Thursday, August 31, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 9 Part 1
King News by Moses KoenigsbergPublished by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
The Myth of the "Message to Garcia" (part 1)link to previous installment link to next installment
The shadow of a perennial pestilence slued my share in the Spanish-American War. Yellow fever had long been the annual incubus of the Southern coast. Mere suspicion of a case was enough to start a panic. Each summer some section of the South witnessed a hegira northward, or a quarantine enforced with repeating-rifles. Cuba was blamed. “The Queen of the Antilles” was charged with propagating the Aedes agypti, the species of mosquito that transported the dread malady. The prospect of eradicating this tropical terror contributed a strong incentive for the war against Spain. At the same time, the notion prevailed that recurrent exposure to the plague instilled an anti-serum. So, it was generally expected that volunteer regiments from the Gulf States, presenting themselves as immunes, would be enrolled in the first expeditionary force. Acceptance of that theory boggled my plans.
As a Texas-Louisiana survivor of several yellow-fever epidemics, I should find little difficulty in attaching myself to the vanguard of the American troops assigned to Cuba. But that must await mobilization. Meanwhile, there was an immediate chance for a great reportorial stunt.
It was my plan to get such a missive from some authoritative source and deliver it to the Cuban commander. In return, he would surely intrust to me a statement for the people of America. Obadiah R. Lake, at first skeptical of its possibilities, soon shifted to keen enthusiasm for the idea. If the undertaking were successful, its sponsorship would bring to him as news editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat a lasting reputation.
Part of my equipment was a moderate acquaintance with the Spanish and German vocabularies. Credentials from a German newspaper would be valuable by way of insurance in the event of a mishap with the Spaniards. Die Westliche Post, published in St. Louis, was one of the most prosperous foreign-language dailies in America. Edward Preetorius, the publisher, a friend of both Lake and myself, was glad to assist. He was especially interested because he would receive my stories under a news-sharing arrangement between Die Westliche Post and the Globe-Democrat. Preetorius agreed to furnish the desired documents. One, he promised, would be a credential from Wolff’s Telegraphisches Buero of Berlin. Walter B. Stevens, the Globe-Democrat’s Washington representative, was regarded by many as the ablest correspondent at the national capital. Lake felt sure Stevens would obtain from a high official—probably Secretary of War Alger, or possibly President McKinley himself—a letter for presentation to Garcia. Signature to a formal communication might be withheld until the sundering of relations with Spain. Even if that eventuality did not come in time, Stevens would contrive some sort of note or memorandum to warrant my errand.
Each hour of delay added hindrances to my mission. But there were office difficulties for Lake to surmount. The great editor, Joseph B. McCullagh, had passed on. Lake was handling this enterprise individually. He felt that as he would suffer the discredit for failure, he should be certain of the credit for success. He had consulted none of his editorial colleagues. Therefore, he must secure through different channels whatever funds were needed for the venture. Lake went to the general manager, Col. Daniel M. Houser. That gentleman was sympathetic but cautious. He would provide the cash only if convinced that the total expenditure would not exceed an amount to be fixed in advance.
Finally, it was agreed to defer the financial specifications until after I had canvassed the situation at Tampa, my “jumping off” place. There, word would reach me from Walter B. Stevens. The Globe-Democrat’s courier to Garcia left St. Louis early on the morning of April 10th. A layover for railroad connections gave me four hours in Montgomery, Alabama. The first capital of the Confederacy bestirred a train of military thoughts. Alabama regiments, as immunes, should be among the earliest to smell gunpowder in Cuba. Attachment to one of them might be the best program open after my interview with General Garcia. Immediate overtures to that end were made possible by this stop at the state capital.
Gov. Joseph F. Johnston was duly impressed by a visit from a correspondent who exhibited two Western Union Telegraph franks, one indorsed by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the other by the New York Sun. Correspondents for metropolitan newspapers were rare visitors in Montgomery. The governor evinced willingness to be quoted on any live subject. It was easy to guide the interview. Yes; any method to enhance the efficiency of the militia should receive wholehearted support. Yes; Johnston cheerfully pledged himself, if war came, to order competitive examinations as the basis for the allotment of field and staff commissions to Alabama’s volunteer troops.
