Read CHAPTER X - We bombard Santiago de Cuba of A Gunner Aboard the "Yankee", free online book, by Russell Doubleday, on

The after wheel-house on board the “Yankee” was a round structure of steel built on the spar deck directly over the counter. It contained a steering wheel to be used in case the wheel in the pilot-house should be disabled. When the chill winds of May and early June were blowing off the northern coast during the “Yankee’s” period of cruising in that vicinity, the after wheel-house formed a snug and comfortable retreat for the men of the watch.

It was freely used for that purpose until the navigator chanced to discover the fact. He forthwith issued orders forbidding any person to enter the house, except on duty. His order, like many others, received respectful consideration when he happened to be looking. In the present case we were so eager to hear the conclusion of the stories being related by the rival yarn-spinners, that we were fain to brave “Cutlets’” displeasure. Led by Bill and Tom, we piled inside.

“What I was trying to say,” spoke up the former, getting the first opening, “was that when Patrick reached the top of the stairs, something struck him full in the chest, and two hairy arms were thrown about his neck. The sudden shock sent him tumbling backward, and he fell kerflop! down the steps. Up above, his wife was howling to beat the band, ’Mike, Mike, ye spalpane! You do be killing your poor father. Och! why did I live to see this day?’ In the meantime the real Mike for the one inside was the escaped monk from the menagerie had scooted for the police. They came, a half dozen of them, and as they entered the front door ”

“Time!” chuckled “Stump.” “Give Tom a chance.”

“As I opened the front door of the little wooden house where we had placed the body,” said Tom, prompt to take advantage of the opportunity, “I saw two gleaming eyes glaring at me from the inner room. I tell you, my heart fell clean down into my boots.”

“Should think it would,” muttered the “Kid,” peering about the wheel-house with a shiver. “Ugh!”

“I dropped the lantern,” resumed Tom, “and staggered back. Just then a ”

“Half dozen policemen entered the front door just as Patrick and the supposed Mike reached the bottom of the stairs,” broke in Bill, taking up the thread of his story. “Well, when the Irish coppers saw Pat with the monk hanging around his neck they thought the old Nick had him. They started to run, but the old woman reached the lower floor in time to see both Mike and the monkey. She grabbed a broom, but the monk slipped through the front door, and ”

“That’s the end of your story. And a good job it is too,” remarked Tom.

“It is better than having no end,” retorted Bill. “You spin out a yarn to beat the band.”

“It’s getting late,” spoke up “Hod,” yawning. “If you fellows are going to chew the rag all night I ”

“Only a word more,” interrupted Tom. “As I staggered back I fell into the arms of the nurse, who had come down to see what kept me. I explained in a hurry, and he lit a match. We both went in and discovered ”

“Sh-h-h! Get out of here, you fellows,” suddenly spoke up a voice at the door on the starboard side. “Here comes ’Cutlets’!”

There was a scramble for the opposite door, and in much less time than is taken in the telling, the wheel-house was empty. We huddled in the shadows for a moment; then dodged forward. As we reached the hatch I heard the “Kid” ask Tom:

“Say, what was it you saw? Tell a fellow, won’t you?”

“Two brass knobs on an old chest,” was the calm reply.


The following day being Sunday, was given over to rest and recreation and the writing of letters, until late in the afternoon. The day dawned clear but very warm. There was very little breeze stirring, and the spar and gun decks, where we spent the most of our time, were almost stifling. “Corking mats,” as they are termed in naval parlance, were very much in evidence. The sailor’s “corking mat” is a strip of canvas which he spreads upon the deck to protect his clothing from the tarry seams, when he feels the necessity for a siesta or nap, which is quite often.

Toward evening we were put to work at a task which gave welcome promise of coming action. Under the direction of the executive officer we broke out a number of bags of coal from the orlop deck and piled them five deep, and about the same number in height, around the steam steering engine under the forward wheel-house. This was to give added protection to a vital part of the ship.

The work was hard and unpleasant, especially to men who had not spent the major portion of their lives at manual labor, but it was one of those disagreeable fortunes of war to which we were growing accustomed, and we toiled without comment. That night when we turned in, that is, those who were fortunate enough to have the “off watch,” it was generally rumored about the decks that the fleet would surely bombard early the following morning.

About two bells (five o’clock) the different guns’ crews, who were sleeping at the batteries, were called by the boatswain’s mates, and told to go to breakfast at once.

“It’s coming,” exclaimed “Hay,” joyfully. “The old ‘Yankee’ will see her real baptism of fire to-day. ‘Kid,’ you young rat, you’ll have a chance to dodge shells before you are many hours older.”

“You may get a chance to stop one,” retorted the boy.

After a hurried meal, word to clear ship for action was passed, and the “Yankee’s” boys set to work with a vim. The task was done more thoroughly than usual. The boats and wooden hatches were covered with canvas, everything portable that would splinter was sent below, the decks were sanded, and all the inflammable oils were placed in a boat and set adrift for the “Justin,” one of the colliers, to pick up.

