The Eleventh U.S. Infantry served in Puerto Rico during the Spanish
American War. These letter were written by William A. Reese Jr., a member
of of the 11 U.S. Infantry, Company C to Mr. Bert S. Reese Sr., of
Jeddo,Luzerne Co. Pennsylvania. William Reese was born on August 24, 1874,
and was therefore about 24 years old when these letters were written.
May 30 1898
Watch the 11 U.S. Infantry in the papers and you will find out more than I can tell you.
My dear Bro,-
I suppose you have been looking for a letter from me but as it is warm here a person must have some rest after a drill before his nerves are in condition to write. I have been writing every time I get a chance but I don’t seem to get through.
I arrived here on the 25th at 7:30 A.M. after bring on the road 41 hours, we went through White Haven, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Roanoke, Bristol and Chattanooga. I enjoyed the trip very much there were 22 of us and we had a private L.V. car all the way here and we had lots of fun on the way. Upon arriving her we were greeted with the usual guy (HIP) from the hundreds of un-uniform recruits who were hanging on the porches and sticking their heads out of the windows of four long two story brick government buildings which was their quarters.
We were then marched over to a large brick dining room and marched in as one table full would march out, they were dozens of long boarding house tables inside.
We received clear coffee, dry bread and a soup which the boys here call slum which tastes about as good as the name sounds, we were then marched ove to our quarters in a long shed 170’ x 20’ feet and 10 feet high with 126 double bunks placed three high they contain a straw mattress and an army blanket for each man, the shed house doors which swings up on hinges and can be closed all up or open according to the weather the are very comfortable in daytime or night, there are five such sheds here. There were 2700 soldiers here this morning but they just sent five or six hundred to Tampa, 199 were from my regiment amongst them was Ray Fuller who I found the other day in the same regiment with me neither of us knowing the other was there.
The weather here is hot in the sun but fine in the shade.
The second day I was here my regiment started to do its own cooking, it was the first one to and we are lucy indeed as we fare better than the rest here. They are badly in need of equipment here not one in ten is uniformed, we may get them this week.
We may not be here very long will probably be sent to Mobile.
Well I must close Bert as I have so much writing to do it keeps me
busy, hoping to here from you soon. From Your Bro. Will
Wm A. Reese
And I will get it from where ever I am
Show this to Pa as every letter I write is different
June 11, 1898
I just received the second letter from you and was very glad to hear from you, although the one just received was for forwarded here I received it f_?__fully the other one I received about one hour before I left Mobile.
I arrived here June 8 at 3:00 P.M., we left Mobile June 5, at 1:00 P.M.but not one of us outside of the commissioned officers knew where we were going and so we would watch the direction in which we were going first we shied towards New Orleans then we thought we were going to the Philippines then through southern Georgia toward Jacksonville but we turned south and landed here and then we began wondering whether we were at our journey’s end or whether we were to be landed on the transports but we soon found out by the soldier here that the transports had left the night before and that all nail was stopped from leaving this state for 71 hours to keep it secret until they landed on Spanish territory, this is always done in this state when a transport leaves so If we leave here which I think (and hope) we will soon. You cannot get my mail until I land.
I have not seen a stone other than a foundation stone in this state and very few in Georgia, in Georgia the soil is a mixture of sand and clay but here it is nothing but white sand, sand nothing but sand in the streets, forest and beach, it lays loose in the streets about eight inches deep.
The climate here is very hot but we are encamped on the heights and we get a nice steady sea breeze we would feel the heat very much, if a person sits down he feels very comfortable but the least exercise in the daytime or night causes one to perspire but as I perspire very easy I do not mind the heart.
In Georgia and Alabama there was nothing but niggers (as the are called in the south) but here it is nothing but Cubans as all Spaniards here cal themselves Cubans now. In Ybor City the suburb we marched through I saw nothing but Cubans and Cuban (Spanish) street signs.
I was downtown last night and now I have a poor opinion of a southern city as I have strolled through the streets of Atlanta, Chattanooga, Mobil, Tampa and many smaller towns and I have not yet found a street that would come up to the poorest street in White Haven [PA] and any that was light up good.
I met scores of Cuban soldiers and gaily dressed Cuban officers on the streets last night and most small stores here are kept by Cubans.
