The Spanish American War correspondence of Eugene Gilmore can be found in the Papers of the Robertson and Worcester families, 1815-1932 (1931-001) at the Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa.
First some preliminary information.
Maurice “Eugene” Gilmore was a student at Henry Kendall College, Muskogee, Indian Territory. In May 1899, he and fellow students Milo Hendrix and Thomas Meagher joined the 1st Volunteer Cavalry.
Alice Robertson was a teacher who had established the girl’s Mission school in Muskogee that eventually became Henry Kendall College. In 1907, Kendall moved to Tulsa and in 1922 that became The University of Tulsa.
Captain Allyn Capron was a Regular Army officer, raised troops L and M of the Volunteer Cavalry. He became the first US officer killed in battle in the Spanish American War.
Alice Crosby was a mathematics teacher at Henry Kendall College.
Sam is likely Sam Matthews, another student at HKC.
All spelling errors are in the original letters.
L Troop U. S. V. C.
San Antonio Tex.
May 24, 1898
Miss A. M. Robertson
Muscogee, I. T.
Dear Miss Robertson
I was very sorry to let Milo beat me writing to you but I have been so busy since I came that I have had no spare time to even go down town. I have had charge of several guard details and camp work besides 3 drills each day and sometimes Mounted drill. I hope you understand that I am not unthankful for all your kindness to me, for I can never forget how you worked to make the last few hours of our stay in Muscogee happy and comfortable and how well you succeeded. Tell Mr. George that Milo and myself are rustlers for self and always get plenty if it is to be had. Milo has been sick several days and that is why he has more time to write; but I think he is alright now and will be up in a day or so. That most delicious lunch which yourself and Mr. George fixed for us has not been gone long we saved those cans for some time and they were fine. We have plenty of regular soldiers fare which is very good if only it was well cooked but the privates are detailed to cook by squads and they don’t know much about it. I am standing the drill as well or better than many of the boys who have just come off the ranches and am getting fat. We had mounted drill again this morning and I am awfully proud of L troop and Capt. Capron. The whole troop and officers received the commendation of the commanding officers for their good work in the field. The whole troop learns fast and they executed some very difficult maneouvers much quicker than any of the troop and some of them have been here a month. We have received almost all of our equipments and are ready to at a moments notice. Indeed it was rumored through the camp last evening that an order had arrived for the 1st squadron consisting of troop A, B, C and D to move perhaps to the Phillipine Islands but I hardly credit the rumor. There was also a rumor that all of the Rough Riders under 22 were to be sent either to Ft Gibson or Ft Smith but I think that was also a mistake and I dont think I would have to go any way. If they should do so half or over of the regiment would have to go and they would have to open a new recruiting office. We had a delightful trip down and if there was even a heaven blessed country it must be Texas. The beautiful flowers almost of tropical hues, the cactus and trees covered with long beautiful grey moss, the grain ripe and in shock in many places, the pretty little cities scattered here and there make it indeed a very beautiful sight. San Antonio is not so very Mexican after all and there are many fine buildings in it. We marched through it the other day although it is almost impossible to get a pass to town because of the expected order to move. We march mounted many miles away from camp every morning and we get to see many of the beautiful moss an cactus-covered missions most of which are in ruins. They are beautiful old buildings of ancient styles of architecture built with very thick walls. We also visited the Alamo San Pedro Park and Ft. Sam Houston where there can be fifty thousand soldiers quartered. The boys are all very proud of our fine handsome young captain and would not trade him for even Wood or Roosevelt and he knows more about Military tactics than any other man in the regiment. I think he will make a Troop out of our boy that the Indian Territory will be proud of if he is not promoted before he has them in training. He was offered the Adjunctancy of the regiment but refused it saying that he would rather be with his men. Well I suppose this will be enough to make all of tired of us so I will close for this time I will tell you about our equipments, camp life discipline etc in another letter. You dont know how it pleases us to receive those nice long letters of yours so often. How kind it is of you to take your valuable time to make us truants happy for a time to recieve letters and to know that some one remembers us and that you are all praying for us. I doubt now sometimes that we will be back in time for school next fall though I hope we will. Tell all the folks to write to us we are going to try to write to every one but we have so little time that I am afraid we will never get around. Tell every one “Hello” for me and I am going to send a list of names to Miss Crosby and some more money to get pictures with so please tell the girls not to be mad for I have not forgotten them. Regards to every one. I am
Your Friend Pupil
Miss Robertson I hope you will overlook mistakes, dirt, and penmanship as I am – desk, water and time.
