The Death of

Private James McColgan

U.S.M.C., First Marine Battalion, Company C

Contributed by Robert Pendleton

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Following is a transcription of an article written by Mr. Olin Fay Johnson (formerly Private Olin Fay Johnson, U.S.M.C., First Marine Battalion, Company C) of Waterville, Connecticut concerning the life and death in action of Private James McColgan, also of the First Marine Battalion, Co. D. It is taken from the Washington DC National Tribune.  No publication date was noted but the article was probably written sometime around 1924 or perhaps a bit later.

The Articles:

“Editor National Tribune: The above picture [not included] will probably be of interest to many of your readers if you can use it in the National Tribune. You will notice on the back of the photo it says, “First American soldier killed on Cuban soil.” That should be qualified a little, as he and another man were riddled by the same volley and one may have died a second before the other.

The picture is of Private James McColgan, Co. D, 1st Battalion of marines, who was killed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, June 11, 1898. He was a native of Stoneham, Mass., and is now buried there. He enlisted at Boston in the winter of 1896-97, and he and the writer were in the same recruit squad at Charleston Navy Yard and went to Newport as recruits, where we stayed until about April 1, 1898.

At our own request we were then transferred to Brooklyn to join the battalion getting ready for a quick move if war should be declared. In making up the force McColgan was assigned to Co. D and the writer to Co. C. We left Brooklyn on the evening of April 21 on board the U.S.S. Panther, sailing immediately. There were no bands, no fuss, no scenes nor no friends to see us off. We had come from all over the country and we just left.

The next morning at Hampton Roads we heard war had been declared the day before. We sailed immediately for Key West, where we waited a long time for word to go over and grab off a landing place for the Army when it should be ready, which we did, and then they did not use it.

We were transferred to the auxiliary cruiser Resolute and landed at Guantanamo Bay on the afternoon of June 10. Co. C., the senior company was the first to go ashore and swept up over the hills and established and manned the outer line for that night, being relieved during the next forenoon by Co. D, which established a regular outpost guard under the command of the then First Lieutenant Wendell C. Neville.

All went well until around 4.00 P.M., or possibly a little later, when one crashing volley was heard in direction of the farthest outpost which was covered by McColgan and Private William Dunphy of Portsmouth, N. H. The main guard rushed to the sound of the firing and Co. C closely followed in support. Upon reaching our picket post we found the attackers had melted into the dense undergrowth from whence they had come. For some reason, instead of taking our men prisoners, they had crept around them in a half circle, as shown by the empty cartridge shells which we found and of which I have two, and fired a point blank volley at them. Our men were not caught wholly unawares, as both were lying with their rifles in hand, blocks drawn back, but neither had been able to fire. We believed there must have been about 50 in the attacking party as it was found that McColgan had 23 wounds on his body and Dunphy 18.

McColgan was a fine soldier in every way, and a fine lad, full of fun, and usually the life of the barracks room or of any party of which he was a member. He was crazy to go, as we all were, for nobody wanted to be left behind to do guard duty at the home station, although of course, some had to do that.

What I am coming to is this (and you probably have seen the same thing happen). After we had been at Key West some time McColgan changed. He became more morose and depressed, doing no more skylarking and keeping to himself as much as possible. Some of us finally got it out of him that he was sure that he would not come back, and no amount of argument could change his attitude. Sure enough he lived only about 24 hours after landing.---Olin Johnson, 17 Ashford Street., Waterville, Conn.”

The Independent has received a letter from Mr. Johnson relative to his story of McColgan in the National Tribune.
He says in part:

“I have something else that might be of interest to you. A comrade now living in the State of Washington, who was back in Guantanamo in 1923 has sent me a good snapshot of a monument with bronze plate attached erected on the exact spot where these two men were killed. The plate carries the inscription:

Private William Dunphy, U.S.M.C.
Private James McColgan, U.S.M.C.
Were Killed
While on outpost duty
June 11, 1898.

I have intended to try and find out if any near relatives of McColgan are living in Stoneham, with the idea of offering them both pictures, thinking they might care more for them than anyone would into whose hands they would fall after I’m through. Perhaps you can tell me whether or not there are such people.

Yours very truly,

     Mr. Olin F. Johnson.”-


National Tribune of Washington, D.C., “The Voice of the Veterans of the United States.”  An undated photocopy was provided to the contributor by Stoneham Historical Society at Stoneham, Massachusetts.

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