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The Red-Headed Recruit and the Cuban Dog. The Charge of the Hospital Corps. Private Timmons and the Carabao.

In the face of his reputation for undaunted courage and dashing deeds of valor, the American soldier has at times allowed himself to become frightfully alarmed and on the eve of being panic-stricken, when taken unawares. He soon collects himself, however, and is ready to meet all emergencies, let them come from whatever source they will. Even the old “vet” may lose his head for a moment or two, and find some difficulty in establishing his equilibrium. The Yankee soldier is ever ready to obey his officer, and if the latter will but keep his wits, order may be restored out of hopeless demoralization.

The Civil War was replete with camp alarms, some of them of the most ridiculous type; and our war with Spain and the Filipinos has added greatly to the stock. The tropical countries, with their dense growths of vegetation, myriads of crawling creatures, and hair-raising sounds, form a replete field for alarms, which are usually started by frightened sentries on lonely outposts.


One of the most notable alarms that occurred during the campaign about Santiago was within two miles of the “Stone Block-House,” at El Caney, on the night before the attack on that place. The brigade that did the hardest fighting there, and that had been in advance the greater part of the time from the landing at Baiquiri, received orders late in the afternoon of June 30th to move forward and take a position within easy striking distance of El Caney, and to there rest on arms for the night. The march began at dusk, and, by a long, circuitous route, ended at 12 o’clock midnight at an open field, which the guides said was within two miles of the nearest Spanish position in the town. The march, in single file, up and down hills, over slippery ground, by men as silent as mice, was a tiresome one. All were glad to hear the word passed along in low whispers to quietly lie down, retaining arms and equipment, and bivouac for the night. The silence of death prevailed. The long line of dark figures on the open field, silhouetted against the star-lit sky, and the stillness that reigned, reminded one more of stereopticon views thrown upon canvas, than of the presence of eighteen hundred fighting men, stealing upon their prey.

It was not a minute after the whispered command to lie down was given till all except a few selected for duty on outposts had stretched their weary limbs on the dewy grass.

The outposts were placed around the main body, some few hundred yards distant, most of them in the direction of the Spanish lines. The command was soon asleep. There was the usual number of disturbed dreamers, and occasionally the snorer would burst out in loud and long-drawn tones, only to be promptly kicked in the ribs by his light-sleeping comrade. The nocturnal cigarette-smoker was prohibited from indulging in his nightly practice, and soon there was a long mass of sleeping humanity, not a sign of wakeful eyes to be seen.

As sudden as the flash of lightning the woods in the direction of the Spanish lines was filled with yells, screams, and the heavy falling of feet in rapid retreat.

The brigade sprang to its feet as if each man had been lying on a stiff spring and the whole touched off simultaneously by the pressing of a button every man with loaded and cocked rifle in hand. Then began the low, mumbling sound of a suddenly aroused camp. The efforts of the officers who had kept their heads to keep it down were fruitless. It was a long line of buzzing sounds like the swarming of bees. But the screaming and yelling continued and grew nearer.

Shouting at the top of his voice at every jump, “They’re coming! they’re coming!” tall, lean, red-headed, and hatless, the recruit sentry came by leaps and strides, and close at his heels a half-starved Cuban dog, playfully pursuing him, soliciting some of the hardtack in the recruit’s haversack.

It was near dawn before complete order was restored. Many eyes were opened by that alarm raised by the panic-stricken recruit that never again closed till closed in death.


The campaign in the Philippines against the wily Tagalo has been replete with false alarms, owing to the prowling and sneaking nature of the enemy, and the unearthly noises made by the animals of that sun-scorched and water-splashed country.

There is a line of trenches and block-houses around the city of Manila, the average distance being about two miles out from the suburbs. This was called the “firing-line.” On first arriving from the United States, regiments were sent out to occupy a part of this position, to recuperate from the long sea voyage aboard crowded transports, and at the same time help maintain the line of defense around the city. Most of the newly arrived regiments were filled up with recruits with but a few months’ service; so this position afforded the opportunity to get these men in shape for field-service.

