The Spanish-American War: Miss Annie's Story II
So I kept reaching out in every direction until finally I found an opportunity to go on a ship having a number of nurses aboard.
After many delays came the day we embarked. As the ship began to move an old admirer of Fathers cam ran down the dock Carrying an unusually fine hammock as a parting present for me. He was calling & gesticulating wildly & a seaman threw out a coil of rope which fell at his feet to which he tied the hammock & it was drawn on deck through the water & spread out to dry, amidst much laughter & amusement.
So we sailed & sailed through sunny days & star lit nights, with no light at all, save occasionally a search light would dart out from our [?] convoy - which was commanded by Captain John Hood - of the Navy - whose family were our neighbors & great friends - playing for some small fishing boat. When the harmlessness of craft was established the light would go out & we would proceed on our course, wondering what lay ahead -what was happening on shore during those days which seemed so peaceful & uneventful on sea?
Finally, after what seemed a long while, we sighted the lovely green of the Island of Cuba. A wonderful vision to our waiting, aching eyes - the blue water, white sand on the beach, green gentle slopes dotted here & there with white tents - which we new covered our soldiers - and a back ground of mountains & then the blue sky matching the Waters.
We sailed through the narrow channel by the wonderful old world looking - most picturesque Morro Castle - made significant to our land as the prison of Capt Hobson. The channel turns in such a manner - back inside the beautiful placid bay has the appearance of a lovely in lake. The only suggestion of war in this peaceful scene was the Rieve mercedet [?] half sunk in the water, turned on her side.
When we steamed up near the city - which looks beautiful with palm lined streets running up & down hill - the most beautiful sight was our flag foating from the Palace - which I learned afterward was my Fathers own flag which he had brought from his head quarters & my brother had been one of those to raise it over the Palace.
Of course my excitement & desire to land at once & learn of the safety of my Father & brother & report for duty where I might help some body.
We could not approach the dock, but anchored some distance off shore & the Commanding Officer went ashore on a small boat. I tried to be patient, thinking it was only a question of a very little while when I could go too. I stood on the deck, my eager eyes traveling over the dancing, sun kissed, glistning waves, past the old mellowed yellow roads & red tiled roofs straggling up the hill side between the waving palms, to white tents in the distance, wondering into which one my eager feet would soon rush to clasp my dear Father in my arms once more. Would I find my Father & brother well, or what would I find - After - what seemed an incieditolry [?] long time the little boat left the docks with the ships commanding officer & came back over the sun lit water. The Col came over the ships side & after a few hurried orders the ship to my utter consternation began to move. I was informed that there was so much yellow fever in Santiago & in all the Camps of American soldiers, that ships had only come into the harbor by mistake & was ordered to proceed at once to Porto Rica!!
I was beside myself!- It was unthinkable! Here was I wanting with all my soul to render service where it was most greatly needed & my Father and Brother & all my Fathers staff were in no telling what extremity, what suffering & what need of small services I could render & there I was going further & further away.
I would gladly have jumped overboard if there had been the least possibility of swimming to shore - the ship kept moving & the white tens in the distance grew smaller & smaller until we passes through the channel & the hills shut them from View. My misery knew no bounds. We anchored in Guantanimo Bay, joining a fleet of ships. The expedition to Proto Rica under command of Gen Miles- Among the ships I saw one with four smoke stacks which as I recognized as "Columbia" on which was my young brother Tom - first year at Annapolis. He had written frantically to Father at Tamp "Please Father get me into the War some way. Just think there may not be another war in my life time." Sec Long told me the wechuter [?] when we were touring through the South with Pres McKinley & Party that the Lad had rushed up to Wash & so besought him to get him into the War he had given him an assignment on the Columbia to go to Porto Rica. He was afterward drowned at Montauk Pt. Trying to save the life of a comrad. He spent a day with me on board ship which cheered & helped what would otherwise have been unbearable. When it was "toward evening & the day was far spent" & he had returned to his ship, I saw a boat put out from Gen Miles Flag ship & come over to ours. I was delighted to find Capt Whitney of Gen Miles staff among the Officers - & ms he had lived with my brother at Washington Barracks the previous year. I rushed to him & told him of my agonizing situation. How dreadful I heard things were in Santiago & how intensely I wanted to be allowed to land there & Serve where the conditions were so much worse & the need so much greater than in Porto Rica.
He returned to Flag ship & laid the matter before Gen Miles who sent me permission to land in Santiago. The previous order was any those who were immune could from yellow fever could enter. It seemed to me that all the gold & diamonds & pearls in the world were nothing compared to being an "immune", and my joy knew no bounds when the permit came for me to join these glorified beings & go back to Santiago. About six of us were transferred to another transport & after two or three days of such discomfort & privation, again we sailed by the beautiful old World Morro Castle & this time sailed up the the dock & walked ashore on Cuban soil. We were met by Miss Barton - that wonderful Major General of charity, who had made the Red Cross famous in many lands, & inspired in thousands of hearts a desire to be of use & to do some good.
