The Black Soldier

A Southerner’s Statement, That The Negro Cavalry Saved The “Rough Riders.”

Some of the officers who accompanied the wounded soldiers on the trip north give interesting accounts of the fighting around Santiago. “I was standing near Captain Capron and Hamilton Fish, Jr.,” said a corporal to the Associated Press correspondent to-night, “and saw them shot down. They were with the Rough Riders and ran into an ambuscade, though they had been warned of the danger. If it had not been for the Negro Calvary the Rough Riders would have been exterminated. I am not a Negro lover. My father fought with Mosby’s Rangers, and I was born in the South, but the Negroes saved that fight, and the day will come when General Shafter will give them credit for their bravery.”–Asso. Press.

“Members of our regiment kicked somewhat when the colored troops were sent forward with them, but when they saw how the Negroes fought they became reconciled to the situation and some of them now say the colored brother can have half of their blankets whenever they want them.”

The above is an extract from a communication to the Daily Afternoon Journal, of Beaumont, Tex., written by a Southern white soldier: “Straws tell the way the wind blows,” is a hackneyed expression, but an apt illustration of the subject in hand. It has been hinted by a portion of the Negro press that when the war ended, that if there is to be the millennium of North and South, the Negroes will suffer in the contraction. There is no reason to encourage this pessimistic view, since it is so disturbing in its nature, and since it is in the province of the individuals composing the race to create a future to more or less extent. The wedge has entered; it remains for the race to live up to its opportunities. The South already is making concessions. While concessions are apt to be looked upon as too patronizing, and not included in the classification of rights in common, yet in time they amount to the same. The mere statement that “the colored brother can have half of their blankets whenever they want them,” while doubtless a figure of speech, yet it signifies that under this very extreme of speech an appreciable advance of the race. It does not mean that there is to be a storming of the social barriers, for even in the more favored races definite lines are drawn. Sets and circles adjust such matters. But what is desired is the toleration of the Negroes in those pursuits that the people engage in or enjoy in general and in common. It is all that the American Negro may expect, and it is safe to say that his ambitions do not run higher, and ought not to run higher. Money and birth in themselves have created some unwritten laws that are much stronger than those decreed and promulgated by governments. It would be the height of presumption to strike at these, to some extent privileged classes. It is to be hoped that the good fortunes of war will produce sanity and stability in the race, contending for abstract justice.–Freeman.

The testimony continues:
Private Smith of the Seventy-first Volunteers, speaking about the impression his experience at Santiago had made upon him, said:
“I am a Southerner by birth, and I never thought much of the colored man. But, somewhat, now I feel very differerently toward them, for I met them in camp, on the battle field and that’s where a man gets to know a man. I never saw such fighting as those Tenth Cavalry men did. They didn’t seem to know what fear was, and their battle hymn was, ‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town to-night. That’s not a thrilling hymn to hear on the concert stage, but when you are lying in a trench with the smell of powder in your nose and the crack of rifles almost deafening you and bullets tearing up the ground around you like huge hailstones beating down the dirt, and you see before you a blockhouse from which there belches fourth the machine gun, pouring a torrent of leaden missiles, while from holes in the ground you see the leveled rifles of thousands of enemies that crack out death in ever-increasing succession and then you see a body of men go up that hill as if it were in drill, so solid do they keep their formation, and those men are yelling, ‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town to-night,’ singing as if they liked their work, why, there’s an appropriateness in the tune that kind of makes your blood creep and your nerves to thrill and you want to get up and go ahead if you lose a limb in the attempt And that’s what those ‘niggers’ did. You just heard the Lieutenant say, ‘Men, will you follow me?’ and you hear a tremendous shout answer him, ‘You bet we will,’ and right up through that death-dealing storm you see men charge, that is, you see them until the darned Springfield rifle powder blinds you and hides them.”

“And there is another thing, too, that teaches a man a lesson. The action of the officers on the field is what I speak of. Somehow when you watch these men with their gold braid in armories on a dance night or dress parade it strikes you that they are a little more handsome and ornamental than they are practical and useful. To tell the truth, I didn’t think much of those dandy officers on parade or dancing round a ball room. I did not really think they were worth the money that was spent upon them. But I just found it was different on the battlefield, and they just knew their business and bullets were a part of the show to them.”