This line of defense was the theater in which was acted the comedy of the war. Here is where occurred the most foolish alarms and at the same time some serious ones.

There is one famous charge (?) that occurred in a newly arrived regiment, which was spending its first night on the Island of Luzon in these trenches. It is known as the “Charge of the Hospital Corps,” and promises to be handed down in army tradition. The gallant leader of this daring advance was a young surgeon, recently appointed to the regular establishment as a battalion pill-dispenser. His command consisted of three privates and an acting steward of the Hospital Corps.

Arguing that he was fighting a savage enemy, not a party to the Geneva Convention, and consequently would not recognize as non-combatants the wearers of the red cross, he succeeded in having a requisition honored by the ordnance officer for five big forty-five caliber “six-shooters,” with which he armed himself and command.

This embryo warrior and his gallant following were tickled with their toys, and flourished them most dangerously during the day, vowing death and destruction to any thousand Filipinos who would dare to face them and their death-dealing weapons.

The doctor, or “Pills,” as the men called him, established his battalion hospital in a ravine in a break in the trenches. It was a lonesome place. Night came on, and the corps men retired to sleep their first night on Luzon’s soil; but their sleep was not easy. Visions of gore and midnight slaughter passed in review before their drowsy eyes; and just as a black-faced little rebel had them by the throat and was plunging a great long knife into their vitals, they would awaken with a start, feel under their heads for their fire-arms, to reassure themselves, pat the trusty weapon a time or two, call it “good old Bets,” and again doze off to sleep, only to repeat the performance.

One hungry, gaunt-looking fellow, who his comrades said had a head that would fit in a regulation full-dress helmet, could stand the nervous strain no longer. The noises that came from the little thickets of bamboo and cogonales into his little “tepee” were more than he could stand. He had listened to them in his mind, enlarged, multiplied, and magnified them in his own imagination, till he was sure the whole insurrectionist army was quietly, inch by inch and foot by foot, slipping down upon him. Up he jumped, revolver in hand, gripping the handle and gritting his teeth, and proceeded to investigate the sounds. Approaching within a few yards of a thick bunch of trees not far in front of the hospital tent, he halted to listen. Yes, they were there beyond all doubt. He could almost see them crawling toward him; a hundred dusky demons upon all fours, with long, glistening, razor-edged knives held between their shining teeth. They must be stopped. With a loud voice, trembling with fear, he challenged: “If you’re an American, for God’s sake say so, or I’ll shoot.” The noise made no reply, and the shooting began promptly as promised.

The valiant “Pills” landed on his feet in the middle of his tent, rallying his men, and was soon leading them to the attack. Bang! bang! biff! bang! rang out the loud-mouthed Colt’s revolvers. A moment later the Krags began to pop to the right and left, the alarm traveling up and down the line with lightning-like rapidity. Soon six miles of grim-looking rifle muzzles were pointing toward the innocent nothing to the front, a volley occasionally resounding through the midnight air at an imaginary enemy.

Dawn found “Pills” searching the field of battle for dead and wounded. He discovered numerous bullet-holes in his tent and medicine chests, made by 45-caliber balls; and, lying near the place where the gaunt, hungry-looking corps man first fired upon the enemy, he found poor “Paterno,” Company E’s monkey mascot, with a short and bloody tail, that member having been lost in the battle a penalty for his nocturnal perambulations.