In Front of Santiago
July, 6th, 1898
Miss Alice M. Robertson
Muscogee I T.
Dear Miss R:
We are encamped in front of the defenses of Santiago which must soon be stormed if they do not surrender. We have had two battles as you no doubt have heard before now and have suffered severely. The 1st U. S. V. C. has lost 89 men in the last engagement one of which was my own dear Milo. In the first fight Tom Meagher was wounded so I am now alone so far as Muscogee boys are concerned We charged defenses at the battle of San Juan in the face of a raking fire from the enemy and were poorly supported by a small amount of field artillery of small calibre and with old style black powder, thanks to our penurious legislators, and this has lost for us many precious lives. Of course our Gov’t has come to the front with great resources but on account of the tardiness many a heart has been made sad. We may not have a fight here but even if we do and then have to go on to Havana I think I will be with you again next fall. I write a letter or rather a note to Sam along with yours and will ask you to please hand it to him. I also send a more lengthy letter to my sister and have asked her to let you and Sam read it as there might be some news in it for you although I suppose the papers a fairly bubbling over with news and the wires are hot with messages We are all writing letters now that those little mausers are giving us a rest. There has been a great mistake made in calculating the fighting propensities of the Spanish and the aim of their gunners. With love to you Susanne and everyone
In camp near
Santiago De Cuba
July, 26, 1898.
Mr. R. M. Gilmore
Muscogee I. T.
I received your letter some days ago while we were yet in the rifle pits but could not answer it then nor since because I have not been able to get writing material.
I would have written to you soon after the first fight if I had been able to get paper. We landed in Cuba on the 22nd of June at Baiquiri and was indeed surprised at the Cubans and Cuba.
I will relate the process of our operations and then try to give you an idea of the country and the inhabitants. On the 23rd of June we made our first march to Siboney 9 miles began at 4 oclock and went to bed in Siboney at 9 oclock. It was a hard march and we were very tired. there was a valley between two ranges of mountains paralell to the coast extending from the bay of Santiago to the coast at Siboney. The next morning morning Gen Young with one Squadron of the 1st and one Squadron of the 10th supported by a light battery of Hotchkiss cannon belonging to the 10th marched up the alley toward Santiago knowing that there was a force of Spaniards near. At the same time our regiment of squadrons 560 strong marched after a hasty meal up the rang of Mountains nearest the sea coast. L Troop was at the head of the column and we were marching in a column of skirmishers up a narrow trail. L Troop had out an advance guard but the Colonel failed to throw out flankers until the worst of the fight was over when we were flanked by G on the right and T on the left. Capron was in the advance guard and when they passed a dead Spaniard in the road he remarked to the boys that they would soon have hell now. In a few minutes the boys in valley began driving the enemy up the valley firing in volleys and using the Hotchkiss. We could now hear the bullets begin to sing. Our advance guard now discovered the enemy in front of us lying in a sunken road almost as good as a rifle pit and the advance guard says that they had a rapid fire gun. The advance ought to have waited until reinforcements came up or retreated to the main body. However Tom Isbell saw a Spaniard and Sgt Byrne told him to shoot him and he did so and then the fun began We hurried forward and all of us lay down in the road which was washed out and afforded us some protection else we would all have been killed.
