Colored Fighters at Santiago

Discover your
family's story.

Enter a grandparent's name to get started.

choose a state:
Start Now

Testimony is multiplying of the bravery of the colored troops at Santiago de Cuba July 1st and 2d, 1898.

Testimony is adduced to show that these “marvels of warfare” actually fought without officers and executed movements under a galling fire which would have puzzled a recruit on parade ground. The Boston Journal of the 31st, in its account, gives the following interview-Mason Mitchell (white) said:
“We were in a valley when we started, but made at once for a trail running near the top of a ridge called La Quasina, several hundred feet high, which, with several others parallel to it, extended in the direction of Santiago. By a similar trail near the top of the ridge to our right several companies of Negro troopers of the Ninth and Tenth United States Cavalry marched in scout formation, as we did. We had an idea about where the Spaniards were and depended upon Cuban scouts to warn us but they did not do it. At about 8:30 o’clock in the morning we met a volley from the enemy, who were ambushed, not only on our ridge, but on the one to the right, beyond the Negro troops, and the Negro soldiers were under a cross fire. That is how Capt. Capron and Hamilton Fish were killed.”

It says: “Handsome young Sergt. Stewart, the Rough Rider protégé of Henry W. Maxwell, when he was telling of the fight in the ambush, gave it as his opinion that the Rough Riders would have been whipped out if the Tenth Cavalry (colored) had not come up just in time to drive the Spaniards back. ‘I’m a Southerner, from New Mexico, and I never thought much of the ‘nigger’ before. Now I know what they are made of. I respect them. They certainly can fight like the devil and they don’t care for bullets any more than they do for the leaves that shower down on them. I’ve changed my opinion of the colored folks, for all of the men that I saw fighting, there were none to beat the Tenth Cavalry and the colored infantry at Santiago, and I don’t mind saying so.’”

The description which follows is interesting: “It was simply grand to see how those young fellows, and old fellows, too, men who were rich and had been the petted of society in the city, walk up and down the lines while their clothes were powdered by the dust from exploding shells and torn by broken fragments cool as could be and yelling to the men to lay low and take good aim, or directing some squad to take care of a poor devil who was wounded. Why, at times there when the bullets were so thick they mowed the grass down like grass cutters in places, the officers stood looking at the enemy through glasses as if they were enjoying the scene, and now and then you’d see a Captain or a Lieutenant pick up a gun from a wounded or dead man and blaze away himself at some good shot that he had caught sight of from his advantage point. Those sights kind of bring men together and make them think more of each other. And when a white man strayed from his regiment and falls wounded it rather affects him to have a Negro, shot himself a couple of times, take his carbine and make a splint of it to keep a torn limb together for the white soldier, and then, after lifting him to one side, pick up the wounded man’s rifle and go back to the fight with as much vigor as ever. Yes, sir, we boys have learned something down there, even if some of us were pretty badly torn for it.”

Another witness testifies: “Trooper Lewis Bowman, another of the brave Tenth Cavalry, had two ribs broken by a Spanish shell while before San Juan.” He told of the battle as follows:

“‘The Rough Riders had gone off in great glee, bantering up and good-naturedly boasting that they were going ahead to lick the Spaniards without any trouble, and advising us to remain where we were until they returned, and they would bring back some Spanish heads as trophies. When we heard firing in the distance, our Captain remarked that some one ahead was doing good work. The firing became so heavy and regular that our officers, without orders, decided to move forward and reconnoitre When we got where we could see what was going on we found that the Rough Riders had marched down a sort of canon between the mountains. The Spaniards had men posted at the entrance, and as soon as the Rough Riders had gone in had about closed up the rear and were firing upon the Rough Riders from both the front and rear. Immediately the Spaniards in the rear received a volley from our men of the Tenth Cavalry (colored) without command. The Spaniards were afraid we were going to flank them, and rushed out of ambush, in front of the Rough Riders, throwing up their hands and shouting, ‘Don’t shoot; we are Cubans.’”

“The Rough Riders thus let them escape, and gave them a chance to take a better position ahead. During all this time the men were in all the tall grass and could not see even each other and I feared the Rough Riders in the rear shot many of their men in the front, mistaking them for Spanish soldiers. By this time the Tenth Cavalry had fully taken in the situation, and, adopting the method employed in fighting the Indians, were able to turn the tide of battle and repulse the Spaniards.”

