Classic History Books


The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

United States to the tropics in midsummer when the measures necessary to safeguard its health were not
yet known. This responsibility rested immediately upon the American people themselves, all too eager

for a war for which they were not prepared and for a speedy victory at all costs. For this national

impatience they had to pay dearly. The striking contrast, however, between the efficiency of the navy and

the lack of preparation on the part of the army shows that the people as a whole would have supported a

more thorough preparation of the army, had the responsible officials possessed sufficient courage and

intelligence to have demanded it; nor would the people have been unwilling to defer victory until

autumn, had they been honestly informed of the danger of tropical disease into which they were sending

the flower of their youth. Such a postponement would not only have meant better weather but it would

have given time to teach the new officers their duty in safeguarding the health of their men as far as

possible, and this precaution alone would have saved many lives. Owing to the greater practical

experience of the officers in the regular regiments, the death rate among the men in their ranks fell far

below that among the volunteers, even though many of the men with the regulars had enlisted after the

declaration of war. On the other hand, speed as well as sanitation was an element in the war, and the

soldier who was sacrificed to lack of preparation may be said to have served his country no less than he

who died in battle. Strategy and diplomacy in this instance were enormously facilitated by the immediate

invasion of Cuba, and perhaps the outcome justified the cost. The question of relative values is a difficult

one.

No such equation of values, however, can hold the judgment in suspense in the case of the host of
secondary errors that grew out of the indolence of Secretary Alger and his worship of politics. Probably

General Miles was mistaken in his charges concerning embalmed beef, and possibly the canned beef was

not so bad as it tasted; but there can be no excuse for a Secretary of War who did not consider it his

business to investigate the question of proper rations for an army in the tropics simply because Congress

had, years before, fixed a ration for use within the United States. There was no excuse for sending many

of the men clad in heavy army woolens. There was no excuse for not providing a sufficient number of

surgeons and abundant hospital service. There was little excuse for the appointment of General Shafter,

which was made in part for political reasons. There was no excuse for keeping at the head of the army

administration General Nelson A. Miles, with whom, whatever his abilities, the Secretary of War was

unable to work.

The navy did not escape controversy. In fact, a war fought under the eyes of hundreds of uncensored
newspaper correspondents unskilled in military affairs could not fail to supply a daily grist of scandal to

an appreciative public. The controversy between Sampson and Schley, however, grew out of

incompatible personalities stirred to rivalry by indiscreet friends and a quarrelsome public. Captain

Sampson was chosen to command, and properly so, because of his recognized abilities. Commodore

Schley, a genial and open-hearted man, too much given to impulse, though he outranked Sampson, was

put under his command. Sampson was not gracious in his treatment of the Commodore, and ill feeling

resulted. When the time came to promote both officers for their good conduct, Secretary Long by

recommending that Sampson be raised eight numbers and Schley six, reversed their relative positions as

they had been before the war. This recommendation, in itself proper, was sustained by the Senate, and all

the vitality the controversy ever had then disappeared, though it remains a bone of contention to be

gnawed by biographers and historians.

 

CHAPTER XII. The Close Of The War

 

 

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