Account of the Cuban War with Spain, and other things

1847 – Waggoner’s Boy Killed

Henry Underwood, a lad of 12, was working for Mr. Proctor of King’s Pyon;  he was entrusted with driving the horse and cart when the horse bolted, dragging the cart over the top of Henry.

He was killed outright.

1899 – A King’s Pyon Man Gives his Account of the Cuban War with Spain

I make no apologies for the length of this item – it is truly fascinating.

John (Jack) Walker, a native of King’s Pyon who fought in the American ranks in Cuba during the war with Spain, was the eldest son of John Walker of Garnstone Lodge, Weobley.

He sent a letter to his brother Henry Walker of Hamwell Leaze, Cainscross, Gloucestershire, who kindly allowed it to be published in the Hereford Times.

Graphic Letter on the Horrors of War dated 3rd Dec. 1898

My Dear Brother – I was very very glad to get a letter from you and to hear that you and your family were all right;  also to hear that you were a good Templar:  stick it out – I was once one myself.  You will be surprised to see that I am in Milwaukee.  I am on special recruiting service now for my old Regiment, the reward of virtue, or rather for meritorious conduct at El Caney, Cuba.  I am Lance Sergeant now, and all I have to do is get the railroad tickets for the recruits and see them in the train for Fort Snelling.  I don’t know how long it will last, but I hope a good while.  You see our Regiment is ordered to Manila, and I am stove up too bad to be any good for active service any more, so Uncle Sam and the old Colonel gave me a soft job for a while.  We have fine quarters and board in first class restaurant so can rest up for the winter.  I came back from the campaign the middle of September, and have been very sick ever since.  I had the Calentuna Fever, or in plain English, Yellow Jack.

Only a Shadow of my Former Self

I only weight 140 lbs;  but am improving slowly and hope to be all right by the time summer comes again.  I am a grey headed old man Harry;  my best days are gone, I am afraid never to come back.  Well, I don’t know that I have any regrets;  it’s no use anyway.  My time expires August 6th 1899;  I shall either try for a pension or some Government job.  I have a pretty good pull with all the officers that will help me a good deal.  Well, anyway, I upheld the honour of the family a long way from home;  maybe, and not much credit, but here I get the credit and that’s all I care for really.  I have had the honour of President KcKilney shaking me by the hand and calling me one of his Santiago heroes.  There were 20 of us presented to him at the White House, Washington, and all for distinguished service in the field.  That was a glorious day, old man, for me;  I was the proudest man in the American Army, and somehow I was glad I was born a Briton.  Well, old man, I suppose now you would like a short history of the campaign.  I cannot tell you very much, I was at the front all the time and could not see perhaps as much as some could at the rear.  We left Port Snelling for Cuba April 19th 1898.  Our Route was liberally covered with flowers after we struck the Southern States;  crowds of girls invaded the train and took us by storm.

The whole of the United States was in a Ferment of Excitement

At every town we stopped bands and crowds of people met us and bade us “God Speed You” “Remember the Maine” was the battle cry and we remembered her.  “Vengeance is mine” etc. you know the rest.  We mobilised 17,000 troops at Mobile, Horse, Foot and Dragoons, and sailed the 3rd day of June with 36 transports conveyed by a portion of the Navy.  After untold sufferings from lack of room, bad rations, and putrid water for 20 days, we came in sight of Baiquiri, Cuba, at 9 a.m. the 23rd June.  The Navy commenced the bombardment.  It was the grandest sight I ever saw or ever will see again.  We landed in small boats from the troopships under fire of the guns of the Navy (by the way, we have a smashing Navy, if she is small, she is modern).  The Spaniards retreated without much resistance and left all their staff behind.  We camped there that night, and next day, at night, we made a forced march to Siboney where Roosevelt’s Rough Riders got it in the neck.  Our Regiment did outpost duty there three or four days until 30th June when the orders came for our Brigade to join Lanton and Wheelers division at the front.  We made a forced march that night and got to Wheelers headquarters at 3 a.m. on the 1st and slept behind the stacks till daylight when we took the line of march for Caney.  At 6 p.m. Caproa’s battery opened the ball;  we could hear the firing plainly.  In about an hour we met the wounded coming from the Field Hospital.  In another hour we were on the edge of the battlefield, the beautiful valley of E. Caney;  it was a glorious sight – that is, for a while.  Soon after we entered the valley our first man was killed, shot through the heart.

We Realised that we Were Under Fire

My brigade were on the right and the formation of the fighting line was in the shape of a horseshoe.  To the left were the heights of the San Juan, and on the right the town and fortifications of Caney.  Our point of atack was a solid Blockhouse on the heights of Caney, similar to Rodborough Fort and about as steep, the ascent being covered with brush.  Well, after losing a number of men we got to the foot of the hill.  From the post above us I could see their guns belching flames of fire but no smoke from Mausers or field pieces.  We could see them, the Dons, plainly.  Then the order ran along the lines “Charge and take the Blockhouse”.  Then we knew hell or near it was coming;  we had the hill two thirds surrounded;  it was no rapid charge, I tell you, up that hill – crawling on our bellies in the brush the best way we could.  Right there I made unconsciously a small record for myself;  I was away ahead of the firing line, when Capt. Bell, my Co. Commander, called out “Walker come back on the firing line”.  I did not recognise his voice in the roar of battle.  I holloaed as loud as I could “Come back Bell, make this the firing lines”.  The fellows all yelled “Go it Johnny Bull, we’d follow you to hell and through it”, and we went up that hill like wild devils, and the carnage, God forgive me, was awful.  The Dons stood their ground like men for about five minutes then ran.