He speaks plainly when he says:
“I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that if it had not been for the timely aid of the Tenth Cavalry (colored) the Rough Riders would have been exterminated. This is the unanimous opinion, at least, of the men of the Tenth Cavalry. I was in the fight of July 1, and it was in that fight that I received my wound. We were under fire in that fight about forty-eight hours, and were without food and with but little water. We had been cut off from our pack train, as the Spanish sharpshooters shot our mules as soon as they came anywhere near the lines, and it was impossible to move supplies. Very soon after the firing began our Colonel was killed, and the most of our other officers were killed or wounded, so that the greater part of that desperate battle was fought by some of the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry without officers; or, at least, if there were any officers around, we neither saw them nor heard their commands. The last command I heard our Captain give was:”

“‘Boys, when you hear my whistle, lie flat down on the ground.’”
“Whether he ever whistled or not I do not know. The next move we made was when, with a terrific yell, we charged up to the Spanish trenches and bayoneted and clubbed them out of their places in a jiffy. Some of the men of our regiment say that the last command they heard was: ‘To the rear!’ But this command they utterly disregarded and charged to the front until the day was won, and the Spaniards, those not dead in the trenches, fled back to the city.”

But a colored man, Wm. H. Brown, a member of the Tenth Cavalry, said:
“A foreign officer, standing near our position when we started out to make that charge, was heard to say; ‘Men, for heaven’s sake, don’t go up that hill! It will be impossible for human beings to take that position! You can’t stand the fire!’ Notwithstanding this, with a terrific yell we rushed up the enemy’s works, and you know the result. Men who saw him say that when this officer saw us make the charge he turned his back upon us and wept.”

“And the odd thing about it all is that these wounded heroes never will admit that they did anything out of the common. They will talk all right about those ‘other fellows,’ but they don’t about themselves, and were immensely surprised when such a fuss was made over them on their arrival and since. They simply believed they had a duty to perform and performed it.”–Planet.

Our Colored Soldiers
A Few of the Interesting Comments on the Deeds Performed by the Brave Boys of the Regular Army–Saved the Life of his Lieutenant but lost his own.

“The Ninth and Tenth Cavalry are composed of the bravest lot of soldiers I ever saw. They held the ground that Roosevelt retreated from and saved them from annihilation.”

To a Massachusetts soldier in another group of interviewers, the same question was put: “How about the colored soldiers?”

“They fought like demons,” came the answer.
“Before El Caney was taken the Spaniards were on the heights of San Juan with heavy guns. All along our line an assault was made and the enemy was holding us off with terrible effect. From their blockhouse on the hill came a magazine of shot. Shrapnell shells fell in our ranks, doing great damage. Something had to be done or the day would have been lost. The Ninth and part of the Tenth Cavalry moved across into a thicket near by. The Spaniards rained shot upon them. They collected and like a flash swept across the plains and charged up the hill. The enemy’s guns were used with deadly effect. On and on they went, charging with the fury of madness. The blockhouse was captured, the enemy fled and we went into El Caney.”

In another group a trooper from an Illinois regiment was explaining the character of the country and the effect of the daily rains upon the troops. Said he:
“Very few colored troops are sick. They stood the climate better and even thrived on the severity of army life.”
Said he: “I never had much use for a ‘nigger’ and didn’t want him in the fight. He is all right, though. He makes a good soldier and deserves great credit.”

Another comrade near by related the story as told by a cavalry lieutenant, who with a party reconnoitered a distance from camp. The thick growth of grass and vines made ambuscading a favorite pastime with the Spaniards. With smokeless powder they lay concealed in the grass. As the party rode along the sharp eye of a colored cavalryman noticed the movement of grass ahead. Leaning over his horse with sword in hand he plucked up an enemy whose gun was levelled at the officer. The Spaniard was killed by the Negro who himself fell dead, shot by another. He had saved the life of his lieutenant and lost his own.

A comrade of the Seventeenth Infantry gave his testimony. Said he:
“I shall never forget the 1st of July. At one time in the engagement of that day the Twenty-first Infantry had faced a superior force of Spaniards and were almost completely surrounded. The Twenty-fourth Infantry, of colored troops, seeing the perilous position of the Twenty-first, rushed to the rescue, charged and routed the enemy, thereby saving the ill-fated regiment.”

