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

29th Georgia Regiment at Camp Wilson near Savannah, GA

Berrien County, GA sent forth in the Civil War two companies of men known as the Berrien Minute Men.  In the early months of the war, the Campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  made along the Georgia coast, at BrunswickSapelo Island, and Darien, GA.  By early 1862 The Berrien Minute Men,  having gotten “regulated” into the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment ,  were sent to Camp Wilson, near Savannah. Some companies of the 29th Regiment had arrived earlier;  Bryant Gainey, of the Alapaha Guards, died of pneumonia at Camp Wilson on Christmas Eve, 1861.

Camp Wilson had been established more than a year prior to the arrival of the Berrien Minute Men. Other Regiments encamped there were the 25th Regiment, 27th Regiment, and 31st Regiment.

The camp was located two or three  miles below Savannah, on White Bluff Road some distance beyond the Atlantic & Georgia Railroad [Atlantic & Gulf?]. White Bluff Road was the Shell road which was then an extension of Whitaker Street.  Camp Wilson was two miles from Camp Lawton and one mile from the soon to be established Camp Tatnall.

Isaac Gordon Bradwell, a soldier of the 31st Georgia Regiment, described  Camp Wilson as a large, level field.  It had room enough for four regiments and their equipment, officers horses, a parade ground, and a place for religious meetings and services.

The locale of Camp Wilson was said to be beautiful but, at least in the earlier days, soldiers found life there quite hard. Private Bradwell wrote in a memoir,

We had not been in these camps many days before we were invaded by measles the dread enemy of all new soldiers, and many of our men died or were rendered unfit for further service. Other diseases thinned our ranks, and for a while few recruits came to take their places. We were under very strict discipline all the time, but some men disregarded the military regulations and suffered the consequences…” 

Of camp food, Bradwell wrote,

The rations were ample, and consisted of flour, corn meal, and bacon. To these afterwards were added, rice, pickled beef, peas, sugar, coffee, sometimes vegetables, and always hard-tack. This was a kind of cracker prepared for the army sometime previous to the outbreak of the war, and it was as hard as wood. No salt, shortening, soda, or other leven whatever was used in its preparation, and it could be eaten only by those who had good sound teeth; but we found out later that it could be soaked with hot water and grease in an oven and be made quite palatable. In its original state, I suppose it would keep indefinitely in any climate. Each cracker was about six inches in diameter and about an inch thick. When broken with a hatchet, or other instrument, the edges of the fragments were shiny and showed it solid composition.

Some soldiers thought the camp provisions were less than satisfactory.   Lieutenant Theodorick W. Montfort, of the 25th Georgia Regiment, in a letter from Camp Wilson to his wife  wrote on January 14, 1861 : “We have poor beef & fresh shoat meat cost us 18 cts per lb.” Montfort requested food be sent from home, “some back bones, spare-ribs, sausages, butter & eggs…,”  assuring his wife that the Confederate government would pay the freight on such shipments.

Soldiers could purchase their own food, but prices were high. Soldiers supplemented their Army rations as best they could. Lieutenant Montfort’s letters from Camp Wilson reveal that one food available to the soldiers there was shad, a delectable fish that runs in the Savannah river delta and other rivers of coastal Georgia from late December to late March. The Shad season was just getting underway when the Berrien Minute Men arrived at Camp Wilson in the winter of 1861-62.  (In a court case concerning shad fishing on the Ocmulgee River, the attorney for the defense was Thaddeus G. Holt,  who also served as the first Superior Court judge in Lowndes County, GA). Shad were also the subject of a diary entry written in early 1862 by  John Thomas Whately, an Englishman conscript with the 13th Georgia Regiment who was stationed at the camps around Savannah:

I had the good fortune of coming on two shad which were made mine by paying $1.25. While on my way home through the streets of Savannah, I was teased nearly to death about my fine shad. After we had arrived in camps and partaken of supper, I and my friend H_ went to Capt. Hill’s tent and W_ was not there. I went back to the fire, and was trying to think where my friend W_ could be. While I was thus engaged in thinking, I heard a kind of smacking of lips in the direction of a small tent off to the left: I walked up and what a busy crowd! There were my friends who had teased me, busily engaged in completing the destruction of one of my shad. I walked in just time enough to get a nice piece and the last piece of my devoured shad. We laughed it off and each one of us retired to our respective tents. [Continuing the following day,] I arrose this morning at the tap of the drum, and after I had answered my name and washed my face, I partook heartily of my remaining shad, who was now without a mate as the other had been unceremoniously devoured by the devilish mouths of my friends last night.

(Whatley later deserted, joined the Union Army, served with the 3rd Maryland Cavalry, then deserted again)

On January 1, 1862 in a letter to the Rome Courier, Thomas J. Perry of the Berry Infantry, 29th Georgia Regiment, wrote:

The Federal fleet keeps at a respectful distance, though it is thought that Gen. Sherman will be forced to make a forward movement soon. Ten or twelve of his large war steamers can be seen occasionally, near some of the Islands, but they never stay at one place long at a time. Gen. Lee is in the city to-day. Of course his mission is not generally known.

Perhaps Lieutenant Perry was unaware that the Federals had occupied Tybee Island on November 24, 1861 after it was abandoned by the Confederates.  Furthermore, the Federals were busily landing men and materiel’ at the Martello tower on Tybee, and secretly preparing for the siege of Fort Pulaski.

Martello Tower, a relic of the Spanish exploration of America, was the landing place for all Federal supplies brought on to Tybee Island in advance of the siege of Fort Pulaski.

Martello Tower, a relic of the Spanish exploration of America, was the landing place for all Federal supplies brought on to Tybee Island in advance of the siege of Fort Pulaski.

