When the news reached Richard that the Spanish-American War seemed inevitable he returned at once to New York. Here he spent a few days in arranging to act as correspondent for the New York Herald, the London Times, and Scribner's Magazine, and then started for Key West.
Off Key West--April 24th, 1898.
On Board Smith, Herald Yacht.
I wrote you such a cross gloomy letter that I must drop you another to make up for it. Since I wrote that an hour ago we have received word that war is declared and I am now on board the Smith. She is a really fine vessel as big as Benedict's yacht with plenty of deck room and big bunks. I have everything I want on board and The Herald men are two old Press men so we are good friends. If I had had another hour I believe I could have got a berth on the flag ship for Roosevelt telegraphed me the longest and strongest letter on the subject a man could write instructing the Admiral to take me on as I was writing history. Chadwick seemed willing but then the signal to set sail came and we had to stampede. All the ships have their sailing pennants up. It is as calm as a mirror thank goodness but as hot as hell. We expect to be off Havana tomorrow at sunset. Then what we do no one knows. The crew is on strike above and the mate is wrestling with them but as it seems to be only a question of a few dollars it will come out all right. We expect to be back here on Sunday but may stay out later. Don't worry if you don't hear. It is grand to see the line of battleships five miles out like dogs in a leash puffing and straining. Thank God they'll let them slip any minute now. I don't know where "Stenie" is. I am now going to take a nap while the smooth water lasts.
--Flagship New York--
April 26, 1898.
I left Key West on the morning of the 24th in the Dolphin with the idea of trying to get on board the flagship on the strength of Roosevelt's letter. Stenie Bonsal got on just before she sailed, not as a correspondent, but as a magazine-writer for McClure's, who have given him a commission, and because he could act as interpreter. I left the flagship the morning of the day I arrived. The captain of the Dolphin apologized to his officers while we were at anchor in the harbor of Key West, because his was a "cabin" and not a "gun" ship, and because he had to deliver the mails at once on board the flagship and not turn out of his course for anything, no matter how tempting a prize it might appear to be. He then proceeded to chase every sail and column of smoke on the horizon, so that the course was like a cat's cradle. We first headed for a big steamer and sounded "general quarters." It was fine to see the faces of the apprentices as they ran to get their cutlasses and revolvers, their eyes open and their hair on end, with the hope that they were to board a Spanish battleship. But at the first gun she ran up an American flag, and on getting nearer we saw she was a Mallory steamer. An hour later we chased another steamer, but she was already a prize, with a prize crew on board. Then we had a chase for three hours at night; after what we believed was the Panama, but she ran away from us. We fired three shells after her, and she still ran and got away. The next morning I went on board the New York with Zogbaum, the artist. Admiral Sampson is a fine man; he impressed me very much. He was very much bothered at the order forbidding correspondents on the ship, but I talked like a father to him, and he finally gave in, and was very nice about the way he did it. Since then I have had the most interesting time and the most novel experience of my life. We have been lying from three to ten miles off shore. We can see Morro Castle and houses and palms plainly without a glass, and with one we can distinguish men and women in the villages. It is, or was, frightfully hot, and you had to keep moving all the time to get out of the sun. I mess with the officers, but the other correspondents, the Associated Press and Ralph Paine of The World and Press of Philadelphia, with the middies. Paine got on because Scovel of The World has done so much secret service work for the admiral, running in at night and taking soundings, and by day making photographs of the coast, also carrying messages to the insurgents.
It is a wonderful ship, like a village, and as big as the Paris. We drift around in the sun or the moonlight, and when we see a light, chase after it. There is a band on board that plays twice a day. It is like a luxurious yacht, with none of the ennui of a yacht. The other night, when we were heading off a steamer and firing six-pounders across her bows, the band was playing the "star" song from the Meistersinger. Wagner and War struck me as the most fin de siecle idea of war that I had ever heard of. The nights have been perfectly beautiful, full of moonlight, when we sit on deck and smoke. It is like looking down from the roof of a high building. Yesterday they brought a Spanish officer on board, he had been picked up in a schooner with his orderly. I was in Captain Chadwick's cabin when he was brought in, and Scovel interpreted for the captain, who was more courteous than any Spanish Don that breathes. The officer said he had been on his way to see his wife and newly born baby at Matanzas, and had no knowledge that war had been declared. I must say it did me good to see him. I remembered the way the Spanish officers used to insult me in a language which I, fortunately for me, could not understand, and how I hated the sight of them, and I enjoyed seeing his red and yellow cockade on the table before me, while I sat in a big armchair and smoked and was in hearing of the marines drilling on the upper deck. He was invited to go to breakfast with the officers, and I sat next to him, and as it happened to be my turn to treat, I had the satisfaction of pouring drinks down his throat. I told stories about Spanish officers all the time to the rest of the mess, pretending I was telling them something else by making drawings on the tablecloth, so that the unhappy officer on his other side, who was talking Spanish to him, had a hard time not to laugh. I told Zogbaum he ought to draw a picture of him at the mess to show how we treated prisoners, and a companion one of the captain of the Compeliton, who came over with us on the Dolphin, and who showed us the marks of the ropes on his wrists and arms the Spaniards had bound him with when he was in Cabanas for nine months. The orderly messed with the bluejackets, who treated him in the most hospitable manner. He was a poor little peasant boy, half starved and hollow-eyed, and so scared that he could hardly stand, but they took great pride in the fact that they had made him eat three times of everything. They are, without prejudice, the finest body of men and boys you would care to see, and as humorous and polite and keen as any class of men I ever met.
