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Report of Capt. Edward L. Munson, Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Army, Commanding the Reserve Ambulance Company, Fifth Army Corps, at Santiago, Cuba

Spanish - American War



Dated July 29,1898

In view of the recent charges made affecting the efficiency of the army medical department at Santiago, and especially with reference to the conditions prevailing on the hospital transports sent north with wounded, I have the honor to submit the following facts, believing that may position as adjutant to the chief


surgeon Fifth Corps and the officer in charge of the outfitting of the hospital transports Iroquois, Cherokee, and Breakwater may possibly give value to such report:

Drugs, medicines, dressings, instruments, hospital tentage, and supplies were loaded on the transports at Tampa in quantities sufficient to meet the needs of the Santiago expedition. These supplies were divided up on the various vessels, each organization having its own equipment. While the bulk of the supplies was with the organized hospitals, the regimental equipment was largely in excess of its needs, and was intended to be called in to supplement, if necessary, the equipment of these hospitals.

The landing on Cuban soil was made as rapidly as possible, each organization accompanied by the medical attendants assigned to it, and troops were pushed forward with no other equipment and supplies than could be carried by the soldiers. Having no means of transportation for even their field chests, the regimental medical officers had absolutely no resources at their command except such as were provided by the orderly and hospital corps pouches and the first-aid packets carried by the soldiers.

Having once left their ships, the latter were promptly ordered out of the small bays at Siboney and Daiquiri to permit the unloading of other vessels. These partially unloaded ships, in obedience to their orders, then proceeded to sea from 5 to 15 miles, where they remained, hove to, indefinitely. Such orders were given the transports carrying the reserve and the first divisional hospitals.

The vessel carrying the reserve hospital, in obedience to its orders, proceeded to join the naval blockading squadron off Morro Castle, where it remained five days and nights; the other transport disappearing, if I was correctly informed, for an entire week, during which time the fight at Guasimas had occurred, and large numbers of sick and wounded were requiring treatment. In the meantime the report of the conditions prevailing on shore was made to the chief surgeon, who promptly laid the case before the commanding general, requesting that a launch be placed under the control of the medical department for the collection of medical supplies from the various transports. It was also requested that a pack train be organized, in the proportion of one pack mule to each regiment, to transport supplies- especially the field chests-to the front for proper distribution, and the writer was named by the chief surgeon as available for the performance of these duties.

The exigencies of the situation did not apparently appeal to the commanding general, and for two days the medical department was unable to get transportation of any kind to the other ships or to the shore, although there were a large number of naval launches and boats employed on various other duties.

On the third day, by order of the adjutant-general, one rowboat was turned over to the medical department for the purposes above named, and at the same time an order was issued for land transportation to carry medical supplies to the front, "not to exceed one 6-mule team."

On getting into this boat with supplies from the headquarters transport I was directed by sundry staff officers to take them on various errands. On my refusal to recognize their authority the commanding general, who had appeared on the scene, personally revoked the previous order and directed, after the landing of the supplies already in the boat, that it should return without delay.

Presenting the order for land transportation to the quartermaster on shore, I was informed that only pack mules had as yet been landed; that neither wagons nor harness had been brought ashore, and, finally, that the road was impassable for wagons.

After this boat had been taken away the chief surgeon was without any means of communication with the medical officers on shore or still on transports, of finding out their wants, or of remedying the many already known to him.

This condition of things remained until after the fight at Las Guasimas, at which time there were absolutely no dressings, hospital tentage, or supplies of any kind on shore within the reach of the surgeons already landed.

The news of the Guasimas fight being reported to the chief surgeon, he was finally able to get on board the Olivette and send her to Siboney, where she received the wounded.

Within the following day or so the transports carrying the reserve and first divisional hospitals were found and unloaded of their hospital contents, the latter hospital finally obtaining limited transportation to the front for its supplies.

