The exceptional credit won by the U.S.S. St. Louis in the transportation of troops during the late war with Spain is due to several concurrent circumstances.
In the first place, her commanding officer, the writer, had, in 1882, made a trip on board of a chartered trooper in the Tel-el-Kebir campaign under General Sir Garnet Wolseley, and he had studied the question of how British soldiers are conveyed in merchant steamers hired for the purpose and temporarily equipped. He had but to recall a former most interesting and valuable experience and to consult the official report on the subject to recognize the imperative necessity of making certain preparations and of establishing an orderly method of procedure in advance. Of these preparations, adequate water closet accommodations are first in importance. Twenty men to one hole is a barely comfortable but not luxurious ratio; over fifty men to one hole is a ratio bordering on the distressful. About a dozen extra seats were provided in the St. Louis to reach the former proportion.
Secondly: In the design of the St. Louis thoroughly complete arrangements had been made for the reception and care of seven hundred and odd emigrants. If the troops to be carried did not exceed that number, practically nothing was needed in the way of fittings.
Thirdly (and this is a most weighty consideration): The organization and routine of the ship as a trans-Atlantic liner had been retained—unaltered in any particular. If the soldiers could be regarded and treated, in the main, as steerage passengers, the personnel of the vessel would encounter no new or unsolved problem. It would indeed be doing afresh what it had already done scores of times.
Fourthly: The St. Louis had just brought north, as prisoners. Admiral Cervera, a lot of his officers and men (about seven hundred in all), had had no untoward occurrence on the voyage, had nursed a hundred and fifty sick Spaniards and had landed safely in the United States every man who had come on board in Cuba. The experience was both recent and useful, singularly opposite, indeed, to the next duty she was called upon to perform.
Fifthly: The chief officer under the old regime (who later received, by the way, a temporary commission as lieutenant in the United States Navy) was a man of unusual ability and energy. Fortunately, also, he had the details of the British method of moving troops by heart, having many times served on board of chartered merchant steamers employed in this special service. My indebtedness to Lieutenant T.G. Segrave is very great. I am glad of this public opportunity of acknowledging the obligation.
Lastly: In Commander W.G. Randle, U.S. Navy, previously and now again the Commodore of the American Line, and in his subordinate officers of the St. Louis, I had a set of capable, zealous, courteous and untiring associates who seemed the happier for each new demand upon their time and powers. I can wish no one greater good fortune than to command so fine a ship and to have her manned by such ready, trained and resourceful officers, seamen, engineers, and stewards as served with me last summer. I am thus frank in detailing the advantages under which I labored, because I think it would be unfair to claim that the conditions were in the least normal, I may add that, having at my disposal extraordinary facilities for the work to be done, I also had the wit to adopt and utilize them without change.
On receiving directions to be ready to take troops from Hampton Roads to Porto Rico, I naturally did everything in my power to have the orders changed and to save the ship from what seemed to us all so ignoble a fate. My efforts were in vain. In the meantime I requested the officers attached to the St. Louis to submit to me written suggestions as to the preparations to make for receiving and caring for the soldiers; also as to the rules to be established for the control and discipline of so large a body of men. In these suggestions Lieutenant-Commander N.J.K. Patch was both fertile and helpful I may here remark that the St. Louis was operated on mediaeval lines, there being a navigating branch; the original merchant steamer organization with Captain Randle and his chief officer at the head; and the military branch to work the battery, consisting of some forty-odd marines under Lieut. A.W. Catlin, U.S.M.C, also Ensign F.R. Payne and some naval cadets of the present third class at the Naval Academy, the whole presided over by Lieutenant-Commander Patch. Quite a story might be told of how this ancient idea worked in the nineteenth century.
The recommendations of the officers of the St. Louis were then considered by me, and Mr. Segrave's fund of information drawn upon to a large extent. The result took definite shape in the following instructions, which were printed in large clear type and issued, one copy to each officer serving with the troops expected, and one to every other officer who, on account of his duties, etc., should have knowledge of them:
Instructions to Troops, U.S.S. St. Louis.
All stores, baggage, etc., to be sent down to the ship at least one day in advance of troops, and four days' rations to be stored in ration room.
Troops to be supplied with one day's rations before embarking.
A full list of officers, the number of men and distinguishing letters of each company, also a list of officers' servants to be supplied to ship as soon as possible.
Each servant will be supplied with a distinguishing badge to be worn at all times.
Troops to be marched on board in companies, to stow their rifles in port lower steward's quarters, (a) and then to be marched to the section prepared for them and bearing the letter of that company—each section will be marked with company letter and regiment.
