A Passage to Cuba

In the Spanish-American War, a number of Berrien County men were serving with the 3rd Georgia Regiment, U.S. Volunteer Infantry when the regiment embarked for Cuba on Friday the 13th of January, 1899.

The Third Georgia Regiment sailed for Cuba aboard the steamer Roumanian, which had been acquired by the US Army Quartermaster's Department in 1898. In March, 1899, the Roumanian was renamed US Army Transport Crook, photographed here clearing Savannah in June, 1899.

The Third Georgia Regiment sailed for Cuba aboard the steamer Roumanian, which had been acquired by the US Army Quartermaster’s Department in 1898. In March, 1899, the Roumanian was renamed US Army Transport Crook, photographed here clearing Savannah in June, 1899.

Among Berrien County, GA men of  Company D, 3rd Georgia Regiment were Walter A. Griner, Carl R. O’Quinn, Pythias D. Yapp, Zachary T. Hester, W. Dutchman Stephens, Samuel Z.T. Lipham, James M. Bridges, Charles A. Courson, Love Culbreath, George C. Flowers, James L. Jordan and George A. Martin.  Aaron Cook served as a private in Company E, Third Regiment, U.S. Volunteer Infantry. Other Berrien countians serving in the Third Regiment were Luther Lawrence Hallman and William F. Patten, both in Company B.

The Third Regiment had been organized at Camp Northen, Griffin, GA over the summer of 1898 and mustered into the service of the United States on August 24, 1898 with 43 officers and 1,243 enlisted men.  Assigned to Second Brigade, Third Division, Second Army Corps on October 7, 1898, the Third Regiment left Camp Northen on November 21 and arrived at Savannah, GA on November 22, 1898. There, the Third Regiment  encamped at Camp Onward, awaiting embarkation.  There were numerous delays in arranging transport passage for the regiment.  The original transport was to be the S.S. Chester, but the ship broke her propeller on the return from delivering the 15th US Infantry to Nuevitas, Cuba and had to be put in dry dock for repairs.

SS Roumanian being loaded with supplies for the trip to Cuba.

SS Roumanian being loaded with supplies for the trip to Cuba.

 

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed dockside in 1918.

The Roumanian had been purchased by the U.S. Government for $240,000 from Austin, Baldwin & Co. on July 12, 1898 and assigned to the U.S. Army Transport Service for duty as a troop transport.   The ship had a capacity of 1100 men, 45 officers, and 50 horses.

In spite of the efforts of the Quartermaster Department, the US Army Transports were less than excellent. The crowding, the heat, insufficient sanitary facilities, and the resulting stench made the transports anything but pleasant.  It was very uncomfortable as the vessels sat in the hot sun with inadequate sewage control and a build up of animal wastes.

A soldier who shipped aboard the Roumanian to Puerto Rico in 1898 was not in the least complimentary of the vessel:

“The sleeping quarters were at the bottom of the “black hole”, reached by a crude ladder that ran down through the port hatches, past two decks of houses, into the darkness. Hammocks were hung at night in double tiers between rows of upright posts, and so close together that elbows touched. The air was hot and stifling and the sight of the mass of legs and arms protruding in all directions, in the dismal half gloom from the lantern, recalled Dore’s pictures of the Inferno. The ship having been used for years as a cattle boat, the reminiscent odor combined with the smell of bilge water and stale provisions can convey no adequate appreciation by mere description. From the cracks in the boards that covered temporarily the rough bottom a dark slime oozed and made the footing insecure. One could hardly stay there without feeling giddy, but that is where the men were expected to sleep and eat. A soldier found on deck after taps had sounded was summarily ordered below, on penalty of arrest . . . Only the guard relief and the sick men were allowed to sleep on deck . . . The ship being shorthanded, soldiers were asked to volunteer for stoker duty. The reward was food: three portions of sailor’s stew a day. The temptation to get something beside weevily hard-tack, spoiled canned beef and rotten tomatoes, drew many a sturdy lad to the fire-room . . . Few of the soldiers could stand the test for more than one shift, although the promise of food was hard to resist . . . The water supply provided for the men was warm and polluted. The steward of the boat made a nice profit selling ice water at ten cents a glass and warm beer at half a dollar a bottle, till stopped by the commanding officer . . . The sanitary arrangements or disarrangements of the ship transcend all description. Let it be said in short that the “Roumanian” was considered the very worst transport that ever went out, and its faults were added to by the incompetence of the captain-quartermaster in charge, who it is a pleasure to say afterward went to jail, and by the indifference, to put it mildly, of a regular army martinet, who confessed no love for volunteers, but might have, if he chose, somewhat ameliorated their condition…”

