Read CHAPTER XVIII - The "Yankee" Arrives Off Santigo of A Gunner Aboard the "Yankee", free online book, by Russell Doubleday, on

On the twenty-first of July the “Yankee” arrived off Santiago. The “Brooklyn” was the only warship on guard, and the absence of that grim line of drab-colored ships changed the whole appearance of the coast. The “Brooklyn” seemed lonely, though she rode the seas proudly. “See,” she seemed to say, “I am monarch of all I survey”; and she looked every inch a queen, as she swayed slowly in the long ground swell, her ensign snapping in the brisk breeze and Admiral Schley’s flag standing out like a board. From our proximity to the shore we were enabled to obtain a better view than before. Old Morro Castle, perched above the mouth of the channel, seemed battered and forlorn. The Stars and Stripes floated on high exultingly from the very staff that formerly bore the Spanish colors, and we thrilled when we saw it. The wreck of the “Reina Mercedes” could be plainly made out, and beyond her could also be seen the masts and stack of the “Merrimac” a monument to American heroism.

With the U.S.S. “Yankton” (which had run out of coal) in tow, we proceeded to Guantanamo. While entering the bay, the first fleet of transports bearing troops for the invasion of Porto Rico was encountered. Inside the harbor a vast squadron of American ships lay at anchor some forty vessels in all. The spectacle of such a mighty fleet bearing our beloved colors was indeed inspiring.

We found the “Iowa,” “Massachusetts,” “Indiana,” “Oregon,” “Texas,” “New York,” “Marblehead,” “Detroit,” “Newark,” “Porter,” “Terror,” “Gloucester,” the repair ship “Vulcan,” several despatch boats and colliers in the bay. Two gunboats and several steamers captured at Santiago also bore the American colors.

Such a fleet many an important port has never seen, and in New York harbor would draw immense crowds. Here the spectacle was wasted on unappreciative Cubans.

The bay presented a lively appearance with the innumerable little launches and despatch boats darting about from ship to ship. Vessels went alongside sailing colliers to have their bunkers replenished; other ships entered or left at all hours; signals were continually flying from the flagship; occasionally a Spanish launch bearing a flag of truce would come down from the town, and in the midst of it all the crews of the different men-of-war worked on in the accustomed routine, as if peace and war, drills and fighting, were all a part of man’s ordinary existence.

Over a month ago we had sailed into this harbor with the “Marblehead”; the ship cleared for action, the crews at their loaded guns, and the battle ensigns flying from fore and mainmast, as well as from taffrail. This time we entered the bay with a feeling that we were to take part in a great naval spectacle.

As soon as we joined the fleet we became amenable to fleet discipline. All orders for routine work came from the flagship. “Quarters” were held but twice a day instead of three times, and then they were short and, therefore, sweet.

Each morning at eight o’clock, when a war vessel is in port, the bugler plays “colors,” while the drummer beats three rolls; those of the crew who are under the open sky stand at attention, silent, facing aft, where the flag is being hauled slowly to its place. At the completion of the call all hands salute; then the work is carried on. It is a beautiful ceremony.

Saluting the “colors” morning and evening is not merely a mark of respect for the Government of the nation, but is an act of worship to the God of nations a silent prayer for guidance and care and an expression of thankfulness.

Shortly after “colors” the morning following our arrival at Guantanamo, orders were given to “turn to” on the ammunition. Launches and barges from other warships came alongside, and the charges of powder and the shells were transferred to them.

When this cargo of deadly explosive began to come aboard a “magazine watch” was set. The ammunition was stowed in all parts of the ship forward, main, and after holds were filled. A watch was set on each of the holds. It was their duty to watch the temperature day and night and to report the same to the officer of the deck every half hour. Extreme care was taken to guard against fire. In case fire was discovered, it was the duty of the man on watch to run and turn on the water the key for the valve which regulated this being always carried on his wrist. Then he must notify the officer of the deck, shouting “fire” as he went, after which he must go back and with the hose endeavor to put out the blaze.

Constant, wide-awake, alert watchfulness was necessary. It was hot and close below, and at night it was almost impossible to keep awake. It is difficult enough to keep wide awake for an hour’s lookout on deck, when there is much to see and the air is brisk and invigorating, but it is quite a different matter to be roused in the middle of the night to stand two hours’ watch in a close, hot hold, where nothing more interesting than cases of powder and the bare, blank sides of the ship are to be seen.

At first, the knowledge that the lives of all on board and the safety of the ship herself depended on the alertness of the watch, kept us wide awake and anxious, but as time went on, it grew harder and harder to resist nature’s demand for sleep; therefore, when the order was given to unload the ammunition, none were gladder than the men of the “magazine watches.”

After evening mess the boatswain’s mate he got his orders from the bridge came aft, shouting as he walked, “All you men who want to go in swimming may do so right away.”

