Part 2 (1/2)

We landed in Cuba June 22, 1898. Our past hards.h.i.+ps were soon forgotten. It was enough to stir the heart of any lover of liberty to witness that portion of Gomez's ragged army, under command of General Castillo, lined up to welcome us to their beautiful island, and to guide and guard our way to the Spanish strongholds. To call it a ragged army is by no means a misnomer. The greater portion of those poor fellows were both coatless and shoeless, many of them being almost nude. They were by no means careful about their uniform. The thing every one seemed careful about was his munitions of war, for each man had his gun, ammunition and machete. Be it remembered that this portion of the Cuban army was almost entirely composed of black Cubans.

After landing we halted long enough to ascertain that all the men of the regiment were ”present or accounted for,” then marched into the jungle of Cuba, following an old unused trail. General Shafter's orders were to push forward without delay. And the 25th Infantry has the honor of leading the march from the landing at Baiquiri or Daiquiri (both names being used in official reports) the first day the army of invasion entered the island. I do not believe any newspaper has ever published this fact.

There was no time to be lost, and the advance of the American army of invasion in the direction of Santiago, the objective point, was rapid.

Each day, as one regiment would halt for a rest or reach a suitable camping ground, another would pa.s.s. In this manner several regiments had succeeded in pa.s.sing the 25th Infantry by the morning of June 24th. At that time the 1st Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders) was leading the march.


[Ill.u.s.tration: Charge on El Caney--Twenty-Fifth Infantry.]

On the morning of June 24th the Rough Riders struck camp early, and was marching along the trail at a rapid gait, at ”route step,” in any order suitable to the size of the road. Having marched several miles through a well-wooded country, they came to an opening near where the road forked. They turned into the left fork; at that moment, without the least warning, the Cubans leading the march having pa.s.sed on unmolested, a volley from the Spanish behind a stone fort on top of the hill on both sides of the road was fired into their ranks. They were at first disconcerted, but rallied at once and began firing in the direction from whence came the volleys. They could not advance, and dared not retreat, having been caught in a sunken place in the road, with a barbed-wire fence on one side and a precipitous hill on the other. They held their ground, but could do no more. The Spanish poured volley after volley into their ranks. At the moment when it looked as if the whole regiment would be swept down by the steel-jacketed bullets from the Mausers, four troops of the 10th U.S. Cavalry (colored) came up on ”double time.” Little thought the Spaniards that these ”smoked yankees” were so formidable. Perhaps they thought to stop those black boys by their relentless fire, but those boys knew no stop. They halted for a second, and having with them a Hotchkiss gun soon knocked down the Spanish improvised fort, cut the barb-wire, making an opening for the Rough Riders, started the charge, and, with the Rough Riders, routed the Spaniards, causing them to retreat in disorder, leaving their dead and some wounded behind. The Spaniards made a stubborn resistance. So hot was their fire directed at the men at the Hotchkiss gun that a head could not be raise, and men crawled on their stomachs like snakes loading and firing. It is an admitted fact that the Rough Riders could not have dislodged the Spanish by themselves without great loss, if at all.

The names of Captain A.M. Cap.r.o.n, Jr., and Sergeant Hamilton Fish, Jr., of the Rough Riders, who were killed in this battle, have been immortalized, while that of Corporal Brown, 10th Cavalry, who manned the Hotchkiss gun in this fight, without which the American loss in killed and wounded would no doubt have been counted by hundreds, and who was killed by the side of his gun, is unknown by the public.

At the time the battle of the Rough Riders was fought the 25th Infantry was within hearing distance of the battle and received orders to reinforce them, which they could have done in less than two hours, but our Brigade Commander in marching to the scene of battle took the wrong trail, seemingly on purpose, and when we arrived at the place of battle twilight was fading into darkness.

The march in the direction of Santiago continued, until the evening of June 30th found us bivouacked in the road less than two miles from El Caney. At the first glimpse of day on the first day of July word was pa.s.sed along the line for the companies to ”fall in.” No bugle call was sounded, no coffee was made, no noise allowed. We were nearing the enemy, and every effort was made to surprise him. We had been told that El Caney was well fortified, and so we found it.

The first warning the people had of a foe being near was the roar of our field artillery and the bursting of a sh.e.l.l in their midst. The battle was on. In many cases an invading army serves notice of a bombardment, but in this case it was incompatible with military strategy. Non-combatants, women and children all suffered, for to have warned them so they might have escaped would also have given warning to the Spanish forces of our approach. The battle opened at dawn and lasted until dark. When our troops reached the point from which they were to make the attack, the Spanish lines of entrenched soldiers could not be seen.

[Ill.u.s.tration: CORPORAL BROWN. (Who was killed at a Hotchkiss gun while sh.e.l.ling the Spanish block-house to save the Rough Riders.)]

The only thing indicating their position was the block-house situated on the highest point of a very steep hill. The undergrowth was so dense that one could not see, on a line, more than fifty yards ahead.

The Spaniards, from their advantageous position in the block-house and trenches on the hill top, had located the American forces in the bushes and opened a fusillade upon them. The Americans replied with great vigor, being ordered to fire at the block-house and to the right and left of it, steadily advancing as they fired. All of the regiments engaged in the battle of El Caney had not reached their positions when the battle was precipitated by the artillery firing on the block-house. The 25th Infantry was among that number. In marching to its position some companies of the 2d Ma.s.sachusetts Volunteers were met retreating; they were completely whipped, and took occasion to warn us, saying: ”Boys, there is no use to go up there, you cannot see a thing; they are slaughtering our men!” Such news made us feel ”shaky,” not having, at the time, been initiated. We marched up, however, in order and were under fire for nine hours. Many barbed-wire obstructions were encountered, but the men never faltered. Finally, late in the afternoon, our brave Lieutenant Kinnison said to another officer: ”We cannot take the trenches without charging them.” Just as he was about to give the order for the bugler to sound ”the charge” he was wounded and carried to the rear. The men were then fighting like demons. Without a word of command, though led by that gallant and intrepid Second Lieutenant J.A. Moss, 25th Infantry, some one gave a yell and the 25th Infantry was off, alone, to the charge. The 4th U.S.