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed dockside in 1918.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed dockside in 1918.

There was certainly a feud aboard the SS Roumanian, between the Steward and the Captain. The Atlanta Constitution, Dec. 21, 1898 reported the dispute:

Savannah, Ga., December 20 [1898] Steward lHugh] McClain, of the transport Roumania, was discharge by Quartermaster Wrigley upon the arrival of that vessel a day or two ago. McClain at one began circulating reports against Captain Wrigley, who is a former citizen of Rome, Ga. and a volunteer in the army service.
McClain’s charge was that Captain Wrigley had been feeding the men on the transport a very small amount, though allowed 75 cents a day, and that he had been pocketing the difference. Captain Wrigley says he has been feeding them on less than 75 cents, and so reported to the quartermaster general.
On account of the circulation of these reports Captain Wrigley will have a warrant sworn out in the United States court charging McClain with larceny of government property, it being alleged that he took certain silverware and that he made away with commissary stores by selling them to soldiers. McClain’s attorney does not object to this course being taken he said tonight and he threatened to swear out a warrant charging Captain Wrigley with embezzlement under the charge referred to above.
McClain had Captain Wrigley arrested this afternoon by a state officer on a warrant charging him with pointing a pistol at him.
Wrigley denied the constable’s right to arrest an army officer, and refused to submit. He went, however, to the justice court and entered a protest. The Justice let him go for the present and now has the matter under consideration.
The Roumania will leave the city in the morning with eight companies of the Sixth Missouri regiment under Colonel Letcher Hardeman and will return the early part of next week, at which time it is now anticipated that these cases will get into the United States court, as both parties declared their intentions today of swearing out warrants.

Steward Hugh McNair alledged that he and Captain Charles Wrighley had a deal to sell liquor to the troops on the ship.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Atlanta Constitution
Sunday, January 16, 1899

The Third Georgia Leaves.

Transport Starts with the Boys for Cuba.

Thick Fog Detains Vessel at Mouth of River and She Anchors Over Night.

Savannah, Ga., January 14 -(Special.)- There will probably be a number of court-martials of the Third Georgia men when they are caught and carried to Nuevitas. Some fifteen or twenty members of Colonel R. L. Berner’s regiment who were on hand the day before failed to respond to their names when the roll was called on board the transport Roumanian this morning, and the vessel left shortly after 7 o’clock a. m. without them. Those who can be found in the city will be taken in charge by the provost guard here and sent to Cuba on the next available transport. A few of the boys were discharged before the regiment left and others were waiting for discharges in vain, so they decided to remain behind anyhow. On account of the early hour and the fact that the Roumanian was at the extreme eastern end of the docks, there was no crowd on hand to tell the Georgia boys goodby.

The embarkation point at Savannah was under the direction of Depot Quartermaster Ballinger, who gave “Time from Tybee Roads to Havanna of a ship making twelve knots, two days and two hours; ten knots, two and a half days.  Thus the Roumanian with the Third Georgia Regiment arrived at Nuevitas about January 19, 1899.  There being no wharf at Nuevitas the regiment had to be brought into port on lighters, the entire process consuming nine or ten days time.

In a letter written January 24, 1899 from Nuevitas, J. A. Morrow related the Third Georgia Regiment’s passage to Cuba. Conditions on the vessel seemed much improved.