There was no doubt as to the popularity of that order. “All we men” wanted to go in swimming, and that right away. In a jiffy, white figures began to drop over the side with a splash, and soon shouts of glee filled the air. The water was warm and clear as crystal, and so dense with salt that a man diving, came up like a cork. In fifteen minutes the order “Knock off swimming” was passed, and though we left the water with reluctance, obedience was prompt, lest the privilege might not again be accorded us.

After hammocks had been given out, boats hoisted all the work of the day finished, in fact most of the men gathered aft to hear the band of the “Oregon” play. It was a volunteer band; that is, the musicians were enlisted men, not assigned for the band. They played with vim and precision.

It was almost dark; only the ships’ outlines could be made out. The red and white signal lights twinkled at intervals at the mastheads of different vessels, while beams of light showed on the still, dark water from open ports. The whole fleet lay quiet while the men listened to the strains of music from the “Oregon.” It was more like the rendezvous of a cruising yacht club than a fleet of warships gathered in the enemy’s country.

The music from the battleship ceased, and for a moment all was still save for the lapping of the water against the ships’ sides and the splash of a fish as it leaped out of water.

Suddenly and together, a shrill piping on all the ships broke the silence, followed by the hoarse cry, “All the anchor watch to muster.”

On all men-of-war at eight o’clock, the anchor watch is mustered. It consists of sixteen men eight on duty from nine till one o’clock, the other eight from one till “all hands” at 5:30. The first part always calls its relief at one o’clock.

The mustering over, all flocked aft to hear the band again, but were disappointed, for the concert was over.

However, the men had come aft for music and music they must have in some shape.

So “Steve” the modest was dragged out, and after some persuasion sang the following to the tune of “Lou, Lou, How I Love Ma Lou.” “Baron,” the gunner’s mate, accompanied him on the mandolin, and Eickmann, the marine corporal, helped out with his guitar.

“’Way down at the Brooklyn navy yard,
Where ships are rigged for sea,
Three hundred little ‘heroes’
Went aboard the old ‘Yankee.’
Oh! we were young and foolish,
We longed for Spanish gore,
And so they set us working
As we never worked before.

“Hard-tack and salt-horse every day,
Work, slave, for mighty little pay;
And just before we get to sleep
We hear the bosun pipe like this
‘Up all hammocks, all hands.’

“They turn us out each morning,
To scrub our working clothes;
To polish guns and bright work,
To ‘light’ along the hose.
To wash down decks and ladders,
To coil down miles of rope,
To carry coal in baskets,
To live on air and hope.

“Hard-tack and salt-horse every day,
Work, slave, for mighty little pay;
And when we think our work is done
We hear the bosun pipe like this
‘Turn to.’

“Way down at Santiago,
We fit the forts one day.
The shells were bursting o’er us,
There was the deuce to pay.
We hid our inclination
To run and hide below,
Because we’re little ‘heroes,’
They’ve often told us so.


“Hard-tack and salt-horse every day,
Work, slave, for mighty little pay;
And just as all the fight was over
We heard the bosun pipe like this
’Gun-deck sweepers, clean sweep fore and aft.
Sweepers, clean your spit kits.’

“One Saturday we anchored
Just off the Isle of Pines,
To load up with pineapples,
And look for Spanish signs.
We called away the cutters,
With seamen filled them up,
And captured five small sailboats,
Two Spaniards and a pup.


“Hard-tack and salt-horse every day,
Work, slave, for mighty little pay;
And when we’d like to talk it over
We heard the bosun pipe this
‘Pipe down.’”

“That’s great!” said one and all.

“There is just time for the ‘Intermezzo’ before tattoo, ‘Baron,’” said “Pair o’ Pants,” the signal boy. “Give it to us, will you?”

“Baron” obligingly complied.

The boys lay around in comfortable, though ungraceful, attitudes, a small but appreciative audience.

As the last high note died away the ship’s bugler began that lovely call, “tattoo.” We listened in silence, for though we had heard it many times, it was always a delight to us. Then, too, it meant rest (not a drug in the market by any means). Every ship’s crew in the harbor, at the same moment was listening to the call blown by their own bugler.

The men tumbled below and began to prepare for the voyage to dreamland.

Five minutes later, when the sleepy “taps” sounded, the decks were almost deserted save for the hammocks, which looked like huge cocoons swung horizontally.

The following days till Sunday were spent in unloading powder and shell. The six and eight-inch charges of powder and the shell were lifted by hand and slid down chutes to the barges alongside. To handle the powder and shell for the thirteen-inch guns, steam was called into service; the thirteen-inch charges being lowered into the waiting boat, by the aid of the cargo boom and steam winch.

This work was hard and the heat trying, but it was accomplished with good grace, for we were glad to get rid of the dangerous stuff.

