Personal accounts of war: The Spanish American war

A vivid and pathetic account of the horrors of war was given in several issues of McClure's Magazine, in the diaries kept during the last days at Santiago by Mr. Ramsden, British Consul in that city. He had lived among its people a number of years and was cordially esteemed by all. The editorial note which follows the extract from the last diary, gives a pitiful tragic touch to its story of devotion to duty.

Tuesday, 5th July. At 5:30 a. m. I started with two carts which Willie had found, provisions, and people for Caney, with flag. Three hours and a half on the road. The scene was terrible; people flocking out, sick carried in chairs or as they could, children getting lost by the way, etc. Through a son of Diego Moyas in the American army, I obtained a room, such a one, in a house just chockfull of blacks, and put my wife's mother and sisters in there, while Willie pitched our tent in an empty piece of ground where a house had stood, and also managed to obtain a small room in a house close alongside. The entrance to Caney was stinking with half-buried corpses of men and horses, as three days before there had been a tremendous battle there.

Wednesday, 6th July. Visited by war correspondents of papers, etc. About 18,000 to 20,000 in Caney; houses, of which there are 300, full of people, in most of them not leaving room enough to lie on the floor, but having to pass the night in a sitting posture. I wrote to General Shafter about provisions for the British subjects, of which I have thirty odd on the list.

Thursday, 7th July. Akers and other correspondents arrived. He has no horse. I received 100 pounds of flour from General Shafter for Britishers, and had it made into bread, which they brought to my tent at midnight, and made me get up to cool it down and put away till morning. General Toral wrote me asking me to send in the English cable clerks if I could, and I sent in poor Cavanagh, Frume and Booney. Toral said he had important telegrams for Madrid, and I knew it was with regard to capitulation. Musgrave, correspondent of the Daily Chronicle, turned up, and was very kind. I wrote by him to my girls at Jamaica and to the Commodore, having also done so two days before. Captain Arthur Lee, of Royal Artillery, and military attache, turned up.

Friday, 8th July. More correspondents, etc. Distributed biscuit, or rather bread, I had made. Got Edwards to take charge of distributing provisions for British subjects. The people are starving. The Red Cross Society cannot get provisions up in time for want of means of transportation, nor can the army. The people, thinking they had come out for but a couple of days and not being allowed to bring animals of burden with them, have now no provisions left, and round here the only thing obtainable is mangoes, of which there is a profusion. The streets are filled with the remains of these thrown down by the people, and they are in a state of ferment. The place is one big pigsty, and soon there must be a frightful epidemic, with the people bathing and washing dirty clothes in the river, from which the drinking water is obtained and to which any quantity of filth and refuse finds its way. In some houses you will find fifty in a small room, and among them one dying of fever, another of diarrhoea, and perhaps a women in the throes of childbirth, and all that with not a chair to sit on or a utensil of any kind, and all in want of food. You cannot buy anything for money, though I know one man lucky enough to buy five biscuits of about two ounces each for a five-dollar piece, and another who bought a small chicken for seven dollars, but he did not take it right off, and the bargain was refused. People will exchange mangoes or other things for food, such as rice, biscuit, or pork, the things mostly looked for. Twenty-five good sized biscuits were paid for three small chickens by a Red Cross man. The country is absolutely bare, and money will buy nothing, and it is useless. Children dying for want of food; in fact, the situation is indescribable. We now hear that the bombardment has been postponed until Saturday, 9th, at noon. Elwell turned up in the afternoon; had been in Kingston, Jamaica, the previous day, and had seen the Brooks and Douglas families at the hotel, and said that my people had also arrived safely, though he had not seen them. Elwell is chief of Miss Clara Barton's Red Cross work, and prevailed on Willie to take charge to run the distribution, in place of poor old Bangs, who works like a mule. Captain Finlay had arrived the day before, and went off to-day. Major Allen also arrived, and two wagons of food.

