Letters from the Spanish American War

San Francisco, Camp Merritt, June 2l, l898.

Editor Reporter: We left Creston about l2:30 p.m. after loading our hard tack. We took our dinner with us. The first hard tack was ate at Lincoln, Neb. for supper. We were promised breakfast at Denver, Colo., at 7:30 a.m. June l2. When we got there the Ladies Aid and Emergency Society had a good breakfast for us in the depot sheds; when we had ate we marched out in the train yards, the ladies came out and gave us books, papers, postal cards, postage stamps, flowers, badges and everything imagionable. We arrived in Denver at 8:20 a.m., 50 minutes late and departed at l0:l5 a.m. I must say for the Y.P.S.C.E. that they did everything for us they could, they got aboard our train at Denver (The D. & R.G.) and sang for us, in fact we had a real good meeting. One lady, Miss G.E. Finch said she would send me a Bible. I promised to read some each evening. It was the same thing at Colorado Springs, only we did not stay so long. At Pueblo the first thing we saw was the coal palace building, a fine building at the depot. We lined up and marched to the Y.P.S.C.E. building and got a nice box of lunch. We was supposed to get one apiece but some got three and four boxes, nearly every one that went up had a friend on guard. One lady remarked that there must be more on guard than came up for a lunch. It is funny what the boys get at the stations from the girls. They get hat pins, hair pins, pieces of ribbon sashes, locks of hair, flowers, some give us pennies to buy chewing gum. At each station we get addresses of girls to write to when we get to San Francisco, Honolulu and the Islands.

If the boys were to employ a type writer it would take him thirty days to answer all of them.

The next place we stopped was Canon City, Colo. The boys in stripes seemed to be loyal, they had their cells decorated.

We got supper at a small place below Leadville (did not learn the name) the women did not know we was going to miss Leadville until about two hours before the train was due. They then loaded up their things and drove four miles and had everything ready for us. We lived fine in Colorado. When we were going over the divide some of the boys got sick, the air being so light.

The next morning June l8 we woke up in Utah. We could see nothing but rocks, sage bushes and sand. We passed one smelter at work. Nothing to break the monotony but going through tunnels. I think we went through three. We arrived in Salt Lake City at l:30 p.m. we only got ice cream, sandwiches and oranges. The next place we stopped was in Ogden, we arrived at 3:30 p.m. They marched us out for exercise, the people would not give us a pleasant look.

Lieutenant Gaines gave strict orders to allow no drinking, but while in Ogden we got strangers to rush the can. Of course we always get coffee. We traveled along the west side of the great American desert. It looks white with just a little vegetation scattered over it. We crossed the Nevada line about 7:30 p.m. June l8. There are no towns along the railroad. When we woke the next morning we were in a worse desert than while in Utah. Nothing to be seen but alkili. No more vegetation than in Main Street. The first town in Nevada we went through was Wadsworth, here we left the alkili country. People who have never been through it cannot imagine what a relief it was to get through it. The cars looked as though they had been given a coat of white paint. At Wadsworth Indians and Chinamen are plentiful. The squaws had their papooses strapped to their backs.

The next stop was at Reno, Nev., a fine town. We crossed into California about l2:50 p.m. We were in the pine country about 3 p.m., it was the finest scenery we have seen. We followed the Truckee River all morning, a small mountain stream clear as a crystal. At Truckee we got some California cherries which were the finest we ever saw, they were about four times as large as our cherries at home and of a dark red color. When we left Truckee, California, we passed through about forty-five miles of snow sheds and tunnels. This afternoon the news agent got smart and the boys held him up and relieved him of about a dollar's worth of gum.

We went along sides of mountains where it was fully 3,000 feet to the bottom and some places it is almost perpendicular.

