Notes of a War Correspondent by Richard Harding Davis

NOTES OF A WAR CORRESPONDENT Contents: The Cuban-Spanish War The Death of Rodriguez The Greek-Turkish War The Battle of Velestinos The Spanish-American War I. The Rough Riders at Guasimas II. The Battle of San Juan Hill III. The Taking of Coamo IV. The Passing of San Juan Hill The South African War I. With Buller’s
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  • 1910
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The Cuban-Spanish War
The Death of Rodriguez
The Greek-Turkish War
The Battle of Velestinos
The Spanish-American War
I. The Rough Riders at Guasimas
II. The Battle of San Juan Hill
III. The Taking of Coamo
IV. The Passing of San Juan Hill
The South African War
I. With Buller’s Column
II. The Relief of Ladysmith
III. The Night Before the Battle
The Japanese-Russian War
Battles I did not see
A War Correspondent’s Kit


Adolfo Rodriguez was the only son of a Cuban farmer, who lived nine miles outside of Santa Clara, beyond the hills that surround that city to the north.

When the revolution in Cuba broke out young Rodriguez joined the insurgents, leaving his father and mother and two sisters at the farm. He was taken, in December of 1896, by a force of the Guardia Civile, the corps d’elite of the Spanish army, and defended himself when they tried to capture him, wounding three of them with his machete.

He was tried by a military court for bearing arms against the government, and sentenced to be shot by a fusillade some morning before sunrise.

Previous to execution he was confined in the military prison of Santa Clara with thirty other insurgents, all of whom were sentenced to be shot, one after the other, on mornings following the execution of Rodriguez.

His execution took place the morning of the 19th of January, 1897, at a place a half-mile distant from the city, on the great plain that stretches from the forts out to the hills, beyond which Rodriguez had lived for nineteen years. At the time of his death he was twenty years old.

I witnessed his execution, and what follows is an account of the way he went to his death. The young man’s friends could not be present, for it was impossible for them to show themselves in that crowd and that place with wisdom or without distress, and I like to think that, although Rodriguez could not know it, there was one person present when he died who felt keenly for him, and who was a sympathetic though unwilling spectator.

There had been a full moon the night preceding the execution, and when the squad of soldiers marched from town it was still shining brightly through the mists. It lighted a plain two miles in extent, broken by ridges and gullies and covered with thick, high grass, and with bunches of cactus and palmetto. In the hollow of the ridges the mist lay like broad lakes of water, and on one side of the plain stood the walls of the old town. On the other rose hills covered with royal palms that showed white in the moonlight, like hundreds of marble columns. A line of tiny camp-fires that the sentries had built during the night stretched between the forts at regular intervals and burned clearly.

But as the light grew stronger and the moonlight faded these were stamped out, and when the soldiers came in force the moon was a white ball in the sky, without radiance, the fires had sunk to ashes, and the sun had not yet risen.

So even when the men were formed into three sides of a hollow square, they were scarcely able to distinguish one another in the uncertain light of the morning.

There were about three hundred soldiers in the formation. They belonged to the volunteers, and they deployed upon the plain with their band in front playing a jaunty quickstep, while their officers galloped from one side to the other through the grass, seeking a suitable place for the execution. Outside the line the band still played merrily.

A few men and boys, who had been dragged out of their beds by the music, moved about the ridges behind the soldiers, half-clothed, unshaven, sleepy-eyed, yawning, stretching themselves nervously and shivering in the cool, damp air of the morning.

Either owing to discipline or on account of the nature of their errand, or because the men were still but half awake, there was no talking in the ranks, and the soldiers stood motionless, leaning on their rifles, with their backs turned to the town, looking out across the plain to the hills.

The men in the crowd behind them were also grimly silent. They knew that whatever they might say would be twisted into a word of sympathy for the condemned man or a protest against the government. So no one spoke; even the officers gave their orders in gruff whispers, and the men in the crowd did not mix together, but looked suspiciously at one another and kept apart.

As the light increased a mass of people came hurrying from the town with two black figures leading them, and the soldiers drew up at attention, and part of the double line fell back and left an opening in the square.

With us a condemned man walks only the short distance from his cell to the scaffold or the electric chair, shielded from sight by the prison walls, and it often occurs even then that the short journey is too much for his strength and courage.

But the Spaniards on this morning made the prisoner walk for over a half-mile across the broken surface of the fields. I expected to find the man, no matter what his strength at other times might be, stumbling and faltering on this cruel journey; but as he came nearer I saw that he led all the others, that the priests on either side of him were taking two steps to his one, and that they were tripping on their gowns and stumbling over the hollows in their efforts to keep pace with him as he walked, erect and soldierly, at a quick step in advance of them.

He had a handsome, gentle face of the peasant type, a light, pointed beard, great wistful eyes, and a mass of curly black hair. He was shockingly young for such a sacrifice, and looked more like a Neapolitan than a Cuban. You could imagine him sitting on the quay at Naples or Genoa lolling in the sun and showing his white teeth when he laughed. Around his neck, hanging outside his linen blouse, he wore a new scapular.

It seems a petty thing to have been pleased with at such a time, but I confess to have felt a thrill of satisfaction when I saw, as the Cuban passed me, that he held a cigarette between his lips, not arrogantly nor with bravado, but with the nonchalance of a man who meets his punishment fearlessly, and who will let his enemies see that they can kill but cannot frighten him.

It was very quickly finished, with rough and, but for one frightful blunder, with merciful swiftness. The crowd fell back when it came to the square, and the condemned man, the priests, and the firing squad of six young volunteers passed in and the line closed behind them.

The officer who had held the cord that bound the Cuban’s arms behind him and passed across his breast, let it fall on the grass and drew his sword, and Rodriguez dropped his cigarette from his lips and bent and kissed the cross which the priest held up before him.

The elder of the priests moved to one side and prayed rapidly in a loud whisper, while the other, a younger man, walked behind the firing squad and covered his face with his hands. They had both spent the last twelve hours with Rodriguez in the chapel of the prison.

The Cuban walked to where the officer directed him to stand, and turning his back on the square, faced the hills and the road across them, which led to his father’s farm.

As the officer gave the first command he straightened himself as far as the cords would allow, and held up his head and fixed his eyes immovably on the morning light, which had just begun to show above the hills.

He made a picture of such pathetic helplessness, but of such courage and dignity, that he reminded me on the instant of that statue of Nathan Hale which stands in the City Hall Park, above the roar of Broadway. The Cuban’s arms were bound, as are those of the statue, and he stood firmly, with his weight resting on his heels like a soldier on parade, and with his face held up fearlessly, as is that of the statue. But there was this difference, that Rodriguez, while probably as willing to give six lives for his country as was the American rebel, being only a peasant, did not think to say so, and he will not, in consequence, live in bronze during the lives of many men, but will be remembered only as one of thirty Cubans, one of whom was shot at Santa Clara on each succeeding day at sunrise.

The officer had given the order, the men had raised their pieces, and the condemned man had heard the clicks of the triggers as they were pulled back, and he had not moved. And then happened one of the most cruelly refined, though unintentional, acts of torture that one can very well imagine. As the officer slowly raised his sword, preparatory to giving the signal, one of the mounted officers rode up to him and pointed out silently that, as I had already observed with some satisfaction, the firing squad were so placed that when they fired they would shoot several of the soldiers stationed on the extreme end of the square.

Their captain motioned his men to lower their pieces, and then walked across the grass and laid his hand on the shoulder of the waiting prisoner.

It is not pleasant to think what that shock must have been. The man had steeled himself to receive a volley of bullets. He believed that in the next instant he would be in another world; he had heard the command given, had heard the click of the Mausers as the locks caught–and then, at that supreme moment, a human hand had been laid upon his shoulder and a voice spoke in his ear.

You would expect that any man, snatched back to life in such a fashion would start and tremble at the reprieve, or would break down altogether, but this boy turned his head steadily, and followed with his eyes the direction of the officer’s sword, then nodded gravely, and, with his shoulders squared, took up the new position, straightened his back, and once more held himself erect.

As an exhibition of self-control this should surely rank above feats of heroism performed in battle, where there are thousands of comrades to give inspiration. This man was alone, in sight of the hills he knew, with only enemies about him, with no source to draw on for strength but that which lay within himself.

The officer of the firing squad, mortified by his blunder, hastily whipped up his sword, the men once more levelled their rifles, the sword rose, dropped, and the men fired. At the report the Cuban’s head snapped back almost between his shoulders, but his body fell slowly, as though some one had pushed him gently forward from behind and he had stumbled.

He sank on his side in the wet grass without a struggle or sound, and did not move again.

It was difficult to believe that he meant to lie there, that it could be ended so without a word, that the man in the linen suit would not rise to his feet and continue to walk on over the hills, as he apparently had started to do, to his home; that there was not a mistake somewhere, or that at least some one would be sorry or say something or run to pick him up.

But, fortunately, he did not need help, and the priests returned–the younger one with the tears running down his face–and donned their vestments and read a brief requiem for his soul, while the squad stood uncovered, and the men in hollow square shook their accoutrements into place, and shifted their pieces and got ready for the order to march, and the band began again with the same quickstep which the fusillade had interrupted.

The figure still lay on the grass untouched, and no one seemed to remember that it had walked there of itself, or noticed that the cigarette still burned, a tiny ring of living fire, at the place where the figure had first stood.

The figure was a thing of the past, and the squad shook itself like a great snake, and then broke into little pieces and started off jauntily, stumbling in the high grass and striving to keep step to the music.

The officers led it past the figure in the linen suit, and so close to it that the file closers had to part with the column to avoid treading on it. Each soldier as he passed turned and looked down on it, some craning their necks curiously, others giving a careless glance, and some without any interest at all, as they would have looked at a house by the roadside, or a hole in the road.

One young soldier caught his foot in a trailing vine, just opposite to it, and fell. He grew very red when his comrades giggled at him for his awkwardness. The crowd of sleepy spectators fell in on either side of the band. They, too, had forgotten it, and the priests put their vestments back in the bag and wrapped their heavy cloaks about them, and hurried off after the others.

Every one seemed to have forgotten it except two men, who came slowly towards it from the town, driving a bullock-cart that bore an unplaned coffin, each with a cigarette between his lips, and with his throat wrapped in a shawl to keep out the morning mists.

At that moment the sun, which had shown some promise of its coming in the glow above the hills, shot up suddenly from behind them in all the splendor of the tropics, a fierce, red disk of heat, and filled the air with warmth and light.

The bayonets of the retreating column flashed in it, and at the sight a rooster in a farm-yard near by crowed vigorously, and a dozen bugles answered the challenge with the brisk, cheery notes of the reveille, and from all parts of the city the church bells jangled out the call for early mass, and the little world of Santa Clara seemed to stretch itself and to wake to welcome the day just begun.

But as I fell in at the rear of the procession and looked back, the figure of the young Cuban, who was no longer a part of the world of Santa Clara, was asleep in the wet grass, with his motionless arms still tightly bound behind him, with the scapular twisted awry across his face, and the blood from his breast sinking into the soil he had tried to free.