Saturday, 9th July. I insisted on Willie giving up the distribution business, as I foresaw what was bound to happen with no provisions to distribute, and I might want him at any time to clear out, as indeed did happen. Lieutenant Noble came. People starving. Major Allen turned up and Captain Lewis is appointed governor of Caney. Captain Mendoza arrived with a letter from Andreini, and a cow from General Lawton, which cow I made over to old Bangs to make soup with, which he did. Mendoza told me that Linares had offered to surrender the town if the troops were allowed to go with arms. Shafter cabled Washington about this. "World" and "Harper's Weekly" correspondent turned up; also Rawson Rhea, of "Journal," returned and was very kind. At 6 p. m. Mendoza came with an aide of General Shafter, saying the Americans would enter the town to-morrow, and all would be back there in forty-eight hours. Great rejoicings. I wrote to General Shafter to know if families of Spanish officers would be allowed to go in before their husbands left, etc. General Ludlow sent me a cow, which I made over as before.

Sunday, 10th July. Went round for distribution of provisions just arrived. The whole afternoon with people begging sugar or milk or rice or something to keep them from starving, or a sick child of a person from dying. I have now very little left, having been giving away what I could. At 5 p. m. Americans began to cannonade from field and siege batteries, with a few from fleet, until dark. Frightful scenes; children crying for food and nothing to give them; a few provisions arrived this afternoon, but not one-twentieth enough.

The weather so far had been fine, but this afternoon it began to rain, thus adding misery to people without shelter; 300 houses in town, without counting ranches run up with branches and leaves and sheets. Rough census taken estimates population at eighteen to twenty thousand. At Cuavitas, Dos Bocas, Siboney, and Firmesa there are also people, and probably 35,000 have left Santiago.

Monday, 11th July. American shore batteries and fleet cannonading town until midday, also with some rifle fire. One shell burst here in Caney. Busy all day with Major Allen, dividing up the provisions. Misery increasing, Americans sent flag of truce at noon to see if town would surrender. Rained heavily, and at 11 p.m. a terrific thunderstorm and rain.

Tuesday, 12th July. Rained heavily nearly all night and until noon to-day. Truce continued. Americans offer to convey troops to Spain with arms, and now await Blanco's answer. They say 5,000 men are now on the way from Holguin. General Miles has landed with more troops and six batteries of artillery, and comes to the front this afternoon. They placed a few more siege guns to-day. The town is now surrounded except on the Guao side. People continue to starve, and fevers are taking hold after the rains. Smallpox was reported to me last night, but on investigation I found that it was only chicken-pox. Cavanagh, who returned from Santiago on Saturday, is completely off his head, and I much fear for him. Today I got hold of a chair, and find it a luxury. Several ladies wanted permission to return to Santiago, preferring to die at once by shells rather than slowly by starvation. Siboney burned, owing to some cases of yellow fever there.

Wednesday, 13th July. Conferences yesterday between lines with American generals and Toral about capitulation. Archbishop told Akers, who interpreted, that several houses in town had been damaged, but no one killed. Wanted to send nuns out, but refused. General Lawton was ordered to take Caney on the first day, and then proceed with the rest to Santiago, but he found it a tougher job than expected, and only got through with artillery by four in afternoon. Americans lost 436 men at Caney, included in the 1,800. Starvation and sickness increasing. Willie gone to Siboney to try for food. Rained at intervals, and everything awfully damp and muddy. Cavanagh is very bad with bilious fever, and no medicine to be had. I fear he will die. A purge might save him, but it is not to be had. I don't feel at all well. When rain began we moved at night to a small room Willie managed to get, a filthy place.

Thursday, 14th July. Cavanagh died at 2:15 this morning, and I have been ailing with sore throat, chest oppression, and fever all night, and have to remain in bed, or rather hammock. Got a coffin for Cavanagh, and buried him in the afternoon. I could not go. In afternoon Sir Brien Leighton turned up, and gave me two pastilles of Eaggis consomme, which came in well in my state. He told me capitulation had been agreed upon. Spanish troops here and 8,000 more under Toral's command to be shipped to Spain, and Santiago, Guantanamo, and Baracoa to be included in capitulation. Ladies made memorial to General Shafter to be allowed to go to town, preferring death by bomb to starvation. Willie returned from Siboney without provisions, but got a little sugar on the road from a Cuban. I wrote Shafter, asking when we could go in.

