On our return to "civilization" we were rejoiced to find that as a result of our three months' labors, the former tumult of Armenia had died away into a peaceful echo, but a new murmur fast growing to clamor had taken its place. Cuba had entered the ceaseless arena of American, gladiatorial, humanitarian contest. The cruelties of the reconcentrado system of warfare had become apparent, and methods of relief were uppermost in the minds of all persons.
These methods were twofold and might well be classed under two distinct heads: those who for mere pity's sake sought simple relief; those who with a further forecast sought the removal of a cause as well as its effect, and "Cuba Libre" was its muffled cry. They asked money for arms as well as bread, and the struggle between the two held the country in a state of perplexed contradiction for months running into years.
Our great-hearted President asked simple aid and was distressed at the doubtful response. At length he suggested and we proffered the aid of the Red Cross on a call to the country, and the establishment of the "Central Cuban Relief Committee" in New York, within three days, was the result.
The activity and success of that committee are too fresh in the minds of all our people to require the smallest description from me. Too much praise can not be given to our Auxiliary Societies from the Atlantic to the Pacific for the splendid work in the camps at home, in Cuba, Porto Rico, and in the care of our soldiers in transit to the Philippines. Their full and complete reports show the great work accomplished. The memory of the work of the busy men and tireless women who joined heart and hand in this Heaven-sent task still brings tears to the eyes of a nation at its recall.
The service assigned me by our anxious President, and gladly accepted, was the distribution on the pitiful fields of Cuba. These scenes I would not recall. The starving mothers and motherless babes, the homelessness and squalor, the hopelessness and despair, are beyond all words and all conception, save to those who saw and lived among them. It is past and let it rest.
Then followed the declaration of hostilities, the blockade, the fleets of war, and the stately, glistening white ships of relief that dotted the sea—our navy after forty years of peace again doing service in its own waters—and among them one inconspicuous, black-hulled sea-going craft, laden with food for the still famishing reconcentrados, when they could be reached.
Day after day, in its weary, waiting cruise, it watched out for an opening to that closed-in suffering island, till at length the thunder of the guns, Siboney, San Juan, opened the track, and the wounded troops of our own army, hungering on their own fields, were the reconcentrados of the hour.
Tampa became the gathering-point of the army. Its camps filled like magic, first with regulars, then volunteers, as if the fiery torch of Duncraigen had spread over the hills and prairies of America. The great ships gathered in the waters, the transports, with decks dark with human life, passed in and out, and the battleships of the sea held ever their commanding sway. It seemed a strange thing, this gathering for war. Thirty years of peace had made it strange to all save the veterans of the days of the old war, long passed into history. Could it be possible that we were to learn this anew? Were men again to fall, and women weep? Were the youth of this generation to gain that experience their fathers had gained, to live the war-lives they had lived, and die the deaths they had died?
At length the fleet moved on, and we prepared to move with, or rather after it. The quest on which it had gone, and the route it had taken, bordered something on the mystery shrouding the days when Sherman marched to the sea. Where were the Spanish ships? What would be the result when found and met? Where were we to break that Cuban wall and let us in?
Always present in our minds were the food we carried, the willing hands that waited, and the perishing thousands that needed. We knew the great hospital ships were fitting for the care of the men of both Army and Navy. Surely they could have no need of us.
We had taken possession of our ship at Key West on the 29th of April. It was now the 20th of June and the national records of two countries at least will always give the history of those days. It is our part to keep as clearly, truthfully, and kindly as possible, the record of the little that fell to us to perform in this great drama.
Weighing anchor at Key West the State of Texas steamed for the open Caribbean, we having first taken the official advice of Commodore Remy to find Admiral Sampson and report to him.
Sunrise of the twenty-fifth gave us our first view of the water at Santiago. Our transports and battle-ships were gathered there. The advice of Admiral Sampson was that we proceed to Guantanamo, where the marines had made a landing and were camped on the shore. There had been some fighting at Guantanamo. The naval hospital ship Solace was there.
Whoever has enjoyed this quiet, sheltered harbor, protected on three sides by beautiful wooded hills, will not require to be reminded of it. At six o'clock our anchor sunk in the deep, still waters and we had time to look about and see the beginning of the war. The marines were camped along the brow of a hill. On our right a camp of Cubans, and all about us the great war-ships with their guns, which told of forthcoming trouble. Captain McCalla, who was in command of Guantanamo, had sent his compliments and a launch, leading us in to our place of anchorage. The courtesies of the navy so early commenced at Key West were continued throughout the war.
By invitation of Commander Dunlap our entire company visited the Solace the following day. If that beautiful ship or its management had left room on the records of our country's meed of gratitude, for more words of appreciative praise, I should be glad to speak them. Only those familiar with the earliest history of the Red Cross in our country, and the methods by which our navy alone—of all the Red Cross nations—had gained even an approximately legal place, can judge what the sight of that first naval relief ship in American waters was to me. It brought back so vividly the memory of the day in 1881 when President Arthur called me to him to carefully explain the conditions of the treaty which he had just signed, and that, Congress having generously included the navy in its treaty for war, he would provide to hold it carefully until the probable widening of the original treaty would include the navies of the world, as well as the armies.