The Turks had made three attacks on Velestinos on three different days, and each time had been repulsed. A week later, on the 4th of May, they came back again, to the number of ten thousand, and brought four batteries with them, and the fighting continued for two more days. This was called the second battle of Velestinos. In the afternoon of the 5th the Crown Prince withdrew from Pharsala to take up a stronger position at Domokos, and the Greeks under General Smolenski, the military hero of the campaign, were forced to retreat, and the Turks came in, and, according to their quaint custom, burned the village and marched on to Volo. John Bass, the American correspondent, and myself were keeping house in the village, in the home of the mayor. He had fled from the town, as had nearly all the villagers; and as we liked the appearance of his house, I gave Bass a leg up over the wall around his garden, and Bass opened the gate, and we climbed in through his front window. It was like the invasion of the home of the Dusantes by Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine, and, like them, we were constantly making discoveries of fresh treasure-trove. Sometimes it was in the form of a cake of soap or a tin of coffee, and once it was the mayor’s fluted petticoats, which we tried on, and found very heavy. We could not discover what he did for pockets. All of these things, and the house itself, were burned to ashes, we were told, a few hours after we retreated, and we feel less troubled now at having made such free use of them.

On the morning of the 4th we were awakened by the firing of cannon from a hill just over our heads, and we met in the middle of the room and solemnly shook hands. There was to be a battle, and we were the only correspondents on the spot. As I represented the London Times, Bass was the only representative of an American newspaper who saw this fight from its beginning to its end.

We found all the hills to the left of the town topped with long lines of men crouching in little trenches. There were four rows of hills. If you had measured the distance from one hill-top to the next, they would have been from one hundred to three hundred yards distant from one another. In between the hills were gullies, or little valleys, and the beds of streams that had dried up in the hot sun. These valleys were filled with high grass that waved about in the breeze and was occasionally torn up and tossed in the air by a shell. The position of the Greek forces was very simple. On the top of each hill was a trench two or three feet deep and some hundred yards long. The earth that had been scooped out to make the trench was packed on the edge facing the enemy, and on the top of that some of the men had piled stones, through which they poked their rifles. When a shell struck the ridge it would sometimes scatter these stones in among the men, and they did quite as much damage as the shells. Back of these trenches, and down that side of the hill which was farther from the enemy, were the reserves, who sprawled at length in the long grass, and smoked and talked and watched the shells dropping into the gully at their feet.

The battle, which lasted two days, opened in a sudden and terrific storm of hail. But the storm passed as quickly as it came, leaving the trenches running with water, like the gutters of a city street after a spring shower; and the men soon sopped them up with their overcoats and blankets, and in half an hour the sun had dried the wet uniforms, and the field-birds had begun to chirp again, and the grass was warm and fragrant. The sun was terribly hot. There was no other day during that entire brief campaign when its glare was so intense or the heat so suffocating. The men curled up in the trenches, with their heads pressed against the damp earth, panting and breathing heavily, and the heat-waves danced and quivered about them, making the plain below flicker like a picture in a cinematograph.

From time to time an officer would rise and peer down into the great plain, shading his eyes with his hands, and shout something at them, and they would turn quickly in the trench and rise on one knee. And at the shout that followed they would fire four or five rounds rapidly and evenly, and then, at a sound from the officer’s whistle, would drop back again and pick up the cigarettes they had placed in the grass and begin leisurely to swab out their rifles with a piece of dirty rag on a cleaning rod. Down in the plain below there was apparently nothing at which they could shoot except the great shadows of the clouds drifting across the vast checker-board of green and yellow fields, and disappearing finally between the mountain passes beyond. In some places there were square dark patches that might have been bushes, and nearer to us than these were long lines of fresh earth, from which steam seemed to be escaping in little wisps. What impressed us most of what we could see of the battle then was the remarkable number of cartridges the Greek soldiers wasted in firing into space, and the fact that they had begun to fire at such long range that, in order to get the elevation, they had placed the rifle butt under the armpit instead of against the shoulder. Their sights were at the top notch. The cartridges reminded one of corn- cobs jumping out of a corn-sheller, and it was interesting when the bolts were shot back to see a hundred of them pop up into the air at the same time, flashing in the sun as though they were glad to have done their work and to get out again. They rolled by the dozens underfoot, and twinkled in the grass, and when one shifted his position in the narrow trench, or stretched his cramped legs, they tinkled musically. It was like wading in a gutter filled with thimbles.

Then there began a concert which came from just overhead–a concert of jarring sounds and little whispers. The “shrieking shrapnel,” of which one reads in the description of every battle, did not seem so much like a shriek as it did like the jarring sound of telegraph wires when some one strikes the pole from which they hang, and when they came very close the noise was like the rushing sound that rises between two railroad trains when they pass each other in opposite directions and at great speed. After a few hours we learned by observation that when a shell sang overhead it had already struck somewhere else, which was comforting, and which was explained, of course, by the fact that the speed of the shell is so much greater than the rate at which sound travels. The bullets were much more disturbing; they seemed to be less open in their warfare, and to steal up and sneak by, leaving no sign, and only to whisper as they passed. They moved under a cloak of invisibility, and made one feel as though he were the blind man in a game of blind-man’s-buff, where every one tapped him in passing, leaving him puzzled and ignorant as to whither they had gone and from what point they would come next. The bullets sounded like rustling silk, or like humming-birds on a warm summer’s day, or like the wind as it is imitated on the stage of a theatre. Any one who has stood behind the scenes when a storm is progressing on the stage, knows the little wheel wound with silk that brushes against another piece of silk, and which produces the whistling effect of the wind. At Velestinos, when the firing was very heavy, it was exactly as though some one were turning one of these silk wheels, and so rapidly as to make the whistling continuous.

When this concert opened, the officers shouted out new orders, and each of the men shoved his sight nearer to the barrel, and when he fired again, rubbed the butt of his gun snugly against his shoulder. The huge green blotches on the plain had turned blue, and now we could distinguish that they moved, and that they were moving steadily forward. Then they would cease to move, and a little later would be hidden behind great puffs of white smoke, which were followed by a flash of flame; and still later there would come a dull report. At the same instant something would hurl itself jarring through the air above our heads, and by turning on one elbow we could see a sudden upheaval in the sunny landscape behind us, a spurt of earth and stones like a miniature geyser, which was filled with broken branches and tufts of grass and pieces of rock. As the Turkish aim grew better these volcanoes appeared higher up the hill, creeping nearer and nearer to the rampart of fresh earth on the second trench until the shells hammered it at last again and again, sweeping it away and cutting great gashes in it, through which we saw the figures of men caught up and hurled to one side, and others flinging themselves face downward as though they were diving into water; and at the same instant in our own trench the men would gasp as though they had been struck too, and then becoming conscious of having done this would turn and smile sheepishly at each other, and crawl closer into the burrows they had made in the earth.

From where we sat on the edge of the trench, with our feet among the cartridges, we could, by leaning forward, look over the piled-up earth into the plain below, and soon, without any aid from field- glasses, we saw the blocks of blue break up into groups of men. These men came across the ploughed fields in long, widely opened lines, walking easily and leisurely, as though they were playing golf or sowing seed in the furrows.

The Greek rifles crackled and flashed at the lines, but the men below came on quite steadily, picking their way over the furrows and appearing utterly unconscious of the seven thousand rifles that were calling on them to halt. They were advancing directly toward a little sugar-loaf hill, on the top of which was a mountain battery perched like a tiara on a woman’s head. It was throwing one shell after another in the very path of the men below, but the Turks still continued to pick their way across the field, without showing any regard for the mountain battery. It was worse than threatening; it seemed almost as though they meant to insult us. If they had come up on a run they would not have appeared so contemptuous, for it would have looked then as though they were trying to escape the Greek fire, or that they were at least interested in what was going forward. But the steady advance of so many men, each plodding along by himself, with his head bowed and his gun on his shoulder, was aggravating.

There was a little village at the foot of the hill. It was so small that no one had considered it. It was more like a collection of stables gathered round a residence than a town, and there was a wall completely encircling it, with a gate in the wall that faced us. Suddenly the doors of this gate were burst open from the inside, and a man in a fez ran through them, followed by many more. The first man was waving a sword, and a peasant in petticoats ran at his side and pointed up with his hand at our trench. Until that moment the battle had lacked all human interest; we might have been watching a fight against the stars or the man in the moon, and, in spite of the noise and clatter of the Greek rifles, and the ghostlike whispers and the rushing sounds in the air, there was nothing to remind us of any other battle of which we had heard or read. But we had seen pictures of officers waving swords, and we knew that the fez was the sign of the Turk–of the enemy–of the men who were invading Thessaly, who were at that moment planning to come up a steep hill on which we happened to be sitting and attack the people on top of it. And the spectacle at once became comprehensible, and took on the human interest it had lacked. The men seemed to feel this, for they sprang up and began cheering and shouting, and fired in an upright position, and by so doing exposed themselves at full length to the fire from the men below. The Turks in front of the village ran back into it again, and those in the fields beyond turned and began to move away, but in that same plodding, aggravating fashion. They moved so leisurely that there was a pause in the noise along the line, while the men watched them to make sure that they were really retreating. And then there was a long cheer, after which they all sat down, breathing deeply, and wiping the sweat and dust across their faces, and took long pulls at their canteens.

The different trenches were not all engaged at the same time. They acted according to the individual judgment of their commanding officer, but always for the general good. Sometimes the fire of the enemy would be directed on one particular trench, and it would be impossible for the men in that trench to rise and reply without haying their heads carried away; so they would lie hidden, and the men in the trenches flanking them would act in their behalf, and rake the enemy from the front and from every side, until the fire on that trench was silenced, or turned upon some other point. The trenches stretched for over half a mile in a semicircle, and the little hills over which they ran lay at so many different angles, and rose to such different heights, that sometimes the men in one trench fired directly over the heads of their own men. From many trenches in the first line it was impossible to see any of the Greek soldiers except those immediately beside you. If you looked back or beyond on either hand there was nothing to be seen but high hills topped with fresh earth, and the waving yellow grass, and the glaring blue sky.

General Smolenski directed the Greeks from the plain to the far right of the town; and his presence there, although none of the men saw nor heard of him directly throughout the entire day, was more potent for good than would have been the presence of five thousand other men held in reserve. He was a mile or two miles away from the trenches, but the fact that he was there, and that it was Smolenski who was giving the orders, was enough. Few had ever seen Smolenski, but his name was sufficient; it was as effective as is Mr. Bowen’s name on a Bank of England note. It gave one a pleasant feeling to know that he was somewhere within call; you felt there would be no “routs” nor stampedes while he was there. And so for two days those seven thousand men lay in the trenches, repulsing attack after attack of the Turkish troops, suffocated with the heat and chilled with sudden showers, and swept unceasingly by shells and bullets–partly because they happened to be good men and brave men, but largely because they knew that somewhere behind them a stout, bull-necked soldier was sitting on a camp-stool, watching them through a pair of field- glasses.

Toward mid-day you would see a man leave the trench with a comrade’s arm around him, and start on the long walk to the town where the hospital corps were waiting for him. These men did not wear their wounds with either pride or braggadocio, but regarded the wet sleeves and shapeless arms in a sort of wondering surprise. There was much more of surprise than of pain in their faces, and they seemed to be puzzling as to what they had done in the past to deserve such a punishment.