Negro Soldiers
The Charleston News and Courier says:
It is not known what proportion of the insurgent army is colored, but the indications are that the proportion of the same element in the volunteer army of occupation will be small.
On the basis of population, of course one-third of the South’s quota should be made up of colored, and it is to be remembered that they made good soldiers and constitute a large part of the regular army. There were nearly 250,000 of them in service in the last war.

The Negro As A Soldier–His Good Marksmanship–The Fight At El Caney–“Woe To Spanish In Range.”
There has been hitherto among the officers of the army a certain prejudice against serving in the Negro regiments. But the other day a Lieutenant in the Ninth Infantry said enthusiastically:

“Do you know, I shouldn’t want anything better than to have a company in a Negro regiment? I am from Virginia, and have always had the usual feeling about commanding colored troops. But after seeing that charge of the Twenty-fourth up the San Juan Hill, I should like the best in the world to have a Negro company. They went up that incline yelling and shouting just as I used to hear when they were hunting rabbits in Virginia. The Spanish bullets only made them wilder to reach the trenches.”Officers of other regiments which were near the Twenty-fourth on July 1 are equally strong in their praise of the Negroes. Their yells were an inspiration to their white comrades and spread dismay among the Spaniards. A Captain in a volunteer regiment declares that the Twenty-fourth did more than any other to win the day at San Juan. As they charged up through the white soldiers their enthusiasm was spread, and the entire line fought the better for their cheers and their wild rush.Spanish evidence to the effectiveness of the colored soldiers is not lacking. Thus an officer who was with the troops that lay in wait for the Americans at La Quasina on June 24th, said:
“What especially terrified our men was the huge American Negroes. We saw their big, black faces through the underbrush, and they looked like devils. They came forward under our fire as if they didn’t the least care about it.”

The Charge At El Caney

It was the Tenth Cavalry that had this effect on the Spaniards. At San Juan the Ninth Cavalry distinguished itself, its commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, being killed. The fourth of the Negro regiments, the Twenty-fifth Infantry, played an especially brilliant part in the battle of El Caney on July 1st. It was held in reserve with the rest of Colonel Miles’ brigade, but was ordered to support General Lawton’s brigade toward the middle of the day. At that hour marching was an ordeal, but the men went on at a fast pace. With almost no rest they kept it up until they got into action. The other troops had been fighting hard for hours, and the arrival of the Twenty-fifth was a blessing. The Negroes went right ahead through the tired ranks of their comrades. Their charge up the hill, which was surmounted by Spanish rifle pits and a stone fort, has been told. It was the work of only a part of the regiment, the men coming chiefly from three companies. Colonel Milts had intended having his whole brigade make the final charge, but the Twenty-fifth didn’t wait for orders. It was there to take that hill, and take the hill it did.

One of the Spanish officers captured there seemed to think that the Americans were taking an unfair advantage of them in having colored men who fought like that. He had been accustomed to the Negroes in the insurgent army, and a different lot they are from those in the United States army.

“Why,” he said ruefully, “even your Negroes fight better than any other troops I ever saw.”

The way the Negroes charged up the El Caney and San Juan hills suggested inevitably that their African nature has not been entirely eliminated by generations of civilization, but was bursting forth in savage yells and in that wild rush some of them were fairly frantic with the delight of the battle. And it was no mere craziness. They are excellent marksmen, and they aim carefully and well. Woe to the Spaniards who showed themselves above the trenches when a colored regiment was in good range. Magnificent Showing Made By The Negroes–Their Splendid Courage At Santiago The Admiration Of All Officers.

They were led by Southern Men–Black Men from the South Fought Like Tigers and end a Question often debated–In only One or Two Actions of the Civil War was there such a loss of Officers as at San Juan.

Telegram To Commercial
WASHINGTON, July 6, 1898.
Veterans who are comparing the losses at the battle of San Juan, near Santiago, last Friday, with those at Big Bethel and the first Bull Run say that in only one or two actions of the late war was there such a loss in officers as occurred at San Juan hill.

The companies of the Twenty-fourth Infantry are without officers. The regiment had four captains knocked down within a minute of each other. Capt. A.C. Ducat was the first officer hit in the action, and was killed instantly. His second lieutenant, John A. Gurney, a Michigan man, was struck dead at the same time as the captain, and Lieutenant Henry G. Lyon was left in command of Company D, but only for a few minutes, for he, too, went down. Liscum, commanding the regiment, was killed.

