled under a very careful system of health inspection. On May 23 a second call was issued, for 75,000 men, under similar conditions, though without restriction to the National Guards. The regular army was also increased by filling up the regiments to their full quotas, its limit being 62,000 men, and several special forces were called for, making the total strength of the army, when fully recruited, 278,500 men.

This force was to be made up as follows: Regular army, 62,000; volunteer, first call, 125,000, second call, 75,000; three special cavalry regiments, 3000; new engineer force, 3500; and ten regiments of volunteer infantry immune from yellow fever, 10,000. The last, composed of men who had recovered from or been exposed to this fever, were intended for use in infected districts. The first assignment of commanding officers, made public May 16, included the following major-generals: Wesley Merritt, in command of the Department of the Pacific (including the Philippines); John R. Brooke, in command of the First Corps and the Department of the Gull; William M. Graham, of the Second Corps, Camp Alger, Falls Church, Virginia; James F. Wade, of the Third Corps, Chickamauga, Georgia; John J. Coppinger, of the Fourth Corps, Mobile, Alabama; William R. Shafter, of the Fifth Corps, Tampa, Florida; James H. Wilson, of the Sixth Corps, Chickamauga, Georgia; Fitzhugh Lee, of the Seventh Corps, Tampa, Florida; Joseph H. Wheeler, in command of the Cavalry Division, Tampa, Florida. Major-General Elwell S. Otis was made second in command to General Merritt. The whole army was under the command of Major-General Nelson A. Miles. Various subsequent appointments were made of major- and brigadier-generals and minor officers, some of which failed to win public approbation, since political influences were claimed to have controlled their selection.

This was not the only adverse criticism made. The whole management of military affairs was sharply called in question by some observers, the War Department and the "Board of Strategy" being severely taken to task for alleged neglect of the troops. These charges of the hostile press were particularly devoted to the state of affairs at Tampa, Florida, where, it was claimed, the soldiers had been grossly neglected, the men being dumped down at a railway siding like so many emigrants, and left to seek what quarters they could find in the burning sand, no preparations being made for them. It was said that they lacked suitable clothing and food, were not properly drilled, and were in every respect shamefully treated. And the reason given for this was the alleged incompetence of their officers, few of whom, it was said, had any knowledge of military affairs, while General Wheeler, a famous Confederate cavalry leader of the Civil War, was declared to be incompetent through age.

These charges were strongly denied by Richard Harding Davis, a newspaper correspondent, who quoted from General Miles, Colonel Pope, the chief surgeon of the Fifth Corps, and others, including a German military attache, to prove that the army was in an excellent state of health, well fed and cared for, thoroughly equipped and disciplined. "I have never been so proud," said General Miles, "as I was yesterday when I rode through the camps of the Fifth Army Corps and saw the magnificent condition and physical perfection of our men. There is no army corps anywhere in the world that is better supplied with men and officers of courage, fortitude, and intelligence."

This refers in particular to the regulars. The volunteers were, necessarily, generally in charge of inexperienced officers, and for a time suffered hardships. This was in a measure unavoidable in a country without a large standing army and suddenly plunged from peace into war. "I do not believe," said General Alger, Secretary of War, that there ever was a nation on earth that attempted to embark in a war of such magnitude while so utterly unprovided with everything necessary for a campaign. When war was declared," he further remarked, "we were unprepared, yet obstacles almost insurmountable have been overcome. I do not believe that history records an instance where so much has been done in a military campaign of this magnitude in the brief time that has elapsed since hostilities began. When the people have learned the actual condition of affairs and realize what an enormous task we have performed in the brief time allowed us by the circumstances of war, they will be entirely satisfied. The critics will be answered, and the enemies of our army will have no ground to stand on."

This was written on June 10. By July 24, three months from the beginning of the war, two hundred and sixty-one thousand men had been mustered into service, fully equipped, and prepared to take the field,—some of them having shown their discipline and fighting qualities by experience in battle. The seeming slowness in filling up the ranks was due to the severe tests applied to recruits, the physical examination being of the most searching character. This was specially the case with the regulars, not more than one in four of the applicants being accepted. The men obtained were of the best fighting material, and showed excellent aptitude for military discipline and instruction. In fact, it is doubtful if an army in better physical condition ever took the field, and the recruiting, mustering, equipping, and bringing into service of so large, carefully selected, and well trained an army within ninety days was looked upon by many as a remarkable achievement, and excited the surprise and admiration of military observers from Europe.

