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War broke out between the United States and Spain on April 21, 1898. A
week or ten days later I was asked by the editors of the "Outlook" of
New York to go to Cuba with Miss Clara Barton, on the Red Cross steamer
_State of Texas_, and report the war and the work of the Red Cross for
that periodical. After a hasty conference with the editorial and
business staffs of the paper I was to represent, I accepted the
proposition, and on May 5 left Washington for Key West, where the _State
of Texas_ was awaiting orders from the Navy Department. The army of
invasion, under command of General Shafter, was then assembling at
Tampa, and it was expected that a hostile movement to some point on the
Cuban coast would be made before the end of the month.

I reached Tampa on the evening of Friday, May 6. The Pullman cars of the
Florida express, at that time, ran through the city of Tampa and across
the river into the spacious grounds of the beautiful Tampa Bay Hotel,
which, after closing for the regular winter season, had been compelled
to reopen its doors - partly to accommodate the large number of officers
and war correspondents who had assembled there with their wives and
friends, and partly to serve as headquarters for the army of Cuban

It was a warm, clear Southern night when we arrived, and the scene
presented by the hotel and its environment, as we stepped out of the
train, was one of unexpected brilliancy and beauty. A nearly full moon
was just rising over the trees on the eastern side of the hotel park,
touching with silver the drifts of white blossoms on dark masses of
oleander-trees in the foreground, and flooding with soft yellow light
the domes, Moorish arches, and long fa√Іade of the whole immense
building. Two regimental bands were playing waltzes and patriotic airs
under a long row of incandescent lights on the broad veranda;
fine-looking, sunbrowned men, in all the varied uniforms of army and
navy, were gathered in groups here and there, smoking, talking, or
listening to the music; the rotunda was crowded with officers, war
correspondents, and gaily attired ladies, and the impression made upon a
newcomer, as he alighted from the train, was that of a brilliant
military ball at a fashionable seaside summer resort. Of the serious and
tragic side of war there was hardly a suggestion.

On the morning after our arrival I took a carriage and drove around the
city and out to the camp, which was situated about a mile and a half
from the hotel on the other side of the river. In the city itself I was
unpleasantly disappointed. The showy architecture, beautiful grounds,
semi-tropical foliage, and brilliant flowers of the Tampa Bay Hotel
raise expectations which the town across the river does not fulfil. It
is a huddled collection of generally insignificant buildings standing in
an arid desert of sand, and to me it suggested the city of
Semipalatinsk - a wretched, verdure-less town in southern Siberia,
colloquially known to Russian army officers as "the Devil's Sand-box."
Thriving and prosperous Tampa may be, but attractive or pleasing it
certainly is not.

As soon as I got away, however, from the hotel and into the streets of
the town, I saw at almost every step suggestions of the serious and
practical side, if not the tragic side, of war. Long trains of four-mule
wagons loaded with provisions, camp equipage, and lumber moved slowly
through the soft, deep sand of the unpaved streets in the direction of
the encampment; the sidewalks were thronged with picturesquely dressed
Cuban volunteers from the town, sailors from the troop-ships, soldiers
from the camp, and war correspondents from everywhere; mounted orderlies
went tearing back and forth with despatches to or from the army
headquarters in the Tampa Bay Hotel; Cuban and American flags were
displayed in front of every restaurant, hotel, and Cuban cigar-shop, and
floated from the roofs or windows of many private houses; and now and
then I met, coming out of a drug-store, an army surgeon or hospital
steward whose left arm bore the red cross of the Geneva Convention.

The army that was destined to begin the invasion of Cuba consisted, at
that time, of ten or twelve thousand men, all regulars, and included an
adequate force of cavalry and ten fine batteries of field-artillery. It
was encamped in an extensive forest of large but scattered pine-trees,
about a mile from the town, and seemed already to have made itself very
much at home in its new environment.

The first thing that struck me in going through the camp was its
businesslike aspect. It did not suggest a big picnic, nor an encampment
of militia for annual summer drill. It was manifestly a camp of
veterans; and although its dirty, weather-beaten tents were pitched here
and there without any attempt at regularity of arrangement, and its camp
equipage, cooking-utensils, and weapons were piled or stacked between
the tents in a somewhat disorderly fashion, as if thrown about at
random, I could see that the irregularity and disorder were only
apparent, and were really the irregularity and disorder of knowledge and
experience gained by long and varied service in the field. I did not
need the inscriptions - "Fort Reno" and "Fort Sill" - on the army wagons
to assure me that these were veteran troops from the Plains, to whom
campaigning was not a new thing.

