David Leahy

of the 1st U. S. Volunteer Cavalry ("Rough Riders")

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Contributed by Nancy Arnett

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The following letters were written by David G. Leahy, a thrity-one year old 2nd lieutenant serving with the 1st U. S. Volunteer Cavalry (better known as the "Rough Riders"), Troop G. Leahy was an attorney by profession and was a native of Illinois. A single man, he joined the unit at Santa Fe, New Mexico on May 5, 1898. He was a tall, five feet, eleven inches tall, with a light complexion, blue eyes and light hair. Leahy was wounded on July 1, 1898, in the action at San Juan Heights.

The first letter appeared in The Raton Range of Raton, New Mexico. Capt. Collier was apparently a friend and newspaperman back home in Raton, and Collier apparently turned the letter over for publication. The letter was written concerning the departure for service in Cuba

The second letter also appeared in The Raton Range and describes the attack on San Juan Hill.

The first letter:


     Tampa, Florida, June 5th, 1898
Capt. T.W.Collier,
        Raton, New Mexico.

My Dear Captain:  To-day being Sunday and the ‘rough riders’ being religiously inclined, divine services were well attended.  As a matter of  course the officers were all present and a goodly number of the troopers. Promptly at nine o’clock Chaplain Brown ascended the pulpit, (a bale of hay in the shade of a large pine tree), and opened the service by singing  that familiar hymn, “My Country ‘tis of Thee.”

Taking for his text,  “Put ye in the sickle for the harvest is ripe” the chaplain delivered an able and instructive sermon, after which the services were closed by singing the hymn, “God be with you ‘till we meet again.”

Monday, June 6th

This morning we had regimental drill, lasting over two hours.  Many and difficult movements were successfully executed after which the Colonel complimented the boys on their rapid improvement.

At two o’clock this afternoon, Colonel Wood announced that the seventy men out of each eight troops (there are eighty men in each troop) should break camp and pack up immediately and prepare to embark for Cuba. This news was received with great rejoicing by the troops that were ordered to go.  The troops that were  to be left behind could not help showing a feeling of sadness, but they cordially congratulated the lucky ones. Troop G, being made up of good material is, of course, one of the eight troops above mentioned. Our captain, (Captain Llewellen) selected the seventy men who are to go with us, and I am proud to say that not one of the Raton boys in the troop is to be left behind. All are to go.  They have behaved remarkably well, have been  obedient and attentive to their  duties.  They are indeed a credit to  the “Gate City.”

Tuesday, June 7th.

Everything is quiet in camp this morning.  We are patiently awaiting the order to march.  We expect to go aboard the transports this afternoon.

Wednesday, June 8th.

We are on board the transport “Yucatan.”  It is a beautiful day with a good breeze blowing.  There are several vessels loaded with troops. In all there are about 25,000 soldiers. It is indeed a grand sight.  As each  vessel is loaded she is drawn out of the channel by a steam tug, amid the waving of flags, the blowing of  whistles and the cheers of several thousands of people.  The most hearty good will prevails.  The men are wild with glee at the prospect of going to Cuba.  I don’t know whether  we will sail to-night or not.  I hope we will, as all are very anxious to go.

Thursday, June 9th.

We are still in the bay, all of the transports are loaded and anchored here in the bay.  It was reported that some Spanish war ships were seen last evening off the coast of Florida, within six hours sail of us.  We will not sail until it is found whether or not the report is true.  If the report is true it must be that only a small portion of the Spanish fleet is shut up in the harbor of Santiago.  I will write you as often as possible and keep you posted as to our where-abouts.  So long as we remain here mail can be sent ashore on dispatch boats.  The boat is about to go now so I will have to quit.  I am feeling fine.

The boys all join me in sending kindest regards to the people of Raton in general.

P.S.  Please mention in THE RANGE that mail for the regiment may be sent to Tampa.  It will be forwarded from here to whatever place the regiment may be stationed.  Mail for our boys should be sent to Troop G, 1st U.S.V. Cavalry.


The second letter:

The Raton Range, July 21, 1898:

San Juan Heights

A Description of the Fight by One of Raton’s Soldiers who was There!

By Lieut.  DAVID J. LEAHY.


At 3:30 o’clock, p.m., June 30th, the order to break camp was given.  At about 4:30 the march was commenced toward Santiago with “G” Troop in the lead.  After traversing many rough roads and crossing two streams, we went into camp at 9:30 p.m.  Our camp was on the eastern slope of a ridge thickly overgrown with high grass and Spanish bayonets.  The battery consisting of four field pieces being placed in our front about 70 yards distant.  Coffee was made and supper eaten and the boys quietly turned in being somewhat tired after their long and tedious march.

