Parker, John Henry (DSC), BG

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Last Rank
Brigadier General
Last Service Branch
Primary Unit
1916-1918, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment
Service Years
1892 - 1924


Brigadier General

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This Military Service Page was created/owned by the Site Administrator to remember Parker, John Henry (DSC), BG USA(Ret).
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Home Town
Sedalia, Missouri
Last Address
San Francisco, California

Date of Passing
Oct 14, 1942
Location of Interment
San Francisco National Cemetery - San Francisco, California
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Plot: Section OS Row 36 Site 8

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General John Henry Parker aka "Gatling Gun Parker" (9 September 1866 ‚?? 14 October 1942) was a brigadier general in the United States Army. He is best known for his role as the commander of the Gatling Gun Detachment of the U.S. Army's V Corps in Cuba during the Santiago campaign in the Spanish-American War.

Early Career. John Henry Parker was born and raised in the small town of Sedalia, Missouri. Nominated by his congressman to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, he graduated in 1892, and was assigned as a 2nd Lieutenant to the 13th Infantry Regiment. Known as "Blackie" to his fellow officers, Parker was tasked with the charge of training soldiers of the Machine Gun Detachment in the use of their weapons. In the 1890s, duty with the machine gun detachment was regarded as of little value by most Army officers, and the detachment was frequently used as a dumping ground for men deemed unsuitable or undisciplined by their commanders. Nevertheless, Parker successfully carried out his assignment, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on June 11, 1892.

At the time, all of the Army's artillery and ammunition supplies were transported by draft animals (usually, horses). It was becoming evident to many army commanders, both in the United States and abroad, that draft animals - the sole source of transport away from railroad tracks - were highly vulnerable to modern artillery fire at ranges under 1,500 yards, especially when contained in slow-moving trains of horse-drawn carriages and heavy wagons. The inability of army ground forces to bring gunnery and ammunition trains closer than 1,500 yards to an opponent with modern artillery support effectively prevented the short-ranged American black powder cannon of the day from providing any effective counterbattery fire to advancing infantry. In 1897, after considering the issue, Lt. Parker submitted a paper to the Army General Staff in which he advocated the use of highly mobile machine gun detachments. These machine gun detachments would be equipped with portable machine guns capable of being dismantled and transported to the front, together with sufficient supplies of ammunition and spare parts carried in highly mobile carriages and wagons. Parker visualized the detachments as independent from the slow-moving artillery and ammunition trains, constantly redeploying to avoid being targeted by enemy artillery, while using terrain masking to provide cover for the men and their transport animals. As self-contained, mobile units, the machine gun detachments could be used by a commander to provide effective covering fire for the artillery trains until they could get within effective range of the enemy lines. Unfortunately, Parker's treatise was ignored by the Army, though he continued to advocate the use of the machine gun in an offensive role.

Spanish-American War. After the outbreak of war with Spain, Lt. Parker approached General William Rufus Shafter, commander of the U.S. expeditionary campaign being readied in Tampa, Florida for the assault on Santiago, Cuba, and requested permission to form a Gatling Gun Detachment. After Parker presented a detailed operational plan for the composition and employment of the Gatling Guns, Shafter approved the request, apparently impressed by the lieutenant's enthusiasm and attention to detail. On May 27, Parker was given four of a consignment of fifteen brand-new ten-barrel Model 1895 Gatling guns in .30 Army caliber recently received from Colt's Arms Company. In order to save time, Parker also received permission from General Shafter to utilize men from the infantry regiments already in Tampa and assigned to the invasion. However, the men themselves were 'volunteers' selected by their existing company commanders, many of whom believed the assignment to be a temporary work detail (one commander even sent the cook from his private mess).

On his own initiative, Parker developed his own table of organization to include gun carriages, crew schedules, ammunition loads, and draft animal requirements. He then commenced training drills for the crews, using his own theory of mobile machine gun tactics to structure the new unit. Parker's men responded enthusiastically to the challenge of learning to operate, maintain, and fire the new guns.