I am well pleased with army life It is the easiest life on earth
and all the old regular (some in the service for 30 years) are well preserved
men but I prefer a life of activity and adventure and should the war cease
its charm to me would be lost and then I do not think that I would be contented
but the soldiers says it is the best part of army
They are all nice fellows in my company there are 77 old regulars and 24 of us recruits. At Fort McPherson it was more like a Coxeys Army than anything else there were all types and kinds of men there from the Bowery tough to the western rogue and southern Negro should a copy of the Police Gazette f a couple of weeks back with types of McPherson recruits and soldiers fall in your hands you will get a good idea from it as I saw the sketch artist draw them you will see, “Casey” the ventrilogist, hypnotist and general Bowery tough, “Corporal Arizona” the western Irish soldier, Corporal Low (of our company here but detached) Low by name and nature also the picture of our old barracks If you could get it and save it for me I would value it highly.
I am well satisfied with the food we get, our bill of fare for dinner was boiled cabbage boiled shoulder, the biscuits (army made) and ¾ of a qt. Of black coffee but we generally get hard tacks in place of biscuits but at Mobile we got bread and we will get it here after a while.
We get up at 5 A.M. at 5:30 we have reville, 6. Breakfast, 7. to 8. drill, 10. to 11. Drill, 11:30 Dinner 4:00 to 5:00 P.M. drill, 6:30 Retreat 9:30 P.M. Tattoo and at 11:20 Taps and all nust be in bed, so you see we do not have it hard.
Newspapers are scarce here and high priced a daily cost from two to five cents and the don’t amount to much as I hardly ever buy one and I know very little what is going on outside. I get the W.H. [White haven. PA] Journal and that is sufficient for me. We have nice swimming in the bay about 2 miles away it is salt water and it is easy to swim in, I was down yesterday and had a swim Well Bert I must close for this time I am writing nearly all the time now, this might be the last letter that you may receive from me here as we may leave soon.
From Your Loving
Co. C 11th Infantry U.S.A.
P.S. Our camp ground is about half shaded with Georgia pine trees. W.
June 26, ’98 3.P.M.
My Dear Bro. Bert,-
I received your welcome letter on the 18th but as everything was so quiet in camp I could not think of anything worth writing to you. Gen. Coppinger was here this morning and he sent our wagon train down to the harbor to load transports and ordered every soldier to draw an extra pair of shoes so it is evident that we are going to move where we cannot get clothing very soon again.
On Friday evening lightning struck in the second N.Y. Vol’s camp about 600 yards from us killing two and wounding twenty vol’s and destroyed many rifles twisting them out of shape The sergeant says that our regiment is amongst the number selected to invade Porto Rico.
They are loading transports down at the harbor and it looks very much as if our time is short here and the general opinion is that we will leave here this week, whether we go to Porto Rico or Fernandina Fla. I do not know.
There was talk about abandoning Tampa and moving us to Fernandina 6 P.M.
We just came back from the funeral of a soldier of our regiment he was the second one to die since we came here he srved in the army for twenty three years.
As it is starting to rain and is getting dark now I will lay this away until tomorrow.
In answer to our question about getting mail should we go to Porto Rico
I would say that although it would be delayed some it would follow us up wherever we are if it has only the company and regiment on, so if I should leave here and you would direct a letter to me here it would take a direct line to me instead of coming here.
Our regiment is in the fourth army corps and is in the command of Gen Coppinger our colonel name is DeRusie and our Captain name is Hoyt. Our wagon train is hauling in traveling rations so that is a sure signal that we are going to move before many days have passed.
I have not received any pay from the government yet we were moved around so much we missed signing the muster roll and so I am out of money now and am nearly out of postage stamps and I would like you to send me about a dozen for we may be where we can only buy Spanish stamps by next pay day which will be about the second week of July.
Well Bert I must close for this time I will write you when we move from here, give my love to all and tell them that Fla. agres with me and I am feeling fine and like in very good here.
From Your Bro. Will
Co. C 11th Inf. U.S.A.
July 21 1898
My Dear Bro,-
I will now try and answer your letter which I received on the second, I just looked over my diary and seen that it was three weeks since I received it but I thought it was only a few days or I would have answered it sooner, I have so many to write I must keep and account of them in my diary and must check them off as I answer them.
I thank you for the stamps that you send me we are not paid until the 11th but I have a good supply off them now.
We are all in yellow convass invasion uniforms now we have our blue clothes packed up. I had my photos taken this week and I sent you two this morning one in blue uniform and one in yellow with blue trimings but the blue does not show up on the collar, cuffs and pockets, the are a quite dressy uniform.
We are all packed up waiting for orders to go on board the transport Mohawk to sail for Porto Rico and we are all very happy now sor we al wish to have a hand in taking Porto Rico.
They say that we will be the advance guards for the forth army corps, that means in front and I only hope it is true.
We are in the second division, first brigade of the fourth army corps The second division which includes several regiments is in command of Brig. Gen. Schwan.
They are now packing w/all kitchen utensils now and it is evident that we will leave before night.
