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Report of Lieut. Guy C.M. Godfrey, Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Army, in Command of the Ambulance Company, First Division, Fifth Army Corps

Spanish - American War



Dated July 28, 1898

As commanding officer of the Hospital Corps company of the First Division, Fifth Army Corps, I have the honor to submit the following report:

This company was organized at Tampa, Fla., on June 5, 1898, just two days previous to the departure of the troops of the First Division for the transports at Port Tampa, Fla. On the day of organization the strength of the company was 18 privates. No noncommissioned officer was assigned to it until June 7, 1898, when Acting Hospital Steward McGuire reported for duty,

When the order came to move the men of the company performed the work necessary thereto, and the enthusiasm and esprit de corps with which they labored added greatly to the celerity and facility with which the task was accomplished. The personnel and supplies of the division hospital, as well as the hospital company, was placed on board the transport Santiago, and arrived off the coast of Cuba, near Santiago, on June 20, 1898. The day before landing all of the material was brought up from the hold by the men of the company and stored on the main deck of the ship near the forward starboard port. This was done by direction of Maj. M. W. Wood, chief surgeon of this division, and proved a wise and efficient measure.

We landed on June 25 at Siboney, Cuba, and pitched camp on the beach. On this day 13 of the privates of the hospital corps of the Seventy-first New York Volunteers joined the company. During the night of June 25 Acting Hospital Steward McGuire and five of the men worked all night unloading the material for the hospital and storing it upon the beach under canvas. This was done by using small boats drawn by steam launches, and, owing to the high swell, it was at times quite dangerous. On several occasions the men narrowly missed injury from falling boxes.

On June 25 the mien were given a short drill to perfect organization. Hurried preparations were made for a forward movement, and as absolutely no transportation could be obtained from the quartermaster's department, these preparations consisted principally in selecting such necessary dressings and drugs as the men could carry on their backs and litters. On the 27th the First Division moved forward, and the hospital company followed in rear of the Third Brigade, taking the ridge road toward Sevilla. Owing to the possibility of an immediate skirmish or battle none of the medical officers rode their horses, but made pack mules of them and carried as large a number of dressings, etc., as they could. The division camped in column of brigades, and the hospital company and division hospital pitched camp near the headquarters of the division commander. On the following morning 20 men and the steward and 2 medical officers returned to Siboney, and brought up 4 litters and as many medical supplies as possible, returning about 2 o'clock p. m. After a soaking rain the company broke camp and was ordered to move forward 2 miles. This they did, marching over, a rocky yet muddy road, carrying the hospital supplies with them. They pitched their shelter tents on the soaking ground, while the officers, who had no shelter, slept in the open air, exposed to dampness and poisoning. On June 29 the company moved forward a quarter of a mile farther to a beautiful spot, with the Aguadores River on one side and the Siboney road on the other. Here on the 29th the division hospital was established, and here it remained all through the terrible carnage that followed. On this day six wagon loads of our supplies were brought up from the beach at Siboney, and tent flies were pitched and everything arranged for the coming battle. On the 30th of June the work of establishing the division hospital continued, and more of our supplies were brought from Siboney. * * *


At this time the wounded were coming back in a constant stream, and such as needed stimulation or dressing were at once attended to by the roadside. Many of them returned alone, others walked supported by the arm of some comrade while the more seriously wounded were borne upon litters of various kinds. A few of those who returned had not received medical attention, but the majority of them were dressed with first-aid packages by the regimental surgeons and their hospital corps men.

At about 1 p. m. Maj. Valery Havard, chief surgeon of the Cavalry Division, established an ambulance station on the east bank of the Aguadores near El Poso At this station many dressings were readjusted and a few patients were dressed for the first time. Stimulants, medicines, and dressings constituted the stock of this station, which was about 1 mile in advance of the First Division hospital. No point farther to the front was safe from the enemy's fire. The ambulances were worked constantly, and, considering their number, did remarkably well. Late in the afternoon ambulances were taken forward to near the farthest crossing of the Aguadores, but it was rather dangerous at all times, as the enemy kept the San Juan road enfiladed all day long. It was also very dangerous on account of Spanish guerrillas, who were located in trees overlooking the road. Several men carrying wounded were shot, and indeed in a few cases the patients themselves were hit.

At 11 a. m. a dressing station was established by Captain Newgarden at the farthest point where the San Juan road crossed the Aguadores. At this place there was a vertical bank about 4 feet high, beneath which there was a gravel beach. Here a certain amount of shelter was obtained, but bullets frequently cut through the bushes or splashed up the water in the creek. At one time it was enfiladed by Spanish sharpshooters in trees up the creek. Several horses were killed here, but no patients, surgeons, or attendants were injured that afternoon. It was at this place on the following morning that Dr. Danforth was killed. Late in the afternoon several escort wagons, having carried ammunition to the front, were turned over to the writer by Lieut. J. D. Miley, General Shafter's aid-de-camp. These were taken to this station and filled with the wounded, who were transported to the First Division hospital. Empty army wagons that could be found were used for this purpose, and the wounded kept coming into the hospital all night.

On the following morning an ambulance and two wagons were taken to the dressing station just described, and the wounded brought in, among them Acting Assistant Surgeon Danforth, who was shot through the head. Maj. S. Q. Robinson had assumed command of this station on the previous afternoon, but at this time he, with Capt. W. D. McCaw, rejoined their regiments, and left the station in charge of Capt. G. J. Newgarden. Maj. V. Havard arrived later, and established an ambulance station at this point, which was then comparatively safe. It was customary during the battle for the writer to send litters and dressings to the front in the empty ambulances. During and after the battle the men of the hospital corps company did munch of the work in the First Division hospital. They assisted in operations, helped in applying dressings, made soup and coffee, carried patients to and from the operating tables, and acted as nurses to the wounded. With but few exceptions they worked all day, all night, all the following day, and most of the next night. They were assisted by members of the bands of the regiments and by some of the hospital-corps men of the regiments.

During the battle the first-aid work was very effective, and was done mostly by regimental surgeons and their hospital squads. Many dressings were applied by line officers and soldiers on the firing line, and in some instances by the wounded men themselves. Maj. S. Q. Robinson, who commanded the Aguadores dressing station on July 1, says that only about 10 patients came there who had not been dressed by first-aid packets. Words can hardly express the appreciation which the officers and men of the line have for the first-aid packets. They realize now as never before the value and importance of instruction in first-aid work. The very small number of suppurating wounds can readily be accounted for by the prompt application of these dressings.