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Dislodging a Jammed Dynamite Gun Shell....with an Axe!

By Richard Harding Davis

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The following is an account describing an incident observed during the Battle of San Juan Hill involving the Rough Riders' dynamite gun. Sgt. Borrowe is actually Sgt. Burrowe. The account was written by Richard Harding Davis, the foremost war correspondent of the era.

The Account:

Sgt. Borrowe of the Rough Riders"...and I came upon Sergeant Borrowe blocking the road with his dynamite gun.  He and his brother and three regulars were busily correcting a hitch in its mechanism.  An officer carrying an order along the line halted his sweating horse and gazed at the strange gun with professional knowledge.

"That must be the dynamite gun I have heard so much about," he shouted.  Borrowe saluted and shouted assent.  The officer, greatly interested, forgot his errand.

"I'd like to see you fire it once," he said eagerly. Borrowe, delighted at the chance to exhibit his toy to a professional soldier, beamed with equal eagerness.

"In just a moment, sir," he said; "this shell seems to have jammed a bit." The officer, for the first time seeing the shell stuck in the breech, hurriedly gathered up his reins.  He seemed to be losing interest.  With elaborate carelessness I began to edge off down the road.

"Wait," Borrowe begged; "we'll have it out in a minute."

Suddenly I heard the officer's voice raised wildly. "What-what," he gasped, "is that man doing with that axe ?"

"He's helping me to get out this shell," said Borrowe.

"Good God!" said the officer.  Then he remembered his errand.

Until last year, when I again met young Borrowe gayly disporting himself at a lawn-tennis tournament at Mattapoisett, I did not know whether his brother's method of removing dynamite with an axe had been entirely successful. He said it worked all right...


Davis, Richard Harding, Notes of a War Correspondent. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910) 123-124.

McIntosh, Burr, The Little I saw of Cuba. (New York: F Tennyson Neely, 1899) 30 (image of Sgt. Borrowe).

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