Tampa is a center of pleasantness. For hundreds of thousands of visitors it has served as a key to pleasing memories. For me it was long a cistern of bitterness. For at Tampa, on April 14, 1898, word reached me of the disruption of my most ambitious essay at a news exploit. It was notice that the St. Louis Globe-Democrat had completely severed all association with the project. Mystery surrounded the cancelation of my assignment. Not only did the Globe-Democrat cast the project aside, but it also warned me to renounce the idea. Lake signed the wire. “Must withdraw from any connection with your plan,” it read, roughly, “and advise that it be instantly abandoned. Otherwise embarrassment may follow.” At first reading, the telegram seemed unbelievable. How could Lake, without explanation, suddenly declare taboo the effort that only a few days before he had termed “a splendid conception”? Months passed before the puzzle was solved.
My initial clue came in the announcement that Lieut. Andrew S. Rowan of the 19th United States Infantry had “effected contact with Gen. Calixto Garcia.” His promotion to a lieutenant-colonelcy was recommended by Gen. Nelson A. Miles for “an act of heroism and cool daring that has rarely been excelled in the annals of warfare.” Rowan passed into history as the man who “delivered the message to Garcia.” But Rowan bore no communication or document of any sort to or from Garcia.
An inspirational legend impressed on Rowan’s performance a bogus pattern of copybook rubrics. It lifted a gem out of the casket of military glory and dipped it in the slop trough of literary crapulence. Elbert Hubbard was chiefly responsible. A homily he wrote for his magazine The Philistine, under the heading, “A Message to Garcia,” gained unprecedented currency. It became the classic fable of the war. Many millions of copies were distributed in different forms. Corporations employing workers en masse—insurance, railroad, manufacturing and public-service companies—issued the sermon in attractive brochures as a “pep talk” or “vim cartridge.” A world’s record in foreign circulation was claimed for it through conversion into more alien tongues than any other written item. One of the earliest translations was a Japanese printing for insertion into every knapsack carried by a son of Nippon. Hubbard’s history-twisting tribute to Rowan— first published less than a year after its occasion—included these passages:
In all this Cuban business there is one man who stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion. When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the insurgents. . . .
Someone said to the President, “There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.” Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How “the fellow by the name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oilskin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia, are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail. The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?” By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. . . .
President McKinley never gave Rowan a letter to deliver to Garcia. There is no record that McKinley ever saw Rowan. No one else gave Rowan a letter to Garcia. Hence, there was no such paper to seal in an oilskin pouch and strap over his heart. Instead of landing by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat in four days, Rowan went from Washington to New York and thence by the steamship Adirondack of the Atlas Line to Jamaica. He made this trip under the guidance of United States Quartermaster-General Humphreys, who arranged for his disembarkation at Kingston. There the lieutenant met members of the Cuban junta. They had been advised of his coming. The jefe, Senor Lay, placed himself and his aides at Rowan’s disposal. For ten days plans for the trip to Garcia’s headquarters were under discussion. Two weeks after his departure from Washington, Rowan left Kingston. He traveled by carriage. He had several companions. Rowan’s own account describes them as “the men employed to get me out of Jamaica—with one exception—one man was to be my assistente or orderly.” Another was Gervacio Sabio. According to Rowan’s narrative, Sabio “was charged with seeing that I was guided to General Garcia.”
Rowan does not seem to have been annoyed by Elbert Hubbard’s substitution of heroics for the verities. He harbored a much deeper concern. It involved preservation of the most popular slogan bequeathed by the Spanish-American War—“A Message to Garcia.” So long as that was remembered, Rowan could not be forgotten. The depth of his feeling in this respect is attested by the book in which he told his own story. The title page inscription reads:
HOW I CARRIED THE MESSAGE TO GARCIA
By Colonel Andrew Summers Rowan,
the man whom Elbert Hubbard immortalized by his famous “Message to Garcia”
Published by Walter D. Harney in San Francisco twenty-four years after the episode, the volume shows less effort to recount Rowan’s gallantry than to etch into the reader’s mind the notion of “A Message to Garcia.” That phrase is reiterated with all the relevance of a succession of detour signs and thank-you-ma’ams. The closest approach to its justification is in Rowan’s remembrance of the oral orders defining his task. Those instructions were given by Col. Arthur Wagner, head of the Federal Bureau of Military Intelligence. As quoted in Rowan’s narrative, they ran in part, as follows:
Young man, you have been selected by the President to communicate with—or rather, to carry a message to—General Garcia, who will be found somewhere in the eastern part of Cuba. Your problem will be to secure from him information of a military character, bring it down to date and arrange it on a working basis. Your message to him will be in the nature of a series of inquiries from the President. Written communication, further than is necessary to identify you, will be avoided. . .
