Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Spanish American War Correspondents

By Richard Harding Davis.

Acton Davies
The newspaper correspondents who are allowed to accompany the Brit­ish army during an active campaign are selected on account of their former ex­perience and reputation, or on account of the importance of the paper they serve. Their number is extremely limited. The two great press associations, "Reuter's" and the "Central News," which furnish the same matter to different papers in all parts of the United Kingdom, are each allowed one or two representatives, and a dozen of the more important Lon­don dailies, like the Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the Mail, and one or two of the provincial papers, such as the Manchester Guardian and the Dublin Times, are each allowed to send one spe­cial correspondent to the front.

This plan of selection and limitation is very different from the one pursued dur­ing the late war by our own government. With us, nearly every paper in the coun­try that could afford to send a repre­sentative was permitted to do so. Even weekly periodicals of a strictly literary or religious character were represented by men who were anxious to get to Cuba in any capacity, and the big dailies were each given credentials for as many as twenty correspondents, artists, and pho­tographers. As our country, unlike England, is not constantly engaged in mili­tary operations, only a few of the men who acted as correspondents during the war with Spain went to the front with any previous experience of the kind of work before them. But they had been trained in a school of journalism which teaches self-reliance and, above all other things, readiness of resource. In consequence they met the new conditions with­out anxiety and by using the same methods they had formerly employed in reporting a, horse show or a fire, they suc­ceeded in satisfactorily describing the op­erations of our army.

Stephen Crane
Before the Santiago campaign had opened and while our troops were still at Tampa, many of the newspapers promised their readers that when the war really came the "pencil -pushers of Park Row," with no experience of battles or of things military, would de­velop into great war correspondents, while on the other hand, the men who had been employed to serve as descrip­tive writers merely, and who possessed some former experience in campaigning and in roughing it, would show that they were better suited to write fiction in a library than to recognize news when they saw it, or to collect facts.

The war, so far as it concerned itself with the correspondents proved nothing of the sort. It did not show that the descriptive writer or novelist was capa­ble of gathering news, nor did it, prove to the contrary; nor did it prove that the man who had previously reported crim­inal news and real - estate deals was equally at home when he found himself in a Cuban jungle two thousand miles from the office telephone, and with no friendly policeman to direct his steps. The success of the different men was en­tirely a question of intelligence and of individual character. Their past experi­ence seemed to count for very little. Some of those who had seen much service with the army and navy in times of peace, who could harness a team to a gun-car­riage, or drill a cavalry regiment, or name every part of a battle-ship, were, when "the real thing" came lost abso­lutely from the sight of their fellowmen. All their experience on the plains and in the wardrooms of the White Squadron either failed to get them to the front at all, or did not enable them to take care of themselves when they got there. On the other hand, mere boys, who had been jerked out of the city room of a metropolitan daily and rushed to the front without even a rubber blanket, followed the soldiers from the first to the last, and never left them, except to tramp back to Siboney to file their dispatches on the press-boats. Two of the very best correspondents had served their respec­tive papers, previous to the war, as dramatic critics, and their only know­ledge of war had been gathered from performances of Secret Service and Shenandoah. These were H. James Whigham, of the Chicago Tribune, and Acton Davies, of the New York Evening Sun. Each of these gentlemen proved most conclusively that previous experi­ence is not necessary to enable either an Englishman or an American to report a war correctly. I have seen the war cor­respondent whom Kipling describes as the "War Eagle" in his Light that Failed. I saw him in Greece, with three horses, three servants, a tent, the British flag flying over his head, cooking-stoves, medicine-chests, writing-desks, and typewriters. He carried letters from prime ministers, and he lunched with the young princes daily. And I have seen a boy, named Sammy, who acted as a courier for the New York Herald, eighteen years of age, who had a keener scent for news than the War Eagle ever possessed, who better knew what was going to happen before it happened, and who was in every way more alert, in­telligent, and suited to the work in hand.

