The Spanish-American War: Miss Annie's Story I
[Editor: Wheeler Plantation curator, Melissa Beasley, discovered a number of hand written pages within Miss Annie’s small desk. They tell the story of her involvement in the Spanish-American War. 1998 was the 100-year anniversary of the conflict, and it was felt that the reprinting of these pages would be appropriate. The manuscript has been reproduced without editing; cross-outs, underlines, and original spellings are preserved.]
In the early winter of 1898 Father with his four daughters was staying at Arlington Hotel in Washington. One cold dark night, after coming home late from a reception, I was awakened by hearing cries of "Extra." I turned over sleepily wondering what it might be.
The next morning when I went down with Father to and early breakfast, we found the papers full of the explosion of the "Maine." He hurried through his breakfast like a school boy & rushed over to the White House & was the first man in the U.S. to offer his Services to President McKinley in case of War with Spain.
Followed months of excitement then declaration of War & Father's appointment as Major General & leaving for Tampa.
Came a day when the thought of spending the summer at some Hotel, dressing & going to parties & listening to music every night at dinner & reading the newspapers while Father & my brother were confronting untold dangers & suffering, was simpy unbearable to me.
A flood of realization swept over me of how Much it would mean to see my adored Father & to hear his voice & touch his hand & one more assurance of his precious love before he sailed for Cuba. I simply had to go to Tampa. Then I heard the troops were leaving at once. Went to War Dep. To ask Gen Alger if I would have time to get to Tampa before the troops sailed & he told me I would buy advised me not to go.
Walking down the Corridor of War Department, passing an open door I saw Fathers old friend Gen Scofield. Went in Seeking comfort & told him how I felt hoping for en couragment. He was most emphatic in his hard opposition - said in absence of Father he would command me not to go-. That when a man went to war the only right & proper & dignified thing for the women of his family to do was to stand on the door step & bid him fare well & be standing there to welcome them him, if he comes back.
I rejected mentioning the subject to him, but nothing could alter my determination to go. I wrote to Father asking if I could come & fearing he might Say "no," after a sleepless night I arose at dawn & took a train at six oclock. It was a wearisome journey, filled with many misgivings for I did not want to do anything that would disturb or worry Father.
Reached Tampa at close of a hot day & went up to Tamp Bay Hotel. (I know Father was living in Camp, but inquired if he was at Hotel and was told he was there Calling on Gen Shafter.) I came out into the Corridor & will never forget my feelings of intense relief when I saw my dear Father coming toward me (I had never seen him in uniform before ) with a happy welcoming smile. That he was glad to see me & did not think I had done wrong in coming was an inexpressible joy to me.
The following winter was filled with military formation of all times kind. Parades, reviews, drilling. The Hotel was filled with charming & interesting & distinguished men & women of our own & many foreign countries. The bright uniforms of different Nations, & charming ladies toilets were a very brilliant sight.
Fathers tent was & I had many sweet peaceful talks at the end of the day sitting in front of his tent watching the sun go down behind the Pines & either walking on Sundays either walking to the impressive services of the Chaplin's held in the pine groves with the soldiers sitting down in the ground, or riding horse back in the early morng to the more distant firs [?].
Finally the frai one night in the crowded Hotel an intangible something - a change came over the great assemblage & somehow we knew without being told, that the orders had come to "move" - embark.
Then a night of bustle & confusion. I got some older ladies to go with me to Fathers tent, but had little opportunity of seeing any thing of him or my brother, who was a Lt. On his staff - so busy were they having every thing moved with the greatest expedition. I could not help but smile at the extreme activitiss of Henry - a white by who had hidden under the seats of the soldier train & come all the way from St Louis - so determined was he to "go to war."
After being convinced that my Father never had any personal servant in War times, he had finally prevailed on my brother, Joe, Jr. To hire him. & so desperately afraid was he of being left behind, he was darting that night back and forth going on a dead run to do any bidding.
When next I saw the troops on the transports at Tampa Bay, there was Henry, happy as a king feeling that he was safely on board ship & all the kings horses & all the kings men could not get him off.
A day of mad confusion & the transports were off & then we heard Spanish gun boats had been here & transports returned & enlined the little slip of water in front of Port Tamp Hotel & there for a week came seventeen big Transports nose to nose with twenty thousand men. Every evening Father, Gen Shafter, Col Miles, John Jacob Astor & I dined to gether. We were frequently joined by other officers, & war Correspondents Richard Hardy Dais, Casper Whiting et als.
Again they started out. I was much exhausted & spent the night at Fort Tampa with friends. Early next morning some Kindly soul Knocked at our door, saying a boat was just leaving to take water & mail to the Transports anchored twenty miles down the Bay & if we hurried we might go on it. I sprang into my clothes & without a thought of breakfast ran down the dock and got aboard.
