Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 30

CHAPTER XXX


FINAL SCENES OF THE GREAT FIGHT


"Si has fallen overboard!"

The cry came from half a dozen throats at once, and Walter's heart almost stopped beating, so attached had he become to the Yankee lad.

"If he's overboard, he'll be sucked under and drowned," he groaned. "I wonder if I can see anything of him."

Without a second thought he leaped on the gun and began to crawl out, on hands and knees, as perilous a thing to do, with the vessel going at full speed, as one would care to undertake.

"Come back!" roared Caleb, trying to detain him. "You'll go overboard, too."

At that moment came a cry from below, and looking down the steel side of the Brooklyn, Walter beheld Si clinging to a rope ladder, one of several flung over, to be used in case of emergency. "Si, are you all right?" he called loudly.

"I—reckon—I—I am," came with a pant.
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Rammer in Hand, Walter Edged Close to the Muzzle.

Page 327

"But I had an awful tumble and the wind is about knocked out o' me." And then Si began to climb up to the deck.

"He's on the ladder and he's all right," shouted Walter, to those still behind the gun. Then a sudden idea struck him. "Hand me another rammer, Stuben."

"Mine cracious! don't you try dot," cried the hoseman. "You vos fall ofer chust like Si."

"Yes, come in here," put in Caleb, and Paul also called upon him to return.

"I'm all right," was the boy's reply. "Give it to me, Stuben." And catching the rammer from the hoseman, Steve Colton passed it forward. "In war we have got to take some risks," he reasoned, as Caleb gave him a severe look.

"Then why didn't you get out on the gun, Steve?" was the old gunner's dry response; and the second gun captain said no more.

Rammer in hand, Walter edged closer and closer to the muzzle of the Polly. The Brooklyn, was moving up and down over the long green waves, sending the spray flying on both sides of the bow. He gave one look down, felt himself growing dizzy, and then kept his eyes on the gun.

At last the muzzle was gained, and not without difficulty the rammer was inserted. The projectile had not been very tightly wedged, and a firm pressure sent it backward, so that Caleb could catch it and pull it out through the breech. Then throwing the rammer aboard, Walter lost no time in coming in again. He had been exposed to the direct fire of the enemy, but no shot had come near him.

"Boy, you're too plucky," exclaimed Caleb, catching him by the shoulder. "You ought to be flogged for your daring. Let me see your hands. Ah, just as I thought; both of em blistered. Go and put some sweet oil on em, and a bit of flour. I'll bet the end of Polly is red-hot."

"Well, it is pretty hot," replied Walter, and then he was glad enough to follow Caleb s advice, for both hands smarted a good deal. Soon Si joined him, to get something for his hands also.

The Colon had now drawn out of range, so firing would have been a useless waste of ammunition. Down to the gunners came the order: "Cease firing." And a moment later, "All hands on deck for an airing." What a laughing and shouting ensued as the jackies poured up, to secure the best viewing places they could within the ship s regulations. Hot, tired, ready to drop from exhaustion, they shook hands with each other, sang, laughed, and whistled.

"Three cheers for Commodore Schley!" came suddenly from somebody, and the cheers came with vigor, and a tiger, and then came a cheer for Captain Cook and a cheer for the Oregon, coming up with ever increasing speed. The Oregon's men cheered in return, and for a moment one would have thought this was holiday-making instead of grim war.

The Colon was close to shore, while the Brooklyn and the Oregon lay from two to three miles out to sea. Some miles farther westward the Cuban shore slopes southward to Cape Cruz. If the Colon kept on her present course she would have to make for the cape, thus coming down toward the American warships. "We will catch her there," said Commodore Schley, confidently.

The Oregon was flying the signal "Remember the Maine" from her masthead, and as she drew still closer to the Brooklyn, another shout of approval went up. The two warships would fight the Colon between them, if only they could get within range.