Caspar Whitney
Whigliam, with his two years' residence in Ameri­ca, made, in my opinion at least, a much better correspondent than the War Eagle with his rec­ord of twelve campaigns. And his outfit was limit­ed to a canteen and a bottle of Scotch whis­key. The War Eagle's dispatches are intelligi­ble, and probably of great interest to a drill-ser­geant; Whigham's let­ters were equally inter­esting to the military expert and to the civilian. Whigham came from Oxford to America to lecture: in the university extension series, but he: is better known in this country as the ex-golf champion of the United States, and as a dramatic critic. He arrived at Key West during the earliest days of the war, and, that same night was dropped on the-coat of Cuba, where he was promptly made prisoner by the Spaniards, but was later set at liberty at Havana. Immedi­ately on his release he went to Guanta­namo, where the marines had landed, and while trying to find their firing-line, walked into a Spanish picket and re­ceived a Mauser bullet across the fore­head. Later he joined the army at Dai­quiri, and was one of the half-dozen correspondents who scaled the San Juan hills immediately after they were charged by the regulars. Later he was invalided home with fever, which attacked him in a most serious form. His must certainly be considered a full and creditable record, and his only experience of war was gath­ered on the golf-links of Chicago. It is impossible to designate one correspondent as being better than another, because what is important to one does not seem to be of value to his rival, and their ideas as to their duty differ. One may prefer to stand on the firing-line in order to see what is going forward close at hand, but while he is in greater personal dan­ger, another who watches the battle from an elevation - in the rear can obtain a much better view, and a much more correct idea of what is being done in all parts of the field. So the pres­ence of a corre­spondent on the firing-line, or his absence from it, does not prove that he is not do­ing his full duty to his paper. The best correspond­ent is probably the man who by his energy and re­source sees more of the war, both afloat and ashore, than do his rivals, and who is able to make the pub­lic see what he saw. If that is a good defi­nition, Stephen Crane would seem to have distinctly won the first place among correspondents in the late disturbance. John Fox, Sylves­ter Scovel, Caspar Whitney, Howard Thompson, and Mr. Millard of the New York Herald are close seconds. Of these gentle­men, Mr. Fox and Mr. Whitney were hampered by the fact that they were not writing for a daily paper.

H. James Whigham
Near the close of the war, a group of correspondents in Puerto Rico made out a list of the events which, in their opinion, were of the greatest news value during the campaign, and a list of the correspond­ents, with the events each had witnessed credited to his name. Judged from this basis, Mr. Crane easily led all the rest. Of his power to make the public see what he sees it would be impertinent to speak. His story of Nolan, the regular, bleeding to death on the San Juan hills, is, so far as I have read, the most valuable contribution to lit­erature that the war has produced. It is only neces­sary to imagine how other writers would have han­dled it, to appre­ciate that it could not have been better done. His story of the ma­rine at Guantana­mo, who stood on the crest of the hill to "wigwag" to the war-ships, and so exposed himself to the fire of the entire Spanish force, is also particularly interest­ing, as it illus­trates that in his devotion to duty, and also in, his readiness at the exciting moments of life, Crane is quite as much of a soldier as the man whose courage he described. He tells how the marine stood erect, star­ing through the dusk with half-closed eyes, and with his lips mov­ing as he counted the answers from the war-ships, while innumera­ble bullets splash­ed the sand about him. But it never occurs to Crane that to sit at the man's feet, as he did, close enough to watch his lips move and to be able to make mental notes for a later tribute to the marine's scorn of fear, was equally deserving of praise.

Crane was the coolest man, whether army officer or civilian, that I saw under fire at any time during the war. He was most annoyingly cool, with the assurance of a fatalist. When the San Juan hills were taken, he came up them with James Hare, of Collier's. He was walking lei­surely, and though the bullets passed con­tinuously, he never once ducked his head. He wore a long rain-coat, and as he stood peering over the edge of the hill, with his hands in his pockets and smoking his pipe, he was as unconcerned as though he were gazing at a cinematograph.

Howard N Thompson
The fire from the enemy was so heavy that only one troop along the entire line of the hills was returning it, and all the rest of our men were lying down. Gen­eral Wood, who was then colonel of the Rough Riders, and I were lying on our elbows at Crane's feet, and Wood ordered him also to lie down. Crane pretended not to hear, and moved farther away, still peering over the hill with the same interested expression. Wood told him for the second time that if he did not lie down he would be killed, but Crane paid no attention. So, in order to make him take shelter, I told him he was trying to impress us with his courage and that if he thought he was making me feel badly by walking about, he might as well sit down. As soon as I told him he was try­ing to impress us with his courage, he dropped on his knees, as I had hoped he would, and we breathed again.

