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 s erving 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.

The Third Volunteer Infantry Regiment was one of ten that had been created by Congress as  “Immune Regiments” –  intended as special forces that could remain effective combat units even in tropical zones where Yellow fever was endemic.

 THE IMMUNE REGIMENTS
New York Times  May 21, 1898;

 The Immune Regiments:

The first step toward the raising of 10,000 yellow fever immunes for the army of Cuban invasion was taken today, when the President sent to the Senate the nominations of Colonels for six of the ten regiments into which the special corps will be divided…No definite scheme for the enlistment of these special regiments has been settled upon.  It is not considered that it will be possible to get together 10,000 men who have actually had yellow fever, and that will not be attempted.  The recruiting will be done chiefly in the Southern Coast States, however, and the effort will be to take in men who, if they have not passed through a yellow fever epidemic, have been thoroughly acclimated to a hot climate and are accustomed to outdoor life. When so made up it is considered that these regiments will be far superior for rough and ready campaigning in Cuba to the ordinary volunteers, many of whom are young clerks or salesmen absolutely unaccustomed to outdoor life in a sultry clime.

Colonel Patrick Henry Ray

Colonel Patrick Henry Ray

 

President McKinley named Colonel Patrick Henry Ray as commander of the Third Regiment, and the unit became known as Ray’s Immunes.

The Third Regiment trained at Camp Price, Macon, GA.  Camp Price was located in Central City Park in the south part of the city, south of 7th street along the river. The  Macon Telegraph reported “Camp Price has been proven to be a healthy and an ideal place for a camp. There is an abundance of pure, clear water for all purposes and the forest oaks keep the grounds well shaded and cool.  The cottages and other buildings furnish splendid quarters for the regimental officers, and there is nothing lacking to make the place a complete success.”

Macon Telegraph
July 12, 1898

At Camp Price

The Soldiers Have Received Their Guns and Dog Tents

The soldiers at Camp Price drilled with their guns for the first time yesterday afternoon, and the sight was an imposing one, as they drilled in battalion in the race track enclosure.
The soldiers have also secured their dog tents, which they take as good evidence that they are soon to move to the front. The regiment is now complete and the boys drill almost like regulars. It is a fine body of men and can be counted on in any emergency.
The officers yesterday formed a mess, so that all of them will be together. This, it is thought, will be to their mutual advantage.

After this training the Regiment moved to Savannah, GA to embark for Cuba.  The Regiment left Savannah on Saturday evening, August 13, 1898, and arrived at Santiago de Cuba about 10:00am on Wednesday, August 17, 1898.  By the time they 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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Watson Grade News, March 25, 1904

The article below continued a series of 1904, a series of articles in the Tifton Gazette on the residents of “Watson Grade.”  Watson Grade  referred to a place just  northeast of Ray’s Mill, GA, near Empire Church where Watson, Patten, Lee, Cook and Sirmans  families all farmed.    The unknown author “Trixie,”  was familiar with the local happenings. On March 25, 1904, the Watson Grade news included the death of J. E. Sirmans, discussed in the previous post, and other personal mentions. 1904-mar-25-watson-grade-news

Tifton Gazette
March 25, 1904
Mr. J. E. Sirmans Dead.

Mr. J. E. Sirmans died last Saturday night at 11:45. He had been sick only about four days, and was not thought to be dangerously ill until a few hours before his death. Mr. Sirmans has been suffering with heart trouble for several years and Dr. Askew, of Nashville, says it was pleurisy complicated with heart trouble that caused his death. He leaves a wife and ten children to mourn his loss. His remains were interred in the Fender cemetery.

Mrs. J.T. Watson is very sick at this writing with grippe.

Miss Belle Patten has returned home from the Land of Flowers, to the delight of her many friends.

 The Odd Fellows of Milltown enjoyed and oyster supper last Wednesday night to the delight of the new members and themselves. Eight were initiated and twelve more have their applications in.

 Misses Carrie Liles and Dora Edson, of near Milltown, were visitors in this section last Sunday.

Mr. M. C. Lee, one of South Berrien’s best farmers, carried a wagon load of bacon to Valdosta last week that brought him about $180.

Mrs. O. Knight has been very ill, but is improving.

