Richard Harding Davis.

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Transcribed from the 1911 Harper and Brothers edition by David Price,
email [email protected]




NEW YORK::::::::::::::::::::::::1911


* * * * *

COPYRIGHT, 1898, 1900, 1910, BY

[Picture: At the front in Manchuria]


The Cuban-Spanish War
The Death of Rodriguez
The Greek-Turkish War
The Battle of Velestinos
The Spanish-American War
I. The Rough Riders at Guasimas
II. The Battle of San Juan Hill
III. The Taking of Coamo
IV. The Passing of San Juan Hill
The South African War
I. With Buller's Column
II. The Relief of Ladysmith
III. The Night Before the Battle
The Japanese-Russian War
Battles I did not see
A War Correspondent's Kit


Adolfo Rodriguez was the only son of a Cuban farmer, who lived nine miles
outside of Santa Clara, beyond the hills that surround that city to the

When the revolution in Cuba broke out young Rodriguez joined the
insurgents, leaving his father and mother and two sisters at the farm.
He was taken, in December of 1896, by a force of the Guardia Civile, the
corps d'elite of the Spanish army, and defended himself when they tried
to capture him, wounding three of them with his machete.

He was tried by a military court for bearing arms against the government,
and sentenced to be shot by a fusillade some morning before sunrise.

Previous to execution he was confined in the military prison of Santa
Clara with thirty other insurgents, all of whom were sentenced to be
shot, one after the other, on mornings following the execution of

His execution took place the morning of the 19th of January, 1897, at a
place a half-mile distant from the city, on the great plain that
stretches from the forts out to the hills, beyond which Rodriguez had
lived for nineteen years. At the time of his death he was twenty years

I witnessed his execution, and what follows is an account of the way he
went to his death. The young man's friends could not be present, for it
was impossible for them to show themselves in that crowd and that place
with wisdom or without distress, and I like to think that, although
Rodriguez could not know it, there was one person present when he died
who felt keenly for him, and who was a sympathetic though unwilling

There had been a full moon the night preceding the execution, and when
the squad of soldiers marched from town it was still shining brightly
through the mists. It lighted a plain two miles in extent, broken by
ridges and gullies and covered with thick, high grass, and with bunches
of cactus and palmetto. In the hollow of the ridges the mist lay like
broad lakes of water, and on one side of the plain stood the walls of the
old town. On the other rose hills covered with royal palms that showed
white in the moonlight, like hundreds of marble columns. A line of tiny
camp-fires that the sentries had built during the night stretched between
the forts at regular intervals and burned clearly.

But as the light grew stronger and the moonlight faded these were stamped
out, and when the soldiers came in force the moon was a white ball in the
sky, without radiance, the fires had sunk to ashes, and the sun had not
yet risen.

So even when the men were formed into three sides of a hollow square,
they were scarcely able to distinguish one another in the uncertain light
of the morning.

There were about three hundred soldiers in the formation. They belonged
to the volunteers, and they deployed upon the plain with their band in
front playing a jaunty quickstep, while their officers galloped from one
side to the other through the grass, seeking a suitable place for the
execution. Outside the line the band still played merrily.

A few men and boys, who had been dragged out of their beds by the music,
moved about the ridges behind the soldiers, half-clothed, unshaven,
sleepy-eyed, yawning, stretching themselves nervously and shivering in
the cool, damp air of the morning.

Either owing to discipline or on account of the nature of their errand,
or because the men were still but half awake, there was no talking in the
ranks, and the soldiers stood motionless, leaning on their rifles, with
their backs turned to the town, looking out across the plain to the

The men in the crowd behind them were also grimly silent. They knew that
whatever they might say would be twisted into a word of sympathy for the
condemned man or a protest against the government. So no one spoke; even
the officers gave their orders in gruff whispers, and the men in the
crowd did not mix together, but looked suspiciously at one another and
kept apart.

