Under Fire In Cuba

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Immediately after supper orders were received to march inland. Some of us were sent to the landing for cartridges while others were left behind to keep the Cuban beggars from stealing our truck. The young boys and women would pick up the fruit cans we threw away and carry them home when they would melt the covers off and use them for cups. Crowds of these people, half clothed and nearly starved, had gathered here from the surrounding country for refuge.

The boys were back with the ammunition now. We were allowed fifty rounds apiece, which we proceeded to place in our belts. At eight o’clock it was “right forward fours right” and we were marching to battle while the band played “Michigan my Michigan.” Some of the company (on account of disability to march) were left with the band to gaurd supplies.

 

TO THE FRONT

Before starting on this march let us review what training we have had so that we may better realize our condition for undertaking it. There was our march to the Patomac, with little or no drill before it. Three days after this we started on our journey south. Some of us had been sea-sick and we all had had boards to sleep on with very little to eat. We had had very little sleep the night before besides a light breakfast and no dinner today. But what told on us more than any of these things was the intense heat. This was our condition the first night in Cuba and we were about to undertake an eighteen mile march over hills and through mud frequently up to our knees.

Immediately striking into the woods we were greeted with our first whiff of the malaria atmosphere. The ground here never freezes consequently everything falling to the ground rots and gives off an odor resembling that of a pig-sty. Marching in column of fours we measured about a quarter of a mile in length: there being two hundred and fifty two rows with four or five feet between each. In passing a wagon or mud-puddle the column was forced to hault until the first four singled out and passed it; then forward four feet and stop while the next row of fours passed and as we were about the third company from the end, we had to march four feet and stop at least two-hundred times before getting to the wagon. After we got by the wagon we would have to run about a quarter of a mile to make up the distance we had lost by singleing out.

Before we started some of the fellows gave to the Cubans everything that they could possibly get along without and the rest kept the whole outfit. After passing the first wagon and the distance lost by doing so was made up, you could hear those whose burdens were not lightened, swearing in undertones (orders being not to talk out loud) and the next time this jerky form of march was commenced they recklessly threw their packs away and some went so far as to throw their nice blue coats with brass buttons. Consequently the side of the road was strewn with U.S. woolen blankets, coats, tent-poles and halves of pup-tents.

At about this time we opened ranks to let a wounded man pass on his way to Siboney. The poor fellow was one of the first to get hit and had been tramping since early morning. He was greeted with such sayings as “keep it up old man,” “brave boy,” etc. After passing a lot of these fellows it was not so hard to obey the orders about keeping still.

Passing into a deep ravine whose banks were covered with trees and the dense under-brush we learned to know so well-one of the boys had just said how easy it might be for a body of Spaniards stationed on the banks over our head to stop us-when; crack! crack! crack! crack! crack! went one or more (?) rifles. For a second all was deathly still. Every one held their breath. Then there was a noise that beggars description: like the stampede of a thousand horses, the trample, the roar of many feet on frozen ground. We could not see but, realized that those ahead were running back. There was a sneaky cry of “to the rear” and we had barely time to push our way as far as possible up into the underbrush; there to turn and sell our lives as dearly as possible, when the Spaniards behind that tumbling, rolling, seething mass proved to be imaginary. As soon as we had lost our places we had found them again and were marching on; very much disgusted with the way the 9th had acted. Now for three or four hours the fellows who belonged ahead of us and who were most active in the retreat, passed us on the way to their places in the column. We were never able to find out who fired those shots. Soon after this we halted for a short rest.

Laying on our packs while we smoked we wondered who among us might tramp the distance to the scene of battle only to retrace his steps, to-morrow, in search of proper care for his wound or whose fate would it be to lie in that tall wet grass dead unconscious of the battle waged around him; or worse still to lie wounded mindful of the din, the roar of the fight and the suffering borne by himself and comrades. Even with this dreary stuff to think of, we enjoyed our pipes and the rest. Just as we were falling asleep the bugle sounded “forward.” It had been just ten minutes since the halt was made.