Other men were carried out of the trench and laid on their backs on the high grass, staring up drunkenly at the glaring sun, and with their limbs fallen into unfamiliar poses. They lay so still, and they were so utterly oblivious of the roar and rattle and the anxious energy around them that one grew rather afraid of them and of their superiority to their surroundings. The sun beat on them, and the insects in the grass waving above them buzzed and hummed, or burrowed in the warm moist earth upon which they lay; over their heads the invisible carriers of death jarred the air with shrill crescendoes, and near them a comrade sat hacking with his bayonet at a lump of hard bread. He sprawled contentedly in the hot sun, with humped shoulders and legs far apart, and with his cap tipped far over his eyes. Every now and again he would pause, with a piece of cheese balanced on the end of his knife-blade, and look at the twisted figures by him on the grass, or he would dodge involuntarily as a shell swung low above his head, and smile nervously at the still forms on either side of him that had not moved. Then he brushed the crumbs from his jacket and took a drink out of his hot canteen, and looking again at the sleeping figures pressing down the long grass beside him, crawled back on his hands and knees to the trench and picked up his waiting rifle.

The dead gave dignity to what the other men were doing, and made it noble, and, from another point of view, quite senseless. For their dying had proved nothing. Men who could have been much better spared than they, were still alive in the trenches, and for no reason but through mere dumb chance. There was no selection of the unfittest; it seemed to be ruled by unreasoning luck. A certain number of shells and bullets passed through a certain area of space, and men of different bulks blocked that space in different places. If a man happened to be standing in the line of a bullet he was killed and passed into eternity, leaving a wife and children, perhaps, to mourn him. “Father died,” these children will say, “doing his duty.” As a matter of fact, father died because he happened to stand up at the wrong moment, or because he turned to ask the man on his right for a match, instead of leaning toward the left, and he projected his bulk of two hundred pounds where a bullet, fired by a man who did not know him and who had not aimed at him, happened to want the right of way. One of the two had to give it, and as the bullet would not, the soldier had his heart torn out. The man who sat next to me happened to stoop to fill his cartridge-box just as the bullet that wanted the space he had occupied passed over his bent shoulder; and so he was not killed, but will live for sixty years, perhaps, and will do much good or much evil. Another man in the same trench sat up to clean his rifle, and had his arm in the air driving the cleaning rod down the barrel, when a bullet passed through his lungs, and the gun fell across his face, with the rod sticking in it, and he pitched forward on his shoulder quite dead. If he had not cleaned his gun at that moment he would probably be alive in Athens now, sitting in front of a cafe and fighting the war over again. Viewed from that point, and leaving out the fact that God ordered it all, the fortunes of the game of war seemed as capricious as matching pennies, and as impersonal as the wheel at Monte Carlo. In it the brave man did not win because he was brave, but because he was lucky. A fool and a philosopher are equal at a game of dice. And these men who threw dice with death were interesting to watch, because, though they gambled for so great a stake, they did so unconcernedly and without flinching, and without apparently appreciating the seriousness of the game.

There was a red-headed, freckled peasant boy, in dirty petticoats, who guided Bass and myself to the trenches. He was one of the few peasants who had not run away, and as he had driven sheep over every foot of the hills, he was able to guide the soldiers through those places where they were best protected from the bullets of the enemy. He did this all day, and was always, whether coming or going, under a heavy fire; but he enjoyed that fact, and he seemed to regard the battle only as a delightful change in the quiet routine of his life, as one of our own country boys at home would regard the coming of the spring circus or the burning of a neighbor’s barn. He ran dancing ahead of us, pointing to where a ledge of rock offered a natural shelter, or showing us a steep gully where the bullets could not fall. When they came very near him he would jump high in the air, not because he was startled, but out of pure animal joy in the excitement of it, and he would frown importantly and shake his red curls at us, as though to say: “I told you to be careful. Now, you see. Don’t let that happen again.” We met him many times during the two days, escorting different companies of soldiers from one point to another, as though they were visitors to his estate. When a shell broke, he would pick up a piece and present it to the officer in charge, as though it were a flower he had plucked from his own garden, and which he wanted his guest to carry away with him as a souvenir of his visit. Some one asked the boy if his father and mother knew where he was, and he replied, with amusement, that they had run away and deserted him, and that he had remained because he wished to see what a Turkish army looked like. He was a much more plucky boy than the overrated Casabianca, who may have stood on the burning deck whence all but him had fled because he could not swim, and because it was with him a choice of being either burned or drowned. This boy stuck to the burning deck when it was possible for him at any time to have walked away and left it burning. But he stayed on because he was amused, and because he was able to help the soldiers from the city in safety across his native heath. He was much the best part of the show, and one of the bravest Greeks on the field. He will grow up to be something fine, no doubt, and his spirit will rebel against having to spend his life watching his father’s sheep. He may even win the race from Marathon.

Another Greek who was a most interesting figure to us was a Lieutenant Ambroise Frantzis. He was in command of the mountain battery on the flat, round top of the high hill. On account of its height the place seemed much nearer to the sun than any other part of the world, and the heat there was three times as fierce as in the trenches below. When you had climbed to the top of this hill it was like standing on a roof-garden, or as though you were watching a naval battle from a fighting top of one of the battleships. The top of the hill was not unlike an immense circus ring in appearance. The piled-up earth around its circular edge gave that impression, and the glaring yellow wheat that was tramped into glaring yellow soil, and the blue ammunition-boxes scattered about, helped out the illusion. It was an exceedingly busy place, and the smoke drifted across it continually, hiding us from one another in a curtain of flying yellow dust, while over our heads the Turkish shells raced after each other so rapidly that they beat out the air like the branches of a tree in a storm. On account of its height, and the glaring heat, and the shells passing, and the Greek guns going off and then turning somersaults, it was not a place suited for meditation; but Ambroise Frantzis meditated there as though he were in his own study. He was a very young man and very shy, and he was too busy to consider his own safety, or to take time, as the others did, to show that he was not considering it. Some of the other officers stood up on the breastworks and called the attention of the men to what they were doing; but as they did not wish the men to follow their example in this, it was difficult to see what they expected to gain by their braggadocio. Frantzis was as unconcerned as an artist painting a big picture in his studio. The battle plain below him was his canvas, and his nine mountain guns were his paint brushes. And he painted out Turks and Turkish cannon with the same concentrated, serious expression of countenance that you see on the face of an artist when he bites one brush between his lips and with another wipes out a false line or a touch of the wrong color. You have seen an artist cock his head on one side, and shut one eye and frown at his canvas, and then select several brushes and mix different colors and hit the canvas a bold stroke, and then lean back to note the effect. Frantzis acted in just that way. He would stand with his legs apart and his head on one side, pulling meditatively at his pointed beard, and then taking a closer look through his field-glasses, would select the three guns he had decided would give him the effect he wanted to produce, and he would produce that effect. When the shot struck plump in the Turkish lines, and we could see the earth leap up into the air like geysers of muddy water, and each gunner would wave his cap and cheer, Frantzis would only smile uncertainly, and begin again, with the aid of his field-glasses, to puzzle out fresh combinations.

The battle that had begun in a storm of hail ended on the first day in a storm of bullets that had been held in reserve by the Turks, and which let off just after sundown. They came from a natural trench, formed by the dried-up bed of a stream which lay just below the hill on which the first Greek trench was situated. There were bushes growing on the bank of the stream nearest to the Greek lines, and these hid the men who occupied it. Throughout the day there had been an irritating fire from this trench from what appeared to be not more than a dozen rifles, but we could see that it was fed from time to time with many boxes of ammunition, which were carried to it on the backs of mules from the Turkish position a half mile farther to the rear. Bass and a corporal took a great aversion to this little group of Turks, not because there were too many of them to be disregarded, but because they were so near; and Bass kept the corporal’s services engaged in firing into it, and in discouraging the ammunition mules when they were being driven in that direction. Our corporal was a sharp-shooter, and, accordingly, felt his superiority to his comrades; and he had that cheerful contempt for his officers that all true Greek soldiers enjoy; and so he never joined in the volley- firing, but kept his ammunition exclusively for the dozen men behind the bushes and for the mules. He waged, as it were, a little battle on his own account. The other men rose as commanded and fired regular volleys, and sank back again, but he fixed his sights to suit his own idea of the range, and he rose when he was ready to do so, and fired whenever he thought best. When his officer, who kept curled up in the hollow of the trench, commanded him to lie down, he would frown and shake his head at the interruption, and paid no further attention to the order. He was as much alone as a hunter on a mountain peak stalking deer, and whenever he fired at the men in the bushes he would swear softly, and when he fired at the mules he would chuckle and laugh with delight and content. The mules had to cross a ploughed field in order to reach the bushes, and so we were able to mark where his bullets struck, and we could see them skip across the field, kicking up the dirt as they advanced, until they stopped the mule altogether, or frightened the man who was leading it into a disorderly retreat.

It appeared later that instead of there being but twelve men in these bushes there were six hundred, and that they were hiding there until the sun set in order to make a final attack on the first trench. They had probably argued that at sunset the strain of the day’s work would have told on the Greek morale, that the men’s nerves would be jerking and their stomachs aching for food, and that they would be ready for darkness and sleep, and in no condition to repulse a fresh and vigorous attack. So, just as the sun sank, and the officers were counting the cost in dead and wounded, and the men were gathering up blankets and overcoats, and the firing from the Greek lines had almost ceased, there came a fierce rattle from the trench to the right of us, like a watch-dog barking the alarm, and the others took it up from all over the hill, and when we looked down into the plain below to learn what it meant, we saw it blue with men, who seemed to have sprung from the earth. They were clambering from the bed of the stream, breaking through the bushes, and forming into a long line, which, as soon as formed, was at once hidden at regular intervals by flashes of flame that seemed to leap from one gun-barrel to the next, as you have seen a current of electricity run along a line of gas- jets. In the dim twilight these flashes were much more blinding than they had been in the glare of the sun, and the crash of the artillery coming on top of the silence was the more fierce and terrible by the contrast. The Turks were so close on us that the first trench could do little to help itself, and the men huddled against it while their comrades on the surrounding hills fought for them, their volleys passing close above our heads, and meeting the rush of the Turkish bullets on the way, so that there was now one continuous whistling shriek, like the roar of the wind through the rigging of a ship in a storm. If a man had raised his arm above his head his hand would have been torn off. It had come up so suddenly that it was like two dogs, each springing at the throat of the other, and in a greater degree it had something of the sound of two wild animals struggling for life. Volley answered volley as though with personal hate–one crashing in upon the roll of the other, or beating it out of recognition with the bursting roar of heavy cannon. At the same instant all of the Turkish batteries opened with great, ponderous, booming explosions, and the little mountain guns barked and snarled and shrieked back at them, and the rifle volleys crackled and shot out blistering flames, while the air was filled with invisible express trains that shook and jarred it and crashed into one another, bursting and shrieking and groaning. It seemed as though you were lying in a burning forest, with giant tree trunks that had withstood the storms of centuries crashing and falling around your ears, and sending up great showers of sparks and flame. This lasted for five minutes or less, and then the death-grip seemed to relax, the volleys came brokenly, like a man panting for breath, the bullets ceased to sound with the hiss of escaping steam, and rustled aimlessly by, and from hill-top to hill-top the officers’ whistles sounded as though a sportsman were calling off his dogs. The Turks withdrew into the coming night, and the Greeks lay back, panting and sweating, and stared open-eyed at one another, like men who had looked for a moment into hell, and had come back to the world again.

