Edward A. Johnson.

History of Negro Soldiers in the Spanish-American War, and Other Items of Interest online

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the edge of some nearby thicket to the top of a small hill, as many
may imagine. This particular charge was a tough, hard climb, over
sharp, rising ground, which, were a man in perfect physical strength
he would climb slowly. Part of the charge was made over soft,
plowed ground, a part through a lot of prickly pineapple plants and
barbed-wire entanglements. It was slow, hard work, under a blazing
July sun and a perfect hail-storm of bullets, which, thanks to the
poor marksmanship of the Spaniards, "went high."

It has been generally admitted, by all fair-minded writers, that the
colored soldiers saved the day both at El Caney and San Juan Hill.

Notwithstanding their heroic services, they were still to be
subjected, in many cases, to more hardships than their white brother
in arms. When the flag of truce was, in the afternoon of July 3d,
seen, each man breathed a sigh of relief, for the strain had been
very great upon us. During the next eleven days men worked like ants,
digging trenches, for they had learned a lesson of fighting in the
open field. The work went on night and day. The 25th Infantry worked
harder than any other regiment, for as soon as they would finish a
trench they were ordered to move; in this manner they were kept moving
and digging new trenches for eleven days. The trenches left were each
time occupied by a white regiment.

On July 14th it was decided to make a demonstration in front of
Santiago, to draw the fire of the enemy and locate his position. Two
companies of colored soldiers (25th Infantry) were selected for this
purpose, actually deployed as skirmishers and started in advance.
General Shafter, watching the movement from a distant hill, saw that
such a movement meant to sacrifice those men, without any or much
good resulting, therefore had them recalled. Had the movement been
completed it is probable that not a man would have escaped death or
serious wounds. When the news came that General Toral had decided to
surrender, the 25th Infantry was a thousand yards or more nearer the
city of Santiago than any regiment in the army, having entrenched
themselves along the railroad leading into the city.

The following enlisted men of the 25th Infantry were commissioned
for their bravery at El Caney: First Sergeant Andrew J. Smith, First
Sergeant Macon Russell, First Sergeant Wyatt Huffman and Sergeant
Wm. McBryar. Many more were recommended, but failed to receive
commissions. It is a strange incident that all the above-named men
are native North Carolinians, but First Sergeant Huffman, who is from

The Negro played a most important part in the Spanish-American war. He
was the first to move from the west; first at Camp Thomas Chickamauga
Park, Ga.; first in the jungle of Cuba; among the first killed in
battle; first in the block-house at El Caney, and nearest to the enemy
when he surrendered.

Frank W. Pullen, Jr.,

_Ex-Sergeant-Major 25th U.S. Infantry_.

Enfield, N.C., March 23, 1899.


They Comprise Several of the Crack Regiments in Our Army-The Indians
Stand in Abject Terror of them-Their Awful Yells Won a Battle with the

"It is not necessary to revert to the Civil war to prove that American
Negroes are faithful, devoted wearers of uniforms," says a Washington
man, who has seen service in both the army and the navy. "There are at
the present time four regiments of Negro soldiers in the regular army
of the United States-two outfits of cavalry and two of infantry. All
four of these regiments have been under fire in important Indian
campaigns, and there is yet to be recorded a single instance of a man
in any of the four layouts showing the white feather, and the two
cavalry regiments of Negroes have, on several occasions, found
themselves in very serious situations. While the fact is well known
out on the frontier, I don't remember ever having seen it mentioned
back here that an American Indian has a deadly fear of an American
Negro. The most utterly reckless, dare-devil savage of the copper hue
stands literally in awe of a Negro, and the blacker the Negro the more
the Indian quails. I can't understand why this should be, for the
Indians decline to give their reasons for fearing the black men,
but the fact remains that even a very bad Indian will give the
mildest-mannered Negro imaginable all the room he wants, and to spare,
as any old regular army soldier who has frontiered will tell you.
The Indians, I fancy, attribute uncanny and eerie qualities to the