Negroes Fight Like Tigers
Company F, Twenty-fourth Infantry, lost Lieutenant Augustin, of Louisiana, killed, and Captain Crane was left without a commissioned officer. The magnificent courage of the Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas Negroes, which make up the rank and file of this regiment, is the admiration of every officer who has written here since the fight. The regiment has a large proportion of Southern-born officers, who led their men with more than usual exposure. These men had always said the Southern Negro would fight as staunchly as any white man, if he was led by those in whom he had confidence. The question has often been debated in every mess of the army. San Juan hill offered the first occasion in which this theory could be tested practically, and tested it was in a manner and with a result that makes its believers proud of the men they commanded. It has helped the morale of the four Negro regiments beyond words. The men of the Twenty-fourth Infantry, particularly, and their comrades of the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry as well, are proud of the record they made.

They Never Wavered
The Twenty-fourth took the brunt of the fight, and all through it, even when whole companies were left without an officer, not for a moment were these colored soldiers shaken or wavering in the face of the fierce attack made upon them. Wounded Spanish officers declare that the attack was thus directed because they did not believe the Negro would stand up against them and they believed there was the faulty place in the American line. Never were men more amazed than were the Spanish officers to see the steadiness and cool courage with which the Twenty-fourth charged front forward on its tenth company (a difficult thing to do at any time), under the hottest fire. The value of the Negro as a soldier is no longer a debatable question.
It has been proven fully in one of the sharpest fights of the past three years.

“Our Boys,” The Soldiers
“What Army Officers and Others Have to Say of the Negroes Conduct in War”–“Give Honor to Whom Honor is Due”–“Acme of Bravery.”

It has been said, “Give honor to whom honor is due,” and while it is just and right that it should be so, there are times, however, when the “honor” due is withheld. Ever since the battle of San Juan Hill at Santiago de Cuba nearly every paper in the land has had nothing but praise for the bravery shown by the “Rough Riders,” and to the extent that, not knowing the truth, one would naturally arrive at the conclusion that the “Rough Riders” were “the whole thing.” Although sometimes delayed, the truth, like murder, “will out.” It is well enough to praise the “Rough Riders” for all they did, but why not divide honors with the other fellows who made it possible for them, the “Rough Riders,” to receive praise, and be honored by a generous and valorous loving nation?

After the battles of El Caney and San Juan Hill, many wounded American soldiers who were able to travel were given furloughs to their respective homes in the United States, and Lieutenant Thomas Roberts, of this city, was one of them. Shortly after Lieutenant Roberts arrived in the city he was interviewed by a representative of the Illinois State Register, to whom he gave a description of the battle of July 1st. He said: “On the night of June 30th the second squadron of the Tenth Cavalry did outpost duty. Daylight opened on the soon-to-be blood-sodden field on July 1st, and the Tenth was ordered to the front. First went the first squadron, followed soon after by the second, composed of Troops G, I, B and A. The Tenth Cavalry is composed of Negroes, commanded by white officers, and I have naught but the highest praise for the swarthy warriors on the field of carnage. Led by brave men, they will go into the thickest of the fight, even to the wicked mouths of deadly cannon, unflinchingly.”

Lieutenant Roberts says further that “at 9 o’clock on the morning of July 1st the order came to move. Forward we went, until we struck a road between two groves, which road was swept by a hail of shot and shell from Spanish guns. The men stood their ground as if on dress parade. Single file, every man ready to obey any command, they bade defiance to the fiercest storm of leaden hail that ever hurtled over a troop of United States cavalry. The order came, ‘Get under cover,’ and the Seventy-first New York and the Tenth Cavalry took opposite sides of the road and lay down in the bushes. For a short time no orders came, and feeling a misapprehension of the issue, I hastened forward to consult with the first lieutenant of the company. We found that through a misinterpreted order the captain of the troop and eight men had gone forward. Hastening back to my post I consulted with the captain in the rear of Troop G, and the quartermaster appeared upon the scene asking the whereabouts of the Tenth Cavalry. They made known their presence, and the quartermaster told them to go on, showing the path, the quartermaster led them forward until the bend in the San Juan River was reached. Here the first bloodshed in the Tenth occurred, a young-volunteer named Baldwin fell, pierced by a Spanish ball.”