The war could be ended in a month so far as the island of Cuba is concerned, if the troops were ready and brought over here. The coast to Havana for ten miles is broad enough for them to march along it, and the heights above could be covered the entire time by the fleet, so that it would be absolutely impossible for any force to withstand the awful hailstorm they would play on it. Transports carrying the provisions would be protected by the ships on the gulf side, and the guns at Morro could be shut up in twenty-four hours. This is not a dream, but the most obvious and feasible plan, and it is a disgrace if the Washington politicians delay. As to health, this is the healthiest part of the coast. The trade winds blow every day of the year, and the fever talk is all nonsense. The army certainly has delayed most scandalously in mobilizing. This talk of waiting a month is suicide. It is a terrible expense. It keeps the people on a strain, destroys business, and the health of the troops at Tampa is, to my mind, in much greater danger than it would be on the hills around Havana, where, as Scovel says, there is as much yellow fever as there is snow. Tell Dad to urge them to act promptly. In the meanwhile I am having a magnificent time. I am burned and hungry and losing about a ton of fat a day, and I sleep finely. The other night the Porter held us up, but it was a story that never got into the papers. I haven't missed a trick so far except not getting on the flagship from the first, but that does not count now since I am on board.
I haven't written anything yet, but I am going to begin soon. I expect to make myself rich on this campaign. I get ten cents a word from Scribner's for everything I send them, if it is only a thousand words, and I get four hundred dollars a week salary from The Times, and all my expenses. I haven't had any yet, but when I go back and join the army, I am going to travel en suite with an assistant and the best and gentlest ponies; a courier and a servant, a tent and a secretary and a typewriter, so that Miles will look like a second lieutenant.
When I came out here on the Dolphin I said I was going to Tampa, lying just on the principle that it is no other newspaper-man's business where you are going. So, The Herald man at Key West, hearing this, and not knowing I WAS GOING TO THE FLAGSHIP, called Long, making a strong kick about the correspondents, Bonsal, Remington and Paine, who are, or were, with the squadron. Stenie left two days ago, hoping to get a commission on the staff of General Lee. So yesterday Scovel told me Long had cabled in answer to The Herald's protests to the admiral as follows: "Complaints have been received that correspondents Paine, Remington and Bonsal are with the squadron. Send them ashore at once. There must be no favoritism."
Scovel got the admiral at once to cable Long on his behalf because of his services as a spy, but as Roosevelt had done so much for me, I would not appeal over him, and this morning I sent in word to the admiral that I was leaving the ship and would like to pay my respects. Sampson is a thin man with a gray beard. He looks like a college professor and has very fine, gentle eyes. He asked me why I meant to leave the ship, and I said I had heard one of the torpedo boats was going to Key West, and I thought I would go with her if he would allow it. He asked if I had seen the cable from Long, and I said I had heard of it, and that I was really going so as not to embarrass him with my presence. He said, "I have received three different orders from the Secretary, one of them telling me I could have such correspondents on board as were agreeable to me. He now tells me that they must all go. You can do as you wish. You are perfectly welcome to remain until the conflict of orders is cleared up." I saw he was mad and that he wanted me to stay, or at least not to go of my own wish, so that he could have a grievance out of it--if he had to send me away after having been told he could have those with him who were agreeable to him. Captain Chadwick was in the cabin, and said, "Perhaps Mr. Davis had better remain another twenty-four hours." The admiral added, "Ships are going to Key West daily." Then Chadwick repeated that he thought I had better stay another day, and made a motion to me to do so. So I said I would, and now I am waiting to see what is going to happen. Outside, Chadwick told me that something in the way of an experience would probably come off, so I have hopes. By this time, of course, you know all about it. I shall finish this later.
We began bombarding Matanzas twenty minutes after I wrote the above. It was great. I guess I got a beat, as The Herald tug is the only one in sight.
April 30th, 1898.