"The cavalry troop to which I belonged soldiered alongside a couple of
troops of the 9th Cavalry, a black regiment, up in the Sioux country
eight or nine years ago. We were performing chain guard, hemming-in
duty, and it was our chief business to prevent the savages from
straying from the reservation. We weren't under instructions to riddle
them if they attempted to pass our guard posts, but were authorized to
tickle them up to any reasonable extent, short of maiming them, with
our bayonets, if any of them attempted to bluff past us. Well, the men
of my troop had all colors of trouble while on guard in holding the
savages in. The Ogalallas would hardly pay any attention to the white
sentries of the chain guard, and when they wanted to pass beyond the
guard limits they would invariably pick out a spot for passage that
was patrolled by a white 'post-humper.' But the guards of the two
black troops didn't have a single run-in with the savages. The Indians
made it a point to remain strictly away from the Negro soldiers' guard
posts. Moreover, the black soldiers got ten times as much obedience
from the Indians loafing around the tepees and wickleups as did we of
the white outfit. The Indians would fairly jump to obey the uniformed
Negroes. I remember seeing a black sergeant make a minor chief go
down to a creek to get a pail of water - an unheard of thing, for the
chiefs, and even the ordinary bucks among the Sioux, always make their
squaws perform this sort of work. This chief was sunning himself,
reclining, beside his tepee, when his squaw started with the bucket
for the creek some distance away. The Negro sergeant saw the move. He
walked up to the lazy, grunting savage."

"'Look a-yeah, yo' spraddle-nosed, yalluh voodoo nigguh,' said the
black sergeant - he was as black as a stovepipe - to the blinking chief,
'jes' shake yo' no-count bones an' tote dat wattuh yo'se'f. Yo' ain'
no bettuh to pack wattuh dan Ah am, yo' heah me.'"

"The heap-much Indian chief didn't understand a word of what the Negro
sergeant said to him, but he understands pantomime all right, and when
the black man in uniform grabbed the pail out of the squaw's hand and
thrust it into the dirty paw of the chief the chief went after that
bucket of water, and he went a-loping, too."


"The Sioux will hand down to their children's children the story of
a charge that a couple of Negro cavalry troops made during the Pine
Ridge troubles. It was of the height of the fracas, and the bad
Indians were regularly lined up for battle. Those two black troops
were ordered to make the initial swoop upon them. You know the noise
one black man can make when he gets right down to the business of
yelling. Well, these two troops of blacks started their terrific whoop
in unison when they were a mile away from the waiting Sioux, and they
got warmed up and in better practice with every jump their horses
made. I give you my solemn word that in the ears of us of the white
outfit, stationed three miles away, the yelps those two Negro troops
of cavalry gave sounded like the carnival whooping of ten thousand
devils. The Sioux weren't scared a little bit by the approaching
clouds of alkali dust, but, all the same, when the two black troops
were more than a quarter of a mile away the Indians broke and ran as
if the old boy himself were after them, and it was then an easy matter
to round them up and disarm them. The chiefs afterward confessed that
they were scared out by the awful howling of the black soldiers."

"Ever since the war the United States navy has had a fair
representation of Negro bluejackets, and they make first-class naval
tars. There is not a ship in the navy to-day that hasn't from six to
a dozen, anyhow, of Negroes on its muster rolls. The Negro sailors'
names very rarely get enrolled on the bad conduct lists. They are
obedient, sober men and good seamen. There are many petty officers
among them." - _The Planet._



Hark! O'er the drowsy trooper's dream,
There comes a martial metal's scream,
That startles one and all!
It is the word, to wake, to die!
To hear the foeman's fierce defy!
To fling the column's battle-cry!
The "boots and saddles" call.

The shimmering steel, the glow or morn,
The rally-call of battle-horn,
Proclaim a day of carnage, born
For better or for ill.
Above the pictured tentage white,
Above the weapons glinting bright,
The day god casts a golden light
Across the San Juan Hill.

"Forward!" "Forward!" comes the cry,
As stalwart columns, ambling by,
Stride over graves that, waiting, lie
Undug in mother earth!
Their goal, the flag of fierce Castile
Above her serried ranks of steel,
Insensate to the cannon's peal
That gives the battle birth!