Col. Joseph Haskett, of the Seventeenth regular Infantry, testifies to the meritorious conduct of the Negro troops. Said he:
“Our colored soldiers are 100 percent superior to the Cuban. He is a good scout, brave soldier, and not only that, but is everywhere to be seen building roads for the movement of heavy guns.”

Among the trophies of war brought to Old Point were a machete, the captured property of a colored trooper, a fine Spanish sword, taken from an officer and a little Cuban lad about nine years old, whose parents had bled for Cuba. His language and appearance made him the cynosure of all eyes. He was dressed in a little United States uniform and had pinned to his clothing a tag which read: “Santiago buck, care of Col. C.L. Wilson, Manhattan Club, New York.” His name is Vairrames y Pillero.

He seemed to enjoy the shower of small coin that fell upon him from the hotels. His first and only English words were “Moocha Moona.”

These fragments were gathered while visiting at Old Point Comfort recently. They serve to show the true feeling of the whites for their brave black brother.
A.E. Meyzeek, in the Freeman.
Louisville, Ky.

Black Soldier Boys
The following is what the New York Mail and Express says respecting the good services being rendered by our black soldier boys:

“All honors to the black troopers of the gallant Tenth! No more striking example of bravery and coolness has been shown since the destruction of the Maine than by the colored veterans of the Tenth Cavalry during the attack upon Caney on Saturday. By the side of the intrepid Rough Riders they followed their leader up the terrible hill from whose crest the desperate Spaniards poured down a deadly fire of shell and musketry. They never faltered. The tents in their ranks were filled as soon as made. Firing as they marched, their aim was splendid, their coolness was superb, and their courage aroused the admiration of their comrades. Their advance was greeted with wild cheers from the white regiment’s, and with an answering shout they pressed onward over the trenches they had taken close in the pursuit of the retreating enemy. The war has not shown greater heroism. The men whose own freedom was baptized with blood have proved themselves capable of giving up their lives that others may be free. To-day is a glorious Fourth for all races ‘of people in this great land.”

They Never Faltered
The test of the Negro soldier has been applied and today the whole world stands amazed at the valor and distinctive bravery shown by the men, who, in the face of a most galling fire, rushed onward while shot and shell tore fearful gaps in their ranks. These men, the Tenth Cavalry, did not stop to ask was it worth while for them to lay down their lives for the honor of a country that has silently allowed her citizens to be killed and maltreated in almost every conceivable way; they did not stop to ask would their death bring deliverance to their race from mob violence and lynching. They saw their duty and did it! The New York Journal catches inspiration from the wonderful courage of the Tenth Cavalry and writes these words:
“The two most picturesque and most characteristically American commands in General Shafter’s army bore off the great honors of a day in which all won honor.”

“No man can read the story in to-day’s Journal of the ‘Rough Riders’ charge on the blockhouse at El Caney of Theodore Roosevelt’s mad daring in the face of what seemed certain death without having his pulses beat faster and some reflected light of the fire of battle gleam from his eyes.”

“And over against this scene of the cowboy and the college graduate, the New York man about town and the Arizona bad man united in one coherent war machine, set the picture of the Tenth United States Cavalry-the famous colored regiment. Side by side with Roosevelt’s men they fought-these black men. Scarce used to freedom themselves, they are dying that Cuba may be free. Their marksmanship was magnificent, say the eye witnesses. Their courage was superb. They bore themselves like veterans, and gave proof positive that out of nature’s naturally peaceful, careless and playful military discipline and an inspiring cause can make soldiers worthy to rank with Caesar’s legions or Cromwell’s army.”

“The Rough Riders and the Black Regiment. In those two commands is an epitome of almost our whole national character.”

The Negro As A Soldier
His Good Nature–His Kindheartedness–Equally Available in Infantry or Cavalry.

The good nature of the Negro soldier is remarkable. He is always fond of a joke and never too tired to enjoy one. Officers have wondered to see a whole company of them, at the close of a long practice march, made with heavy baggage, chasing a rabbit which some one may have started. They will run for several hundred yards whooping and yelling and laughing, and come back to camp feeling as if they had had lots of fun, the white soldier, even if not tired, would never see any joke in rushing after a rabbit. To the colored man the diversion is a delight.

