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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Sea Cruises of Elzie Nathaniel Miller

On March 1, 1918 Elzie Nathaniel Miller, of Ray City,  enlisted  as an Apprentice Seaman  at the Navy Recruiting Station, Atlanta, Georgia. He was 18 years old, a son of Lou and Gillons Miller.

His service record shows that he spent his first two weeks in the Navy at the Receiving Ship at Norfolk VA. A receiving ship is a ship that is used in harbor to house newly recruited sailors before they are assigned to a crew. Receiving ships were typically older vessels that could still be kept afloat, but were obsolete or no longer seaworthy.

From the receiving ship Miller went to the Naval Operating Base at Norfolk for two additional weeks.

From April 5, 1918 to April 27, 1918  he  served aboard the USS Maine. The Maine was a 12,500 ton battleship commissioned in 1902.  During World War I she was employed as a training ship in U.S. waters and many of her smaller guns were removed to arm other ships.

USS Maine, under way, circa 1918

On April 27, 1918 Elzie Nathaniel Miller was attached to the USS Mercy.   The Mercy, had been commissioned as a hospital ship in late January 1918 and based in Yorktown, Virginia. She was  built in 1907 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the commercial passenger liner SS Saratoga, and was pressed into service as a troop transport before being converted to a hospital ship. During the war  she ferried supplies and wounded men from ships to shore in the U.S.

Passing under the Brooklyn Bridge in early 1918, shortly after being placed in commission.

His service record shows that on May 12, 1918 he transferred to the USS Mine? [perhaps this was back to the Maine].

From June 2, 1918 to September 13, 1918 he served aboard the USS Minnesota. Commissioned in March 1907, the USS Minnesota was a 16,000-ton Connecticut class battleship built at Newport News, Virginia. She served as a gunnery and engineering training ship during World War I.  Two weeks after Miller left the ship she was  damaged by a German mine.

USS Minnesota, circa 1919

His service record shows he spent 92 days as Apprentice Seaman and 163 days as Seaman 2nd Class.

After the war, Miller continued as a sailor.  Records of the Immigration Service show that he was aboard the SS Tacony, sailing from Tampico, Mexico on October 8, 1919 and arriving at the Port of New Orleans, LA on October 12, 1919.  The USS Tacony, an 82-foot patrol craft, was built in 1911 at Camden, New Jersey, as a civilian pleasure craft Sybilla II. The Navy acquired her for World War I service and placed her in commission in May 1917. Tacony operated in the waters of the 4th Naval District for the rest of the conflict. She was returned to her owner in late November 1918, shortly after the 11 November Armistice brought an end to the fighting.

USS Tacony, in port November 29, 1918

In New Orleans, Elzie N. Miller and  28 other men of the Tacony were placed in temporary quarantine.

A few days later, on October 16, 1919 Miller was at the Navy Recruiting Station, Atlanta, GA, where he was discharged from the Navy.

After the service, Elzie Nathaniel Miller returned to Ray City, GA where he married and became a farmer.

Elzie Nathaniel Miller, WWI Service record.

After the war, Elzie Miller returned to Ray City and made his home there. In 1927 He married Elizabeth Gallagher, daughter of Clara Sirmans and Frank Gallagher.   The 1940 census records show Elizabeth and Elzie Miller in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill District, with their children Elizabeth Nadine Miller and Clyde Nathaniel Miller.

Grave of Elzie Nathaniel Miller, New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Grave of Elzie Nathaniel Miller,  Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Graves of Elzie and Elizabeth Miller, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Graves of Elzie and Elizabeth Miller, Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

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