The next day was like the first, except that by five o’clock in the afternoon the Turks appeared on our left flank, crawling across the hills like an invasion of great ants, and the Greek army that at Velestinos had made the two best and most dignified stands of the war withdrew upon Halmyros, and the Turks poured into the village and burned it, leaving nothing standing save two tall Turkish minarets that many years before, when Thessaly belonged to the Sultan, the Turks themselves had placed there.


On the day the American troops landed on the coast of Cuba, the Cubans informed General Wheeler that the enemy were intrenched at Guasimas, blocking the way to Santiago. Guasimas is not a village, nor even a collection of houses; it is the meeting place of two trails which join at the apex of a V, three miles from the seaport town of Siboney, and continue merged in a single trail to Santiago. General Wheeler, guided by the Cubans, reconnoitred this trail on the 23rd of June, and with the position of the enemy fully explained to him, returned to Siboney and informed General Young and Colonel Wood that on the following morning he would attack the Spanish position at Guasimas. It has been stated that at Guasimas, the Rough Riders were trapped in an ambush, but, as the plan was discussed while I was present, I know that so far from any ones running into an ambush, every one of the officers concerned had a full knowledge of where he would find the enemy, and what he was to do when he found him.

That night no one slept, for until two o’clock in the morning, troops were still being disembarked in the surf, and two ships of war had their searchlights turned on the landing-place, and made Siboney as light as a ball-room. Back of the searchlights was an ocean white with moonlight, and on the shore red camp-fires, at which the half- drowned troops were drying their uniforms, and the Rough Riders, who had just marched in from Baiquiri, were cooking a late supper, or early breakfast of coffee and bacon. Below the former home of the Spanish comandante, which General Wheeler had made his head-quarters, lay the camp of the Rough Riders, and through it Cuban officers were riding their half-starved ponies, and scattering the ashes of the camp-fires. Below them was the beach and the roaring surf, in which a thousand or so naked men were assisting and impeding the progress shoreward of their comrades, in pontoons and shore boats, which were being hurled at the beach like sleds down a water chute.

It was one of the most weird and remarkable scenes of the war, probably of any war. An army was being landed on an enemy’s coast at the dead of night, but with the same cheers and shrieks and laughter that rise from the bathers at Coney Island on a hot Sunday. It was a pandemonium of noises. The men still to be landed from the “prison hulks,” as they called the transports, were singing in chorus, the men already on shore were dancing naked around the camp-fires on the beach, or shouting with delight as they plunged into the first bath that had offered in seven days, and those in the launches as they were pitched head-first at the soil of Cuba, signalized their arrival by howls of triumph. On either side rose black overhanging ridges, in the lowland between were white tents and burning fires, and from the ocean came the blazing, dazzling eyes of the search-lights shaming the quiet moonlight.

After three hours’ troubled sleep in this tumult the Rough Riders left camp at five in the morning. With the exception of half a dozen officers they were dismounted, and carried their blanket rolls, haversacks, ammunition, and carbines. General Young had already started toward Guasimas the First and Tenth dismounted Cavalry, and according to the agreement of the night before had taken the eastern trail to our right, while the Rough Riders climbed the steep ridge above Siboney and started toward the rendezvous along the trail to the west, which was on high ground and a half mile to a mile distant from the trail along which General Young and his regulars were marching. There was a valley between us, and the bushes were so thick on both sides of our trail that it was not possible at any time, until we met at Guasimas, to distinguish the other column.

As soon as the Rough Riders had reached the top of the ridge, not twenty minutes after they had left camp, which was the first opportunity that presented itself, Colonel Wood ordered Captain Capron to proceed with his troop in front of the column as an advance guard, and to choose a “point” of five men skilled as scouts and trailers. Still in advance of these he placed two Cuban scouts. The column then continued along the trail in single file. The Cubans were at a distance of two hundred and fifty yards; the “point” of five picked men under Sergeant Byrne and duty-Sergeant Fish followed them at a distance of a hundred yards, and then came Capron’s troop of sixty men strung out in single file. No flankers were placed for the reason that the dense undergrowth and the tangle of vines that stretched from the branches of the trees to the bushes below made it a physical impossibility for man or beast to move forward except along the single trail.

Colonel Wood rode at the head of the column, followed by two regular army officers who were members of General Wheeler’s staff, a Cuban officer, and Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt. They rode slowly in consideration of the troopers on foot, who under a cruelly hot sun carried heavy burdens. To those who did not have to walk, it was not unlike a hunting excursion in our West; the scenery was beautiful and the view down the valley one of luxuriant peace. Roosevelt had never been in the tropics and Captain McCormick and I were talking back at him over our shoulders and at each other, pointing out unfamiliar trees and birds. Roosevelt thought it looked like a good deer country, as it once was; it reminded McCormick of Southern California; it looked to me like the trails in Central America. We advanced, talking in that fashion and in high spirits, and congratulating ourselves in being shut of the transport and on breathing fine mountain air again, and on the fact that we were on horseback. We agreed it was impossible to appreciate that we were really at war–that we were in the enemy’s country. We had been riding in this pleasant fashion for an hour and a half with brief halts for rest, when Wood stopped the head of the column, and rode down the trail to meet Capron, who was coming back. Wood returned immediately, leading his horse, and said to Roosevelt:

“Pass the word back to keep silence in the ranks.”

The place at which we had halted was where the trail narrowed, and proceeded sharply downward. There was on one side of it a stout barbed-wire fence of five strands. By some fortunate accident this fence had been cut just where the head of the column halted. On the left of the trail it shut off fields of high grass blocked at every fifty yards with great barricades of undergrowth and tangled trees and chapparal. On the other side of the trail there was not a foot of free ground; the bushes seemed absolutely impenetrable, as indeed they were later found to be.

When we halted, the men sat down beside the trail and chewed the long blades of grass, or fanned the air with their hats. They had no knowledge of the situation such as their leaders possessed, and their only emotion was one of satisfaction at the chance the halt gave them to rest and to shift their packs. Wood again walked down the trail with Capron and disappeared, and one of the officers informed us that the scouts had seen the outposts of the enemy. It did not seem reasonable that the Spaniards, who had failed to attack us when we landed at Baiquiri, would oppose us until they could do so in force, so, personally, I doubted that there were any Spaniards nearer than Santiago. But we tied our horses to the wire fence, and Capron’s troop knelt with carbines at the “Ready,” peering into the bushes. We must have waited there, while Wood reconnoitred, for over ten minutes. Then he returned, and began deploying his troops out at either side of the trail. Capron he sent on down the trail itself. G Troop was ordered to beat into the bushes on the right, and K and A were sent over the ridge on which we stood down into the hollow to connect with General Young’s column on the opposite side of the valley. F and E Troops were deployed in skirmish-line on the other side of the wire fence. Wood had discovered the enemy a few hundred yards from where he expected to find him, and so far from being “surprised,” he had time, as I have just described, to get five of his troops into position before a shot was fired. The firing, when it came, started suddenly on our right. It sounded so close that– still believing we were acting on a false alarm, and that there were no Spaniards ahead of us–I guessed it was Capron’s men firing at random to disclose the enemy’s position. I ran after G Troop under Captain Llewellyn, and found them breaking their way through the bushes in the direction from which the volleys came. It was like forcing the walls of a maze. If each trooper had not kept in touch with the man on either hand he would have been lost in the thicket. At one moment the underbrush seemed swarming with our men, and the next, except that you heard the twigs breaking, and heavy breathing or a crash as a vine pulled some one down, there was not a sign of a human being anywhere. In a few minutes we broke through into a little open place in front of a dark curtain of vines, and the men fell on one knee and began returning the fire that came from it.

The enemy’s fire was exceedingly heavy, and his aim was excellent. We saw nothing of the Spaniards, except a few on the ridge across the valley. I happened to be the only one present with field glasses, and when I discovered this force on the ridge, and had made sure, by the cockades in their sombreros, that they were Spaniards and not Cubans, I showed them to Roosevelt. He calculated they were five hundred yards from us, and ordered the men to fire on them at that range. Through the two hours of fighting that followed, although men were falling all around us, the Spaniards on the ridge were the only ones that many of us saw. But the fire against us was not more than eighty yards away, and so hot that our men could only lie flat in the grass and return it in that position. It was at this moment that our men believed they were being attacked by Capron’s troop, which they imagined must have swung to the right, and having lost its bearings and hearing them advancing through the underbrush, had mistaken them for the enemy. They accordingly ceased firing and began shouting in order to warn Capron that he was shooting at his friends. This is the foundation for the statement that the Rough Riders had fired on each other, which they did not do then or at any other time. Later we examined the relative position of the trail which Capron held, and the position of G Troop, and they were at right angles to one another.

Capron could not possibly have fired into us at any time, unless he had turned directly around in his tracks and aimed up the very trail he had just descended. Advancing, he could no more have hit us than he could have seen us out of the back of his head. When we found many hundred spent cartridges of the Spaniards a hundred yards in front of G Troop’s position, the question as to who had fired on us was answered.

It was an exceedingly hot corner. The whole troop was gathered in the little open place blocked by the network of grape-vines and tangled bushes before it. They could not see twenty feet on three sides of them, but on the right hand lay the valley, and across it came the sound of Young’s brigade, who were apparently heavily engaged. The enemy’s fire was so close that the men could not hear the word of command, and Captain Llewellyn and Lieutenant Greenway, unable to get their attention, ran among them, batting them with their sombreros to make them cease firing. Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt ran up just then, bringing with him Lieutenant Woodbury Kane and ten troopers from K Troop. Roosevelt lay down in the grass beside Llewellyn and consulted with him eagerly. Kane was smiling with the charming content of a perfectly happy man. When Captain Llewellyn told him his men were not needed, and to rejoin his troop, he led his detail over the edge of the hill on which we lay. As he disappeared below the crest he did not stoop to avoid the bullets, but walked erect, still smiling. Roosevelt pointed out that it was impossible to advance farther on account of the network of wild grape-vines that masked the Spaniards from us, and that we must cross the trail and make to the left. The shouts the men had raised to warn Capron had established our position to the enemy, and the firing was now fearfully accurate. Sergeant Russell, who in his day had been a colonel on a governor’s staff, was killed, and the other sergeant was shot through the wrist. In the space of three minutes nine men were lying on their backs helpless. Before we got away, every third man was killed, or wounded. We drew off slowly to the left, dragging the wounded with us. Owing to the low aim of the enemy, we were forced to move on our knees and crawl. Even then men were hit. One man near me was shot through the head. Returning later to locate the body and identify him, I found that the buzzards had torn off his lips and his eyes. This mutilation by these hideous birds was, without doubt, what Admiral Sampson mistook for the work of the Spaniards, when the bodies of the marines at Guantanamo were found disfigured. K Troop meantime had deployed into the valley under the fire from the enemy on the ridge. It had been ordered to establish communication with General Young’s column, and while advancing and firing on the ridge, Captain Jenkins sent the guidon bearer back to climb the hill and wave his red and white banner where Young’s men could see it. The guidon bearer had once run for Congress on the gold ticket in Arizona, and, as some one said, was naturally the man who should have been selected for a forlorn hope. His flag brought him instantly under a heavy fire, but he continued waving it until the Tenth Cavalry on the other side of the valley answered, and the two columns were connected by a skirmish-line composed of K Troop and A, under Captain “Bucky” O’Neill.