Much could be said of the voyage from the shores of home to this Cuban port. Despite the sadness of departure, the Georgians soon became interested in the novelty of a sea trip and their faces brightened and their hearts grew light. But later there were many brave soldiers who fell as martyrs to their patriotic desire for service – as victims to that indescribable malady which surely deserves a harsher characterization than that brimstone laden definition of war by General Sherman. Scores of the men went right up against it. They did contortion acts, they tossed and tumbled but still the nausea pursued them and forced them repeatedly to the rail. It seemed that every rare and precious tribute was offered up, but the demon of seasickness was inexorable and heaped upon them tortures infinitely worse when they were bankrupt. Chaplain Warren and Lieutenant Brock, above all others, now know the effects of a tussle with Neptune. But at last Chaos ceased to rein in the stomach, the dismal brown taste left the month, the muscles responded to the will and life became more worthy of consideration. After this trip was one of complete pleasure.
     The United States transport Roumanian which brought the regiment over, is not noted as one of the finest transports, but its record in the service shows that it has been one of the most efficient. It has handled thirteen organization of troops without an accident. While in the service the ship is under the command of Captain Wrigley, of the quartermaster’s department who certainly proved himself a capable and faithful officer and a courteous and cultured gentleman. His thoughtful kindness, his unfailing consideration and his affable personality won the highest admiration of every man under his care on the voyage. And in return he was most highly pleased with the regiment and asserted that it excelled any of the regiments transported by the Roumanian in the courteous and soldierly bearing of its officers, the willingness and efficiency in giving assistance to the ship’s officers, as well as in the high character, patience and obedience of the men. It is no small tribute to the Georgians and they appreciate it highly. No ship ever had a more worthy and capable set of offices than the Roumanian, and every man of them won the esteem and gratitude of the Georgians.        To show their appreciation a detail of soldiers under the command of that popular and efficient officer, Lieutenant Chester Elliot of Company G, were immediately upon unloading put to the task of cleaning ship and the officers say it could not possibly have been done more completely, Lieutenant Elliot did not go ashore for four days in order to perform this work.

Soldiers on deck of former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed in Alaska in 1929

Soldiers on deck of former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed in Alaska in 1929

Following her service in the war, in 1899, Roumanian was used by the government to return the bodies of men who had died in Cuba and Puerto Rico during the war and afterwards. She arrived in late March in New York with the remains of  554 soldiers who were killed or died in Cuba, and 120 from Puerto Rico.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) at sea, date unknown.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) at sea, date unknown.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) at sea.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) at sea.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed in 1929

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed in 1929

Thanksgiving Reverie 1898

Thanksgiving During the Spanish-American War

During the Spanish-American War, the people of Georgia were anxious to show the valor of the southern soldier, and their patriotic commitment to the defense of the Union. Many commanders in the southern corps of the U.S. Army corps were reconstructed Confederate officers.  General officers from the south had honor guards of Confederate veterans.  Very few African-Americans were accepted to serve in the U.S. Army, and where they were allowed they were organized into segregated regiments.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1898, Berrien County men Walter A. Griner, Carl R. O’Quinn, Pythias D. Yapp, Zachary T. Hester, W. Dutchman Stephens, Samuel Z.T. Lipham, James M. Bridges, Charles A. Courson, Love Culbreath, George C. Flowers, James L. Jordan, George A. Martin, Aaron Cook , Luther Lawrence Hallman and William F. Patten were with the Third Georgia Regiment, U.S. Volunteer Infantry, encamped at Savannah, GA. The Third Georgia Regiment was awaiting passage to Cuba, where they would serve in the occupation force following the Spanish-American War.

Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1898 was a beautiful Autumn day in the south. That morning, sermons were preached by local pastors in the assembly tents of the regiments. At noon,  in recognition of service to their country and courtesy of the ladies of Savannah, a Thanksgiving Dinner was to be provided to all U.S. regiments encamped at Savannah. At least for all the southern regiments. For the northern regiments, the cost of the meal was paid by the troops.  The Savannah ladies did offer to do the preparation and serving, but some northern regiments declined the courtesy.  Although some offense was taken by the ladies, the Colonel,”with the feeling that the money, once raised the serving would be a comparatively easy and pleasant task… made the preparation and the serving of the dinner a strictly regimental affair.”