Judge J. T. Wilkerson has resigned as J. P., and has moved to Clinch to enter the mercantile business.

Watson Grade, March 14.             TRIXIE.

Notes:

Mrs. J. T. Watson was Jincy Lee Watson, wife of John Thomas Watson.  She was a daughter of Jincy Register and  Moses Corby Lee.  She was suffering from “Grippe” which was the period idiom for Influenza.

Miss Belle Patten, age 21,  was a daughter of James “Irwin” Patten and Leanna Patten.  She had just returned from visiting relatives in Tampa, FL.  Later, some time before 1910, her brother, June Patten, became a dentist and the two of them moved to Fernandina,  FL.

Carrie Liles (1869 – 1959), born Caroline Cook Brown, was the wife of Ben Liles and a daughter of Burwell Atkinson Brown and Margaret E. Morrison. Her traveling companion, Dora Edson, was a half-sister of her husband, Ben Liles.

Moses C. Lee was a noted farmer of Berrien County, and husband of Amanda Clements.  The Lee farm was known as “Stony Hill.”

Mrs. O. Knight was Mary Ellen Cook Knight, the wife of Reverend Orville A. Knight.  Her parents,  were neighbors of Irwin and Leanna Patten, mentioned above.

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Elder Orville Augustus Knight (1874-1950)

Elder Orville Augustus Knight (1874-1950)

Orvil A. Knight with his first wife, Ellen Cook, and daughters Callie (middle) and Cordia (right.)  Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

Orvil A. Knight with his first wife, Ellen Cook, and daughters Callie (middle) and Cordia (right.) Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

Orville Augustus Knight was a son Rhoda Futch and George Washington Knight.  He was born and raised in Berrien County in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill District.  For twenty years or more O. A. Knight made his home near Ray City, GA, and most of his life he  was engaged in farming on his own account.  He became a member of Empire Church, a few miles northeast of Ray City,  and in 1915 at the age of 41 was ordained as an Elder of the Primitive Baptist faith.   In 1925, Orville A. Knight became pastor of Union Church near Lakeland, GA. His great grandfather, William Anderson Knight, had served 100 years earlier as the original pastor of Union Church. That year he also served as pastor at his home church, Empire.

Orville A. Knight was first married in 1892 to Mary Ellen Cook (1876-1939). She was a daughter of John Jasper Cook and Lucretia Sirmans, and sibling of Aaron Cook and Charlotte Cook. Following her death, Knight was married a second time in 1939 to Mrs. Margaret Texas “Maggie” Overstreet. She was the widow of James Willis Overstreet, and a daughter of Elbert Mathis and Martha Susan “Mattie” Pounds.

Children of Orville Augustus Knight and Mary Ellen Cook:

  1. Callie R Knight (1893 – 1914)
  2. Cordie B Knight (1895 – 1965)
  3. Dollie Knight (1898 – 1899)
  4. Lonnie Alvin Knight (1900 – 1978)
  5. Lola E Knight (1905 – )
  6. Willie Ernest Knight (1906 – 1969)
  7. George Selman Knight (1909 – 1917)
  8. Myrtle Knight (1913 – 1980)

From “Gospel Appeal:”  Elder Orville A. Knight was born February 28, 1874, in Berrien County, Georgia, and passed away at his home in Valdosta, Ga., Dec 27, 1950.

Orville A. Knight united with Empire Church, Berrien County, Ga., on July 22, 1909.  He was baptized by Elder W. H. Parrish.  On Nov. 27, 1915, he was ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry.  Elders forming the presbytery for his ordination were I. A. Wetherington, H. W. Parrish, B. L. Starling, and A. A. Knight.

Elder Knight was called to serve his home church, Empire, in 1925 and over the years of his ministry also served as pastor of Ramah, Prospect, Olive Leaf, Bethany (Arabia), Unity, Cat Creek, Wayfare (Cow Creek),  Ben James, Union (Burnt Church), Providence and other churches.

In 1903, Elder T. R. Crawford wrote in the Goodwill of his impressions of Elder Knight and described him as “one of the most loved, esteemed, honored and respected servants of the most High God that has ever graced the pulpit of the churches of the deep south.”

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