You must not mind if I don't write often, but I feel that you see The Herald every day and that tells you of what I am seeing and doing, and I am writing so much, and what with keeping notes and all, I haven't much time-- What you probably want to know is that I am well and that my sciatica is not troubling me at all--Mother always wants to know that. On the other hand I am on the best ship from which to see things and on the safest, as she can move quicker and is more heavily armored than any save the battleships-- The fact that the admiral is on board and that she is the flagship is also a guarantee that she will not be allowed to expose herself. I was very badly scared when I first came to Key West for fear I should be left especially when I didn't make the flagship-- But I have not missed a single trick so far-- Bonsal missed the bombardment and so did Stephen Crane-- All the press boats were away except The Herald's. I had to write the story in fifteen minutes, so it was no good except that we had it exclusively--
I am sending a short story of the first shot fired to the Scribner's and am arranging with them to bring out a book on the Campaign. I have asked them to announce it as it will help me immensely here for it is as an historian and not as a correspondent that I get on over those men who are correspondents for papers only. I have made I think my position here very strong and the admiral is very much my friend as are also his staff. Crane on the other hand took the place of Paine who was exceedingly popular with every one and it has made it hard for Crane to get into things-- I am having a really royal time, it is so beautiful by both night and day and there is always color and movement and the most rigid discipline with the most hearty good feeling-- I get on very well with the crew too, one of them got shot by a revolver's going off and I asked the surgeon if I might not help at the operation so that I might learn to be useful, and to get accustomed to the sight of wounds and surgery-- It was a wonderful thing to see, and I was confused as to whether I admired the human body more or the way the surgeon's understood and mastered it-- The sailor would not give way to the ether and I had to hold him for an hour while they took out his whole insides and laid them on the table and felt around inside of him as though he were a hollow watermelon. Then they put his stomach back and sewed it in and then sewed up his skin and he was just as good as new. We carried him over to a cot and he came to, and looked up at us. We were all bare-armed and covered with his blood, and then over at the operating table, which was also covered with his blood. He was gray under his tan and his lips were purple and his eyes were still drunk with the ether-- But he looked at our sanguinary hands and shook his head sideways on the pillow and smiled-- "You'se can't kill me," he said, "I'm a New Yorker, by God--you'se can't kill me." The Herald cabled for a story as to how the crew of the New York behaved in action. I think I shall send them that although there are a few things the people had better take for granted-- Of course, we haven't been "in action" yet but the first bombardment made me nervous until it got well started. I think every one was rather nervous and it was chiefly to show them there was nothing to worry about that we fired off the U. S. guns. They talk like veterans now-- It was much less of a strain than I had expected, there was no standing on your toes nor keeping your mouth open or putting wadding in your ears. I took photographs most of the time, and they ought to be excellent--what happened was that you were thrown up off the deck just as you are when an elevator starts with a sharp jerk and there was an awful noise like the worst clap of thunder you ever heard close to your ears, then the smoke covered everything and you could hear the shot going through the air like a giant rocket-- The shots they fired at us did not cut any ice except a shrapnel that broke just over the main mast and which reminded me of Greece-- The other shots fell short-- The best thing was to see the Captains of the Puritan and Cincinnati frantically signalling to be allowed to fire too-- A little fort had opened on us from the left so they plugged at that, it was a wonderful sight, the Monitor was swept with waves and the guns seemed to come out of the water. The Cincinnati did the best of all. Her guns were as fast as the reports of a revolver, a self-cocking revolver, when one holds the trigger for the whole six. We got some copies of The Lucha on the Panama and their accounts of what was going on in Havana were the best reading I ever saw-- They probably reported the Matanzas bombardment as a Spanish victory-- The firing yesterday was very tame. We all sat about on deck and the band played all the time-- We didn't even send the men to quarters-- I do not believe the army intends to move for two weeks yet, so I shall stay here. They seem to want me to do so, and I certainly want to-- But that army is too slow for words, and we love the "Notes from the Front" in The Tribune, telling about the troops at Chickamauga-- I believe what will happen is that a chance shot will kill some of our men, and the Admiral won't do a thing but knock hell out of whatever fort does it and land a party of marines and bluejackets-- Even if they only occupy the place for 24 hours, it will beat that army out and that's what I want. They'll get second money in the Campaign if they get any, unless they brace up and come over-- I have the very luck of the British Army, I walked into an open hatch today and didn't stop until I caught by my arms and the back of my neck. It was very dark and they had opened it while I was in a cabin. The Jackie whose business it was to watch it was worse scared than I was, and I looked up at him while still hanging to the edges with my neck and arms and said "why didn't you tell me?" He shook his head and said, "that's so, Sir, I certainly should have told you, I certainly should"-- They're exactly like children and the reason is, I think, because they are so shut off from the contamination of the world. One of these ships is like living in a monastery, and they are as disciplined and gentle as monks, and as reckless as cowboys. When I go forward and speak to one of them they all gather round and sit on the deck in circles and we talk and they listen and make the most interesting comments-- The middy who fired the first gun at Matanzas is a modest alert boy about 18 years old and crazy about his work-- So, the Captain selected him for the honor and also because there is such jealousy between the bow and stern guns that he decided not to risk feelings being hurt by giving it to either-- So, Boone who was at Annapolis a month ago was told to fire the shot-- We all took his name and he has grown about three inches. We told him all of the United States and England would be ringing with his name-- When I was alone he came and sat down on a gull beside me and told me he was very glad they had let him fire that first gun because his mother was an invalid and he had gone into the navy against her wish and he hoped now that she would be satisfied when she saw his name in the papers. He was too sweet and boyish about it for words and I am going to take a snapshot at him and put his picture in Scribner's--"he only stands about so high--"
I enclose a souvenir of the bombardment. Please keep it carefully for me-- It was the first shot "in anger" in thirty years.
TAMPA, May 3rd, 1898.
We are still here and probably will be. It is a merry war, if there were only some girls here the place would be perfect. I don't know what's the matter with the American girl--here am I--and Stenie and Willie Chanler and Frederick Remington and all the boy officers of the army and not one solitary, ugly, plain, pretty, or beautiful girl. I bought a fine pony to-day, her name was Ellaline but I thought that was too much glory for Ellaline so I diffused it over the whole company by re-christening her Gaiety Girl, because she is so quiet, all the Gaiety Girls I know are quiet.