As we drove up to the camp, smoke was rising lazily into the warm summer
air from a dozen fires in different parts of the grounds; company cooks
were putting the knives, forks, and dishes that they had just washed
into improvised cup-boards made by nailing boxes and tomato-crates
against the trees; officers in fatigue-uniform were sitting in
camp-chairs, here and there, reading the latest New York papers; and
thousands of soldiers, both inside and outside the sentry-lines, were
standing in groups discussing the naval fight off Manila, lounging and
smoking on the ground in the shade of the army wagons, playing hand-ball
to pass away the time, or swarming around a big board shanty, just
outside the lines, which called itself "NOAH'S ARK" and announced in big
letters its readiness to dispense cooling drinks to all comers at a
reasonable price.

The troops in all branches of the army at Tampa impressed me very
favorably. The soldiers were generally stalwart, sunburnt,
resolute-looking men, twenty-five to thirty-five years of age, who
seemed to be in perfect physical condition, and who looked as if they
had already seen hard service and were ready and anxious for more. In
field-artillery the force was particularly strong, and our officers in
Tampa based their confident expectation of victory largely upon the
anticipated work of the ten batteries of fine, modern field-guns which
General Shafter then intended to take with him. Owing to lack of
transportation facilities, however, or for some other reason to me
unknown, six of these batteries were left in Tampa when the army sailed
for Santiago, and the need of them was severely felt, a few weeks later,
at Caney and San Juan.

Upon my return from the camp I called upon General Shafter, presented my
letter of introduction from the President, and said I wished to consult
him briefly with regard to the future work of the American National Red
Cross. He received me cordially, said that our organization would soon
have a great and important work to do in Cuba in caring for the
destitute and starving reconcentrados, and that he would gladly afford
us all possible facilities and protection. The Red Cross corps of the
army medical department, he said, would be fully competent to take care
of all the sick and wounded soldiers in the field; but there would be
ample room for our supplementary work in relieving the distress of the
starving Cuban peasants, who would undoubtedly seek refuge within our
lines as soon as we should establish ourselves on the island. He
deprecated and disapproved of any attempt on the part of the Red Cross
to land supplies for the reconcentrados under a flag of truce in advance
of the army of invasion and without its protection. "The Spanish
authorities," he said, "under stress of starvation, would simply seize
your stores and use them for the maintenance of their own army. The best
thing for you to do is to go in with us and under our protection, and
relieve the distress of the reconcentrados as fast as we uncover it." I
said that I thought this was Miss Barton's intention, and that we had
fourteen hundred tons of food-stuffs and medical supplies on the steamer
_State of Texas_ at Key West, and were ready to move at an hour's
notice. With an understanding that Miss Barton should be notified as
soon as the army of invasion embarked, I bade the general good-by and
returned to the hotel.

In an interview that I had on the following day with Colonel Babcock,
General Shafter's adjutant-general, I was informed, confidentially, that
the army was destined for "eastern Cuba." Small parties, Colonel Babcock
said, would be landed at various points on the coast east and west of
Havana, for the purpose of communicating with the insurgents and
supplying them with arms and ammunition; but the main attack would be
made at the eastern end of the island. He did not specifically mention
Santiago by name, because Cervera's fleet, at that time, had not taken
refuge there; but inasmuch as Santiago was the most important place in
eastern Cuba, and had a deep and sheltered harbor, I inferred that it
would be made the objective point of the contemplated attack. The
Secretary of War, in his reply to the questions of the Investigating
Commission, says that the movement against Santiago, as then planned,
was to be a mere "reconnaissance in force, to ascertain the strength of
the enemy in different locations in eastern Cuba"; but Colonel Babcock
certainly gave me to understand that the attack was to be a serious one,
and that it would be made with the whole strength of General Shafter's
command. The matter is of no particular importance now, except in so far
as the information given me by Colonel Babcock indicates the views and
intentions of the War Department two weeks before Admiral Cervera's
fleet took refuge in Santiago harbor.

I left Port Tampa for Key West on the Plant-line steamer _Mascotte_ at
half-past ten o'clock Saturday evening, May 7. The long, narrow, and
rather sinuous channel out of Tampa Bay was marked by a line of buoys
and skeleton wooden frames resting on driven spiles; but there were no
lights for the guidance of the mariner, except one at the outer
entrance, ten or twelve miles from the port; and if the _Mascotte_ had
not been provided with a powerful search-light of her own she would
hardly have been able to find her way to sea, as the night was cloudy
and the buoys were invisible. With the long, slender shaft of her
search-light, however, she probed the darkness ahead, as with a radiant
exploring finger, and picked up the buoys, one after another, with
unfailing certainty and precision. Every two or three minutes a floating
iron balloon, or a skeleton frame covered with sleeping aquatic birds,
would flash into the field of vision ahead, like one of Professor
Pepper's patent ghosts, stand out for a moment in brilliant white relief
against a background of impenetrable darkness, and then vanish with the
swiftness of summer lightning, as the electric beam left it to search
for another buoy farther away.