Somehow, through an oversight or miscalculation, the ladies of Savannah were unable to obtain an adequate number of turkeys for the celebration and on the day of feast the Third Georgia Regiment had to make do with other fare.  There was provided, however, an abundance of fruit and cakes for the Third Georgia Regiment, for which the men were most thankful to the ladies of Savannah.

Meanwhile, the Savannah camps of the northern regiments feasted. At the encampment of the 161st Indiana Regiment, William Edward Biederwolf reported

“The boys did not have the ladies but they had warm turkey instead and plenty of it. One thousand one hundred pounds of turkey were furnished by Armour & Co., to be accounted for in surplus meat. There were ninety gallons of oysters that day; there were cranberries and celery and mince pies and other delicacies which appeal to the inner man and which go hand in hand with the day thus observed. An enlisted man, who having disposed of nine pounds of turkey, a quart of cranberries, two mince pies and other edibles in proportion kicked because his capacity for consumption went back on him at time so inopportune. Some of the officers dined with “the boys” at the noon meal then had dinner in the officers mess, “during which service the table fairly groaned under its load of good things.”

After the Thanksgiving dinner,

The afternoon was given over to a diversity of amusements upon which the boys were privileged to attend; many cheered the picked baseball nine of our regiment while it secured a victory over a similarly chosen nine from the First North Carolina on the parade ground of our regiment; others attended the shooting match between picked teams of the best shots from the Seventh Army Corps and the Savannah Gun Club at the rifle range of the latter east of the camp; still others witness the football game in which an eleven from the Second Louisianas contested for supremacy with the First Texas Knights of the Gridiron at the City ball park; not a few attended the matinee at the Savannah Theater or saw the Rough Riders in their exhibition at Thunderbolt. 

The Rough Riders

On Tybee Island the  hosted a free oyster roast; in

The day ended most auspiciously in the evening when some of the ladies of Savannah gave an elocutionary and musical entertainment in the assembly tent at which some of the best talent in the city appeared in the various numbers, a favor highly commendable and thoroughly appreciated; and thus the entire day was one joyous occasion that will long be remembered by every man in the regiment.

The aforesaid festivities were followed on November 25th by a sham battle between the two brigades of the Second Division; the First Brigade was assigned to a position behind the huge earthworks thrown up east of Savannah for the protection of the city at the time of Sherman’s famous march to the sea; the works in question remain intact although overgrown to a considerable extent by forest trees and shrubbery and are a grim reminder of the fruits of war in the terrible strife of ’61 to ’65.

 

Thanksgiving Dinner was not always a southern tradition. During the Civil War by both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln issued proclamations calling for “a day of thanksgiving. ”  In the south it was “a day of national humiliation and prayer“; In the north it was a day to be observed “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.”  But in New England, the day of thanksgiving had also been a feast celebration of the bountiful harvest.

The article below, published while the Berrien men were in the field in the Spanish American War, explains how Thanksgiving became accepted in the New South, and a truly national holiday in the United States.

The Jackson Argus
December 2, 1898

Thanksgiving Reverie
WALLACE P. REED

        Thanksgiving Day for nearly 250 years was a sectional holiday. It was observed in New England, and in some of the middle and western states, where New England ideas and customs prevailed.
The old south had no use for the day. Why should the people take a holiday in the latter part of November, when their festive Christmas followed only a month later?
       Prejudice had something to do with this view of the matter. The descendants of the Cavaliers and Huguenots would not tolerate anything that smacked of Puritanism. and it was enough for them to know that Thanksgiving day started with Governor Bradford and the Plymouth colony in 1621.
      So the old-time southerners jogged along in their own way, giving up Christmas week to good cheer, and devoting their days and nights to pleasure. They had their family reunions, social functions, hunting parties and other recreations, and in many things they closely followed the customs of their ancestors in Merrie England.