Before the day closed news came to us of a serious character. The daring Rough Riders had been hardly dealt by. Hamilton Fish and Allyn Capron had been killed, and the wounded needed help. Wherever they might be, it must be possible to reach them, and it was decided that no time be lost. Our men commenced work in the hold of the ship to get at medical supplies and dressings, and the captain took his orders. I find in my diary at the close of that day the following paragraph: "It is the Rough Riders we go to, and the relief may be also rough, but it will be ready. A better body of helpers could scarcely be gotten together."
Nine o'clock of the same night found us at Siboney, which can scarcely be called a harbor, for it has no anchorage. The next morning at daybreak we stood on deck to see the soldiers filing up over the hill, in heavy marching order, forming in lines by ones and twos, winding up, in and out among the hills, higher and higher. As we watched them they were a moving line trailing on toward the clouds, till lost in the mist, and we could only think, as we looked at them, on how many and on which, is set the mark of death? He knew no more than we—poor fellow—and with his swinging, steady gait, toils up and up and waits for—he knows not what.
The hospitals, both American and Cuban, located on the shore just to the right of us, were visited by our men that same evening. Some of their surgeons called on us. All seemed interested in the Red Cross, but none thought that a woman nurse would be in place in a soldiers' hospital—indeed, very much out of place. I suggested that that decision was hard for me, for I had spent a great deal of time in soldiers' hospitals myself. They appeared to understand that perfectly, but there seemed to be a later line which could not be crossed.
The Cubans who had just come into camp expressed a desire for any assistance we could give them. They would be glad to have the Red Cross Sisters in their little hospital, but begged us to wait just a day until it could be put in better order. The Sisters were not the persons to grant that day of preparation.
On the contrary they at once went to work, thoroughly cleaned the little three-room building—Garcia's abandoned headquarters, to be used as a hospital—and when the day closed the transformation showed clean rooms, clean cots, and the grateful occupants wondering whether Heaven itself could be more comfortable, or anything more desirable than the palatable food prepared for them by the Sisters.
Three days later the following letter was received:
"To Miss Clara Barton, President,
"American National Red Cross:
"I have the honor to request your assistance in caring for the patients in a so-called hospital near the landing at this point.
"The orders are to the effect that all patients now under treatment on the shore shall be transferred to the Iroquois and Olivette, but the facilities for carrying out this order are apparently inadequate. In order that the division hospital may remain unhampered for the care of the wounded in the engagement about to take place, it is necessary for me to request this favor of you, and I trust that you may find it possible to comply with said request.
"Your obedient servant,
"Louis A. Le Garde,
"Major and Surgeon, U. S. A., Commanding Hospital."
To this the following reply was immediately returned:
"Steamship State of Texas,
"Siboney, Santiago de Cuba, June 30, 1898.
"Dr. Louis A. Le Garde,
"Major and Surgeon, U. S. A., Commanding Hospital.
"Major: Permit me to express the pleasure given me by your letter inviting the assistance of the persons here under my direction in the care of the sick and wounded of the engagement about to take place. Although not here as a hospital ship by any means—not legitimately fitted for the work—still we have some hospital supplies, a few intelligent workers, skill, experience, the willingness to serve, the readiness to obey, and I believe the true spirit of the Red Cross, that seeks to help humanity wherever its needs exist. I send them to you in the hope that they may be of service.
"President, American National Red Cross."
Our surgeons and assistants went on shore, where Dr. Le Garde and Dr. Lesser secured a small house, and in a few hours this had undergone the same transformation and by the same hands as the Cuban hospital. The Red Cross flag was hoisted, Dr. Lesser placed in charge, and scores of our soldiers who had been lying on the filthy floors of an adjacent building, with no food but army rations, were carried over, placed in clean cots, and given proper food. From that on, no distinction was made, the Red Cross flag floating over both the American and Cuban hospitals.
A few feet away, all the available army tents were put up as additional accommodation for the "wounded in the engagement about to take place."It did take place the following day, and, as will be well remembered, in those two days, Friday and Saturday, the first and second of July, the tents were more than filled with wounded in the battle of San Juan Hill. Three of the five Sisters went into the operating tent, and with the surgeons worked for thirty hours with only a few moments' rest now and then for a cup of coffee and a cracker or piece of bread. We heard nothing more about a woman nurse being out of place in a soldiers' hospital.
On Saturday evening, the second day of the San Juan battle, a slip of paper with these penciled words was brought to the door of the hospital:
"Send food, medicines, anything. Seize wagons from the front for transportation.
The call for help was at once sent over to the State of Texas, and we worked all night getting out supplies and sending them ashore with a force of Cubans, only too glad to work for food.
I wish I could make apparent how difficult a thing it was to get supplies from our ship to the shore in a surf which, after ten o'clock in the morning, allowed no small boats to touch even the bit of a pier that was run out without breaking either the one or the other, and nothing in the form of a lighter save two dilapidated flat-boat pontoons. These had been broken and cast away by the engineer corps, picked up by ourselves, mended by the Cubans, and put in condition to float alongside of our ship, and receive perhaps three or four tons of material. This must then be rowed or floated out to the shore, run onto the sand as far as possible, the men jumping into the water from knee to waist deep, pulling the boat up from the surf, and getting the material on land. And this was what was meant by loading the "seized wagons from the front" and getting food to the wounded. After ten o'clock in the day even this was impossible, and we must wait until the calm of three o'clock next morning to commence work again and go through the same struggle to get something to load the wagons for that day. Our supplies had been gotten ashore, and among the last, rocking and tossing in our little boat, went ourselves, landing on the pier, which by that time was breaking in two, escaping a surf which every other moment threatened to envelop one from feet to head, we reached the land.