She never does what I tell her anyway, so it doesn't matter what I call her. But when this cruel war is over ($6 a day with bath room adjoining) I am going to have an oil painting of her labelled "Gaiety Girl the Kentucky Mare that carried the news of the fall of Havana to Matanzas, fifty miles under fire and Richard Harding Davis." To-morrow I am going to buy a saddle and a servant. War is a cruel thing especially to army officers. They have to wear uniforms and are not allowed to take off their trousers to keep cool-- They take off everything else except their hats and sit in the dining room without their coats or collars-- That's because it is war time. They are terrible brave--you can see it by the way they wear bouquets on their tunics and cigarette badges and Cuban flags and by not saluting their officers. One General counted today and forty enlisted men passed him without saluting. The army will have to do a lot of fighting to make itself solid with me. They are mounted police. We have a sentry here, he sits in a rocking chair. Imagine one of Sampson's or Dewey's bluejackets sitting down even on a gun carriage. Wait till I write my book. I wouldn't say a word now but when I write that book I'll give them large space rates. I am writing it now, the first batch comes out in Scribner's in July.
During the early days of the war, Richard received the appointment of a captaincy, but on the advice of his friends that his services were more valuable as a correspondent, he refused the commission. The following letter shows that at least at the time my brother regretted the decision, but as events turned out he succeeded in rendering splendid service not only as a correspondent but in the field.
TAMPA--May 14, 1898.
On reflection I am greatly troubled that I declined the captaincy. It is unfortunate that I had not time to consider it. We shall not have another war and I can always be a war correspondent in other countries but never again have a chance to serve in my own. The people here think it was the right thing to do but the outside people won't. Not that I care about that, but I think I was weak not to chance it. I don't know exactly what I ought to do. When I see all these kid militia men enlisted it makes me feel like the devil. I've no doubt many of them look upon it as a sort of a holiday and an outing and like it for the excitement, but it would bore me to death. The whole thing would bore me if I thought I had to keep at it for a year or more. That is the fault of my having had too much excitement and freedom. It spoils me to make sacrifices that other men can make. Whichever way it comes out I shall be sorry and feel I did not do the right thing. Lying around this hotel is enough to demoralize anybody. We are much more out of it than you are, and one gets cynical and loses interest. On the other hand I would be miserable to go back and have done nothing. It is a question of character entirely and I don't feel I've played the part at all. It's all very well to say you are doing more by writing, but are you? It's an easy game to look on and pat the other chaps on the back with a few paragraphs, that is cheap patriotism. They're taking chances and you're not and when the war's over they'll be happy and I won't. The man that enlists or volunteers even if he doesn't get further than Chickamauga or Gretna Green and the man who doesn't enlist at all but minds his own business is much better off than I will be writing about what other men do and not doing it myself, especially as I had a chance of a life time, and declined it. I'll always feel I lost in character by not sticking to it whether I had to go to Arizona or Governor's Island. I was unfortunate in having Lee and Remington to advise me. We talked for two hours in Fred's bedroom and they were both dead against it and Lee composed my telegram to the president. Now, I feel sure I did wrong. Shafter did not care and the other officers were delighted and said it was very honorable and manly giving me credit for motives I didn't have. I just didn't think it was good enough although I wanted it too and I missed something I can never get again. I am very sad about it. I know all the arguments for not taking it but as a matter of fact I should have done so. I would have made a good aide, and had I got a chance I certainly would have won out and been promoted. That there are fools appointed with me is no answer. I wouldn't have stayed in their class long.
TAMPA, May 29, 1898.
The cigars came; they are O. K. and a great treat after Tampa products. Captain Lee and I went out to the volunteer camps today: Florida, Alabama, Ohio and Michigan, General Lee's push, and it has depressed me very much. I have been so right about so many things these last five years, and was laughed at for making much of them. Now all I urged is proved to be correct; nothing our men wear is right. The shoes, the hats, the coats, all are dangerous to health and comfort; one-third of the men cannot wear the regulation shoe because it cuts the instep, and buy their own, and the volunteers are like the Cuban army in appearance. The Greek army, at which I made such sport, is a fine organization in comparison as far as outfit goes; of course, there is no comparison in the spirit of the men. One colonel of the Florida regiment told us that one-third of his men had never fired a gun. They live on the ground; there are no rain trenches around the tents, or gutters along the company streets; the latrines are dug to windward of the camp, and all the refuse is burned to WINDWARD.
Half of the men have no uniforms nor shoes. I pointed out some of the unnecessary discomforts the men were undergoing through ignorance, and one colonel, a Michigan politician, said, "Oh, well, they'll learn. It will be a good lesson for them." Instead of telling them, or telling their captains, he thinks it best that they should find things out by suffering. I cannot decide whether to write anything about it or not. I cannot see where it could do any good, for it is the system that is wrong--the whole volunteer system, I mean. Captain Lee happened to be in Washington when the first Manila outfit was starting from San Francisco, and it was on his representations that they gave the men hammocks, and took a store of Mexican dollars. They did not know that Mexican dollars are the only currency of the East, and were expecting to pay the men in drafts on New York.