      Forty or fifty years ago a Thanksgiving proclamation from a southern governor would have been received with jeers, ridicule and severe criticism.
       The people living south of the Potomac were not willing to recognize the great religious and festal day of the Puritans. They did not believe that any custom or institution having its origin in the shadow of Plymouth rock was suited to the civilization which claimed Jamestown as its starting point.
       The two sections seemed to be for ever divided in sentiment in regard to this matter. Down south Christmas was the royal festival of the year, while in the north it passed with slight recognition, the Yankees preferring to enjoy themselves on the holiday instituted by their old Puritan governor.
       With the growing antagonism between the sections, the southern people become more determined than ever to hold fast to their mode of living, their customs, institutions, manners, dress and their principles and prejudices of a political and social nature.
      The tremendous shock of the civil war shattered systems and wrecked many time-honored theories and fondly cherished beliefs. It was no time between battles, when thousands of families were in mourning, for such a mockery as an official day of Thanksgiving in the sorely afflicted south, but as early as 1862 the people became familiar with days of fasting and prayer.
      The loss of Fort Pulaski in the spring of that year was so disheartening that Governor Brown issued a proclamation setting apart a certain day for “fasting, humiliation and prayer.” Here in Atlanta and in other cities and towns throughout the state, the citizens assembled in the churches to hear sermons suited to the occasion. All business was suspended and the day was solemnly observed.
        The southerners of that generation were old-fashioned in their religious beliefs and many who sneered at the New England Thanksgiving accepted very readily the idea of a day of fasting and prayer. Other governors followed Brown’s example and President Davis more than once issued a similar proclamation for the confederate states.
       It is quite likely that this wartime custom prepared our people for the acceptance of Thanksgiving Day, after the restoration of peace.

     After new state governments had been organized in the south the republican governors issued Thanksgiving proclamations, and in short time the new holiday grew in public favor to such an extent that when the democrats returned to power they followed the precedent established by their predecessors of the opposing party.
        The young people liked the change and their elders soon came to the conclusion that one more holiday was a good thing, and they were, readier to accept it when they found that the northern people had borrowed the southern Christmas and were celebrating it more generally every year. Many very old people now living remember that in then young days Christmas was almost ignored in New England, but in the course of a few years after the war for some mysterious reason, it leaped to the front as the most popular festive season of the year.
        The war worked many radical changes in the social, political, moral and industrial conditions which had prevailed in this region for many generations, the new south differed materially from the old south in many respects. In some directions there is a distinct improvement—a step forward—but in others the old timers say that there has been a retrograde movement.
       The millions of angry people who refused for more than two centuries to adopt the Thanksgiving holiday, and then accepted it, did not stop there. Having overcome the prejudices against this custom, they found it easy to allow other yankee ideas, methods and institutions to obtain a foothold in Dixie.
       The older readers of this article will agree with me that great changes have occurred in the southern mode of living m the past thirty years.
       There was a time when a man might have visited every restaurant and boarding house in a southern town without being able to find such articles as baked beans, Boston brown bread, doughnuts and codfish balls. These things followed the invading federal armies, and they came to stay. They are now recognized articles of diet among native southerners, as well as north settlers.
        We have adopted different foods, fashions and methods. Nearly every successful northern idea has been adopted here or is on trial in an experimental way.
       Many New England isms are making headway in the south. Once there were no Spiritualists here; now there are thousands. The female suffrage idea is spreading, and hundreds of callings are open to women in the south which were closed to them before the war.  A generation ago it was a rare thing to find Unitarian, Unaversalist and Congregational churches in this section, but now they are growing in every state.
       We also have Christian Science, the faith cure, divine healers, etc.
       We have become so tolerant that Mormon missionaries come and go, and preach among us without being molested.