Our "seized" wagons had already gone on, loaded with our best hospital supplies—meal, flour, condensed milk, malted milk, tea, coffee, sugar, dried fruits, canned fruits, canned meats, and such other things as we had been able to get out in the haste of packing—entirely filling the two wagons already in advance.
An ambulance had been spoken of. We waited a little while by the roadside, but the ambulance did not appear. Then, halting a wagon loaded with bales of hay, we begged a ride of the driver, and our little party, Dr. and Mrs. Gardner, James McDowell, and myself, took our seats on the hay and made our way to the front, Dr. Hubbell following afoot. Four hours' ride brought us to the First Division Hospital of the Fifth Army Corps—General Shafter's headquarters.
The sight that met us on going into the so-called hospital grounds was something indescribable. The land was perfectly level; no drainage whatever; covered with long, tangled grass; skirted by trees, brush, and shrubbery; a few little dog-tents not much larger than could have been made of an ordinary table-cloth thrown over a short rail, and under these lay huddled together the men fresh from the field or from the operating-tables, with no covering over them save such as had clung to them through their troubles, and in the majority of cases no blanket under them.
Those who had come from the tables, having been compelled to leave all the clothing they had, as too wet, muddy, and bloody to be retained, were entirely nude, lying on the stubble grass, the sun fitfully dealing with them, sometimes clouding over and again streaming out in a blaze above them. Fortunately, among our supplies were some bolts of unbleached cotton, and this we cut in sheet lengths, and the men of our party went about and covered the poor fellows, who lay there with no shelter either from the elements or the eyes of the passers-by.
A half dozen bricks laid about a yard apart, a couple of pieces of wagon-tire laid across these, so low and so near the ground that no fire of any strength or benefit could be made—the bits of wet wood put under crosswise, with the smoke streaming a foot out on either side, two kettles of coffee or soup, and a small frying-pan with some meat in it—appeared to be the cook-house for these men. They told us there were about eight hundred men under the tents and lying in the grass, and more constantly coming in.
After a few moments' consultation as to the best methods to be pursued, we too gathered stones and bricks and constructed a longer, higher fireplace, got more wagon-tires, found the water, and soon our great agate kettles of seven and ten gallons were filled.
The rain, that had been drizzling more or less all day, increased. Our supplies were taken from the wagons, a piece of tarpaulin found to protect them, and as the fire began to blaze and the water to heat, Mrs. Gardner and I found the way into the bags and boxes of flour, salt, milk, and meal, and got material for the first gallons of gruel. I had not thought to ever make gruel again over a camp-fire. I can not say how far it carried me back in the lapse of time, or really where, or who I felt that I was.
It did not seem to be me, and still I seemed to know how to do it.
When the bubbling contents of our kettle thickened and grew white with the condensed milk, and we began to give it out—putting it into the hands of men detailed as nurses, and our own men, to take around to the poor sufferers, shivering and naked in the rain—I felt that perhaps it was not in vain that history had repeated itself. When the nurses came back and told us of the surprise with which it was received, and the tears that rolled down the sun-burned, often bloody face, into the cup as the poor fellow drank his hot gruel, and asked where it came from, who sent it, and said it was the first food he had tasted in three days (for they had gone into the fight hungry), I felt that it was again the same old story and wondered what gain there had been in the last thirty years.
The fires burned, the gruel steamed and boiled—bucket after bucket went out—until those eight hundred men had each a cup of gruel and knew that he could have another and as many as he wanted. The day waned, the darkness came, and still the men were unsheltered, uncovered, naked, and wet—scarcely a groan, no word of complaint—no man said he was not well treated.
The operating-tables were full of the wounded. Man after man was taken off, brought on his litter and laid beside other men, and something given him to keep the little life in his body that seemed fast oozing out. All night it went on. It grew cold—for naked men bitter cold—before morning. We had no blankets, nothing to cover them, only the strips of cotton cloth.
Early in the morning ambulances started, and such of the wounded as could be loaded in were taken to be carried back over that rough, pitiless road, down to Siboney, to the hospitals there—that we had done the best we could toward fitting up—where our hundred cots, hundred and fifty blankets had gone, cups, spoons, and delicacies, that would help to strengthen these poor, fainting men, if they could get there, and where also the Sisters would care for them.
They brought man after man, stretcher after stretcher, to the waiting ambulances, and they took out seventeen who had died in the night, unattended, save by the nurse.
More supplies arrived, and this time came large tarpaulins, more utensils, more food, and more things to make it a little comfortable. We removed our first kitchens across the road, up alongside the headquarter tent of Major Wood, in charge of the camp. Words can not do justice to his kind-hearted generosity. He strove in every way to do all that could be done, and the night before had given us a small tent in which we had huddled from the pouring rain, for a couple of hours, in the middle of the night, the water rushing through like a rivulet.
The tarpaulins were put over supplies, a new fireplace made near us—magnificent in its dimensions—shelter given for boxes and barrels that by this time had accumulated about us, and there was even something that looked like a table, on which Mrs. Gardner prepared her delicacies.
