The Report of Capt. Charles Parkhurst,

2nd U.S. Artillery, Battery F,

and its Part in the Cuban Campaign

Contributed by William Parkhurst



Click here to go to a family website for capt. Charles Parkhurst

General:

This report details the part that the 2nd U.S. Artillery played in the Cuban Campaign. During the attacks on San Juan Hill and El Caney, the battery was stationed at El Poso.

Biographical info. on Parkhurst:

Charles Dyer Parkhurst was the son of William Henry Parkhurst and Sarah Tanner. He was born 29 June 1849, in Roxbury Essex Co., Massachusetts.  He graduated from West Point on 14 June 1872. He was a U.S. Army Second Lieutenant with the Fifth Cavalry Regiment during the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition of 1876.  Parkhurst was married three times. He married his first wife, Clara Thompson, on 20 June 1874, his second wife about  1877 and his third wife, Carrie Starr on 15 March 1888 in New London, Connecticut. During the Spanish American War, he served in Cuba as Captain of Battery F, of the Second U.S. Artillery. Parkhurst retired from the U. S. Army in 1909 as a Colonel.  He was a member and contributor to the New England Historic Genealogical Society.   He wrote a multi-volume set on New London, Connecticut area families. He died 15 May 1931 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts.

The Report:

New London, Conn., September 12, 1898

The ADJUTANT GENERAL, U. S. ARMY, Washington D. C.

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following report upon the service of my battery (F, Second Artillery) during the months of June and July, covering the expedition to, and operations about, Santiago de Cuba:

I. The horses, men, personal baggage, and camp equipment of the battery were loaded upon the transport Berkshire, in connection with Battery A, Second Artillery, prior to June 13, 1898, and the transport hauled out into the stream; but the ship came into the slip again and the horses were unloaded and sent up to camp, awaiting the final departure of the expedition. On June 13 the horses were  reloaded, and the transport hauled out and  proceeded to the lower bay to await the assembling of the fleet. The guns, carriages, caissons, harness, and general battery equipment had all been previously loaded and stowed, in connection with Battery  A, Second Artillery, upon the lower afterdeck of the transport  Iroquois, it being possible to load and stow without dismounting any  of the battery.  The ammunition, and also that of Battery  A, Second Artillery, was all stowed, under personal supervision, in the forward lower hold of the same transport.

It is to be regretted that it was impossible to have loaded the complete battery upon any one transport; but owing to the character and arrangements of these transports, taken as they were where they could be found, such an arrangement was impossible.  On the Iroquois there was room available for guns and carriages, but none for the horses.  On the Berkshire  horses and men could be taken, but there was no room for guns, etc.  Hence, the separation of the men and horses from the guns etc., appeared unavoidable, even though undesirable.