After that, in Puerto Rico, we agreed to go out together and take a town by surprise and demand its surrender. At that time every town in Puerto Rico surrendered to the first American who entered it, and we thought that to accept the unconditional surrender of a large number of foreigners would be a pleasing and inter­esting experience. But Crane's business manager, who guard­ed him with much the same jealousy as that with which an advance-agent guards the prima donna, did not want any one else to share the glory of the surrender, and sent Crane off by himself. He rode into Juana Diaz, and the town, as a matter of course, surrendered, and made him welcome. He spent the day in establishing an aris­tocracy among the towns­people, and in distributing largesse to the hungry. He also spent the night there, sleeping peacefully far be­yond our lines, and with no particular interest as to where the Spaniards might happen to be. The next morn­ing, when he was taking his coffee on the sidewalk in front of the only cafe, he was amused to see a "point" of five soldiers advance cautiously along the Ponce road, dodging behind bushes, and reconnoitering with both the daring and skill of the American invader. While still continuing to sip his coffee he ob­served a skirmish-line following this "point," and final­ly the regiment itself, marching bravely upon Juana Diaz. It had come to affect its capture. When the commanding officer arrived, his sense of humor deserted him, and he could not see how necessary and proper it was that any town should surrender to the author of the Red Badge of Cour­age.

John Fox, Jr.
A week later, Millard of the New York Herald, "El" Root of the New York Sun, Howard Thomp­son, and myself, with some slight assistance from four thousand sol­diers, captured a much larger city than the one Crane attacked; but as we stum­bled into the town first, under the im­pression that it was filled with American caval­ry, the town of Coamo surrender­ed to us. The ques­tion is, whether it is more creditable to take a town of five thousand people with three other correspondents, supported by four thousand soldiers, or to take a town of two thousand inhabitants single-handed. I fear that in the eyes of history Crane's victory will be ranked higher than that of Millard, Root, Thompson, and myself.

One of the most amusing and daring acts of any of the correspondents was that of Burr W. Macintosh, of Frank Leslie's. When the troops arrived at Daiquiri, a general order was issued forbidding any of the correspondents to accompany the soldiers when they made their first landing. The men on the press-boats of course promptly disobeyed this or­der; but the corre­spondents on the transports were forced to obey it, or run the risk of losing their cre­dentials. Mr. Mac­intosh was the one exception. He was most desirous of obtaining a photo­graph, taken on the shores of Cuba, which would show the American sol­diers making their first hostile land­ing on that shore. To this end he gave his camera into the hands of a sergeant in one of the shore-boats, and hid his clothes under the cross seats of an­other. When these boats started, Mac­intosh dived from the stern of the transport, and af­ter swimming a quarter of a mile through a heavy surf, reached the coast of Cuba in time to recover his camera and per­petuate the first landing of our Army of Invasion.

The correspondents might be divided into three classes—the men who gathered the news, the descriptive writers, and those who collected names. Some of them did all of these three things. There was also a fourth class of correspondent, who accompanied a volunteer regiment and told only of what was done by the particular regiment he accompanied, with­out touching on the war at all, except when the regiment took a part in it. These young gentlemen unconsciously did a very great injury to the men of the reg­ular army, in persuading the public at home that the volunteer is an effective fighting-machine, instead of making it clear that he is an "amateur," and, as such, is a menace and a danger to the safety of the country.

The points of view of these several cor­respondents were entirely different. Writ­ers like Stephen Crane, John Fox, Caspar Whitney, and Stephen Bonsai were in­terested in what was most dramatic and picturesque. The fact that the Rough Riders sang "Fair Harvard" in the rifle-pits, within easy ear-shot of the enemy, was of as much value to them as the movements of Sampson's squadron or the terms of the surrender.

James F. J. Archibald
But the men in the news-gathering class, although they possessed as quick an eye for what was striking and human as did the magazine-writers, found that their duty led them in another direction. It was their part to treat the whole campaign as a series of events, to describe it as they would a political convention, to ascertain exactly what orders were given and ex­actly who carried them into effect. The best of these, as a rule, were the repre­sentatives of the Associated Press, and they entered into the work in the same impersonal spirit with which they would have handled an annual encampment of the G.A.R., or the first night of a new play. They looked on the thing broadly and from all sides. They want­ed the news, all the news, but nothing but the news. The last words of a dying soldier were not important to them. His name spelled correctly, and the letter of his troop, were to their employers of the highest value. These correspondents were ubiquitous. They were in Jamaica one day, and the next plowing through heavy seas, and a few hours later back on the firing-line. They were anonymous, and their work, which was at times both brilliant and of historic value, was sunk and lost under the leveling head-line of a press bureau, a machine which would make all men equal, and for which writers sell their birthright of originality and hu­mor and personal point of view. Howard Thompson, the Washington correspondent of the Associated Press, and E. R John­ston, a managing editor of the Minneapolis Times, are perhaps the two men who, by their individuality, have risen above the anonymity of the bureau they serve. In them the personal element predomi­nates. They are young men who would be conspicuous on a sinking ship or at a dinner table. They are the confidants of Presidents and would-be presidents, Sen­ators and their "bosses," and they are equally at home in an Indian uprising or at a Presidential convention.

