The "Governor's Troop" of Pennsylvania Cavalry served in the Second
Army Corps attached to the corps headquarters. The unit served in Puerto
Rico in August of 1898. This account is excerpted from that written by
an anonymous Shippensburg State Normal School Student recounting his and
his comrades' experiences in the cavalry.
"ALWAYS having within me a flame of patriotism and being a member of the state militia, patriotism was kindled anew, when the news came to our ears of the blowing up of the battleship "Maine" on the night of Feb. 15, 1898.
When war was at last declared and the United States called for men, Pennsylvania was in the front rank to respond. In her quota was found to be the old state organization known as the "Governor's Troop" of Harrisburg.
The State's men assembled April 28, 1898, at Mt.Gretna's Camp Hastings to be mustered into the United States Service. Everything progressed rapidly, when at last the Pennsylvania cavalry found themselves to be the only troops left at Camp Hastings at the end of June. All the infantry and artillery had been sent to do duty, or to the front.
Camp Hastings being a delightful place, we seemed very well contented drilling twice a day in the hot sun. After the Manila and Cuba expeditions were formed, our minds were turned toward Porto Rico, but no one knew whether we should see it or not.
July 7, we received the welcome news to move to Camp Alger. We sacrificed many pleasures by moving to this camp, but the cry was "On to Porto Rico." Our duties of orderly duty, and messenger service were very hard, there being only five troops of cavalry at this camp among about 30,000 men.
Many of our horses were very wild and vicious. Much difficulty was experienced in breaking them. The advice given us, if a horse attempted to get away with us, was "Remember the mane."
All eager for the expedition, the news "break camp" again resounded in our ears, and to proceed to Newport News, Va., On July 27, to embark for Porto Rico. Owing to the lack of transports we were obliged to lie in the hot sun several days at Newport News. We now began to realize the hardships of a soldier’s life, -eating hardtack and bacon, sleeping on the ground with a canopy of stars above us, so often we thought of our homes.
At last everything was ready; so Friday evening at six o'clock, Aug. 5, the U. S. S. MANITOBA having on board 800 men, 1000 horses and mules and 1280 tons of supplies moved down the James River. We were soon out on the wide Atlantic, and the next morning we could see land no more. Our trials now began. The quarters of the men, which were below the horses, the rations, and the salt water, which we often had to drink, - added to our hardships. Much care had to be taken of the horses. One of General Grant's remarks before embarking was: "Boys take care of the horses, because horses are scarce and hard to get, and men are plenty.
The voyage was a very pleasant one, as far as the smoothness of the ocean, but many of the men became sea-sick. Everything being in our favor we saw on the morning of Aug. 10, the tops of Porto Rico's palm trees before us. About noon we came into the port, where we saw many battleships, some of which were in service against Cervera's fleet. There being no good harbor at this place, which is called the Port of Ponce, we anchored about one and one-half miles from the shore. The harbor, very open and shallow, though protected somewhat on the east by a spur of land, and slightly on the west by a little island reef, made a gem of beauty by the simple architecture of its little white little light-house.
No time was lost in getting to land our equipments and horses by means of "litters" as we were to be in front of San Juan as soon as possible. The city of Ponce having surrendered to the marines no trouble was manifested in landing, also the first expedition had opened up the way. Experience only can picture to you, our feeling when we landed on Spanish soil. After a brief and almost bloodless campaign, hostilities ceased on Aug. 13, a few days after our arrival. Forces located at different places on the island began to advance on the enemy, so on Aug. 12 the advance was made. At last the time for a blow had come, and for the first time in our lives many young Americans saw preparation for a battle. The infantry all around armed with Krag-Jorgensens deployed their skirmishers. The artillery and cavalry were in readiness. While the preparations for a bloody battle were made a most dramatic scene now took place. A signal man came at full speed down the line and handed a -message to General Brooke. He read it, turned quickly, and aides and orderlies flew in every direction to generals, colonels, and all in command. It was a message of peace! Not at the eleventh hour but at 11.59, for some of the three-inch guns had been loaded and trained and the infantry skirmishers with loaded rifles were only waiting for the bugle call "Commence firing.” The change from the sharp battle tension of a second before was intense. Slowly the skirmishers came in from the front; slowly the artillery men repacked their caissons and limbered up their guns; the signal men rolled up their flags, and the doctors repacked their knives and saws, and the American forces withdrew from the scene. The Spaniards gazed with astonishment. They soon found out the reason and were satisfied.
After this armistice was declared, our forced march was withcalled. A camp was at last formed after coming back nearer our supplies which was then about ten miles from the fort. There were still skirmishes among the mountains, so we could not rest, assured that we would not be in any engagements. This lasted nearly a week, then we began to enjoy Porto Rico's beautiful scenery….
After hostilities had ceased many of the men because they could not
see the beauty of nature, discouraged because of very poor rations, which
consisted of condemned beef, tomatoes, bacon and half-spoiled hard-tack,
now turned their eyes homeward. When the message reached us
we were all glad to leave behind us our faithful horses, who fared so well
in Porto Rico, and embark for home. Many dreaded the repeated disagreeable
trip on the transport MISSISSIPPI.
After a long, tiresome, and eventful trip of 1425 miles, which required
seven and one-half long days, we beheld September 10th, once more "the
land of the free and the home of the brave." We could sing "America" with
entirely new vim. Our greeting at New York by our friends and Gov.
Hastings was a very pleasant one. Trains were awaiting our arrival
to take us to Harrisburg. Here we were welcomed by thousands of people,
who tried to satisfy our bodily wants, and when at last we met our dear
mothers in our pleasant homes, then could we shout with John Howard Payne,
'Home, Sweet Home.'”
(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)
The Philo Literary Society, The Philo Review. Vol XXIII, No. 32 (Shippensburg: State Normal School, 1899) 67-73.
Sauers, Richard A., Pennsylvania in the Spanish-American War. (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, 1998) 39 (image of guidon).