On June 14, at about 3 p. m., the fleet had got into position and proceeded to sea.  The trip at sea was without particular incident of interest.  Though somewhat crowded, and, from the construction and nature of the transport, without much accommodation in the way of cooking, the men got along very comfortably.  They were allowed to occupy nearly the whole ship by day and sleep anywhere at night.  The saloon staterooms were allotted to the noncommissioned officers.  There was no sickness, and, so far as the men were concerned, nothing better could have been expected under the circumstances. As to the horses, they stood the confinement and heat of the horse deck much better than had been anticipated.  It was to be regretted, however, that the horse deck, being of iron, necessitated a temporary wooden covering upon which to fasten the stanchions for the stalls and the cleats to prevent slipping.  This wooden covering and the cleats formed a regular open work grill, into which chaff and manure would pack in spite of all efforts to the contrary.  The build of the ship, too, was such that no gangways could be provided in rear of the horses,  there being barely room for one gangway at their head; hence the manure was difficult to be got at and removed.  All of this made it next to impossible to keep the horse deck as clean as it should have been. As there were but two small scuppers - one on each side - on this deck, and as the deck was said not to be tight and the hold beneath was full of cargo, no cleaning by flushing out with hose was permissible. The ventilation was defective, but through the fault of no one, being the best possible from the construction of the ship.  Fresh air was admitted through two large wind sails in the forward hatches, and also through the deadlights upon each side of the ship.  The side ports, one forward and one aft on each side of the ship, were so constructed that they could not be opened generally with safety; hence there was no proper exit for the foul and heated air, or any chance to cause a strong draft throughout the horse deck. The small side ports, or deadlights, were quite numerous , and could generally be kept open.  They were fitted with extemporized hoods of tin, made by the battery blacksmith, and, with these hoods, admitted a good deal of fresh air while the ship was under way. By shifting the horses about continuously in a regular order, so as to bring them all in turn into the cooler and fresher part or the deck, they were kept in fair condition, with but one or two exceptions.  One horse became sick and exhausted, and died; another was about gone when we were ready to unload, and died before reaching the shore, and another was overheated, and drowned from spasms while swimming ashore.  With these exceptions, the horses were landed in very fair condition.It is to be understood that no criticism or fault-finding is intended by the above report as to the horse deck.  It is well known and understood that transports had to be taken as they could be found and the best possible use be made of them.  It is not to be supposed that a vessel built for a horse transports were to be had, and it is fully conceded that the best possible arrangements were made to convert the Berkshire  into a transport upon which horses could be sent with but small risk of disaster. The same is to be said as to the limited arrangements for cooking and messing for the men.  The Berkshire,  from her build and previous trade in the merchant service, had simply a forward galley of size commensurate for her limited crew, and aft a small pantry for a limited number of passengers; hence nothing better could have been provided.

As the men had travel rations, the main thing was to provide coffee.  This was arranged for by the provision of some large barrels with a steam coil within, in which barrels the coffee could be made by steam heat.  By amicable arrangements with the ships cook and captain I obtained the use of the cooks galley when not in use for the crew, and by cooking at night was thus enabled to give the men extra food above the travel ration from stores brought along for the purpose. Taken all in all, the trip by sea was by no means a great hardship; the men were cheerful and contented; there was no sickness, and nothing happened to in any way mar the success of the expedition. After arriving at the coast of Cuba the artillery was not landed  for a day or two after the infantry had about all landed.  Finally the order was received, and the Berkshire  moved in and anchored within about 400 to 500 yards of the beach. Contrary to the teachings of the books, the horses would not swim ashore unaided.  At first they were sent overboard loosely, expecting that they would swim ashore; but this was at once found to be an impracticable method, for they would swim back to the ship, or to sea - anywhere but ashore.

Consequently the ships boats had to be used to tow the horses ashore, or to the edge of the surf, and then to drive them ashore, or keep them from swimming to sea.  But two horses could be taken at a time, and this made many trips; especially tiresome because of rough water, and because even then, when turned loose, some of the horses refused to go ashore and had to be caught up and again brought back.The ship's crew was but limited in number, and could not manage the boats all day.  They were assisted as best possible by detail of men from the batteries.  But soldiers are not necessarily sailors, or, as a general rule, taught a sailor¹s duty, even in rowing a boat; hence the men available for boats' crews were but few in number, greatly handicapping us in this work.  We did the best we could, everyone working faithfully and zealously to get done with a long , tedious, and hard job. As it was my fortune to be one of the last to unload my horses, I could profit from observation.  I therefore sent a trumpeter and a heavy detail of men ashore, some of whom were fearless swimmers.  By this means I got my horses ashore without much trouble.  After they were turned loose from the boats the trumpeter would sound some familiar call and the men would rush in to catch up some horse about to turn back, frightened by the surf.  The trumpet appeared to attract their attention and give them confidence, and, a bunch of horses being purposely kept in sight on the beach, the most of them would come through the surf to the trumpet to join those in sight. Unfortunately , as I began unloading late in the afternoon, darkness prevented its full accomplishment that day, and it had to be finished the next morning; but the last horse was unloaded and all in camp at the picket line before 8 a. m. After the horses were all on shore one-half of the battery was sent on shore under the orders received to care for them, the rest being held on board to be available for unloading the battery whenever this became possible. On June 25 a boat came alongside to take the men to the Iroquois  for this purpose.  I went in charge of my men and unloading was begun at once.