Early in the day there came to our improvised headquarters an officer in khaki uniform showing hard service, and a bandanna handkerchief hanging from his hat, to protect the back of his head and neck from the fierce rays of the sun.
It was Colonel Roosevelt, and we were very glad to meet the gallant leader of the "Rough Riders." After a few moments conversation he said:
"I have some sick men with the regiment who refuse to leave it. They need such delicacies as you have here, which I am ready to pay for out of my own pocket. Can I buy them from the Red Cross?"
"Not for a million dollars," Dr. Gardner replied.
"But my men need these things," he said, his tone and face expressing anxiety. "I think a great deal of my men. I am proud of them."
"And we know they are proud of you, Colonel. But we can't sell Red Cross supplies," answered Dr. Gardner.
"Then, how can I get them? I must have proper food for my sick men," he said.
"Just ask for them, Colonel," replied Dr. Gardner.
"Oh," he said, his face suddenly lighting up with a bright smile; "then I do ask for them."
"All right, Colonel; what is your list?"
The list included malted milk, condensed milk, oatmeal, cornmeal, canned fruits, dried fruits, rice, tea, chocolate, and even prepared beefsteak and vegetables, and other things good for men who could not eat army rations.
"Now, Colonel, when will you send for these supplies?" asked Dr. Gardner. "They will be ready any time."
"Lend me a sack and I'll take them right along," he answered with characteristic decision.
Mrs. Gardner at once looked up a sack, and when filled it must have held a good many pounds of supplies. Before we had recovered from our surprise, the incident was closed by the future President of the United States slinging the big sack over his shoulders, striding off, and out of sight through the jungle.
The gruel still remained the staple, but malted milk, chocolate, rice, and tea had come in, and little by little various things were added by which our menage quite resembled a hotel. The wounded were still being taken away by ambulance and wagon, assorted and picked over like fruit. Those who would bear transportation were taken away, the others left where they were. By the third day our patients seemed strong enough that we might risk giving them food as solid as rice, and the great kettles were filled with that, cooked soft, mixed with condensed and malted milk. The number of wounded grew less day by day, and better care could be taken of them.
At Siboney, the great needs of the hour were met by the little band of surgeons and nurses, working night and day. The following is from a letter in the Times-Herald, now Record-Herald, of Chicago, by Miss Janet Jennings, who volunteered her service in the hospital. One gets from this simple, direct picture, a better appreciation of that heroism which lives after excitement, which survives the rush and shouting of assault, which is sustained without comradeship:
"Siboney, July 8, 1898.
"Above hospital tents Red Cross flags are flying, and here is the real life—the suffering and heroism. Everybody who can do even so little as carry a cup of water lends willing hands to help the wounded. Most of the wounded are from the first day's engagement, when the infantry was ordered to lead the attack on Santiago, instead of using the artillery.
"And it all came at once—a quick blow—with little or no preparation to meet it. I mentioned in a former letter the lack of preparation on the part of the army to care for the sick. There was then almost nothing—no cots, bedding or proper food, for less than one hundred sick men.
"Two days later, when the wounded came in, the needs of the hour were overwhelming. The situation can not be described. Thousands of our men had been hurried to the front to fight. It was well understood that it would be a hard fight. The dead would need only burial, but the wounded would need care. And yet, with the exception of a limited number of stretchers, a medicine-chest and a few bandages, no preparation had been made—neither cots nor food—practically no hospital supplies.
"It is not strange that surgeons were desperate and nurses distressed. The force of each was wholly inadequate. The exact number of wounded may never be known. But the estimate at this time is about 1,000 wounded—some 1,500 killed and wounded.
"Wounded men who made their way down on foot eight miles over the rough, hilly road will never know just how their strength held out. Others were brought down in army wagons by the load, as few ambulances were at hand. Fortunately, there were some tents here that had been used by troops before going to the front. Under these hay was spread and covered with blankets, and the improvised hospital was ready. One tent was taken for operating-tables, and the work of surgeons and nurses began. They worked night and day for forty-eight hours, with only brief intervals for coffee and hard-tack.
"Wounded men had to wait for hours before bullets could be extracted and wounds dressed. But there was no word of complaint—only silent, patient suffering, borne with a courage that was sublime. As the wounded continued to come in, tent-room gave out, and hay with blankets were placed outside, and to these 'beds' the less severely wounded were assigned. It was evident that the medical department of the army had failed absolutely to send hospital supplies, or by this time they would have been landed. As it was, the surgeons turned to the Red Cross ship 'State of Texas' for help, and the supplies originally intended for the starving Cubans were sent ashore for our wounded.
"Miss Barton had been urged and advised to wait until the army opened and made the way safe to land supplies for reconcentrados and refugees. But she had foreseen the situation to a certain degree and followed the army as quickly as possible—to wait for the emergency, rather than have the emergency wait for her. The 'State of Texas' was here a week before the attack on Santiago.
"While surgeons and nurses were probing for bullets and dressing wounds, a force of men on the Red Cross ship worked half the night getting out cots and blankets, food and bandages, and at daylight next morning the supplies were landed, taking advantage of the smooth sea between four and nine o'clock, as later in the day the high surf makes it extremely difficult for landings. There were six tables in the operating-tent and eight surgeons. In twenty-four hours the surgeons had operated upon and dressed the wounds of 475 men. Four Red Cross sisters, trained nurses, assisted the surgeons. They were Sister Bettina, wife of Dr. Lesser, surgeon-in-chief of the Red Cross; Sister Minna, Sister Isabel, and Sister Blanche. Their knowledge of surgery, skill, and nerve were a revelation to the army surgeons. These young women, all under thirty, went from one operating-table to another, and, whatever was the nature of the wound or complication, proved equal to the emergency.
