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Report of Maj. M. W. Wood, Chief Surgeon, First Division, Fifth Army Corps

Spanish - American War




Dated June 30, 1898

I was detained on duty with the Sixteenth Infantry at West Tampa, Fla., until about noon of the 1st instant, to complete the papers and turning over. I then applied myself to the task of organizing and equipping, at Tampa Heights, a hospital for the division, in the face of many difficulties, some of which proved insurmountable.

An attempt was made to procure every article of proper equipment for the hospital, but in this we were much handicapped by the exhaustion of supplies by the previous equipment of the two hospitals at Tampa Heights and Port Tampa. All articles necessary that could be procured were procured, including ambulances and tentage. When we received orders to embark on the 7th we were ordered to leave behind all canvas but flies, all ambulances and mules, and all horses but one for each officer. We went aboard the steamship Santiago, at Port Tampa, on the 8th. The transport lay in the harbor until the afternoon of the 13th, when it proceeded 38 miles to Egmont Key. We passed Key West after midnight of the 15th and 16th, and arrived off Santiago de Cuba on the 20th. On the steamship Santiago were headquarters and staff, First Division, Fifth Corps; headquarters and staff, Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps; the Ninth Infantry; one battalion Tenth Infantry; and the First Division hospital and staff. The trip was an uneventful one on smooth water, and but few were seasick. We were moved back and forth in front of Santiago, and on the 25th were landed in the surf in small boats at a point variously called Siboney, Juraguasito, or Altares. On the 27th we moved out to the site of a deserted mansion with absolutely no transportation but the private horses of the medical officers. The Hospital Corps detachment had become augmented to 37 privates. These carried 14 litters, and on them 500 extra first-aid packages, 1 field operating case, 2 pocket cases, the case of instruments from the new surgical chest No. 1, cooking utensils, 20 bottles of chloroform, 2,000 c. c. of ether, and assorted dressings for about 200 wounded, in addition to rations, and the bedding rolls, and 3 hospital tent flies for wounded. On arrival at this camp I sent 4 men and 2 horses back to Siboney for more supplies.

On the morning of the 28th I sent 20 men and 4 horses back to Siboney for supplies, and in the afternoon moved, with wet bedding, to a new wet camp, the only available site for a field hospital, toward the front. The moving was accomplished by making two trips, just before nightfall. On the morning of the 29th, having reconnoitered the ground, believing an engagement imminent, we again moved with our own things wetted to a new wet camp, the present site of the hospital, then in advance of all troops except outposts, 1,200 yards in rear of where many of the casualties occurred. It seemed almost an ideal camp, except for the daily rains and the polluted water supply; but we could not control the rains and could only attempt to purify the water. The site was a long oblong, separated from the main highway by a strip of heavy timber and dense underbrush from 30 to 50 feet wide, and in a bend in the creek (dignified by the name of Rio San Juan). On each side of the creek were large trees and an almost impenetrable thicket. Thus, with access by three ways cut out to the highway and the creek (in a bed of rock and boulders) for a water supply, our site was tolerably well protected from small-arms fire by the trees about it. The site was within rifle range, but we escaped attention. For water supply for surgical purposes I had a shallow


well dug in the river bed as far as practicable from the flowing water, thus securing a filtration through several feet of sand of the water, which had been polluted by the ablution, laundry work, and excreta of the 15,000 and more of men and hundreds of animals encamped on the stream above our site. This was boiled for twenty to thirty minutes and then filtered through a Berkefeld filter and kept in closed containers fairly sterile.

Of the performance of their duties by the officers and men of the hospital little need be said. Such uncomplaining performance of such services by northern men under the blazing tropical sun, such genuine devotion to the cause in which they were engaged, such indefatigable following by the men of the example set by the officers of the staff, can be summed up by but a single word-heroism. Where each and every one did far more than his duty, where the efficiency of each was limited only by the utmost straining of his abilities, no particularization can be made for the officers more than to say that each proved "the right man in the right place." and strove with unanimity each to emulate the others. Many of the men seemed to develop new faculties each day. Among the more valuable of these were Privates R. A. Wood, John E. Collins, B. F. Mayer, J. F. Fairman, and Harry C. Spears, all of whom richly deserve special commendation. Hospital -Steward Denning, the only steward in the whole First Division, was invaluable.

It is much to be regretted that the actual organization and equipment of personnel is so vastly different from the theoretical paper personnel contemplated. It is also deplorable that a civilized army of a wealthy nation should be absolutely without transportation on the eve of what may prove a severe engagement, and I repeat that no transportation of any kind, save the single horses of medical officers, was furnished for this hospital from its landing until after the establishment of the hospital on this site on the 29th instant, the third day out. Supinely sitting in the mud awaiting transportation would not have resulted in the establishment of this which, as next month's report will show, was the only hospital at the front for the reception of wounded. The hearty assistance and encouragement of Lieutenant-Colonel Pope, chief surgeon, was a considerable stimulus to each to try to outdo the others.



[Dated near Santiago, Cuba, July 31, 1898.]

My last report covered the establishment of the division hospital as near the enemy (1,200 yards) as it could be prudently located, in front of all our troops but outposts. In this location we received and cared for the wounded from the entire army who needed attention beyond the first-aid dressings applied on the line and at the dressing stations.

From the dressing stations the wounded came to us. The few walking cases not needing redressing, who were able and desirous to walk as far as Siboney, on the way homeward, were allowed to go on, and as rapidly as this could be done the sitting cases and the slighter lying cases were forwarded in army wagons and in the ambulances. Many of the more seriously wounded were retained as long as practicable, until the yellow fever all about us prompted mime to take the risk of their removal.

