- Historic Sites
Under Fire In Cuba
A Volunteer’s Eyewitness Account of the War With Spain
December 1977 | Volume 29, Issue 1
On the feild belows us were a squad of negroes hunting sharp-shooters. They seemed to enjoy it as much as we would to hunt partridges. One of them pointed to a large tree bordering on the road we had marched under the day before. After looking a short time we could distinguish three Spaniards trying to hide in the foliage of its topmost branches. Some of the boys aimed at them but they were orderd not to fire. The fireing was not so heavy now but that we could distinguish three seperate vollies from the guns of the negroes and after each volley a sharp-shooter dropped.
It is so hot now we can hardly breathe. By fixing bayonets and sticking our guns in the ground and then fastening the corner of a “poncho” in the gunlock we afford ourselves some protection from the sun. Here we lay and smoke; wishing that rations would come. By general appearances every one seems happy. The canned beef is gone so we only have hardtack for dinner. I must go on a water detail now.
While we were gone a negroe described to us the charge on San Juan Hill.
Our army was lying along the banks of San Juan Creek, which is the last one we waded in getting here. Along its banks dense underbrush grows. With only this brush for protection our fellows were dodgeing the bullets from the lines on the hill and the sharpshooters back of them. The bullets came to thick and fast for our fellows to dodge them all; so the hospital corps were busy careing for the wounded and laying the dead to one side. They had been here an hour waiting for orders, when the officers seeing how foolish it was to allow their men to be killed off without even making a show of fight, stepped back: telling the men to do as the[y] pleased. The negroes then dashed out of the woods, crossed the feild of tall grass as quick as possible and were at the bottom of the hill, where they formed a skirmish line and with an unearthly yell, charged up it. The Spaniards held their position while our boys crossed the feild; but when that yell was heard and they saw the boys begin to climb, they turned and ran. At the same time that San Juan was taken the Rough Riders took the hill to the right.
It rained before supper and a few of us constructed a shelter tent with our ponchos and guns; using the guns for poles, a blanket on top and three for the sides. This made the tent flat on top and it was from the water filling the slack in our top blanket that we learnt to catch to use. From this little house we watched the fellows get soaked while we were as dry as we cared to be. It stopped raining just before dark and we were called from the hut for roll-call.
The sides of old San Juan are clay and after a rain, as you cant slide up hill, it is a pretty hard hill to climb. Halfway up the side our fellows were trying to line up. Those who were lucky enough to be near bushes hung to them: these fellows acted as posts while the others clinging together anchored at the posts at different points along the line and thus our position was secure while the sargeant called roll.
We eat our breakfast of hardtack and then talk of the fun we could have at home and the fun that the people their are probably having. There is no fireing this morning and we learn we are under a flag of truce. How long it will last none of us know. Here shade is at a premium and this morning three of us climbed to a tree, near the top of the hill, where we lay and talked and by bracing our feet against the trunk we keep from sliding down. We see our company going to a wagon and getting spades, picks and shovels; this means work if we are recognized: so we stop talking and lay with our hats covering our faces and try to sleep. They begin digging a shelf in the side of the hill. We watch them from under broad rimmed hats until a flat space one hundred by seven or eight feet, is dug. Several times Sargeant has glanced up at us as though wondering who we were. Now he calls us and we don’t answer but when the captains voice is heard we go down and find the companies bed is nearly made. After cutting grass with which to soften the stones, we all sit on the edge of the shelf in shelter of the tree used by the 71st N. Y. as a hospital.…
As the twenty of us who went for the rolls, could not bring them all, a detail is sent after the remainder. The rest of us mark out places on the shelf where we intend to sleep. Throwing away the large stones that we do not care to sleep on: they roll down the hill and strike some member of Company A in the calf and small of their back. This gives rise to some hard talk but it soon stops.
When the fellows come back with the rolls we each take a poncho or pup tent and tying the sides of them all together, we raise them by means of poles driven in the ground and have a roof over our shelf. Our beds are made of grass over which a half pup tent is thrown. Rations come now and with yelling and shouting we run down to meet them. To-night for supper we have hard-tack fried in “sowbelly” grease and coffee with sugar in it. It has rained but little this afternoon and on account of the slippery condition of the hill we are told we must build steps up it tomorrow.