Isn't that a pitiable situation when a captain of an English company happens to stray into the war office, and happens to have a good heart and busies himself to see that our own men are supplied with hammocks and spending money. None of our officers had ever seen khaki until they saw Lee's, nor a cork helmet until they saw mine and his; now, naturally, they won't have anything else, and there is not another one in the country. The helmets our troops wear would be smashed in one tropical storm, and they are so light that the sun beats through them. They are also a glaring white, and are cheap and nasty and made of pasteboard. The felt hats are just as bad; the brim is not broad enough to protect them from the sun or to keep the rain off their necks, and they are made of such cheap cotton stuff that they grow hard when they are wet and heavy, instead of shedding the rain as good felt would do. They have always urged that our uniforms, though not smart nor "for show," were for use. The truth is, as they all admit, that for the tropics they are worse than useless, and that in any climate they are cheap and poor.
I could go on for pages, but it has to be written later; now they would only think it was an attack on the army. But it is sickening to see men being sacrificed as these men will be. This is the worst season of all in the Philippines. The season of typhoons and rainstorms and hurricanes, and they would have sent the men off without anything to sleep on but the wet ground and a wet blanket. It has been a great lesson for me, and I have rubber tents, rubber blankets, rubber coats and hammocks enough for an army corps. I have written nothing for the paper, because, if I started to tell the truth at all, it would do no good, and it would open up a hell of an outcry from all the families of the boys who have volunteered. Of course, the only answer is a standing army of a hundred thousand, and no more calling on the patriotism of men unfitted and untrained. It is the sacrifice of the innocents. The incompetence and, unreadiness of the French in 1870 was no worse than our own is now. It is a terrible and pathetic spectacle, and the readiness of the volunteers to be sacrificed is all the more pathetic. It seems almost providential that we had this false-alarm call with Spain to show the people how utterly helpless they are.
TAMPA, June 9th, 1898.
Well, here we are again. Talk of the "Retreat from Ottawa" I've retreated more in this war than the Greeks did. If they don't brace up soon, I'll go North and refuse to "recognize" the war. I feel I deserve a pension and a medal as it is. We had everything on board and our cabins assigned us and our "war kits" in which we set forth taken off, and were in yachting flannels ready for the five days cruise. I had the devil of a time getting out to the flagship, as they call the headquarters boat. I went out early in the morning of the night when I last wrote you. I stayed up all that night watching troops arrive and lending a helping hand and a word of cheer to dispirited mules and men, also segars and cool drinks, none of them had had food for twenty-four hours and the yellow Florida people having robbed them all day had shut up and wouldn't open their miserable shops. They even put sentries over the drinking water of the express company which is only making about a million a day out of the soldiers. So their soldiers slept along the platform and trucks rolled by them all night, shaking the boards on which they lay by an inch or two. About four we heard that Shafter was coming and an officer arrived to have his luggage placed on the Seguranca. I left them all on the pier carrying their own baggage and sweating and dripping and no one having slept. Their special train had been three hours in coming nine miles. I hired a small boat and went off to the flagship alone but the small boat began to leak and I bailed and the colored boy pulled and the men on the transports cheered us on. Just at the sinking point I hailed a catboat and we transferred the Admiral's flag to her and also my luggage. The rest of the day we spent on the transport. We left it this morning. Some are still on it but as they are unloading all the horses and mules from the other transports fifteen having died from the heat below deck and as they cannot put them on again under a day, I am up here to get cool and to stretch my legs. The transport is all right if it were not so awfully crowded. I am glad I held out to go with the Headquarter staff. I would have died on the regular press boat, as it is the men are interesting on our boat. We have all the military attaches and Lee, Remington, Whitney and Bonsal. The reason we did not go was because last night the Eagle and Resolute saw two Spanish cruisers and two torpedo boats laying for us outside, only five miles away. What they need with fourteen ships of war to guard a bottled up fleet and by leaving twenty-six transports some of them with 1,400 men on them without any protection but a small cruiser and one gun boat is beyond me. The whole thing is beyond me. It is the most awful picnic that ever happened, you wouldn't credit the mistakes that are made. It is worse than the French at Sedan a million times. We are just amateurs at war and about like the Indians Columbus discovered. I am exceedingly pleased with myself at taking it so good naturedly. I would have thought I would have gone mad or gone home long ago. Bonsal and Remington threaten to go every minute. Miles tells me we shall have to wait until those cruisers are located or bottled up. I'm tired of bottling up fleets. I like the way Dewey bottles them. What a story that would have made. Twenty-six transports with as many thousand men sunk five miles out and two-thirds of them drowned. Remember the Maine indeed! they'd better remember the Main and brace up. If we wait until they catch those boats I may be here for another month as we cannot dare go away for long or far. If we decide to go with a convoy which is what we ought to do, we may start in a day or two. Nothing you read in the papers is correct. Did I tell you that Miles sent Dorst after me the other night and made me a long speech, saying he thought I had done so well in refusing the commission. I was glad he felt that way about it. Well, lots of love. I'm now going to take a bath. God bless you, this is a "merry war."
In sight of Santiago--
June 26th, 1898.