Of one portion of the army something further may be said, from the large place which it filled in the public estimation. This was the special cavalry corps, composed of three regiments known popularly as "Rough Riders," they being made up of cowboys and others thoroughly trained in horsemanship. Two of these regiments had been recruited in the West, and were commanded respectively by Colonel Melvin Grigsby and Colonel Jay L. Torrey, men of great influence with the cowboys, who made up the bulk of their forces. The third had been recruited by Theodore Roosevelt, who bad resigned his position as assistant secretary of the navy for the purpose of taking part in the actual campaigning. This regiment was commanded by Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt having voluntarily retired to the post of lieutenant-colonel as better befitting his lack of military experience. But the public persisted in speaking of the regiment as "Roosevelt's Rough Riders." It, like the others, had been principally recruited in the West, but contained about twelve per cent. of business and professional men from the Eastern cities, including college graduates and representatives of families of high social standing. These men were experts in horsemanship and physical exercises, and showed themselves the equals of their cowboy companions in the saddle.

Before they left camp the Rough Riders were drilled to charge standing in their stirrups, the horses being trained to wheel and stop short at word of command, and the men riding with a reckless abandon calculated seriously to try the nerves of foot-soldiers. Armed with machetes, rifles, and revolvers, this corps would probably have proved almost irresistible in the charge. As it proved, however, fortune put the Rough Riders into the battlefield on foot; and their record in war was made as infantry.

Early in June a large fleet of transports, thirty-five in number, gathered in Tampa Bay for the conveyance of a strong military force to Santiago de Cuba, this place having, in consequence of the presence there of the Spanish fleet, been selected as the first point of attack. The force to be sent consisted of the Fifth Army Corps, under Major-General Shafter, and four regiments of General Coppinger's corps from Mobile. Two regiments of volunteer infantry were chosen to accompany the expedition, the Seventy-first New York and the Second Massachusetts, and eight troops of volunteer cavalry selected from Roosevelt's Rough Riders. In addition, there were four batteries of light and two of heavy artillery, a battalion of engineers, signal and hospital corps, etc." the whole making a grand total of over fifteen thousand men.

Spanish American War


The sinking of the Merrimac  in the channel of Santiago harbor, with the assumed locking up of the Spanish fleet in that haven of refuge, was immediately followed by active preparations for the despatch of this army, the embarkation of troops beginning on Monday, June 6. On Wednesday afternoon, after a number of them had put to sea, came a hasty order for their recall, and the Castine  was despatched to bring them back. One transport, the City of Washington, had made such progress that the coast of Cuba was sighted before the order of recall reached her. It was Saturday before she and the Castine  returned.

The cause of this delay was said to be due to reports that war-vessels had left Barcelona, Spain, bound for Cuban waters, and that suspicious-looking vessels, with military tops, had been seen off Florida. That this was the actual cause, however, may well be questioned, and the delay has been claimed as due to that general lack of efficient management that afterwards declared itself. Whatever its cause, it was unfortunate for the men, who for more than a week were kept packed in the close transports, with the thermometer near 100 F., many cases of heat-prostration, even among the seasoned regulars, being the result.

The start finally took place on the 14th, the transports being convoyed by a squadron of war-vessels, with the battle-ship Indiana  in the lead. At ten o'clock A.M. came the signal for sailing, which was greeted by wild cheers from the men, who were eager to leave that stifling atmosphere, and in a few minutes the leading vessels of the fleet were gliding down the bay. On reaching the Florida Straits the transports were formed into three lines, about one thousand yards apart, the ships in each line being separated by six hundred yards. The war-vessels gathered on their flanks, on the alert by day, and at night sweeping the waters towards Cuba with their search-lights. No lights were allowed to be shown on the transports. Fortunately, the winds kept down and the sea was smooth, but the journey was a dull and tedious one, with not the show of an enemy to break its monotony, and it was with joy that the weary soldiers beheld, a week after they bad set sail, the blockading fleet before Santiago. The horses and mules on the transports suffered severely during the voyage, many of them dying; but the men bore the journey well, a few cases of typhoid fever being the only serious ailments.

The news of the arrival of the troops came to Washington by direct cable message from Guantanamo Bay, via the wires of the French Cable Company running from Santiago to Cape Haytien. This, the first direct communication by telegraph with the seat of war, was received with the highest gratification by the government. It had been supposed that Guantanamo Bay was being held by its force of marines as a point of debarkation for the troops. But the distance to be traversed, over a hilly country, without suitable roads, rendered that locality inadvisable, and the place finally selected was the village of Baiquiri, about fifteen miles east of the mouth of Santiago harbor. From here a road led to Santiago and a railroad followed the coast to a terminus on the harbor. Midway lay Juragua, another locality considered in connection with the landing, and which was bombarded on the morning of the 22nd as a feint to distract attention from the real point chosen. For the same purpose colliers were sent to the west of the harbor, the Spaniards mistaking them for transports.

