Capt. Robert C. Van Vliet of the 10th U. S. Infantry

Writes Home After the Battle of San Juan Hill

Contributed by Florence West
Click here to read a letter written by the 10th U.S. Infantry's Lt. Eli Helmick (the husband of the lady to which the letter below is written) just before the Battle of San Juan Hill.


The 10th U.S. Infantry took part in the action at San Juan Hill, on the far west end of the line.  He wrote this letter to the wife of his fellow officer, Eli Helmick. According to family sources, Karl Koops' luck did not hold out and he succumbed to yellow fever before the regiment was sent home.  Luca was a sergeant and possibly a  leader of the regimental band.

Robert Van Vliet was wounded in action on July 2, 1898.

(left to right) seated: Capt.William Paulding, Capt. Duggan, Gen. Wilson, Lt. Col. Lincoln, Capt. Shallenberger and Capt. Robt. Van Vliet.  Standing, Left to right: Lt. Young Jr., 2nd Lt. Joel R. Lee, Lt. Rayburn, 2nd Lt. Jarrett, Lt Barrons, Capt Bayless, Capt. Phillips, Capt. Eli Helmick, 2nd Lt. Watterson and Lt. Berry. This is a post-war photo of the officers of the 10th U.S. Infantry

The Letter:

"I am not quite sure where Major Eskridge’s
wound is so do not guess at it. V.

                                                                                 Shrewsbury N.J.
                                                                                  July 14, 98

My dear Mrs. Helmick,

I have been sent home with a broken leg to get ready for Puerto Rico.  I am not writing this to tell you about myself, but about the rest of the reg’t, which I know will be good news to most of you.  Poor [Capt. John] Drum was killed in the first day’s fight as you know from the papers.  I will put you out of your misery by telling you that Helmick was as lively as a two year old the last time I saw him when he helped to carry me to the rear, however we had a close call then as a bullet cut my right trouser leg, passing between us, I found out afterwards, he was very good to me and I am afraid that I did not thank him in the confusion.

Major Eskridge is wounded severely but not dangerously.  Maj. Lincoln had his thigh broken and in falling either broke or badly sprained his arm – Captain Duggan is wounded, according to the papers but I did not know of it the night before I left and think it is a mistake.  Koop got a rap in the head from the same bullet that hit me, the Spanish killing two birds with one stone, but Carl’s head always was hard and it did not do a thing to the bullet but flatten it.  Saville got a flesh wound across the leg and was not laid up.  Our regiment lost quite a few men – I think our share.  I only hope that there will not be any more fighting about Santiago, we have lost enough there. Please read this letter to the interested ones.  Luca is all right and the band did splendid service in carrying in the wounded – please tell Mrs. Fletcher – Luca etc. Sgt. Fletcher was particularly good to us as were all the others.

Our regiment acted beautifully and not a man gave back a foot – in fact the whole regular army covered themselves with glory and in the words of the Spaniards “fought like devils”.

Mrs. Van is looking well and the children have grown so, I am delighted of course to see them – I arrived this morning on the City of Washington.  Love to all – R.C. Van Vliet"

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Information provided by Florence West.

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