The day seemed fitted for the work we had in hand. The sky was overcast, and occasionally a rain squall would sweep from the direction of the land, and envelop the fleet. It was not a cold, raw rain, like that encountered in more northern latitudes in early summer, but a dripping of moisture peculiarly grateful after the heat of the previous day.

Shortly before seven o’clock, the members of the crew were in readiness for business. The majority had removed their superfluous clothing, and it was a stirring sight to watch the different guns’ crews, stripped to the waist and barefooted, standing at their stations. There was something in the cool, practical manner in which each man prepared for work that promised well, and it should be said to the everlasting credit of the Naval Reserves that they invariably fought with the calmness and precision of veterans whenever they were called upon.

In the present case, there would have been some excuse for faint-heartedness. The crew of the “Yankee,” made up of men whose previous lives had been those of absolute peace, who had never heard a shot fired in anger before their arrival at Santiago, who had left home and business in defence of the flag these men went about their preparations for attacking the fortifications with as little apparent concern as if it were simply a yachting trip.

There was no holding back, no hesitancy, no looks of concern or anxiety, but when the signal to advance inshore appeared on the “New York,” at six bells (seven o’clock), there was a feeling of relief that the time of waiting was over.

We were to be in it at last.

The flagship’s signal to advance in formation was obeyed at once. Moving in double column, the fleet stood in toward the batteries. The first line, as we saw from the after port, was composed of the “Brooklyn,” “Texas,” “Massachusetts,” and “Marblehead.” The line to which the “Yankee” was attached, included, besides that vessel, the “New York,” “Oregon,” “Iowa,” and “New Orleans.” When within three thousand yards from shore, the first line turned toward the west, leaving us to steam in the opposite direction.

The batteries ashore could now be plainly distinguished. Morro Castle, grim and defiant, seemed to ignore our coming, if the absence of life was any proof. Lower down on the other side of the entrance where the Estrella and Catalena batteries were located, there seemed to be more activity. Men could also be seen running about in some new batteries a little to the eastward of Morro Castle. It was evident to us at once that the enemy had not anticipated an attack on such a rainy, windy day.

On swept the two lines of ships without firing a shot until they formed a semicircle, with the heavier vessels directly facing the forts; then the “New York” opened fire with one of her heavy guns, the “Iowa” following immediately. At this moment, 7:45 a.m., the ships were arranged as follows, counting from the right: “New York,” “Yankee,” “New Orleans,” “Massachusetts,” “Oregon,” “Iowa,” “Indiana,” “Texas,” “Marblehead,” and “Brooklyn.” Guarding the extreme left were the “Vixen” and “Suwanee,” and doing similar duty on the other flank were the “Dolphin” and “Porter.”

The shot from the flagship was the signal for a general bombardment. There was no settled order of firing, but each ship just “pitched in,” to use a common expression, and banged away at the forts with every available gun.

The scene on the gun deck of the “Yankee” was one never to be forgotten. When the word to commence firing reached us, we sprang to the work at once. Each crew paid strict attention to its own station, and the routine of loading and firing went on with the regularity of clockwork. A number of boxes of the fixed ammunition had been “whipped” up from below while we were steaming into position, and there was no lack of death-dealing food for the hungry maws of the battery.

Not much could be seen of the outside at first, as the task in hand claimed our strict attention, but after a while an occasional glimpse was obtained of the other ships and the forts. The heavy battleships, the “Indiana,” “Oregon,” “Massachusetts,” “Iowa,” and “Texas,” were lost in the dense smoke of their guns. It was thrilling to see them, like moving clouds, emitting streams of fire which shot through the walls of vapor like flashes of lightning athwart a gloomy sky.

The noise was terrific. It seemed to gather at times in such an overwhelming, soul-stunning clamor of sound, that the very air was rent and split and shattered, and the senses refused further burden. There was no possibility of hearing the human voice, save at odd intervals when a brief cessation occurred in the firing. Orders were transmitted by gestures.

The smoke was thick and stifling, the saltpetre fumes filling the throat and lungs, until breathing was difficult. The dense bank of vapor enveloping the ship also rendered it almost impossible to aim with any accuracy. We of Number Eight gun were early impressed with this fact, and “Hay,” the second captain, exclaimed during a lull:

“It’s that fellow in charge of Number Six. He won’t give us any show. Just look how he’s working his crew. Did you ever see the beat of it?”

The captain of Number Six, a broker of considerable note in New York, a member of the Calumet Club, and the son of a distinguished captain in the Confederate navy, was fighting his gun with savage energy. Under his direction, and inspired by a running fire of comments from him, the different members of Number Six crew were literally pouring a hail of steel upon the batteries. The firing was so rapid, in fact, that it kept our port completely filled with smoke, much to our sorrow.

Notwithstanding that fact, “Hay,” the second captain of Number Eight, did such marvellous shooting, that word presently came from Captain Brownson on the bridge, publicly commending him. We were correspondingly elated, and worked all the harder.