The first town in California to treat us was Colfax, they gave us apricots and cherries. We reached Sacramento about 7:30 p.m., the Red Cross Society gave us our supper. We reached Sacramento River about l0:30 and were ferried across on the Solona, a ferry boat said to be the largest in the world. The sacramento River is a little over a mile wide. We stayed overnight in Oakland, was ferried across the bay on the Piedmont. The Red Cross Society gave us our breakfast, the first we have gotten. The 5lst regiment band was down to meet us; it is the finest band in Camp Merritt. The boys missed considerable by not coming to join it. We then marched out to camp about five miles. We stopped at Jefferson square, a fine, large park. The first one of the boys we met was Vick Bedier. We got our dinner at the hotel and came back to camp to see where we were going to be signed. The boys give us full instructions how to hold up pie wagons, in picket line and all the necessaries to live good and get off duty. The boys are all in good spirits and anxious to sail for Manilla.

The Astor battery unloaded as we did this morning, they are a fine looking lot of men. There is one hundred and two in the company, they carry six Hotchkiss guns and are armed with six-shooters.

I didn't learn how many mules they carried. It is for mountain work, they carry the guns on mules through the mountains, each mule carries 250 pounds. They were the first of about l5,000 soldiers that have come through here to snub the Red Cross Society. The papers roasted them in good style. The boys in camp have all got it in for them. They seem to be stuck up and that don't go here.

The 5lst is the only regiment. We get to go where we please until ll:30 p.m. In some of the regiments the boys have to run the picket line both day and night. It is death for pie wagons to come around camp.

Camp Merritt is located on the west side hill and bottom, the sand is only about four inches deep all through it. The ocean is about two miles to the west, Catholic hill to the south and some mansions of the city on the east, and it is scattered over about forty acres of land, each regiment to itself and the companies lined up in streets. Only four or five of our boys got in Co. I., but we got in as good a company, Co. K. Our captain's name is Pierce. We was out for drill yesterday and some lady came up to the saloon and paid for one hundred drinks, Co. K. and Co. I. went in and got a drink of steamed beer, the most rotten beer ever made. Pennies is something never seen here. Go to postoffices and buy two two cent stamps and they give you a one cent stamp for change.

The Chutes is the place of amusement for the soldiers. A free show each night for the soldiers. The Zoological garden is a fine place. The Golden Gate Park is the largest in the U.S. and about as fine. The boys say there are bison in it. I never got to see them. Camp Presidio is where the regular soldiers are camped. On the bay is the finest place to bathe, a crowd go over every night to bathe. Well I will close for this time. The boys that showed the white feather missed the trip of their life.

Yours Truly,
San Francisco, Cal., July, l898.

Editor Leon Reporter: When next Monday rolls around we will have been here two weeks, which seem only about that many days. Notwithstanding the fears of change of climate with the ocean fogs, cold and hot days, for instance yesterday in the morning it was uncomfortably hot and last night a person could wear an overcoat. The fog rose last night and fog whistles blew nearly all night.

Most of the boys are well and able to answer every call for duty except one man whose wife died about a month ago and one of the home boys in Co. I, who has pneumonia fever and is dangerously ill, his temperature being as high as l03. Some of course are sick to get off of duty. They have all been vaccinated; those who have not been vaccinated within three or four years get it twice. Anyone who has a scar on his arm was vaccinated within the last year or two. If anyone should wake up in the night they could hear all over the camp exclamations like this: "For God sake lay over you are on my sore arm!" "Oh my arm!" "Get off my sore arm!"

We just received our new guns today and all are trying to have the cleanest gun when inspection comes which is at 5 p.m. They are the 73 model Springfield single-shot gun.

We have a Y.M.C.A. tent in our regiment for the benefit of the soldiers. They have magazines, books and all kinds of Christian papers, writing tablets and stationary which the boys can use any time in the day.

During the drills very few fall out, and they are men who cannot abstain from pie, ice cream, beer and other intoxicants, all of which are cautioned against almost daily. We have water furnished by the city and comes from the county east of us, from about Oakland. There being no freezing, the pipes are laid near the surface and the water is warm and not wholesome by any means.

