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The Diary of Sgt. Frank Nickerson

6th U.S. Cavalry, Troop F


Contributed by Margaret Glen

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The following information on the Cuban Campaign is from a diary kept by Sgt. Frank Frank Nickerson, of Troop F, 6th U.S. Cavalry. Nickerson was born on November 10,1871. He joined the United States Army in 1887 when he was sixteen years old, and rose through the ranks.

After serving in Cuba, Nickerson returned to his  home town  of Whitewater, Wisconsin. At Whitewater, he was was nursed back to health by his mother – a Civil  War widow, fighting malaria and dysentery. After a furlough, he returned back to active dutyserving in the Philippines. While serving there, he  received  his commission as an officer.

He retired in 1913 as a Captain. Later in life, he and his wife Myrtle lived in a big Victorian house, in San Rafael, California. The lower floor of this three-story house was dedicated to my Uncle, and was completely filled with artifacts that he had collected while in the Army.     He died in February of 1960.

The following Diary of 1898, which is  31/2" x 6" was found in the estate of his wife in 1989. It has been transcribed exactly as it was written down.

The diary is wonderful in that it shows the daily life of a soldier serving in the U.S. Cavalry. He takes the trials and tribulations with little fussing, and looks on with disdain on the volunteer forces, especially the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, generally known as the Rough Riders.

The Diary:

April 19, 1898

Left Ft. Leavenworth with four troops of 6th Cav. and 8 Companys of the 20th Inf. The Cav. for Chicamauga Park, Ga.  The Inf. for Mobile.  Common coaches - a hungry trip I think.

April   22.

Arrived at Chicamauga Park [Camp Thomas, Chicamauga, Georgia]. Camped near R.R. (Rail Road)

April 23.

Moved to Camp back in Park.  Fine camp good water- pig hunting the order of the day - Plenty of drill – Grub   poor.

Lt. Cole in command of the   Troop  - I am in charge of Cook hose - Made Sergeant. A lady send up a cake for Edwards and we all get a bite.

We take a run in Georgia making about 30 miles on horseback.  At a walk on the   level, when in the bad places in the   mountains we get the command Gallop.  We are on a sham battle so everyone enjoys the wild riding.   Maj. Kerr in command of our ride - we win by gaining a higher point that the enemy must pass.  Back to camp after dark.  The cook caught with the pork in the oven and I get hell and no pork for supper.

May 11th

Left Chicamauga Park, May 11th for Tampa, Fla. Sleeping cars. Good trip.  We marched to a small town near Park where we loaded    our    horses.  As we came south the whites grow few and niggers plenty.  Through most of the way there is   nothing but Pine timber. There are many sawmills.   Gathering pitch is the chief work of the people.

May 12.

Our horses are in horse cars.   One or two men on top of each car to put out sparks form wood burning engine.  Narrow gage R.R. and very slow.   Mostly swamp land covered with forest.

May 13th

Arrived at Tampa water scarce sand plenty, soldiers by the thousands, Rucks and new horses. Grub poor.

Good bathing on the beach and we get to swim horses every day.  Cuban soldiers camped near here.

May 14

Flies & heat.    I am in charge of cook house, took team and gathered palm leaves & made shelter over kitchen.

Muller and I start monte game &
Win a little.

Later – Rough Riders are camped not far from us.  They make plenty of noise, one R. R.  Dropped about  $100 in monte game this morning.

Gardner & I take a look at rough R. camp this eve.  Shorty knows some of the R. R by number.  (Shorty had been a guard when Leavenworth Prison had been U.S. prison.)

June 8th

Left Tampa. Arrived at Port Tampa.  Same date – distance 9 miles all niters on train – no sleep – too crowded.

Sharks eating dead horses near our boat.  Men in swimming, sure hot, we wish we would sail- why don’t we?
Only half of troops to go on this trip – about 50 to troop.  Some picking –old  & young to stay in U.S. – same in all troops. All anxious to get started.  Ships loading nite-& day.  (Spanish fleet reported off Florida coast)

Fantom fleet reported, we put back into bay- we may not sail today.  Many Spanish boats – Gun boats said to be outside bay.  Very hot   on deck – many sharks.

I get to go ashore as horse guard. I have 8 men and about 100 horses. Officers horses not loaded yet & are on picket lies near a camp of nigger recruits.

We had a fine riot, the negro recruits were driven out of the red-light district by U.S. Inf. Soldiers, not many hurt badly.  But that Inf. Reb sure went into those negros.  They never stopped moving forward.

June 14th

Left Pt. Tampa on Steamer Rio-Grand for Cuba.  Loaded like cattle.