At 4:30 in the morning we were quietly awakened by Lieut. Woodbury Kane, who was officer of the guard, no reveille being sounded on account of our close proximity to the Spanish lines.  Breakfast, consisting of coffee and hard tack was quickly prepared and eaten, after which the order was issued to roll up bedding preparatory to commencing the march.

Just before sunrise the Grimes battery (the same that opened the fight at the Battle of Gettysburg at the same hour on the same day thirty five years ago) fired the first shot into the Spanish lines.  After six shells had been fired by our batteries, suddenly, and without any warning, we heard the whirl of a Spanish shell.  Their aim was true and the fuse had been well timed, for the shell burst immediately over us, and we began discussing the advisability of moving.  Our time for consideration was brief, for in less than two minutes another shell landed among us, wounding several of our men, among whom were Ash and McSparron of Troop “G.”

We were then ordered to march to the left a distance of 200 yards.  This took us out of range of the artillery fire of the Spaniards and we quietly watched the battle between the big guns.  After a few hours firing the Spanish batteries ceased replying and the supposition was that they were silenced.

Almost simultaneously with the beginning of the battle by the Grimes battery, Gen. Lawton’s division on El Caney two and one half miles to our right.  In a short time information came to us that Gen. Lawton was heavily engaged and we were ordered to march to his assistance.  While marching toward the left to El Caney, we found that the Spaniards had taken up a strong position on San Juan Heights, two parallel ridges, one about 250 yards in the rear of and nearer Santiago than the other.  We were about 400 yards distant from the first ridge and partially concealed by underbrush when we were fired upon by the Spaniards from the ridge.

Orders were given to be down but not to return the Spanish fire, as their exact position was not yet known.  Here we were compelled to remain for a period of three hours, the bullets whistling over our heads amongst the trees and some of them cutting the grass close beside us.  It was indeed a trying position, but none of the boys murmured.

It was while in this position that Capt. O’Neil of Troop “A” was killed and Lieut. Haskell of “F” Troop was mortally wounded.

Finally the order to move forward was given and was indeed readily obeyed.  Our next position was on the road leading to the left of the ridge.  Here a halt was called while the field officers surveyed the ground and decided upon the movement to be made by each troop.  In front of the Spanish works and between us and them was an open field 300 yards in width.

Having but four pieces of artillery, it was decided that the ridges could be captured only by making a charge.  The order to charge was given and with loud cheers the men leaped forward.  We had no shelter and were in plain sight of the Spaniards, yet the men pressed eagerly forward, the main work of the officers being to keep the fastest runners back in the line.  They ran forward, cheering wildly, and when within 80 yards of the trenches the Spaniards broke and ran.  It was then the sharp reports of the Krag-Jorgesen Rifles could be heard and many a Spaniard fell backward and found his last resting-place in the trench he had so lately occupied.  The coolness of our men was remarkable, and that their aim was true, the number of Spaniards that lie in close proximity to the trenches is the best evidence.

After being driven from the first ridge, the Spaniards fled to the second ridge, there taking up a similar position to that occupied on the first one.  On reaching the top of the ridge a halt was called to re-form our ranks which were somewhat broken during the charge.  Some of our men were killed and many wounded, but we had gained the ridge and as soon as the Stars and Stripes were planted on the works on which the Spanish flag was flying a few minutes before a ringing cheer went up from thousands of throats.

Our ranks having been re-formed, it was decided to drive the Spaniards from the second ridge.  We started forward on double time.  It was at this juncture that a Mauser bullet pierced my right arm, breaking the bone and turning me completely around. Serj. (Rol) Fullenwider, who was near me seeing that I was wounded, helped me over the crest of the hill and beyond the reach of the Spanish bullets.  He then cut away my sleeve and helped to bind up the wound, then returning to the troop while I was taken to the hospital by one of the hospital stewards.

About five minutes after being wounded, an exultant cheer reached my ears and I knew the second ridge had been taken and the Battle of San Juan Heights was ended.  The Americans had again won and the Spaniards were again defeated.



For the convenience of our readers, click on a title in red with take you to that book on Amazon.com

Jones, Virgil Carrington, Roosevelt's Rough Riders. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1971) 230, 231, 311.

The Raton Range, June 16, 1898.

The Raton Range, July 21, 1898.

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