      What has all this to do with Thanksgiving Day?
      A great deal. Any one who is familiar with our history can see at a glance the great revolution which has taken place in the south. Perhaps half unconsciously the new south has taken New England as a model, and is gradually shaping herself accordingly.
      In many ways the change is beneficial, but in others it is to our disadvantage. We can learn many valuable lessons from the north in finance, industry, economy, and in such matters as public schools, municipal ownership and commercial progress, but it would be wise to hold on to all that is best of the old south until we are absolutely certain that it will be to our interest in every way to embrace a new civilization.
       But Thanksgiving Day is all right, no matter when or where it originated, and our people will observe it in the proper spirit for all time to come. If we never borrow anything worse from New England we are not likely to suffer.

Watson Grade News March 4, 1904

A continuation of a series of 1904 articles in the Tifton Gazette on the residents of “Watson Grade” by  anonymous author “Trixie.”  The Watson Grade community was just  northeast of Ray’s Mill, GA, near Empire Church where the Watson, Patten, Lee, Cook and Sirmans  families all farmed.   On March 4, 1904, the Watson Grade news included a report that Marcus Greene had seriously injured his hand.

Marcus Greene (1877-1935), farmer of Berrien County, GA. Image source: D. Jane Griffin

Marcus Greene (1877-1935), farmer of Berrien County, GA. Image source: D. Jane Griffin

1904-mar-4-watson-grade-news

Tifton Gazette
March 4, 1904

Watson Grade News.

         We are having some fine weather and the farmers are making good use of it.
         Last Sunday was regular service at Empire, and there was quite a crowd out.
         Mr. S. W. Watson, of Irwin was down last Friday to see his brother Mr. Jos. Watson, who has been suffering with cancer for sometime, but is fast improving.
         The advance on the price of guano seems to have nothing to do with the amount our farmers are buying, as many of them are failing to get their orders filled.
         Mr. Marcus Greene got one of his hands painfully hurt one day last week while riding on the Gray Lumber Co’s log-train. It is thought some of his fingers, if not his hand, will have to be amputated.
         Mr. Aaron Cook caught two trout in Ray’s mill pond last Thursday that weighed fifteen lbs.
         Mr. and Mrs. Joe Kirkland visited relatives in Clinch last Sunday.
         Mr. W. C. Patten has the nicest specimen of South Georgia stock raising to be seen in this section. He has two young colts in his lot that would be a credit to any stock raising country.
         A little girl arrived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. S.I. Watson a few days since.
         The school and Round Pond opened up last Monday under the management of Mr. Jno. Greene, of near Lois.

Trixie

Some notes on the personal mentions:

Mr. S.W. Watson
Samuel W. Watson (1863-1925), a son of Mark R Watson and Rachel Slaughter, was born and raised in the Rays Mill district (1144 Georgia Militia District).  S.W. Watson moved his family  to Irwin County some time before 1900, but returned to Berrien before 1910.

Marcus Greene
Marcus Greene, a farmer of Berrien County,  was a son of Marshall and Elizabeth Greene. He was a brother of Riley M. Greene, who would later be an investor in the Bank of Rays Mill.

Gray Lumber Company
The Gray Lumber Company had as a principal investor Benjamin B. Gray. Gray was a brother-in-law of the notorius outlaw Ben Furlong (c.1854-1886).

Aaron Cook
Aaron Cook
, a veteran of the Spanish American War, was a farmer and lifelong resident of the area.

Mr. & Mrs. Joe Kirkland
Joseph S. Kirkland and Glovie Ann Register were a young couple, married on January 21, 1903.  Their parents were residents of Clinch County.

William C. Patten
William C. Patten
(1849-1944) was a son of William Patten and Elizabeth “Betsey” Register. He was a Notary Public and Ex Officio Justice of the Peace.

Watson Girl
Jentie Watson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel I Watson, was born February 9, 1904.

John Greene
John Greene was a teacher in Berrien county in the early 1900s and taught at Round Pond School in 1904. He was a son of Houston Green and Ann E. Futch, of Lois, GA.  Round Pond  School was one of the common schools of the area. In 1906 Round Pond School was consolidated with Possum Trot and Guthrie School.