It was now noontime, and a hasty mess was served all around, and the men continued to air themselves, something easy to do with the ponderous ship speeding the waters at an eighteen-knot rate. Suddenly from the Oregon came the boom of a thirteen-inch gun, and the shell fell just astern of the Colon, sending the water up like a fountain. The battle was again on.

"Now for it!" cried Caleb, as the Spanish warship turned southward down the coast, and the Polly spoke up as fiercely as at any time during the contest.

"The Spaniards are losing heart!" came the cry, a few minutes later. "They ain't doing half the firing they were!"

It was true; the Colon was running short of ammunition, and her officers saw what a hopeless fight a contest with the Brooklyn and Oregon would prove to be. With shot and shell falling all around him, Captain Moreu hauled down his flag and sent his ship ashore at Rio Tarquino.

The battle was won, and Dewey's magnificent victory at Manila, which the world in general had declared was a miracle that could not be matched, had been duplicated. Henceforth American warships and American sailors would stand as the equals of any nation on the face of the globe.

And now that the contest was over what was to follow? To me, the hours that came after are even greater in honor than those glorious hours of victory. Already down the shore, the work of rescuing the sailors and marines from the Maria Teresa, Oquendo, and Vizcaya had begun, and now the crews of the Brooklyn and Oregon turned in to aid the wounded and the dying, and those in danger of drowning, on the Colon. Boat after boat went out, close to the sinking cruiser, now burning fiercely, with abandoned guns going off, loose powder and shells exploding, and magazines in danger of tearing all asunder. Amid such perils did our noble jackies work, hauling man after man from the ship, or from the water, and taking them to our own warships, there to be cared for as tenderly as though they were our own. Some of the Spaniards could not understand this treatment. They had been told that the Americans were butchers and had no hearts, and when they realized the truth many burst into tears of joy.

When the battle was all over, some of our officers and men could not comprehend what had been accomplished—that a whole fleet of Spanish warships had been destroyed, that hundreds of men had been killed and many more wounded and taken prisoners, and that the loss to our side had been but one man killed, a handful wounded, and no ship seriously damaged. "It was an act of Providence," said more than one, and Captain Philip of the Texas spoke thus to his crew, as he gathered all around him on this never-to-be-forgotten Sunday, so bright and clear:—

"I wish to make confession that I have implicit faith in God and in the officers and crew of the Texas, but my faith in you is only secondary to my faith in God. We have seen what He has done for us, in allowing us to achieve so great a victory, and I want to ask all of you, or at least every man who has no scruples, to uncover his head with me and silently offer a word of thanks to God for His goodness toward us all." The thanks were given, some dropping upon their knees to deliver them, and this outpouring of hearts travelled from one ship to another throughout the entire fleet.

"Poor Ellis!" said Walter; "the only seaman to give up his life! It's too bad!" And when George Ellis's body was buried with all naval honors he wept as bitterly as did anybody on board of the flagship.

The victory had been gained, but the work of the fleet was not yet over. The army still occupied the outskirts of Santiago, and General Shafter had sent word to General Toral that unless he surrendered, the city would be shelled Monday morning. At a conference with Admiral Sampson, later on, it was decided that the fleet should take part in the bombardment even if it was necessary to force an entrance into the harbor. Without delay our warships were gotten into condition for this task.

But the bombardment did not come—for the reason that both on land and sea the enemy had had enough of fighting. Several days passed, and the conditions of a surrender were discussed. In the meantime Lieutenant Hobson and his men were released and turned over to us in exchange for a number of Spanish prisoners. Several of the men remembered seeing Walter, and were glad to learn that the youth had escaped.

The battle on sea had taken place on July the third, and my readers can imagine what a glorious Fourth of July followed, not only among the soldiers and sailors, but among our people at large. All over the land cannons boomed, pistols cracked, rockets flared, bells pealed forth, and bands played for the marching of thousands. It was a real old-fashioned "Yankee Doodle time," as one down-east paper put it, and North, South, East, and West united in celebrating as never before. Less than two weeks later Santiago surrendered, a peace protocol followed; and the war with Spain came to an end.