A stranger would never have recognized a world renowned character in the simple but little old woman in queer, old timey attire, who came up to us wringing her hands (a chronic habit)
I thought my troubles were over, my journey ended, the goal of usefulness at last reached & with eagerly beating heart I rushed to meet her. Imagine my utter consternation when she said:
Well young ladies I regret to tell you there is no work here for you to do. I know you came down with a desire to minister soldiers, but there is no organized Hospital. There are many many soldiers sick - there is much yellow fever, but they are scattered in different camps many miles from the City & no place to stay & much yellow fever. There is a transport in the Harbor returning to N.Y. I advise you all to take it.
The solid earth upon which I was standing seemed to give way beneath my feet.
All the women were offended & immediately got into a small boat & went out to the homeward bound transport except two other & my self.
I was minded of a story I heard long ago of a small boy who bought a pr of skates & gleefully put them on & went out on the icy only to get one hard bump after another till his body was filled with bruises. still with tears coursing down his cheeks he tried again and again working renewed efforts after each painful fall. A kind hearted gentleman looking on said "Son if I were you I would give it up." The little lad raised his tear stained face covered with bumps & bruises & said "I didn't get those skates to give up with."
So have ever come many apparently insurmountable difficulties, & after many & long efforts & heartaches to have reached shore simply to get on a ship & go away within the hour with out doing any thing - without seeing my Father or even knowing how it was with him - was the one impossible thing for me to do. Miss Barton assured me there was no place for me-to stay - there was nothing for me to do but go. I finally convinced her that there was & I had come to stay. I slept that night on a very hard & short & narrow horse hair sofa in the formal little drawing room of Casa Douglas on a high hill, occupied by Miss Barton & her sinite. Was up long before light under taking in a perfectly strange foreign country to find horses & guides to go to my Fathers head quarters 8 miles in the Country. Finally went to Gen Shafter who detailed two orderlies, telling them to take me to my Fathers tent & report personally to him on their return.
I had to ride a mans saddle sitting side wise & so we started forth none of us knew the way. Riding over hot sand & scrubly bush & through soapy mud & down deep ravines where the gorses four feet would slide down long distances like toboggans & then plunge & mire & plunge again through muddy streams & up the other side advancing & falling back like the frog getting out of the well, until we finally made the top. We finally were up to some small tents on a hill side & I saw Father standing in the door of a tent - a Doctor had told him that my brother, who was ill with yellow fever, could not live twenty four hours. I will never forget what it meant to me for my Father to be glad to see me & to be thankful for me to be there. Father & the Dr & I worked over my brother all day long & as the shades of evening fell he turned over & said "you have made me feel so much more comfortable." That one remark would have been worth all I had endured to get there if I had gone back home the next day.
There was no place for me to stay there at night as there was no extra tent & Fathers staff officers would not allow him to give up his tent & he would not allow any of them as it would have nessitated their sleeping on the ground in the dew. So back I had to ride to Santiago every night & return at day light each morning brig bringing such comforts as I saw was necessary on my lap or the pouch of the saddle. Going down those steep ravines & floundering around in the water & mud, holding the reins over a high pile of pajamas, towels, sheets, pillow cases, soap, basin, mosquito net, etc. This was continued about 5 days until the Doctors pronounced my brother out of danger & my Father besought me not to continue running the risk of coming out there.
During the morning of the first day I was there Father told me to go out & speak to Henry - the little serving boy. I found him lying on the ground in a hot fever. I asked how he liked war, & he said:
Ah. War is fine, but I thought I was going into battle with the General, & they made me stay back & take care of the luggage. Oh it was awful.
One day in searching for a better road I passed near the Rough Riders Camp & Col Roosevelt rushed out calling to me. He was wearing a blue shirt with no insignia of rank & the polka dotted hand-kerchief tied on each side of his hat hanging down to protect his neck flying out in the breeze as he ran up to my horse giving me a paper, saying: "Miss Wheeler - I make you my envoy extraordinary, & Minister plentipotentionary [sic] to your father - be sure to see that he signs this." I said " I will take it to him with pleasure Col, but cannot tell any thing about whether he will sign it or not."
Miss Barton had been all sympathy when I came back the first night telling her my brother was sick, & indefatigable in her efforts to obtain any thing I could suggest for his comfort.
When he was better & had promised Father I would not come out again in the fever laden Cuban sun. I went to Miss Barton & thanked her for her kindness & said my brother was better & I reported to her for duty. Next morning I joined her staff in sourting out clothing for the recoucentrados [?].
There was a whole block of ware houses, the front side all open & exposed to the deadly sun, piled to the top with large goods boxes filled with clothing of every imaginable description sent by the Red Cross or individuals from every part of the U.S. The duty of the workers was to unpack each box & make a list of contents & repack it with list out side - so Miss Barton could know just what supplies she had on hand. This sounds very simple to hear about, but when you take into consideration the intolerably hot sun & the large boxes so many of them so deep when many the bottom in order to reach the articles one had to hang over edge of box with feet up off the ground making the blood rush to the head alarmingly & counting this work of packing, - unpacking & listing all day it was inexpressibly fatiguing. I felt many times a day that I would surely die - that I could not stand the heat & fatigue - but I had come to do what I was told & would stick it out to the last ditch.