Our camp is scattered over a sandy desert about five miles from Mainport town to which we have easy access by means of car lines, but the boys prefer to walk, at least, until pay day, which is always tomorrow. The great difference in the character of northern and sub-tropical vegetation is very striking and forms one of the chief attractions for the new comer who never tires of rambling through the suburbs and parks. The hospitable citizens never tire in their endeavors to make the boy in blue feel perfectly at home. The whole regiment marched up to the presidio drill grounds (Government fort) Thursday to check up the pay roll, and there was where we met our first grief, Gen. Otis being in command since Gen. Merritt departed. He issued orders to allow only five men out in the forenoon and five men out in the afternoon and to issue passes at night to men on their meritous conduct during the day which is like stepping into a refrigerator on a hot day. Before we went to town when we pleased so we were in at ll:30. But Col. Loper is trying to get it modified so we can go at night. There is a rumor afloat in camp that Gen. Shafter has met with severe reverses; there is nothing of that kind printed in the papers. I guess they are afraid some of the soldiers will show the yellow streak. The regiments went out to drill yesterday with four other regiments to see which would go to Manila on the next expedition. The 5lst put up such a rotten drill that we don't stand much show. We are going to try it again next Friday to see whether we go on the fifth expedition or not. I saw a letter from Manila to a boy in Co. I. which said it was healthful but most uncomfortably hot.

The fog whistles have been blowing all night. This morning the ground looks as though there had been a small rain.

We had a man in our Co. who got homesick the next day after we arrived. He got lame and couldn't stand the drills, but when he learned he would be court marshaled he got well surprisingly quick.

We were all very thankful for the things we received from home.

There is some talk of us taking part in the celebration on the Fourth, which will be a tiresome day, marching all day with our field outfit, but we will get a good dinner and that is considerable.

"Don't ask us how we like it,
Or if we'd like to quit;
If the boys are getting chummy,
If the stuff we eat is fit
For a cat or a dog to live on,
Much less men who have a home.
Don't ask us any questions,
Leave us to our grief alone.

Don't ask us how we're living,
Of the soft beds we have -- nit.
Of the girls we've left behind us
With whom evenings spent have flit,
Don't tell us how you're living,
How at will you are free to roam.
Don't tell us we were foolish,
Leave us to our grief alone."

As the bugle is sounding for mess (dinner) I will have to close, so farewell.

Co. K. 5lst Ia. Inf.'t. Vol.

Source: Leon Reporter, Leon, Iowa. Copied by Nancee(McMurtrey)Seifert
Our jolly young friend STEPHEN A. RADNICH of Troop M., 6th U.S. Cavalry, who has been stationed in Pekin, China, ever since the American lads so gallantly opened the gates of Pekin to let in the international relief column, has sent us a number of copies of the "China Times" of recent date. The times is a 4 column folio, "printed daily except Sunday and Holidays", in English and Chinese. Prices 5 cents per copy of $l.l5 per month. Advertizing rates 25 cents per line per day, and the way those people advertise in that little sheet, hardly as big as a pocket handkerchief, would make the moss curl on some Davis City backs we could mention. And the printing!!!! If the Advance should look like that for one issue, this editor would have to climb a tree. But it shows the true American pluck, and doubtless yields more results to the publishers in one day than all the papers in Decatur County bring their owners in a week. There are advertisements -- two solid pages and then some, in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Chinese, and 3 little columns of reading matter. It ought to pay and we will wager that it does. We are greatly obliged to our young soldier friend, and will see that he is supplied with the Davis City news, if the Advance can catch him. We have a soft spot under our vest for Uncle Sam's gallant Troopers, ever since we served under the gallant McKenzie in the old 4th, on the frontiers of Texas in the early seventies. We wish him good fortune and promotion, and if he should feel like writing to his Davis City friends "by the bunch" we shall be glad to publish it for the benefit of all.

Source: The Davis City Advance, Davis City, Iowa. Thursday, May 9, l90l Copied by Nancee(McMurtrey)Seifert, November 8, 2003
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