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Sgt. Maj. Feodor Krembs

of the

13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry

Contributed by Steve Treanor

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This letter (below) was written by Sgt. Maj. Feodor Krembs of the 13th Minnesota Volunter Infantry. As Sergeant major, Krembs was on the regimental staff and was the highest ranked non-commissioned officer in the regiment. In this letter to his wife, written from Manila, Philippine Islands, Septmeber 10, 1898, Krembs tells of life in Manila since the capture of the city from the Spanish less than a month earlier.

In spite of Sgt. Mjr. Krembs hope, expressed in the letter below, to return home soon after this letter was written, the regiment would not return October 12, 1899.


Krembs was born on January 6, 1867 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He spent his adult life in the military, first  joining 1st Illinois Volunteer Cavary, Troop B Troop for 3 years, being in 1888.  After arriving in St. Paul Minnesota he enlisted as a private in Company B of the 1st Minnesota National Guard Regiment  in 1893 and was promoted to corporal two year later.  With the outbreak of the Spanish American War, he enlisted in the 13th Minnesota Volunter Infantry, serving as the regiment's sergeant major.

After his service with the 13th Minnesota Volunter Infantry, Feodor Krembs and his wife Gussie lived on 16th Street in Racine, Wisconsin. He managed the family farm and manufacturing company  in Mt. Pleasant. In 1904 he was the President of the Army of the Philippines Society in St. Paul, also serving as the organization's treasurer.  Having remained in the National Guard, Krembs received his commission as a first lieutenant in 1908.

By 1904 Feodor awas as a cashier working for the Jones and Adams Company a wholesale and retail fuel company at 414 Robert St.  He and Gussie then lived at 395 Hope in St Paul. In 1913 Krembs was appointed clerk for State Boards which built and operated state armories.  When, in January,  1916, Minnesota Governor Winfield Scott Hammond died in office, Krembs was in charge of the thirty man honor guard which guarded the casket and lowered it into the grave.

On June 30, 1916, he was again mustered into federal service because of the border conflict with Mexico, receiving the rank of captain.  After 22 years of service with the National Guard, he was discharged at Llano Grande because no provision had been incorporated in the new army bill for his office.  Krembs retained the rank of captain on the reserve list, however, and subsequently was inducted into the U.S. army with the rank of major and was assigned to the staff of the Thirteenth Provisional division as ordinance supply officer.   In February, 1917 he became a major in the Minnesota National Guard Ordinance Department and in the following November became Federal Ordinance Surveying Officer for the State of Minnesota.

When the U.S. entered World War I Krembs became a major in the U.S. Army and was assigned as instructor of small arms at Camp Perry, Ohio. Later he was transferred to Camp Travis, Texas where he over saw seven rifle and pistol instructors preparing the 18th Division for service in France. Following the signing of the armistice in 1918 he was assigned to the infantry school at Camp Denning, Georgia.  In September of 1919 he was mustered out of the Army and was commissioned a Major in the reserves of the 88th division.

At the time of his death from heart disease he was working as a cashier for the Marvel Battery Company.  Krembs died on June 6, 1922, at St. Paul, Minnesota.  His body laid in state in the St. Paul Armory and provide with full military honors. He was buried in the city's Oaklnd Cemetery.

The letter:

"Manila, Philippine Islands September 10, ‘98

My Darling Wife – Gussie –

Your loving and very welcomed letter written July 24 reached me this afternoon and found me in comparatively good health.  Words, my darling, fail me in which to fully express the feeling of gratitude and pleasure I am afforded to hear from you and wish it were every day.  Your kind and tender expressions of regret at being unable to care for me, even in the few hours of my sea-sickness, while in route to Honolulu are but of the many instincts and pure qualities of your loving womanhood, which you have so faithfully confided in me and which I have always entrusted and endeared you with as my most tender loving wife.  I can not forgive myself for the little consideration I gave you at the proper time. Though I trust my dear as serious consequences will never arise and that I soon again join you to live our lives over again in greatest happiness and comfort.  The fact is I never realized in all that there was in going to war.  I never realized fully the situation as it is at present and nearly 10000 miles from you and the time to return so indefinite trusting during its periods to constantly sting your pure heart with fear and worry and perhaps sadness.

True it is now a month past that we have accomplished the purpose for which we volunteered our services to our glorious government.  The purpose for which we were sent to these lands we have done in an American fashion and in honor to both our flag and country, and example for all nations of the world to follow.  We also won for it a victory upon the battle field which may find a few lines written and reposing in the Annals of our American history.  We extend to our comrades of the Atlantic our congratulations and proclaim them, each and all, the heroes of the hour of this great war.  We deeply sympathized and morn over their trials, tribulations and misfortunes, though our hardships were severe, yet in comparison but a trifle.
Major Bean in weight and size is not the Captain of St Paul though in the best of health and seemingly taking things easy and rather contented in his new role of Inspector of Police of the City of Manila, he has trimmed down to almost 170 pounds and to say what you may he is one of the most popular officers of the regt. among the enlisted men.