"In the Red Cross Hospital, across the way, Sister Anna was in charge of the sick men, turned over to the Red Cross two days before, when army surgeons with troops were all ordered to the front. With 475 wounded men to feed there was not a camp-kettle to be found in which gruel could be prepared, coffee made or anything cooked, not a kettle of any sort to be furnished by the army. The whole camp outfit at Tampa in the way of cooking utensils must have been left behind.
"But there was an overruling Providence when the 'State of Texas' was loaded for Cuba. So far everything needed has been found in the hold of this old ship, which deserves to have and will have a credit page in the history of the war in Cuba. There were kettles, charcoal braziers, and cooking utensils carried over to the Red Cross Hospital. To prepare gruel, rice, coffee, and various other proper and palatable dishes for forty or fifty sick men by the slow process of a charcoal brazier, tea-kettle, and boiler is by no means easy cooking. But to prepare food for 475 wounded men, some of whom had had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours, cooking over a little charcoal pot is something that one must take a 'hand in' to fully appreciate.
"There was the feeling as if one were dazed and unnatural to hear American soldiers, men from comfortable homes, literally begging for 'just a spoonful of gruel.' The charcoal pot burned night and day, gallons of gruel were made and quantities of rice cooked until the greatest stress had passed. It was no time to stand on trained service, and everybody, man or woman, was ready to lend a hand.
"A striking feature of the first day's engagement was the number of men wounded in the head, arm, and upper part of the body. Some of these cases, the most serious, were taken into the Red Cross Hospital, where they received the most skilful and gentle nursing.
"Two days' steady strain began to show on the Sisters.
"The strain had been the greater because there were no facilities for anything like a regular meal short of the ship, reached by a long, hard tramp in the sand, then a row over the tossing waves. But nobody thought of meals. The one thing was to feed and nurse the 500 wounded and sick men. Human endurance, however, has its limit, and unless the Sisters could get a little rest they would give out. I went on duty for twenty-four hours, at night, with the assistance of one man, taking care of forty patients, fever, measles, and dysentery cases, and half a dozen badly wounded men. Among the latter was Captain Mills, of the First Cavalry, and William Clark, a colored private in the Twenty-fifth Infantry, regulars. They were brought over from the hospital tents and placed on cots out on the little porch, where there was just room to pass between the cots.
"Their wounds were very similar—in the head—and of such a character as to require cool applications to the eyes constantly. Ice was scarce and worth its weight in gold, for the lives of these men as well as others depended chiefly on cool applications to the eyes, with as uniform temperature as possible. We had one small piece of ice, carefully wrapped in a blanket. There never was a small piece of ice that went so far. If I were to tell the truth about it nobody would believe me.
"Never in my whole life, I think, have I wished for anything so much as I wished for plenty of ice that night. It was applied by chipping in small bits, laid in thin, dry cotton cloth, folded over in just the right size and flat, to place across the eyes and forehead, enough of it to be cold, but not heavy, on the wounds.
"The ears of the sick are strangely acute. Whenever the sick men heard the sound of chipping ice they begged for ice-water; even the smallest bit of ice in a cup of water was begged with an eagerness that was pitiful. I felt conscience-smitten. But it was a question of saving the eyes of the wounded men, and there was no other way. To make the ice last till morning I stealthily chipped it off so the sick men would not hear the sound.
"At midnight a surgeon came over from his tent ward with a little piece of ice not larger than his hand. I do not know his name, but it does not matter, it is inscribed above. 'This is all we can spare,' he said. 'Take it. You must keep those wounds cool at all hazards. I have another case very like these—a man wounded in the head. I want to bring him over here, where he will be sure of exactly the same nursing. His life depends on the care he gets in the next twenty-four hours. Have you a vacant cot?'
"There was not a vacant cot, but we could make room for one on the porch if he could find the cot. He thought he could, and went back, taking the precious piece of ice that he really needed more than we did. In the course of a half hour the surgeon returned to say it was impossible to get a cot anywhere, and the wounded man must be left where he was in the tent, at least until morning.
"And so it went on through the long night—the patient suffering of the sick men, the heroism of the wounded, all fearing to give any trouble, desiring not to do so, find grateful for the smallest attention.
"The courage that faces death on the battlefield or calmly awaits it in the hospital is not a courage of race or color. Two of the bravest men I ever saw were here, almost side by side on the little porch—Captain Mills and Private Clark—one white, the other black. They were wounded almost at the same time, and in the same way. The patient suffering and heroism of the black soldier was fully equal to that of the Anglo-Saxon. It was quite the same, the gentleness and appreciation. They were a study, these men so widely apart in life, but here strangely close and alike on the common ground of duty and sacrifice. They received precisely the same care; each fed like a child, for with their bandaged eyes they were as helpless as blind men. When the ice pads were renewed on Captain Mills's eyes the same change was made on Private Clark's eyes. There was no difference in their beds or food. Neither uttered a word of complaint. The nearest to a regret expressed by Captain Mills was a heavy sigh, followed by the words: 'Oh, we were not ready. Our army was not prepared.'