G Troop meanwhile had hurried over to the left, and passing through the opening in the wire fence had spread out into open order. It followed down after Captain Luna’s troop and D and E Troops, which were well already in advance. Roosevelt ran forward and took command of the extreme left of this line. Wood was walking up and down along it, leading his horse, which he thought might be of use in case he had to move quickly to alter his original formation. His plan, at present, was to spread out his men so that they would join Young on the right, and on the left swing around until they flanked the enemy. K and A Troops had already succeeded in joining hands with Young’s column across the valley, and as they were capable of taking care of themselves, Wood was bending his efforts to keep his remaining four companies in a straight line and revolving them around the enemy’s “end.” It was in no way an easy thing to do. The men were at times wholly hidden from each other, and from him; probably at no one time did he see more than two of his troops together. It was only by the firing that he could tell where his men lay, and that they were always advancing.

The advances were made in quick, desperate rushes–sometimes the ground gained was no more than a man covers in sliding for a base. At other times half a troop would rise and race forward and then burrow deep in the hot grass and fire. On this side of the line there was an occasional glimpse of the enemy. But for a great part of the time the men shot at the places from where the enemy’s fire seemed to come, aiming low and answering in steady volleys. The fire discipline was excellent. The prophets of evil of the Tampa Bay Hotel had foretold that the cowboys would shoot as they chose, and, in the field, would act independently of their officers. As it turned out, the cowboys were the very men who waited most patiently for the officers to give the word of command. At all times the movement was without rest, breathless and fierce, like a cane-rush, or a street fight. After the first three minutes every man had stripped as though for a wrestling match, throwing off all his impedimenta but his cartridge-belt and canteen. Even then the sun handicapped their strength cruelly. The enemy was hidden in the shade of the jungle, while they, for every thicket they gained, had to fight in the open, crawling through grass which was as hot as a steam bath, and with their flesh and clothing torn by thorns and the sword-like blade of the Spanish “bayonet.” The glare of the sun was full in their eyes and as fierce as a lime-light.

When G Troop passed on across the trail to the left I stopped at the place where the column had first halted–it had been converted into a dressing station and the wounded of G Troop were left there in the care of the hospital stewards. A tall, gaunt young man with a cross on his arm was just coming back up the trail. His head was bent, and by some surgeon’s trick he was carrying a wounded man much heavier than himself across his shoulders. As I stepped out of the trail he raised his head, and smiled and nodded, and left me wondering where I had seen him before, smiling in the same cheery, confident way and moving in that same position. I knew it could not have been under the same conditions, and yet he was certainly associated with another time of excitement and rush and heat. Then I remembered him. As now he had been covered with blood and dirt and perspiration, but then he wore a canvas jacket and the man he carried on his shoulders was trying to hold him back from a white-washed line. And I recognized the young doctor, with the blood bathing his breeches, as “Bob” Church, of Princeton. That was only one of four badly wounded men he carried that day on his shoulders over a half-mile of trail that stretched from the firing-line back to the dressing station and under an unceasing fire. {3} As the senior surgeon was absent he had chief responsibility that day for all the wounded, and that so few of them died is greatly due to this young man who went down into the firing- line and pulled them from it, and bore them out of danger. The comic paragraphers who wrote of the members of the Knickerbocker Club and the college swells of the Rough Riders and of their imaginary valets and golf clubs, should, in decency, since the fight at Guasimas apologize. For the same spirit that once sent these men down a white-washed field against their opponents’ rush line was the spirit that sent Church, Channing, Devereux, Ronalds, Wrenn, Cash, Bull, Lamed, Goodrich, Greenway, Dudley Dean, and a dozen others through the high hot grass at Guasimas, not shouting, as their friends the cowboys did, but each with his mouth tightly shut, with his eyes on the ball, and moving in obedience to the captain’s signals.

Judging from the sound, our firing-line now seemed to be half a mile in advance of the place where the head of the column had first halted. This showed that the Spaniards had been driven back at least three hundred yards from their original position. It was impossible to see any of our men in the field, so I ran down the trail with the idea that it would lead me back to the troop I had left when I had stopped at the dressing station. The walk down that trail presented one of the most grewsome pictures of the war. It narrowed as it descended; it was for that reason the enemy had selected that part of it for the attack, and the vines and bushes interlaced so closely above it that the sun could not come through.

The rocks on either side were spattered with blood and the rank grass was matted with it. Blanket rolls, haversacks, carbines, and canteens had been abandoned all along its length. It looked as though a retreating army had fled along it, rather than that one troop had fought its way through it to the front. Except for the clatter of the land-crabs, those hideous orchid-colored monsters that haunt the places of the dead, and the whistling of the bullets in the trees, the place was as silent as a grave. For the wounded lying along its length were as still as the dead beside them. The noise of the loose stones rolling under my feet brought a hospital steward out of the brush, and he called after me:

“Lieutenant Thomas is badly wounded in here, and we can’t move him. We want to carry him out of the sun some place, where there is shade and a breeze.” Thomas was the first lieutenant of Capron’s troop. He is a young man, large and powerfully built. He was shot through the leg just below the trunk, and I found him lying on a blanket half naked and covered with blood, and with his leg bound in tourniquets made of twigs and pocket-handkerchiefs. It gave one a thrill of awe and wonder to see how these cowboy surgeons, with a stick that one would use to light a pipe and with the gaudy ‘kerchiefs they had taken from their necks, were holding death at bay. The young officer was in great pain and tossing and raving wildly. When we gathered up the corners of his blanket and lifted him, he tried to sit upright, and cried out, “You’re taking me to the front, aren’t you? You said you would. They’ve killed my captain–do you understand? They’ve killed Captain Capron. The — Mexicans! They’ve killed my captain.”

The troopers assured him they were carrying him to the firing-line, but he was not satisfied. We stumbled over the stones and vines, bumping his wounded body against the ground and leaving a black streak in the grass behind us, but it seemed to hurt us more than it did him, for he sat up again clutching at us imploringly with his bloody hands.

“For God’s sake, take me to the front,” he begged. “Do you hear? I order you; damn you, I order–We must give them hell; do you hear? we must give them hell. They’ve killed Capron. They’ve killed my captain.”

The loss of blood at last mercifully silenced him, and when we had reached the trail he had fainted and I left them kneeling around him, their grave boyish faces filled with sympathy and concern.

Only fifty feet from him and farther down the trail I passed his captain, with his body propped against Church’s knee and with his head fallen on the surgeon’s shoulder. Capron was always a handsome, soldierly looking man–some said that he was the most soldierly looking of any of the young officers in the army–and as I saw him then death had given him a great dignity and nobleness. He was only twenty-eight years old, the age when life has just begun, but he rested his head on the surgeon’s shoulder like a man who knew he was already through with it and that, though they might peck and mend at the body, he had received his final orders. His breast and shoulders were bare, and as the surgeon cut the tunic from him the sight of his great chest and the skin, as white as a girl’s, and the black open wound against it made the yellow stripes and the brass insignia on the tunic, strangely mean and tawdry.

Fifty yards farther on, around a turn in the trail, behind a rock, a boy was lying with a bullet wound between his eyes. His chest was heaving with short, hoarse noises which I guessed were due to some muscular action entirely, and that he was virtually dead. I lifted him and gave him some water, but it would not pass through his fixed teeth. In the pocket of his blouse was a New Testament with the name Fielder Dawson, Mo., scribbled in it in pencil. While I was writing it down for identification, a boy as young as himself came from behind me down the trail.

“It is no use,” he said; “the surgeon has seen him; he says he is just the same as dead. He is my bunkie; we only met two weeks ago at San Antonio; but he and me had got to be such good friends–But there’s nothing I can do now.” He threw himself down on the rock beside his bunkie, who was still breathing with that hoarse inhuman rattle, and I left them, the one who had been spared looking down helplessly with the tears creeping across his cheeks.

The firing was quite close now, and the trail was no longer filled with blanket rolls and haversacks, nor did pitiful, prostrate figures lie in wait behind each rock. I guessed this must mean that I now was well in advance of the farthest point to which Capron’s troop had moved, and I was running forward feeling confident that I must be close on our men, when I saw the body of a sergeant blocking the trail and stretched at full length across it. Its position was a hundred yards in advance of that of any of the others–it was apparently the body of the first man killed. After death the bodies of some men seem to shrink almost instantly within themselves; they become limp and shapeless, and their uniforms hang upon them strangely. But this man, who was a giant in life, remained a giant in death–his very attitude was one of attack; his fists were clinched, his jaw set, and his eyes, which were still human, seemed fixed with resolve. He was dead, but he was not defeated. And so Hamilton Fish died as he had lived–defiantly, running into the very face of the enemy, standing squarely upright on his legs instead of crouching, as the others called to him to do, until he fell like a column across the trail. “God gives,” was the motto on the watch I took from his blouse, and God could not have given him a nobler end; to die, in the fore-front of the first fight of the war, quickly, painlessly, with a bullet through the heart, with his regiment behind him, and facing the enemies of his country.

The line at this time was divided by the trail into two wings. The right wing, composed of K and A Troops, was advancing through the valley, returning the fire from the ridge as it did so, and the left wing, which was much the longer of the two, was swinging around on the enemy’s right flank, with its own right resting on the barbed- wire fence. I borrowed a carbine from a wounded man, and joined the remnant of L Troop which was close to the trail.

This troop was then commanded by Second Lieutenant Day, who on account of his conduct that morning and at the battle of San Juan later, when he was shot through the arm, was promoted to be captain of L Troop, or, as it was later officially designated, Capron’s troop. He was walking up and down the line as unconcernedly as though we were at target practice, and an Irish sergeant, Byrne, was assisting him by keeping up a continuous flow of comments and criticisms that showed the keenest enjoyment of the situation. Byrne was the only man I noticed who seemed to regard the fight as in any way humorous. For at Guasimas, no one had time to be flippant, or to exhibit any signs of braggadocio. It was for all of them, from the moment it started, through the hot, exhausting hour and a half that it lasted, a most serious proposition. The conditions were exceptional. The men had made a night march the evening before, had been given but three hours’ troubled sleep on the wet sand, and had then been marched in full equipment uphill and under a cruelly hot sun, directly into action. And eighty per cent. of them had never before been under fire. Nor had one man in the regiment ever fired a Krag-Jorgensen carbine until he fired it at a Spaniard, for their arms had been issued to them so soon before sailing that they had only drilled with them without using cartridges. To this handicap was also added the nature of the ground and the fact that our men could not see their opponents. Their own men fell or rolled over on every side, shot down by an invisible enemy, with no one upon whom they could retaliate, with no sign that the attack might not go on indefinitely. Yet they never once took a step backward, but advanced grimly, cleaning a bush or thicket of its occupants before charging it, and securing its cover for themselves, and answering each volley with one that sounded like an echo of the first. The men were panting for breath; the sweat ran so readily into their eyes that they could not see the sights of their guns; their limbs unused to such exertion after seven days of cramped idleness on the troop-ship, trembled with weakness and the sun blinded and dazzled them; but time after time they rose and staggered forward through the high grass, or beat their way with their carbines against the tangle of vines and creepers. A mile and a half of territory was gained foot by foot in this fashion, the three Spanish positions carried in that distance being marked by the thousands of Mauser cartridges that lay shining and glittering in the grass and behind the barricades of bushes. But this distance had not been gained without many losses, for every one in the regiment was engaged. Even those who, on account of the heat, had dropped out along the trail, as soon as the sound of the fight reached them, came limping to the front–and plunged into the firing- line. It was the only place they could go–there was no other line. With the exception of Church’s dressing station and its wounded there were no reserves.