The Ground was Covered with Dead and Wounded

Down cam the crimson and gold of the Flag Staff and up went ours.  The men were like a lot of maniacs, hugging one another and raising hell.  In the meantime I went over and tried to apologise to my captain for talking back.  He said “no apologies needed Walker, I’ll mention your conduct to Colonel Page” and he did.  That’s one reason I am here now.  I got a thrust from a Spanish bayonet through the sleeve of my shirt before he recovered from the mis spent blow.  Well, I am pretty swift myself with a bayonet at short range.  We rested a while then it came dark and we had to make another forced march to the extreme right to support General Kent’s division.  You see, there were only 16000 Regulars to begin with;  the Volunteers as a rule were a total failure.  We had them doing guard and stevedore duty.  It was a horrible march that night, that I will never forget;  thought streams waist deep and mud;  the roads, what they were, cut up with waggons and artillery;  no shoes on our feet and no grub for 40 hours, and yet you would hear no man complain.  We passed over a part of the San Juan battlefield and the groans of the wounded were dreadful.  On the San Juan crest of the hill we actually had to pass over the dead Spaniards.  At 4 a.m. of 2nd July the command bivouacked on St. Paul’s Hill right opposite Santiago.  We lay down awhile and at daybreak they opened on us again with all kinds of shot and shell.  At 7 a.m. Major Smith of the 2nd Infantry came galloping up and inquired “What regiment is this?”   We all replied, The 3rd.

We want you to Relieve my Regiment in the Trenches….

…. they are out of ammuniton and can’t hold out any longer.  We took up the double time for about 500 yards under a withering fire, til we struck the trenches.  I had not been in the trenches five minutes before my right hand man was shot by a Manser through the arm.  I bound up his arm the best I could, and sent him to the rear.  The Spanish had the range down fire.  the shells would explode right over us.  One piece blew the loose dirt of the trench over my head and covered me up almost.  I thought I was a goner.  The trouble was, we had orders not to return the fire until attacked.  The sun was awful hot that day, and no shade and mighty little water.  Towards the afternoon they came forward in battalions. At 600 yards they deployed, and at 500 yards the order came to fire at will.  That meant as fast as you can load and fire.  They reeled, staggered, and came on again to within 300 yards;  and then broke and ran.

Our Gatlin and Hotchiss batteries Swept them Down like Flies

If we had had Reserves we would have taken Santiago that night, but we only had one thin line.  3,000 men would have been enough.  At 7 p.m. we were relieved by the 20th Infantry, and went back to St. Pablo Hill;  and at 9.30 they made their night attack on the whole line.  It was a forlorn hope.  They had an idea they could take the trenches back.  They shelled us again and again.  During the engagement a shell burst about 20 feet from my left, killed the Colonel’s two horses, and one piece of the shell (shrapnel) struck me a glancing blow on the shoulder, placing me hors de combat for a while.  The Dons were finally repulsed, and the works were still ours.  The next day the flag of truce went up, and finally on 17th July the American flag was flying in Santiago.  But you know as much as I do about that.  After all the fighting was over, I was knocked out by Yellow Jack, escaped death, boarded the “Yale” formerly the “City of Paris” and came to God’s Country, landing at Mountain Point, Long Island, New York.  There we had hell again for a while.  In September the Regiment left for home, its ranks thinned by death and disease.

Out of 500 strong Men that Left in the Spring only 200 Cripples Returned

I had a month’s furlough and went home, but I never had a day’s pleasure all the time;  I was sick all the while.  But now I am getting better and gaining in weight.  All the time, I’ll never be the same man again;  the underpinning seems to be knocked from under me.  Lizzie stood it well while I was gone.  I’ve got a nice little house to live in outside the garrison;  it’s a quiet little spot.  I might as well tell you that when I went to Cuba I was a non combatant;  I was a Saddler Sergeant in the field and at Snelling, but when the scrapping commenced I threw up the job.  I suppose the Old British Lion rose in me;  anyway I would not stay in the rear.  The same job is kept waiting for me until I get well;  you see, that is 15 dols. a month extra and I am my own boss, don’t do any soldier’s duty at all, and then I do lots of shoe repairing on the side so that I get along pretty good.

Well Henry, my boy, I guess you will have tired of reading the above, so I will conclude by quoting the words of the late General Sherman “War is hell”.

Well good bye old man, love to all.  I am the same as ever,

Your affectionate brother


1899 – Fire on King’s Pyon Farm

Fire broke out on a farm run by Richard Oliver, Hyde Field, King’s Pyon, and as the smoke was spotted by neighbours, men women and children rushed to the scene carrying buckets.

More than a hundred helpers turned out but a huge wheat rick was fully ablaze, and priority was given to adjacent ricks.  Hop and garden engines were employed to spray them with great success, and T. Griffiths of Little Dilwyn rode at speed to Leominster to summon the fire engine…….he actually covered the seven miles in twenty minutes, despite the numerous hills.  (I hope that the poor horse was okay).

The volunteer neighbours were coming to the end of their energies when the fire engine arrive, the horses completely lathered, and watched thankfully as the firemen, under the direction of Captain Budd,  quickly dampened down the fire.

The fire was caused by a spark from an engine which was in place for threshing, and some 20 tons of straw and 400 bushels of wheat were lost;  fortunately it was insured with the Norwich Union Fire Office.

1899 – No Dog License

David James of King’s Pyon was fined 6d with 7s 6d costs for not having a license for his dog.