"Of himself he talked cheerfully, strong, and hopeful. 'I think I shall go home with the sight of one eye,' he said. That was all.
"In the early part of the night he was restless, his brain was active, cool, and brave as he might be. The moonlight was very bright, a flood of silver, seen only in the tropics. Hoping to divert him I said: 'The moonlight is too bright, captain. I will put up a paper screen so you can get to sleep.'
"He realized at once the absurdity and the ludicrous side, and with an amused smile replied: 'But you know I can't see the moonlight.'
"I said it was time to get more ice for his head and half stumbled across the porch, blinded by tears. When told who his nearest neighbor was, Captain Mills expressed great sympathy for Private Clark and paid a high tribute to the bravery of the colored troops and their faithful performance of duty.
"Private Clark talked but little. He would lie apparently asleep until the pain in his head became unbearable. Then he would try to sit up, always careful to keep the ice-pad on his eyes over the bandage.
"'What can I do for you, Clark?' I would ask, anxious to relieve his pain.
"'Nothing, thank you,' he would answer. 'It's very nice and comfortable here. But it's only the misery in my head—the misery is awful.'
"Poor fellow! there was never a moan, merely a little sigh now and then, but always that wonderful patience that seemed to me not without a touch of divine philosophy, complete acceptance.
"I have mentioned these two men, not as exceptional in bravery, but to illustrate the rule of heroism, and because they were among the patients under my immediate care that night. It was a strange night picture—a picture that could never be dimmed by time but live through all the years of one's life.
"After midnight a restful atmosphere pervaded the hospital and the blessing of sleep fell upon the suffering men, one by one. In the little interval of repose I dropped into an old chair on the porch, looked away to the beautiful mountains sharply outlined in the moonlight, and the sea like waves of silver, the camp on the shore; near by thirty or forty horses standing motionless. Then the hospital tents, with now and then the flickering light of a candle; in the background the cliffs, with here and there a Spanish blockhouse. Over all the tragedy of life and death, the pain and sorrow, there was the stillness of a peaceful night—a stillness broken only by the sound of the surf brought back on the cool breeze, the cool, refreshing breeze, for which we all thanked God."
Later on, as will be remembered, Miss Jennings went North—a volunteer nurse on the transport Seneca. The brave men whose lives hung in the balance that night—with little hope that, if life were spared, they would ever see again—recovered, but each with the loss of an eye. After a long furlough Private Clark returned to his regiment. Captain Mills, now General Mills, is the Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy.
Three times in the first week I went over those terrible roads from the front to Siboney and return. Arriving at Siboney late one night, there was no way I could get on board the State of Texas and I was obliged to remain on shore. The Postmaster insisted that I occupy a room in the building used for a post-office. Such a courtesy could not be refused, and against all feeling of acquiescence, and with a dread as if there were something wrong about it, I allowed myself to be helped out of the wagon and entered the house. The Postmaster sat down and talked with me a little while. I thought he seemed ill. I had never met him before, but my heart went out in sympathy for him. I feared I was taking his room, although he did not admit it.
I was shown into a room where there was a cot, a table, and a candle without a stick, burning upon the table. The men went outside and laid down upon the steps for the night. I laid down upon the cot, but it was impossible for me to remain there. Something constantly warned me to leave it. I got up, went to the door, looked out upon the night and darkness, and waited for the gray of the morning. I went out and stood upon the beach beside the sea and waited more and more, until finally some of the men appeared, and I went with them down to the water.
Six days later they told me that the rightful occupant of the cot—the Postmaster, who had seemed so ill—had died of a fever raging here that they called "yellow fever." I had occupied his cot. I wonder who it was that so continually warned me that night to keep away from that room, away from the cot, away from all connected with it? "Yellow fever" was not then talked of. Did some one tell me? I do not know—but something told me.
The negotiations between General Shafter and the Spanish army at Santiago were going on. The flag of truce, that threatened every day to come down, still floated. The Spanish soldiers had been led by their officers to believe that every man who surrendered—and the people as well—would be butchered whenever the city should fall and the American troops should come in. But when General Shafter commenced to send back convoys of captured Spanish officers, their wounds dressed, and carefully placed on stretchers, borne under flags of truce to the Spanish lines at Santiago, and set down at the feet of General Toral, and when in astonishment that officer learned the object of the flag of truce and sent companies of his soldiers to form in line and present arms, while the cortege of wounded were borne through by American troops, a lesson was learned that went far toward the surrender of that city.
I happen to know that it was not without some very natural home criticism that General Shafter persisted in his course in the face of the time-honored custom of "hostages." One can readily understand that the voluntary giving up of prisoners—officers at that—in view of an impending battle, might seem in the light of old-time army usages a waste, to characterize it by no harder term. It is possible that none of the officers in that field had ever read the Articles of the Treaty of Geneva, or fully recalled that the treaty had become a law, or that their commander was acting in full accord with its wise and humane principles.
By this time the main talk of the camp was "yellow fever." It was soon discovered by the medical authorities that, from there having been at first one case of fever, there were now one hundred and sixteen, and that a fever camp would probably be made there, and the wounded gotten away. It was advisable then that we return to our ship and attempt, as far as possible, to hold that free from contagion. I was earnestly solicited to do this, in view of what was expected of our ship, and of what was expected of us, that we not only protect ourselves but our cargo and ship from all contamination and even suspicion.