Everything had to be hoisted up through the hatches and lowered onto the barge alongside.  This was successfully accomplished by my battery in exactly one hour and three-quarters.  On this barge was Battery A, Second Artillery, as well as my own, and everything belonging to the battery equipment, except the ammunition, was unloaded on June 25.  There was no room for this ammunition after the two batteries were unloaded, and, furthermore, a tug came along to take the barge to the dock just as the loading of the harness was completed, and would not have waited for any further loading; hence the ammunition was not touched.  It is to be remarked that all of this unloading by my battery was with my own men, assisted by the first and second mates of the ship, and wholly unassisted by any stevedores.

By daylight on June 26 a detail was sent to the Iroquois  to break out and begin loading the ammunition on the barge to send ashore.  This barge had been sent back to the Iroquois some time during the night, after the batteries had been unloaded from it to the shore.  It was long after dark before I finished unloading my battery to the shore, as I was prevented from working except when the track was clear from its then use in unloading small-arms ammunition from small boats.  The officer in charge of this work permitted me to unload so long as such unloading did not stop his work; hence there were  times when I had to wait and do nothing, waiting for the one track and only road to be clear to permit me to run a gun or a caisson on shore. This is only mentioned as a sample of the difficulties under which we worked.

On June 26, while one detail was at work unloading ammunition from the Iroquois, the rest of the men on the Berkshire  were hard at work stowing away and arranging the property to be left back and packing up their own kits and rations preparatory to going ashore.  While so engaged, a steam launch came alongside and General Shafter in person ordered everybody and everything on board said launch to go on shore. It is not the place here to mention what transpired before we got on shore; that  can be made the subject of a special report if necessary.  Suffice it to say that finally the ammunition came on shore, and everyone went zealously to work to load up the battery with ammunition, draw rations and forage, and get in shape to move to the front. The battery was in shape and pulled out by 3 p.m., June 26, and marched to within a short distance of Siboney, and there bivouacked for the night.

On June 27 we were again on march shortly after daylight, passed by Siboney, and thence on to the front, camping near General Wheelerís headquarters beyond Sevilla. June 28, 29, and 30 were passed in this camp. On June 29, in the evening, orders were received to be ready to move at a moment¹s notice in the morning.  At daylight, July 1, we were therefore harnessed up and ready to move.  At about 7 a. m. orders were received to proceed to and report at General Shafterís headquarters at the front.  This order was complied with, and my battery, in company with Battery K, First Artillery (Captain Bestís), was parked just off the road near these headquarters, and were here held in reserve for some hours, the exact time not taken.  Finally, about noon, orders were received to move to the front.  We then proceeded to and took position upon the hill near El Poso.

From this position we could see San Juan Hill, and we were given it as our objective.  Captain Bestís battery, on my right, followed by my battery, opened upon the entrenchments and so-called blockhouse upon the extremity of the hill, all clearly to be seen from our position. At this time our line of infantry was clearly to be seen lying down near the foot of San Juan Hill, and the enemyís fire was plainly seen with field glasses coming from the entrenchments and blockhouse. My first shot was fired with a range of 2,450 yards, and was plainly seen to land in the enemy¹s entrenchments; following this with another shot, at 2,475 yards, the shell again landed beyond the first, but in the entrenchments; the next shot, at 2,500 yards range, hit the blockhouse, and my last shot, at the same range, also hit the blockhouse.  This firing was slow and deliberate, to be sure of the right range, and every shot was carefully watched to see it land; hence the knowledge as to just what each shot did. In the meantime captain Bestís battery also landed four shell in the entrenchments.  I had obtained the range at which he intended to fire and purposely increased it so as to shoot and hit in some place beyond.  These eight shots were all that were known to have been fired, as Captain Grimes's battery, on the right of Captain Bestís, was busy in refilling ammunition chests at the time, and was not firing.