As brawn as black - a fearless foe;
Grave, grim and grand, they onward go,
To conquer or to die!
The rule of right; the march of might;
A dusky host from darker night,
Responsive to the morning light,
To work the martial will!
And o'er the trench and trembling earth,
The morn that gives the battle birth
Is on the San Juan Hill!

Hark! sounds again the bugle call!
Let ring the rifles over all,
To shriek above the battle-pall
The war-god's jubilee!
Their's, were bondmen, low, and long;
Their's, once weak against the strong;
Their's, to strike and stay the wrong,
That strangers might be free!

And on, and on, for weal or woe,
The tawny faces grimmer go,
That bade no mercy to a foe
That pitties but to kill.
"Close up!" "Close up!" is heard, and said,
And yet the rain of steel and lead
Still leaves a livid trail of red
Upon the San Juan Hill!

"Charge!" "Charge!" The bugle peals again;
'Tis life or death for Roosevelt's men! -
The Mausers make reply!
Aye! speechless are those swarthy sons,
Save for the clamor of the guns -
Their only battle-cry!
The lowly stain upon each face,
The taunt still fresh of prouder race,
But speeds the step that springs a pace,
To succor or to die!

With rifles hot - to waist-band nude;
The brawn beside the pampered dude;
The cowboy king - one grave - and rude -
To shelter him who falls!
One breast - and bare, - howe'er begot,
The low, the high - one common lot:
The world's distinction all forgot
When Freedom's bugle calls!

No faltering step, no fitful start;
None seeking less than all his part;
One watchward springing from each heart, -
Yet on, and onward still!
The sullen sound of tramp and tread;
Abe Lincoln's flag still overhead;
They followed where the angels led
The way, up San Juan Hill!

And where the life stream ebbs and flows,
And stains the track of trenchant blows
That met no meaner steel,
The bated breath - the battle yell -
The turf in slippery crimson, tell
Where Castile's proudest colors fell
With wounds that never heal!

Where every trooper found a wreath
Of glory for his sabre sheath;
And earned the laurels well;
With feet to field and face to foe,
In lines of battle lying low,
The sable soldiers fell!

And where the black and brawny breast
Gave up its all - life's richest, best,
To find the tomb's eternal rest
A dream of freedom still!
A groundless creed was swept away,
With brand of "coward " - a time-worn say -
And he blazed the path a better way
Up the side of San Juan Hill!
For black or white, on the scroll of fame,
The blood of the hero dyes the same;
And ever, ever will!

Sleep, trooper, sleep; thy sable brow,
Amid the living laurel now,
Is wound in wreaths of fame!
Nor need the graven granite stone,
To tell of garlands all thine own -
To hold a soldier's name!

[In the city of New Orleans, in 1866, two thousand two hundred and
sixty-six ex-slaves were recruited for the service. None but the
largest and blackest Negroes were accepted. From these were formed
the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Infantry, and the Ninth and Tenth
Cavalry. All four are famous fighting regiments, yet the two cavalry
commands have earned the proudest distinction. While the record of the
Ninth Cavalry, better known as the "Nigger Ninth," in its thirty-two
years of service in the Indian wars, in the military history of the
border, stands without a peer; and is, without exception, the most
famous fighting regiment in the United States service.] - Author.




When Colonel Theodore Roosevelt returned from the command of the
famous Rough Riders, he delivered a farewell address to his men,
in which he made the following kind reference to the gallant Negro

"Now, I want to say just a word more to some of the men I see standing
around not of your number. I refer to the colored regiments, who
occupied the right and left flanks of us at Guásimas, the Ninth and
Tenth cavalry regiments. The Spaniards called them 'Smoked Yankees,'
but we found them to be an excellent breed of Yankees. I am sure that
I speak the sentiments of officers and men in the assemblage when I
say that between you and the other cavalry regiments there exists a
tie which we trust will never be broken." - _Colored American_.