Related Posts:

Remember the Maine, Aaron Cook and the Spanish American War

Aaron Cook, of the Watson Grade community near Ray City, GA, was 30 years old when the  USS Maine sank in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898.

Grave of Aaron Cook, veteran of the Spanish-American War, Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Grave of Aaron Cook, veteran of the Spanish-American War, Empire Church Cemetery, near Ray City, GA.

Born June 23, 1867 in Berrien County, GA , Aaron A. Cook  was the youngest son of Lucretia Sirmans and John Jasper Cook. His parents’ farm was in the Watson Grade community just northeast of Rays Mill, GA.  His sister Charlotte married William Jackson Boyette, and sister Mary Ellen Cook (1876-1939) was the wife of Reverend Orville A. Knight.

Just weeks after his birth, local South Georgia papers observed that a rebellion was underway in Cuba, wryly noting that the U. S. government seemed to be more supportive of rebels in other countries.  The Cuban rebels founded the “Revolutionary Committee of Bayamo” in July 1867 and the period of Aaron Cook’s childhood and young adulthood coincided with Cuba’s long struggle for independence from Spain.   The people of Wiregrass Georgia were largely indifferent to the Cuban rebellion, although there was some U. S. desire for  the annexation of this “Queen of the Antilles” where American commercial interests were heavily invested.    In Cuba, the rebels quickly initiated an all-out military uprising against Spanish rule,  starting the  Ten Years’ War and unleashing contention with Spain which spanned a period of thirty years.

The smoldering Cuban insurrection re-erupted in the  Cuban War of Independence (1895–1898). In Wiregrass Georgia, the Cuban conflict was mostly marked by rising costs of coffee and sugar caused by the war, and a mild interest the Cuban rebels’ plans for emancipation of the slaves that worked the Cuban plantations.  A curious side note was circus promoter W. H. Harris’  offer of the man-killing elephant, Gypsy, to the Cuban insurgents.  In 1896, Gypsy had performed  before Wiregrass crowds in Thomasville, GA as a part of Harris’ Nickel Plate Show. Harris reckoned, “If Hannibal found elephants useful in battle, why should not [the Cubans] conquer with Gypsy.”  The elephant would be killed five years later after a murderous rampage in Valdosta, GA.

For the U. S., the war exploded with the sinking of USS Maine:

In January 1898, USS Maine, a second-class battleship built between 1888 and 1895, was sent to Havana  to protect American interests during the long-standing revolt of the Cubans against the Spanish government. In the evening of 15 February 1898, Maine sank when her forward gunpowder magazines exploded. Nearly three-quarters of the battleship’s crew died as a result of the explosion. While the cause of this great tragedy is still unsettled, contemporary American popular opinion blamed Spain, and war followed within a few months. http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/spanam/events/maineskg.htm

USS Maine as she entered Havana harbor, Cuba, on 25 January 1898. She was destroyed by explosion there some three weeks later, on 15 February. Image source: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/spanam/events/maineskg.htm

USS Maine as she entered Havana harbor, Cuba, on 25 January 1898. She was destroyed by explosion there some three weeks later, on 15 February. Image source: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/spanam/events/maineskg.htm

Following the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, the United States entered the conflict, allying with the rebels and declaring war on Spain on April 25, 1898.

No where was there greater war fervor than in Georgia.  “Georgia furnished according to population more volunteers than any other State of the Union,” and Wiregrass babies were  named in honor of the war’s heroes.

Aaron Cook was among some 3,000 Georgians  to serve in the Spanish-American War. He was enlisted on July 2, 1898, and mustered in at Macon, GA as a private in Company E, Third Regiment, U.S. Volunteer Infantry. Other Berrien countians serving in the Third Regiment were Luther Lawrence Hallman and William F. Patten, both in Company B.     Company E was mustered in with  63 enlisted men and 23 recruits under the command of Captain Yancey Cade Carter, 1st Lieutentant John A. Sibley,  of Tifton, GA, and 2nd Lieutenant Edward Stevens. Of the Georgia units activated for the Spanish American war, only the Third Volunteer Infantry would see overseas duty, serving as an occupation force in Cuba during the first three months of 1899.