After my fourth shot I received the order to cease firing, and running out of the smoke again to get a clear view, I saw with my glasses, and also with the unaided eye, that our infantry had rushed upon and captured the position , and were swarming about the blockhouse.  As I had stepped back into the smoke to reload after the fourth shot, and was busy reloading, I did not see the enemy abandon the position, nor our infantry when they made the charge up the hill.  But it was all apparently done in but the few moments required for me to superintend the loading for the second round, the signal ďcease firingĒ being given within but a moment or two after my last shot. Our infantry having captured the extremity of the hill and the blockhouse, there was no further firing possible at this objective. Orders were at first received to prepare for camp in this position upon El Paso Hill, and they were made accordingly.  The guns were put in better position, the caissons parked under the protection of the hill, and a picket line was being prepared for the horses. Before this was finished, however, orders were received to move up to the front and take position with Captain Best¹s battery, which had been previously moved to the front, and had gone into action from the top of San Juan Hill. The battery was at once moved to the front, but before arriving there word was received to take another road, leading us finally to a ridge in rear of San Juan Hill.  Here Captain Bestís battery was found upon this ridge, and my battery went into position on his left. The name of this ridge is unknown.  It had evidently been the scene of an engagement earlier in the day, as dead bodies and spent shells were found upon it.  Upon the crest to the right was a house, and near my position were two large iron cauldrons with a pipe line leading thereto.  Under the hill was another house, in which were some of our killed and wounded, and behind it a small clearing in the woods, within which our horses and caissons were located.

From this ridge it was impossible for our guns to be of any service.  San Juan Hill was higher and but a short distance in our front, and completely hid the enemy.  Consequently nothing could be done from this position. The battery remained in this position until shortly after midnight, and was then moved forward to the crest of San Juan Hill at its right-hand end, and there took position in company with Battery A, Second Artillery, on my right, and Battery K, First Artillery, on my left. Infantry rifle pits had been dug upon the crest of this ridge, and we were ordered to dig gun pits and be ready to bombard Santiago by daylight. These gun pits were dug, and the guns were in position according to orders long before daylight.

As daylight opened and it was just about light enough to distinguish Santiago in the distance, the enemy opened fire upon us in our front, and the batteries replied with a fire of canister as long as it lasted, and then in my battery with shrapnel cut to zero.  It was perfectly evident that the enemy had advanced, during the night  or early dawn, under cover of the undergrowth and jungle that covered the Santiago side of San Juan Hill, and from this cover was pouring in a tornado of lead. Within a very short time after the opening of this fire I was twice wounded, and after the second wound, which broke my arm, was taken to a dressing station under the hill.

After having my arm dressed, and being unable to go back to the battery, I remained at the dressing station until the firing was over. From my position I could and did watch the burst of shrapnel from the enemy¹s guns.  This shrapnel fire was all, or nearly all, too high, and with fuses cut too long, as it all burst beyond the crest of the hill where the batteries were placed.  The bursts were about on a line with the dressing station; hence the fragments all passed beyond, and no fragments were heard to strike anywhere near us.  Their only effect was to make the road from the rear dangerous to those advancing. After the firing was over I proceeded to the rear to the division hospital, had my arm dressed, and from there was sent to Siboney.  At Siboney, finding the hospital crowded, I was sent on board the Iroquois  with a party of officers and men able to travel, and proceeded to Key West, and from Key West to Port Tampa, and thence home upon leave of absence.  Hence, I am unable to give anything  further as to the operations of my battery.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

                                                         C. D. Parkhurst
                                                         Captain, Second Artillery, Light Battery F.



Bibliography:

Clerk of Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899). Vol. 3


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