- Historic Sites
Under Fire In Cuba
A Volunteer’s Eyewitness Account of the War With Spain
December 1977 | Volume 29, Issue 1
This morning every one takes a good long time to slice of his piece of “sowbelly”: there is no lean in it at all, just pure grease. This was a sickly diet for a country where the mercury rises from one-hundred and thirty to thirty five in the shade; but let me say that when men have been almost fasting for two weeks, they could eat tallow and relish it. We pick our way carefully down the hill; where, after finding some wood we have a small fire blazing and our “sow-belly” soon sizzles in the frying-pans; while, we on the windward side—to keep clear of the smoke—drop in a hard tack. Frying it untill brown on one side it is turned while the other side has a chance. Five or six hardtack are fried in this manner and by the time our last hardtack is brown, the coffee which was ground with a bayonet and placed on the fire first, is done and picking up our belongings we climb the hill. Before leaving the fire and thereby loosing our right of possession, a friend is called who has been waiting such a chance and it is given him.
Looking back and thinking of a number of delicious meals I have eaten there comes to my mind pictures of nice rooms, clean plates, shining silverware and long bills of fare with high sounding names on them and fine tasting stuff to correspond with the names; but praise Heaven for the “eternal fitness of things” for though my plate is dirty, I sit on the ground eating with a rusty knife and fork, coffee with sugar in it and hardtack fried in sowbelly grease, I enjoy this better than any meal I have eaten before.
After breakfast and roll is called, men from each company are detailed to dig a trench in the hill, large enough for the whole regiment to lie in during the next fight. There was also a detail appointed from our company to build steps up the hill. It was so awful hot that after working ten minutes in the sun you must lie down ten to be able to work again.
Tonight the regimental intrenchment at the top of the hill is done by night and this with the company shelves one above another like large steps, make the hill look as if it might be the residence of cliff-dwellers. We are to use the larger one for a gaurd house untill such time as we need it for protection.
This morning our company lined up and with a wagon of pix and shovels we start out to bury the dead. Of course the majority were already covered and peices of cracker boxes used for head boards identified them: there were some however, who had been missed and others who were not wholly covered. Dead horses and mules lay exposed to the air and it was our duty to see that every-thing, man or beast, was properly covered up.
By the time the first creek was reached, it was raining. Getting out ponchos, we waited for the wagon. Some of us washed in the stream and now the wagon appears. Throwing rolls and guns in the wagon we were soon at work. The first that we found was only half buried, his head, hands and feet being exposed. Vermine were eating his flesh. Covering him quickly we went on. The next creek had been bridged with large bamboo poles. It was surprising to see how strong it was. Loaded supply wagons could cross safely. Farther down the road we came upon the 2nd battalion encamped on the left hand side. They had built the bridge and were now working on the roads. We did not envy their job.
Nearing the division hospital we came to a mangoe-tree filling our shirts with the fruit we passed on-happy because we were eating. Now a man came along selling newspapers for a dime. Nearly all invested and arriving at the hospital, we devoured news two weeks old while resting. Here the captain bought tobacco which was divided among us. This was as far as we had to go. Sixteen had been buried besides a few dead horses and mules. On the way home the wagon is tipped over throwing out guns, rolls, pix and shovels besides the captain and a few others. Arriving at the hill-rations had arrived and for supper we have coffee, “sowbelly” hardtack besides a can of tomatoes to be divided among six.
Tonight it is cool and sitting around on blankets and think of our extra fine supper. Leiut comes up and says a dead Spaniard lies not far away and he call for volunteers to bury him. By his odor we soon locate him and find we have a jackass to bury.
Every one every time he has a chance leaves camp and goes to one of the creeks to bath or explores the surrounding country. This afternoon three of us cross the f eild over which the charge of July 1st was made. Going slow on account of tall grass, we pass carefully around graves of the fallen heroes and are soon at the creek. How good the bath feels! It is the first time we have washed in a week after perspiring gallons each day. Washing our clothes we put the[m] right on for their is no danger of colds here.