The accompanying report by Major Johnson explains the want of record of many of the cases, and the meager details given of others. Not needed at the front because of the presence there of other chief surgeons who had no hospitals, and who had promised to attend to my duties there, I took upon myself the entire duties of the hospital outside the operating tables; attended to the unloading of the wounded who were delivered on litters, in army wagons, or in the only three ambulances there were with the army; attended to the orderly reception of these, that they might be relieved in proper sequence when it was not necessary to depart from this; to the assignments of patients to the tables when special assignments were considered necessary; to taking the records of the first 150 cases in such manner as to be most valuable for the Record and Pension Office, and until it became so dark that I could not see the pencil marks which I had made; to the disposition and arrangement of the wounded after they left the tables; and exercised a general supervision.

When the record taking was interrupted at about 7 p. m., on the 1st, there were probably 30 wounded ahead of us, and not until 5 a. m. did we catch up with the work, for many had been brought in in the moonlight. Then some of us snatched three hours sleep, until wounded began again to arrive by daylight. From that time we worked again until 3.30 a. m., until we had again caught up.


There was no one who knew how to do the work who could be spared to keep records, and we could only hope that in the hospitals which never joined the army this work might be done. As soon as Major Johnson could do so, he recommenced the record keeping, and was able to get some data in regard to some of the number who passed through our hands. The poor wounded were in a pitiable condition. Some, absolutely without clothing save the dressings on their severe wounds had little but the wet ground for a bed and the sky for cover throughout that first terrible night; but we did the best we could in utilizing every scrap of canvas or bedding, and before very long could shelter, bed, and cover them. They were hungry, nearly famished, and with parched throats. What we could have done to relieve this but for the providential arrival of Miss Clara Barton and her little band of six, who proved ministering angels, I am glad never to know. She arrived in an army wagon, and in a few minutes had food in preparation and was distributing clothing. The first day they distributed 20 gallons of gruel and 10 gallons of malted milk. Next day, 10 gallons of gruel, 10 of malted milk, and 15 of rice. To this they added later 5 gallons of cocoa and 10 of apple sauce, with pineapples (native), stewed and raw. During the entire period until her departure on the 15th she continued to furnish quantities of supplies, not only to the wounded, but to the sick of the regiments at the front and to the offshoots of our hospital, and left a quantity to be subsequently distributed under my direction. Later, after the harbor of Santiago was opened, she distributed large quantities of timely supplies for our numerous sick.

A cask of captured Spanish wine, "Vino de Navarro," was turned over to me and proved of much service. Coffee was prepared in large quantities, and large quantities of a sort of soup were prepared from the canned roast beef, canned corn beef, canned beans, canned tomatoes, beef extract, and hard bread, which was quite palatable and eagerly taken. With the removal of the last of the wounded, because of yellow fever, their history with us was closed. Their uncomplaining acceptance of the aid which we were able to offer amid such surroundings was remarkable.

From our hospital there were formed as offshoots the general reception hospital for sick and the yellow-fever hospital of Acting Asst. Surg. H. P. Jones, both subsequently removed. The number of sick increased enormously until, on the 28th, it reached a maximum of 1,346, or 29 per cent of the total present in the division, and even then the Twenty-fourth Infantry, with its large sick list, was absent.

It is to me a source of unmixed pride and gratification that the entire personnel, so far as I know, of the medical department of the division, acquitted themselves so creditably. Their uncomplaining endurance of privations and exposure, while their abilities were taxed to the utmost limit, and the large-heartedness with which they cheerfully toiled on through sleepless nights, and the zeal with which they passed to the next sufferer, not only entitle them to a star position in the annals of the Department, but won them a secure place in the hearts of their combatant brethren of this division, which did the hardest fighting, suffered the heaviest losses in killed and wounded, and was "ever ready."

While heartily approving the well-deserved personal commendations in the inclosed reports, I desire, in conclusion, to commend especially to the attention of the Surgeon-General the following-named officers: Maj. W. B. Banister, by the manner in which he has performed his very arduous duties under peculiarly trying circumstances of physical debility and by the intelligent aid rendered the chief surgeon, has shown his fitness for the position of chief surgeon of-a division. Capt. H. C. Fisher, for the high standard of efficiency he has maintained. Though he has remained with his regiment, his exceedingly valuable services have often come to the notice of the chief surgeon. Maj. W. D. Bell, surgeon Seventy-first New York Volunteers, richly merits for himself the words he has so fitly spoken of others for gallantry, and also for his extreme devotion to duty. Lieut. T. J. Kirkpatrick, who in every position in which he was placed has left the impression with all, "Would that there were more like him." Quietly, modestly, and gently he worked on the wounded with amazing rapidity, and seemed not to know fatigue. Lieut. G. C. M. Godfrey has richly won his "spurs," which I hope may be given him, with an additional volunteer promotion. A high compliment was paid him for his work under fire by a line officer, who said: "He's a darned fool; he doesn't seem to know what danger is." Acting Asst. Surg. Hamilton P. Jones would prove an excellent surgeon of volunteers, and is thoroughly fitted and trained for the position which he merits. Acting Asst. Surg. T. R. Marshall has shown that he is also fitted for and worthy of the position of surgeon of volunteers.

I know no words of blame or censure due to any of those who bore with us the heat and burden of the day.