* * * * *

The foregoing compliments to the Negro soldiers by Colonel Roosevelt
started up an avalanche of additional praise for them, out of which
the fact came, that but for the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry (colored)
coming up at Las Guásimas, destroying the Spanish block house and
driving the Spaniards off, when Roosevelt and his men had been caught
in a trap, with a barbed-wire fence on one side and a precipice on
the other, not only the brave Capron and Fish, but the whole of his
command would have been annihilated by the Spanish sharp-shooters, who
were firing with smokeless powder under cover, and picking off the
Rough Riders one by one, who could not see the Spaniards. To break the
force of this unfavorable comment on the Rough Riders, it is claimed
that Colonel Roosevelt made the following criticism of the colored
soldiers in general and of a few of them in particular, in an article
written by him for the April Scribner; and a letter replying to
the Colonel's strictures, follows by Sergeant Holliday, who was an
"eye-witness" to the incident:

Colonel Roosevelt's criticism was, in substance, that colored
soldiers were of no avail without white officers; that when the white
commissioned officers are killed or disabled, colored non-commissioned
officers could not be depended upon to keep up a charge already begun;
that about a score of colored infantrymen, who had drifted into his
command, weakened on the hill at San Juan under the galling Spanish
fire, and started to the rear, stating that they intended finding
their regiments, or to assist the wounded; whereupon he drew his
revolver and ordered them to return to ranks and there remain, and
that he would shoot the first man who didn't obey him; and that after
that he had no further trouble.

Colonel Roosevelt is sufficiently answered in the following letter of
Sergeant Holliday, and the point especially made by many eye-witnesses
(white) who were engaged in that fight is, as related in Chapter V, of
this book, that the Negro troops made the charges both at San Juan and
El Caney after nearly all their officers had been killed or wounded.
Upon what facts, therefore, does Colonel Roosevelt base his
conclusions that Negro soldiers will not fight without commissioned
officers, when the only real test of this question happened around
Santiago and showed just the contrary of what he states? We prefer
to take the results at El Caney and San Juan as against Colonel
Roosevelt's imagination.



_To the Editor of the New York Age_:

Having read in _The Age_ of April 13 an editorial entitled "Our Troops
in Cuba," which brings to my notice for the first time a statement
made by Colonel Roosevelt, which, though in some parts true, if read
by those who do not know the exact facts and circumstances surrounding
the case, will certainly give rise to the wrong impression of colored
men as soldiers, and hurt them for many a day to come, and as I was
an eye-witness to the most important incidents mentioned in that
statement, I deem it a duty I owe, not only to the fathers, mothers,
sisters and brothers of those soldiers, and to the soldiers
themselves, but to their posterity and the race in general, to be
always ready to make an unprejudiced refutation of such charges, and
to do all in my power to place the colored soldier where he properly
belongs - among the bravest and most trustworthy of this land.

In the beginning, I wish to say that from what I saw of Colonel
Roosevelt in Cuba, and the impression his frank countenance made
upon me, I cannot believe that he made that statement maliciously. I
believe the Colonel thought he spoke the exact truth. But did he know,
that of the four officers connected with two certain troops of the
Tenth Cavalry one was killed and three were so seriously wounded as to
cause them to be carried from the field, and the command of these two
troops fell to the first sergeants, who led them triumphantly to the
front? Does he know that both at Las Guasima and San Juan Hill the
greater part of troop B, of the Tenth Cavalry, was separated from its
commanding officer by accidents of battle and was led to the front by
its first sergeant?

When we reached the enemy's works on San Juan Hill our organizations
were very badly mixed, few company commanders having their whole
companies or none of some body else's company. As it was, Capt.
Watson, my troop commander, reached the crest of the hill with about
eight or ten men of his troop, all the rest having been accidentally
separated from him by the thick underbrush during the advance, and
being at that time, as was subsequently shown to be the firing line
under some one else pushing to the front. We kept up the forward
movement, and finally halted on the heights overlooking Santiago,
where Colonel Roosevelt, with a very thin line had preceded us, and
was holding the hill. Here Captain Watson told us to remain while he
went to another part of the line to look for the rest of his troop. He
did not come to that part of the field again.