Infantry, fighting on the left, halted when those dusky heroes made the dash with a yell which would have done credit to a Comanche Indian. No one knows who started the charge; one thing is certain, at the time it was made excitement was running high; each man was a captain for himself and fighting accordingly. Brigadier Generals, Colonels, Lieutenant-Colonels, Majors, etc., were not needed at the time the 25th Infantry made the charge on El Caney, and those officers simply watched the battle from convenient points, as Lieutenants and enlisted men made the charge alone. It has been reported that the 12th U.S. Infantry made the charge, a.s.sisted by the 25th Infantry, but it is a recorded fact that the 25th Infantry fought the battle alone, the 12th Infantry coming up after the firing had nearly ceased. Private T.C. Butler, Company H, 25th Infantry, was the first man to enter the block-house at El Caney, and took possession of the Spanish flag for his regiment. An officer of the 12th Infantry came up while Butler was in the house and ordered him to give up the flag, which he was compelled to do, but not until he had torn a piece off the flag to substantiate his report to his Colonel of the injustice which had been done to him. Thus, by using the authority given him by his shoulder-straps, this officer took for his regiment that which had been won by the hearts' blood of some of the bravest, though black, soldiers of Shafter's army.

The charge of El Caney has been little spoken of, but it was quite as great a show of bravery as the famous taking of San Juan Hill.

A word more in regard to the charge. It was not the glorious run from the edge of some nearby thicket to the top of a small hill, as many may imagine. This particular charge was a tough, hard climb, over sharp, rising ground, which, were a man in perfect physical strength he would climb slowly. Part of the charge was made over soft, plowed ground, a part through a lot of p.r.i.c.kly pineapple plants and barbed-wire entanglements. It was slow, hard work, under a blazing July sun and a perfect hail-storm of bullets, which, thanks to the poor marksmans.h.i.+p of the Spaniards, ”went high.”

It has been generally admitted, by all fair-minded writers, that the colored soldiers saved the day both at El Caney and San Juan Hill.

Notwithstanding their heroic services, they were still to be subjected, in many cases, to more hards.h.i.+ps than their white brother in arms. When the flag of truce was, in the afternoon of July 3d, seen, each man breathed a sigh of relief, for the strain had been very great upon us. During the next eleven days men worked like ants, digging trenches, for they had learned a lesson of fighting in the open field. The work went on night and day. The 25th Infantry worked harder than any other regiment, for as soon as they would finish a trench they were ordered to move; in this manner they were kept moving and digging new trenches for eleven days. The trenches left were each time occupied by a white regiment.

On July 14th it was decided to make a demonstration in front of Santiago, to draw the fire of the enemy and locate his position. Two companies of colored soldiers (25th Infantry) were selected for this purpose, actually deployed as skirmishers and started in advance.

General Shafter, watching the movement from a distant hill, saw that such a movement meant to sacrifice those men, without any or much good resulting, therefore had them recalled. Had the movement been completed it is probable that not a man would have escaped death or serious wounds. When the news came that General Toral had decided to surrender, the 25th Infantry was a thousand yards or more nearer the city of Santiago than any regiment in the army, having entrenched themselves along the railroad leading into the city.

The following enlisted men of the 25th Infantry were commissioned for their bravery at El Caney: First Sergeant Andrew J. Smith, First Sergeant Macon Russell, First Sergeant Wyatt Huffman and Sergeant Wm. McBryar. Many more were recommended, but failed to receive commissions. It is a strange incident that all the above-named men are native North Carolinians, but First Sergeant Huffman, who is from Tennessee.

The Negro played a most important part in the Spanish-American war. He was the first to move from the west; first at Camp Thomas Chickamauga Park, Ga.; first in the jungle of Cuba; among the first killed in battle; first in the block-house at El Caney, and nearest to the enemy when he surrendered.

Frank W. Pullen, Jr.,

_Ex-Sergeant-Major 25th U.S. Infantry_.

Enfield, N.C., March 23, 1899.


They Comprise Several of the Crack Regiments in Our Army-The Indians Stand in Abject Terror of them-Their Awful Yells Won a Battle with the Redskins.

”It is not necessary to revert to the Civil war to prove that American Negroes are faithful, devoted wearers of uniforms,” says a Was.h.i.+ngton man, who has seen service in both the army and the navy. ”There are at the present time four regiments of Negro soldiers in the regular army of the United States-two outfits of cavalry and two of infantry. All four of these regiments have been under fire in important Indian campaigns, and there is yet to be recorded a single instance of a man in any of the four layouts showing the white feather, and the two cavalry regiments of Negroes have, on several occasions, found themselves in very serious situations. While the fact is well known out on the frontier, I don't remember ever having seen it mentioned back here that an American Indian has a deadly fear of an American Negro. The most utterly reckless, dare-devil savage of the copper hue stands literally in awe of a Negro, and the blacker the Negro the more the Indian quails. I can't understand why this should be, for the Indians decline to give their reasons for fearing the black men, but the fact remains that even a very bad Indian will give the mildest-mannered Negro imaginable all the room he wants, and to spare, as any old regular army soldier who has frontiered will tell you.

The Indians, I fancy, attribute uncanny and eerie qualities to the blacks.”