Friday, 15th July. Passed a bad night, fever and diarrhoea. At 9 a. m. round came Major Allen with a note from General Shafter asking me to go in, as there were some difficulties which he hoped my influence would fix, as otherwise there might still be more fighting. I was still in bed, but got up, packed, and started. Was detained at Spanish lines till I could get a note to Toral, and I found that he and generals were between lines negotiating. Therefore, being nearly 2 p. m., went on home, The city was like a deserted place, and with soldiers on the outskirts and trenches, no one in the streets. Some houses gutted and pillaged, others hurt by shell; not a shop of any kind open, trenches and barricades in the streets down to Plaza de Dolores, made since I left. Found my house intact. Changed, and went to see Toral, who was in his hammock done up, just returned from conference. He told me everything had been arranged and preliminary bases signed. Madrid's approval to capitulation, asked for three days previous, is wanting, but he said, if not approved, he would capitulate even if courtmartialled after. Bob Mason has been running it, and is one of the commissioners who signed the articles. Eulogio brought us a piece of meat and some bread, his share of rations, for nothing can be bought. Moran and Espejo also came, and Barruecos. A shell burst in latter's house, twenty yards from mine, and fragments came on my roof. Did a lot of damage. Several fell around store, and one bursting in front broke roof titles. It is said fifty-nine houses have been damaged, including three utterly demolished. A large piece in my drawing-room knocked down and some bric-a-brac broken. No one killed. Linares's wound has been painful, affected the radial nerve, but not dangerous.

Saturday, 16th July. I was writing until half-past two, and then could not sleep, and was up at 4:30. Some families have come in to-day, and this afternoon everything has been settled, without Madrid, and to-morrow at nine the city, Guantanamo and Baracoa will be handed over. Thank God! Seventeen thousand five hundred troops surrendered, and will be sent to Spain. I have not had a moment all day long, and am done up and sick, and shall now try to get a little sleep, but I have a frightful lot of work before me. Santiago de Cuba has made a heroic defence, and the Americans have learned to admire the pluck of the Spaniards. On the first attack there were, including 1,000 men from the squadron, 3,500 men of all arms, with volunteers. Aldea had a column of 600 on the other side of the bay, and there were about 200 more between Morro, etc., and Aguadores. From Manzanillo 3,500 men arrived after the attack, and helped to replace the killed and wounded. At Caney there were 500 men. There are now here and along the railway, etc., 10,500 men. At Guantanamo 5,000, and Baracoa and others scattered 2,000, making a total of 17,000. Santiago had no defences, but they ran up some earthworks, and made trenches after the fleet began to blockade and the United States army to besiege them. The Spanish soldiers are half-starved, have very little ammunition left, and are sick. Linares would have surrendered the place a week ago had he been in command, but Toral has been delaying, while Blanco and Madrid were against it.

Sunday, 17th July. The American generals came in this morning, and have taken formal possession, and the troops are being marched out to encamp somewhere round San Juan until the ships come to take them off to Spain. The Red Cross boat "Texas" has come in, and also Sampson in a yacht. I saw Shafter and all the American generals this morning, but went off home with a strong fever, and I feel bad.

Monday, 18th July. Fever of thirty-eight odd degrees, and sweated during the night; took quinine, but still bad. Obtained a cart to bring me up home and to bed today; no carriage obtainable. Several American ships now in port.

[EDITOR'S NOTE.-- The fever which Mr. Ramsden's exposure and heroic labors throughout the siege of Santiago had brought upon him grew gradually worse. By August I he was so ill that he started for Kingston, Jamaica, where his wife and daughters were, going by H. M. S. Alert, so often named in his diary; he was too weak to walk, and had to be carried to and from the ship. He reached Kingston on the morning of August 2. But under his rare sense of duty, he had deferred going until too late to derive any benefit from the change; he grew only worse, and on the afternoon of August 10 he died. His wife and daughters were with him at his death, but not his sons. Mr. Ramsden was as much a martyr of the war as if he had been killed in battle, and no man in the war rendered a nobler service.]

Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 4)