It would be interesting to compare this recital of Colonel Wagner’s directions with such recollections of the phraseology as came to Rowan before Elbert Hubbard’s rendition of the incident. An earlier transcript might not have included such laborious massage of the word “message.” It might have omitted the implication that President McKinley committed a gross violation of international comity. The interview between Wagner and Rowan occurred on April 8th. The United States and Spain were still at peace. President McKinley did not send—nor did he authorize the sending of—a message to the General commanding a revolutionary army at war against a nation which the United States continued to recognize as a friendly power.
“It was when the ship entered Cuban waters,” Rowan wrote, “that I first realized danger. I had but one incriminating paper, a letter from the State Department to officials in Jamaica saying that I was what I might represent myself to be. . . . On April 20th, the cables announced that the United States had given Spain until the 23rd to surrender Cuba to the Cubans. ... I had in cipher cabled my arrival and on April 23rd came: ‘Join Garcia as soon as possible.’ ”
Rowan met General Garcia at Bayamo in Oriente Province. Although he had been instructed to obtain certain data from the Cuban leader, that gentleman thought it better to impart the desired information to Washington through members of his own staff. Rowan left for the United States on May 6th. Two Cuban officers accompanied him.
Not three but five weeks after his departure, having been in the interim always empty-handed but never single-handed, Rowan reported back at Colonel Wagner’s headquarters.
The “Message to Garcia” was fanciful embroidery of a model course of conduct which, if actually followed out, would have earned for Rowan a court-martial instead of a hero’s honors. It idealized the initiative and self-reliance with which a command may be executed without pause for questioning or consultation. But Rowan’s orders foreclosed such behavior. He would have been guilty of insubordination if he had shortened or altered the lines of action carefully laid out for him. Debunking of the “Message to Garcia” does not dim one jot of Rowan’s martial fame. On the contrary, it relieves his performance of the fictional frills the presence of which contradicted the fine discipline that marked his service.
Elbert Hubbard’s panegyric left out of account the fourteen days between April 9th and April 23rd. That was the fortnight during which Rowan’s activities blocked my assignment. At Washington, Walter B. Stevens was canvassing official friends for cooperation with the Globe-Democrat’s courier. He was encountering more obstacles than Lake, the news editor, had foreseen. A formal letter for presentation to Garcia was refused. Then Stevens requested for me an unofficial note of identification. He was advised to see the chief of the Bureau of Military Intelligence. Colonel Wagner expressed astonishment and anger. He wondered whether the Globe-Democrat realized the nature of its proposal.
Colonel Wagner approved of newspaper enterprise when it was constructive. But he could find nothing commendable in the venture Stevens outlined. Did the Globe-Democrat understand that persistence in this business might interfere with possible plans of the United States Army staff? That question stopped Stevens. It turned his natural placidity into a flurry of alarm. His discomfiture was poured into a “red-hot” warning that he immediately sent to Lake. It spilled over into the panicky telegram that Lake flashed to me at Tampa.
It was not difficult to understand Wagner’s opposition. No matter how remote the likelihood, he must ward off any possible complication of Rowan’s mission through the appearance before General Garcia of another American emissary at or about the same time the lieutenant arrived. The reasonableness of Wagner’s attitude, however, offered no consolation for Stevens’ skittishness. Perseverance by the Globe-Democrat's Washington correspondent might have enabled me to set out with what was never intrusted to Rowan—an actual message to Garcia.
Collapse of the campaign for an interview with the Cuban rebels’ chieftain knocked my plans into a cocked hat. Lost ground must be recovered without delay to assure me an eye-witness role in the impending war. What route to the firing line was most certain? My judgment pointed to enlistment in a Gulf State regiment.
The next morning I was in Mobile. My first call was at the office of the Mobile Register. Why not serve simultaneously as a war correspondent and a soldier? Col. Erwin Craighead, the editor, cordially approved my program. His regular staff would cover the news until the troops were moved. Thereupon, my appointment as the Register’s representative would become effective. Colonel Craighead offered to counsel and assist in several preliminaries.
