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A Brief History of the Gatling Gun Detachment

Vth Army Corps

By Patrick McSherry
Gatling Guns in the Tall Grass near Santiago, Cuba
A pair of Gatling guns in the tall grass near Santiago, Cuba

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The Vth Army Corp's Gatling Gun Detachment, was generally known as "Parker's Gatling Gun Detachment." The unit, unique in its origin and operation, saw action at the Battle of San Juan Hill, and was made famous by Theodore Roosevelt's comments during the battle.

John H. Parker of Missouri was a first lieutenant in the 13th U.S. Infantry when he came up with the proposal for the Gatling Gun Detachment. Parker was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was promoted to second lieutenant on June 11, 1892.

The Unit History

Lt. John Parker proposed the idea of a Gatling Gun Detachment to be used as a mobile force able to provide strong cover fire where needed, especially at closer ranges than at which artillery fire could be employed. Parker wrote up a proposal of his idea as the invasion forces were arriving rendezvousing at Tampa Bay, Florida. Since the idea was experimental, and since it was unclear who would be commanding the invasion force, Parker submitted his proposal to a number of offiicials. It was met with interest by Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler. Eventually, the unit was instituted as a company that would report to the commander of the Vth Corps, Maj. Gen. William Shafter. The detachment was to be formed from specially chosen members of regular army units and would have four Gatling guns.

As the invasion neared, the few members of the detachment that had been assembled were placed in charged of the Ordnance Depot at Tampa Bay. While they were present, a fire erupted that threatened to destroy the powder-laden depot. Quick action on the part of members of the detachment saved the building and its ordnance stores from destruction.When the commotion began surrounding the assignment of the various military units to the limited space on the army transports, Parker had the detachment assigned to accompany a shipment of ammunition being taken aboard the transport CHEROKEE as its guard. Using this ploy the detachment found its way inot the invasion force. Still, however, the detachment was only partially formed, though, as the force waited aboard CHEROKEE, all of the men arrived except those expected from the 13th U.S. Infantry. The Gatling Gun Detachment was officially formed, but not yet formally mustered, aboard the transport. Also, the Detachment still had not been supplied with horses for moving the guns up to this time.

On the arrival in Cuba, the other troops on CHEROKEE - the 17th U.S. Infantry, and a battalion of the 12th U.S. Infantry - were landed, but the Gatling Gun Detachment was unable to obtain the watercraft necessary to get the Gatling guns and ammunition ashore. Part of the problem arose in that Lt. Parker did not have a high enough rank to order and countermand negative orders concerning the guns' removal. Notified of the problem, Maj. Gen. Shafter stepped in and ordered the guns landed. Mules, not horses, were obtained for moving the guns at Daiquiri, where the force landed.

From Daiquiri, the Gatling Gun Detachment moved overland to Siboney, the Vth Corps' second landing point. It was at Siboney, that all but one of the men of the 13th U.S. Infantry finally joined the unit. From Siboney, it marched to Gen. Wheeler's advanced headquarters. Finally, on June 30, while in the field near Wheeler's headquarters the Gatling Gun Detachment was officially mustered into service.

The Gatling Gun Detachment was ordered to advance to El Poso, a hill upon which "Grimes Battery," Battery A, 2nd U.S. Artillery was to be placed to begin what would become known as the "Battle of San Juan Hill." The detachment was to provide close support cover fire for the artillery until the infantry advanced far enough beyond the artillery that the guns would be safe from immediate attack. Once the artillery was secured, Parker's Detachment was ordered to the rear. While in its new position, the men of the 13th U.S. Infantry passed the detachment and cast aspersions on the experimental unit indicating that they did not expect it would see combat, etc. The detachment next found itself ordered to go into battle with the 71st New York Volunteer Infantry, and if that failed, to find its way to the front. After waiting with the 71st New York, and finding that it was not advancing, the detachment, with the cheers of the New York regiment, took off on its own for the front without specific orders. Here, it met Col. Derby, one of the observers on the ill-fated observation balloon. He advised the detachment to hold back until the infantry became engaged and then he would notify the deatchment about where it should move. After the detachment waitied for some time, Lt. Miley of Maj. Gen. Shafter's staff arrived. He asked that one gun (Sgt. Weigle's) accompany him, and ordered the other three to advance and join with the dynamite gun, another experimental weapon.

The detachment advanced, but found the dynamite gun bogged down at the Aquadores River ford with a jammed shell. Leaving the dynamite gun behind, Parker's men advanced across the San Juan River ford and into area just beyond. Here the guns deployed with the gun on the right, under Sgt. Green, deployed on the road. Facing them, 600 yards away was the San Juan Hill blockhouse and its surrounding trenches. Eight hundred yards away was another ridge with entrenchments. Being exposed, the men soon came under attack. Private Sine was killed with a bullet through the heart. Private Kastner was severely wounded with a bullet to the head and neck. Some of the Detachment’s men were lost to sunstroke in the advance. Therefore, as the action began, Green’s gun was operated by he and Doyle alone. Steigerwald’s gun was operated only by Steigerwald and one other man.