As the light increased a mass of people came hurrying from the town with
two black figures leading them, and the soldiers drew up at attention,
and part of the double line fell back and left an opening in the square.

With us a condemned man walks only the short distance from his cell to
the scaffold or the electric chair, shielded from sight by the prison
walls, and it often occurs even then that the short journey is too much
for his strength and courage.

But the Spaniards on this morning made the prisoner walk for over a
half-mile across the broken surface of the fields. I expected to find
the man, no matter what his strength at other times might be, stumbling
and faltering on this cruel journey; but as he came nearer I saw that he
led all the others, that the priests on either side of him were taking
two steps to his one, and that they were tripping on their gowns and
stumbling over the hollows in their efforts to keep pace with him as he
walked, erect and soldierly, at a quick step in advance of them.

He had a handsome, gentle face of the peasant type, a light, pointed
beard, great wistful eyes, and a mass of curly black hair. He was
shockingly young for such a sacrifice, and looked more like a Neapolitan
than a Cuban. You could imagine him sitting on the quay at Naples or
Genoa lolling in the sun and showing his white teeth when he laughed.
Around his neck, hanging outside his linen blouse, he wore a new

It seems a petty thing to have been pleased with at such a time, but I
confess to have felt a thrill of satisfaction when I saw, as the Cuban
passed me, that he held a cigarette between his lips, not arrogantly nor
with bravado, but with the nonchalance of a man who meets his punishment
fearlessly, and who will let his enemies see that they can kill but
cannot frighten him.

It was very quickly finished, with rough and, but for one frightful
blunder, with merciful swiftness. The crowd fell back when it came to
the square, and the condemned man, the priests, and the firing squad of
six young volunteers passed in and the line closed behind them.

The officer who had held the cord that bound the Cuban's arms behind him
and passed across his breast, let it fall on the grass and drew his
sword, and Rodriguez dropped his cigarette from his lips and bent and
kissed the cross which the priest held up before him.

The elder of the priests moved to one side and prayed rapidly in a loud
whisper, while the other, a younger man, walked behind the firing squad
and covered his face with his hands. They had both spent the last twelve
hours with Rodriguez in the chapel of the prison.

The Cuban walked to where the officer directed him to stand, and turning
his back on the square, faced the hills and the road across them, which
led to his father's farm.

As the officer gave the first command he straightened himself as far as
the cords would allow, and held up his head and fixed his eyes immovably
on the morning light, which had just begun to show above the hills.

He made a picture of such pathetic helplessness, but of such courage and
dignity, that he reminded me on the instant of that statue of Nathan Hale
which stands in the City Hall Park, above the roar of Broadway. The
Cuban's arms were bound, as are those of the statue, and he stood firmly,
with his weight resting on his heels like a soldier on parade, and with
his face held up fearlessly, as is that of the statue. But there was
this difference, that Rodriguez, while probably as willing to give six
lives for his country as was the American rebel, being only a peasant,
did not think to say so, and he will not, in consequence, live in bronze
during the lives of many men, but will be remembered only as one of
thirty Cubans, one of whom was shot at Santa Clara on each succeeding day
at sunrise.

The officer had given the order, the men had raised their pieces, and the
condemned man had heard the clicks of the triggers as they were pulled
back, and he had not moved. And then happened one of the most cruelly
refined, though unintentional, acts of torture that one can very well
imagine. As the officer slowly raised his sword, preparatory to giving
the signal, one of the mounted officers rode up to him and pointed out
silently that, as I had already observed with some satisfaction, the
firing squad were so placed that when they fired they would shoot several
of the soldiers stationed on the extreme end of the square.

Their captain motioned his men to lower their pieces, and then walked
across the grass and laid his hand on the shoulder of the waiting

It is not pleasant to think what that shock must have been. The man had
steeled himself to receive a volley of bullets. He believed that in the
next instant he would be in another world; he had heard the command
given, had heard the click of the Mausers as the locks caught - and then,
at that supreme moment, a human hand had been laid upon his shoulder and
a voice spoke in his ear.