An aide hastened up and gave the colonel of the regiment orders to move forward. The summit of the hill was crowned by two block-houses, and from these came an unceasing fire. Lieutenant Roberts said he had been lying on the ground but rose to his knees to repeat an order, “Move forward,” when a mauser ball struck him in the abdomen and passed entirely through his body. Being wounded, he was carried off of the field, but after all was over, Lieutenant Roberts says it was said (on the quiet, of course) that “the heroic charge of the Tenth Cavalry saved the ‘Rough Riders’ from destruction.” Lieutenant Roberts says he left Cuba on the 12th of July for Fort Monroe, and that a wounded Rough Rider told him while coming over that “had it not been for the Tenth Cavalry the Rough Riders would never passed through the seething cauldron of Spanish missels.” Such is the statement of one of Springfield’s best citizens, a member of the Tenth Cavalry, United States regulars.

Some days later, Lieutenant Roberts had occasion to visit Chicago and Fort Sheridan, and while there he was interviewed by a representative of the Chicago Chronicle, to whom he related practically the same story as above stated, “You probably know my regiment is made up exclusively of Negroes except for the commissioned officers, and I want to say right here that those men performed deeds of heroism on that day which have no parallel in the history of warfare. They were under fire from six in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon, with strict orders not to return the hail of lead, and not a man in those dusky ranks flinched. Our brigade was instructed to move forward soon after 1 o’clock to assault the series of blockhouses which was regarded as impregnable by the foreign attaches. As the aide dashed down our lines with orders from headquarters the boys realized the prayed-for charge was about to take place and cheered lustily. Such a charge! Will I ever forget that sublime spectacle? There was a river called San Juan, from the hill hard by, but which historians will term the pool of blood. Our brigade had to follow the course of that creek fully half a mile to reach the point selected for the grand attack. With what cheering did the boys go up that hill! Their naked bodies seemed to present a perfect target to the fire of the dons, but they never flinched. When the command reached the famous stone blockhouse it was commanded by a second sergeant, who was promoted on the field of battle for extraordinary bravery. San Juan fell many minutes before El Caney, which was attacked first, and I think the Negro soldiers can be thanked for the greater part of that glorious work. All honor to the Negro soldiers! No white man, no matter what his ancestry may be, should be ashamed to greet any of those Negro cavalrymen with out-stretched hand. The swellest of the Rough Riders counted our troopers among their best friends and asked them to their places in New York when they returned, and I believe the wealthy fellows will prove their admiration had a true inspiration.”

Thus we see that while the various newspapers of the country are striving to give the Rough Riders first honors, an honest, straightforward army officer who was there and took an active part in the fight, does not hesitate to give honor to whom honor is due, for he says, “All honor to the Negro soldiers,” and that it was they who “saved the Rough Riders from destruction.” And right here I wish to call the reader’s attention to another very important matter and that is, while it has been said heretofore that the Negro soldier was not competent to command, does not the facts in the case prove, beyond a doubt, that there is no truth in the statement whatever? If a white colonel was “competent” to lead his command into the fight, it seems that a colored sergeant was competent extraordinary, for he not only went into the fight, but he, and his command, “done something,” done the enemy out of the trenches, “saved the Rough Riders from destruction,” and planted the Stars and Stripes on the blockhouse.

Just before the charge, one of the foreign attaches, an Englishman, was heard to say that he did not see how the blockhouse was to be reached without the aid of cannon; but after the feat had been accomplished, a colored soldier said, “We showed him how.”

Now that the colored soldier has proven to this nation, and the representatives of others, that he can, and does fight, as well as the “other fellow,” and that he is also “competent” to command, it remains to be seen if the national government will give honor to whom honor is due, by honoring those deserving, with commissions.

Under the second call for volunteers by the President, the State of Illinois raised a regiment of colored soldiers, and Governor Tanner officered that regiment with colored officers from colonel down; and that, as you might say, before they had earned their “rank.” Now the question is, can the national government afford to do less by those, who have earned, and are justly entitled to, a place in the higher ranks? We shall see.
C.F. Anderson
Springfield, Ill.

Johnson, Edward A. History of Negro Soldiers in the Spanish-American War, and other items of Interest. 1899.

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