Among the first to be wounded was the correspondent, Edward Marshall, of the New York Journal, who was on the firing-line to the left. He was shot through the body near the spine, and when I saw him he was suffering the most terrible agonies, and passing through a succession of convulsions. He nevertheless, in his brief moments of comparative peace, bore himself with the utmost calm, and was so much a soldier to duty that he continued writing his account of the fight until the fight itself was ended. His courage was the admiration of all the troopers, and he was highly commended by Colonel Wood in the official account of the engagement.

Nothing so well illustrated how desperately each man was needed, and how little was his desire to withdraw, as the fact that the wounded lay where they fell until the hospital stewards found them. Their comrades did not use them as an excuse to go to leave the firing- line. I have watched other fights, where the men engaged were quite willing to unselfishly bear the wounded from the zone of danger.

The fight had now lasted an hour, and the line had reached a more open country, with a slight incline upward toward a wood, on the edge of which was a ruined house. This house was a former distillery for aguardiente, and was now occupied in force by the enemy. Lieutenant- Colonel Roosevelt on the far left was moving up his men with the intention of taking this house on the flank; Wood, who was all over the line, had the same objective point in his mind. The troop commanders had a general idea that the distillery was the key to the enemy’s position, and were all working in that direction. It was extremely difficult for Wood and Roosevelt to communicate with the captains, and after the first general orders had been given them they relied upon the latter’s intelligence to pull them through. I do not suppose Wood, out of the five hundred engaged, saw more than thirty of his men at any one time. When he had passed one troop, except for the noise of its volley firing, it was immediately lost to him in the brush, and it was so with the next. Still, so excellent was the intelligence of the officers, and so ready the spirit of the men, that they kept an almost perfect alignment, as was shown when the final order came to charge in the open fields. The advance upon the ruined building was made in stubborn, short rushes, sometimes in silence, and sometimes firing as we ran. The order to fire at will was seldom given, the men waiting patiently for the officers’ signal, and then answering in volleys. Some of the men who were twice Day’s age begged him to let them take the enemy’s impromptu fort on the run, but he answered them tolerantly like spoiled children, and held them down until there was a lull in the enemy’s fire, when he would lead them forward, always taking the advance himself. By the way they made these rushes, it was easy to tell which men were used to hunting big game in the West and which were not. The Eastern men broke at the word, and ran for the cover they were directed to take like men trying to get out of the rain, and fell panting on their faces, while the Western trappers and hunters slipped and wriggled through the grass like Indians; dodging from tree trunk to tree trunk, and from one bush to another. They fell into line at the same time with the others, but while doing so they had not once exposed themselves. Some of the escapes were little short of miraculous. The man on my right, Champneys Marshall, of Washington, had one bullet pass through his sleeve, and another pass through his shirt, where it was pulled close to his spine. The holes where the ball entered and went out again were clearly cut. Another man’s skin was slightly burned by three bullets in three distinct lines, as though it had been touched for an instant by the lighted end of a cigar. Greenway was shot through this shirt across the breast, and Roosevelt was so close to one bullet, when it struck a tree, that it filled his eyes and ears with tiny splinters. Major Brodie and Lieutenant Thomas were both wounded within a few feet of Colonel Wood, and his color-sergeant, Wright, who followed close at his heels, was clipped three times in the head and neck, and four bullets passed through the folds of the flag he carried. One trooper, Rowland, of Deming, was shot through the lower ribs; he was ordered by Roosevelt to fall back to the dressing station, but there Church told him there was nothing he could do for him then, and directed him to sit down until he could be taken to the hospital at Siboney. Rowland sat still for a short time, and then remarked restlessly, “I don’t seem to be doing much good here,” and picking up his carbine, returned to the firing-line. There Roosevelt found him.

“I thought I ordered you to the rear,” he demanded.

“Yes, sir, you did,” Rowland said, “but there didn’t seem to be much doing back there.”

After the fight he was sent to Siboney with the rest of the wounded, but two days later he appeared in camp. He had marched from Siboney, a distance of six miles, and uphill all the way, carrying his carbine, canteen, and cartridge-belt.

“I thought you were in hospital,” Wood said. “I was,” Rowland answered sheepishly, “but I didn’t seem to be doing any good there.”

They gave him up as hopeless, and he continued his duties and went into the fight of the San Juan hills with the hole still through his ribs. Another cowboy named Heffner, when shot through the body, asked to be propped up against a tree with his canteen and cartridge- belt beside him, and the last his troop saw of him he was seated alone grimly firing over their heads in the direction of the enemy.

Early in the fight I came upon Church attending to a young cowboy, who was shot through the chest. The entrance to his wound was so small that Church could not insert enough of the gauze packing to stop the flow of blood.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to make this hole larger, he said to the boy, “or you’ll bleed to death.”

“All right,” the trooper answered, “I guess you know your business.” The boy stretched out on his back and lay perfectly quiet while Church, with a pair of curved scissors, cut away the edges of the wound. His patient neither whimpered nor swore, but stared up at the sun in silence. The bullets were falling on every side, and the operation was a hasty one, but the trooper made no comment until Church said, “We’d better get out of this; can you stand being carried?”

“Do you think you can carry me?” the trooper asked.


“Well,” exclaimed the boy admiringly, “you certainly know your business!”

Another of the Rough Riders was brought to the dressing station with a shattered ankle, and Church, after bandaging it, gave him his choice of riding down to Siboney on a mule, or of being carried, a day later, on a litter.

“If you think you can manage to ride the mule with that broken foot,” he said, “you can start at once, but if you wait until to-morrow, when I can spare the men, you can be carried all the way.”

The cowboy preferred to start at once, so six hospital stewards lifted him and dropped him on the mule, and into a huge Mexican saddle.

He stuck his wounded ankle into one stirrup, and his untouched one into the other, and gathered up the reins.

“Does it pain you? Can you stand it?” Church asked anxiously. The cowboy turned and smiled down upon him with amused disdain.

“Stand THIS?” he cried. “Why, this is just like getting money from home.”

Toward the last, the firing from the enemy sounded less near, and the bullets passed much higher. Roosevelt, who had picked up a carbine and was firing to give the direction to the others, determined upon a charge. Wood, at the other end of the line, decided at the same time upon the same manoeuvre. It was called “Wood’s bluff” afterward, for he had nothing to back it with; while to the enemy it looked as though his whole force was but the skirmish-line in advance of a regiment. The Spaniards naturally could not believe that this thin line which suddenly broke out of the bushes and from behind trees and came cheering out into the hot sunlight was the entire fighting force against it. They supposed the regiment was coming close on its heels, and as Spanish troops hate being rushed as a cat hates water, they fired a few parting volleys and broke and ran. The cheering had the same invigorating effect on our own side as a cold shower; it was what first told half the men where the other half were, and it made every individual man feel better. As we knew it was only a bluff, the first cheer was wavering, but the sound of our own voices was so comforting that the second cheer was a howl of triumph.

As it was, the Spaniards thought the Rough Riders had already disregarded all the rules of war.

“When we fired a volley,” one of the prisoners said later, “instead of falling back they came forward. That is not the way to fight, to come closer at every volley.” And so, when instead of retreating on each volley, the Rough Riders rushed at them, cheering and filling the hot air with wild cowboy yells, the dismayed enemy retreated upon Santiago, where he announced he had been attacked by the entire American army.

One of the residents of Santiago asked one of the soldiers if those Americans fought well.

“WELL!” he replied, “they tried to catch us with their hands!”

I have not attempted to give any account of General Young’s fight on our right, which was equally desperate, and, owing to the courage of the colored troops of the Tenth in storming a ridge, equally worthy of praise. But it has seemed better not to try and tell of anything I did not see, but to limit myself to the work of the Rough Riders, to whom, after all, the victory was due, as it was owing to Colonel Wood’s charge, which took the Spaniards in flank, that General Wheeler and General Young were able to advance, their own stubborn attack in front having failed to dislodge the enemy from his rifle- pits.

According to the statement of the enemy, who had every reason not to exaggerate the size of his own force, 4,000 Spaniards were engaged in this action. The Rough Riders numbered 534, and General Young’s force numbered 464. The American troops accordingly attacked a force over four times their own number intrenched behind rifle-pits and bushes in a mountain pass. In spite of the smokeless powder used by the Spaniards, which hid their position, the Rough Riders routed them out of it, and drove them back from three different barricades until they made their last stand in the ruined distillery, whence they finally drove them by assault. The eager spirit in which this was accomplished is best described in the Spanish soldier’s answer to the inquiring civilian, “They tried to catch us with their hands.” The Rough Riders should adopt it as their motto.


After the Guasimas fight on June 24, the army was advanced along the single trail which leads from Siboney on the coast to Santiago. Two streams of excellent water run parallel with this trail for short distances, and some eight miles from the coast crossed it in two places. Our outposts were stationed at the first of these fords, the Cuban outposts a mile and a half farther on at the ford nearer Santiago, where the stream made a sharp turn at a place called El Poso. Another mile and a half of trail extended from El Poso to the trenches of San Juan. The reader should remember El Poso, as it marked an important starting-point against San Juan on the eventful first of July.

For six days the army was encamped on either side of the trail for three miles back from the outposts. The regimental camps touched each other, and all day long the pack-trains carrying the day’s rations passed up and down between them. The trail was a sunken wagon road, where it was possible, in a few places, for two wagons to pass at one time, but the greater distances were so narrow that there was but just room for a wagon, or a loaded mule-train, to make its way. The banks of the trail were three or four feet high, and when it rained it was converted into a huge gutter, with sides of mud, and with a liquid mud a foot deep between them. The camps were pitched along the trail as near the parallel stream as possible, and in the occasional places where there was rich, high grass. At night the men slept in dog tents, open at the front and back, and during the day spent their time under the shade of trees along the trail, or on the banks of the stream. Sentries were placed at every few feet along these streams to guard them from any possible pollution. For six days the army rested in this way, for as an army moves and acts only on its belly, and as the belly of this army was three miles long, it could advance but slowly.

This week of rest, after the cramped life of the troop-ship, was not ungrateful, although the rations were scarce and there was no tobacco, which was as necessary to the health of the men as their food.

During this week of waiting, the chief excitement was to walk out a mile and a half beyond the outposts to the hill of El Poso, and look across the basin that lay in the great valley which leads to Santiago. The left of the valley was the hills which hide the sea. The right of the valley was the hills in which nestle the village of El Caney. Below El Poso, in the basin, the dense green forest stretched a mile and a half to the hills of San Juan. These hills looked so quiet and sunny and well kept that they reminded one of a New England orchard. There was a blue bungalow on a hill to the right, a red bungalow higher up on the right, and in the centre the block-house of San Juan, which looked like a Chinese pagoda. Three- quarters of a mile behind them, with a dip between, were the long white walls of the hospital and barracks of Santiago, wearing thirteen Red Cross flags, and, as was pointed out to the foreign attaches later, two six-inch guns a hundred yards in advance of the Red Cross flags.