We now discovered that there was a strong force on our right lying in the under-brushes and we poured a heavy fire both in front and to right and left. Now remember we were not in a skirmish line yet but a marching column of skirmishers lying in the road and so were all protected and when we made a right face we were in a line of battle looking toward the valley and facing the force in ambush. there was a perfect hail of missles and there was not any bushes large as your thumb which were not shot all to pieces Many times you could see a large limb shot several times in the same place and off or just hanging by small shreds. You would be amazed to see the modern guns work and see how much ammunition one man can use and how much noise one troop can make. There was a thick underbrush and I could not see the Spanish devils and so did not fire more than 40 rounds from the road but one of our boys shot 261 rounds. Our guns got so hot they would blister our hands. Now in the heat of the fight T and G troops were thrown out to flank us and and we soon had the enemy flying and in the meantime the enemy who were driven up across our front poured a cross fire into us. However we were now thrown out into a skirmish line and soon the whole regiment was marching bearing to the right and in the course of a mile we fell in with the forces of Gen Young and satisfied that the Spanish had retreated to Caney we pitched camp and soon were reinforced by thousands of infantry (You know those engaged were cavalry dismounted) The Spanish use both Mausers and a .50 cal. Remington with a copper jacket which bursts. I was back several times after the battle and it was a wonder to see how any of them escaped. Many of the boys had their guns shot one Wylie Skelton had his left arm just grazed three times. I have seen the papers and they give pretty good accounts. The next day I went back to carry the body of Capt Capron and wrote to Minnie from there.
I don’t know why my letters have not been received but it seems they haven’t. I have written lots of them. After a few days rest we marched one night to a small place near Santiago on a hill and early next morning our artillery opened while we were standing in line ready to move. For some time we wondered that the Spanish did not reply but soon a shell from a gun using smokeless powder came right over the crest of the hill and exploded about ten steps from the end of our line. It was right funny to see the boys run and scoot along the ground hunting shelter and it was a sight to see some Cubans fall off a house from which they were watching the bombardment. It was the first time either our boys or the Cubans had heard a shell but they soon got used to them. We now got shelter and lay in a road until near the middle of the day with some little loss from shells. After awhile however we were ordered to charge across an open field filled with tall grass like millet and up a hill to a block house surrounded with trenches. The Spanish poured a heavy fire until we got close to them and then they couldnt stand it and run like the devil to the second line of pits. We were now losing lots of men and when we reached the top of the hill we were in the open and the Spanish were across the valley in strong trenches reinforced by those from the line, We had already taken. They also knew the range which was about 800 yds and had a battery of Hotchkiss throwing shrapnel into us. We lost piles of men now and were firing at the Spanish in trenches I crawled through a fence and took a tree when there was but one now up there. It was evident that they were fixed for just such places for we had been firing but a few seconds when the rest of the troop having come up, the boys began to fall all along the line. Milo Hendrix had been keeping near me all during the fight and was killed by a shrapnel which burst just to my left although I didn’t know it until some half an hour later. He was not buried until 2 days later when it was impossible to touch him. He was merely covered up and when I went on the 6th to fix his grave and mark it one of his hands was uncovered and it was a horrible sight. The hill was covered with graves. One of the boys was shot three times while firing over my shoulder and I don’t see how I was missed. He almost fell on me. There were about 8 or 10 men shot within 25 ft of me. We soon had the Spanish running from the trenches, however, and passed the 2nd line and started for the 3rd line. I was now separated from my troop and was fighting with the 10th Cavalry who are negroes. Right here I want to express my admiration of those boys. They fought right along with the “Rough Riders” in both fights and the 9th also who are darkies. I will always have a better opinion of them and more respect. They are fine fighters and afraid of nothing. We now pressed on to the