Twenty men will be appointed to serve out rations; no others will be allowed in ration room.
An officer of the day will be detailed by the officer in command of the troops. He will be responsible for the behavior of the men, cleanliness of quarters, etc., and will report any irregularities to the chief officer.
One officer will be detailed to take charge of each compartment allotted to troops for the purpose of maintaining cleanliness and order, and will see that his compartment, w.c.'s, etc., are ready for inspection by 10.30 A.M.; he will be held responsible for same to the officer of the day.
An officer will be with each company when rations are being served out.
Four night officers will be detailed who will relieve the officer of the day and be responsible for the behavior of the men during the night. They will make a complete tour of inspection through the compartments every two hours, accompanied by an officer of the ship, and report any irregularities to the chief officer.
Reveille to be sounded at 4.30 A.M., when the men will roll up and stow their beds and come on deck, where they can have the use of the hose until 5.30.
The first mess-call will be sounded fifteen minutes before meal hours and will be for mess formation, when the men in each section will fall in under their company officers, and at the second call the men of the forward sections will march along the port alley way, pass through the passage on the fore end of the ration room, receive their rations and return to their sections through the starboard alley way. The men of the after sections will pass through the port after entrance, receive their rations at the after end of the ration room and return to their sections through the starboard door (b).
First call will be sounded at 9.30 P.M., and taps at 10 P.M., when all the men will be in their quarters for the night (c).
Each section and each w. c. will have the company letter and regiment (d) painted on it so as to avoid confusion, and notice boards will be placed in different parts of the ship to facilitate the movements of the troops (e).
Drinking water will be supplied from a fountain in each square (f).
Meal Hours, etc.
Reveille at 4.30 A.M.
Washing, 4.30 to 5.30 A.M.
Mess formation, breakfast, 5.30 A.M.
Second call, 5.45 A.M.
Inspection 10.30 A.M.
Mess formation, dinner, 11.15 A.M.
Second call, 11.30 A.M.
Mess formation, supper, 4.15 P.M.
Second call, 4.30 P.M.
Troops go below, 9.30 P.M.
Taps, 10 P.M.
Deck Space for Troops.
On promenade deck, from fore part of deck house to bow, and from after part of deck house to stern, also starboard side of saloon deck and after square, also in fore square as far as troops' quarters.
No smoking allowed in compartments. Troops not allowed, under any circumstances, in crews' quarters.
Hospital will be supplied for troops in the forward and after squares, and a dispensary and surgery on starboard side of after square.
An examination of the accompanying plans will show the general disposition of the ship's spaces available for troops.
The bulkheads and bunk fittings were removed from the steerages (compartments or sections) on account of the high temperature expected and of the better ventilation which their absence would secure.
(a) The rifles and accoutrements were stowed in one corner of the second saloon (converted into a ration room) instead of in stewards' quarters as contemplated.
(b) The serving out of rations was arranged in expectation that the food would be cooked. As the military authorities decided that the men should have cold meals, a detail of men from each company formed in the port passage way, and passing through the end of the ration room from port to starboard, received the cans of meat, vegetables and biscuits and took them to the troops' quarters for division. This operation was quickly performed in an orderly manner.
On my undertaking to prepare hot coffee for the soldiers, a similar disposition was made, except that all the men attended in person, each man coming from port to starboard by the ration room door would dip up a pot full of coffee already sweetened and pass on. Thus each got his proper ration.
(c) The weather grew so warm after crossing the Gulf Stream that the troops were allowed to sleep on deck but always in that part allotted to them.
(d) Inasmuch as but one regiment embarked, the company letters sufficed.
(e) At every limit of the troops' space large white sign boards, about four feet long and proportionately broad, were displayed, bearing legends in black like this: "Troops not allowed forward OF THIS," or "TROOPS NOT ALLOWED ABOVE THIS," etc. Marine sentries were posted at these points to enforce the order. Much wandering in forbidden places was avoided by these unmistakable directions.
(f) The spaces under the forward and after ends of the promenade deck, called squares, corresponding to those under poop and forecastle, were largely given over to the troops.
On the deck in the steerages and squares billets were marked out and numbered, 802 in all. Had the troops been kept down to this figure every man would have had his own sleeping place, but as 1300 came, crowding in proportion was unavoidable.
The officers were assigned first-class cabin rooms on the upper deck, so-called—that immediately below the main saloon. Not more than two were in any room and the seniors very generally had a room each.
The promenade deck rooms were already occupied by the officers attached to the ship and by other naval officers on board for passage.