Sunday, after the usual inspection, several visiting lists were arranged, the most popular being that for the “Oregon.” We all wanted to inspect that wonderful ship. Visiting is generally conducted on Sunday or after dark. The word is passed for those who wish to visit a certain ship to “lay aft and report to the officer of the deck.” The party, all in clean clothes, are taken to the vessel designated and lined up. After being counted they are allowed to go forward, where they yarn to their heart’s content until the word is given by the boatswain’s mate for them to muster aft again.

The “visiting party” to Uncle Sam’s bulldog was cordially received and shown all over. The great battleship was as clean and neat as a new pin. She looked as if she had just come out of her builders’ hands. Paint work spotless, brass work shining, engines fairly dazzling in their brightness. The crew contented and full of enthusiasm for their ship and commander gallant Captain Clark!

We saw the guns that helped to lay low Cervera’s splendid fleet and we saw “the men behind the guns.”

Our attention was called to a Jacky sewing on a blue shirt.

“Do you see that man over there?” said our guide.

We answered “Yes.”

“Well, that’s the chap that blew up one of the torpedo boats.”

“Is that so? Tell us about it.” We gazed open-mouthed at the gunner as he sat cross-legged on the deck, sewing with all his might.

“Yes, that’s the chap. You see, the Spaniard was coming in our direction, and coming like greased lightning. The six-pounders on the superstructure had not been able to stop her, and things began to be interesting ”

“Yes,” we gasped, breathlessly, as he stopped to light his pipe.

“Well, as I was saying, the blooming torpedo boat came nearer and nearer, and did not seem to mind the hail of six-pounders any more than a duck does the rain. I dunno why, for she had no protection that a sixer would not penetrate.

“It got to be blamed exciting, when the officer of the division said to that feller over there, who was a captain of an eight-inch rifle, ’Try your hand at it.’

“Bill said, ‘Aye, aye, sir, give me time and I’ll plunk her sure.’ All this time the sneaking craft was coming nearer and nearer. Bill adjusted his sight and looked and looked, but still did not fire.

“‘For heaven’s sake, hurry up!’ said the division officer, getting nervous.

“‘In a minute, sir,’ said Bill. ‘As soon as I get a good bead.’

“He was as cool as an ice machine, and as deliberate as an old hen, but he could shoot, so we held ourselves in as best we could and watched. After waiting for what seemed an hour, Bill pulled the lanyard and the old gun roared. As soon as the smoke cleared away, we looked to see the result of the shot. There was some wreckage floating where the torpedo boat had been that was all. Bill’s shot went home, and exploded in the boiler room, and the whole craft went up in an instant.”

We looked again admiringly at the man sitting there so unconcernedly, and then in obedience to the boatswain’s call, went aft and aboard our cutter.

All the ammunition for the fleet was unloaded by Tuesday. We still carried a small quantity of both powder and shell for the “Massachusetts.”

Tuesday afternoon we anchored alongside the sailing collier “Frank A. Palmer,” and began to coal. The “Yankee’s” sister ship “Prairie,” manned by the Massachusetts Naval Reserves, lay on the other side; we exchanged visits and found them good fellows, and we yarned away to our heart’s content.

We had now become, in a degree, used to coaling; our muscles were hardened and some long-needed labor-saving devices had been introduced, so the work was a little easier.

Coaling continued till Friday night. During the morning of that day we were told that if two hundred tons were put aboard, a chance would be given us on the morrow to see the wrecks of Cervera’s once fine vessels. It was all the incentive we needed, and the coal came aboard in a steady stream. A little after seven the required amount was in the bunkers, and by eight o’clock the stages and other coaling paraphernalia were stowed away and the “Yankee” had cast loose and was anchored by herself.

The following morning dawned bright and clear. Admiral Sampson came aboard at 8:30. We manned the “cat falls” and got under way at once.

On the way down to the wrecks, the ship was cleaned, so by the time we reached the ruins of the Spanish vessels, the “Yankee” was spick and span.

We passed the wrecks of the two torpedo boats, passed the mouth of Santiago harbor, till finally we came to the “Almirante Oquendo” and the “Maria Teresa,” fifteen miles west of old Morro.

The two wrecks lay close together. They were a melancholy sight; the “Almirante Oquendo,” badly listed to port, a great rent in her side, rusted, almost completely demolished. The “Maria Teresa” seemed in better shape, but many shot holes were visible in her side.

It was a dreary though gratifying sight. The great green-clothed mountains looked down serenely on these two examples of man’s handiwork and man’s destructiveness; the blue sea dashed itself to foam against the coral-bound coast; and the bright sun shone over all.

The admiral went over in our gig, together with the captain and executive officer. Several other boats went along, carrying, beside the regular crews, commissioned and chief petty officers.

As we watched the boats bobbing in the short billows on their way, we, who were left behind, could not help comparing these battered hulks before us with our magnificent ships in Guantanamo Bay.

All hail to the American seamen, “the men behind the guns”!