This account was written by Rev. Harry Jones, who served as the chaplain aboard the Battleship TEXAS. As the First Marine Battalion was fighting to secure Guantanamo, Chaplain Jones went ashore to aid the wounded and bury the dead. This is his account of that experience.
In the account, Jones refers to Private Donnelly, and Private Murphy. These were actually Privates James McColgan and Private William Dumphy. They had been killed prior to Dr. Gibbs' death and were the first two Americans killed In Cuba.
"Just as I reached the deck, Captain McCalla came alongside in his gig from the MARBLEHEAD and informed us that the marines had had a most trying experience during the night, having been fiercely attacked by the enemy. Three men were dead at the camp, and thirty-nine others, and an officer, were still missing, and he did not know whether they were dead, captured, or simply detained in the thicket. Lieutenant Cyrus Radford, of the U. S. Marine Corps, asked Captain Philip to allow him to visit the camp with his Marine Guard, numbering forty-one men, to render Lieutenant-Colonel Huntington any as-sistance that they could. The permission was granted, and the marines were ordered to be ready to board the boats to go over to the camp. Captain Philip sent over two of our Colt's automatic guns, which are capable of firing 378 times a minute-the two making 756 shots every sixty seconds for the enemy. These guns he sent with his compliments to Lieutenant-Colonel Huntington. While the marines were preparing to leave the ship, I asked the Captain if he would allow me to accompany them, and render any service I could to the men who had been wounded over there, or, at least, bury the dead, if they had not already been buried. He gladly consented. As the marines went over the side of the ship and Lieutenant Radford was about to descend the ladder, I stepped up to the Officer of the Deck, and, saluting him, told him I had permission to leave the ship. The Lieutenant looked up and said: "Where are you going?" I said: "To the camp." He replied: "I guess you are not." I said: "I guess I am." Then he said: "What are you going for?" I answered: "I am going to render any assistance I can to the wounded, and to bury the dead." "Well," he said, "I don't believe you will; we don't want a Chaplain tagging us up; you had better give us a chance to get wounded or killed before you come." I replied: "You don't seem to comprehend the situation; we have been informed that several men have already been wounded over at the camp, and some are dead." "Oh! excuse me," he said, "I had forgotten that; I thought you were coming over to bury some of us."
When we were in the boats, we shoved off from the side of the ship, and our steam launch towed three of the ship's boats over to the shore. Reaching the end of a wooden pier that extended about twenty-five feet out into the Bay, we jumped from the boat to it, and as we reached the land we fell into line to march up the hill where the marines were encamped. I stood there a moment as though in a dream. It was a beautiful morning - the sun was shining brightly, the birds were singing, and there was just sufficient air stirring to wave the great palm-trees, as they stood like gigantic banner bearers.
Reaching the camp, we told the Colonel why we had come. He seemed to appreciate it great-ly, and said: "Chaplain, would you like to visit the hospital tent? Our dead are there." I said: "Yes, Colonel, I would." So, going over there, I beheld the ravages of war; it was all too true then. There lay a young Past Assistant Surgeon, Dr. John Blair Gibbs, U. S. N., who had given up an excellent practice in New York City, and had volunteered simply for the war. On either side of him lay two privates. Very suggestive. It seemed as though, even in death, they were guarding their superior officer. When the camp was attacked the night before the doctor was in his tent. A marine had been shot right through the hand, and was taken to the surgeon for treatment. Dr. Gibbs had irrigated the wound carefully, and, taking his bandages from the medicine chest, was applying one when the camp was attacked. He said to the marine: "I must go outside and see what is going on." The marine, who was experienced in military life, said: "Don't you do it, doctor; lay prone on your stomach. If you go outside, the enemy will see you, and the chances are, you will get hit." He said: "I cannot help it; I cannot be shot down here like a dog. I must see what is going on." So, with one end of the bandage tightly wrapped around the hand of the marine, and the other end in his own, he stepped outside the tent; a bright light was behind him, making him a magnificent target for any sharp-shooter. An enemy, seeing him, took advantage of the opportunity, and, taking deadly aim at him, fired, the bullet entering his left temple and coming out at the right. He fell dead at the feet of the marine he was aiding, still holding the bandage in his hand.
The other two marines that had been killed were shot down soon after the surgeon had fallen -one shot through the lungs, the other through the head. They were Private Donnelly, and Private Murphy. The Colonel immediately gave orders to prepare the. bodies for burial, and to dig their graves. Then I saw for the first time what constituted the casket for our country's heroes. They had fallen in their uniform- one in his bare feet, the other with his shoes and campaign uniform on; the doctor in his blue service uniform with his leggins and shoes on. Their rubber blankets were placed over their heads, tied around the neck; and around the chest another blanket was then added, and they were pronounced ready for the sad committal The bugle sounded for the men to muster. The Colonel, Surgeon Edgar, U. S. N., and myself led the line of march; then came the three bodies on stretchers, followed by as many men as could be spared from the trenches. We marched to the place where the silent graves were ready to receive the bodies; a body was laid by the side of each hollow tomb. I was told to take my position by the centre grave, which was that of Dr. Gibbs. Doctor Edgar stood at my left, and the Colonel was on my right. I took out my Bible, and was about to commence the service when I heard a whistle. Turning to the Colonel, I said: "Sir, what is it?" thinking he had whistled. He said: "Nothing." I said: "I thought I heard a whistle, sir." He said: "No, Chaplain, I did not whistle; that was a Mauser bullet; we are attacked."