brow of the hill and I thought we were going on into the town as we afterward learned we could have done. However as there were but a few of us and not many of the 10th we lay down and waited for the rest of our boys. We finally got an order to hold the hill and retreated a little to get cover as we were under a hot fire and were losing men. We fell back about 50 yds and found Roosevelt and the “Rough Riders” lying under cover. We lay here until night and had but few causalties. I went after water several times under fire and came out all right. All that night we dug trenches so that we would be on equal footing with the Spanish and all next day we lay with but little water and food in the rifle pits under fire. It was very exhausting but we held out and the next day at noon the flag of truce went up. We now had rest until the 10th with the exception of guard duty when the ball opened again and continued until the next day when a truce was a truce was again declared and this lasted until the 17th when I witnessed the surrender of Santiago. You get a correct account of most everything in the papers although of course more than actually happens. You know all about Sampson. We were tickled to death at that as they were throwing shells at us from the fleet. There is much mistake in regard to the Spanish. In the first place they have fine guns and can shoot faster than us if such be possible. When coming over the Spanish pits I passed lots of dead Spaniards and could have gotten many souveniers but I was too hot after them however I picked up a loaded Mauser rifle and fired at the fleeing devils and I like the guns quite well. The Spanish are good shots and are all right as long as you don’t advance on them but they cant stand charging and I dont think we could ever get close enough to them to have a hand to hand fight. We have ten thousand over here who are going to be sent to Spain soon and they are much better than the Cubans. The Spanish do not know mercy and when captured would beg to be killed immediately as they did not want to have a long march and then be killed. This is a fine country and the soil is 3 or 4 feet deep. There have been many fine houses here but they have been ruined by the war One which I visited was as beautiful as any I ever saw with marble walks and fountains. There are all kinds of fruit including Pineapples, Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Dates, Cocoanuts, Bananas, Mangoes Guavas and others. The country used to be open and in cultivation but owing to war and destruction is now grown up with underbrush. It is bad to fight in. The Spanish would never advance enough to get into an ambush and so we get the chance of being ambuscaded. There are many people deserving of pity here. When the refugees came out of Santiago I saw old women and children starving to death, many of them falling by the road and the fools were carrying large loads of stuff. But the men are worthless and of no account. They let the women kill themselves and will not carry the bundles. They do not fight but rob our haversacks and rolls while we fight. We do not like them at all and they are a sorry lot to die for. The soldiers of Garcia are on our right and may be some better although they let 2000 Spanish soldiers get into Santiago without much of a fight. Gomez may have a better outfit up at Havana but I doubt it. I am willing to fight for the women and children but not the men. We don’t know when we are going but hope to come to the states until fall. When we will come back if Spain has not asked for peace. We had rather go to Porto Rico as to stay here. Hope I will soon be home and the war will be over. We are all in good health and no fever yet although we are under quarantine. I am feeling fine and weigh about 175. Let Sam read this about the fighting as I havn’t time to write another long letter. Good bye
love to all Eugene
Grandpa from what Sam said in his letter I think the people of Muscogee are misinformed as to my being promoted. It is very unfortunate for me as it would not be conducive to my interests to have false reports circulating. I would have stood a good chance of being a Lieutenant now but for the fact that after we left Muscogee and I had no influence Lieutenant Day of Vinita had Capron to rearrange the officers and he put in all Vinita boys leaving Milo and myself out this time. Milo was 1st Corporal and I was 5th Sgt. Do not think that we were reduced for punishments as we were not. I was reprimanded once since we arrived in Cuba for leaving camp without the permission but that was after I had been reduced and I would not have been reduced for that anyway. The non commissioned officers were Vinita men almost to a man until we went to leave Tampa when some New York boys
In Camp near
Santiago De Cuba
Aug 4th 1898
Mr. Thomas Owen
Muscogee I. T.
