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An American Officer’s True Stories of our Latest War. Brave Men who Meet Death as Heroes Should.

No two men behave alike when hit in battle. There is just as much difference in their actions as there is in the behavior of the members of a volunteer fire brigade at a country-town conflagration. The look of the mortally wounded is nearly always the same. There is always that deathly pallor that creeps over the face, and that fixed stare horrible look of resignation that tells so plainly that all is over with the unfortunate soldier. A few instances will serve to give a general idea of how the victims of the messengers of death receive them.

On the 1st of July, a company of regular infantry, in reserve, was lying flat on their stomachs in a sunken road, a few hundred yards from the stone block-house of El Caney, Cuba. The men were under a terrific fire, but were not allowed to reply to it, for ammunition was growing scarce. For hours they remained in this position. They began to get restless and to shift about. As long as they kept low, there was no danger from Spanish fire, for the bank of the road was sufficiently high to afford security. Curiosity occasionally got the better of a man, and he would poke his head above the embankment and peer in the direction from which the bullets were coming. In the company was a large, muscular German, who had early become restless and curious to see what was transpiring. He would occasionally break out and swear because he was not given a chance to fire at the hated Dons. Of a sudden he ripped out a choice lot of the best in his vocabulary, raised his head above the bank, and shook his huge fist at the line of sombreros to be seen just above the Spanish trenches to the right of the block-house. Ping! ping! thud! “Wasn’t that an awful sound?” a dozen soldiers chimed. There is no other sound produced that can be compared with it. It stands alone for all that is sickening and horrible. All knew that some one had been hit. A moment was passed in suspense. The German whispered, in the tones of death, to his comrade at his side: “Wipe the blood off of my face!” It was his last words. He drew his knees to his chin in the agonies of death, turned over on one side, burrowing his face in the mud, and died without a groan. A Mauser had hit him squarely between the eyes.

A short time later a sergeant of one of the companies of the same regiment moved a few yards forward, trying to get a pot-shot at some Spanish sharpshooters who were snugly perched in the spreading tops of some royal palm trees, and were hitting some of our men. He sighted one and had his rifle to his shoulder, taking a fine bead, when all at once the rifle fell to the ground and his hands dropped helplessly by his side. He coolly faced about and walked toward the rear, his arms dangling like pendulums, not even so much as muttering a word. One of his company officers asked him what was the matter, to which he laconically replied, “Hit,” and continued on his way to the dressing-station in the rear. He was shot through both shoulders a serious wound, but he recovered.

About an hour after the German was killed the same company was ordered to take a position farther to the right. They walked along, goose-fashion, single file, moving by the right flank toward their new position. Next to the last man in the rear was a corporal, a new man, just a few months in the service. Biff! ping! bang! went the deadly missiles. One struck a man’s rifle-barrel, cutting it almost in two. Another split the stock of a gun in a man’s hand. Then one struck the recruit corporal’s left arm, passing through the biceps. With an expression of great surprise he for a moment stood still, saying nothing. His eyes began to dilate, and then of a sudden he threw his fowling-piece high in the air, grasped his left arm with his right hand, and started for the rear at a disgraceful gait, yelling so as to be heard above the din of battle: “I’ve got it! I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” The last that was seen of him that day he had “it,” and was taking “it” to the rear with him.

On San Juan Ridge, July 2d, just as Chaffee’s brigade had reached the crest, they were ordered to lie down and intrench, using the bayonet as a pick and the hands for shovels. A dashing young fellow of one of the companies on the right of the line was some distance in advance of his fellows when the halt was made. Instead of falling back on the line with the other men, he stopped where he was. One of the officers shouted at him several times to fall back, as he was in danger of his own men shooting him, but he did not hear. The officer then walked down to where he was, grabbed him by a leg, and started to drag him back to the line. He had but started when he felt the man’s whole body quiver, and he flopped himself over on his back, saying as he did so, “I’m done for.” Some of the men came to the soldier and assisted the officer to carry him to a place of security. With a bayonet one of the men cut off his clothing, when a Mauser hole was seen just above the heart, where the bullet entered, passing through his body and coming out between the shoulders, near the spine. The man said no more at the time. His wounds were bound by sympathetic hands. All except the wounded man returned to the firing-line. The Spanish fire was heavy, and kept up for four hours, occasionally a soldier dropping out, wounded or killed. When all was quiet, the officer and one of his soldiers returned to see if the young man were yet alive. They found him sitting against a small tree. His first words were: “Bill, give me a cigarette.” The man is living to-day.

Just about the time this man was wounded a man in the next company on the right suddenly threw down his bayonet, jumped to his feet, paused for a second or two, looking in the direction of the Spanish trenches, then threw both hands to his breast, saying, “I’m hit.” He turned about and walked into the dense thickets of cactus and Spanish bayonet, and was never seen nor heard of again. He undoubtedly crawled far back into the heavy tropical growth and died, where the vultures claimed him.

One of the coolest men who ever received a wound was an infantryman at San Fernando, in the Island of Luzon, on the 16th of June. The insurgents made a determined effort to retake the town early on the morning of that day. They opened up simultaneously from every quarter, and the kind and variety of missiles used would be beyond the wildest expectations of that sweet-throated midnight serenader, the Thomas-cat. Out of an old smooth-bore cannon they threw railroad spikes, horseshoes, old clocks, lemon-squeezers, and cobble-stones. From their Rémingtons they shot large cubical and irregular-shaped lead slugs. One of these struck this cool man high in the right groin, deeply imbedding itself. The pain must have been excruciating, for the man was terribly lacerated. He hobbled to his company commander, saluted, and asked permission to fall out and lie down, as he had been hit. He was lying near a road where his comrades passed to and fro during the entire fight, but no one heard a word or a groan out of him unless he was spoken to.

During the same fight, in another company of the same regiment, a battalion sergeant-major was ordered to take two squads and proceed to a point about 400 yards down the Angeles Road, where there was a small trench, and defend it. When about half-way down, one of his men, a green rookie, received a severe wound in the leg. The Sergeant endeavored to start him to the rear, with a man to assist him along, but he protested. Nothing but to continue to the front with his squad would do. He loaded and fired with the other men till the fight was over. This man was recommended for a medal of honor by his captain. From Leslie’s Weekly, of December 9, 1899.