I am glad to hear of your intentions of spending some time with your folks and trust this letter may find you among them, all enjoying the best of health and prosperity.

Just what this society or association of which Mrs. Powers is secretary portends, I know nothing about, though I have seen a letter head, I gave it not attention at the time.  Though I am told it was for conveying or transmitting news and information about the members of the regiments from Minnesota.

The loss of Mr. Watson is deeply mourned by our regiment.  That he would have accomplished the organization of a band 2nd to none in the field was assured by the fact of the comments it has already received wherever it has played.  Now it is in an uproar owing to fractions rousting regarding as to who shall become the instructor and director.  A recent order issued sent all men back to their respective companies when later after realizing their error, the band will be reorganized.

Colonel Reeve, it is understood has been recommended for the appointment of Brigadier – General receiving some information that the recommend has been confirmed, in which event he steps out of the regiment leaving but a few mourners and the fact the he is very likely to remain here and placed in command is no great relief, as his interest in the regiment are such that he will continue to handle the reigns. I will state my grievances later and my reasons to think that your were quite right when you said to Papa that you would be satisfied if I returned as a Sergeant Major only instead of a Colonel as he had joking by referred to what my chances were of returning with the rank of Colonel.

With this I must stop to retire to my hammock, a little change for the better as I had been making my bed on the floor. The table and boxes were breaking up at Camp Dewey nearly a month ago, with only a blanket to lay my weary bones upon.  Oh what wouldn’t I give for my bed I used to slumber in when you made it up for me and yet I am so glad I joined the Army ___ vowing at the next opportunity to stand aside and allow the regiment to pass, to cheer them on and shout with enthusiasm that would inspire their young hearts.  Hurrah! Boys. Give them H--- for me.  Hurrah!  Good night dear girl.

Owing to the amount of work I have on hand I had almost forgotten I had commenced this letter to you on the 10th. Today is the 15th and so it goes.  I am at this office from early morning to late at night occasionally going out for recreation and a glass of beer if someone will buy, for up to yesterday I have been without money for more than 40 days, not wishing nor wanting to borrow and have gotten along first-rate.  Yesterday was pay day, hence I enclose you a draft on the pay-master USA for $30.00 which you can cash in Chicago.  Papa or Ottmar will direct you to get it cashed.  This is really all I can possibly send you, darling, and regret it isn’t more for I know you need double the amount or at least – I should send that much more at any rate. Pay day occurs but every 2 months and must keep enough to tide me over for you know I am not throwing away any.  Oh! This is all for glory, dear and don’t worry.  I assure you little I care for the glory there is in this for me.  Though I share equally with the greater majority, I am now ready to quit and come home, the sooner the better.

The news from the States we have to date is from Aug 7.  Rather behind the times, and I trust current events, news of today, when we receive it will be favorable to an early return home.  Nevertheless should it become a fact is the probabilities are we will remain here longer than next February or early March.  I will make efforts to get my discharge, pending the conclusions of the Paris Conference with absolute Peace.  Discharges have been handed out to men on acct of physical disability with $500.00 for travelling expenses paid them in cash, when discharged in Manila.  Others are sent (not so fortunate) to San Francisco on the governments expense who do not fair so well on board boat as those paying their own expenses and travelling as passengers and get their discharges on arriving in the States with travelling expenses from San F. to home.  This of course is a greater saving to the government than to discharge men in Manila, which it is needless to say they all want.  In my case several officers have expressed their willingness to help me get a discharge in the event we must remain and take possession of these Islands or to hold them any great length of time after peace was declared and signed a discharge for service rendered as Sergeant Major.

These islands are the bone of contention and very serious problem when we don’t want them and desire to dispose of them.  We certainly don’t want them and yet we will not return them Spain and now what to do with them.  We here are at sea and have and hear all kinds of dispositions, though a coaling station it seems is all we want.  The native Filipino, the businessman as well as the insurgent wants the US to hold them, but why should the  U.S. rule over such people and so great distance from the central seat of government.  It is not our policy and we don’t want the Islands.  Gen. Merritt and Admiral Dewey are strongly opposed to retaining them and who should know better.  I am rather eager to know the sentiments of the people of the States.

As yet we haven’t received papers or news from the States regarding the fall and surrender of Manila.  We are rather anxious to learn what you people have to say or how the eventful day Aug 13 was reported and cabled.  We are expecting mail every day not having received any since the 10th.

The 10th.  This reminds me, darling of the birthdays that are coming along now at home.  Kindly remember and include me in your congratulations and hope my letter and congratulations to Papa reach him in time.