Very little to eat.  The sun is burning hot and there is no shelter from it.  Sea good we are making fast time – 7knots and hour.

Can see the Battle ship Indiana today – 16th  - rough & may seasick, will be glad when we land.  Water not good & we are on an allowance - some few men not seasick – hot a crowded.

I got a brisket from   stews & some of the boys pinched a few potatoes & onions form ships galley – some beans from Corp. Lewis – hot soup. But no place to cook until tonite.

Soup was good, first we have had – will try again today.  Corp. Lewis took my place in charge of mess  - leaving Tampa – strong on saving, poor on food.  We give one of soldiers 25 c [cents] to get us a cup of rice – to start our part   of soup.  Lewis comes through with two cans of tomatoes.  1 st Sgt. Made him – or I don’t believe he would give us salt  and pepper.

Everyone seasick, no one goes below, can’t stand smell – it rains but still on deck & deck is crowded.

June 20th

Arrived S. E. Coast of Cuba.  All anxious to get on shore – can see no sign of life  - expect to fight on landing.  Can see Morro Castle and several of our War ships.

June   21st

Bombardment.  The Navy bombarded a small town and also shelled the sore.  Troops are getting ready to land.  The town is on fire  - Troops are landing.  There is a blockhouse on a high hill near the town, but no fire from there yet.

June 22nd

We have received no orders to land, and they may not land all of us here.  Landing horses & mules from open sea – they sure swim well.  Navy launches pull the ships boats near beach & the waves do the rest.

[Impression of a wooden match to mark this next entry]

June 24th

Landed.   We landed in small   boats today.  Were among the last to land. We’re all glad to get ashore.  There is not much of a town here.    There were some machine shops and a roundhouse.  The Spanish burnt these before we landed.  Some of the stores have large holes where our Navy shelled them.  There are many Cubans here and keep coming out of the hills – few women here now.  Coca Nuts and Mango plenty.  No tobacco or anything in any of the   stores.     The Spanish took everything with them and burned what they did not want.

We marched about three miles to a high hill and went in camp.

June 25th

Lt. Cole asked me to hunt up something to boil   water in & I sure did a good job by getting a crate of new chambers for the wrecked Spanish Hosp. & find an Old Spanish horse that is wounded.  But Capt. Stanton of ‘C’ Troop saw me and took the horse to his blanket roll.

Some Troops pass our camp gong toward Santiago.

June 26th

Art. Escort from our camp to Simony camped in   Coca Nut grove near Cuban Army.  Did not reach camp until dark. Camp damp and wood hard to find.

I am last man to get to camp, as was rear guard to Art. [Artillery] & They find trail bad  - so here to stay.

Land crabs everywhere.  They can move backward, forward, and sideways & never turn    around to move.  They are many & shells striking together sound like bones in the doctor’s office.

We here of a fight between 10th Cav. &Spanish, the R.R. (Rough Riders) almost getting caught & reports say many killed  - but not how many.   We expect to go forward tonight  &get some rations, Green coffee again - that means no coffee for we can’t seem to roast it in our tin cups.  Hard bread  &water, no good, and some of men show it.  Lt. Cole is sick, but still able to keep up.  Rains – and    dog tents all leak, several sick, eating coca nuts  & green mangos.

June 27th

Regiment came up – we broke   camp and marched about   8 miles.  Went into camp near good water.   Remained in camp untill June 30th.  We are near the city of Santiago  - can see part of City.  Coca Nuts about 2 miles – Mangos near.  It rains nearly every day.

The Weary Walkers Hdqrs [Rough Riders] are near, larger tents & more of them than Gen Hdqrs.  War correspondent’s camp there  & painters drawing some of the men.  1st Cav. Vol. [Rough Riders] & some wounded from fight near here.  The R.R. or walkers are brigaded with us – they have a hard time walking as some have cowboy boots, to tight - & high heels.  They are the only Reg. that have the new uniforms “Kaki” - & the only Vol. Reg. Armed with Crag [Krag] carbines.

June 30th

 Broke camp marched untill 2:30that night - camped in a swamp.  Oh what a night – glad to lay down in the mud and water and get what little sleep we could.

July 1st

Cuban Army passes as we are cooking or trying to cook breakfast in the trail.  Some mounted, & good.  By breakfast we start to move  - but trail loaded & we stand still most of the time.

At daylight we are at a creek or river, Art.  On our left, baloon [observation balloon] overhead, some fires.  A fight to our right – Art. & volley firing.

[What appears to be a neatly written version of the previous entry?]