You would expect that any man, snatched back to life in such a fashion
would start and tremble at the reprieve, or would break down altogether,
but this boy turned his head steadily, and followed with his eyes the
direction of the officer's sword, then nodded gravely, and, with his
shoulders squared, took up the new position, straightened his back, and
once more held himself erect.

As an exhibition of self-control this should surely rank above feats of
heroism performed in battle, where there are thousands of comrades to
give inspiration. This man was alone, in sight of the hills he knew,
with only enemies about him, with no source to draw on for strength but
that which lay within himself.

[Picture: The death of Rodriguez]

The officer of the firing squad, mortified by his blunder, hastily
whipped up his sword, the men once more levelled their rifles, the sword
rose, dropped, and the men fired. At the report the Cuban's head snapped
back almost between his shoulders, but his body fell slowly, as though
some one had pushed him gently forward from behind and he had stumbled.

He sank on his side in the wet grass without a struggle or sound, and did
not move again.

It was difficult to believe that he meant to lie there, that it could be
ended so without a word, that the man in the linen suit would not rise to
his feet and continue to walk on over the hills, as he apparently had
started to do, to his home; that there was not a mistake somewhere, or
that at least some one would be sorry or say something or run to pick him

But, fortunately, he did not need help, and the priests returned - the
younger one with the tears running down his face - and donned their
vestments and read a brief requiem for his soul, while the squad stood
uncovered, and the men in hollow square shook their accoutrements into
place, and shifted their pieces and got ready for the order to march, and
the band began again with the same quickstep which the fusillade had

The figure still lay on the grass untouched, and no one seemed to
remember that it had walked there of itself, or noticed that the
cigarette still burned, a tiny ring of living fire, at the place where
the figure had first stood.

The figure was a thing of the past, and the squad shook itself like a
great snake, and then broke into little pieces and started off jauntily,
stumbling in the high grass and striving to keep step to the music.

The officers led it past the figure in the linen suit, and so close to it
that the file closers had to part with the column to avoid treading on
it. Each soldier as he passed turned and looked down on it, some craning
their necks curiously, others giving a careless glance, and some without
any interest at all, as they would have looked at a house by the
roadside, or a hole in the road.

One young soldier caught his foot in a trailing vine, just opposite to
it, and fell. He grew very red when his comrades giggled at him for his
awkwardness. The crowd of sleepy spectators fell in on either side of
the band. They, too, had forgotten it, and the priests put their
vestments back in the bag and wrapped their heavy cloaks about them, and
hurried off after the others.

Every one seemed to have forgotten it except two men, who came slowly
towards it from the town, driving a bullock-cart that bore an unplaned
coffin, each with a cigarette between his lips, and with his throat
wrapped in a shawl to keep out the morning mists.

At that moment the sun, which had shown some promise of its coming in the
glow above the hills, shot up suddenly from behind them in all the
splendor of the tropics, a fierce, red disk of heat, and filled the air
with warmth and light.

The bayonets of the retreating column flashed in it, and at the sight a
rooster in a farm-yard near by crowed vigorously, and a dozen bugles
answered the challenge with the brisk, cheery notes of the reveille, and
from all parts of the city the church bells jangled out the call for
early mass, and the little world of Santa Clara seemed to stretch itself
and to wake to welcome the day just begun.

But as I fell in at the rear of the procession and looked back, the
figure of the young Cuban, who was no longer a part of the world of Santa
Clara, was asleep in the wet grass, with his motionless arms still
tightly bound behind him, with the scapular twisted awry across his face,
and the blood from his breast sinking into the soil he had tried to free.


