Skip to main content

Report of the Surgeon-General of the Navy



of the



Navy Department,

Bureau of Medicine and Surgery,

Washington, D. C., October 1, 1898.

. . . From the time of the blowing up of the Maine in the harbor of Havana on February 15, 1898, preparations were made by the Bureau providing for any possible contingency. The naval hospitals were equipped to their full capacity; plans were prepared for building pavilion wards on the hospital grounds to give accommodation to any number of sick and wounded that the Bureau might be called upon to care for. The director of the naval laboratory prepared to furnish medical and surgical supplies in any quantity, at any place, and immediately. No additional expense was incurred until war seemed imminent, then the vessels that were likely to be engaged were supplied with a full outfit of supplies for war. In anticipation of a large number of additional vessels being taken for service, medical and surgical outfits of a kind suitable for the various classes of vessels were bought, assembled, and boxed, ready to be shipped anywhere as soon as called for. There has not been an instance during the war of any vessel having had to wait for her medical stores.

     It was known that a corps of volunteer medical officers would be a necessity. . . . Over 2,000 applications were received, but only a small proportion examined. Out of this number 42 were appointed assistant surgeons. They have rendered efficient service and have been a credit to the Navy. . . .

     In addition to the above appointments, 11 passed assistant and 8 assistant surgeons were mustered into service with the naval reserves from the several States.

     The question of proper care and transportation of sick or wounded at sea had long been a subject of consideration by the Bureau. The coming of war gave it an opportunity to demonstrate the wisdom of its propositions and the efficiency of its methods. By direction of the President,1 and by the authority of the Secretary of the Navy,2 the steamer Creole, of the Cromwell Line, between New York and New Orleans, was purchased, and designated as an ambulance ship. The vessel was sent to the yard of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, and there fitted out on the plans of the Bureau. . . . The merchant ship Creole became the ambulance ship Solace  in sixteen days, fitted with a large and well-lighted operating room, in which were all the appliance for modern antiseptic surgery, a steam disinfecting apparatus, an ice machine, a steam laundry plant, cold storage rooms, and an elevator for taking patients from the operating room and upper deck to the wards below.

     The Solace was fitted out under the requirements of the Geneva Convention, and flies the Geneva cross flag.3 She is the pioneer in her work, and indicates a step in advance that it well became the United States to take. . . . She can comfortably accommodate 200 patients, either in berths, swinging cots, or staterooms. The hurricane deck aft is inclosed with canvas for use as a contagious ward, if required. She carries 37,000 gallons of fresh water in tanks, and 800 tons in her double bottom. Distillers and evaporators keep up the supply.

     As soon as the Solace received her stores she sailed for the blockading squadron and arrived in time to take on board the wounded at the bombardment of San Juan.4 She then collected the sick or wounded from the other vessels of the squadron and sailed for New York, where, on June 5, 57 patients were landed at the naval hospital.

     On June 8 she sailed for Guantanamo, and was present to take on board the wounded marines in their fight with the Spanish troops.5

     As soon as the Spanish fleet was destroyed in the battle of July 3 she took on board the wounded from the Brooklyn and all the Spanish wounded, and gave them the care and attention that has never before been given to the wounded of friend or foe in any naval combat and that could only be given by an ambulance ship.6 As it was the policy of the Department to bring all the sick or wounded from Southern waters to Northern naval hospitals as soon as practicable, so that they might have a better chance for recovery, and there was still space left on the Solace for wounded men, she went to Siboney and took on board 44 Army wounded7 and sailed for Hampton Roads on July 12. On July 16 she landed 44 Army wounded at Fortress Monroe8 and 55 Navy sick or wounded and 48 Spanish wounded at the naval hospital, Norfolk. She then went to New York for coal, stores, and an additional ice plant, and sailed August 2 for Key West, where she took on board the sick from the hospitals and vessels in port, and then visited all the vessels on the blockade around Cuba, taking off their sick or wounded and leaving stores. After receiving at Guantanamo the sick brought by the Gloucester from the vessels around Porto Rico, she sailed for Boston, and on August 29 landed 74 sick from the Navy and 2 sick soldiers at the Chelsea Naval Hospital. She then coaled and went to New York for repairs and stores, and sailed September 22 for Guantanamo with orders to deliver stores and supplies to all vessels in Cuban or Porto Rican waters, take on board their sick, and then return to New York, bringing, in addition, as many sick or wounded of the Army as the vessel could accommodate.

     On every trip of the Solace she has gone loaded with medical stores and supplies, and also with delicacies and comforts, which have been supplied in abundance for the sick or wounded by generous and patriotic individuals and societies from every part of the United States. . . . Patriotic women have ably supplemented the efforts of the Government, and their assistance has been thoroughly appreciated.

     The contributions soon became so numerous that it was necessary to have a medical officer detailed to receive them. . . .

     Four young women from the Johns Hopkins Medical School volunteered their service as nurses, and were assigned to duty at the naval hospital, Brooklyn, N. Y. Six women nurses from the registered list of the Daughters of the American Revolution and five Sisters of Charity at Norfolk also volunteered, and were assigned to duty at the naval hospital, Norfolk, Va. All of these women have done their work thoroughly and conscientiously. . . .

     On June 17 the President approved an act of Congress organizing a hospital corps of the Navy.9 The passage of this act is the culmination of the efforts of the Bureau for many years. It will give the service a trained corps of men who will now have some reason for remaining in service, having a hope of promotion and advancement as the result of faithful service, sobriety, and attention to duty. Its good results are already manifest; changes are being made as rapidly as practicable, and nearly all of the hospitals are now supplied with trained nurses, and in many of them are apprentices undergoing instruction. The examination for admission is rigid, and there will be more admissions to the corps when the end of the war releases from service many of the trained nurses now employed in other departments. . . .

Source Note Print: Report of the Surgeon-General, U. S. Navy, Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, to the Secretary of the Navy. 1898. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1898), pp. 3-7.

Footnote 1: President William McKinley.

Footnote 2: Secretary of the Navy John D. Long.

Footnote 3: On the Geneva Convention, see the footnote in: William K. Van Reypen to John D. Long, 25 April 1898. The “Geneva cross flag” is the red cross.

Footnote 4: On the casualties suffered in the bombardment, see: William T. Sampson to Long, 18 May 1898.

Footnote 5: On the casualties suffered by the Marines at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, see, Journal of the First Marine Battalion at Guantánamo, Cuba, 1898.

Footnote 6: On American casualties in the battle of Santiago de Cuba, see: Sampson to Long, 16 July 1898. On the casualties suffered by the Spanish, see: Pascual Cervera y Topete to Ramón Blanco Erenas Riera y Polo, July 1898.

Footnote 7: Siboney, Cuba, was the site of an Army hospital.

Footnote 8: Fortress Monroe was located at Hampton, Va.

Related Content