[1898 ALS on the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish American War and mentioning Theodore Roosevelt’s Troops by a Soldier-Participant in the 71st Regiment, New York Volunteers].
“When I climbed over the top of the trenches the bullets were whistling and cutting all around”
First-hand account of the bloody Battle of San Juan Hill by Private John H. Everhart of the 71st Regiment, New York Volunteers. Everhart mentions encountering “…the wounded from [Theodore] Roosefelt’s [sic] troop…” and describes his own wounding by an exploding shell.
The lengthy letter, written to a young woman in Pennsylvania, sheds light on the controversial role of the 71st New York Regiment who did not participate in the actual assault on the hill because of a confusion of orders and the fact that they were pinned down by enemy fire.
Private Everhart describes landing in Cuba on the night of June 23 and 24, 1898 and the ensuing Battle of San Juan Hill on July 1:
We started through the mountains. We had no idea what was ahead but after we had marched a few miles we began to meet the wounded from Roosefelt’s [Roosevelt’s] troop. We were hurried on but when we reached the field the Spanish had retreated and we were ordered back to town where we staid [sic] several days…We were ordered out on July first. We advanced a few miles when we heard the rattle of musketry and the roar of the bursting shells ... We were halted to await orders and the fire became so hot from cannon and rifle we were ordered to lie down. We couldn’t see ten feet into the bushes and didn’t dare fire for fear of hitting our own men. We were lying about when I got hit by a bursting shell fortunately it struck me on a [indistinct] part of the leg and buried it in the soft sand seven inches…I managed to keep up with the company but it was hard work. About twenty minutes later the fellow beside was shot down…the wounded and dead of other regiments made a sight never to be forgotten but our work was ahead. The deploying and advancing under a hot fire, and being the support not able to fire in return, was hard on the nerves… (pp[2–4])
As Everhart’s narrative continues, he switches to different stationery:
The planting of the colors and the cheer that greeting the act was heard for miles. The fighting kept us hard all day. The night was very quiet but at 3am The engagement opened up with a new life after its rest… Saturday night [July 2] the enemy made an attack on our works but were discovered by our pickets when about a hundred yards from our lines. We opened fire on them, and drove them back so they came under a cross fire from two other regiments as well as our own. They had about 2000 in the attack and lost 500 of 600 wounded and as many more killed. We had to get out of our trenches under a hot fire on Sunday morning. When I climbed over the top of the trenches the bullets were whistling and cutting all around. Only one man in our company was wounded so we thought they were shooting high. At noon truce was declared…when the firing started again we did considerable fireing [sic] for some time but it eventually settled into an artillery battle with a few rifle shots aimed principally at sharp shooters in the trees. (pp[4–7])
By Thursday, July 14 Private Everhart writes that “…a staff officer came along and announced officially announced [sic] the surrender of Santiago…”
A lengthy letter with much content by a soldier describing the Battle of San Juan Hill, a decisive land battle of the Spanish American War, and the subsequent siege of the port city of Santiago de Cuba.
Description: [1898 ALS on the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish American War and mentioning Theodore Roosevelt’s Troops by a Soldier-Participant in the 71st Regiment, New York Volunteers].
[Santiago [de Cuba], July 20, 1898]. [7½]pp. Autograph Letter Signed. 8vos. and 4tos. Letter accomplished in pencil on two types of stationery. Accompanied by transmittal envelope postmarked “Santiago de Cuba, Ysla de Cuba, T 2” and franked in pencil “Soldier’s letter collect.” Folds; some wear to envelope; very good.
Refs. “K” Company 71st Regiment, New York Volunteers, A Record of its experience and service during The Spanish-American War and a Memorial to Its Dead (New York, 1900), p25, and p49. 71st Regiment Infantry, New York Volunteers during the Spanish-American War - NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center accessed online.