The Turks had made three attacks on Velestinos on three different days,
and each time had been repulsed. A week later, on the 4th of May, they
came back again, to the number of ten thousand, and brought four
batteries with them, and the fighting continued for two more days. This
was called the second battle of Velestinos. In the afternoon of the 5th
the Crown Prince withdrew from Pharsala to take up a stronger position at
Domokos, and the Greeks under General Smolenski, the military hero of the
campaign, were forced to retreat, and the Turks came in, and, according
to their quaint custom, burned the village and marched on to Volo. John
Bass, the American correspondent, and myself were keeping house in the
village, in the home of the mayor. He had fled from the town, as had
nearly all the villagers; and as we liked the appearance of his house, I
gave Bass a leg up over the wall around his garden, and Bass opened the
gate, and we climbed in through his front window. It was like the
invasion of the home of the Dusantes by Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine,
and, like them, we were constantly making discoveries of fresh
treasure-trove. Sometimes it was in the form of a cake of soap or a tin
of coffee, and once it was the mayor's fluted petticoats, which we tried
on, and found very heavy. We could not discover what he did for pockets.
All of these things, and the house itself, were burned to ashes, we were
told, a few hours after we retreated, and we feel less troubled now at
having made such free use of them.

On the morning of the 4th we were awakened by the firing of cannon from a
hill just over our heads, and we met in the middle of the room and
solemnly shook hands. There was to be a battle, and we were the only
correspondents on the spot. As I represented the London _Times_, Bass
was the only representative of an American newspaper who saw this fight
from its beginning to its end.

We found all the hills to the left of the town topped with long lines of
men crouching in little trenches. There were four rows of hills. If you
had measured the distance from one hill-top to the next, they would have
been from one hundred to three hundred yards distant from one another.
In between the hills were gullies, or little valleys, and the beds of
streams that had dried up in the hot sun. These valleys were filled with
high grass that waved about in the breeze and was occasionally torn up
and tossed in the air by a shell. The position of the Greek forces was
very simple. On the top of each hill was a trench two or three feet deep
and some hundred yards long. The earth that had been scooped out to make
the trench was packed on the edge facing the enemy, and on the top of
that some of the men had piled stones, through which they poked their
rifles. When a shell struck the ridge it would sometimes scatter these
stones in among the men, and they did quite as much damage as the shells.
Back of these trenches, and down that side of the hill which was farther
from the enemy, were the reserves, who sprawled at length in the long
grass, and smoked and talked and watched the shells dropping into the
gully at their feet.

The battle, which lasted two days, opened in a sudden and terrific storm
of hail. But the storm passed as quickly as it came, leaving the
trenches running with water, like the gutters of a city street after a
spring shower; and the men soon sopped them up with their overcoats and
blankets, and in half an hour the sun had dried the wet uniforms, and the
field-birds had begun to chirp again, and the grass was warm and
fragrant. The sun was terribly hot. There was no other day during that
entire brief campaign when its glare was so intense or the heat so
suffocating. The men curled up in the trenches, with their heads pressed
against the damp earth, panting and breathing heavily, and the heat-waves
danced and quivered about them, making the plain below flicker like a
picture in a cinematograph.

From time to time an officer would rise and peer down into the great
plain, shading his eyes with his hands, and shout something at them, and
they would turn quickly in the trench and rise on one knee. And at the
shout that followed they would fire four or five rounds rapidly and
evenly, and then, at a sound from the officer's whistle, would drop back
again and pick up the cigarettes they had placed in the grass and begin
leisurely to swab out their rifles with a piece of dirty rag on a
cleaning rod. Down in the plain below there was apparently nothing at
which they could shoot except the great shadows of the clouds drifting
across the vast checker-board of green and yellow fields, and
disappearing finally between the mountain passes beyond. In some places
there were square dark patches that might have been bushes, and nearer to
us than these were long lines of fresh earth, from which steam seemed to
be escaping in little wisps. What impressed us most of what we could see
of the battle then was the remarkable number of cartridges the Greek
soldiers wasted in firing into space, and the fact that they had begun to
fire at such long range that, in order to get the elevation, they had
placed the rifle butt under the armpit instead of against the shoulder.
Their sights were at the top notch. The cartridges reminded one of
corn-cobs jumping out of a corn-sheller, and it was interesting when the
bolts were shot back to see a hundred of them pop up into the air at the
same time, flashing in the sun as though they were glad to have done
their work and to get out again. They rolled by the dozens underfoot,
and twinkled in the grass, and when one shifted his position in the
narrow trench, or stretched his cramped legs, they tinkled musically. It
was like wading in a gutter filled with thimbles.