Lyman, of the Associated Press, paid the penalty of serving at Siboney by dying a month after the war of fever.

It is a difficult thing for a correspond­ent to praise the work of his comrades. Such expression of appreciation would come with more weight from some of the officers of the army, except that these latter could not be free from prejudice, as not a few of them owe much to the young men who made their victories conspicuous. But there are some of the corre­spondents of whose courage and regard ­for duty a correspondent can speak more fully, because he knows them more intimately than can the men of the army.

H. E. Armstrong
Caspar Whitney and John Fox were distinctly among the most earnest, honest, and brilliant. If each of them had not been well known before, the war, one as a novelist, the other as an explorer, their conduct during it would have made their reputations. But there were many others who had never written books in ­covers, nor explored unknown-lands, nor the tried themselves by facing unknown dangers. There were so many of these that it would be unfair to mention one before another, but the one who appealed to me the most was Frank Collins, the corre­spondent of the Boston Journal. Only his nearest friends really know how much that young man risked losing when he offered to represent his paper at the front.  He was a reporter of the law courts, and he accompanied the Second Massachusetts Regiment. There was no press-boat be­longing exclusively to his paper, and while in Cuba he was unable to obtain a ­ horse, so that in order to file his dispatch­es he was forced to go on foot to Siboney, and trust to the kindness of his comrades to see that his copy was taken to Ja­maica. He worked by day, and by night tramped through the jungle. A more gentle, courteous, and manly man I have, seldom met. He nursed the sick and bandaged the wounded, wrote letters for the dying, and acted as postman for the living. He was always at the front, and he never complained nor grumbled. The first time I met him he was gathering flowers to place on the body of a volunteer who had died at Lakeland, and ­ last time was before, the battle of San Juan, when I was unable to walk, and he persuaded a mule-driver to give me a lift in his wagon. Two weeks later, racked with fever and worn out with lack of food, he died, as much a martyr to the war as the men in uniform who were killed by Mauser bullets. We could not have better spared a better man, because better men than Frank Collins are very few.

Frank P. Collins
If the correspondents on land encountered hardships, their condition in comparison was preferable to that of the cor­respondents who followed the fleet. Their days and nights were spent in dirty tug­boats, tossing and turning in heavy seas. They were sick for sleep, wet to the skin, and sometimes seasick as well. The crews of their boats were always in a state of active or threatened mutiny, and they were engaged in constant struggles with censors, cable companies, and the authorities of the different ports. John R. Spears, of Scribner's and the New York Sun, Harry S. Brown, of the Herald, Wal­ter Howard, of the Journal, and Charles H. Diehl are perhaps the four men who most successfully battled with the waves, eluded the cannon balls from the warships, and overcame the difficulties which the censors and the officials of the cable companies placed in the way of their duty. It is impossible to give too much credit to the men who manned the press-boats. They were not able to take anything for granted, and soon learned that they could depend upon no one save themselves. They were forced to learn navigation, geography, diplomacy, and finance. In time each man knew just how many motions of the wheel would carry his tug to Jamaica, how much coal was needed to feed her fires, and how much his crew would drink before they would scramble on deck and demand an in­crease of wages before deserting in a body. He was captain, engineer, supercargo, and deck hand. With a salary of forty dollars a week, he was responsible for thousands of dollars. One cable alone to the New York Herald cost five thou­sand dollars. He had also to pay for boat hire, port dues, and sal­aries. These many responsibilities were carried by young men who were, for the most part, under thirty years of age, who had pre­viously never been farther from New York City than Coney Island, and with an experience as executives which was limited to guess­ing at the insurance on a fire and reporting Dr. Depew's speeches. Yet with all these duties pressing upon them they were forced to sit in a choking cabin and write accu­rate and dramatic pictures of bombardments, engagements with shore batteries, and races after blockade-runners, while the cabin table was at an angle of forty-five degrees, and the cabin lamp swung in com­plete somersaults. Their reward was a hastily scribbled cable­gram of congratulation from the "chief," or a precise and detailed message of instruction from the same source, which, if followed, would have left the paper with­out news. There is apparently nothing which the " chief " in the home office finds so difficult to comprehend as the fact that the man on the spot must be a bet­ter judge of what is needed there than anyone else, no matter how clever he may be, two thousand miles away.