When I awoke the next morning we were out on the blue, tumbling,
foam-crested water of the Gulf, forty or fifty miles from the Florida
coast. All day Sunday we steamed slowly southward, seeing no vessels
except a Jamaica "fruiter," whose captain shouted to us, as he crossed
our bow, that he had been blown off his course in a recent gale, and
would like to know his position and distance. We should have reached Key
West at half-past two Sunday afternoon; but an accident which disabled
one of the _Mascotte's_ boilers greatly reduced her normal speed, so
that when I went to my state-room at eleven o'clock Sunday evening we
were still twenty or thirty miles from our destination.

Three hours later I was awakened by shouted orders, the tramping of
feet, and the rattling of heavy chain-cable on the forward deck, and,
dressing myself hastily, I went out to ascertain our situation. The moon
was hidden behind a dense bank of clouds, the breeze had fallen to a
nearly perfect calm, and the steamer was rolling and pitching gently on
a sea that appeared to have the color and consistency of greenish-gray
oil. Two hundred yards away, on the port bow, floated a white pyramidal
frame in the fierce glare of the ship's search-light, and from it, at
irregular intervals, came the warning toll of a heavy bell. It was the
bell-buoy at the entrance to Key West harbor, and far away on the
southeastern horizon appeared a faintly luminous nebula which marked the
position of Key West city. Under the war regulations then in force, no
vessels other than those belonging to the United States navy were
permitted to enter or leave the port of Key West between late evening
twilight and early dawn, and we were, therefore, forced to anchor off
the bell-buoy until 5 A. M. Just as day was breaking we got our anchor
on board and steamed in toward the town. The comparatively shallow water
of the bay, in the first gray light of dawn, had the peculiar opaque,
bluish-green color of a stream fed by an Alpine glacier; but as the
light increased it assumed a brilliant but delicate translucent green of
purer quality, contrasting finely with the scarlet flush in the east
which heralded the rising, but still hidden, sun. On our right, as we
entered the wide, spacious harbor, were two or three flat-topped,
table-like islands, or "keys," which, in general outline and appearance,
suggested dark mesas of foliage floating in a tropical ocean of pale
chrysolite-green. Directly ahead was the city of Key West - a long, low,
curving silhouette of roofs, spires, masts, lighthouses, cocoanut-palms,
and Australian pines, delicately outlined in black against the scarlet
arch of the dawn, "like a ragged line of Arabic etched on the blade of a
Turkish simitar." At the extreme western end of this long, ragged
silhouette rose the massive walls of Fort Taylor, with its double tier
of antiquated embrasures; and on the left of it, as the distance
lessened and the light increased, I could distinguish the cream-colored
front of the Marine Hospital, the slender white shaft of the lighthouse,
the red pyramidal roof of the Government Building, and the pale-yellow
walls and cupola of the Key West Hotel - all interspersed with graceful
leaning palms, or thrown into effective relief against dark masses of
feathery Australian pine.

Along the water-front, for a distance of half a mile, extended an almost
unbroken line of steamers, barks, schooners, and brigantines,
discharging or receiving cargo, while out on the pale-green, translucent
surface of the harbor were scattered a dozen or more war-ships of the
North Atlantic Squadron, ranging in size from the huge, double-turreted
monitor _Puritan_ to the diminutive but dangerous-looking torpedo-boat
_Dupont_. All were in their war-paint of dirty leaden gray, which,
although it might add to their effectiveness, certainly did not seem to
me to improve their appearance as component parts of an otherwise
beautiful marine picture. Beyond the war-ships and nearer to the eastern
end of the island lay the captured Spanish prizes, including the big
black liners _Pedro_ and _Miguel Jover_, the snow-white _Argonauta_, the
brigantine _Frascito_, and a dozen or more fishing-schooners intercepted
by the blockading fleet while on their way back to Havana from the
Yucatan banks.

But none of these war-ships or prizes had, for me, the interest that
attached to a large black two-masted steamer of eighteen hundred tons,
which was lying at anchor off the government wharf, flying from her
mainmast-head a white flag emblazoned with the red Greek cross of the
Geneva Convention. It was the steamship _State of Texas_, of the Mallory
line, chartered by the American National Red Cross to carry to Cuba
supplies for the starving reconcentrados, and to serve as headquarters
for its president, Miss Clara Barton, and her staff of trained surgeons,
nurses, and field-officers.