Timmons was a recruit private in an infantry regiment, and, when stationed in a temperance community, was a mighty good soldier. True to his steel, he met death in the general advance from San Fernando, in August, 1899. He was one of those jolly, good natured fellows who can sit in the mud and crack jokes, and sing standing in water to his arm-pits. And what is better, he possessed the happy faculty of imparting his exuberance to his long-faced, homesick, and downcast fellow-privates. His temper was as smooth as a becalmed sea, and seldom was it that a ripple passed over the smooth surface. There was just one word in the soldier’s vocabulary that would disturb him, but this word never failed to bring on a typhoon. This innocent yet magic word was “carabao,” the name of the water buffalo, the beast of burden that formed the American “cracker line” in the Philippines before the introduction of the ever-faithful mule. This is how it came to have such a terror for poor Timmons:

His regiment was undergoing its training on the “firing-line,” and his company furnished twelve men daily for the “lunette,” a kind of detached bastion about 800 yards in front of the line in the direction of the enemy. This was a lonesome detail. Just twelve men to man an isolated little fort, the enemy known to be in great numbers not more than four or five miles away. It came Timmons’ turn to go on this duty for, the first time. The detail, in command of a sergeant, marched out at sundown and relieved the men who had been on the previous twenty-four hours. The old guard turned over its orders and at the same time reported having seen some armed “gugus” in the direction of the Mariquina River, which ran in front of the “lunette” about a thousand yards away, the intervening space being an open rice-field.

The old guard marched off and the new one on, throwing off their blanket-rolls and making themselves as comfortable for the night as possible. But two men at a time were required to remain awake and vigilant.

Night came on as black as the enemy they were fighting, and with it all the breath-stopping and hair-raising noises that the myriads of flying and crawling animals of that war-ridden country produces. There was the “vantriloquest” bird, gifted with a voice that is the essence of all that is frightful and hideous in sounds forty demons running amuck and coming your direction.

In painful harmony was the low, deep tones the “chuck me,” whose vocal cords are tuned after the left end of the key-board of the pipe organ. Then there were slimy lizards, chameleons, tree-frogs, scorpions, and wonderful bugs, all with voices peculiar to their families. There were lightning-bugs as big as jack-o’-lanterns, and tarantulas with round and velvety bodies, and a spread of legs that would cover a frying-pan. All this and the known presence of a sneaking enemy was enough to test the nerves of veterans, so its effect on recruits can easily be imagined.

Timmons’ time to remain awake and go on post duty arrived. Jones, who called himself an old “vet,” because he had served in Cuba, went on with “Tim,” as his comrades called him. Their turn began at midnight. The Sergeant, who had posted them, was soon lying down taking a non-commissioned officer’s sleep one eye closed, the other on the qui vive. Both sentries were on the alert. Many suspicious noises came to their ears, and imaginary murderous-looking “niggers” were seen lurking in the grass, behind rice-dykes, and lying crouching on the ground. If “Tim” discovered something that he was certain was a death-dealing boloman, he would tiptoe over to Jones and hold a council of war. That worthy the old “vet” would dispense nerve-soothing whispers in his ears, and he would return to his post a less nervous “rookey.”

The time dragged wearily on, and finally arrived when they were about to be relieved. The blackest of the night was on. Jones left his post to arouse the Sergeant and acquaint that official with the hour. “Tim” was now alone. A slowly moving figure loomed up before him not fifty yards away. Then came the sounds of heavy tramping feet. The sounds were rapidly drawing nearer. There, before his dilated eyes, dimly outlined, and within pistol-shot, was the enemy in great numbers, who would soon close around the little garrison and murder them to a man. What should he do? His orders were strict about giving undue alarms, but if he wasted a moment longer, there would be no time for defense. If he left his post to arouse his comrades, the enemy would rush upon them. No. He would give the alarm by firing and one dead Filipino would be the result of it. He nervously raised his rifle, took deliberate aim at the advancing figures, and fired. There was a sickening thud, a heavy fall, and low, deep moans. The men were aroused and manned the fort. The Sergeant ordered a general fusillade. The regiment was in the trenches in a moment and remained there till dawn.

The first light of day revealed, lying in a great pool of his own blood, “Big Bill,” the bull buffalo that drew the headquarters water-cart, who had been out grazing that night.