Our boat went up to one after another of the Transports anchored in a group. As we approached each some officer would appear at the rail of the big ship & some women from among the group of wives - Mother, daughters, sweethearts - on our boat would exclaim & rush to the rail of the small boat. Fathers Transport was the last one we reached but I found him & my brother standing by the Rail anxiously watching for me.
When all the round had been made I saw the flagship up p raise the flag "Fleet attention" - then majestically sail forth, each ship in turn falling in behind, so close that the parting made from by the ships extended from one to another - following "a straight and narrow path." Every transport was liberally covered with flags flying gaily in the breeze & men all through the rigging & up in the Cro'nest & every available spot to climb, large enough to hold a man - all waving their hats & cheering & bands playing & the sun light shining on the gleaming waters & the with birds flying against blue sky & blue water made a scene never to be forgotten.
As we turned our faces back toward Port Tamp I said, "Verily, will Cuba be free," but "how my heart will sob with bitter pain before those brave shops anchor there again."
Then as the shops grew smaller & dimmer to our - already - dimming eyes, our boat, filled with "the girls they left behind them" turned about & returned to Port Tampa.
The bottom had dropped out of the world. The scenes which had been so recently filled with soldiers every where, with life, with animation, were empty & silent. No sound save the moaning of the wind in the pine trees.
I had no time to repine. I could no lose a minute from tak making every possible humane effort to carry out the Keen desire that had been bubbling & seething in my heart ever since war had been declared - to go to Cuba & do the little that I could for the soldiers suffering in the Hospital. I had never had Any training & had a very humble opinion of my own ability, but inferred there would be a number of trained nurses there in well established Hospitals, & I thought I might be able to render service doing little things that did not require skill, and my heart was so deeply in it.
I did not dare mention it to Father because if he said no, that would be an end of it & I could do nothing more.
In Wash. I had applied to the D.A.R & other organizations of which I was a member & was refused by all because I was not trained. In Tampa I had spoken to a few - very guardedly - about my great desire, & all held up their hands in holy horror at the very thought of such a thing.
In fear & trembling I approached one of Fathers staff Officers - Col Parker West. He was crushing in his disapproval, said he was astonished at my Fathers daughter suggesting such a thing, that surely I must be joking, that it would be highly improper, that Father would be incensed & it was absolutely impossible. This did not alter my determination in the least degree, but I did not mention it in his presence again. Later I approached Col Mais [?] senior Surgeon on Gen Miles staff & he was equally discouraging, saying he was in a position to know & could emphaticaly tell me that Most positively I would not be allowed in a single Hospital that summer [?]. If I should land in Cuba I would be sent back to the States at once, by both my Father & by the Gov Authorities.
So I kept reaching out in every direction until finally I found an opportunity...
[Editor: Miss Annie did not describe within these papers how she won the opportunity, as she immediately begins a description of her voyage to Cuba. There is, however, the following letter that clearly describes her victory with respect to this battle of wills.]
KEY WEST, FLA., JUNE 20 1898
Dear Miss Wheeler:
Conforming to your request and wishes I called on Miss Clara Barton this morning with the result which her enclosed letter Explains I would suggest that you request Col Michler adjd Genl on Genl Miles Staff at Tampa Bay Hotel to request for your transportation (or order it) from any Captain of Any transport going to Cuba Taking these letters with you Miss Barton told me she could be found (her ship the Texas) in the vicinity of the Troops however they land should you have any trouble in getting transportation please let me Know and Ill apply directly to Genl Miles who I know well take pleasure in forwarding the daughter of Genl Wheeler to Miss Barton expressig the hope that you will have aspeedy and very [?] safe journey and that you will be very happy in your work and I know you will be with such a charming and excellent woman as Miss Barton believe me dear Miss Wheeler your very sinceir and humble servant.
Major, Chief Surgeon U.S. Vol servig on Genl Miles Staff
I may be here for Several days and should be pleased to hear from you that you have recd the Enclosed & that Col Michler he [?] Give you transportation I would Suggest that you get on to the first transport goig Either for Tamp or Jacksonville or Elsewhere better communicate with Miss Phipps at (D) St Lukes Hospl New York for whom I also obtained permission to go to Miss Barton She will accompany you a bout [?] estimable Mil[?] from Pittsburgh E frist [?] family
[in margin of first page] If you have trouble getting transportatin Send Miss Bartons letter back to me mark it to be forwarded.to me from here and Ill See Genl Miles personally soon as posible D
[top of first page] I omitted to say the Texas sailed just after my visit to Miss Barton, this aen after the transports [conveyed] troops to Cuba