About the middle of June more than 16,000 soldiers, under General Shafter, sailed from Tampa, on the west coast of Florida, for the southeastern shore of Cuba. It was hard work to ship so many men, and 2,000 horses and mules, and food, and all the things needed for war. It took one week to load the ships. How many ships were needed for this big “excursion party”? Thirty-four. Do you think our soldiers had a pleasant voyage? They had not. They were crowded together, the weather was very hot, some of the vessels were old and slow, and it was six days before our Army drew near our Navy at Santiago, and waited till plans were made for further movements.
Perhaps you are wondering where the Cubans were all this time, and what they were doing. As our country was trying to help them, did not the Cubans now come forward to join our forces? Yes. Several times brave Americans had made their way in secret to distant parts of Cuba, had met the Cuban generals, had talked with them, and brought back messages. And now Admiral Sampson came out in a small boat to meet our soldiers, and he took General Shafter on shore, a few miles west of Santiago, to hold an important council with a number of Cuban generals. The Cuban generals, chief of whom were General Garcia and General Rabi, told our officers a good deal about the country, the roads, etc., and planned to unite the Cuban troops with ours.
[Illustration: A Volunteer.]
When General Shafter returned, he ordered the soldiers to sail on fifteen miles beyond Santiago, to a point called Daiquiri. This was their landing-place. It was harder to land in Cuba than it had been to leave Florida. Admiral Sampson sent some of his ships to fire upon the shore and drive away the Spaniards, and he also sent small boats to take our soldiers from the ships to the land. There were not boats enough, so the landing was slow work. There was great trouble in getting the horses and mules to swim ashore. But it takes less time to unpack than to pack, and after four days our Army was on shore.
Our men were in a rough part of the country. Steep hills were everywhere, the valleys were narrow, the roads were more like ditches. Thick underbrush, prickly bushes and tall grasses grew in many places. A number of men were set to work making roads, so that the wagons with the army supplies could push on. It was the wet season, and rain fell every day. Sometimes the streams would rise quickly and flood the new roads. When the rain was not falling the air was hot, and a steam seemed to rise from the ground. It seemed as if our men had no chance at all.
Spanish soldiers had been sent out from Santiago, and were now busy building log forts on hills a few miles from our camps, and piling up stones and branches of trees to make mounds, and putting up fences of barbed wire. In such places of shelter the Spaniards waited for our troops to march forward.