When it became apparent that space aboard the transports of the invasion force would be limited, Parker had the Gatling Gun detachment assigned to guard ammunition being taken aboard the transport Cherokee. Under this pretext he was able to get his men, guns, wagons, and equipment aboard ship, though the Detachment still had not been supplied with any horses for pulling the guns.

While aboard the transport Cherokee, Parker's Detachment was assigned the task of anti-torpedo boat duty by the ship's captain, and the men were forced to manhandle one of the guns from the stifling hold up to the deck to accomplish this task. Parker's battery, consisting of four guns, carriages, and some 30,000 rounds of .30 Army ammunition, was given priority for disembarkation at Daiquirí, Cuba by General Shafter. When General Samuel Sumner ordered Parker and his men to remain aboard and wait their turn (on the grounds that Parker, a mere lieutenant, lacked authority to enforce his priority), Parker sent word to the expedition commander, General Shafter, who personally arrived in a steam launch to ensure that the Gatling Gun Detachment was landed immediately. Upon landing at Daiquirí, Parker immediately arranged for the purchase of several mules from local sources to pull the guns.

After being officially mustered into service on June 30, 1898, the Gatling Gun Detachment was ordered to advance to El Pozo, the site of General Shafter's headquarters for the impending offensive. Parker's battery was initially ordered to provide covering fire for the artillery. One of the Gatlings was detached to the service of General Shafter's aide, Lt. Miley. After being ordered to send his guns forward "to the best point you can find", Parker set up his remaining three Gatlings near the base of the San Juan Heights to provide covering fire for the advancing U.S. ground forces.

During the assault on San Juan Heights, Lt. Parker and his men used three of their four Gatling guns to cover the American assaults on both San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill. Equipped with swivel mountings that enabled the gunners to rake Spanish positions, the three fast-firing guns, firing at a range of 600-800 yards, expended approximately 18,000 cal. .30 rounds in eight and one-half minutes (over 700 rounds per minute of continuous fire) into the Spanish defensive lines atop the heights, killing many of the defenders, forcing others to flee the trenchlines, while disrupting the aim of those still alive who continued to resist.

Col. Theodore Roosevelt later noted that the hammering sound of the Gatling guns raised the spirits of his men:

"While thus firing, there suddenly smote on our ears a peculiar drumming sound. One or two of the men cried out, ‚??The Spanish machine guns!‚?? but, after listening a moment, I leaped to my feet and called, ‚??It‚??s the Gatlings, men! Our Gatlings!‚?? Immediately the troopers began to cheer lustily, for the sound was most inspiring."

Trooper Jesse D. Langdon of the 1st Volunteer Infantry, who accompanied Col. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in their assault on Kettle Hill, reported:

"We were exposed to the Spanish fire, but there was very little because just before we started, why, the Gatling guns opened up at the bottom of the hill, and everybody yelled, ‚??The Gatlings! The Gatlings!‚?? and away we went. The Gatlings just enfiladed the top of those trenches. We‚??d never have been able to take Kettle Hill if it hadn‚??t been for Parker‚??s Gatling guns."

On San Juan Hill, Parker's battery of Gatling guns continued to rake the trenchlines until the American assault broke into a charge about 150 yards from the crest of the hill, when the guns ceased firing (via hand signal from Lt. Ferguson of the attacking 13th Infantry) to avoid causing friendly fire injuries. Upon gaining San Juan Hill, the carnage wrought by the Gatling fire was immediately noted by the officers and men who had led the charge into the Spanish trenches atop San Juan. Captain Boughton, among the first of the officers to surmount the crest of San Juan Hill during the infantry assault, stated the trenches on the hilltop were already filled with dead and dying Spanish riflemen, while the open ground behind the trenchline was covered with dead and dying Spanish defenders who had been shot while attempting to flee the hail of Gatling fire. Parker's employment of machine guns to support and cover infantry in the offense marked the first use by the U.S. Army of such weapons in that role.