In caring for the sick, the Negro’s tenderheartedness is conspicuous. On one of the transports loaded with sick men a white soldier asked to be helped to his bunk below. No one of his color stirred, but two Negro convalescents at once went to his assistance. When volunteers were called for to cook for the sick, only Negroes responded. They were pleased to be of service to their officers. If the Captain’s child is ill, every man in the company is solicitous; half of them want to act as nurse. They feel honored to be hired to look after an officer’s horse and clothing. The “striker” as he is called, soon gets to look on himself as a part of his master; it is no “Captain has been ordered away,” but “We have been ordered away.” Every concern of his employer about which he knows interests him, and a slight to his superior is vastly more of an offence than if offered to himself. Indeed, if the army knew how well officers of the colored regiments are looked after by their men, there would be less disinclination to serve in such commands. After years with a Negro company, officers find it difficult to get along with white soldiers. They must be much more careful to avoid hurting sensibilities, and must do without many little services to which they have been accustomed.

Mrs. Porter’s Ride To The Front
For many years she has known and admired Miss Barton and against the advice of her friends had resolved to help Miss Barton in her task of succoring the sufferers in Cuba.

During the second day’s fighting Mrs. Porter, escorted by a general whom she has known for many years, rode almost to the firing line. Bullets whistled about her head, but she rode bravely on until her curiosity was satisfied. Then she rode leisurely back to safety. She came back filled with admiration of the colored troops. She described them as being “brave in battle, obedient under orders and philosophical under privations.”

Thanks to Mrs. Porter, the wife of the President’s private secretary. Mrs. Porter is one of heaven’s blessings, sent as a messenger of “The Ship” earth, to testify in America what she saw of the Negro troops in Cuba.

The Investment Of Santiago And Surrender
(As Presented in the N.Y. World.)
General Shafter put a human rope of 22,400 men around Santiago, with its 26,000 Spanish soldiers, and then Spain succumbed in despair. In a semi-circle extending around Santiago, from Daliquiri on the east clear around to Cobre on the west, our troops were stretched a cordon of almost impenetrable thickness and strength. First came General Bates, with the Ninth, Tenth, Third, Thirteenth, Twenty-first and Twenty-fourth U.S. Infantry. On his right crouched General Sumner, commanding the Third, Sixth and Ninth U.S. Cavalry. Next along the arc were the Seventh, Twelfth and Seventeenth U.S. Infantry under General Chaffee. Then, advantageously posted, there were six batteries of artillery prepared to sweep the horizon under direction of General Randolph. General Jacob Kent, with the Seventy-first New York Volunteers and the Sixth and Sixteenth U.S. Infantry, held the centre. They were flanked by General Wheeler and the Rough Riders, dismounted; eight troops of the First U.S. Volunteers, four troops of the Second U.S. Cavalry, four light batteries, two heavy batteries and then four more troops of the Second U.S. Cavalry.

General Lawton, with the Second Massachusetts and the Eighth and Twenty-second U.S. Infantry, came next. Then General Duffield’s command, comprising the volunteers from Michigan (Thirty-third and Third Regiments), and the Ninth Massachusetts, stretched along until Gen. Ludlow’s men were reached. These comprised the First Illinois, First District of Columbia, Eighth Ohio, running up to the Eighth and Twenty-second Regulars and the Bay State men. Down by the shore across from Morro and a little way inland Generals Henry and Garretson had posted the Sixth Illinois and the crack Sixth Massachusetts, flanking the railroad line to Cobre.



MLA Source Citation:

Johnson, Edward A. History of Negro Soldiers in the Spanish-American War, and other items of Interest. 1899. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 20 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/military/colored-fighters-at-santiago.htm - Last updated on Mar 7th, 2013


Categories: ,
Topics: ,

Contribute to the Conversation!

Our "rules" are simple. Keep the conversation on subject and mind your manners! If this is your first time posting, we do moderate comments before we let them appear... so give us a while to get to them. Once we get to know you here, we'll remove that requirement.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Newsletter Signup

We currently provide two newsletters. Why not take both for a run?

Genealogy Update: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new, or significantly updated, collection or database on our website.

Circle of Nations: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new (or significantly updated) Native American collection or database on our website.

Once you've clicked on the Subscribe button above you'll receive an email from us requesting confirmation. You must confirm the email before you will be able to receive any newsletter.