The Colonel made a slight error when he said his mixed command
contained some colored infantry. All the colored troops in that
command were cavalry men. His command consisted mostly of Rough
Riders, with an aggregate of about one troop of the Tenth Cavalry, a
few of the Ninth and a few of the First Regular Cavalry, with a half
dozen officers. Every few minutes brought men from the rear, everybody
seeming to be anxious to get to the firing line. For a while we kept
up a desultory fire, but as we could not locate the enemy (he all the
time keeping up a hot fire on our position), we became disgusted, and
lay down and kept silent. Private Marshall was here seriously wounded
while standing in plain view of the enemy, trying to point them out to
his comrades.

There were frequent calls for men to carry the wounded to the rear,
to go for ammunition, and as night came on, to go for rations and
entrenching tools. A few colored soldiers volunteered, as did some
from the Rough Riders. It then happened that two men of the Tenth were
ordered to the rear by Lieutenant Fleming, Tenth Cavalry, who was then
present with part of his troop, for the purpose of bringing either
rations or entrenching tools, and Colonel Roosevelt seeing so many men
going to the rear, shouted to them to come back, jumped up and drew
his revolver, and told the men of the Tenth that he would shoot the
first man who attempted to shirk duty by going to the rear, that he
had orders to hold that line and he would do so if he had to shoot
every man there to do it. His own men immediately informed him that
"you won't have to shoot those men, Colonel. We know those boys." He
was also assured by Lieutenant Fleming, of the Tenth, that he would
have no trouble keeping them there, and some of our men shouted, in
which I joined, that "we will stay with you, Colonel." Everyone who
saw the incident knew the Colonel was mistaken about our men trying to
shirk duty, but well knew that he could not admit of any heavy detail
from his command, so no one thought ill of the matter. Inasmuch as the
Colonel came to the line of the Tenth the next day and told the men of
his threat to shoot some of their members and, as he expressed it, he
had seen his mistake and found them to be far different men from what
he supposed. I thought he was sufficiently conscious of his error not
to make a so ungrateful statement about us at a time when the Nation
is about to forget our past service.

Had the Colonel desired to note the fact, he would have seen that when
orders came the next day to relieve the detachment of the Tenth from
that part of the field, he commanded just as many colored men at that
time as he commanded at any other time during the twenty-four hours
we were under his command, although colored as well as white soldiers
were going and coming all day, and they knew perfectly well where the
Tenth Cavalry was posted, and that it was on a line about four hundred
yards further from the enemy than Colonel Roosevelt's line. Still when
they obtained permission to go to the rear, they almost invariably
came back to the same position. Two men of my troop were wounded while
at the rear for water and taken to the hospital and, of course, could
not come back.

Our men always made it a rule to join the nearest command when
separated from our own, and those who had been so unfortunate as to
lose their way altogether were, both colored and white, straggling
up from the time the line was established until far into the night,
showing their determination to reach the front.

In explaining the desire of our men in going back to look for their
comrades, it should be stated that, from the contour of the ground,
the Rough Riders were so much in advance of the Tenth Cavalry that,
to reach the latter regiment from the former, one had really to go
straight to the rear and then turn sharply to the right; and further,
it is a well known fact, that in this country most persons of color
feel out of place when they are by force compelled to mingle with
white persons, especially strangers, and although we knew we were
doing our duty, and would be treated well as long as we stood to the
front and fought, unfortunately some of our men (and these were all
recruits with less than six months' service) felt so much out of place
that when the firing lulled, often showed their desire to be with
their commands. None of our older men did this. We knew perfectly well
that we could give as much assistance there as anywhere else, and that
it was our duty to remain until relieved. And we did. White soldiers
do not, as a rule, share this feeling with colored soldiers. The fact
that a white man knows how well he can make a place for himself among
colored people need not be discussed here.

I remember an incident of a recruit of my troop, with less than two
months' service, who had come up to our position during the evening of
the 1st, having been separated from the troop during the attack on San
Juan Hill. The next morning, before the firing began, having seen an
officer of the Tenth, who had been sent to Colonel Roosevelt with a
message, returning to the regiment, he signified his intention of
going back with him, saying he could thus find the regiment. I
remonstrated with him without avail and was only able to keep him from
going by informing him of the Colonel's threat of the day before.

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Online LibraryEdward A. JohnsonHistory of Negro Soldiers in the Spanish-American War, and Other Items of Interest → online text (page 3 of 10)