This remarkable account provides a view of Admiral Cervera and other Spanish officers in the wake of their defeat at Santiago, and also shows their treatment aboard the U.S.S. GLOUCESTER.
When Admiral Cerver came on board the GLOUCESTER after his surrender on shore to Lieutenant Norman, he was dressed in a fiat white sailor cap, a wet sack-coat, an undershirt, and a torn pair of trousers which might have been discarded by a tramp. He climbed up the rope ladder which was hanging down the ship’s side, and as he stepped on board all of the GLOUCESTER’s crew were drawn up to receive him, and Captain Wainwright stood at the gangway. We had no bugle to sound the proper flourishes, and as our boatswain’s mates were all out of the ship, we could not even “pipe the side.” The captain held out his hand and congratulated the admiral on the heroic fight he had made. It was just the right thing to do, and perhaps from that moment dates Admiral Cerver’s kindly feeling for this country. Captain Wainwright escorted him aft, and I showed him below into the cabin, where the captain’s private quarters were placed at his disposal. His son, Don Angel, was with him in the capacity of flag-lieutenant. Captain Concas of the MARIA TERESA was given my room, and, being wounded, was cared for by our surgeon.
The admiral had been on board only a few minutes when he expressed a desire to see the prisoners forward, especially those who were hurt. The captain gave his consent, and we went forward. The unwounded prisoners were all up in the bows, where a temporary awning had been rigged for them. As they equaled the crew of the GLOUCESTER in number, and many of our people were away in boats, a dead-line had been stretched across the deck, and two sailors with loaded rifles stood one at each end, with orders to shoot any Spaniard who should start to pass it. As an additional precaution, a Colt automatic rifle was pointed just over the heads of the prisoners, needing only a touch of the hand from the man stationed by it to start a fire of four hundred shots a minute. As the admiral passed forward, barefoot and ragged, the crew saluted and the sentries presented arms, just as they would have done for our own commander-in-chief. He spoke a few words to his men, and asked if anything could be done for them. He seemed to be satisfied with their answers, and passed on down to the berth-deck, where the wounded lay. His cheery greeting brightened many faces. If I remember correctly, he spoke to each man a few encouraging words, and spent several minutes by the side of Lieutenant Arderius, who had been badly injured on the FUROR. It was fine to see the gallant old gentleman taking steps to secure the comfort of his men before he allowed any to be taken for his own.
Not much attention had been given to preparations for luncheon. The officers’ store-room was almost bare, and when the steward was told to get a meal ready as soon as possible for all the Spanish officers, as well as for those of the ship, he looked a little blank. However, he rose to the emergency, and about two o’clock announced that all was ready. The ward-room could not accommodate everybody at the same time, so it was decided that our guests should eat first, and the officers of the ship should wait. Captain Wainwright sent me below to represent him at the first table, and I asked Paymaster Brown to keep us company. Admiral Cervera sat at one end of the table, and I at the other, while the Spanish officers, at the request of the admiral, seated themselves without regard to rank. Lieutenant Cervera was at my right. I think the admiral was flanked by the captains of the destroyers PLUTON and FUROR, commanders Vazquez and Carlier. Most of the Spaniards were in very informal costume, several having on only a shirt and a pair of trousers, and these in some cases had been furnished from our wardrobes. There had been no opportunity to do more than supply the most urgent needs.
Far from being depressed, the admiral was in high spirits. He had done his duty to the utmost limits, and was relieved of the terrible burden of responsibility that had weighed upon him since leaving the Cape Verde Islands. Perhaps, also, he wished to cheer his fellow-prisoners, for he gave full rein to his naturally genial temperament. I referred to the meagerness of our fare. The admiral expressed his satisfaction at having a meal before him, as he had had only a cup of chocolate brought to him on deck by his servant, very early in the morning, before starting out. For a moment there was silence, and perhaps the same thought occurred to all of us: what great changes had taken place since breakfast! A comparison of notes among the Spanish officers showed that all had breakfasted lightly.
Mr. Brown asked his neighbor why the fleet had not come out at night, and several, hearing the question, turned toward him as if interested in the subject. The answer was that it was impossible to come out in the face of the search-light our battleships threw into the entrance. In this all agreed. “We could not,” said young Cervera. “Your light was maintained continuously, without interruption, shining right up the channel.” I understood from them that it was actually impossible to navigate the ships in the beam, and quite believed it, remembering an experience of my own when the BROOKYN threw her light upon us. When I asked why they came out in the face of such crushing superiority, I think it was again Don Angel who answered, shrugging his shoulders: “Your army surrounds the city, and can enter when it chooses; we were driven out.” The admiral remarked that he acted under positive orders to come out. I said to Don Angel: “Nous avons remporte la victoire, mais la gloire est a vous.” He called to his father at the other end of the table, and repeated the remark. “C’est tres bien!” said the old admiral, and he nodded to me approvingly. The remark was repeated in Spanish to those who had not understood the French words, and a murmur of approbation rose from all sides. One officer, who showed signs of the terrible strain he had been subjected to, almost broke down, and tears rolled down his cheeks.
The officers naturally asked one another about their friends on the different ships, and all, especially the admiral, seemed distressed at the death of Dr. L’Allemand, the fleet surgeon. They could hardly believe it when told that he was safe in our sick-bay, having been rescued from a piece of floating wreckage by the dinghy. It is a strange fact that this man owed his rescue to his religious fervor. From the bridge I had seen the wreckage, and, watching through a binocular for possible signs of life, saw him raise his clasped hands in prayer. But for this movement he would have been lost, for our boat reached him just in time.
Late in the afternoon, the admiral and
a few of the higher officers were transferred to the IOWA,
and all the rest of the unwounded prisoners to the INDIANA.
As far as our limited supplies allowed, they had been clothed and made
comfortable. I gave the admiral the only suit
of citizen’s clothing I had on board. The wounded were taken to Siboney,
where room was found for them on the army hospital steamer OLIVETTE. One
poor fellow had died, and about half-way between Siboney and Santiago,
on our return trip, the pipes of the boatswain’s mates were followed by
the call, “All hands bury the dead.” The officers and men mustered on the
quarter-deck, the engines were stopped, and the body of the dead sailor,
sewed in a hammock and covered with the flag of the FUROR,
was brought aft. The chief master-at-arms, a Roman Catholic, read the service.
A sailor’s funeral at sea is always impressive, and in this case it seemed
a most fitting end to the events of the day. I heard a man say, as he went
forward after the ceremony: “If they had hit us only once, there might
have been a lot of us dropped overboard to-night in- stead of that Spaniard.”
And an answering voice said grimly: “Yes; and perhaps the funeral would
have been in the forenoon, and with nobody to read the service.