When Miss Barton joined the _State of Texas_ at Key West on April 29
there seemed to be no immediate prospect of an invasion of Cuba by the
United States army, and, consequently, no prospect of an opportunity to
relieve the distress of the starving Cuban people. Knowing that such
distress must necessarily have been greatly intensified by the blockade,
and anxious to do something to mitigate it, - or, at least, to show the
readiness of the Red Cross to undertake its mitigation, - Miss Barton
wrote and sent to Admiral Sampson, commander of the naval forces on the
North Atlantic Station, the following letter:

S. S. "STATE OF TEXAS," May 2, 1898.

_Admiral W. T. Sampson, U. S. N., Commanding Fleet before

ADMIRAL: But for the introduction kindly proffered by our mutual
acquaintance Captain Harrington, I should scarcely presume to
address you. He will have made known to you the subject which I
desire to bring to your gracious consideration.

Papers forwarded by direction of our government will have shown the
charge intrusted to me, viz., to get food to the starving people of
Cuba. I have with me a cargo of fourteen hundred tons, under the
flag of the Red Cross, the one international emblem of neutrality
and humanity known to civilization. Spain knows and regards it.

Fourteen months ago the entire Spanish government at Madrid cabled
me permission to take and distribute food to the suffering people
in Cuba. This official permission was broadly published. If read by
our people, no response was made and no action taken until two
months ago, when, under the humane and gracious call of our honored
President, I did go and distribute food, unmolested anywhere on the
island, until arrangements were made by our government for all
American citizens to leave Cuba. Persons must now be dying there by
hundreds, if not thousands, daily, for want of the food we are
shutting out. Will not the world hold us accountable? Will history
write us blameless? Will it not be said of us that we completed the
scheme of extermination commenced by Weyler?

Fortunately, I know the Spanish authorities in Cuba,
Captain-General Blanco and his assistants. We parted with perfect
friendliness. They do not regard me as an American merely, but as
the national representative of an international treaty to which
they themselves are signatory and under which they act. I believe
they would receive and confer with me if such a thing were made

I should like to ask Spanish permission and protection to land and
distribute food now on the _State of Texas_. Could I be permitted
to ask to see them under flag of truce? If we make the effort and
are refused, the blame rests with them; if we fail to make it, it
rests with us. I hold it good statesmanship at least to divide the
responsibility. I am told that some days must elapse before our
troops can be in position to reach and feed these starving people.
Our food and our forces are here, ready to commence at once.

With assurances of highest regard,

I am, Admiral, very respectfully yours,


At the time when the above letter was written, the American National Red
Cross was acting under the advice and direction of the State and Navy
departments, the War Department having no force in the field.

Admiral Sampson replied as follows:

KEY WEST, FLORIDA, May 2, 1898.

_Miss Clara Barton, President American National Red Cross:_

1. I have received through the senior naval officer present a copy
of a letter from the State Department to the Secretary of the Navy;
a copy of a letter from the Secretary of the Navy to the
commander-in-chief of the naval force on this station; and also a
copy of a letter from the Secretary of the Navy to the commandant
of the naval station at Key West.

2. From these communications it appears that the destination of the
steamship _State of Texas_, loaded with supplies for the starving
reconcentrados in Cuba, is left, in a measure, to my judgment.

3. At present I am acting under instructions from the Navy
Department to blockade the coast of Cuba for the purpose of
preventing, among other things, any food-supply from reaching the
Spanish forces in Cuba. Under these circumstances it seems to me
unwise to let a ship-load of such supplies be sent to the
reconcentrados, for, in my opinion, they would be distributed to
the Spanish army. Until some point be occupied in Cuba by our
forces, from which such distribution can be made to those for whom
the supplies are intended, I am unwilling that they should be
landed on Cuban soil.

Yours very respectfully,

[Signed] W. T. SAMPSON,
Rear-Admiral U. S. N.,

Commander-in-Chief U. S. Naval Force, North Atlantic Station.

After this exchange of letters Miss Barton had a conference with Admiral
Sampson, in the course of which the latter explained more fully his
reasons for declining to allow the _State of Texas_ to enter any Cuban
port until such port had been occupied by American troops.

On May 3 Miss Barton sent the following telegram to Stephen E. Barton,
chairman of the Central Cuban Relief Committee in New York:

KEY WEST, May 3, 1898.
_Stephen E. Barton, Chairman, etc._:

Herewith I transmit copies of letters passed between Admiral
Sampson and myself. I think it important that you should present
immediately this correspondence personally to the government, as it
will place before them the exact situation here. The utmost
cordiality exists between Admiral Sampson and myself. The admiral

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Online LibraryGeorge KennanCampaigning in Cuba → online text (page 1 of 21)