Soon other troops came to the support of the Gatling Gun Detachment. Pvt. Van Vaningham, separated from his own 6th U.S. Cavalry, offered to carry ammunition. Pvt. Burley offered to relieve Pvt. Merryman who was holding the detachment's mules as Merryman was being detailed to aid with the wounded.. Capt. Landis of the 1st U.S. Cavalry arrived and offered to help spot the fall of the guns’ fire. The 10th U.S. Cavalry also deployed two companies in support of Parker’s men.

The heavy action continued. In the hail of Spanish return fire, three more men were injured and one of the mules was hit twice. Suddenly, the line of infantry began to advance, as the charge on the San Juan Heights had begun. The Gatling guns continued to be fired until the American line had nearly reached the summit, when they had to stop to avoid causing friendly fire injuries.

In the action, Pvts. Greenberg, Elkins and Dellett had gone down from the heat. Pvt. Lauer was missing. Pvt. Chase sprained his ankle so badly he was even unable to even ride a horse. Sgt. Green was slightly wounded in the foot. Pvt. Bremer was still suffering from a wound from a shell fragment earlier in the day. To help make up for these loses. Pvt. Burkley and Pvt. Cornell both volunteered as drivers. Pvt. Raymond of the 6th U.S. Cavalry also volunteered to serve with the detachment.

After the summit was taken, two of the guns were advanced up the ridge, while Sgt. Ryder’s gun, which had been damaged, was repaired. On the ridge, the two guns were ordered to go to the aid of Roosevelt’s men. Instead, from their present position, the Gatling guns opened on the troops in Roosevelt’s front. At this point Sgt. Green’s gun suffered damage from a bullet lodged in one of the barrels. As it was pulled out of the line, Sgt. Ryder’s gun, now repaired, took its place. Spanish artillery opened on the pair of guns at a range or 2,000 yards. The Gatlings responded, silencing the battery.  More men joined in suooprting the guns. Sgt. Graham, Pvt. Smith and Pvt. Taylor of Troop E, 10th U.S. Cavalry were detailed to help carry ammunition to feed the guns. These men would remain with the detachment until July 17.

Sgt. Weigle's, gun which had been detached by Lt. Miley before the action began was now brought up to the Rough Riders' position. Throughout the engagement, this gun was not in action, and Weigle was extremely upset by not being given the opportunity. He now opened on the Spanish with a vengeance.

On July 2 and 3, the Gatling Gun Detachment was placed behind the Rough Riders' "Fort Roosevelt" in reserve. On the 4th, the three operational guns were moved forward into the battle line. Their wheels were removed and the guns were placed in breastworks. The fourth gun , under the command of Sgt. Weischaar and Sgt. Ryder, was repaired and placed in reserve behind the others on July 4. However, it was shortly moved to Fort Canosa and was was used to fire 6,000 to 7,000 rounds into the city of Santiago to help force a surrender

On July 2, Sgt. William Tiffany, Cpl. Stevens and six other Rough Riders reported to Lt. Parker, on orders from Roosevelt. They brought the Rough Riders' two Colt automatic rifles to join the detachment. Sgt. Burrowe of the Rough Riders soon joined Parker with the regiment's dynamite gun. The odd assortment now under Parker's command participated in actions on July 11. The Rough Riders themselves had been relocated to a position on the El Caney Road, and one of the Gatlings had been sent with them, being returned on July 17.

On July 17, the news of the surrender of the Spanish forces flashed across the ridges. The men of the detachment stood on the ridge and removed their hats in silent salute to the Spanish defenders. Shortly, men from both sides - Spanish and American - met in the land in front of the trenches and exchanged items of food, drink and souvenirs.

In the days after the surrender, as disease began to rage, the Gatling Gun Detachment found itself beside the 34th Michigan Volunteer Infantry. The 34th did not have the training of the U.S. regulars, and apparently did not understand fully the need for camp sanitation. The lack of covering of latrine trenches and similar problems forced parker to action file a request for inspection, forcing the problem to be cleaned up. Still, the conditions may have been a major contributor to disease in the 34th' camp.

On August 15, the detachment boarded the transport LEONA, arriving at Camp Wikoff at Long Island, New York on August 23, 1898. On September 5, the detachment was disbanded and the men returned to their original regiments.


Parker, John Henry, History of the Gatling Gun Detachment. (Bibliobazaar, 2006).

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