He recommended to me the Gulf City Guards. His choice was decided by the personality of the Captain, John D. Hagan. That gentleman was an admirer of the Mobile Register. The Captain’s answer to an outline of my intentions was simple and complete. He handed me a note of introduction to William F. Fincher, first sergeant of the Gulf City Guards.
Painful occasion arose to question the tact of this procedure. Sergeant Fincher ached all over at the mere thought of an uppish private. Nothing was more important than to keep an enlisted man in his place. Fincher’s life afforded no satisfaction equal to the discharge of this duty. My case engaged his full enthusiasm. It was bad enough for a recruit to present the personal card of his captain. It became an assault on Fincher’s official pride when that recruit appeared in a smart tan derby, a pleated shirt and suede-topped shoes. One glance down the company street convinced me that this sartorial ensemble might fail to elicit popular favor.
A ragamuffin gang had gathered near the sergeant’s tent. It was plainly bent on a purpose not altogether sociable. An unintelligible bark from Fincher was followed by a brisk motion of his right thumb. Possibly the gesture was meant as a direction for me. It was apparently accepted by the waiting crew as a signal. It launched a first-class scrimmage. Half an hour later, an improvised provost guard disentangled several dozens of punching, mauling, tussling hillbillies, wharf rats and city dudes.
My culpable raiment was not the sole cause of this Donnybrook Fair. An unforeseen diversion altered the original program. The show had been hastily planned in two parts. The first act was the expurgation of my objectionable attire. The second was to consist of a bit of innocent fun—the tossing of the chastened culprit in an army blanket. An unexpected vigor of resistance prolonged the first scene. It offered an irresistible temptation for action by the neighboring Montgomery Greys. A feud between that “blue blood” organization and Captain Hagan’s command dated back to state militia encampments. The Gulf City Guards came in the main from the wharves of Mobile. Rivalry between the two units had been salted with class distinction. The Montgomery Greys did not intervene to rescue me. They piled in lustily to what seemed an especially opportune free-for-all.
Sergeant Fincher’s aplomb was rumpled. A number of his men would be haled before the summary court for a rumpus that had occurred under his very nose. They would look to him for such friendly intercession as the top sergeant, “father of the company,” could devise. A scapegoat might prove useful. Fincher ordered me “confined to quarters pending action by the officer of the day.” The situation was too ridiculous to admit a sense of injustice. Anyhow, it was up to me to see it through.
The thirty-odd tatterdemalions that lined up for trial the next day might have been refugees from a hobos’ retreat. There was not one whole garment in the crowd. And they were more surly than sorry. None of them needed to submit to military discipline. Each still retained his civilian status. They squirmed in half-naked disgruntlement. They had hastened to camp on the pledge of immediate equipment, including uniforms and other clothing. Thus far, they had received no supplies except food and a third of the required tents. The onset to remove my finery had not been impelled by any personal animus. It was a protest of rags against riches.
A delicate operation in face-saving was indicated. Captain Hagan did the preparatory work. His stint was complicated by the record of hospital attention to three of the broilers. The Captain “hoped no special issue would be made out of what happened.” That was my cue to remain silent.
Several corollary evils developed from a lag in the arrival of fresh recruits. One was the bartering of officers’ commissions. No graft was involved, but dollars instead of fitness were determining the selection of unit leaders. Inside the regimental lines were twelve skeleton companies. Each was awaiting numerical expansion to the minimum stipulated for muster in. Outsiders eager to wear shoulder-straps bargained for them. They offered to defray the expense of assembling and fetching to the cantonment the number of recruits necessary to fill out a company. The price usually demanded was the captaincy. Sometimes a compromise was reached on a lieutenancy. An ironic justice quashed several of these deals. Inability to pass the prescribed physical examination prevented delivery of the purchased commissions.
This traffic in titles was a minor phase of a general condition, like a pimple on a psoric colossus. It was lost in the botchery that cumbered the American Army’s share in the hostilities with Spain. The administrative scandals that later engaged a presidential commission of inquiry were unfolded to me in their making. Alabama’s regiments were among the chief victims of these blunders and misfeasances. Opportunity was given me to observe at first-hand the ineptitudes of a self-satisfied republic bungling a job of militarization.
Fortunately for the United States, the conflict was too unequal and therefore too brief to run up the staggering costs that its pitiable amateurishness otherwise would have entailed. There was little reckoning of what might have happened against a more formidable opponent. Tales of gallantry filled the popular mind to the exclusion of less exhilarating considerations.