It was not until we had been firing some time that we began to take particular note of our surroundings. At first the novelty of the situation and a state of excitement, natural under the circumstances, kept us absorbed in our duties, but when it became apparent that the engagement was to be a matter of hours and also that the Spaniards did not aim very well we commenced to look about.

One of the first things to strike me personally, and it was rather humorous, was the appearance of “Stump,” the second loader. Orders had early been given to avoid exposing ourselves to the enemy’s fire as much as possible. “Stump,” than whom no more daring and aggressive man could be found on board, thought it wise to obey, so he crouched behind the gun-mount and compressed himself so as to be out of range. From this position he had only to reach out one hand to train the gun, which was his special duty. Meanwhile, he continually urged “Hay” to keep on firing.

“Doesn’t make any difference whether you can see or not,” he exclaimed. “Shoot anyway. Give it to the beggars! That’s the ticket, old chap. Now another. Whoop! did you see that land? Ah-h-h! we are the people.”

As the novelty of the scene gradually wore off we began to enjoy it hugely. We pumped away at the guns, commenting freely on the enemy’s marksmanship. We felt more like a party watching a fireworks display than the crew of a warship engaged in bombarding a number of forts.

The two lines were steaming back and forth in front of the batteries, firing as the guns would bear. At first, Morro Castle and the smaller forts maintained a spirited fire, but finally their response to our fusillade slackened considerably, and it became evident that they had been driven from their guns.

The difference in aim between the Spanish gunners and ours was very perceptible. Their shells invariably passed over the ships or landed short, and at no time during the engagement were any of the American vessels in imminent danger. This was not due to length of range either, as the lines were maintained at from two to four thousand yards. As Bill put it, “Any Dago that can’t hit a flock of barn doors like this fleet, had better go back home and hoe onions.”

The ships of our fleet also made better targets than did the batteries ashore. It was certainly easy to distinguish the position of each vessel, but as the Spanish batteries were nearly all situated a short distance back from the crest of the ridge with a background little different in color from that of the battery, we found it difficult to locate them at times. Our elevation had to be perfect, as with an inch or two below or above, the projectile would either vanish in the distance or take effect on the cliffs below the batteries.

We of Number Eight gun, when the “Yankee” was steaming with the starboard broadside bearing, managed to slip across the deck and watch the firing from the ports and deadlights. It was really beautiful to see the landing of the great shells upon the forts and surrounding earth. Some battered into the soft spots on the cliffs, sending huge masses of dirt and debris high into the air; then when the explosion came, there would follow a great cloud of dust resembling the wavering smoke over a city fire.

Others struck the harder portions of the cliff, bursting into a shower of fragments, each kicking up its own pother of dirt and shattered rock. At times a shell would land in a crack in the face of the hill, and immediately following would come an upheaval of stones. These boulders, many of them of immense size, would roll down the slope and splash in the water at the base, creating a series of fountain-like cascades.

Accompanying the display was a continuous roar of explosion and detonation that echoed and reechoed across the water like the pealing of tropical thunder. In fact, it was these noises, mingled with the fierce reports of our guns, which impressed us the most. Taking it all in all, the scene was spectacular in the extreme.

“Boys,” remarked N of our crew “Morrie,” we called him “this sight is worth all the coaling and standing watches and poor food we have had to put up with. I would experience it all over again just to see this bombardment.”

And we heartily agreed with him.

After a time it seemed as if the admiral was determined to plump shells into the vicinity of Santiago until there was nothing left to fire at. There had been a continuous outpouring of projectiles from the guns of the fleet for over an hour, yet that grim line of gray steel fortresses still passed and repassed in front of the forts.

It was really growing monotonous, when something occurred at the gun to which I was attached that served to give us an exciting minute or two. “Hay” had just fired a shot which caught one of the new batteries directly in the centre. The shell was extracted, and another inserted, but when the second captain pressed the electric firing lanyard, there was no report. The shell had missed fire.

“Long Tommy” reached forward to open the breech, but was stopped by a sharp order from the divisional officer.

“Don’t open that breech till I give the word,” he said.

The electrical connections were examined and the contacts scraped bright.

“Stand by,” said “Hay” finally; “let’s try her again.”

The great gun moved slowly on its pivot while “Hay” worked the elevating gear. The orders came sharp and clear through the roar of the cannon and the shriek of the shells.

As we watched our young gun captain, we saw his set face grow even more determined, and we knew that he had got his sight to suit him and that he was about to fire the gun.

With a gesture of disgust he threw down the firing lanyard.

“It’s no go,” he said, “that cartridge will have to come out.”

We looked at one another; it was a serious moment. The bombardment was now at its height, and the thunderous roaring of the guns was increasing with every passing second. Above and around us the vicious reports of the “Yankee’s” five-inch rapid-firers seemed like one continuous volley. A hoarse cheer came from a nearby ship, proclaiming the landing of some favored shot.

“Hurry, fellows,” shouted “Hay” in an ecstasy of impatience. “Lively there; we’re missing all the sport.”