After a couple of days' duty on board the Olivette I was directed to put the Iroquois in condition to receive patients and to take the full capacity of the ship on board. While doing this I was able to set ashore considerable hospital tentage and supplies found aboard of her, and having control of her boats I was able to visit other transports in the harbor and land medical supplies from them.


While subsequently outfitting the Cherokee and Breakwater this work was continued as well as opportunity and limited facilities permitted, getting supplies from perhaps a third of the transports composing the fleet. Outside of this it is believed that no other regimental medical property was ever unloaded up to the time of my departure with wounded on July 10.

Appealing on several occasions for the use of a lighter or small steamer to collect and land medical supplies, I was informed by the quartermaster's department that they could render no assistance in that way, and the medical department was compelled to rely entirely upon its own energies and improvise its own transportation.

I feel justified in saying that at the time of my departure large quantities of medical supplies urgently needed on shore still remained on transports, a number of which were under orders to return to the United States. Had the Medical Department carried along double the amount of supplies it is difficult to see how with the totally inadequate land and water transportation provided by the Quartermaster's Department, the lamentable conditions on shore could have been in any way improved.

The outfitting of transports for the reception of sick and wounded is a duty demanding thought and experience, and should never be intrusted to anyone but a regular medical officer. It includes the proper policing of the portions of the ship to be used by the wounded; the removal of bunks and partitions to give space and air; the utilization of the ship's blankets, door mats, rugs, and carpets to render the bunks more comfortable; the securing of extra supplies, such as canned soups and fruits, lime juice and oatmeal; the establishment of a mess and laundry, and the assignment of convalescents to specific light duties which materially relieve the overworked hospital corps.

Usually it is necessary to overcome passive resistance and opposition on the part of the crews and a tendency on the part of the captains to disregard or modify orders. In several instances in my own experience this action of the crew amounted almost to mutiny, and was only to be dealt with by threats, a show of force, and in one instance by the use of the irons.

While executive officer at the general hospital, Fort Monroe, I learned officially that the captain of the steamship Seneca positively refused to obey the orders emanating from your office, given to him by the contract surgeon in charge, to proceed to New York; he remaining nearly an additional day at Hampton Roads with sick and wounded, asserting that he would obey no orders given by the Medical Department.

A similar experience of my own at Daiquiri, which had to be settled by force, emphasizes the fact that no one should be placed in charge of such a ship who is not accustomed to command men and enforce obedience.

With regard to the Red Cross Society it would seem as if the lofty purposes of this organization were, on the Santiago expedition, subverted to individual interests. While at Tampa the Red Cross ship State of Texas was formally placed under the control of the chief surgeon, Fifth Corps, by Dr. Egan; the representative of the society, he acting under telegraphic instructions to that effect.

Colonel Pope accepted this offer and directed that the State of Texas accompany the expedition of General Shafter to its destination. Although this order was fully understood by Dr. Egan the State of Texas did not accompany the expedition, nor did it arrive at Siboney until the forces had been landed, a battle fought, and our hospital established and in working order.

The first offers of aid made by this society dealt largely in generalities and manifested reluctance to subordinate the organization to the Medical Department.

Too much praise can not be given to the individual efforts of Dr. Lesser and the Red Cross nurses. Their work was untiring and unselfish, and the assistance rendered by them was of great value.

In conclusion it is desired to emphasize the fact that the lamentable conditions prevailing in the army before Santiago were due, first, to the military necessity which threw troops on shore, and away from the possibility of supply, without medicines, instruments, dressings, or hospital stores of any kind; second, to the lack of foresight on the part of the Quartermaster's Department in sending out such an expedition without properly anticipating its needs as regards temporary wharfage, lighters, tugs, and despatch boats, and without an adequate number of stevedores to handle property. The quartermasters personally accompanying this expedition were entirely unable to properly carry the severe burdens imposed on them in spite of the personal energy displayed by them in making the most of the limited facilities and resources at their command.