VERDE HERITAGE 1898: ROUGH RIDER LETTERS

Letter from Walter T. Gregory from "New York, August 26, 1898."

"After the formal surrender of Santiago, [Cuba,] which took place on the 17th of July, the Rough Riders were summoned from the trenches and ordered back into the hills to recuperate. The men had been 17 days in the rifle pits sleeping at night on the wet ground and often times without food. After moving into the hills nearly every man in the regiment was taken ill with malaria. It was a pitiful sight indeed, to see strong healthy men who stood day after day in front of the enemy's lines suffering all the hardships incident thereto, drag their emaciated bodies to the hospital tent for treatment."

"To add to the misery the rain fell in torrents every day and the sick and dying in the hospital could not drag themselves from their water soaked coverings. As day succeeded day the list of the sick increased with alarming rapidity until there were not in actual numbers over 20 men who were able to do duty. Had the Spaniards attacked us then the American army would have been an easy prey."

"The situation became so desperate that Col. Roosevelt and the brigade and division commanders sent in a 'round robin' to the Secretary of War, almost demanding that the army be returned to the states. Col. Roosevelt wrote to the War Department in very plain terms but nevertheless his arguments bore fruit and on the 6th of August the order came for the Rough Riders to pack up. There was nothing to pack --- and each man had only his blanket to encumber him, but it is a fact that the men were so weak that the blankets had to be carried to Santiago in carts, the men being only encumbered with their weapons."

"Not until we passed out of the harbor, passed the sunken Morrlinae and the Cristobol Colon under the frowning battlements of old Moro and beneath the guns of Socopa battery did the spirits of the men revive, for they were sure then that the vessel was homeward bound."

"The voyage was a splendid one and the weather could not have been more propitious but there was one time that each soldier will remember with mingled feelings of emotions and nausea, namely, the canned roast beef and tomatoes which constituted the bill of fare meal after meal --- excellent and nutritious food for sick men surely. I was acting quartermaster of the troop and I will never forget the looks of reproach bestowed on me by my comrades at meal times. They intuitively felt that I could have juggled with the roast beef and produced such luxuries as mince pie and chicken fricassee. They couldn't imagine that I starved myself to death in preference to eating the famous prize winner 'corned horse.'"

"On the third day out Sergeant Walsh of Troop A, hailing from Prescott, died of fever. He had been ailing for some days and yet he was marked in the hopeful report 'for duty.' He was buried at sea the next day."

"We arrived off Point Montauk, the northern extremity of Long Island, Sunday night, 7 days out from Santiago. We passed a very credible examination from the health officers and the Miami, our transport, discharged her cargo of sick soldiers Monday morning. Everything had been arranged for us and we took possession of our camp and remained in quarantine until the following Friday. During all this time the men were still being taken to the hospital. In order to facilitate the recuperation of the soldiers who were comparatively well, ten-day furloughs were granted to ten men from each troop."

"Will Pemberton, Jack Campbell, several others and myself were included in the first lot and we boarded the first train for the city. Took in the grand naval parade last Saturday and the men of Sampson's fleet were given a reception they will never forget."

"To be a Rough Rider means to own New York and everything in it. Since arriving here it has been impossible for me to walk the streets without having a small army of Newsboys and street [? people] follow in my wake. Young ladies even stop me on the street to ask for souvenirs or to shake hands --- none, however, to my regret, offered to kiss me. Pemberton and I had to seek shelter several times from the mob on the first day of our arrival."

"During our stay we have cultivated an unconscious stare and the rabble ceases to be so annoying."

"Walter T. Gregory."

P. S. --- I see by the morning papers that the Rough Riders will be mustered out of the service on September 25. Most welcome news indeed."

Letter from Wallace Willard from "Montauk Point, Long Island, August 20th, 1898."

"Miss Olga Willard, Cottonwood, Ariz."

"My Dear Little Sister --- Your very welcome letter received a couple of days ago, but I could not answer on account of not feeling good."

"I felt all right the last week in Cuba and on the boat over, but since we came here I have been feeling badly although am not sick. I am feeling much better now. We have been in quarantine ever since we arrived here but today it is up."

"Everybody is in good spirits now, for it looks as if we will be free in a few days and when I get out I'll soon be home."

"Most all the boys have folks in the east and will stop over for some time, but for my part I've had all the sight seeing I care for one whole year."

"We have a nice camp here. It is very cool compared with Cuba and after we get out and run around and get the fever out of our systems we'll feel much better and have better times."

"We were 6 days on the boat, and that was enough to kill any one the way we were packed and crowded in that boat."

"You bet we'll have a jolly old time when we get down to New York to be reviewed and mustered out."

"Will not write any more as I have a chance to send this letter."

"Your loving brother, Wallace."

(Jerome Mining News; September 3, 1898; page 3.)

The Spanish-American War began on April 21, 1898 and ended on August 13, 1898 (3 months, 3 weeks, 2 days). Ending with the Treaty of Paris, Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba, ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands to the United States of America for $20 million. (Wikipedia) Note: dates vary in other sources.

Other letters are contained in: ROUGH WRITINGS: Perspectives on Bucky O'Neill, Pauline M. O'Neill, and Roosevelt's Rough Riders; compiled by Janet Lovelady; Sharlot Hall Museum Press; 1998.

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