Spanish American War Website Banner

Corporal John J. Kiernan

of the 12th New York Volunteer Infantry

Writes Home

Please Visit our Home Page to learn more about the Spanish American War
Letter 1 - Life in Camp Thomas ||| Letter 2 - Waiting for Action ||| Letter 3 - Fall of Santiago


Below are several letters written by Corporal John Kiernan. Kiernan was born on January 26, 1868 in New York City.  He married Margaret McCann on November 5th, 1889 and together they had 18 children. He served in the 12th New York Volunteer Infantry and was honorably discharged on November 10, 1898.  John Kiernan was a prodigious long distance runner, finishing second in the very first Boston Marathon in 1897.  Legend also has it that he walked from New York to Chicago on a dare.  After his service in the 12th, Jack returned to his job in the New York City Street Cleaning Department, rising to the level of Superintendent.  He died on April 24, 1927, leaving a rich legacy as a loving husband and father, a God-fearing patriot and a world-class athlete.

Letter 1:

"June 28, 1898

Mrs. Kiernan
649 2nd Avenue
New York, NY

Dear Wife,

I have sent you a letter last night telling you about our supposed moving, but now I believe the order is countermanded.  We have just been ordered to bring 10 days rations.  That means that we don't go right away. Nearly all of our men from the city have arrived.  This is a great park - about 1/2 dozen bands playing at the same time.  Over on the the other side a sham battle is in progress where I am now standing outside of the Division Hospital.  There are about 60 men in the hospital but there are none from the 12th.

The new men are being affected now by the water.  Some of the coughs of the men in the hospital are hacking.  You would not think that in a place like this you could get cold but there are about 30 cases of typhoid fever and about 6 of pneumonia.  The men are about sick of this place.  They wanted to be moved.  I hope they do one thing or the other.  Tell Mr. Murphy and Mrs. Murphy and Paul Boyle I send my regards - also Mrs. Duffy.  Tell her to bring you some pie and charge it to me.  I have not much to say in this letter.  So I bid them all goodbye.  Tell Mrs. Robinson too.

Camp George H. Thomas
Chickamauga Park"

Letter 2:

"July 4th, 1898

Dear Wife and kind friends,

... "To us the 71st is getting all the glory.  We are glad that a New York regiment has had a share in it.  We don't begrudge them the honor they are getting tonight.  After we had a sham battle the only one that done any work today we had 10 rounds of blank cartridges and we put a good deal of vim in our work.  When we move we will, I think understand the rules of warfare. We heard that Cervera's fleet was destroyed.  Such a yell you never heard, everybody shaking hands and jumping up in the air.  Some fairly crazed with joy." ...


Letter 3

Letter Undated -
(Assumed to be about July 17th, 1898)

Dear Wife,

We have just received news of the surrender of Santiago at 3:30PM.  You could not see the men more crazy than the 12th was but our 2 majors stood in the Colonel’s tent with bowed head feeling sick at heart because they were not there.  These men are great fighters and it made them feel blue to hear of that – and them to be here.  The Colonel ordered out the band and drum corps to play.  All hands joined in the parade.  There was about 400 men in line.  They went in the 8th Massachusetts camp to serenade them, up to their ankles in mud but that did not stop them.  Such a thing as mud don’t bother these boys when they hear such good news as that.  Then we went to Brigade Headquarters, from there we went to the 21st Kansas headed by Naylor on a mule.  He went through like a major.  We went all through the Kansas regiment.

We had a speech from the major of the 21st.  He said in these words, “Men of the 12th New York, we are assembled here together to do our duty by the flag that now floats proudly of the stronghold of the enemy’s country and perhaps in the near future we will return to our homes and your city will honor you as I know she can.  Also my own regiment, the 21st Kansas I know our state will feel proudly of her sons who responded to her call.  I will try and quote the words of the hymn, ‘God died to save men and we are willing to die to free men and I say from my heart that the 8th Massachusetts, the 12th New York, and the 21st Kansas together can whip the world.”  Great cheers responded.  The Colonel told us after dress parade he would give us a keg of beer to every company in honor of Shafter’s victory but it is raining so hard he will postpone it till it gets dry.

At this time the Kansas is coming to pay us a visit.  They just passed us now, the whole regiment of about 1,000 men.  You never heard such yelling as is going on at this writing.  As I am writing this the noise is something great.  Sometimes a man feels proud that he is an American when he sees such feeling as this from men that are so far apart from one another.  They all got their rubber boots on in this rain but the mud is fearful.  While you stand still, mud will stick on your shoes ½ inch thick.  The bands are still playing in all directions now.  It would be a nice sight for a city person to see and hear all the men who are allowed to raise as much as they please now.  But our colonel said he hoped that the next battle would see the 12th New York in front of it while we done our duty in answering the call.  Still there is no glory to the 12th.  Of course if this country did not have a reserve force, Spain might think she could lick us but this country will take no chances.

The cook is on the bum, he gives us nothing but stew, stew, stew.  Of course he does the best he can.  I send you these pictures of one of our boys, we call him Kid.  He is the one that owed $11 to the canteen.  He doesn’t care for money, he can cry at will or laugh, whichever it pleases him.  These are cheap, 12 for 50 cents.  Send me down 50 cents and I will get some in your next letter.  Stick it to the paper with some glue.  I wish you could have Aunt Ann make some cake.  You can pay her for it and send it down.  Of course we get cake but we like some homemade stuff.  The crowd are coming back now.  You never seen such crazy men.  2 bands playing different tunes.

I hope all hands in New York will not take the same view of us as we do ourselves which is that we are only figureheads here.  That bluff Dewey gave to the Germans, I tell you he is the stuff that our country needs in such places as he is in.  If our ships went over to Spain you would see the other fleet transformed into a submarine fleet.  But they fight in a very peculiar way, they are brave enough but they don’t last long.

This little bow is from the inside of the hat – it is used as a souvenir by the men to send home.  I hope you are feeling better than you did.  I was talking to a man here who has a wife about your size and weight and she has 11 children but they never broke like yours.  She had the same symptoms as you.  I hope you don’t worry much.  I will close my letter now.  Hoping all hands are well.


Information contributed by Mr. Kiernan's family. Anyone with info on the 12th New York can write the family by clicking here!

Website Bibliography |||Website Video Bibliography
Support this Site by Visiting the Website Store! (help us defray costs!)
We are providing the following service for our readers. If you are interested in books, videos, CD's etc. related to the Spanish American War, simply type in "Spanish American War" (or whatever you are interested in) as the keyword and click on "go" to get a list of titles available through

Visit Main Page for copyright data

Return to Main Page

Return to Action Reports Page