I faithfully promised to do so, and again called for an army wagon, leaving all supplies that were useful for the men in camp—sending to El Caney what was most needed there—and taking only our personal effects, started for Siboney. In less than twenty minutes the rain was pouring on us and for two hours it fell as if from buckets. The water was from a foot and a half to two feet deep in the road as we passed along. At one time our wagon careened, the mules were held up, and we waited to see whether it should go over or could be brought out, the water a few inches only from the top of the lower side. It was scarcely possible for us to stir, hemmed in as we were, but the men from the other wagons sprang to our wheels, hanging in the air on the upper side, and we were simply saved by an inch.
But like other things, this cleared away. We came into Siboney about three o'clock, in a bright glare of sunshine, to find the town entirely burned—all buildings gone or smoking—and a "yellow fever" hospital established a mile and a half out from Siboney.
All effort was made to hold our ship free from suspicion. The process of reasoning leading to the conclusion that a solid cargo, packed in tight boxes in the hold of a ship, anchored at sea, could become infected in a day from the land or a passing individual, is indeed an intricate process. But we had some experience in this direction. Captain McCalla, in his repeated humane attempts to feed the refugees around Guantanamo, had called again for a hundred thousand rations, saying that if we could bring them to him soon he could get them to the starving people in the woods. We lost no time, but got the food out and started with it in the night. On reaching Guantanamo we were met some distance out, called to, and asked if any one on our ship had been on shore at Siboney within four days; if so, our supplies could not be received. We took them away, leaving the starving to perish.
The constantly recurring news of the surrender of Santiago was so well established that we drew anchor, came up to the flag-ship, and sent the following letter to Admiral Sampson:
"State of Texas,
"July 16, 1898.
"Admiral Sampson, Commanding U. S. Fleet off Santiago, Flag-Ship New York.
"Admiral: It is not necessary for me to explain to you my errand, nor its necessity; both your good head and heart divine it more clearly than any words of mine can represent.
"I send this to you by one of our men who can tell all you wish to know. Mr. John Elwell has resided and done mercantile and shipping business in Santiago for the last seven years; is favorably known to all its people; has in his possession the keys of the best warehouses and residences in the city, to which he is given welcome by the owners. He is the person appointed four months ago to help distribute this food, and did so with me until the blockade. There seems to be nothing in the way of getting our twelve hundred tons of food into a Santiago warehouse and giving it intelligently to the thousands who need and own it. I have twenty good helpers with me. The New York committee is urging the discharge of the State of Texas, which has been raised in price to four hundred dollars a day.
"If there is still more explanation needed, I pray you, Admiral, let me see you.
"Respectfuly and cordially,
These were anxious days. While the world outside was making up war history, we thought of little beyond the terrible needs about us; if Santiago had any people left, they must be in sore distress; and El Caney, with its thirty thousand homeless, perishing sufferers, how could they be reached?
On that Sunday morning, never to be forgotten, the Spanish fleet came out of Santiago Harbor, to meet death and capture. That afternoon Lieutenant Capehart, of the flag-ship, came on board with the courteous reply of Admiral Sampson, that if we would come alongside the New York he would put a pilot on board. This was done, and we moved on through waters we had never traversed; past Morro Castle, long, low, silent, and grim; past the wrecks of the Spanish ships on the right; past the Merrimac in the channel. We began to realize that we were alone, of all the ships about the harbor there were none with us. The stillness of the Sabbath was over all. The gulls sailed and flapped and dipped about us. The lowering summer sun shot long golden rays athwart the green hills on either side and tinged the water calm and still. The silence grew oppressive as we glided along with scarce a ripple. We saw on the right as the only moving thing, a long, slim yacht dart out from among the bushes and steal its way up half-hidden in the shadows. Suddenly it was overtaken by either message or messenger, and like a collared hound glided back as if it had never been.
Leaning on the rail, half lost in reverie over the strange, quiet beauty of the scene, the thought suddenly burst upon me—are we really going into Santiago, and alone? Are we not to be run out, and wait aside, and salute with dipping colors, while the great battle-ships come up with music and banners and lead the way?
As far as the eye could reach no ship was in sight. Was this to remain so? Could it be possible that the commander who had captured a city declined to be the first to enter, that he would hold back his flag-ship and himself, and send forward and first a cargo of food on a plain ship, under direction of a woman? Did our commands, military or naval, hold men great enough of soul for such action? It must be true, for the spires of Santiago rise before us, and turning to the score of companions beside me I ask: "Is there any one here who will lead the Doxology?" In an instant the full rich voice of Enola Gardner rang out: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." By that time the chorus was full, and the tears on many a face told more plainly than words how genuine was that praise, and when in response to a second suggestion "My Country 'Tis of Thee" swelled out on the evening air in the farewell rays of the setting sun, the State of Texas was nearing the dock, and quietly dropping her anchor she lay there through the silence of the night in undisputed possession, facing a bare wind-swept wharf and the deserted city of Santiago.
Daybreak brought quiet to an end. The silence was no longer oppressive. A hundred and twenty stevedores lined up on the wharf for work and breakfast. The dock had tracks, and trucks running to its open warehouses. Boxes, barrels, and bales, pitched out of that ship, thrown onto the trucks and wheeled away, told the story of better days to come. It was something to see the lank, brawny little army of stevedores take their first breakfast in line, alongside of the ship.