After gaining the Spanish positions on the heights, the Americans prepared for a Spanish counterattack. Parker sited two of his Gatling guns near the crest of San Juan Hill. A major counterattack by some 600 Spanish infantry troops developed against the positions of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry and 3rd Cavalry on Kettle Hill. At a distance of 600 yards, Parker immediately ordered Sgt. Green's Gatling - the only gun within shouting distance - to open fire against the Spanish attacking the Americans on Kettle Hill. The effect of Sgt. Green's Gatling fire was immediate. According to the testimony of Spanish officers captured after the action, only 40 of the 600 Spanish troops survived. Parker then moved the two guns again to avoid counterbattery fire, where they were used at a range of 2,000 yards to kill and scatter the crew of a Spanish 160mm (6.3-inch) artillery cannon. The contributions of Parker's Gatling Gun Detachment during the Santiago campaign were noted by Col. Roosevelt, who stated:

"I think Parker deserved rather more credit than any other one man in the entire campaign...he had the rare good judgment and foresight to see the possibilities of the machine-guns..He then, by his own exertions, got it to the front and proved that it could do invaluable work on the field of battle, as much in attack as in defence."

On 2 July 1898, Parker's guns were placed in reserve. On the 4th, Parker ordered the three operational Gatlings moved into the battle line. The wheels of the gun carriages were removed, and the Gatlings, along with two M1895 Colt-Browning machine guns (a gift from Col. Roosevelt) were placed in breastworks where they could command various sectors of fire. The fourth Gatling was repaired and placed in reserve behind the others. However, it was soon moved to Fort Canosa, where it was used to fire 6,000 to 7,000 rounds into the city of Santiago during the siege of that city, causing enemy casualties, disrupting communications, and demoralizing the defenders. After Parker's exploits became known by the press, he would forever after be referred to as "Gatling Gun" Parker.

Postwar Career. As an Army officer, Parker continued to expound his theories on the tactical employment of machine guns, particularly in the offense. He was a prolific writer, and contributed numerous articles and treatises to the Infantry Journal and other Army publications. Parker was promoted in rank to Captain in 1900 and was transferred to the 28th Infantry Regiment. In January 1908 he was assigned the task of developing organizational schedules and training regulations for the U.S. Army's dismounted machine gun companies.

World War I. During World War I, Parker - by now a Colonel in the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Division, A.E.F. - saw combat on numerous occasions, and was singled out numerous times by his superior officers for his bravery in the field. Within only one year (1918) he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross four times, for valor displayed on four separate occasions. Parker is the only ground forces soldier in World War I to be decorated with four Distinguished Service Crosses.

Later Career. Parker remained in the Army after the Armistice, eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General. He retired at that rank. General Parker died on October 13, 1942, and is buried at Section OS, Row 36, Site 8 at the Presidio in San Francisco, California, the burial site of his former commander, General Rufus Shafter.

Authored Works
Parker, John H. (Lt.), The Gatlings At Santiago, preface by Theodore Roosevelt, Middlesex, U.K.: Echo Library (reprinted 2006)

Parker, John H. (Lt.), History of the Gatling Gun Detachment, Kansas City, MO: Hudson-Kimberly Publishing Co. (1898)

Parker, John H. (Lt.), Tactical Organization And Uses Of Machine Guns In The Field, Kansas City, MO: Hudson-Kimberly Publishing Co. (1899)

Parker, John H. (Capt.), Progress In Machine Gun Development, The Infantry Journal, 9 April 1908

Other Comments:

Widener, Robert; "Who Was the Most Decorated U.S. Serviceman of WWI?"; VFW Magazine, Vol. 99, No. 3, November/December 2011; Kansas City, Missouri, (c) 2011; P.P. 38 -41

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 Unit Assignments
1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment25th Infantry Regiment1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment
  1892-1897, 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment
  1898-1900, 25th Infantry Regiment
  1900-1908, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment
  1916-1918, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1898-1898 Spanish-American War/Battle of San Juan Hill
  1917-1917 Mexican Service Campaign (1911-1919)
  1917-1918 World War I
 Colleges Attended 
United States Military Academy
  1888-1892, United States Military Academy
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