« PreviousContinue »
That voyage through “the sapphire seas" was an experience which impressed every one. Not a man on the transport knew where the ship was going. It might be Cuba. It might be Porto Rico. They knew only that they were ordered forward by their Government, and they brought their lives in their hands as they hurried to obey. They were young and strong, eager to face what lay hidden before them. Sometimes they talked of what they might do in the future; sometimes they lounged in groups and told stories of their previous lives in all conceivable environments, or sang through the evening hours. “The officers, too,” says Colonel Roosevelt, in one of his books, "had many strange experiences to relate. None had been through what was better worth telling or could tell it better than Capron. He was a great rifle-shot and wolf-hunter. He had handled his scouts, and dealt with the 'broncho' Indians, the renegades from the tribes. He knew, so far as a white man could know, their ways of thought, and how to humor them. His training and temper had fitted him to do great work in war; and he looked forward with confidence to what the future held. Death was the prize he drew.
“Most of the men had simple souls. They could relate facts, but they said very little about what they dimly felt. Buckey O'Neill, however, the iron-nerved, iron-willed fighter from Arizona, the sheriff whose name was a byword of terror to every wrong-doer, white or red, the gambler who with unmoved face would stake and lose every dollar he had in the world—he alone among his comrades was a visionary, an articulate emotionalist. He was very quiet about it, never talking unless sure of his listener; but at night when we leaned on the railing to look at the Southern Cross, he was apt to speak of the mysteries that lie behind courage, behind animal hatred and animal lust for the pleasures that have tangible shape.”
They had a good deal of trouble with the transports. One was towing a schooner and another a scow. Both kept lagging behind. Finally, when they had gone nearly the length of Cuba, the transport with the schooner fell very far behind, and then the Yucatan was ordered to drop out of the line and keep the laggard company. Loaded with soldiers, wholly helpless to defend themselves in case of attack, entirely at the mercy of every round shot that might be hurled toward them, these two crowded ships, guarded by a single gunboat, the Bancroft, plunged ahead through the night, and finally overtook the rest of the fleet just as the latter turned sharp to the southwest—and then every one knew Santiago de Cuba was their destination.
They came close to the coast on the morning of June 20, passed Guantanamo, where just ten days before the marines had gained a footing at Crest Heights, and had given loyal American blood that the islanders might be free. The big ships, guarding the mouth of the harbor, had driven all Spanish forces from the shore north of Santiago, and the transports could at least be secure from attack while unloading. And there disembarking was accomplished. Close under the mighty bluffs that seemed to rise almost from the beach, lay the squalid little town of Daiquiri. There are mines of iron ore all around it, and a railway runs to Santiago. The place had strategic advantages. But the landing itself was a scramble—each commander taking care of himself and his men. There was still a woeful lack of system and of effective general leadership. The fleet had less than a fourth the number of row-boats that were required for handling