Later in the day the flag-ship brought Admiral Sampson and Admiral Schley, who spent several hours with us. They had every opportunity to see how our work was done, and if we were equal to unloading our ship. When they were about to leave Admiral Sampson was asked what orders or directions he had for us. He replied: "You need no directions from me, but if any one troubles you let me know."
The amiable pleasantries of these two gallant officers during that visit are a pleasure to recall. As I was, at an opportune moment, attempting to express my appreciation and thanks to Admiral Sampson for the courtesy of allowing us to precede him into Santiago, Admiral Schley, with that naïveté and apt turn of expression so characteristic of him, in a half undertone side-remark, cautioned me with "Don't give him too much credit, Miss Barton; he was not quite sure how clear the channel might be. Remember that was a trial trip."
How sadly the recollection of that pleasant, memorable day has since recurred to me; brave, gallant brothers in arms, and in heart; knowing only a soldier's duty; each holding his country's honor first, his own last; its glory his glory, and for himself seeking nothing more. Ah, people, press, and politics! How deal ye with your servants?
A message was received from General Shafter, who telegraphed from his headquarters; "The death rate at El Caney is terrible; can you send food?" The answer was to send the thirty thousand refugees of El Caney at once back to Santiago; we were there and could feed them; that the State of Texas had still twelve hundred tons of supplies.
The thirty thousand inhabitants of Santiago had been driven to El Caney, a village designed for five hundred. In two days all were called back and fed, ten thousand the first day, twenty thousand the second. Then came our troops, and Santiago was lived and is remembered. Its hospitals, the ante-chamber to Montauk, are never to be forgotten.
A general committee was formed, the city districted into sections, with a commissioner for each district, selected by the people themselves living there. Every family or person residing within the city was supplied by the commissioner of that district, and all transient persons were fed at the kitchens, the food being provided by the Red Cross.
The discharge of the cargo of the State of Texas commenced at six o'clock Monday morning, July 18th. One hundred and twenty-five stevedores were employed and paid in food issued as rations. Four days later the discharge was completed.
Although the army had entered the city during the latter part of that time, there had been no confusion, no groups of disorderly persons seen, no hunger in the city more than in ordinary times. We had done all that could be done to advantage at that time in Santiago. The United States troops had mainly left. The Spanish soldiers were coming in to their waiting ships, bringing with them all the diseases that unprovided and uncleanly camps would be expected to hold in store. Five weeks before we had brought into Santiago all the cargo of the State of Texas excepting the hospital supplies, which had been used the month previous among our own troops at Siboney, General Shafter's front, and El Caney during the days of fighting.
These were the last days of General Shafter in Santiago, who was, as he had at all times been, the kind and courteous officer and gentleman. General Wood, who was made Governor of the Province of Santiago upon the day of surrender—alert, wise, and untiring, with an eye single to the good of all—toiled day and night.
The State of Texas steamed away to its northern home. Peace and plenty came. The reconcentrados we went in search of were never reached. To those who could not withstand, Heaven came. To those who could, Cuba Libre.
Later on, general efforts were made for the protection of the thousands of orphans over the island, in which efforts the Red Cross joined. But the people of Cuba solved the question themselves—by a general adoption in their own homes—and orphanages in Cuba became a thing of the past.
Thus our work on that distressful field closed, after nearly two years of such effort as one would never desire to repeat. The financial management of that field, so far as the Red Cross was concerned, was done under the attorneyship of the Central Cuban Relief Committee of New York, whose reports are models of accuracy and accountability, and to which any person desiring information may be referred.
Cuba was a hard field, full of heart-breaking memories. It gave the first opportunity to test the cooperation between the government and its supplemental handmaiden, the Red Cross. That these relations might not have been clearly understood at this initial date may well be appreciated, but that time and experience will remedy this may be confidently hoped.
Through all our discouragements the steady hand and calm approval of our great head of the army and navy was our solace and our strength. And when at length it was all over, his hand could trace for his message to his people the following testimonial, what need had one even to remember past discouragements, however great? It was as if the hand of the martyr had set its undying seal upon the brow of the American Red Cross. What greater justification could it have? What greater riches could it crave?
"In this connection it is a pleasure for me to mention in terms of cordial appreciation the timely and useful work of the American Red Cross, both in relief measures preparatory to the campaigns, in sanitary assistance at several of the camps of assemblage, and, later, under the able and experienced leadership of the president of the society, Miss Clara Barton, on the fields of battle and in the hospitals at the front in Cuba. Working in conjunction with the governmental authorities and under their sanction and approval, and with the enthusiastic cooperation of many patriotic women and societies in the various States, the Red Cross has fully maintained its already high reputation for intense earnestness and ability to exercise the noble purposes of its international organization, thus justifying the confidence and support which it has received at the hands of the American people. To the members and officers and all who aided them in their philanthropic work, the sincere and lasting gratitude of the soldiers and the public is due and freely accorded.
"In tracing these events we are constantly reminded of our obligations to the Divine Master for His watchful care over us, and His safe guidance, for which the nation makes reverent acknowledgment and offers humble prayers for the continuance of His favors."—From President McKinley's message to Congress, December 6, 1898.