APPENDIX B. COLONEL ROOSEVELT'S REPORT TO THE SECRETARY OF WAR OF SEPTEMBER 10th
[Before it was sent, this letter was read to and approved by every officer of the regiment who had served through the Santiago campaign.]
CAMP WIKOFF, September 10, 1898.
TO THE SECRETARY OF WAR.
SIR: In answer to the circular issued by command of Major-General Shafter under date of September 8, 1898, containing a request for information by the Adjutant-General of September 7th, I have the honor to report as follows:
I am a little in doubt whether the fact that on certain occasions my regiment suffered for food, etc., should be put down to an actual shortage of supplies or to general defects in the system of administration. Thus, when the regiment arrived in Tampa after a four days' journey by cars from its camp at San Antonio, it received no food whatever for twenty-four hours, and as the travel rations had been completely exhausted, food for several of the troops was purchased by their officers, who, of course, have not been reimbursed by the Government. In the same way we were short one or two meals at the time of embarking at Port Tampa on the transport; but this I think was due, not to a failure in the quantity of supplies, but to the lack of system in embarkation.
As with the other regiments, no information was given in advance what transports we should take, or how we should proceed to get aboard, nor did anyone exercise any supervision over the embarkation. Each regimental commander, so far as I know, was left to find out as best he could, after he was down at the dock, what transport had not been taken, and then to get his regiment aboard it, if he was able, before some other regiment got it. Our regiment was told to go to a certain switch, and take a train for Port Tampa at twelve o'clock, midnight. The train never came. After three hours of waiting we were sent to another switch, and finally at six o'clock in the morning got possession of some coal-cars and came down in them. When we reached the quay where the embarkation was proceeding, everything was in utter confusion. The quay was piled with stores and swarming with thousands of men of different regiments, besides onlookers, etc. The commanding General, when we at last found him, told Colonel Wood and myself that he did not know what ship we were to embark on, and that we must find Colonel Humphrey, the Quartermaster-General. Colonel Humphrey was not in his office, and nobody knew where he was. The commanders of the different regiments were busy trying to find him, while their troops waited in the trains, so as to discover the ships to which they were allotted - some of these ships being at the dock and some in mid-stream. After a couple of hours' search, Colonel Wood found Colonel Humphrey and was allotted a ship. Immediately afterward I found that it had already been allotted to two other regiments. It was then coming to the dock. Colonel Wood boarded it in mid-stream to keep possession, while I double-quicked the men down from the cars and got there just ahead of the other two regiments. One of these regiments, I was afterward informed, spent the next thirty-six hours in cars in consequence. We suffered nothing beyond the loss of a couple of meals, which, it seems to me, can hardly be put down to any failure in the quantity of supplies furnished to the troops.
We were two weeks on the troop-ship Yucatan, and as we were given twelve days' travel rations, we of course fell short toward the end of the trip, but eked things out with some of our field rations and troop stuff. The quality of the travel rations given to us was good, except in the important item of meat. The canned roast beef is worse than a failure as part of the rations, for in effect it amounts to reducing the rations by just so much, as a great majority of the men find it uneatable. It was coarse, stringy, tasteless, and very disagreeable in appearance, and so unpalatable that the effort to eat it made some of the men sick. Most of the men preferred to be hungry rather than eat it. If cooked in a stew with plenty of onions and potatoes - i.e., if only one ingredient in a dish with other more savory ingredients - it could be eaten, especially if well salted and peppered; but, as usual (what I regard as a great mistake), no salt was issued with the travel rations, and of course no potatoes and onions. There were no cooking facilities on the transport. When the men obtained any, it was by bribing the cook. Toward the last, when they began to draw on the field rations, they had to eat the bacon raw. On the return trip the same difficulty in rations obtained. - i.e., the rations were short because the men could not eat the canned roast beef, and had no salt. We purchased of the ship's supplies some flour and pork and a little rice for the men, so as to relieve the shortage as much as possible, and individual sick men were helped from private sources by officers, who themselves ate what they had purchased in Santiago. As nine-tenths of the men were more or less sick, the unattractiveness of the travel rations was doubly unfortunate. It would have been an excellent thing for their health if we could have had onions and potatoes, and means for cooking them. Moreover, the water was very bad, and sometimes a cask was struck that was positively undrinkable. The lack of ice for the weak and sickly men was very much felt. Fortunately there was no epidemic, for there was not a place on the ship where patients could have been isolated.