The army officers messed in the saloon, their seating being fixed by Major-General Brooke. They paid the same mess bill which had been exacted of the Naval Cadets who had gone to Santiago in the transports which conveyed General Shaffer's Fifth Corps. The bill of fare was practically that which passengers of the first-class enjoy in going to Southampton in steamers of the American Line.
It was very important to get all the baggage, stores, ammunition and provisions on board and in place before a single soldier was admitted. Yet this obvious precaution demanded my unremitting vigilance, and caused me, I fear, to be unkindly regarded by some who wished to be first to arrive and to settle down. The only exception to the rule was forced upon me by the arrival, late one evening, of a sick officer and his attendant surgeon.
The articles of luggage needed for the trip, having been so marked in advance, were placed in the cabins of their owners, the heavy stores, etc., put in the hold, while the provisions for the voyage and the ammunition sufficient for the first landing were taken into the ration room. When all this was done, the ship was ready for the troops.
They came down to Hampton Roads from Newport News on large railroad flats which made fast alongside. The troops fell in by companies on the flats, marched up the gangway, through the ration room, where they deposited their arms and accoutrements, then proceeded to their sections (under guidance of sailors from the ship), where they remained until the last man was in his place on board. Then the bugle sounded and they were free to roam about within their prescribed bounds. In one hour and fifty minutes the 1300 men were embarked and ready for the voyage without confusion of any kind. The weather being hot, the waiting below was extremely irksome but it was essential to good order and discipline; otherwise the deck would have been encumbered by a crowd of people.
To the spaces shown on the plans the troops were rigidly confined. Not a man was permitted outside—especially were none allowed on the shade or uppermost deck of all where the boats were carried.
Every day the officers were requested to temporarily vacate one side of the promenade deck that a company of soldiers might be exercised without arms—more for the purpose of maintaining discipline than of perfecting their drills.
Besides the Third Regiment of Illinois Infantry, the St. Louis took from Hampton Roads to Arroyo, Porto Rico, Major-General Brooke and his staff. I count it a privilege to have had the company of so excellent a soldier and so charming a man on this unusual trip. His penetrating insight into the necessity for the rules formulated and his sympathetic aid in maintaining discipline and promoting harmony will not soon be forgotten. I must say that co-operation with the Army was rendered by him an unalloyed pleasure.
A careful inspection of the troops' quarters was made at 10.30 A.M. daily by me, accompanied by the Chief Officer, the Purser, the Surgeon, the Chief Steward and, of course, by Lieutenant-Commander Patch. On at least one of these occasions General Brooke was good enough to accompany me.
It was not easy to make the volunteer soldiers take as good care of their sections as could have been wished, for some seasickness joined to natural indifference to thwart our intentions, but, in the main, I think they deserve credit. Possibly regulars under regular officers would have done somewhat better than volunteers on board the St. Louis even if they did less well elsewhere. There were no cases of disorder on the passage.
The officers lived on the promenade deck between the troops' limits, when not at their meals or in their bunks. The majority were extremely appreciative of the efforts made by all attached to the St. Louis to render them comfortable. Some there were, as might have been expected, who, through ignorance, regarded the captain as responsible for the high temperature which prevails in the tropics, for the disorder of their cabins which were attended to by their own servants, or for lack of the many saloon and deck stewards who swarm on board a trans-Atlantic greyhound. With three square meals a day of fresh food well cooked, with all the luxuries which could possibly be produced on board an auxiliary cruiser, and vastly more than could have been expected, with ample deck room for lounging and smoking, a scrupulously clean ship and comfortable cabins, as cool as the best ventilating plant afloat could render them, their lot was enviable in every respect.
The troops came on board in Hampton Roads on July 28th and were landed at Arroyo, Porto Rico, on August 2d and 3d. The subjoined letter from Major-General Brooke shows the manner in which the preparations and rules worked in actual practice.
Headquarters First Army Corps,
Arroyo, Porto Rico, August 3, 1898.
Captain C.F. Goodrich, U.S. Navy, U.S.S. St. Louis.
Captain:—I cannot refrain from expressing to you my gratification at the complete and comfortable arrangements which were made on board your ship for the transportation of my Headquarters and the Third Illinois Infantry from Fortress Monroe to this point. The uniform courtesy and consideration shown by yourself and officers will always be a pleasant remembrance of this time of war.
Trusting that all your future may be as bright and pleasant as your eminent qualities deserve, I am,
Very truly yours,
(Signed) John R. Brooke, Major-General.