Hobson’s bravery in sinking the Merrimac in Santiago Harbor evoked immeasurable exultation, despite his failure to block the channel—the task for which he volunteered. The dauntless courage of Dewey, the superb seamanship of Sampson and Schley and the rash intrepidity of Col. Theodore Roosevelt were just highlights in a firmament studded with dazzling signs of martial supremacy. Hero-worship left little inclination for fault-finding. It was much pleasanter than worrying about the “embalmed beef” that entered into army rations or the “criminally induced typhoid” that decimated the training camps.
Few contingencies had yielded such an aftermath of instructive experience as came to America through its one-sided struggle with a decrepit adversary. Yet the principal admonishment was resolutely ignored. It was not comforting to dilate the fact that again disease had inflicted on our troops a greater mortality than battle. Nor was it prideful to infer from that score the moral of unpreparedness. It was much more satisfactory to deduce a national invulnerability. This bubble of vainglory wrought a spell of witchery that lasted nearly twenty years. It was pricked, but not wholly deflated, by the World War. Gradually, for another twenty years, it again filled out. Not until France fell under Hitler’s blitzkreig did it burst. Then, caught in the frenzy of a universal crisis, America reverted to the lessons it had received but rejected more than forty years before.
Disappointment pursued me throughout the war with Spain. The failure of my attempt to carry a message to Garcia was only the beginning of a series of frustrations. Hope of winning a commission in a competitive examination was destroyed on May 12th. That day Governor Johnston announced his appointments of field and staff officers. He had broken his promise. Chagrin turned my thoughts to Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. They were assembling at San Antonio. There, in my home town, I might find better auspices for enlistment. A conversation with Colonel Craighead dismissed this notion. He pointed out that Roosevelt’s men came largely from the West and Northwest. That fact made it unlikely that they would reach Cuba ahead of troops claiming immunity to yellow fever. Perhaps more important was my job as correspondent. That would be impossible for a member of Roosevelt’s regiment.
On May 21st, the Gulf City Guards were mustered in at Alba’s pasture near Frascati, outside Mobile, as Company E of the Second Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Eight days later, a trainload of laughing, cheering troops rolled through our camp, waving the campaign sombreros that were destined to symbolize for a number of years the elan of the American soldier. They were Roosevelt’s Rough Riders en route to Tampa. It was a tantalizing spectacle. Apparently, I had foozled my calculations. These boys from the West were beating me to the front.
Two more weeks of dejected waiting brought suddenly revived hopes. On June 15th the quartermaster began the issuance of ordnance and clothing. We were given rifles of the same pattern used by the state militia. Nearly all the equipment was secondhand, but that only spelled the shortening of delay. Indications that we were on our way to real action increased hourly. We were assigned to General Coppinger’s command. On June 17th we broke camp at Frascati and marched eleven miles to Spring Hill. We were part of the second brigade of the First Division of the Fourth Army Corps. At reveille on June 19th the camp was in a hubbub. Orders had come to board transports in Mobile Bay. But the tents were not struck that day. Somebody in authority had discovered at the last moment that General Coppinger’s corps was not quite ready for front-line duty. The second brigade was armed with single-shot Springfield rifles with black-powder cartridges. It might be at some disadvantage facing smokeless Mausers, each capable of a spurt of five bullets.
Other deficiencies magnified the absurdity of the embarkation order. A supply of Krag-Jorgensen automatics identical with the regular army rifle would have been of scant help to the volunteers. Without a course of instruction in its use, they would have found this gun more of an embarrassment than a weapon. Not a third of the brigade was fit to approach, much less enter, a combat area.
On June 20,1898, General Coppinger was directed to move the first division of his corps to Miami, Fla. To the rank and file, this news came as glad tidings. Our tents would be “just around the corner” from Cuba. To the staff officers, the order came as a shock. They recalled publication of the results of a survey of the area by Gen. J. F. Wade. He described the section as unfit for camp purposes. Only two years before it had been the site of an Indian trading-post. The settlement consisted of a couple of dwellings, a general store and Fort Dallas, a little stone relic of the Seminole uprising sixty years back. Then Henry M. Flagler extended the Florida East Coast Railway to this primitive spot in a palmetto wilderness. He began the construction of the Royal Palm Hotel. It was to be the nucleus of an expansive pleasure resort. Plans for this development were still in embryo at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.