I am on the working list today (called guard fatigue in the army) and although I have not called upon yet today I may be called any minute to load wagons and if this letter is cut short you will know the reason for it
It has been warm of late here the rainy season is on now it rains most every day, showers come up when the sun is shinning so quick it generally catches us.
6:30 A.M. We are now breaking camp.
9. Broke camp will soon march to the transports. I will say good bye now Bert but I will hold on to this letter as long as I can and write more
Must hurry W.
On Board Transport Mohawk
11 A M
We are now on board but do not know when we will leave here. Very crowded and warm in quarters there is 900 of us soldiers. Well I must close so I will bid you farewell but you will hear from me as soon as we pass the first incoming mail ship.
Good Bye From Your Loving Bro
Co C 11th Inf
I do not know when we will sail from here
Newspaper Clipping - Undated:
What Reese Says.
The following is a letter to William Reese, Sr. from his son William, who is one of Uncle Sam’s “boys in blue” in Puerto Rico. His volunteered into the regular army, and is the only one of our White Haven [Pennsylvania] boys who was fortunate enough to see active service.
In Camp Near Marie, Puerto Rico. Aug 19, 1898
I just received the first mail since I left Tampa and a letter from you was included on it, Dated July 26th, but I received no papers, and words can not tell you how valuable every word of it was to me therefore I will try and write you a long letter, If it is the only one I will have time to write.
We left Pounce [Ponce] on Aug. 7 and took the narrow gauge railroad to Yuaco, staying there until the 9th, when we broke camp and took up the march along the coast westward.
On Aug. 10th my company became the advance guards. There were
six companies of us and one troop of cavalry, one of artillery, a gattling
gun and a large wagon train and we were assisted by native scouts mounted.
Early in march we began to sniff trouble as the Spaniards were marching
in front of us barely out of sight, but not very anxious to meet us.
We began gaining on them but they finally disappeared and then we done
considerable skirmishing in a very wet ground. We finally came
to a small river which was spanned by a small bridge. When our skirmish
line neared the river, the Spaniards, who were concealed in a cornfield,
opened fire on us but a volley from us sent them flying. Ten or fifteen
of our men wadded the river and cleared it. We then took it easy
and crossed the bridge but the Spaniards soon commanded a good hill and
a deep cut and then the bullets poured into us and over our heads but their
shooting was very poor and inaccurate. We fought from 12 to 3:20
but with one lull in the battle. Our gattling gun and shrapnel shells
were more then they bargained for, so they moved on, and we camped where
we fought, on rather wet ground. Our loss was one private killed
and ten wounded. One of the wounded was from my company. Spanish
loss was 30 killed and 75 wounded. We broke camp in the morning and marched
on to Magaguay without any resistance. On Aug 13th we marched through
Marie, following close on
the Spaniards. At about twelve O’clock while we were resting along the road behind a hill the advance guards were fired upon but from too great a distance to do any harm and the game then opened up. We ran after them and drove them into a ravine and for about forty minutes we had lots of fun shooting at them from above and our three and a half inch field pieces throwing shrapnel into them. They fired wild and did not hit any of us. We then camped on their camping grounds capturing two rapid fire guns, several cases of rifles, lots of ammunition, a pack train and fifty prisoners and many other things. I have some brass bullet cartridges and a book with a little writing in it which I found at heir headquarters. I will enclose a leaf of it for you to read when you have the time.
In the last scrap we thought that no Spaniards were killed but we
just found 47 dead and dozens of wounded, which I think is remarkable work
for us without having one of our men hit, and we fought the regiment that
claims to be the crack regiment of Spain Alfonso XIII but there is no fight
in them and they are genuine cowards and we laugh at their poor shooting.
We have not marched since the 19th, but are waiting the result of peace
negotiations, which we all here hope will be settled and that we be sent
to the states for the rainy season is on now and it rains about everyday
and the nights are chilly and days warm and the soil is the muddiest I
ever saw so I need not tell you the difficulties we undergo for you have
suffered the same way but much worse. Now as I had the satisfaction
of being in two scraps and sending the contents of thirty-five cartridges
at them, I am satisfied for the was to close as none of us like Puerto
Rico. We can buy nothing foe we did not get paid and we know nothing
of the out side world.
I did not get The Journal for a long time. I think it gets stolen for any paper is valuable here and I would be pleased to receive papers of any descriptin. Pa I just heard that the mail was about to leave so I must close.
