This letter was written by Private Oscar Hochstadter of the the 71st New York Volunteer Infantry, Co. F to his parents. The letter provides a good account of life at the front on the eve of battle. Hochstadter was twenty-one years of age when he enlisted for two years on May 2, 1898 in his home town of New York City. Prior to enlisting, he worked as a clerk. He was mustered into service with his company on May 10. After he had written this letter, on July 14, Hochstadter was promoted to the rank of corporal. He was mustered out with his company on November 15, 1898. After the war, he belonged to Camp#53 of the United Spanish War Veterans (USWV).
There are a few items needing clarification. First, Hochstadter mentions a transport with a thousand Cubans in the harbor. The transport would have held more of the U.S. forces, not Cuban troops. Secondly, the follow-up at the end of the article (not a part of the letter, but part of the New York Times article) indicates that the regiment served at El Caney, which it did not.
Hochstadter survived the Battle of San Juan Hill.
"SEVENTY-FIRST MAN’S LETTER.
O. W. Hochstadter Writes Home Just
Before the Battle of Santiago,
Predicting a Hot Time.
Oscar W. Hochstadter, a lawyer in the New York Life building, 324 Broadway, received yesterday the following letter from his son, Oscar, who is with Capt. [Macolm A.] Rafferty of Company F, Seventy-first New York Volunteers, at Santiago. It is headed, Firmeza, Cuba, June 25, 1898:
Camp at Juragua Iron Company’s Works.
My Dear Parents: I am writing this hastily. Before me lies the harbor and one transport with about 1,000 Cubans from the army to guide us through the woods, and I expect to be called to arms at any minute.
I am well, thank God, and hope to keep so. I had my first taste of going to the front yesterday. We were in on the fight on the top of those darned hills [the skirmish at Las Guasimas], about eight miles walk up hill. It was awful. Teddy’s Rough Riders brought what they got on themselves. I understand they did too much. We were the reserves and did not go on the firing line. Lots of men were knocked out by the heat, but although I felt it, I was not hurt. You can’t imagine how I am, how I live, or anything. This is war, and dear ones, by the time this reaches you the battle of Santiago will have been fought, and God only knows with what result.
I don’t want to worry you, but we will have a hot time. With my faith sill in God, I trust my future in His hands as I do the present and hope to come home safe and sound to you all, my dear ones. Don’t worry, and tell all hands I send love. I am carrying only a poncho, a tent, and an extra blue shirt, all extra stuff being left here. Yesterday the line of march up the hill was strewn with blankets and extra clothing, even some of the “regs” [U.S. Regulars] discarded clothes and walked in underwear.
The heat is fierce, but in the morning early it is freezing cold. The dew or fog is very thick, and you would think it was raining. Was detailed last night to carry wounded. It was pitiable, their sufferings. I hope you will keep in touch with Arthur’s people. The scene here is by no means pleasant.
I hear young Fish [Hamilton Fish, Jr., of the Rough Riders] was killed. Too bad. God grant me the request and wish I made when I stated that I may return safe and sound to my parents, brothers, and sisters whom I dearly love. And why should He not? I shall do my duty as best I can, and with your pictures with me, hope for the best.
The land here is picturesque to those who are not fighting, but the Spanish devils are hidden in every nook and corner. I learned from good sources that we have gained many miles on them and forces their retreat. Imagine miles and miles of high mountains all around, no streets or prairies. If we had that we could do them up brown, but they are on the hills and won’t show themselves. ‘Damn them, they come out!’ is the cry. I hope our guns will bring them out, and they will pretty soon end this war. I wish we could communicate but hope to do so personally soon. I have received no mail since leaving Tampa.
Le martins and George, who would not go to the front, may be having a good time, but I am having the best, and would not swap places when so near, well the tightest squeeze of my life, from which I hope to come out with the victorious ones.
Hochstadter was with the company that was so exposed at the
of El Caney. He was not injured, according to the latest reports of
New York Times, July 7, 1898
New York in the Spanish American War, 1898, Part of the Report of the Adjutant-General of the State for 1900" (Albany: James B. Lyon, State Printer) - info. on Hochstadter (contributed by John LaBarre).