- Historic Sites
Under Fire In Cuba
A Volunteer’s Eyewitness Account of the War With Spain
December 1977 | Volume 29, Issue 1
Talk about being tired! We layed right down in the sun and went to sleep. In a minute we were awakend by the zipping of steal mauser balls. We went back a short distance and laid in the shade of some small bamboo trees. With my head very close to the roots and my body very close to the ground I was soon asleep again. Awake again—I saw a fellow who was standing on his knees about ten feet away, get hit in the neck: the bullet comming out of his mouth and carrying a piece of his tongue with it. While Captain Wilhelm dressed the wound the bullets sang a fiendish gleeful song around his head. While I was asleep a third time the regiment was ordered to a place of less danger and when I woke up our company had gone. Bullets were clipping twigs from the bushes above my head. The regiment was moving and I must find my company. To do this one had to rise into the atmosphere of bullets. I imagined that to get up there would be like jumping into ice cold water. The company was moving toward San Juan Hill. I hot footed a space and was soon up with them.
We rested on the side of the hill and eat canned beef and hardtack for supper. Details were sent for water: this was quite dangerous for a sharp-shooter would not hesitate to pick of one of a small body of men while he was generally cautious about fireing into a large number.
The fireing ceased as it grew dark and Sarg’t. Thomas called for volunteers to go for our packs. You see we had been marching all of the night before with only two small meals the day before and today. He soon had enough men and we started out in the moonlight. Only eight more miles on top of nineteen was all. We kept on the dark side of the road: our only danger being from sharp-shooters but that was enough. It had rained before supper and the streams were swollen; as we waded them the water reached our cartridge belts. It seemed a long ways back. Arriving there we cut open the rolls and each of us took as many blankets as we could carry. Another hours walk and we were back to the hill: wet through from wading the creeks and ready to lay down and sleep: which we did right away. We needed a good nights rest. Did we get it? Wait and see.
The enemy at this time were penned in near the city; our lines surrounding them. Their only hope was to break our lines and this they tried to do. The officers braced their men up on whiskey and standing behind the lines, urged them on.
After the exertion we had undergone, one prizes a good nights rest; whether his bed is a mudhole or his own little bed at home. And so we were sleeping soundly; unmindful of the preperations for an attack, going on in the Spanish lines. Orders had been to “sleep on our arms;” which consists in sleeping with belts on and guns at the side. It was at twelve that the noise of the rifles awakened us. We fell in line. At the command “company half left” we took our place in the battalion, then forward and the 34th was climbing the hill. So eager were we all to reach the top of the hill and yet knowing the value of a cool head at such times as these, that each and all of us called out in an undertone to every other man, steady boys, steady-steady. “Halt!” We are half way up the hill but our first battalion is on top.—The Spaniards are trying to break through the lines right above our heads. Our first battalion is there. While we as ill luck would have it, have to stay on the side of the hill until needed.
“Load-ready-aim-fire!!” It is our own fellows. How good it sounds.
“Load—ready—aim—fire!!” Again they blaze away at them. It sounds like light artillery, so close together do they shoot.
“Load, ready, aim, fire!!” There is cheering all along the line. They have turned and fled. The fireing stops. We stayed where we were for half an hour, maybe, and then went back down the hill. When we got to the bottom, there was a general rush for blankets and a good many changed hands. And now we sleep once more.
This morning for breakfast we had the same old thing hardtack and beef. After the meal we were moved up on the side of the hill and made to keep in line; ready to move up the hill at a minutes notice. Our time was spent here in marking our equipments and ourselves. It would show our identity if shot and would keep your company men from stealing your truck.
When one man in a company looses something—a canteen or belt, for instance—each man in the company is destined to loose his; but of course he finds one and at about this time some other fellow looses one. Water is sent for about three times a day and while this marking is going on some of the boys are after it. One of the fellows is laying on a comrades lap while a large rent in his trousers are being remmedied. The consideration asked for this work is that if the mender is killed the menace will notify his parents.