Then there began a concert which came from just overhead - a concert of
jarring sounds and little whispers. The "shrieking shrapnel," of which
one reads in the description of every battle, did not seem so much like a
shriek as it did like the jarring sound of telegraph wires when some one
strikes the pole from which they hang, and when they came very close the
noise was like the rushing sound that rises between two railroad trains
when they pass each other in opposite directions and at great speed.
After a few hours we learned by observation that when a shell sang
overhead it had already struck somewhere else, which was comforting, and
which was explained, of course, by the fact that the speed of the shell
is so much greater than the rate at which sound travels. The bullets
were much more disturbing; they seemed to be less open in their warfare,
and to steal up and sneak by, leaving no sign, and only to whisper as
they passed. They moved under a cloak of invisibility, and made one feel
as though he were the blind man in a game of blind-man's-buff, where
every one tapped him in passing, leaving him puzzled and ignorant as to
whither they had gone and from what point they would come next. The
bullets sounded like rustling silk, or like humming-birds on a warm
summer's day, or like the wind as it is imitated on the stage of a
theatre. Any one who has stood behind the scenes when a storm is
progressing on the stage, knows the little wheel wound with silk that
brushes against another piece of silk, and which produces the whistling
effect of the wind. At Velestinos, when the firing was very heavy, it
was exactly as though some one were turning one of these silk wheels, and
so rapidly as to make the whistling continuous.

When this concert opened, the officers shouted out new orders, and each
of the men shoved his sight nearer to the barrel, and when he fired
again, rubbed the butt of his gun snugly against his shoulder. The huge
green blotches on the plain had turned blue, and now we could distinguish
that they moved, and that they were moving steadily forward. Then they
would cease to move, and a little later would be hidden behind great
puffs of white smoke, which were followed by a flash of flame; and still
later there would come a dull report. At the same instant something
would hurl itself jarring through the air above our heads, and by turning
on one elbow we could see a sudden upheaval in the sunny landscape behind
us, a spurt of earth and stones like a miniature geyser, which was filled
with broken branches and tufts of grass and pieces of rock. As the
Turkish aim grew better these volcanoes appeared higher up the hill,
creeping nearer and nearer to the rampart of fresh earth on the second
trench until the shells hammered it at last again and again, sweeping it
away and cutting great gashes in it, through which we saw the figures of
men caught up and hurled to one side, and others flinging themselves face
downward as though they were diving into water; and at the same instant
in our own trench the men would gasp as though they had been struck too,
and then becoming conscious of having done this would turn and smile
sheepishly at each other, and crawl closer into the burrows they had made
in the earth.

[Picture: A mountain battery at Velestinos]

From where we sat on the edge of the trench, with our feet among the
cartridges, we could, by leaning forward, look over the piled-up earth
into the plain below, and soon, without any aid from field-glasses, we
saw the blocks of blue break up into groups of men. These men came
across the ploughed fields in long, widely opened lines, walking easily
and leisurely, as though they were playing golf or sowing seed in the

The Greek rifles crackled and flashed at the lines, but the men below
came on quite steadily, picking their way over the furrows and appearing
utterly unconscious of the seven thousand rifles that were calling on
them to halt. They were advancing directly toward a little sugar-loaf
hill, on the top of which was a mountain battery perched like a tiara on

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