We have come to a halt here in a camp along the trail to Santiago. You can see it by climbing a hill. Instead of which I am now sitting by a fine stream on a cool rock. I have discovered that you really enjoy things more when you are not getting many comforts than you do when you have all you want. That sounds dull but it is most consoling. I had a bath this morning in these rocks that I would not have given up for all the good dinners I ever had at the Waldorf, or the Savoy. It just went up and down my spine and sent thrills all over me. It is most interesting now and all the troubles of the dull days of waiting at Tampa and that awful time on the troopship are over. The army is stretched out along the trail from the coast for six miles. Santiago lies about five miles ahead of us. I am very happy and content and the book for Scribners ought to be an interesting one. It is really very hard that my despatches are limited to 100 words for there are lots of chances. The fault lies with the army people at Washington, who give credentials to any one who asks. To The Independent and other periodicals--in no sense newspapers, and they give seven to one paper, consequently we as a class are a pest to the officers and to each other. Fortunately, the survival of the fittest is the test and only the best men in every sense get to the front. There are fifty others at the base who keep the wire loaded with rumors, so when after great difficulty we get the correct news back to Daiquire a Siboney there is no room for it. Some of the "war correspondents" have absolutely nothing but the clothes they stand in, and the others had to take up subscriptions for them. They gambled all the time on the transports and are ensconced now at the base with cards and counters and nothing else. Whitney has turned out great at the work and I am glad he is not on a daily paper or he would share everything with me. John Fox, Whitney and I are living on Wood's rough riders. We are very welcome and Roosevelt has us at Headquarters but, of course, we see the men we know all the time. You get more news with the other regiments but the officers, even the Generals, are such narrow minded slipshod men that we only visit them to pick up information. Whitney and I were the only correspondents that saw the fight at Guasimas. He was with the regulars but I had the luck to be with Roosevelt. He is sore but still he saw more than any one else and is proportionally happy. Still he naturally would have liked to have been with our push. We were within thirty yards of the Spaniards and his crowd were not nearer than a quarter of a mile which was near enough as they had nearly as many killed. Gen. Chaffee told me to-day that it was Wood's charge that won the day, without it the tenth could not have driven the Spaniards back-- Wood is a great young man, he has only one idea or rather all his ideas run in one direction, his regiment, he eats and talks nothing else. He never sleeps more than four hours and all the rest of the time he is moving about among the tents-- Between you and me and the policeman, it was a very hot time-- Maybe if I drew you a map you would understand why.
Wood and Gen. Young, by agreement the night before and without orders from anybody decided to advance at daybreak and dislodge the Spaniards from Las Guasimas. They went by two narrow trails single file, the two trails were along the crests of a line of hills with a valley between. The dotted line is the trail we should have taken had the Cubans told us it existed, if we had done so we would have had the Spaniards in the frontband rear as General Young would have caught them where they expected him to come, and we would have caught them where they were not looking for us. Of course, the Cubans who are worthless in every way never told us of this trail until we had had the meeting. No one knew we were near Spaniards until both columns were on the place where the two trails meet. Then our scouts came back and reported them and the companies were scattered out as you see them in the little dots. The Spaniards were absolutely hidden not over 25 per cent of the men saw one of them for two hours-- I ran out with the company on the right of the dotted line, marked "our position." I thought it was a false alarm and none of us believed there were any Spaniards this side of Santiago. The ground was covered with high grass and cactus and vines so that you could not see twenty feet ahead, the men had to beat the vines with their carbines to get through them. We had not run fifty yards through the jungle before they opened on us with a quick firing gun at a hundred yards. I saw the enemy on the hill across the valley and got six sharp shooters and began on them, then the fire got so hot that we had to lie on our faces and crawl back to the rear. I had a wounded man to carry and was in a very bad way because I had sciatica, Two of his men took him off while I stopped to help a worse wounded trooper, but I found he was dead. When I had come back for him in an hour, the vultures had eaten out his eyes and lips. In the meanwhile a trooper stood up on the crest with a guidon and waved it at the opposite trail to find out if the firing there was from Spaniards or Len Young's negroes. He was hit in three places but established the fact that Young was up on the trail on our right across the valley for they cheered. He was a man who had run on the Gold Ticket for Congress in Arizona, and consequently, as some one said, naturally should have led a forlorn hope. A blackguard had just run past telling them that Wood was killed and that he had been ordered to Siboney for reinforcements. That was how the report spread that we were cut to pieces-- A reporter who ran away from Young's column was responsible for the story that I was killed. He meant Marshall who was on the left of the line and who was shot through the spine-- There was a lot of wounded at the base and the fighting in front was fearful to hear. It was as fast as a hard football match and you must remember it lasted two full hours; during that time the men were on their feet all the time or crawling on their hands-- Not one of them, with the exception of ----, and a Sergeant who threw away his gun and ran, went a step back. It was like playing blindman's buff and you were it. I got separated once and was scared until I saw the line again, as my leg was very bad and I could not get about over the rough ground. I went down the trail and I found Capron dying and the whole place littered with discarded blankets and haversacks. I also found Fish and pulled him under cover--he was quite dead-- Then I borrowed a carbine and joined Capron's troop, a second lieutenant and his Sergeant were in command. The man next me in line got a bullet through his sleeve and one through his shirt and you could see where it went in and came out without touching the skin. The firing was very high and we were in no danger so I told the lieutenant to let us charge across an open place and take a tin shack which was held by the Spaniards' rear guard, for they were open in retreat. Roosevelt ordered his men to do the same thing and we ran forward cheering across the open and then dropped in the grass and fired. I guess I fired about twenty rounds and then formed into a strategy board and went off down the trail to scout. I got lonely and was coming back when I met another trooper who sat down and said he was too hot to run in any direction Spaniard or no Spaniard. So we sat down and panted. At last he asked me if I was R. H. D. and I said I was and he said "I'm Dean, I met you in Harvard in the racquet court." Then we embraced--the tenth came up then and it was all over. My leg, thank goodness, is all right again and has been so for three days. It was only the running about that caused it. I won't have to run again as I have a horse now and there will be no more ambushes and moreover we have 12,000 men around us-- Being together that way in a tight place has made us all friends and I guess I'll stick to the regiment. Send this to dear Mother and tell her I was not born to be killed. I ought to tell you more of the charming side of the life--we are all dirty and hungry and sleep on the ground and have grand talks on every subject around the headquarters tent. I was never more happy and content and never so well. It is hot but at night it is quite cool and there has been no rain only a few showers. 'No one is ill and there have been no cases of fever. I have not heard from you or any one since the 14th, which is not really long but so much goes on that it seems so. Lots of love to you all.