Geo. Jackson, who is detailed as Clerk in the Water Office of Manila together with Christ Iltner and Lieut. Tenvoorde ask to be remembered to you.  All clerks in the offices of the City and General Government are from the ranks of our entire troops.  Though the regulars have somewhat the best of the jobs.  The only extra money is that a man gets 75 cents a day for meals and $12.00 per month for quarters.  He does not have to eat or sleep with his company.  He can make on this extra quite a little money per month as it cost him but half that amount to live.  You see we get $21.00 in Spanish, Filipino or Mexican money for a $10 gold piece and you can buy as much with this Spanish money in it’s own value as we can with ours at home.  Therefore an article costing a dollar at home cost but 50 cents.  For instance a suit of linen made to order costs but 3 to 4 dollars which means 1.50 or 2 dollars of our money.  Yet for all this difference in the value of the monies we must pay 20 to 25 cents (Spanish) for a glass of beer and 10 cents for a bottle of soda water made in Hong Kong which is 5 cents of our money.  But on imperishable goods of any kind, such as silks for dresses and other purposes are very cheap.  The best silk dress (plain black) can be bought for 12.00 our money of 20 yards.  Cigars, the same for which we pay 10 cents for at home we buy here for 2 ½ cents.  This is really a great cigar manufacturing country and everybody smokes, even the native women and children.  I smoke a good deal for no other purposes than for disinfection.  I dread getting sick here yet of nearly 15000 men or soldiers here we have but 425 in the hospital of which perhaps ¼ need special attention.  The principal ailment is dysentery, which becomes chronic and in that case the men are sent back to the States and home.

I am watching myself closely to wip anything that may arise in time.  The heat is somewhat intense and I keep entirely out of the sun during the day.  Yet with all the precaution I may get it and get it good.

Now regarding my reference to the chances for a promotion I will say I have given up all hopes and don’t expect even consideration when a vacancy occurs.  The Colonel for some reasons or for no reasons at all, has been very unfriendly towards me and in fact has treated me like a dog since leaving San Francisco.  Since entering the service he has assumed a role which ranks him among the most despised officers, such as one occasionally reads about.  He cannot be approached by an enlisted man without him censured and called down in words unbecoming an officer of his rank.  He has on several occasions reprimanded me for reasons I had not concern and yet I have labored day and night in order to accomplish all which had to be done.  He has never given me the least consideration to lighten by burdens in the execution of my duties.  He has at all times crowded me for sufficient room to properly do the work of the office preventing me from detailing assistance.  He has subjected me to a considerable annoyance by assigning me quarters for an office and for instance to give you an idea of no exaggeration or willful complaint – assigned the Band to and into the same room which I was quartered to do the clerical work of the regt. It aggravates me beyond control of temper to think of all the contemptible and most despicable manners with which he has treated me that I dare not write much more about him on this subject, pledging my word of honor that when I am free from services in Army of my Country, Colonel Reeve, perhaps then a General will answer to me for his action.  He has (no) good will or word of an officer or enlisted man, unless it is he who he has favored and of which there are few.  Had I informed you or this sooner so I could have learned your advice by this time.  I should have requested to be sent into the ranks and become a private.  The trouble is over, now, (that is the war) as much as I know and he is soon to receive his appointment in which event Col Ames, a most popular man and a friend of mine will take hold with perhaps Maj. Bean a Lt Col.  Even this may not advance my chances for a promotion, as it requires pull with the Governor (Clough) but I will at least receive consideration and be treated as my rank respects.  It is useless for me to ask for an investigation or institute proceedings against a man of that rank at this stage of the game no matter how strong a case I can make, but some day, I vow, will be my day.

Then concerning the day of Aug 13 by his (the Colonel) order I was relegated to the rear as an aide to Lt Col Ames in command of the 3rd battalion,  all Mpls [Minneaplois?] companies, but who were to come up as reinforcements.  This fact or order prevented me from being in the fiercest of the fights and under the eyes and direct orders of this hero? in the assault upon the defenses of Manila.  I had no chance to make a play of heroism.  I didn’t slide on my belly through mud and water nor dirty my clothes.  I didn’t fire a shot – (well the Mpls Cos  [Minneapolis companies] didn’t and likewise the 2 Brigade) nor received a wound and lead the charge of the 1st Brigade, yet I remember instantly I was dodging bullets continually because I was on my feet delivering orders which brought me in the direct line from the enemies fire and did several other things such as holding a crowd of over 100 insurgents in check from advancing and getting in the way of our troops in front with a drawn revolver.  Thereby in the position I was and under such orders I was overlooked in the recommendations for bravery and reward by this man the Colonel.  It is all too bad and the whole thing wasn’t worth the coming of 9000 miles away to be a spectator to the fall of Manila.  But these are some of the misfortunes? Of a war, darling as no man was worth during this fusillade.  Being too far inland I could not even see the bombardment of Dewey’s squadron.