Recalling events which occurred at Camp Wilson just about the time of the arrival of the Berrien Minute Men in January, 1862, Private Bradwell wrote,

“A little incident which happened while we were here served to break the monotony of camp life very effectually for a short while. At midnight,, when all well-behaved soldiers, except those on guard, were sound asleep, the long roll, that never-to-be-forgotten rattle that wakes a soldier to do or die, was sounded. The voice of our orderly sergeant was heard calling out “Fall in! Fall in!” In the darkness and confusion, we grabbed our clothes and got into them as quickly as possible, and seizing our guns, we took our place in ranks. While this was going on, some of our men were so dazed by the suddenness of this rude awakening that they acted like madmen. One fellow snatched up a blanket for his trousers, but could not get into it. Our old French bandmaster rushed up and down the street, shouting all the time, “Where de capitan? Where de capitan? I die by de Capitan!” We were soon trotted off to the parade ground to take our place in the ranks of the regiment there drawn up, to meet the enemy we thought. Casting our eyes in every direction, we could not see the flashing of the enemy’s guns or hear any noise of battle. Here we stood for quite a while in uncertainty, when finally Colonel Phillips appeared. Walking slowly down the line, he asked each orderly sergeant as he passed whether all the men were present, and to send all absentees up to his headquarters the next morning at 8 o’clock. We were then marched back to our quarters and dismissed for the night. The next morning at daybreak the delinquents stepped into ranks to answer their names, ignorant of had happened during the night. There was quiet a delegation from each company to march up to headquarters that morning to receive, as they thought, a very severe penalty for their misconduct. Our good old colonel stood up before his tent and lectured the men, while others stood armed grinning and laughing at their plight; but to the surprise and joy of the guilty, he dismissed them all without punishment after they had promised him never to run away from camp again.”

Union forces had captured Tybee Island on November 24, 1861, and the men at Camp Wilson were taking measures for the defense of the city. A soldier at Camp Wilson in February, 1862, described their work:

…we are…now engaged in throwing up batteries at different points and in cutting down trees on all the roads leading from the coast to Savannah, that is not across them but every tree on each of the road to the swamp – the object of this is to prevent the Yankees from flanking us on either side with their artillery or cavalry, but compell them to keep the road, by this means they can bring but few men into action at any one time and with our Batteries we can sweep the roads – the cause of this unusual excitement is daily increase of the Yankee Fleet on our Coast.

Despite the proximity of the Federal forces, in some ways the familiar routines continued within the line of defenses ringing Savannah. While at Camp Wilson, soldiers of the 29th Georgia Regiment complained that the Savannah post office would not allow the men in service to mail or receive letters until after noon, prioritizing morning mail for the benefit of civilians.

Daily Morning News
Savannah, GA
January 8, 1862

       Mr. Editor: I desire a place for the benefit of the soldiers and their friends who are here in defence of this city.
      Why cannot soldiers receive communications through the post office as soon as the citizens here? By order of the postmaster, at 12 M. is as soon as they can receive or transmit any communication through this office, while citizens receive their mail matter by 10 A. M. Besides, we are threatened that upon a requisition to change this order from a colonel of a regiment, 2 P.M. for up-country soldiers will be as soon as the mail will be delivered at office, for no regimental box will be rented, but the mail matter will be thrown into the general delivery.
      Soldiers that have abandoned the pleasures and comforts of their homes – have borne the fatigues and fortunes of the camp – yea, and of the field, certainly are entitled to equal courtesies with citizens. Further, soldiers DEMAND of civilians equal rights, equal privileges. We are here in Savannah for its defence -for the defence of Georgia – for the maintenance of the Constitution of the Southern Confederacy – for the protection of women and children, property, freedom of opinion, and every thing that freemen hold sacred and dear| For this, though soldiers, yea, privates, are we to be ordered to stand aside, while courtesies are shewn to citizen civilians. We own much, and will pay, occasion offering, to the citizens (especially the women) of Savannah for kindness to our sick brethren in arms; but we have left our loved and dear ones at home, from whom a letter is an angel’s voice against temptations and vices of camp – as sweet, soft music to the anguished soul – as savory ointment to the wounded spirit – and yet, when calling for this the only true solace a soldier has for his labors, he is met with “Wait till 12 M., or you shall not receive your mail matter before 2 P. M.,” an hour that were a man’s wife dying, and wishing to receive her last breathing sigh, ‘twould be too late to get to her death bed, by army regulations properly made at headquarters here.
Citizens of Savannah, cannot you remedy this? If this office will not pay for a sufficient number of clerks to arrange business sooner, is there no patriotic man who will take the position and relieve this burden on any citizen (if it be one.)
      Soldiers will complain, and we think properly.

W. B. Fordum
Private Berry Infantry
29th Reg. Ga. Volunteers
Camp Wilson

Men of the 29th Georgia Regiment also organized for religious services. Lieutenant Thomas J. Perry, of the Berry Infantry reported from Camp Wilson on January 1, 1862:

     Last Sabbath a week ago, we organized a Sabbath school in our Regiment and appointed the Rev. Mr. Harroll Superintendent, and Thoms. J. Perry Secretary and Libarian. We have built us a Bush Arbor, in the rear of our camps, about 200 yards distant. We have also agreed to hold prayer meeting every Tuesday and Thursday nights, and have preaching every Sabbath at 11 A.M., 3 P.M., and again at night, and have invited the other two Regiments to join us. Quite a number of Col. Phillip’s Regiment have accepted the invitation, and gone to work with a hearty good will.
      Prof. P. H. Mell preached for us last Sabbath at 11 A. M., and again at 3 P. M., and at night gave us a talk upon the subject of prayer.

But, Lieutenant Perry went on to report, “Sin and wickedness prevails…”

To be continued…Regimental Feud at Camp Wilson Near Savannah, GA

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