July 1st, 1898

Men up at 4:50 cooking breakfast.   Cuban Army passed us.  We again took up our bed and walked.  Battery opened up on the Spanish, and we advanced about a mile to a stream where we left our packs and formed a line of battle.  We lay in thick bushes and vines.  The sun gets hotter as the day grows, and so does the Spanish fire. We are not firing, as we can see nothing.  About 9 oclock we start forward  - the vines make it hard to get through.  All is still – we can hardly see each other, and the Spanish fire is very hot.  Someone is firing in our rear.  We are between two fires.  I sent Ray to the rear to stop whoever it was firing into us.  The firing in our rear stops and we keep moving forward.  Ray did not come back.  We pass some of the Troops [wrote Rough Riders and crossed   it out] - they cheer   us.  The Spanish answer the cheers with volleys of grape. Muller is hit in hand, but still in line.  We   cross a stream waist deep – through a wire fence  and up a hill.  Men falling everywhere.  The Spanish give up the hill  and retreat across to another larger one.   We move on, the Gattling Guns come up, and the second hill is taken - the Inf. Getting is some fine work on our left flank.  We form on second hill and keep up a steady fire – untill night stops the fight.   Dead and wounded lay everywhere - Spanish and American Soldiers dead side by side.  We try to get something to eat, but go to digging trenches and burying the dead.  No Sleep no eats.  Get ready for a big fight tomorrow.

We dig all night - no lights.  Troops moving to our right and left.  A Battery comes up and takes place just behind our trenches.

1st Sgt. Alirrs is in charge of Troop.  Lt. Cole to hosp.  Wherever that is.  Col. Carrol, Capt. Kerr – our Reg., Cpt. Lewis, Trumpeter Arnold Muller, Wrighs – Wray - “F” Troop, wounded.  Muller hit in two places – not bad, leg and arm.  Muller, Wray, Lewis from my section.  Lewis & Muller still on firing line.

A heavy fire just before dark  &Johnson my section hit over heart – bad – fighting stops at dark.  Major Lebo 6th wounded   I hunt up the Dr. for Johnson.  Dr. says no use.

July 2nd

Fight stated again at daylight – lasted all day.  Fighting all day was   not enough so got up and had a round that night. At the first steak of dawn the Spanish opened the ball by firing volleys at our Art., and the sharpshooters took a hand trying to pick off our gunners. We are in the trenches firing back now and then.  The Battery takes a hand ad the fighting becomes general around our whole line. Shells, bullets, dirt   fly   over our heads as we lay in the shallow trenches – firing when we can.  The canonading is deafening – some men are getting hit in the trenches.  Our Battery moves to the   sharpshooters who   are picking off their gunners.  We fight all day.  Start to dig our trenches deeper at night when the fight starts again.  Does not last long.  The 71st N.Y.  Loose two men we get hit a few.

All day heavy shells from Spanish Navy have been going over.  Sounds like freight trains.

I got some bacon and sugar from Art. [artillery] Haversacks – big feed for three of us.

July 3rd

Fighting all afternoon.  Flag of truce rose at 12 oclock.  We keep the good work up - the Spanish answer, and the ball opens.  The Spanish slack their fire.  We keep up a slow fire untill noon.

Sampson destroyed [Spanish] fleet 8: 50 in the morning.  We are glad to hear Sampson shooting a few of his guns.  We get something to eat and drink – lay around the trees waiting for next move and wondering how the white flag will come out.  We expect Navy to come into bay now.  Some heavy firing inside. I had a chill today, not so well.  Muller and I are bunking together and his hand pains him, looks bad.  Lewis is coming on O.K.  This his third wound, The Indians game him two others years ago.  We all forgive him for being a poor mess N.C. O.  Shorty Gardner nearly got his by sticking his head up in place of using the peephole.  Some Spanish shells don’t burst any good.

We hear Johnson died – he was hit badly.  No sound forms him – even when being carried off the hill.  Muller & Lewis O.K. now.

July 4th

Taking our turn in the trenches – one hour in and four out. - we spend the  4th of July. The flag is still up and we are getting tired of it.

Better start fighting & finish our job while we are able – as many are now sick & others to weak to charge Santiago & I guess we are expected to do that before we finish.

Monte game in trenches.  Howell is trying to get us some paper for silver, no one wants silver – to heavy.

Much talk  & mistakes pointed out. - Who was in Command Shafter & Wheeler sick.  Sumner in command now & always on hand. Saw him above our trenches night of 2nd - wonder he did not get hit.

Why did not Spanish take small guns from battleships and use them on this hill.  We would never have take hill if they had.

Our Gattling Guns burned out first hour of fighting.  Someone did not know their job.