I was surprised to hear from you and most agreeably too as there is no balm for gloom like that of a letter from home. Our mail communications are very bad and I dont suppose we get more than half our mail. We were landed at Baiquiri on the 22nd day of June after a tiresome voyage of almost three weeks about 20 miles from Santiago. On the 23rd we began our march toward Santiago at 400 P.M. and camped late that night at Siboney, 9 miles away. After a hasty breakfast next morning we prepared to march up the mountain along a narrow trail while Gen Young marched up a valley on our right between two mountain ranges with one squadron of the 1st cav and one squadron of the 10th colored cav all regulars and dismounted. The Cubans had brought in reports of a large force of Spanish in the hills back of the town. We toiled in a broiling sun up a mountain several hundred feet high and our canteens were soon emptied while the boys began to throw away their heavy rolls. After reaching the top of the mt. our troop (L) being the advance guard was obliged to march along the narrow trail in a column of skirmishers flanked on either side by an impenetrable under brush. And here I want to describe one of the most dreadful species of cactus Which grows here and which we call Spanish Daggers. They have long stiff prickles all over them and are long strap-shaped leaves with an acute tip growing from a corm. It is impossible to get through them without lots of work cutting them down. We had out an advanced guard and two Cuban guides. We discovered that we were near the enemy but did not know their numbers or position. In the meantime the cavalry over in the valley were engaging the enemy and we could hear them using the battery of Hotchkiss cannon belonging to the 10th who are fine fighters and great friends of the Rough Riders. Some of our flankers saw 15 Spaniards go into a house on our left and soon our advance guard saw them in the road ahead of us. They waited for the rest of the column to come up and then one of our boys saw a Spaniard standing up and shot him This opened the ball and a perfect hail of bulletts flew in on us from front and sides but as luck would have it or Providence the road was a little wider here and some what sunken and laying down afforded us very good protection else we would all have been killed or wounded. As it was we laid down and gave them back as good or better than they sent. Capt Capron was With the advance guard and was soon killed He was game to the last and the last thing I heard him say was “Did my men fight well?” It is claimed by our advance guard that they had two rapid fire guns trained down the road on us but I did not see them. We fought them for some time in this way and then G Troop came down in battle order flanking us on the right and F on the Left and we soon had them on the run. We now deployed to the right and left as skirmishers and engaged the column which was being driven along our front by Gen Youngs command. They were soon all flying toward Santiago however and after moving forward a mile or so we went into camp for a week to recruit strength from the fine mountain air and water. we lost three men killed and eight wounded among whom was Capt Capron and Hom Fish killed and Tom Meagher and Lieut. Thomas wounded. On the 30th of June we were about 5 miles from town and late that evening we marched toward Santiago meeting with no resistance Late that night we camped in a district known as El Pozo about 2 mi’s from the city while Grimes battery was planted on the hill above us during the night. Early next morning at daybreak before we had finished breakfast we could hear and see Capt Capron’s (the father of our Capt.) battery throwing shells into a stone fort at El Coney and soon we could hear the rattle of Lawtons (who commanded the right division) Musketry and the battle was on over there in earnest. Soon after breakfast Grimes battery began operations and we were all cheering it as it threw shells into Santiago and some Cubans were watching its effect from the top of an old convent when at the 10th shot the Spaniards replied using smokeless powder while we were using the old style black powder. They had a great advantage on this account as we could not locate them. They had but very little artillery but we had only 24 pieces using black powder. They had our range from the start and seemed to have the whole country measured as they always had it. The first shell a big seven inch one came right over the hill and exploded about 10 yds from the end of L Troops Line, but luckily no one was hurt. It stopped the cheering and it was funny to see the boy fall to the ground and hunt things for shelter while those Cubans just actually fell off that convent. They were making the shells whiz to close around our ears so we sought shelter. Half an hour later we moved forward a mile and and lay in a road which ran parallel to the first row of hills and rifle pits carrying on a heavy rifle fire.
At 1100 am we began the charge. Over a field we went through tall grass across a creek at the foot of the hill and then up the hill. Milo had been by my side all the time and through the fence on top of the hill just behind me. The Spanish had run and we were in possession of San Juan hill. They had their guns set for us and a Hotchkiss battery threw shrapnell into us. We had almost no protection except a few trees some large iron vats and a block house and they made targets of these places. I went to a tree straight in front of me and began firing. Milo came through just behind me and was struck by a charge from a shrapnel and was killed almost instantly although I did not know it at the time. One boy who fired over my shoulder while I was kneeling was shot three times and almost fell on me. As many as a dozen were shot within speaking distance and a hundred in as many yds. We soon run them from the second line of defenses and as we passed over the trenches we