Problems with Army Uniforms

By Richard Harding Davis


Richard Harding Davis was a well-known journalist that the time of the Spanish American War. While working for the New York Herald, he had the opportunity to see the condition of the troops gathering near Tampa for deployment in the invasion of Cuba. His comments on the uniforms being supplied were rather scathing. These comments were not for publication, however, but were sent in a letter home to his family. Because of his profession and expertise as a war correspondent, he was probably more well-versed on the needs of the soldier than were many of the war's officers, giving his views credibility. Davis had turned a commission as a captain for fear of being stuck in the back lines.

Exerpts from Davis' May 29, 1898 letter:

"Captain Lee and I went out to the volunteer camps today: Florida, Alabama, Ohio and Michigan, General Lee's push, and it has depressed me very much. I have been so right about so many things these last five years, and was laughed at for making much of them. Now all I urged is proved to be   correct; nothing our men wear is right. The shoes, the hats, the coats, all are dangerous to health and comfort; one-third of the men cannot wear the regulation shoe because it cuts the instep, and buy their own, and the volunteers are like the Cuban army in appearance. The Greek army, at which I made such sport, is a fine organization in comparison as far as outfit goes; of course, there is no comparison in the spirit of the men.... Half of the men have no uniforms nor shoes...I cannot decide whether to write anything about it or not.I cannot see where it could do any good, for it the system that is wrong--the whole volunteer system, I mean. Captain Lee happened to be in Washington when the first Manila outfit was starting from San Francisco, and it was on his representations that they gave the men hammocks, and took a store of Mexican dollars.They did not know that Mexican dollars are the only currency of the East, and were expecting to pay the men in drafts on New York.

Isn't that a pitiable situation when a captain of an English company happens to stray into the war office, and happens to have a good heart and busies himself to see that our own men are supplied with hammocks and spending money. None of our officers had ever seen khaki until they saw Lee's, nor a cork helmet until they saw mine and his; now, naturally, they won't have anything else, and there is not another one in the country. The helmets our troops wear would be smashed in one tropical storm, and they are so light that the sun beats through them. They are also a glaring white, and are cheap and nasty and made of pasteboard. The felt hats are just as bad; the brim is not broad enough to protect them from the sun or to keep the rain off their necks, and they are made of such cheap cotton stuff that they grow hard when they are wet and heavy, instead of shedding the rain as good felt would do. They have always urged that our uniforms, though not smart nor "for show," were for use. The truth is, as they all admit, that for the tropics they are worse than useless, and that in any climate they are cheap and poor.

 "...It has been a great lesson for me, and I have rubber tents, rubber blankets, rubber coats and hammocks enough for an army corps."


David, Richard Harding, Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis

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