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Blount Smith, January 31, 1899

Our Boys in Cuba.

Blount Smith Writes from Camp Columbia, Havana.

The following letter from Blount Smith, a New Bern boy, in Company B, First North Carolina Regiment, will be read with interest by New Bernians:

“We broke camp in Savannah on December 7th and left on the transport Roumaniom[??] at 5 a.m. on December 8th. Had a very pleasant trip except a few hours it was somewhat rough and about four hundred were seasick. We arrived off Morro Castle at 8 p.m. on the 10th ult., and after much signaling learned we would not be allowed to enter that night. The water was too deep for the steamer to anchor, so we steamed slowly up and down the coast until morning and were signaled to enter about 6:30 a.m. We moved slowly along with decks crowded, “Old Glory” unfurled and band playing Star Spangled Banner.

Morro Castle presented a grim yet beautiful sight. The sun was just rising and the sea, which was very rough, breaking high in the air, every second against its rock foundation. We saluted and the Spanish flag was dipped. We passed on by numerous forts, strongholds, barracks, etc., all working alive with Spanish soldiers. There were between forty and fifty thousand in and around the city at the time of our arrival. As we entered the harbor proper we were saluted by quite a number of war crafts, among them being three Americans. We anchored about three hundred yards to the right of the wreck of the Maine. It is useless to tell you that all eyes were riveted on that spot for quite a while. It is exactly as represented in the papers. We finally went to the wharf and began unloading which took until 12 a.m. on the 12th.

We were then filed out and issued 100 rounds per man, of ball cartridges and started on our march to camp grounds, about seven miles from the city. It is impossible to give you an accurate account of our reception. The Cubans fairly went wild! We marched entirely through the city, with flags flying and bands playing national airs. We were the first American soldiers to march through the city. All of the streets were crowded and we were led and followed by at least two thousand Cubans. It was one continuous yell along the entire line of march. From the balconies and house tops we were fairly showered with flowers and fruit. Their joy was shown in various ways, some yelling, some laughing or crying and all making some kind of fuss.

I saw many beautiful women, and several hundred came the entire distance to camp. We marched directly through the largest Spanish barracks where there were thousands of them all standing At Attention. Many expected trouble of some kind, but the day passed off very serenely. We had hard work making camp, but finished about 10 p.m., and naturally turned in a very tired crowd.

Our camp is a model one, on a hill about 250 feet above the level and only, two miles from the Gulf, where we go swimming two or three times per week. The climate is almost like summer in North Carolina, the temperature ranging from 80° to 90°. It is a beautiful place and Havana is a lovely city with many fine buildings, with balconies and verandas. The doors and windows are heavily barred. The streets are very narrow, poorly paved and filthy, with horse car tracks, encircling the city.

The section is quite hilly and about fifteen miles from our camp we see a small mountain, apparently about six or seven hundred feet high.

There is a Cuban camp about five miles away, on the coast, containing eight thousand Cuban soldiers, that is the nearest point they made to the city in their recent fight. We had a little experience with them on the 17th of December, one of our men died with meningitis, and a squad while burying him in the government plot, was fired upon three times. The plot is one and a half miles from camp and the squad was unarmed. The first bullet struck about ten feet from the crowd, the second struck the blockhouse in front, and the third grazed one Lieutenant’s cap. They hid in bushes and after watching awhile they saw a soldier come out of the bushes and mount his horse, the squad encircled him and he was held up with pistols and brought to camp, but the evidence was not sufficient to shoot him. He claimed to be a Cuban Lieutenant of the Guards, and stated the Spaniards fired the shots and he was coming over to let the Americans know there was danger. He was kept in the guard house two days then set free. The 1st of January was a big day for Cuba, and one that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it in Havana. We were in line about 7:30 a.m., and started for the city about 8:30 going around by the coast. The streets were crowded, in some places the troops would come to a stop, and other places they would force their way. The streets and all of the buildings were beautifully decorated with the Cubans and American colors, there must have been half a million of flags unfurled that day. We arrived near Morro about 10:30 and broke ranks to rest, but very little resting we did there were too many pretty girls for that. You ought to have seen us making signs! We traded buttons, hardtack, cartridges and other things, receiving in return kisses, handkerchiefs, flowers, fruit, cigarettes, etc. They brought us both water and wine, and in fact any and everything they thought we cared for.

We were called to “attention” about 11:50 and promptly at 12, with a salute of 21 guns down came the Spanish flag, and immediately afterwards with the same salute up went the Stars and Stripes. The column of course, made a great yell as the one came down and the other went up, but as “Old Glory” reached the top the boys could keep quiet no longer, there were eleven thousand of us in line, and so with one voice we gave three yells, such as I know the Cubans never heard before. We then fell out to eat our New Year’s dinner, which consisted of eight hard-tacks, three pieces of white meat and ½ gallon of water. At 2:30 we were called to “attention” and marched through the city, passing in review before Gens. Brooke, Ludlow, Wade, Chaffee and Lee, and then to camp where we arrived pretty well worn out, having covered twenty two miles with twenty five lbs. of marching order, up hill and down dale and the thermometer in the nineties. But we would not have missed the trip for any thing. There is nothing else on hand now, so we have settled down to the dull monotony of camp life.”

[New Bern Weekly Journal, January 31, 1899, page 3 columns 3 and 4]

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