saw many dead Spaniards and I had lots of chances to get souvenirs but was to busily engaged to stop. I picked up a loaded Mauser and fired at the Spaniards as they ran and could have gotten any amount of them. We now advanced to the western crest of the hill and lay down for protection. I had become separated from my troop and was fighting with a detachment of the 10th cav. They are magnificent fighters and I think I will always like negros better after this. I thought we were going to run the Spaniards into the city but we were too few and lay down. Soon D Troop of the Rough Riders came up but were ordered almost immediately to fall back. We soon got orders to fall back also and hunt for protection. We found Col Roosevelt back here with what was left of the Rough Riders and he told us that he had orders to hold the position. We were dry, tired and hungry it being late in the afternoon so some of the boys went back and got a mess the Spanish had been fixing up for dinner but had to leave it in too great a hurry to throw it out. It was very good and we all relished it. We captured any amount of arms and ammunition. We lay here until night and then without anything to protect us from the dew and chilly night we dug trenches all night to use on the morrow. I got permission to go back about a mile after water and went by to see Milo as I had only gotten a glance at him before. I could only go by and look at him for a moment as I was within range of the Spanish trenches and they made it hot for me. After digging trenches all that night the devils began firing at us with the first break of dawn and we went to our pits in a rush. The fighting continued all day and that night we repelled a sortie killing 400 of them. The 3rd passed with fighting still going on but that evening a truce was agreed upon which lasted a week until the 10th during which time they were trying to arrange terms and each side was strengthening their defenses. L Troop had 25 men to roll call now although some came in later and only half were killed or wounded. On the 2nd I was able to go by and see Milo again and he had been turned over and covered with a slicker. He was buried on the 3rd and on the 5th I went over with a detail and fixed and marked his grave. On the 10th the truce was declared off and we had fighting on the 10th and 11th when a truce was again arranged which lasted until the 17th. This was a grand day for America and I was blessed with the opportunity of witnessing the fall of Santiago. On the 5th or 6th Ges Seaver who was left behind to guard troop stuff shot himself through the foot. We were moved after the surrender to the foot of the Altores mts to get away from the dirty sickly city and now it is hard to get a pass to go in there although I have been in once. We hope to be away from here soon now and back in the U. S. We have orders to move as soon as we can get transports to Long Island. I am always hilarious when mail came in from home and you dont know how much it helps a sick soldier. I am not exactly sick now but my system is full of malaria and I do not feel very well all of the time. I had been enjoying good health until I had a slight days attack of fever and suppose I will soon be alright when I get to Long Island. There is no yellow fever and outside of the malaria the soldiers are all well. However there has been more cases of malarial fever in our reg’t than there are men in the regiment. This is indeed a beautiful country and the soil is from 3 to six feet deep while the climate permits of 2 or 3 crop being raised yearly. There are many many kinds of tropical fruits birds and flowers. I would like to come down here and study Natural History. There are perhaps 2 doz. different kinds of fruit which ripen at all seasons of the year. Among them are Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Pineapples Bananas, Mangoes, Guavas, Cocoanuts and many kinds of which I do not know the names. The country has at one time been under a state of cultivation but is now devastated by war and grown up in dense under brush. There houses scattered here and there which have been real palaces but their gardens are grown in brush and fountains dry while their mahogany walls are being torn down by soldiers. Their owners have long since evacuated them. The inhabitants are for the most part negroes while about 1/4 of the pop. are pure blooded Cubans. Of course this is excepting the towns but they are not much better. The men are good for nothing and lazy and join the army to get food and escape work. They let the women do all of the meanest part of the work and I have seen them walk along the road empty handed, strong and well fed while women actually starving carried great bundles by until they fell exhausted by the roadside. The women and children are the ones who suffer and if it were not for them I would feel that we were fighting for an unworthy cause I may be prejudiced by what I have seen and Gomez and Garcia’s men may be of a much better class. The women and child Refugees whom I have seen coming out of Santiago carrying huge bundles were actually starving and carrying all of their possessions with them. Some of them were crooked and crippled as if from punishment, horrible sights. I have seen them stagger and fall by the roadside often to die. They are really almost naked but that does not matter because the climate is so very warm. I am glad that no more of my friends came to Cuba because I have lost too much already and of course more might have been killed. No I do not know Garland McKinny and cannot find him he must be at Tampa. Reed Parnell and myself are all the Muscogee boys who are here now the rest are either hurt or left at Tampa. Hope to be at home soon. As Ed Lowe says “if Spain wants to apologize I am ready to accept. But if she will keep this thing going we will make her deathly sick of it next fall.
Regard to all Friends
“L Troop” Rough Riders”
Santiago De Cuba