The O’Reillys, by now fidgety to get going, heard that General Shafter had received his marching orders from his superiors on June 7th and now demanded the immediate loading of the ships. They were leaving for Cuba right away, said the gossip mill, even if only with a force of ten thousand men.
On June 14th, the fleet began to slowly move down Tampa Bay toward the Gulf. Bernard and Henry Jose were lucky to board The Vigilancia, one of the ships headed for Cuba. They spent six miserable days on the overloaded transport huddled together like sardines, with no fresh meat or vegetables available, or any way to cook the only available rations, euphemistically called “canned fresh beef.” The Vigilancia, their sea-home, a stubby, single-stack coastal steamer, became a floating nightmare; the boys were starving, eating the inadequate rations and drinking the rancid water.
Many horses and mules to be used in pack trains became sick on board. Bernard and Henry Jose were among those assigned the odious chore of throwing the carcasses overboard.
“Is this what we signed up for, vomiting our guts out as we push dead horses off the side?” groaned Henry Jose, as he and Bernard hung on to the sides of the ship, observing the dead horses floating alongside the ship and behind the steamers.
When they were not sick, they joined other volunteers, passing the time with lots of improvised entertainment: reading, playing cards, and the most popular activity, singing the songs of the day.
Every night the fleet made its way unmolested over some fifteen miles of sea. The Spaniards never launched a counter-attack from the coast, and the voyage finally came to an end, with the men, half starved, sick from the polluted water, but ready for the upcoming fight