Flagler was an intimate of Russell A. Alger, Secretary of War. Of course, patriotic motives guided their discussions of Miami as a proper place for the training of volunteer regiments. The wildness of the terrain was a point in its favor. However, $10,000 of Flagler’s personal funds would be spent in making the tract more usable. It is not recorded that General Wade’s report was mentioned in the conversations between Flagler and Alger. Surely, there were no predictions that any fault in the General’s findings would be cured by the War Department’s approval of Miami. Assumably, hygienic conditions entered into Uncle Sam’s selection of a cantonment location. Such a choice was interpretable as government indorsement of the region’s salubrity. That would make ideal advertising. So, there could have been no talk about the tremendous promotion values that might accrue.
Twenty-three months after Miami’s incorporation as a township with 260 population, its name was regularly appearing in newspaper datelines throughout the country. Daily dispatches reported the military schooling of the First and Second Alabama, the First and Second Louisiana, and the First and Second Texas regiments. On arrival in Florida these units had been transferred to Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s Seventh Army Corps as its First Division. For several days, press accounts of what happened to the troops at Miami were tinged with humor. My own stories paralleled those of the other correspondents. By a strange unanimity, the unexpected job of clearing a jungle for an encampment was treated as a joke on 6,000 rookies. It turned out a miserable jest. Its ineptitude was emphasized by the damningly excessive rolls of dead, disabled and invalid members of the First Division.
My first experience with censorship came in mid-July. Dr. Vilas, the surgeon in charge, had denied me admission to the division hospital. A soldier able to walk should apply at his regimental headquarters for medical treatment. The Second Alabama’s camp was nearly three miles away. It was a scorching afternoon. Dr. W. H. Oates, a contract physician working under Vilas, noticed my condition. He motioned me inside his own marquee. An examination showed a temperature of 104°. Dr. Oates quickly settled me on a cot in the nearest ward and then sheared off enough red tape to assure me of its occupancy until pronounced fit for return to my company.
News drifted around me of such a nature as would have been unobtainable by direct inquiry. Fretful surgeons, in the presence of harmless invalids apparently too apathetic to listen, flouted the inhibitions that ordinarily would have checked their tongues. They spilled story after story. The urge toward a telegraph wire became an obsession. The steward on duty was a conciliatory fellow especially responsive to pecuniary favors. By the end of the third day he had agreed to help me file dispatches. When tattoo sounded at nine o’clock, he would draw aside the canvas flap behind my cot, permitting me to slip out unnoticed to the Western Union office in the Royal Palm Hotel 1,500 yards east. It was his own idea to fix an ice pack inside my campaign hat.
That night a drunken nurse set the tent afire. He had overturned a kerosene lamp. Flaming oil spattered over the delirious typhoid-fever patient who lay next to me. In the consequent racket my get-away was unobserved even by my confederate. But an exasperating hindrance awaited me. The telegraph operator refused to transmit my copy without the censor’s O.K. That seemed unbelievable. The only ban on news transmission, of which notice had reached me, related to troop movements. Now any need for even that prohibition was gone. The power of Spain had already crumbled at Santiago. So there was no longer a dangerous enemy to justify a tightening of censorship. Surely there could be no official restriction of intelligence concerning American soldiers encamped on American soil and addressed by an American correspondent to an American newspaper. The censor promptly vetoed this conclusion.
“My instructions,” he said, “are to cut out anything calculated to discourage recruits from enlisting.” An American censorship to deceive Americans! A formula to suppress that character of information to which the public was more fully entitled than any other disclosures the war might produce! A barrier to prevent or impede corrective measures on which the survival of our armies might depend! It aroused in me an indignation that never fully subsided. It prompted the formulation of a protest the issuance of which was to bring one of the most stressful of my experiences. Its publication was necessarily deferred until my release from army discipline.