The Dijimincts [dynamite] gun – wonder of the ages – no good  or not amunition or both  - fired a few shots  only.

We had very little Art. & what we  had could not help  much.

Paper from the U.S. telling of fight 1st July.   No one in fight but 71st New York & Rough Riders. – (Woods  Weary Walkers) they have all the war correspondents & future painters & larger camp than  General Hdqrs. We don’t think much of these intelects.

July 6 - 98

Prisoners exchanged.  Lt. Hobson and seven sailors exchange at 2:40.  Great cheering as they came through our lines.

White flags on almost every building in Santiago - also red cross flags.

Trenches fortified at night with sacks of dirt - we expect bombardment tomorrow. Talk of us going into Santiago tomorrow, many will not get into city.  But most of us will.  Can see plenty of barbwire & trenches between us and city & they put up more every night.    No rations & little ammunition.

Some men getting stung by seapins – Lewis gets everything that comes along. Was stung on foot last night & kicked tent down.

Double shelter tents not so bad – have limb proofs, but no one uses them.  A few shells from Spanish fort not bad  & if we had more ammunition would feel safe.

Muller gets some real coffee? Nothing to do but wait for the rain, 3 pm daily, then inside shelter tent  & wait for   the chills if its   your day - about every other day.  Each of us has a chill followed by fever.  No quinine in camp or not enough to go around.

July 7th Women and children leave Santiago for San Juan.  Will we charge city or not?  Some bombardment waiting, no one knows what for. A few rations came up last night.  Only a few.  Troop gets one  #10can tomatoes.  I win the can for my section & we will soon fee.  Pack trains of about 50 mules bring ammunition & drop it on firing line. Plenty Spanish ammunition, Mauser  & Remington in Spanish trenches - also plenty of Spanish arms.  Vols want to use Spanish Mausers – hundreds of Spanish arms stacked 7 rusting in rain.   We use bacon grease for our carbines.  Plenty of bacon & hard bread now - also coffee.  We feel better & wish they would move forward.   Why do we wait?

Spanish build new wire every night.  We can hear them working.  No firing at night.

We hear there is plenty of rations at Sibarey [Siboney] but no roads – only pack mules can get through.  The Vols get boxes of food from U.S.  They take good care of the Vols, Regulars are expected to look after themselves.

July 10th

Battle started 4:00 oclock. Art.  Doing most of the fighting – stopping at dark.  We have been expecting a big bombardment, by our seige guns, when they get up from Sibarey [Siboney].   If they are all up, there are a few of them or no ammunition.

Our bombardment weak – Spanish did not get hurt much if any.  When will we take city by storm & then to Havana?  Will we march over island to Havana or what?  Not many able to march far.

In front of us are large Mango trees – four hundred yds. Mc Comb – Sgt. in  ‘B’ & I have a time shooting at flashes from these trees. We have a pair of field glasses & today spotted some Spanish soldiers on a road back of Spanish trenches – 1000 yds. We could raise dust near them.  I don’t believe we hit one.

Shorty Gardner had outpost & a wet night.  We can hear the Spanish working on trenches and wire every night, & can see new works each morning.  When we take the city by storm now, we expect many will be killed on our side of the wire, once through wire we will be a match for the Dons.  Some talk of some of us using the Mauser & bayonet if we are to storm city.   Carbines & no bayonet, & revolvers is what we took this hill with, but there were a few Spanish  & little wire.  Now we can see several lines of wire between this hill & city.

The Vols are getting food from Red Cross – we get little, but no one seems to expect much.  Shorty says the Vol. just take anything  & everything they see & can carry away.  They took a train in Tampa  & a boat at Port Tampa.  Wounded horses or mules turned loose to graze & get well  - the Vol. Pick them   up & use them to carry rations form the Red Cross at Sibarey [Siboney].  The rapid fire cannon & Gattlings are with the Vol. Cav and all war correspodents.

T.M.  (Tom Muller?)left some pack team  in pasture  for might & rest.  Gone!  Any Regular would be hung for any of the above stealing.

The Col. of Vol. Cav. [Col. Wood] got in command of divisions for short time & I guess he ordered some of the dirty work that is going on.  We dont expect much, but some of the men are kicking, as they see food going to others.  Share  & share alike is the only   way   we can see it here.

July 11th

Firing until 11 A.M.  Flag of Truce   puts stop to battle.

Talk in newspapers of charge of R.R - there was no charge & not more than fifty men of R.R in 1st line to reach this hill.   The 9th & 6th & 3rd were on Kettle Hill when R.R. came up.

On picket in   the rain - oh what a rain  - of all the rains I ever saw.