During preceding night many of the troop-ships had drawn in towards the shore, while in the thickets and mountain fastnesses on land Cuban insurgents were gathered thickly, watching, gun in hand, every road and mountain-path along which Spanish reinforcements could come. The day had not far advanced before tongues of flame and clouds of smoke rising from Baiquiri indicated that the Spaniards had fired and abandoned that place. The only evidence of Spanish occupation on the previous Day had been a flag flying at the summit of a steep, Rocky hill that offered excellent opportunities for defence. But with day-dawn this flag was seen to have vanished. The hill, like the village, had been abandoned.

The bombardment of Jaragua was followed by a sharp fire upon Baiquiri from the guns of the New Orleans. No response came, and in a few minutes more the waters were enlivened by a flotilla of small boats filled with troops and headed by launches, moving swiftly in towards the shore. The lighters sent with the expedition had been lost during the voyage. In a brief time more the foremost of the landing-party gladly set foot on Cuban soil, each man in full fighting trip, carrying three days' rations, a shelter-tent, a rifle, and two hundred cartridges, ready to fight or march at a moment's notice. Landing was no easy matter. There was at this point a fine pier built by the iron-mining company, but the surf broke roughly against it, and the men were obliged to fling their rifles up first and scramble up the trestle-work after them. As they reached solid ground, they at once lined up in companies and regiments and marched away, making room for their successors.

The Eighth Infantry was the first to land, followed by the First, General Shafter's old regiment. Other organizations rapidly followed, and by nightfall some six thousand soldiers were encamped in the hilly country around Baiquiri. General Lawton threw out a strong detachment to a point about six miles west, on the road to Santiago, and another to the north of the village, the remainder being quartered in the houses, few of which had been burned, and under their tents in the adjoining fields. The place was deserted when the troops arrived, but fugitive women and children soon appeared from the surrounding thickets and sought their homes. During the following two days the remainder of the troops were landed, and the occupation in force of Cuban soil was fairly inaugurated. The work of landing the siege-guns, horses, and other heavy supplies followed, but was prosecuted with difficulty on account of the lack of lighters and of landing facilities in general.

In fact, as time revealed, the whole business had been inefficiently managed, guns and other necessaries of the expedition being left at Tampa, while requisite parts of the artillery that were brought were scattered carelessly through several ships. As a result, the army was by no means in the best condition for an advance on a fortified place, and there was abundant reason for delay until all the essentials of a campaign were at hand. But delay under Cuban suns and rains was a dangerous alternative. Yellow fever might prove a more deadly enemy than Spanish troops, and the commanding general, while doubtless deploring the position in which the haste and heedlessness of incompetent aids had placed him, seems to have felt that wisdom demanded an immediate advance. At all events, no delay was made, the troops being at once set in motion towards the enemy's lines of defence. On the day of landing a reinforcement of sixteen hundred men, comprising the Thirty-third and one battalion of the Thirty-fourth Michigan Volunteers, set sail on the Yale from Hampton Roads, and other reinforcements were rapidly preparing to follow.

The advance began on the 23rd, the Cubans serving as skirmishers in front of General Shafter's army, and having several brushes with the retreating Spaniards as the latter fell back. Colonel Wagner, with fifty picked men from General Lawton's brigade, formed the skirmish line, assisted by some two hundred Cuban scouts, whose familiarity with the country and the Spanish mode of fighting rendered them of much utility. Juragua, some eight miles from the landing-place, was reached without a check, the guns of the fleet protecting the movement up to that point. The Spaniards seemed to have left the place in haste after an ineffectual attempt to burn it.

The scouting party pushed on to the west, and at a short distance came suddenly upon a party of Spanish soldiers, who exchanged shots briskly with the Cubans, two of whom were killed and eight wounded. As the skirmishers fell back, the Twenty-second regulars came up at the double quick, drawn by the firing; but the Spaniards were already in retreat and had sought the shelter of the woods. By night a junction was effected between the main divisions of the army of invasion at a point on the high ground back from the coast, and within ten miles of Morro Castle.

San Juan Hill


At nightfall of the 25th an the troops were on shore, and the Cubans of Garcia's army, some three thousand in number, had been brought by water from Ascerraderos, west of the harbor, and landed at Juragua. Most of the horses, also, were on firm land. With a single steam barge and a fleet of small boats, General Shafter had landed over fifteen thousand men, hundreds of horses and mules, and a large quantity of supplies on a difficult beach, only two men losing their lives and about fifty animals being drowned. The animals had to be pushed in the water and towed ashore. Of the supplies, hardly a package was lost.