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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John Boyett (1865-1938) ~ Ray City Farmer

Edward John Boyett was a brother of William Jackson Boyett.

John Boyett’s parents were among the pioneer settlers of Berrien County.  His father,  William Hill Boyett, came   to then Lowndes County area from North Carolina as a boy , about 1853, and later acquired land near present day Ray City,  GA.  John Boyett’s mother, Jemima Taylor, was born January 22, 1842 in South Carolina, and came to Georgia with her family in the early 1850s.   His parents were married on Christmas Day, Dec 25, 1856 in Berrien County, GA  exactly ten months after the county was formed.

Edward John Boyette and Mary Jane Sirmans, circa 1900.  Image courtesy of I. Mitchell Calhoun.

Edward John Boyette and Mary Jane Sirmans, circa 1900. Image courtesy of I. Mitchell Calhoun.

John Boyett was born on his mother’s 23rd birthday, January 22, 1865, during the Civil War.  At the time his father was serving in Columbus, GA making shoes for the Confederate States Army.   Folks Huxford reported:

“Mr. BOYETT volunteered Aug. 22, 1862, in Co., “I”, 50th Georgia Infantry Regiment, C.S.A., as a private.  He was detailed as a shoemaker Nov. 17, 1862 and sent to Columbus, Ga., where he rendered that service to the army until February, 1865.  He was paroled at Thomasville, May 11, 1865, and returned home.”

John Boyett grew up on his father’s farm in the 1300 Georgia Militia District, near Ray City.

On January 15, 1891 John Boyett married Mary Jane Sirmans in Berrien County, Georgia.

http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us:8888/u?/countyfilm,191792

According to  Mitchell Calhoun, grandson of the subject, “Edward John Boyett was a rather large farm owner in the early 1900s between Ray City and Lakeland, Georgia.  They lived along ‘Boyett Road’ and that general area.  There are quite a number of Boyett descendants in that area today.  And the Empire Church and the Beaver Dam Cemetery at the First Baptist Church of Ray City has a lot of their graves.”

Boyette Road near Ray City, GA.

Boyette Road near Ray City, GA.

John Boyett died in 1938 and his estate was divided among  his nine children.

Gravemarker of John Boyett, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Gravemarker of John Boyett, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

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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/