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The following is a letter was written by Lt. J. Baird French of the 6th U.S. Volunteer Infantry, describing the regiment's work in Puerto Rico.
(Source: The Journal and Tribune. Knoxville, Tenn., Sunday, October 30, 1898)
Boys of the Sixth
Description of Their Voyage to Porto Rico
Towns to Which the Men Have Been Sent.
Lieut. J. Baird French Writes an Interesting Letter From Uncle Sam's New
(Special Correspondence to Journal and Tribune.)
San Juan, Porto Rico, October 16.-In a paradise, for hundreds of years lost to the world, but recently gained by the United States, the transport Mississippi is now anchored with the Sixth U.S.V.I. aboard. Early Saturday morning, October 15th, the transport steamed into San Juan harbor, land having been sighted the evening previous about eleven o'clock. Every body was on deck at daybreak and as soon as pilots were signaled for the ship commenced feeling its way into the harbor. It was indeed an imposing sight, one that will never be forgotten by those who saw it. As we approached El Moro, the sun came out, lending splendor to the dream of loveliness. No American troops had yet entered this harbor and the attention of the entire city was soon attracted to the transport.
Passing Moro castle we soon came in sight of the historic city of San Jan, situated on a small peninsula on the east side of the bay. It is on a high prominence, protected on all sides by stone forts, with heavy artillery very prominent at every angle. As soon as the stars and stripes became discernible the natives set up a shout which lasted until the ship was anchored a quarter of a mile opposite the center of the city.
Everything was still in charge of the Spanish troops and the moment we cast anchor the chief surgeon of the Spanish garrison notified Col. Tyson that the ship would be held in quarantine, on account of typhoid fever, until the board of health and General Brooke, the commanding general of the American troops in Porto Rico ordered the men disembarked. We cast anchor about 8:30 a.m. but the quarantine was raised about noon and Col Tyson and staff was allowed to go ashore to consult with General Brooke. The general was expecting the regiment and had his orders ready. His orders were not what was expected as the entire command is to be broken up and scattered over the island from San Juan almost to the western extremity of the island.
The command is to be located at the following points, as follows.
Headquarters, non-commissioned staff and band, Maj. Whittaker and
C, G,A, and M, at Arecibo.
Capt. Wadsworth, company F, at Lares.
Capt. McDowell, company I, at Utuado,
Capt. Gillenwaters, company E, Isabella, C
Capt.Bowers, company L, Camuy
Capt. Penny, company B, Manati,
Capt. Henderson, company D, Derado
Capt. Fox, company K, Barcelonita,
Capt. Baird, company H, Bayamon,
One commissioned officer and fifteen men to Toa Baja.
Each company will be a separate and distinct command, one of the lieutenants of the companies being appointed adjutant commissary, quartermaster and ordnance officer,
Early this morning a large force of men commenced to unload the ship and at four o'clock tomorrow morning the companies of the First battalion will commence to go ashore. They will proceed by rail to the points mentioned above. The other companies will leave sometime during the day. The farthest point troops are located from Porto Rico is about sixty-five miles. Some go by rail to stations in the interior and then travel by wagon train across country.
By Monday night everybody will be ashore and a day later all will have reached their destinations.
The "Mississippi" sailed with the Sixth from New York Sunday afternoon, October 9, at 4 p.m., and by eight o'clock was well out to sea. The transport was an old cattle ship of the Atlantic steamship line until purchased as a transport by the United States. It has not been fitted out for a transport and is in no way equipped for such travel. The officers were packed three to a room only 8x6 feet. Officers were quartered according to rank and a number of the second lieutenants were unable to get bunks, consequently they slept anywhere they could find a place to lay their heads.
Eight hundred enlisted men were aboard the ship and of this number about 750 were sea sick during the trip. Two of the sick men brought from Chickamauga had typhoid, but they are both convalescent. On the whole the health of the regiment is as good today as when we left Georgia.
Besides the supplies brought with the regiment from Chickamauga-twelve car loads-an additional seven cars was put aboard at New York, Clothing, provisions, ordnance supplies and medical stores are piled high on the wharf, and as Gen. Brooke's quartermaster remarked the supplies look more like those of a division than a single regiment, There is nothing wanting for the comfort of the command.
The only fear of the surgeons is that there will be a great deal of sickness on account of the fruit. Wild tropical fruits are very plentiful and always cause a great deal of sickness if eaten before the men become acclimated.
The weather here is very warm and but for the breezes it would be almost unbearable. At this season of the year the average daily temperature is about ninety degrees, but this is only noticeable at two periods of the day, viz., from sunrise until about nine o'clock in the morning, and from sunset until about 10 p.m. At these times there is no wind stirring and the heat is very oppressive. After the breeze sets up in the evening the remainder of the night is very cool, the thermometer dropping frequently to sixty degrees.
Observations for many years on the island show that the thermometer never drops below fifty-five degrees. When there is no sea breeze on land there is always a cool wind from the mountains-thus keeping everything pleasant the year round.
Monday, Oct. 17.-Tomorrow is the last day of grace given the Spanish troops on the island. October 18th was the date fixed sometime ago by the peace commission and everything has been working to that end. The first transport from San Juan left last Saturday with 1,200 and a second Sunday morning with a like number. They were exceedingly orderly, but left with colors flying and a genuine Spanish shout. It was a historic sight-the beginning of the end of Spanish rule on the island. The natives made no demonstration, but a salute was fired from the guns of Moro as the transports pulled out of the harbor. When within hailing distance of the "Mississippi" the officers and men of the Sixth gave them three cheers, which were answered by the same from the Dons. There are at present about 800 Spanish soldiers in the city, but they will leave or cease to control the city by tomorrow noon, when the American flag will be raised by Gen. Brooke over the city. Several riots have been narrowly averted on account of the Spanish flags. The native Porto Ricans have been guying the Spaniards about the flag for several days past. Yesterday a party of soldiers and natives engaged in a row about the flag and to avert any further trouble and chagrin the Spanish colors were not raised today. It made its last appearance yesterday. Out of respect to the flag and the Spaniards who remain there is not a flag floating in the city today. All the flags of foreign consuls are conspicuously absent.
The Spanish soldier is indeed a model-polite and orderly, the discipline being second to none. The soldiers of the Sixth have mingled with the Spaniards from the time they arrived and have been shown every courtesy. Several Spanish officers have visited the transport Mississippi and paid their respects to Col. Tyson and his officers. Officers of the Sixth have nothing but words of commendation fro what they have seen of the Spanish Army.
The work of carrying the First and Second battalions ashore was commenced early this morning. They will both take train this afternoon for points mentioned above. The Sixth Massachusetts volunteers are to be relieved by the Sixth United States volunteers and will return home on the "Mississippi," which sails next Thursday.
The only trouble encountered on the island at this time is from the insurgents. They gather together in bands of fifty or a hundred and go across the island burning and pillaging. Caring or such bands as these will constitute the work for the Sixth United States volunteers. Encounters are not uncommon. Sunday, October 9th, the Massachusetts boys situated near Arevibs were compelled to fire into a squad of pillagers. The fire was returned. Two Americans and Six Porto Ricans were killed in the skirmish.
There is no mail system here at this time, but one will be established within the week. "Uncle Sam" has ten post office clerks here ready to take charge of the post office as soon as the American flag goes up.
-J. Baird French
"Boys of the Sixth," The Journal and Tribune. Knoxville, Tenn., Sunday, October 30, 1898.