The usual course of censorship followed. It generated rumors more alarming than the truth would have been. The real conditions were bad enough. An over-arduous drill-master was piling unbearable ordeals on a plethora of tropical malignities. Prevalent incompetence was deepening and widening this nasty slough. Regular routine was repeatedly suspended by regiments too debilitated to assemble for inspection. Letters to the folks at home sowed widespread fears. Most of these messages of misery harped on a common subject—a persistent feeling that the published obituary lists, despite their staggering length, covered only a part of the actual death-roll. Reports spread through the South that epidemics of smallpox and typhoid fever were wiping out the First Division. An outcry arose to “rescue the troops from the Miami ‘Camp of Horrors.’ ”
Plain abandonment of this military site at that juncture would be an awkward confession of an ugly error. Why had it been chosen in the first place? While army diplomats wrestled with this embarrassment, popular pressure intensified. A newspaper statement by Governor Culberson marked the climax. “If the War Department is unable to move our two regiments to a safe distance from their present quarters,” he was quoted, “the State of Texas will presently undertake to do so.” The Governor was never required to explain this challenge. That afternoon, July 29th, the War Department found a way out of its strait. Orders were issued to mobilize the Seventh Army Corps at Jacksonville. This obviated the need for any mention of the mistake of Miami. It provided a sufficient reason, together with the instructions, to transport the First Division 400 miles north.
Unbridled joy over the news of their deliverance swept through the six regiments. Bonfires were lighted. At the head of each regimental street, hundreds of soldiers danced around the flames yelling and singing. The rhythm of a Civil War chant rolled through the camp to the refrain, “We’ll Hang Old Flagler to a Sour Apple Tree.” The celebration grew into a deafening charivari. It wound up in song services of praise at the half-dozen Y.M.C.A. tents.
We were installed in Camp Cuba Libre at Jacksonville—Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s headquarters—during the first two weeks of August. The succeeding month witnessed more bickering than soldiering. A consensus that the war was practically over divided the volunteers into two factions. One, comprising most of the enlisted men, looked eagerly forward to muster out. The other, including nearly all the commissioned officers, preferred to continue under arms. The difference frequently flared into bitterness.
Results of informal polls, allegedly taken to ascertain the wishes of the rank and file, were always hotly disputed. Each day added to the virulence of the controversy. The epauletted group sent delegations to Washington. They sought every amenable agency to urge retention of their units for service overseas. The plain soldiers were forbidden any joint movement in opposition. Orders were posted threatening punishment under The Articles of War for any concerted action intended to shorten the army’s term of duty. More than forty years later, another American army—the draftees of 1940-41—found itself in a similar plight.
The pother about the muster out of the volunteers of 1898 increased the power of the mills grinding the wrath of a journalist in soldier’s khaki. My contemplated remonstrance against military censorship in particular had broadened into an attack on military outrages in general. It would be best presented in book form. Its vehicle would be a first-hand history of the First Division of the Seventh Army Corps. The harrowing scenes enacted in Miami suggested the title—Southern Martyrs.
The Brown Printing Company, of Montgomery, agreed to publish my book if assured of the cost of printing. This guaranty was promptly forthcoming. It was furnished by Maj. W. W. Brandon, my battalion commander, afterward Governor of Alabama and a picturesque figure at Democratic national conventions. Brandon was a lawyer. His advice steered me through the shoals of a unique crisis. Subscription blanks for Southern Martyrs were distributed. They set publication for October 20th. That was the day on which the Alabama regiments would be mustered out. Some of the slips for subscribers fell into unfriendly hands—officers uncomfortably certain of censure in any critical review of the volunteers’ sufferings. A committee visited the Brown Printing Company.
The spokesman warned the publishers that the book they proposed to issue from the pen of a sergeant in the United States Army might be indefinitely delayed. The callers brought some confidential information. Evidence was claimed that the manuscript constituted insubordination, contumacy and disloyalty of such grossness as warranted the arrest of the writer for trial by court-martial. Under such circumstances publishing plans might be most unprofitably disarranged. The committee was glad to offer this intelligence in time to prevent a loss. Moreover, there were important friends who would be pleased to know that the Brown Company had withdrawn from a venture that threatened so much unpleasantness.
This warning produced effects wholly opposite to its purpose. It infused the printers with an odd optimism. “If they put you into prison, your book will sell like hotcakes,” the head of the firm jubilantly assured me. The prospect was not nearly so beguiling to me as it was to my publisher. The solicitude of a partner who would welcome an increase of profits through my confinement behind jail bars did not impress me. In fact it pinned a queer suspicion to Mr. Brown’s sinuous aura. Besides, my paramount obligation in this transaction ran to Major Brandon. There was pressing need for his counsel.
