Letters Written Concerning the Death of

Sergeant Charles Hampton Smith, U.S.M.C.

First Marine Battalion, Company D

Contributed by Robert Pendleton

Click here to read a history of the First Marine Battalion in the Spanish American War
Click here to read a biography of Sgt. Charles Hampton Smith
General:

Following is a transcription of two letters relating to the death of Sergeant Charles Hampton Smith, U.S.M.C. at Guantanamo, Cuba. Smith was a member of the First Marine Battalion (Reinforced), Company D.

Letter 1:

Letter from Capt.William Spicer of Co. D and is written to Smith fiance. Spicer was Smith's commanding officer.

"Camp McCalla
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
July 14, 1898

My Dear Miss Dorwin

 Your letter of June 13th was received yesterday evening and I will answer at once. Col. Huntington has also received a letter from you and in as much as I am writing to you I will answer both letters and say that your friend Sergt. Charles H. Smith was killed while on picket duty, it happened at one o’clock in the morning of June 12th. He was shot by the enemy. Some of the guerillas that attacked Lieut. Neville’s picket post - they got in the rear of the picket and fired from different directions; he was shot in the breast and must have died instantly, without a sound, because no one heard of it until someone of the party spoke to him and got no answer. His body was being carried into “Camp” [McCalla] later on that morning a stretcher having been sent out for that purpose; but the enemy, again, attacked and [the stretcher bearers] were obliged to drop and use their rifles; and were driven in before they could recover his body. From that time on for several days we had almost continual fighting, and when at last we had driven off the enemy Sergt. Smith[‘s] body, on account of having lain there so long in the hot sun, had to be buried in the spot where he was left when his comrades were attacked. He had a military funeral Chaplain [Harry] Jones of the [of the U.S.S. TEXAS] reading the burial service and, a wooden head-board placed at his grave giving name; date of death, and how killed as follows:

Sergt. C. H. Smith, U.S.M.C.
Killed in Action
June 12th, 1898

 The board is two inches thick round on top and painted white with black letters. The grave is in a secluded spot, about ten yards off a little foot path leading through the woods, or rather “Chaporal [chaparral];” those are wild bushes all around it and nothing will disturb it. The body was not mutilated in the least - this report of mutilation was caused by the false statement made by newspapers to cause a great sensation: There was scarce a sign of anything but a bullet through his body [Captain Spicer’s underlining] this I can swear to. He left no effects here that can be found now many things were lost during the confusion of moving the camp under fire and as much clothing he had on he was buried in. There is only a linen coat now left; as he left most of his things at the “Marine Barracks” at Portsmouth N.H. [actually Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Seavey Island, Kittery, Maine]. You may obtain something from there by writing to 1st Sergt.Woodson who is at present in charge of the barracks in the absence of the officer or if you cannot get anything then when I return there I will gladly send you something of his. If you would like to have his brown linen coat (which is here) I will send it to you by mail-would send it now but it being a coat- I am not sure that you would care for it in the same way as for some small article for a keep sake. In regard to sending your friends body home, I think that the government will eventually send the bodies of all home* who fell here - but most states I believe (if not the U.S.) have laws that prohibit the bringing in of any body from the tropics until it has lain under ground two years. In conclusion,  I wish to express my sympathy for you in this affliction, my own absence from my wife and children in such times brings to me more keenly the appreciation of others sorrows.

 Do not hesitate to write to me if there is anything you wish attended to. I can cheerfully say that Sergt. Smith was a brave soldier and stood his ground nobly. I enclose the stamps you sent me as they [are] not used and their condition is due to the mail having got wet in some way but they may [be] of use still. Awaiting your reply I am yours very truly-

       William F. Spicer
       Capt., U.S.M.C.
       Commanding, Co. D.”  2.

* Note: Nearly one year later, in March of 1899, the assistant secretary of the Navy ordered the remains of the battalion’s casualties to be disinterred and returned to New York Navy Yard, New York City, New York, on board the U.S. Army transport ship ROUMANIAN (later renamed CROOK).

Letter 2:

The second letter is from Colonel Commandant Charles Haywood, United States Marine Corps, to Sergeant Smith’s sister, Coral Smith:

"Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps

Washington, D.C. January 14, 1899

Madam:

It is the intention of the Navy Department to bring to the United States the bodies of the men of the Marine Corps killed in Cuba in action with the Spaniards, and now buried at Guantanamo [Bay], Cuba. As you are named on the records at these Headquarters as the next of kin of Sergeant Charles H. Smith, who was killed at Guantanamo [Bay], I will thank you to inform me, as soon as possible, what disposition you wish made of the body.

Very respectfully,
[signed] Charles Haywood
Colonel Commandant

Miss Coral Smith,
Smallwood, Md."



Bibliography:

Letter to Ms. Dorwin from Captain William F. Spicer, Commanding, Company D, Camp McCalla, Playa del Este, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Copy of the letter was provided to the contributor by Catherine  Baty, Curator of Collections, The Historical Society of Carroll County,  210 East Main Street, Westminster, Maryland. 21157.   http://www.carr.org/hscc.

Letter to Coral Smith - Westminster Democratic Advocate or American Sentinel, “His body Sent  Home,” May 6, 1899 and “The Burial of Sergeant Chas, H. Smith,” May 13, 1899.


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