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Transport SENECA

An Account of Conditions Aboard the Vessel

The U.S. Army Transport Seneca, 1898

This is a view of the transport SENECA, the vessel that transported the 71st New York from New York to Tampa, Florida. This vessel is typical of those used as transports during the Spanish American War. The identification number "5" is painted on the hull and stack for ease of recognition. The vessel appears to be full of troops, with some even climbing the masts

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Below is a good account explaining the conditions under which the wounded suffered aboard the transports used during the war.

The Account:

Many Are Brought Here From Hoffman Island by Health Officer Doty

The Account of the Trip from Siboney and the Sufferings of the sick and
Wounded Is Corroborated by ex-Senator Genovar

The quarantine tug Governor Flower yesterday morning transfered here from Hoffman Island thirty of the passengers who came north on the SENECA, Dr. Doty having raised the quarantine. Those who came to the city were Miss Jennings, the Red Cross nurse; Capt. English of Gen. Ludlow's staff, the discharged soldiers, the newspaper correspondents, and camp followers. Later in the day the tug made another trip bringing the army officers who are on furlough.

The soldiers will be sent to Fort Hamilton to-day in accordance with Surgeon General Sternberg's orders to Dr. Doty. Only those who are too ill from malarial fever to be removed at present will remain at Hoffman and Swinborne Islands until they have recovered. There are excellent accommodations there for the patients. The cool breeze the constantly blow in from the sea make the islands ideal places for fever convalescents. The SENECA will remain at her anchorage until orders are received from Washington.

There was quite a crowd at the Battery pier when the Gov. Flower arrived on its first trip. A cheer went up from the crowd as Miss Jennings, whose heroic work has been heralded abroad, stepped ashore and a hundred willing hands were stretched out to assist her. She bowed her thanks and hurried ashore, going at once to the Red Cross storehouse at 552 Broadway. She had intended to report to Mr. Barton yesterday but sent word that she would do so to-day before she left for her home in Washington. Miss Jennings is tall and dark and her face shows traces of the trying times on board the SENECA

Her Story of the Trip

'I am very well, but very, very tired' she said, " and a good rest will, I hope put me right again. Yes We had had a hard time on the SENECA, and I am convinced that nothing but Divine interposition saved the lives of some of the brave fellows on board. Certainly there were no means at hand to help them or to make them comfortable, and I waited daily to hear that some of the men had died. The blame for the whole condition of affairs belongs in Siboney. I don't know how the SENECA came to be used as a hospital ship, but I do know positively that not the slightest investigation was made of her condition and her fitness for such a trip.

'The afternoon before the vessel sailed I heard that she was to convoy a lot of sick and wounded men to the States, and, knowing that no nurse was on board, I told Miss Barton that I thought that I might be able to do good service on the ship. She indorsed my plan and I went aboard. I had then no knowledge that any passengers were to be carried, and only found this out when the vessel was ready to leave.

'I saw one of the doctors before sailing and he told me that he had no provisions for the sick. I at once went back to the {hospital ship] State of Texas, where I gathered up a great bag full of what delicacies and necessities I could find above deck, for so great was the rush that I was unable to go into the hold for the articles I needed. I forgot plates, knives, forks and spoons, of which there was not one on board the transport for the use of the sick men, quinine, bandages, malted milk, oatmeal, and some other things though necessarily in small quantities. The poor fellows sick and wounded, were put between decks in cattle pens, nothing else, there is no other name for their quarters and the awful trip began.

Doctor Almost Wept.

'There was not a surgical instrument or thermometer aboard. I know of one poor fellow who was shot through the lungs. The doctor told me that he knew pus was forming in the wound, but that he could do nothing to relieve it. He almost wept as he told me of his utter helplessness. 'We must do something for him,' I said. 'But there is nothing to be done,' replied the doctor.' There are no other quarters and no instruments, and he must be made as comfortable as possible where he is'

'On the second day the ice gave out and the water was vile. We distilled some in the condensers of the engines and that relieved matters somewhat, but it was the heroic self-sacrifice of every man who could help that pulled us through. Almost at once Lieut, Dowdy organized relief watches among those who were well enough. Half were put on watch during the day and the others at night, co that the sick were looked after all the time.

'Mrs. Scovil was the only other woman on board, and as she was ill during the entire trip she could be of no assistance to us. Capt. von Rebeur Paschwitz of the German Army and Col. Yermsloff of the Russian Embassy were unremitting in their attentions, as was Commander Anderson of the Swedish Navy. These gentlemen slept in the cabin, bringing out pillows every night and throwing themselves down wherever they found room. Lieut. Akyiama of Japan was ill, and kept to his room most of the time.

'Is it true that the Turkish representative refused to give up his quarters?" was asked. 'I would rather not speak of that,' said Miss Jennings. 'He was very polite, and I do not really know if he was asked to give up the ladies cabin he occupied. Circumstances were against him, as he spoke no English, and few of us could converse with him in French. At any event he kept his quarters where some of the sick might have been made comfortable.

Capt. Decker Not Blamed.

'I would like, too, to say a word for Capt. Decker of the SENECA. Absolutely no blame can attach to him for the condition of affairs. He told me repeatedly that everything on board was at our command, and he tried in every way to relieve the distress. the correspondents helped us, and under the circumstances we did the best we could.

'My great regret was that the foreign representatives should be witnesses to such a state of affairs. I said last night to Co. Yermsloff and Capt. von Paschwitz, when I bade them farewell on Hoffman Island, 'I regret, gentlemen, that you should have seen us at our worst. It is not a good impression to take away of our methods,' and they, as gallant as ever, answered; 'Pray, do not speak of it, Madam. It is always this way at the beginning of a war. We have such conditions even in our own country, where we are to a greater extent prepared.' Another evidence of the bungling and apathy of the officials was witnessed at Fort Monroe,' continued Miss Jennings. 'They seemed scared to death when we put in there and rufused to allow us to land any of our sick and wounded. Instead they kept us lying there twenty-four hours, and then sent us north.

'How did I stand it? Well, I hardly know, but I got through, although not a trained nurse, and I am glad if I have been of service to the brave boys who suffered on board that awful transport.' Miss Jennings spoke in glowing terms of her treatment while in quarantine, and said that after her experiences on board ship she was almost sorry to leave her cool and comfortable quarters on Hoffman Island. Miss Jennings has brought with her as her special charge a young Frenchman named Lucian Sauve, who contracted a bronchial trouble from sleeping on the wet ground and she fears that he has consumption. Suave will be sent to Chicago for special treatment. Hs was at the Red Cross headquarters yesterday, and said; 'Say all you can for Miss Jennings. She is a noble woman.'

Mr. Genovar's Account

Ex-senator F.B. Genovar of St. Augustine, who went to Cuba to serve as Gen. Shafters interpreter, but contracted fever, and who was with the American army before Santiago, is at the Hotel Martin. Speaking of the Seneca yesterday Mr. Genovar said; 'It is too terrible to contemplate the sufferings of the sick and wounded. Poor food and inattention to their wants were bad enough, but when the water gave out the worst scenes were enacted. The Surgeons had no instruments and could not properly treat the wounds. I remember the case of a soldier named Allen, who still had a piece of shell in his knee. How he did groan, He had to be moved several times.'


McIntoch, Burr, The Little I Saw of Cuba. (New York: F. Tennyson Neely, 1899).

"Seneca Passengers Free," New York Times. July 23, 1898. (Contributed by John LaBarre)

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