After reading this over I ought perhaps to say that the position of the real correspondents is absolutely the very best. No one confounds us with the men at the base, and nothing they have they deny us. We are treated immeasurably better than the poor attaches who are still on the ship and who if they were spies could not be treated worse. But for Whitney, Remington and myself nothing is too good. Generals fight to have us on their staffs and all that sort of thing, so I really cannot complain, except about the fact that our real news is crowded out by the faker in the rear.
Cavalry Division, U. S. Army.
Headqrs. Wood's Rough Riders.
June 29th, 1898.
I suppose you are back from Marion now and I have missed you. I can't tell you how sorry I am. I wanted to see you coming up the street this summer in your knickerbockers and with no fish, but still happy. Never mind, we shall do the theatres this Fall, and have good walks downtown. I hope Mother will come up and visit me this September, at Marion and sit on Allen's and on the Clarks' porch and we can have Chas. too. I suppose he will have had his holiday but he can come up for a Sunday. We expect to move up on Santiago the day after to-morrow, and it's about time, for the trail will not be passable much longer. It rains every day at three o'clock for an hour and such rain you never guessed. It is three inches high for an hour. Then we all go out naked and dig trenches to get it out of the way. It is very rough living. I have to confess that I never knew how well off I was until I got to smoking Durham tobacco and I've only half a bag of that left. The enlisted men are smoking dried horse droppings, grass, roots and tea. Some of them can't sleep they are so nervous for the want of it, but to-day a lot came up and all will be well for them. I've had a steady ration of coffee, bacon and hard tack for a week and one mango, to night we had beans. Of course, what they ought to serve is rice and beans as fried bacon is impossible in this heat. Still, every one is well. This is the best crowd to be with--they are so well educated and so interesting. The regular army men are very dull and narrow and would bore one to death. We have Wood, Roosevelt, Lee, the British Attache, Whitney and a Doctor Church, a friend of mine from Princeton, who is quite the most cheerful soul and the funniest I ever met. He carried four men from the firing line the other day back half a mile to the hospital tent. He spends most of his time coming around headquarters in an undershirt of mine and a gold bracelet fighting tarantulas. I woke up the other morning with one seven inches long and as hairy as your head reposing on my pillow. My sciatica bothers me but has not prevented me seeing everything and I can dig rain gutters and cut wood with any of them. It is very funny to see Larned, the tennis champion, whose every movement at Newport was applauded by hundreds of young women, marching up and down in the wet grass. Whitney and I guy him. To-day a sentry on post was reading "As You Like It" and whenever I go down the line half the men want to know who won the boat race-- To-day Wood sent me out with a detail on a pretense of scouting but really to give them a chance to see the country. They were all college boys, with Willie Tiffany as sergeant and we had a fine time and could see the Spanish sentries quite plainly without a glass. I hope you will not worry over this long separation. I don't know of any experience I have had which has done me so much good, and being with such a fine lot of fellows is a great pleasure. The scenery is very beautiful when it is not raining. I have a cot raised off the ground in the Colonel's tent and am very well off. If Chaffee or Lawton, who are the finest type of officers I ever saw, were in command, we would have been fighting every day and would probably have been in by this time. This weather shows that Havana must be put off after Porto Rico. They cannot campaign in this mud.
SANTIAGO, July 1898.