The order had been given to uncover, and the marines from the TEXAS, the funeral escort, stood at parade rest; not a man stirred, as they stood in the very jaws of death. Captain Harper, U. S. M. C., shouted out: "The camp is attacked! Fall in, Company C, E and A to the right, and engage the enemy." The men slid for the trenches with their rifles over their shoulders. Two reporters rushed in from the thicket, where the Spaniards had concealed themselves, and the scared expression on their faces really made me feel as though I would like to run myself, as this was the first time I had ever been under fire to realize it. An officer shouted to me: “Chaplain, fall back; go over there by the side of the block-house; it will afford you some protection." The blockhouse was really the foundation only, as the house itself had been demolished when our ships had captured the place. There was a trench around the ruins, and the marines were in it firing at the enemy. As I stood on the edge of the trench, some of them said: "Chaplain, you had better get in the trench, sir; the bullets are thicker than hail around here." So I jumped in, and soon heard the deadly missiles striking on the dirt behind me.
I was in the trench up to my waist, and I began to consult seriously with myself whether I was not very foolish to stand there in that position; as I could tell the enemy had our range, and were concentrating their fire on that place, so I said to the marines: "If I am going to get hit, I would rather get it from my waist down than from my waist up; this is sixteen to one, and as I am no Bryanite, I would rather be out in the open." So I got out. The Colonel was still standing by our dead, giving his orders with his cap in his hand as the last order he had given was to uncover, which order he had not forgotten, and he was perfectly composed as he directed the men in that engagement. Seeing me standing over by the trench, he beckoned me by moving his head to one side. Upon my going over to him, he said: "Chaplain, do you feel like continuing the service ?" I said : "Yes, sir, with your permission.” Then he said: "Go ahead." So, taking my place where I had stood a few moments before, I com-menced the service, and was just uttering the words: "Man that is born of woman -" when up rushed three of the marines with one of our Colt's automatic guns, and some others with a three-inch field piece, planting them on either side of me, and all through the service those two guns seemed to chant the prayers with me; it was a peculiar sensation, yet it was very com-forting to know, notwithstanding the fact that my back was to the enemy, as they fired at us, these marines were protecting me by firing at those who fired at us. Not a bullet passed me during the Committal Service, but as I closed myeyes, asking God to bless the men of that camp, I heard them whistling around me like so many bees; but even then, I could hear that little baby lisping prayer: "Dear, dear papa, please come back," and for the time being became as good a fatalist as ever lived. It was a very consoling belief that, if my time had come, it had; but if not, I was just as safe there as though I was at home with those I loved.
After completing the services, I wished the Colonel, together with the other officers, good--day, saying I hoped I would not have to visit them again under such sad circumstances. The Colonel replied: "Chaplain, if you don't have to, some other Chaplain will, as we cannot all expect to leave this place." A Mr. Coffin, an artist for the New York papers and magazines, came to me and asked whether he could go over to the ship with me in our launch. I told him: "Yes, I had no objections." So we walked down the hill, together with a Mr. Duaide, of the New York Sun, who had joined us. They commenced talking to me of the service under fire, agreeing it was the most dastardly act that any people pre-tending to be civilized could perpetrate. As we talked thus, we reached the foot of the hill, andjust as we entered the path under the cliffs we heard a rifle snap. Looking at my companions, I said: "Gentlemen, that gun is pointed at us." They laughed at me, and said I was rattled from being under fire so long. I said: "No, I am not; but there is a peculiar ring about a gun when it is pointed toward you, and that gun certainly had that kind of a ring." They were satisfied, however, that it was not fired at us. So we walked leisurely along, when suddenly we heard three or four shots in succession. Looking up on the cliffs, we saw some regular guerrillas. They were naked and their bodies were painted green to look like the grass they had secreted themselves in as they stole up to us.
The men at the Quartermaster's Department, down near the landing, shouted at us to run for our lives, and spoil the enemy's aim. Mr. Coffin spoke up and said: "Yes, Chaplain, my name is altogether too appropriate for this business - I guess we had better run," and away we went, the bullets stirring up the dirt all about our path, and whistling all around us; and not until then did any of us realize how fast we could run. In fact I ran so fast that, to my surprise, I reached the launch first. Getting in, I said to the coxswain: "You will have to be careful, Coxswain, on returning to the ship, as evidently the enemy will fire at us." I had on my regular clerical coat, as the Chaplains at that time had no uniform, and I think the enemy mistook me for an officer of high rank, and that was why they fired at us. As we got out into the open, bullets began to drop all around the launch, and were so thick we expected every moment to be struck. We signalled our ship that the enemy was on the point of the cliffs, firing at us. She immediately opened fire on them with her six-pounders and drove them away. We reached the ship safely, through the goodness of God; and if His mercy and protection had ever been realized by any person before, it most surely was proven to me that day, for mercy and goodness were standing by my side.
We returned to Santiago that night and reported the matter to Admiral Sampson. The next morning we returned to Guantanamo and found two marines had been killed during the night. One was Sergeant-Major Goode [Good], as fine a man as there was in the whole Marine Corps. Had his life not ended. so suddenly, he would have been made a Junior Lieutenant, as his name had been sent in. The other was a private by the name of Goode Taumann [Taurman]. I went over to bury them; their bodies were prepared just as those were the day before. The burial took place a little lower down than where the others had been committed. After I was through with the service, the officer in charge said: "Men, we have no blank cartridges, so put regular clips in your pieces; turn your faces toward the enemy's country, and fire the salute over our noble dead; and if you hit a Spaniard, all the better. Three vol-leys were fired, after which the bugle sounded “Taps.” This was a most impressive service. As we were leaving the graves, the enemy attacked us; that time having the decency to wait until the service was completed, when a very lively brush took place.”
Jones, Harry W., A Chaplain’s Experience Ashore and Afloat: The “Texas” Under Fire. (New York: A. G. Sherwood & Co., 1901) 198-208.