The great proportion of correspondents sent home ill was out of all proper rela­tion to their numbers. One reason for this was that too many of them selected to live at Siboney, and made their head­quarters in the former huts of the Cubans. These huts were little better than ill-kept dog-kennels, and reeked with fever, which, with the lack of proper food and the hot sun, incapacitated over thirty of the news­paper representatives. It is also true that almost all of the other correspondents who were at the front suffered from fe­ver; in fact, I know of but one or two who escaped it. With but few exceptions, the employers at home made but little effort to preserve the health of their cor­respondents in the field, which they might easily have done by forwarding them food, tents, and clothing by the press-boats from Jamaica. An occasional ca­blegram of congratulation, while gratify­ing to the pride, is not so effective a preventive against fever as quinine or a rubber "poncho." One of the best known of the correspondents, who was on the firing-line at Guantanamo, Guasimas, and San Juan, was sent home, desperately ill with fever, in the same clothes he had been forced to wear for three weeks. He had forded streams in them, slept on the bare ground in them, and sweat­ed in them from the heat and from fe­ver, and when he reached Fortress Mon­roe he bought himself a complete new outfit at the modest expenditure of twen­ty-four dollars. For this his paper re­fused to pay. This was the same paper that discharged Sylvester Scovel for tell­ing the truth about the Seventy-first New York Volunteers and for returning a blow.

John F Bass
The correspondents who suffered from wounds were four in number—Edward Marshall, who was shot through the body near the spine, and who, after he had been told he could not live, wrote his dispatch to his paper as he lay bleeding on his blanket; James Whigham; James F. J. Archibald; and James Creelman. Ar­chibald was one of the "fighting" corre­spondents, who rendered as effective ser­vice as many of the junior officers. He was attached to the First Regiment, and was in command of a squad of men at the time of time landing of the Gussie expedition. He was shot through the arm at that time, and was the only man wounded.

There has been no attempt, made in this article to describe the acts of every correspondent who acquitted himself well, and there were many whose work was as conspicuous as that of those mentioned here; but what has been said of one is de­served by nearly all. The "water-front" correspondents, as those were called who remained at Siboney, were perhaps the only men who did not perform their whole duty. At that place, thirteen miles from the "side lines," it was impossible, obviously, to obtain any knowledge of the operations of the army, except as it was carried to the rear by strag­glers or by the wounded, who were in no fit men­tal condition to give an accurate account of what had occurred. But the information furnished by these men formed the basis for the news sent out by "wa­ter-front" corre­spondents, and ow­ing to the fact that they were thirteen miles nearer the press-boats than the correspondents with the army, their alarming and visionary accounts were usually the first to reach the American people: This was not only unfair to the read­ing public, but to the men who were gathering the facts at the front at some personal risk and with some hard­ships. When the dispatches of these latter, which were complete and ac­curate, reached Ja­maica, the wires were already choked with the premature and sensational stories of their less adventurous brothers. It was an in­stance of "he who is first shall be last." or the men, besides those already mentioned, who acquitted themselves most notably, and who in the event of an­other war would be of the first value to any newspaper, are Millard of the Her­ald, Root and Armstrong of the Sun, Henry Roberts of the Eagle, and John F. Bass, of Harper's Weekly. C. E. Akers, of the London Times, Phil Rob­inson, and Seppings Wright were easily the most able and distinguished among the English correspondents. Among the artists and photographers, Frederic Rem­ington, Wilson of the Herald, Christy, Floyd Campbell, Dinwiddie, Burton, and James Hare are of the greatest prominence. These are the men to whom the public owe a debt of grat­itude. They kept the American peo­ple informed of what their coun­trymen—their bro­thers, fathers, and friends—were do­ing at the front. They cared for the soldiers when they were wounded, and, as Americans, helped Americans against a common enemy by reconnoitering, scouting, and fighting. They had no uniform to protect them; they were under sen­tence to be shot as spies if captured by the Spaniards and they were bound, not by an oath as were the soldiers, but mere­ly by a sense of duty to a newspaper, and by a natural desire to be of service to their countrymen in any way that offered.

From Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1899.


  1. Boost Distributed Team Productivity I’m going to read this. I’ll be sure to come back. thanks for sharing. and also This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives indepth information. thanks for this nice article...