It was so quiet, so fair, and so prosperous looking that it breathed of peace. It seemed as though one might, without accident, walk in and take dinner at the Venus Restaurant, or loll on the benches in the Plaza, or rock in one of the great bent-wood chairs around the patio of the Don Carlos Club.

But, on the 27th of June, a long, yellow pit opened in the hill-side of San Juan, and in it we could see straw sombreros rising and bobbing up and down, and under the shade of the blockhouse, blue- coated Spaniards strolling leisurely about or riding forth on little white ponies to scamper over the hills. Officers of every regiment, attaches of foreign countries, correspondents, and staff officers daily reported the fact that the rifle-pits were growing in length and in number, and that in plain sight from the hill of El Poso the enemy was intrenching himself at San Juan, and at the little village of El Caney to the right, where he was marching through the streets. But no artillery was sent to El Poso hill to drop a shell among the busy men at work among the trenches, or to interrupt the street parades in El Caney. For four days before the American soldiers captured the same rifle-pits at El Caney and San Juan, with a loss of two thousand men, they watched these men diligently preparing for their coming, and wondered why there was no order to embarrass or to end these preparations.

On the afternoon of June 30, Captain Mills rode up to the tent of Colonel Wood, and told him that on account of illness, General Wheeler and General Young had relinquished their commands, and that General Sumner would take charge of the Cavalry Division; that he, Colonel Wood, would take command of General Young’s brigade, and Colonel Carroll, of General Sumner’s brigade.

“You will break camp and move forward at four o’clock,” he said. It was then three o’clock, and apparently the order to move forward at four had been given to each regiment at nearly the same time, for they all struck their tents and stepped down into the trail together. It was as though fifteen regiments were encamped along the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue and were all ordered at the same moment to move into it and march downtown. If Fifth Avenue were ten feet wide, one can imagine the confusion.

General Chaffee was at General Lawton’s head-quarters, and they stood apart whispering together about the march they were to take to El Caney. Just over their heads the balloon was ascending for the first time and its great glistening bulk hung just above the tree tops, and the men in different regiments, picking their way along the trail, gazed up at it open-mouthed. The head-quarters camp was crowded. After a week of inaction the army, at a moment’s notice, was moving forward, and every one had ridden in haste to learn why.

There were attaches, in strange uniforms, self-important Cuban generals, officers from the flagship New York, and an army of photographers. At the side of the camp, double lines of soldiers passed slowly along the two paths of the muddy road, while, between them, aides dashed up and down, splashing them with dirty water, and shouting, “You will come up at once, sir.” “You will not attempt to enter the trail yet, sir.” “General Sumner’s compliments, and why are you not in your place?”

Twelve thousand men, with their eyes fixed on a balloon, and treading on each other’s heels in three inches of mud, move slowly, and after three hours, it seemed as though every man in the United States was under arms and stumbling and slipping down that trail. The lines passed until the moon rose. They seemed endless, interminable; there were cavalry mounted and dismounted, artillery with cracking whips and cursing drivers, Rough Riders in brown, and regulars, both black and white, in blue. Midnight came, and they were still stumbling and slipping forward.

General Sumner’s head-quarters tent was pitched to the right of El Poso hill. Below us lay the basin a mile and a half in length, and a mile and a half wide, from which a white mist was rising. Near us, drowned under the mist, seven thousand men were sleeping, and, farther to the right, General Chaffee’s five thousand were lying under the bushes along the trails to El Caney, waiting to march on it and eat it up before breakfast.

The place hardly needs a map to explain it. The trails were like a pitchfork, with its prongs touching the hills of San Juan. The long handle of the pitchfork was the trail over which we had just come, the joining of the handle and the prongs were El Poso. El Caney lay half-way along the right prong, the left one was the trail down which, in the morning, the troops were to be hurled upon San Juan. It was as yet an utterly undiscovered country. Three miles away, across the basin of mist, we could see the street lamps of Santiago shining over the San Juan hills. Above us, the tropical moon hung white and clear in the dark purple sky, pierced with millions of white stars. As we turned in, there was just a little something in the air which made saying “good-night” a gentle farce, for no one went to sleep immediately, but lay looking up at the stars, and after a long silence, and much restless turning on the blanket which we shared together, the second lieutenant said: “So, if anything happens to me, to-morrow, you’ll see she gets them, won’t you?” Before the moon rose again, every sixth man who had slept in the mist that night was either killed or wounded; but the second lieutenant was sitting on the edge of a Spanish rifle-pit, dirty, sweaty, and weak for food, but victorious, and the unknown she did not get them.

El Caney had not yet thrown off her blanket of mist before Capron’s battery opened on it from a ridge two miles in the rear. The plan for the day was that El Caney should fall in an hour. The plan for the day is interesting chiefly because it is so different from what happened. According to the plan the army was to advance in two divisions along the two trails. Incidentally, General Lawton’s division was to pick up El Caney, and when El Caney was eliminated, his division was to continue forward and join hands on the right with the divisions of General Sumner and General Kent. The army was then to rest for that night in the woods, half a mile from San Juan.

On the following morning it was to attack San Juan on the two flanks, under cover of artillery. The objection to this plan, which did not apparently suggest itself to General Shafter, was that an army of twelve thousand men, sleeping within five hundred yards of the enemy’s rifle-pits, might not unreasonably be expected to pass a bad night. As we discovered the next day, not only the five hundred yards, but the whole basin was covered by the fire from the rifle- pits. Even by daylight, when it was possible to seek some slight shelter, the army could not remain in the woods, but according to the plan it was expected to bivouac for the night in those woods, and in the morning to manoeuvre and deploy and march through them to the two flanks of San Juan. How the enemy was to be hypnotized while this was going forward it is difficult to understand.

According to this programme, Capron’s battery opened on El Caney and Grimes’s battery opened on the pagoda-like block-house of San Juan. The range from El Poso was exactly 2,400 yards, and the firing, as was discovered later, was not very effective. The battery used black powder, and, as a result, after each explosion the curtain of smoke hung over the gun for fully a minute before the gunners could see the San Juan trenches, which was chiefly important because for a full minute it gave a mark to the enemy. The hill on which the battery stood was like a sugar-loaf. Behind it was the farm-house of El Poso, the only building in sight within a radius of a mile, and in it were Cuban soldiers and other non-combatants. The Rough Riders had been ordered to halt in the yard of the farm-house and the artillery horses were drawn up in it, under the lee of the hill. The First and Tenth dismounted Cavalry were encamped a hundred yards from the battery along the ridge. They might as sensibly have been ordered to paint the rings in a target while a company was firing at the bull’s- eye. To our first twenty shots the enemy made no reply; when they did it was impossible, owing to their using smokeless powder, to locate their guns. Their third shell fell in among the Cubans in the block-house and among the Rough Riders and the men of the First and Tenth Cavalry, killing some and wounding many. These casualties were utterly unnecessary and were due to the stupidity of whoever placed the men within fifty yards of guns in action.

A quarter of an hour after the firing began from El Poso one of General Shafter’s aides directed General Sumner to advance with his division down the Santiago trail, and to halt at the edge of the woods.

“What am I to do then?” asked General Sumner.

“You are to await further orders,” the aide answered.

As a matter of fact and history this was probably the last order General Sumner received from General Shafter, until the troops of his division had taken the San Juan hills, as it became impossible to get word to General Shafter, the trail leading to his head-quarters tent, three miles in the rear, being blocked by the soldiers of the First and Tenth dismounted Cavalry, and later, by Lawton’s division. General Sumner led the Sixth, Third, and Ninth Cavalry and the Rough Riders down the trail, with instructions for the First and Tenth to follow. The trail, virgin as yet from the foot of an American soldier, was as wide as its narrowest part, which was some ten feet across. At places it was as wide as Broadway, but only for such short distances that it was necessary for the men to advance in column, in double file. A maze of underbrush and trees on either side was all but impenetrable, and when the officers and men had once assembled into the basin, they could only guess as to what lay before them, or on either flank. At the end of a mile the country became more open, and General Sumner saw the Spaniards intrenched a half- mile away on the sloping hills. A stream, called the San Juan River, ran across the trail at this point, and another stream crossed it again two hundred yards farther on. The troops were halted at this first stream, some crossing it, and others deploying in single file to the right. Some were on the banks of the stream, others at the edge of the woods in the bushes. Others lay in the high grass which was so high that it stopped the wind, and so hot that it almost choked and suffocated those who lay in it.

The enemy saw the advance and began firing with pitiless accuracy into the jammed and crowded trail and along the whole border of the woods. There was not a single yard of ground for a mile to the rear which was not inside the zone of fire. Our men were ordered not to return the fire but to lie still and wait for further orders. Some of them could see the rifle-pits of the enemy quite clearly and the men in them, but many saw nothing but the bushes under which they lay, and the high grass which seemed to burn when they pressed against it. It was during this period of waiting that the greater number of our men were killed. For one hour they lay on their rifles staring at the waving green stuff around them, while the bullets drove past incessantly, with savage insistence, cutting the grass again and again in hundreds of fresh places. Men in line sprang from the ground and sank back again with a groan, or rolled to one side clinging silently to an arm or shoulder. Behind the lines hospital stewards passed continually, drawing the wounded back to the streams, where they laid them in long rows, their feet touching the water’s edge and their bodies supported by the muddy bank. Up and down the lines, and through the fords of the streams, mounted aides drove their horses at a gallop, as conspicuous a target as the steeple on a church, and one after another paid the price of his position and fell from his horse wounded or dead. Captain Mills fell as he was giving an order, shot through the forehead behind both eyes; Captain O’Neill, of the Rough Riders, as he said, “There is no Spanish bullet made that can kill me.” Steel, Swift, Henry, each of them was shot out of his saddle.

Hidden in the trees above the streams, and above the trail, sharp- shooters and guerillas added a fresh terror to the wounded. There was no hiding from them. Their bullets came from every side. Their invisible smoke helped to keep their hiding-places secret, and in the incessant shriek of shrapnel and the spit of the Mausers, it was difficult to locate the reports of their rifles. They spared neither the wounded nor recognized the Red Cross; they killed the surgeons and the stewards carrying the litters, and killed the wounded men on the litters. A guerilla in a tree above us shot one of the Rough Riders in the breast while I was helping him carry Captain Morton Henry to the dressing-station, the ball passing down through him, and a second shot, from the same tree, barely missed Henry as he lay on the ground where we had dropped him. He was already twice wounded and so covered with blood that no one could have mistaken his condition. The surgeons at work along the stream dressed the wounds with one eye cast aloft at the trees. It was not the Mauser bullets they feared, though they passed continuously, but too high to do their patients further harm, but the bullets of the sharp-shooters which struck fairly in among them, splashing in the water and scattering the pebbles. The sounds of the two bullets were as different as is the sharp pop of a soda-water bottle from the buzzing of an angry wasp.