The whole thing was this.  The Spaniards had no thought of holding this City.  They had no intentions of resisting our advance and capture greater than to allow them to surrender with honors in the eyes of their government and people in Spain.  To hold out against us with Dewey on their open shore was simply foolhardiness and useless.  Though were it not for our fleet we should never have taken Manila with 40,000 men.  They sacrificed a good many men to gain their honor with which they feel satisfied.

Everything is very quiet now and has been.  The Spaniards give use no trouble and obey regulations issued from our powers that be with regard and promptness.  Everybody is doing striving business and the merchants are all in a happy and contented mode scorning the idea or probability of the U.S. returning the islands over to Spain.  They don’t want to speak of it and say it won’t be done.

This letter goes to the States on the hospital ship Rio [de] Janeiro one of our transports taking back the sick recommended for discharge and those discharged among which will be 2 from Co. D. The old man Rowe, you probably remember him and Wm. Murkland.  Rowe will probably reach San Francisco about Oct 20 and St. Paul if he goes direct about Oct 25 or 30.  He has messages from almost every member of the Co.  I asked him call uncle Q. who he knows, having lived in one of his houses and from whom I used o collect rent when working for him.

Tomorrow is Papa’s birthday and I won’t forget it.  As yet we have not recd. any news from the States.  Though by a letter recd by one of our Lieut’s saying that the 15th Regt was mustered and that the 12th and 14th had consolidated ½ of the 2 regiments returning home, the other ½ remaining forming one regiment under a new Colonel.  Now my dear under these circumstances I just would like to return with the regiment when it comes to returning to St. Paul or Mpls.  I think and believe that we will receive a welcome for the sore heads of these regiments and that a few people will stand along the streets.  The best news heard so far is that we receive no credit in the surrender of Manila and instead the Colorados who never fired a shot on that day but who did their work and did it well, in the skirmishes a week or so before the surrender in holding the American entrenchments upon an advance by the Spaniards.  Nothing eventful has occurred in the past 20 days to note.  The only trouble occurring is by drunks and in many instances or cases it is our men, that is the Americans, the Californians, Oregons and Regulars are the cause of the most trouble.  Our Sailors are bitter towards the German Sailors and it is by a miracle they do not come together.  It is needless to say the German would get the worst of it by along end.  I haven’t yet seen a German Sailor who would be a match against one of ours and they know.  Their action prior to the 13th of Aug. caused this feeling and our boys are bitter against them.  Perhaps I have told you in my other letters about the way Dewey watched the German ships and had the Monitor Monterey parade up and down the bay before them, meaning in a Yankee way -  if you want to take a hand in this (on the day of the battle) come on.  He defied them openly and this actual facts, contrary to contradiction. I have learned from the German Sailors that they are actual amazed at the work of our navy and admit they do not understand our success.  Oh! It is wonderful and does one good to hear such talk.  It is all simply glorious.  The English, our friends, talk the same way. Their most powerful and best war ship afloat in the world, their queen, The “Powerful” is in the bay.  She is a magnificent and monster of a boat.  500 feet long everything on her is the latest in warfare.  Yet the Monterey would sink her as we sunk the Spanish.

Well my dear girl. I cannot give you any hope or assurances of how soon we will return home.  You know more about it through reading the daily papers than we do.  You know daily the progress that is made through a settlement and we have yet to wait a month or more to know what you know today and what the government intends to do with the Philippines and our chances of getting home.

A new paper called the “American” only is getting subscriptions for a daily paper and publish all the official news, when we shall then know what is going on but it will take some time to get this paper started so we must rely on the “American Soldier” for the present.

Darling I know not what to say to you more than I have regarding yourself.  You know my wish and desires and my hopes of again meeting your.  I think of your as much and with deeper love and greater regard for leaving your than I ever did.  I am simply home sick with a heart ache to see you again.  I manage to pull through day by day buried in work and in this way time flies that to me it does not seem possible to be near Oct 1st.
There are many speculations among officers as to our leaving and bets are being made to be home by New Years.  So you see we are badly in want of news.

I must yet take this letter to the post office to mail so to be sure it will go tomorrow A. M. on the Rio [de] Janeiro.  I jump into a cab of which there are hundreds and the round trip costs me but 10 cents our money.

Oh yes dear, shall I bring home a monkey for a pet.  They are cheap and plentiful here.  Many of the boys have them here but it’s too early now to buy.

I must now close and say good bye to you.  Remember my love and faithfulness to you, pledging to you that not a hair in my head is tinted forgetfulness.  Remember me with kind regards and love to all at home and all inquiry.  You yourself a thousand kisses with advise to take good care of yourself and patiently await my coming .  Will perhaps in my next send a photo of myself here.  So with joyful wishes and happy days to you my love, I remain Your loving Husband Feodor  Sept 21st.”

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