CHAPTER X. The Preparation Of The Army

When one compares the conditions under which the Spanish American War was fought with those of the Great War, he feels himself living in a different age. Twenty years ago hysteria and sudden panics swept the nation. Cheers and waving handkerchiefs and laughing girls sped the troops on their way. It cannot be denied that the most popular song of the war time was "There'll be a hot time in the old town to-night," though it may be believed that the energy and swing of the music rather than the words made it so. The atmosphere of the country was one of a great national picnic where each one was expected to carry his own lunch. There was apparent none of the concentration of effort and of the calm foresight so necessary for efficiency in modern warfare. For youth the Spanish American War was a great adventure; for the nation it was a diversion sanctioned by a high purpose.

This abandon was doubtless in part due to a comfortable consciousness of the vast disparity in resources between Spain and the United States, which, it was supposed, meant automatically a corresponding difference in fighting strength. The United States did, indeed, have vast superiorities which rendered unnecessary any worry over many of the essentials which gripped the popular mind during the Great War. People believed that the country could supply the munitions needed, and that of facilities for transport it had enough. If the United States did not have at hand exactly the munitions needed, if the transportation system had not been built to launch an army into Cuba, it was popularly supposed that the wealth of the country rendered such trifles negligible, and that, if insufficient attention had been given to the study of such matters in the past, American ingenuity would quickly offset the lack of skilled military experience. The fact that American soldiers traveled in sleeping cars while European armies were transported in freight cars blinded Americans for a while to the significant fact that there was but a single track leading to Tampa, the principal point of embarkation for Cuba; and no one thought of building another.

Nothing so strongly marks the amateur character of the conduct of the Spanish War as the activity of the American press. The navy was dogged by press dispatch boats which revealed its every move. When Admiral Sampson started upon his cruise to San Juan, he requested the press boats to observe secrecy, and Admiral Chadwick comments with satisfaction upon the fact that this request was observed "fully and every person except one." When Lieutenant Whitney risked his life as a spy in order to investigate conditions in Porto Rico; his plans and purpose were blazoned in the press. Incredible as it may now seem, the newspaper men appear to have felt themselves part of the army. They offered their services as equals, and William Randolph Hearst even ordered one of his staff to sink a vessel in the Suez Canal to delay Camara on his expedition against Dewey. This order, fortunately for the international reputation of the United States, was not executed. With all their blare and childish enthusiasm, the reporters do not seem to have been so successful in revealing to Americans the plans of Spain as they were in furnishing her with itemized accounts of all the doings of the American forces.

While the press not only revealed but formulated courses of action in the case of the army, the navy, at least, was able to follow its own plans. For this difference there were several causes, chief of which was the fact that the navy was a fully professional arm, ready for action both in equipment and in plans, and able to take a prompt initiative in carrying out an aggressive campaign. The War Department had a more difficult task in adjusting itself to the new conditions brought about by the Spanish American War. The army was made up on the principle traditionally held in the United States that the available army force in time of peace should be just sufficient for the purposes of peace, and that it should be enlarged in time of war. To allow a fair amount of expansion without too much disturbance to the organization in increasing to war strength, the regular army was over-officered in peace times. The chief reliance in war was placed upon the militia. The organization and training of this force was left, however, under a few very general directions, to the various States. As a result, its quality varied and it was nowhere highly efficient in the military sense. Some regiments, it is true, were impressive on parade, but almost none of the officers knew anything of actual modern warfare. There had been no preliminary sifting of ability in the army, and it was only as experience gave the test that the capable and informed were called into positions of importance. In fact, the training of the regular officers was inferior to that of the naval officers. West Point and Annapolis were both excellent in the quality of their instruction, but what they offered amounted only to a college course, and in the army there was no provision for systematic graduate study corresponding to the Naval War College at Newport.

These difficulties and deficiencies, however, cannot fully explain the woeful inferiority of the army to the navy in preparedness. Fundamentally the defect was at the top. Russell A. Alger, the Secretary of War, was a veteran of the Civil War and a silver-voiced orator, but his book on the "Spanish-American War," which was intended as a vindication of his record, proves that even eighteen months of as grueling denunciation as any American official has ever received could not enlighten him as to what were the functions of his office. Nor did he correct or supplement his own incompetence by seeking professional advice. There existed no general staff, and it did not occur to him, as it did to Secretary Long, to create one to advise him unofficially. He was on bad terms with Major General Nelson A. Miles, who was the general in command. He discussed even the details of questions of army strategy, not only with Miles but with the President and members of the Cabinet. One of the most extraordinary decisions made during his tenure of office was that the act of the 9th of March, appropriating $50,000,000 "for national defense," forbade money to be spent or even contracts to be made by the quartermaster, the commissary, or the surgeon general. In his book Secretary Alger records with pride the fact that all this money was spent for coast defense. In view of the fact that the navy did its task, this expenditure was absolutely unnecessary and served merely to solace coast cities and munition makers.