This is just to reassure you that I am all right. I and Marshall were the only correspondents with Roosevelt. We were caught in a clear case of ambush. Every precaution had been taken, but the natives knew the ground and our men did not. It was the hottest, nastiest fight I ever imagined. We never saw the enemy except glimpses. Our men fell all over the place, shouting to the others not to mind them, but to go on. I got excited and took a carbine and charged the sugar house, which was what is called the key to the position. If the men had been regulars I would have sat in the rear as B---- did, but I knew every other one of them, had played football, and all that sort of thing, with them, so I thought as an American I ought to help. The officers were falling all over the shop, and after it was all over Roosevelt made me a long speech before some of the men, and offered me a captaincy in the regiment any time I wanted it. He told the Associated Press man that there was no officer in his regiment who had "been of more help or shown more courage" than your humble servant, so that's all right. After this I keep quiet. I promise I keep quiet. Love to you all.
From Cuba Richard sailed with our forces to Porto Rico, where his experiences in the Spanish-American war came to an end, and he returned to Marion. He spent the fall in New York, and early in 1899 went to London.
One of the most interesting, certainly the most widely talked of, "sporting events" for which Richard was responsible was the sending of an English district-messenger boy from London to Chicago. The idea was inspired by my brother's general admiration of the London messenger service and his particular belief in one William Thomas Jaggers, a fourteen-year-old lad whom Richard had frequently employed to carry notes and run errands. One day, during a casual luncheon conversation at the Savoy with his friend Somers Somerset, Richard said that he believed that if Jaggers were asked to carry a message to New York that he could not only do it but would express no surprise at the commission. This conversation resulted in the bet described in the following letters. The boy slipped quietly away from London, but a few days later the bet became public and the newspapers were filled with speculation as to whether Jaggers could beat the mails. The messenger carried three letters, one to my sister, one to Miss Cecil Clark of Chicago, whom Richard married a few months later, and one to myself. As a matter of fact, Jaggers delivered his notes several hours before letters travelling by the same boat reached the same destinations. The newspapers not only printed long accounts of Jaggers's triumphal progress from New York to Chicago and back again, but used the success of his undertaking as a text for many editorials against the dilatory methods of our foreign-mail service. Jaggers left London on March 11, 1899, and was back again on the 29th, having travelled nearly eighty-four hundred miles in eighteen days. On his return he was received literally by a crowd of thousands, and his feat was given official recognition by a gold medal pinned on his youthful chest by the Duchess of Rutland. Also, later on, at a garden fete he was presented to the Queen, and incidentally, still later, returned to the United States as "buttons" to my brother's household.
March 15th, 1899.
I hope you are not annoyed about Jaggers. When he started no one knew of it but three people and I had no idea anyone else would, but the company sent it to The Mail without my name but describing me as "an American gentleman"-- Instantly the foreign correspondents went to them to find out who I was and to whom I was sending the letter-- I told the company it was none of their damned business--that I employed the boy by the week and that I could send him where-ever I chose. Then the boy's father got proud and wrote to The Mail about his age and so they got the boy's name. Mine, however, is still out of it, but in America they are sure to know as the people on the steamer are crazy about him and Kinsey the Purser knows he is sent by me. After he gets back from Chicago and Philadelphia, you can do with him as you like until the steamer sails. If the thing is taken up as it is here and the fat is in the fire, then you can do as you please-- I mean you can tell the papers about it or not-- Somerset holds one end of the bets and I the other. There are two bets: one that he will beat the mail to Chicago, Somerset agreeing to consider the letter you give him to Bruce, as equivalent to one coming from here. The other bet is that he will deliver and get receipts from you, Nora and Bruce, and return here by the 5th of April-- You and Bobby ought to be able to do well by him if it becomes, as I say, so far public that there is no possibility of further concealment-- You have my permission to do what you please-- He is coming into my employ as soon as he gets back and as soon as the company give him a medal.
Over here there is the greatest possible interest in the matter-- At the Clubs I go to, the waiters all wait on me in order to have the latest developments and when it was cabled over here that the Customs' people intended stopping him, indignation raged at the Foreign office.
89 Jermyn Street, S. W.
This is to be handed to you by my special messenger, who is to assure you that I am in the best of health and spirits-- Keep him for a few hours and then send him on to Chicago-- As he is doing this on a bet, do not give him any written instructions only verbal ones. I am very well and happy and send you all my love-- Jaggers has been running errands for me ever since I came here, and a most loyal servitor when I was ill-- On his return I want to keep him on as a buttons. See that he gets plenty to eat-- If he comes back alive he will have broken the messenger boy service record by three thousand miles. Personally, it does not cost me anything to speak of. The dramatization of the Soldiers continues briskly, and Maude is sending Grundy back the Jackal, to have a second go at it. Maude insists on its being done--so I stand to win a lot.
Beefsteak Club, 9, Green Street,
Leicester Square, W. C. Tuesday.
The faithful Jaggers should have arrived to-day, or will do so this evening-- I am sure you will make the poor little chap comfortable-- I do regret having sent him on such a journey especially since the papers here made such an infernal row over it-- However, neither of us will lose by it in the end--
I dined with Lady Clarke last night and met Lord Castleton there and he invited me up to Dublin for the Punchtown Races-- I have a great mind to go and write a story on them-- Castleton is a great sport and very popular at home and in England and it would be a pleasant experience. Kuhne Beveridge is doing a bust of me in khaki outfit for the Academy and also for a private exhibition of her own works, which includes the Prince of Wales, and the Little Queen of Holland.
Hays Hammond has invited me down to South Africa again, with a promise of making my fortune, but I am not going as it takes too long.
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