Brandon confirmed the possibility of my subjection to a trial by court-martial. He had considered this before giving his pledge of security to the Brown Printing Company. Until that day, it had seemed too remote a contingency to bother about. Now stringent precautions should be taken. Brandon had been present when several angry officers discussed ways and means of effecting my arrest. Their ebullitions had concerned him less than the disclosure of Brown’s attitude. My vigilance must be especially directed toward my publisher. No part of the original manuscript or any reproduction thereof should be allowed to reach censorious hands until the day of the writer’s discharge from the army. Only by locking myself in the printing plant was it possible to provide the safeguards Major Brandon advised. Every second of the next three weeks was spent in a self-imposed incarceration. The author slept on the type for his book. The page forms of Southern Martyrs were stacked in racks on top of which a cot for my use was fastened with ropes.
Brown’s resentment did not ease the strain of that stretch. On the other hand, we beat our schedule. The 212-page cloth-bound volume was ready for distribution on October 18th. A somewhat pretentious sales show was arranged to coincide with the muster-out proceedings of the Second Alabama regiment in Montgomery two days later. As each soldier stepped from his last function in the army—the collection of moneys due him—he would turn to face a tally-ho fifty paces in front of the paymaster’s booth. The vehicle was filled with copies of Southern Martyrs. Beside it several attendants in scarlet surtouts were blowing hunters’ horns to attract attention.
The performance wasn’t well received by the disbanded soldiers of the First Alabama regiment in Birmingham. An angry throng, surrounding the coach, ordered it driven to the edge of East Lake. There, while the horses were being unharnessed, the driver and his companions sought safety in flight. The tally-ho, with 1,000 copies of my book aboard, was tossed into the lake.
It relieved me afterward to learn that this was not just an uncouth form of literary criticism. It was an explosion of mistaken partizanship. The mob had been actuated by a baseless rumor that my book presented Colonel Higdon in an unfavorable light. Perhaps it was fortunate that the task of getting my certificate of discharge from the army detained me in Montgomery that day.
Dispersing members of the Second Alabama were more favorably disposed. They bought 700 copies of Southern Martyrs in three hours. At $1.25 each, the proceeds not only canceled Major Brandon’s obligation but also left a margin of gain.
Release from the restrictions of military discipline redoubled my eagerness to press the crusade which it had been my intention to initiate with Southern Martyrs. My exhortations fell on unresponsive ears. Those accessible to my urgings had other views. They would defer action until the outcome of the inquiry ordered by the President. “There’ll Be a Hot Time in The Old Town Tonight,” became the song tag of the Spanish-American War. More appropriate might have been the childhood chant—’“Here we go ’round the mulberry bush.” The fanciful shrub of that juvenile game would have been a fitting emblem for the volunteer army regime. And its make-believe foliage would have furnished a suitable canopy for the commission appointed by President McKinley “to investigate the conduct of the War Department in the war with Spain.”
The pussy-footing report of that board of inquiry discouraged me less than the general indifference with which it was received. There was no public disposition to appraise the military establishment. The common attitude of the average American—then, as always, except for two intermissions—reflected a species of bottomlands reasoning reported by the long-forgotten Arkansaw Traveler. The native was explaining to the wayfarer why he didn’t repair the gaping rent in the roof of his shack. “When the sun shines,” said the local sage, “there’s no need for fussing with that hole; and when it rains it’s too slippery to get at the darned thing.” The age of this parable never lessened its pertinence. It always served as an apt commentary on the American way of handling the national preparedness problem—adherence to a statesmanship in complete harmony with the breadth and contours of its cornfield origin. \\
While Southern Martyrs fell short of its aim as an agency for reform, it led to the breaking of an employment record. Maj. W. W. Screws, editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, thought the book entitled me to residence in Alabama with membership on the staff of his newspaper. Colonel Craighead, learning of this arrangement, invited me to report the proceedings of the state legislature for the Mobile Register. Then—without solicitation of any kind on my part—five more jobs were handed to me.
Salaries came to me as assistant reading clerk of the House of Representatives, as assistant secretary of the Senate Committee on Rules, and as correspondent watching certain types of proposed enactments for three interstate business organizations—the American Proprietory Association, consisting of owners of patent medicine brands, a society of bankers and a group of manufacturers. They were perquisites regularly given to the correspondents for the two leading papers of the state during the legislative session. My earnings reached $135 a week.
Chapter 9 Part 2 Next Week
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