For a time it seemed as though every second man was either killed or wounded; one came upon them lying behind the bush, under which they had crawled with some strange idea that it would protect them, or crouched under the bank of the stream, or lying on their stomachs and lapping up the water with the eagerness of thirsty dogs. As to their suffering, the wounded were magnificently silent, they neither complained nor groaned nor cursed.

“I’ve got a punctured tire,” was their grim answer to inquiries. White men and colored men, veterans and recruits and volunteers, each lay waiting for the battle to begin or to end so that he might be carried away to safety, for the wounded were in as great danger after they were hit as though they were in the firing line, but none questioned nor complained.

I came across Lieutenant Roberts, of the Tenth Cavalry, lying under the roots of a tree beside the stream with three of his colored troopers stretched around him. He was shot through the intestines, and each of the three men with him was shot in the arm or leg. They had been overlooked or forgotten, and we stumbled upon them only by the accident of losing our way. They had no knowledge as to how the battle was going or where their comrades were or where the enemy was. At any moment, for all they knew, the Spaniards might break through the bushes about them. It was a most lonely picture, the young lieutenant, half naked, and wet with his own blood, sitting upright beside the empty stream, and his three followers crouching at his feet like three faithful watch-dogs, each wearing his red badge of courage, with his black skin tanned to a haggard gray, and with his eyes fixed patiently on the white lips of his officer. When the white soldiers with me offered to carry him back to the dressing- station, the negroes resented it stiffly. “If the Lieutenant had been able to move, we would have carried him away long ago,” said the sergeant, quite overlooking the fact that his arm was shattered.

“Oh, don’t bother the surgeons about me,” Roberts added, cheerfully. “They must be very busy. I can wait.”

As yet, with all these killed and wounded, we had accomplished nothing–except to obey orders–which was to await further orders. The observation balloon hastened the end. It came blundering down the trail, and stopped the advance of the First and Tenth Cavalry, and was sent up directly over the heads of our men to observe what should have been observed a week before by scouts and reconnoitring parties. A balloon, two miles to the rear, and high enough in the air to be out of range of the enemy’s fire may some day prove itself to be of use and value. But a balloon on the advance line, and only fifty feet above the tops of the trees, was merely an invitation to the enemy to kill everything beneath it. And the enemy responded to the invitation. A Spaniard might question if he could hit a man, or a number of men, hidden in the bushes, but had no doubt at all as to his ability to hit a mammoth glistening ball only six hundred yards distant, and so all the trenches fired at it at once, and the men of the First and Tenth, packed together directly behind it, received the full force of the bullets. The men lying directly below it received the shrapnel which was timed to hit it, and which at last, fortunately, did hit it. This was endured for an hour, an hour of such hell of fire and heat, that the heat in itself, had there been no bullets, would have been remembered for its cruelty. Men gasped on their backs, like fishes in the bottom of a boat, their heads burning inside and out, their limbs too heavy to move. They had been rushed here and rushed there wet with sweat and wet with fording the streams, under a sun that would have made moving a fan an effort, and they lay prostrate, gasping at the hot air, with faces aflame, and their tongues sticking out, and their eyes rolling. All through this the volleys from the rifle-pits sputtered and rattled, and the bullets sang continuously like the wind through the rigging in a gale, shrapnel whined and broke, and still no order came from General Shafter.

Captain Howse, of General Sumner’s staff, rode down the trail to learn what had delayed the First and Tenth, and was hailed by Colonel Derby, who was just descending from the shattered balloon.

“I saw men up there on those hills,” Colonel Derby shouted; “they are firing at our troops.” That was part of the information contributed by the balloon. Captain Howse’s reply is lost to history.

General Kent’s division, which, according to the plan, was to have been held in reserve, had been rushed up in the rear of the First and Tenth, and the Tenth had deployed in skirmish order to the right. The trail was now completely blocked by Kent’s division. Lawton’s division, which was to have re-enforced on the right, had not appeared, but incessant firing from the direction of El Caney showed that he and Chaffee were fighting mightily. The situation was desperate. Our troops could not retreat, as the trail for two miles behind them was wedged with men. They could not remain where they were, for they were being shot to pieces. There was only one thing they could do–go forward and take the San Juan hills by assault. It was as desperate as the situation itself. To charge earthworks held by men with modern rifles, and using modern artillery, until after the earthworks have been shaken by artillery, and to attack them in advance and not in the flanks, are both impossible military propositions. But this campaign had not been conducted according to military rules, and a series of military blunders had brought seven thousand American soldiers into a chute of death from which there was no escape except by taking the enemy who held it by the throat and driving him out and beating him down. So the generals of divisions and brigades stepped back and relinquished their command to the regimental officers and the enlisted men.

“We can do nothing more,” they virtually said. “There is the enemy.”

Colonel Roosevelt, on horseback, broke from the woods behind the line of the Ninth, and finding its men lying in his way, shouted: “If you don’t wish to go forward, let my men pass.” The junior officers of the Ninth, with their negroes, instantly sprang into line with the Rough Riders, and charged at the blue block-house on the right.

I speak of Roosevelt first because, with General Hawkins, who led Kent’s division, notably the Sixth and Sixteenth Regulars, he was, without doubt, the most conspicuous figure in the charge. General Hawkins, with hair as white as snow, and yet far in advance of men thirty years his junior, was so noble a sight that you felt inclined to pray for his safety; on the other hand, Roosevelt, mounted high on horseback, and charging the rifle-pits at a gallop and quite alone, made you feel that you would like to cheer. He wore on his sombrero a blue polka-dot handkerchief, a la Havelock, which, as he advanced, floated out straight behind his head, like a guidon. Afterward, the men of his regiment who followed this flag, adopted a polka-dot handkerchief as the badge of the Rough Riders. These two officers were notably conspicuous in the charge, but no one can claim that any two men, or any one man, was more brave or more daring, or showed greater courage in that slow, stubborn advance, than did any of the others. Some one asked one of the officers if he had any difficulty in making his men follow him. “No,” he answered, “I had some difficulty in keeping up with them.” As one of the brigade generals said: “San Juan was won by the regimental officers and men. We had as little to do as the referee at a prize-fight who calls ‘time.’ We called ‘time’ and they did the fighting.”

I have seen many illustrations and pictures of this charge on the San Juan hills, but none of them seem to show it just as I remember it. In the picture-papers the men are running uphill swiftly and gallantly, in regular formation, rank after rank, with flags flying, their eyes aflame, and their hair streaming, their bayonets fixed, in long, brilliant lines, an invincible, overpowering weight of numbers. Instead of which I think the thing which impressed one the most, when our men started from cover, was that they were so few. It seemed as if some one had made an awful and terrible mistake. One’s instinct was to call to them to come back. You felt that some one had blundered and that these few men were blindly following out some madman’s mad order. It was not heroic then, it seemed merely absurdly pathetic. The pity of it, the folly of such a sacrifice was what held you.

They had no glittering bayonets, they were not massed in regular array. There were a few men in advance, bunched together, and creeping up a steep, sunny hill, the tops of which roared and flashed with flame. The men held their guns pressed across their chests and stepped heavily as they climbed. Behind these first few, spreading out like a fan, were single lines of men, slipping and scrambling in the smooth grass, moving forward with difficulty, as though they were wading waist high through water, moving slowly, carefully, with strenuous effort. It was much more wonderful than any swinging charge could have been. They walked to greet death at every step, many of them, as they advanced, sinking suddenly or pitching forward and disappearing in the high grass, but the others waded on, stubbornly, forming a thin blue line that kept creeping higher and higher up the hill. It was as inevitable as the rising tide. It was a miracle of self-sacrifice, a triumph of bull-dog courage, which one watched breathless with wonder. The fire of the Spanish riflemen, who still stuck bravely to their posts, doubled and trebled in fierceness, the crests of the hills crackled and burst in amazed roars, and rippled with waves of tiny flame. But the blue line crept steadily up and on, and then, near the top, the broken fragments gathered together with a sudden burst of speed, the Spaniards appeared for a moment outlined against the sky and poised for instant flight, fired a last volley, and fled before the swift-moving wave that leaped and sprang after them.

The men of the Ninth and the Rough Riders rushed to the block-house together, the men of the Sixth, of the Third, of the Tenth Cavalry, of the Sixth and Sixteenth Infantry, fell on their faces along the crest of the hills beyond, and opened upon the vanishing enemy. They drove the yellow silk flags of the cavalry and the flag of their country into the soft earth of the trenches, and then sank down and looked back at the road they had climbed and swung their hats in the air. And from far overhead, from these few figures perched on the Spanish rifle-pits, with their flags planted among the empty cartridges of the enemy, and overlooking the walls of Santiago, came, faintly, the sound of a tired, broken cheer.


This is the inside story of the surrender, during the Spanish War, of the town of Coamo. It is written by the man to whom the town surrendered. Immediately after the surrender this same man became Military Governor of Coamo. He held office for fully twenty minutes.

Before beginning this story the reader must forget all he may happen to know of this particular triumph of the Porto Rican Expedition. He must forget that the taking of Coamo has always been credited to Major-General James H. Wilson, who on that occasion commanded Captain Anderson’s Battery, the Sixteenth Pennsylvania, Troop C of Brooklyn, and under General Ernst, the Second and Third Wisconsin Volunteers. He must forget that in the records of the War Department all the praise, and it is of the highest, for this victory is bestowed upon General Wilson and his four thousand soldiers. Even the writer of this, when he cabled an account of the event to his paper, gave, with every one else, the entire credit to General Wilson. And ever since his conscience has upbraided him. His only claim for tolerance as a war correspondent has been that he always has stuck to the facts, and now he feels that in the sacred cause of history his friendship and admiration for General Wilson, that veteran of the Civil, Philippine, and Chinese Wars, must no longer stand in the way of his duty as an accurate reporter. He no longer can tell a lie. He must at last own up that he himself captured Coamo.

On the morning of the 9th of August, 1898, the Sixteenth Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived on the outskirts of that town. In order to get there they had spent the night in crawling over mountain trails and scrambling through streams and ravines. It was General Wilson’s plan that by this flanking night march the Sixteenth Pennsylvania would reach the road leading from Coamo to San Juan in time to cut off the retreat of the Spanish garrison, when General Wilson, with the main body, attacked it from the opposite side.

At seven o’clock in the morning General Wilson began the frontal attack by turning loose the artillery on a block-house, which threatened his approach, and by advancing the Wisconsin Volunteers. The cavalry he sent to the right to capture Los Banos. At eight o’clock, from where the main body rested, two miles from Coamo, we could hear the Sixteenth Pennsylvania open its attack and instantly become hotly engaged. The enemy returned the fire fiercely, and the firing from both sides at once became so severe that it was evident the Pennsylvania Volunteers either would take the town without the main body, or that they would greatly need its assistance. The artillery was accordingly advanced one thousand yards and the infantry was hurried forward. The Second Wisconsin approached Coamo along the main road from Ponce, the Third Wisconsin through fields of grass to the right of the road, until the two regiments met at the ford by which the Banos road crosses the Coamo River. But before they met, from a position near the artillery, I had watched through my glasses the Second Wisconsin with General Ernst at its head advancing along the main road, and as, when I saw them, they were near the river, I guessed they would continue across the bridge and