Your loving son,
Sept 4 1898
My Dear Bro Bert,-
I received your letter on Aug 11 and although it was rather short but still it done me much good, you must excuse me for not writing to you sooner but we are all about run down form the hard campaign and scraps we went through and the poor food we received on the march that we needed many days rest before any of us felt like doing anything else but sleeping but I managed to write Pa and I know that you would get to read them at home, I suppose you read the letter I wrote to him about the two fights my company had with the Spaniards, is was great sport for us and it did us more food than a square meal. I tell you it was fun to lay in the brush and watch for one and then give him a ball and watch him turn and run like a deer while we would keep on encouraging him on with more bullets. I tell you Bert smokeless powder is a great thing it is almost impossible to find out where the bullets comes from and an attacking party is at a great advantage in locating the enemy. They are a set of cowards and they run at the first smell of powder. Bert I think that I was lucky to see two fights when peace was so close at hand for now I realize what a battle is and only a few of the troops sent here can say that they had an engagement. We are quartered in the barracks here (formally built and used by the Spanish troops) and they are quite comfortable especially for rainy weather.
The rainy season has been on ever since we landed on the island it rains every afternoon regularly it is raining now and it generally rains very hard so you know what a pleasant time we had during our marches in marching through the rain with mule load on our backs on only two scanty meals a day and with night comes build a fire and dry a little and then camp on the wet ground, do you wonder that I needed rest before I was able to write under such treatment. It takes a man with a constitution of an ox to stand active army life and many of them break down every day from former hardships. I tell you Bet that my stomach underwent a severe test and I battled with it for days when I would have to eat that sickening canned beef hard tack and poor coffee for a meal but I was bound to not let it turn and I came out all right but many a poor fellows stomach was not able to stand the strain and would be taken back to the hospital but only to have the same stuff that turned his stomach be set in front of him for his supper a sick person is shown little consideration and they generally fare worse than the well so it is the fear of the hospital which keeps many a poor fellow out of it while if he were at home he could be quickly restored to health but they say that a soldier has no business to be sick
One dollar of our money is exchanged (down to the city of Mayaguez) for two dollars in Porto Rican money which makes drygoods and some groceries about the same price as in America but some stuff is quite dear here, bananas are very cheap a bought five big ones of a native for two cents in P.R. money.
The climate here is just about perfect it isn’t too hot or it isn’t to cold the nights are quite fine an cool there is no extreme change every day has about the same temperatures.
This place is only a country village with a half dozen dirty one shelf stores kept by half breed natives they do not keep anything to eat that would suit a soldier but eggs and they are very scarce.
I believe that we will be moved to the city of Mayaguez which is a sea port town about 15 miles from here before many days and if we get there we can buy about anything that we want.
We have tow months pay due us now and we will probably get paid before this reaches you. Not any of the soldiers likes it in P.R. and they are all afraid of being stationed here and they all leave here ads soon as their enlistment expires, for my part I would prefer any place in America to this for I dislike this half civilized island.
I do not know when I will get out but shall make application for my discharge as soon as peace is declared by congress and I suppose that that will be late in November December, if you see anything in the papers which relates to us getting our discharges send me the clipping. I am glad you received your raise I received a letter from FAB Yesterday.
Well Bert I must close give my love to any of my friends you may
From Your Loving Bro. Will
Co.C 11th Inf. U.S.A.
Jan 14 1899
I received your welcome letter on Xmas day and was glad that you liked your place so good now for I know how it is when a person must stay in a place he does not like, take it here for instance amongst the fleas and mullattoes the latter we can hear jabbering in their own language from morning until I might as well say it – morning for some of them talk all night and if it was not for the strict dicipline of the army there would not be any old shoes or tin cans in our own room for some night when they would wake me up with their noise I would go to the window and bombard them in the street below. You had ought to hear the natives sing there street songs there is as much music in them as there is in a chicken and they have a hollow dried vegetable the shape of a cucumber but about a foot long which has ridges cut into it and they have a piece of wire or wood which the draw across the ridges in a sing song way the best way I can describe it is to make a succession of F’s (.-.) on a telegraph instrument and have some one to sing a song to the time of it I will bring one home with me when I come they would make a good instrument of torture for a serenading party and I warrant you that any one would be willing to give a person a dollar or so to have the music end.
The prospect of getting out of the army soon seem to be very goodnow and I thi9nk before long I will be on the way home I can probably tell you more about it in a couple of weeks or so. I heard that twenty thousand of the regular army are ordered discharged consequently we are expecting the order to come here most any time.
Well I guess that I have told you all the news that is worth telling but I can probably tell you more when I see you
That handkerchief I sent Gertie I got at Las Marias ti is a genuine P. Rican country handkerchief and I do not think that I could find any here for they are all about the same here as the ones in America. A Two cts, stamp is enough to bring a letter to me but I must pay five cts. To send one home unless it is indorsed by my Co. Commander.
Well I must close hoping to see you soon again
I Remain Your Eff. Bro
Co. C 11th U.S. A.