The regular army on April 1, 1898, consisted of 28,183 officers and men. An act of the 26th of April authorized its increase to about double that size. As enlistment was fairly prompt, by August the army consisted of 56,365 officers and men, the number of officers being but slightly increased. It was decided not to use the militia as it was then organized, but to rely for numbers as usual chiefly upon a volunteer army, authorized by the Act of the 22d of April, and by subsequent acts raised to a total of 200,000, with an additional 3000 cavalry, 3500 engineers, and 10,000 "immunes," or men supposed not to be liable to tropical diseases. The war seemed equally popular all over the country, and the million who offered themselves for service were sufficient to allow due consideration for equitable state quotas and for physical fitness. There were also sufficient Krag-Jorgensen rifles to arm the increased regular army and Springfields for the volunteers.

To provide an adequate number of officers for the volunteer army was more difficult. Even though a considerable number were transferred from the regular to the volunteer army, they constituted only a small proportion of the whole number necessary. Some few of those appointed were graduates of West Point, and more had been in the militia. The great majority, however, had purely amateur experience, and many not even so much. Those who did know something, moreover, did not have the same knowledge or experience. This raw material was given no officer training whatsoever but was turned directly to the task of training the rank and file. Nor were the appointments of new officers confined to the lower ranks. The country, still mindful of its earlier wars, was charmed with the sentimental elevation of confederate generals to the rank of major general in the new army, though a public better informed would hardly have welcomed for service in the tropics the selection of men old enough to be generals in 1865 and then for thirty-three years without military experience in an age of great development in the methods of warfare. The other commanding officers were as old and were mostly chosen by seniority in a service retiring at sixty-four. The unwonted strain of active service naturally proved too great. At the most critical moment of the campaign in Cuba, the commanding general, William R. Shafter, had eaten nothing for four days, and his plucky second in command, the wiry Georgian cavalry leader of 1864 and 1865, General "Joe" Wheeler, was not physically fit to succeed him. There is not the least doubt that the fighting spirit of the men was strong and did not fail, but the defect in those branches of knowledge which are required to keep an army fit to fight is equally certain. The primary cause for the melting of the American army by disease must be acknowledged to be the insufficient training of the officers.

This hit or miss method, however, had its compensations, for it brought about some appointments of unusual merit. Conspicuous were those of Colonel Leonard Wood and Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. The latter had resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a position in which he had contributed a great deal to the efficiency of that Department, in order to take a more tangible part in the war. After raising among his friends and the cowboys of the West a regiment of "Rough Riders," he declined its command on plea of military inexperience. Roosevelt made one of those happy choices which are a mark of his administrative ability in selecting as colonel Leonard Wood, an army surgeon whose quality he knew through common experiences in the West.

To send into a midsummer tropical jungle an American army, untrained to take care of its health, for the most part clothed in the regulation army woolens, and tumbled together in two months, was an undertaking which-could be justified only on the ground that the national safety demanded immediate action. In 1898, however, it seemed to be universally taken for granted by people and administration, by professional soldier as well as by public sentiment, that the army must invade Cuba without regard to its fitness for such active service. The responsibility for this decision must rest upon the nation. The experience of centuries had proved conspicuously that climate was the strongest defense of the Caribbean islands against invasion, and it was in large measure the very sacrifice of so many American soldiers that induced the study of tropical diseases. In 1898 it could hardly be expected that the American command, inexperienced and eager for action, should have recognized the mosquito as the carrier of yellow fever and the real enemy, or should have realized the necessity of protecting the soldiers by inoculation against typhoid fever.

Fixed as was the determination to send an army into Cuba at the earliest possible moment, there had been a wide diversity of opinion as to what should be the particular objective. General Miles wavered between the choice of the island of Porto Rico and Puerto Principe, a city in the interior and somewhat east of the middle of Cuba; the Department hesitated between Tunas on the south coast of Cuba, within touch of the insurgents, and Mariel on the north, the seizure of which would be the first step in a siege of Havana. The situation at Santiago, however, made that city the logical objective of the troops, and on the 31st of May, General Shafter was ordered to be prepared to move. On the 7th of June he was ordered to sail with "not less than 10,000 men," but an alarming, though unfounded, rumor of a Spanish squadron off the north coast of Cuba delayed the expedition until the 14th. With an army of seventeen thousand on thirty-two transports, and accompanied by eighty-nine newspaper correspondents, Shafter arrived on the 20th of June off Santiago.

The Spanish troops in Cuba - the American control of the sea made it unnecessary to consider those available in Spain - amounted, according to returns in April, 1898, to 196,820. This formidable number, however, was not available at any one strategic spot owing to the difficulty of transporting either troops or supplies, particularly at the eastern end of the island, in the neighborhood of Santiago. It was estimated that the number of men of use about Santiago was about 12,000, with 5000 approaching to assist. Perhaps 3000 insurgents were at hand under General Garcia. The number sent, then, was not inadequate to the task. Equal numbers are not, indeed, ordinarily considered sufficient for an offensive campaign against fortifications, but the American commanders counted upon a difference in morale between the two armies, which was justified by results. Besides the American Army could be reinforced as necessity arose.