Many sick, no hospital - no doctors, no medicine, the only thing we don’t need is rain.  If we don’t take Santiago soon –this Army won’t take it.

1st Sgt. Oliver now has a time finding men well enough for outpost duty.   Many could not walk into Santiago. My section gets along fine & seems to get our share of the work. Most of us can take it. Lewis, Shorty, Muller & I are still strong – when not down with fever. We carry water from river in bamboo, we are expected to boil this water.   Some do and fill canteens for next day.

July 13th

Gen. Miles and Shafter visit   Spanish lines from 11:30-12:30.  We watch our flag – a bed sheet on a long pole carried by color bearers - all expected Spanish would open fire on our Generals.  No firing-& the flag returns to our trenches.

July 14th

Spanish surrender about 10:15 in the morning.

July 17th

On guard over Spanish prisoners.   They are very hungry AND very polite.  They go into camp in front of our trenches, they had wine & some are lit-up & talk loud & much.  We can’t understand them – just as well.   The prisoners get rations.  We don’t, many of us are sick & could not eat anyway. & all are glad we do to have to charge over that bunch of barbwire.  Everyone anxious to go into Santiago.  No one allowed to leave camp.
 We expect rations by way of Santiago today or tomorrow.  Vol. Roaming all over– Regulars must stay in camp.

July 18  - 98

Moved camp four miles further into the interior.  Men sick on the road – terrible heat.  I did not reach camp untill dark.   Camp damp wood scarce. We passed through Caynay – a miserable town.  We passed the Spanish women, children, old men - and cripples.  Also Cubans going back to their homes in Santiago.   They were starving.  Many fell sick and dying along the road as we passed.  Soldiers of our Army gave them hardtack - and went hungry themselves. Mothers begging hardtack to feed their baby’s – children crying for food – barefoot- without clothing to cover them.  A dirty hungry crowd - too weak to travel far in hot sun – going only from tree to tree - dropping in the shade – some to march again, but some to die.  Old women to weak to walk. Children trying to help them.  Nothing to eat when they reach Santiago - if they do reach it.  Not a chicken, sheep, dog or cat to be seen in this part of Cuba.  Not stores - no gardens- green Mangos or starve.  We know what green Mangos do to us – and can’t see how these children live.

July 22-98

First issue of fresh beef since June 7th. Some fresh meat tonight - if it is fresh - has been in launch to Santiago & by wagon to camp without ice.

Hardbread, tomatoes. Good hardbread - best feed in month.  But, too late – as many can’t hold their food.

Several sick last nite Ju Bug very bad.

We still have our pup tents & our daily rains.

Our hospital is the shade of large mango tree –the band, 6th Cav. band are nurses. Anyone that can - helps the sick.  Four doctors.

July 23rd

Sibley tents up today for first time in Cuba.   Some doctors tents came up today.  Teamsters say that Santiago is very bad – many dying there.

July 24th

Fresh bread for the first time.  Troop cooking together- living good, as far as eating - many sick. Sick with diarrhea.

July 30th – 98

Death of one of our Troop.  Joe Burgh died of fever.  Was burried at 12:30 North of hospital.

Aug. 6th

Left camp for Santiago.  Marched my own way - two miles to railroad - took boxcars, and were soon at the city – where we took tug to Steamer Gate City in the harbor.  Sick with dysentery.

Aug 7th

Lying in harbor in sight of Santiago.  Was paid at 2:30 and pulled for America at 5.  Passing out through the harbor saw all Spanish forts – the Merrimae & Reina Mercedes. All the forts badly torn from shells fired by our ships.  Sick with dysentery.

Aug. 13th – 98

Arrived in sight of Long Island.  Dropped anchor opposite Montauk Point at 3:30 P.M. Was boarded by inspecting officer.  Can see our camps onshore very plainly.  Very sick with dysentery.

Aug. 14th

Stood examination at 7:00 and prepared to land at 9:00 oclock.

Landed and marched to quarntine camp 1 mile. A fine camp - all glad to trod American soil.  I am sick with chills and fever – Dysentery & cramps.

Aug. 26th

Have been sick for some time – am in General Hospital now - am gaining fast – expect to be well soon.  Am thinking of trying to get a furlou.

This is a large hospital - The Red Cross is doing everything for us and many   leave everyday to take furlow for their homes.  Many are dying.  Two have died   from this ward today.  Do not know their names. I am in ward J.  I often wonder if the  “J” stands for Jones.

Aug. 31st   1898

Left hospital with high fever bound for home for 30days.  Hard time getting off.

Landed in L.I. City at night, (Long Island City) Went to Red Cross hospital – stayed all nite – fever 106 [degrees].

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