Aaron Cook, Spanish-American War

Aaron Cook, Spanish-American War

The U.S. War Department was fully aware that Yellow Fever would pose a major threat to U.S. military operations in Cuba.

Yellow fever begins after an incubation period of three to six days. Most cases only cause a mild infection with fever, headache, chills, back pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. In these cases the infection lasts only three to four days.

In fifteen percent of cases, however, sufferers enter a second, toxic phase of the disease with recurring fever, this time accompanied by jaundice due to liver damage, as well as abdominal pain. Bleeding in the mouth, the eyes, and the gastrointestinal tract will cause vomit containing blood, hence the Spanish name for yellow fever, vomito negro (“black vomit”). The toxic phase is fatal in approximately 20% of cases, making the overall fatality rate for the disease 3% (15% * 20%). In severe epidemics, the mortality may exceed 50%.

Surviving the infection provides lifelong immunity.

By the time the 3rd Georgia Regiment reached Cuba, an armistice  had been signed between the U.S. and Spain.  With the fighting ended, the Third Regiment assumed the role of occupation forces. After a few days at Santiago, the Regiment was transported by boat to Cameira de Cuba, then by train to Guantanamo, leaving garrison troops at each of these locations. Around August 22, the regiment arrived at Jamaica de Cuba, about 12 miles northwest of Guantanamo.

Aaron Cook’s unit, Company E, was assigned to maintain the garrison at Jamaica de Cuba and to man outposts at Los Canos, Santa Cecilla, San Carlos, Romila, and La Luisa.

 

The regiment served in Cuba until March 30, 1899 when it steamed for the U.S. The transport ship departed from Sagua de Tanamo and arrived at Fort Pulaski, Savannah, GA on April 2, 1899. The ship was sent to Sapelo Island for five days quarantine. Upon the return to Savannah, the troops were put aboard a train and sent to Macon, GA to be mustered out.

Aaron Cook received an honorable discharge on May 2, 1899.  Afterwards Aaron and his wife, Nancy Baldree Cook, spent the rest of their lives farming near Ray City, GA.

Aaron Cook died December 2, 1946 and was buried at Empire Church near Ray City, GA.  His widow applied for and received a headstone provided by the government to mark the graves of honorably discharged veterans. The upright marble headstone is inscribed in raised lettering inside a recessed shield.   The inscription encompasses the arched name and abbreviated military organization. No emblems of belief or additional inscriptions were inscribed.  While the dates of birth and death were allowed below the shield, these were not inscribed on Aaron Cook’s marker.

 

aaron-cook-headstone-app

 

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Wed under the Great Comet of 1882

William Jackson “Jack” Boyette and Charlotte “Lottie” Cook

William Jackson Boyett and Charlotte Cook Boyett. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

William Jackson Boyett and Charlotte Cook Boyett. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

William Jackson  Boyette was born 11 Oct 1862 and lived his life in the Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia vicinity. He was a son of William Hill Boyette and Jemima Taylor, pioneer settlers of the Ray City, GA area.

He married Charlotte Cook on August 27, 1882. She was a daughter of Lucretia Sirmans and John  Jasper Cook.  J.J. Cook was a farmer of the Watson Grade community just northeast of Rays Mill.  He would later be among those who opposed the creation of Lanier County.  Her brother, Aaron Cook,  fought in the Spanish American War.

One wonders if the newlyweds saw it as an auspicious sign that just a few days later there appeared in the sky the Great Comet of 1882.  The comet was soon visible even in the daytime sky.

 The Comet in Georgia
From the Berrien County News
October 11, 1882

It exceeds in brilliancy the great comet which made its appearance in the days of Millerism. Who knows but what its luminous tail will swoop down upon the earth, as it seems to be rapidly approaching this terrestrial ball.

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See more about the history of Ray City, GA at http://raycity.pbworks.com/