J. House Moore

Writes Home about

The Assault on El Caney
Contributed by his grandson, Robert Coley Thomas

Click here for a Spanish Account of the Battle of El Caney ||| Click here for the battle report of the 12th U.S. Infantry, Co. F


J. House Moore served in Cuba, taking part in the assault on El Caney. He managed to survive the battle, Spanish counter-attacks after being shifted to the already-taken San Juan Hill, and disease. Unfortunately, because of a party on the beach, he missed his transport to the U.S. and was listed as a deserter! After 40 years, he managed to clear his name. He died in the Memphis Veteran's Hospital and was buried in Selmer, Tennessee, on Christmas Day, 1955.

Below is a letter that he sent home and that was published in a newspaper in his home state of Tennessee. Below that are some stories that the aging veteran related to his grandson prior to World War Two.

The Letter:

                                                                                 "Santiago De Cuba
                                                                                 July 18, 1898
Dear Parents,

Received your welcome letter and was so glad to find all well.  I am in the best of health, but my God, how the men around me suffer!  There are 30 to 40 in the Company sick.  It is the fever, and I thank God every day that He has spared me so far.  He has heard your prayers, my dear Mama.  As I have no paper, I will give you a brief sketch of what has happened on the Island and go into details some other time.  Arrived here O.K. Three men were drowned while unloading us.  Went into camp and stayed intil next orders to go into battle; threw down our packs and went to the front;  battle nearly over; saw many dead comrades, also Spainards; went into camp again; on guard that night, sentry shot one of our men; lay around with nothing to eat for 48 hours; out road for artillery up to Caney, a fortified town; marched to it last night in June; had a stampede in camp caused by a horse breaking loose; up before daylight, July 1, and on the march.  That is a day I shall never forget;  marched on the Firing Line; commenced fighting; had no protection; was in a field, and they were shooting us from three block houses.  Think of it, dear Parents, we in a field and Spainards in rock houses!  We lost more men than any other Regiment; was exposed more; fought nine hours without food; then charged and captured the block houses. My comrades were shot on each side of me; one fellow and I were talking, side-by-side; he was shot; I was spared. You see, God was with me.  Buried pieces til night, carried the wounded off the field.  Everybody said it was the hardest battle ever fought--and the English officer said it looked impossible for any to live through it, we were exposed so much to the fire. Marched all night.  Next day was in position for fighting again at 9 a.m. without any sleep or anything to eat; fought until sunset; lay down and went to sleep on the Firing Line; at 10 p.m. the Spainards charged on us; we drove them back with great loss on their side, none on ours. Next day Flag of Truce  was raised.  We got a rest.  Next day was digging trenches.  The Spainards surrendered on the 16th.  Now we have some rest, but all the  men are dying. I have not been dry since I landed, as it rains all the time; one night had to dig entrenchments all night long in the hardest rain I ever saw fall.  I was bitten by a tarantula yesterday, and even that didn't kill me; so you see how lucky I am, but they are the worry of my life. I am afraid of tarantulas and scorpions, the ground is full of them, but will be all right soon; of course it deadened my finger, but it is a small matter when I've seen so many deaths, and how thankful to God I am, He alone knows.  Yellow fever and starvation is taking off more people than bullets.  I volunteered to go off the field and get a stretcher the day of the hardest fight.  It was so dangerous a job they called for a volunteer and I did it.  Was thanked for it before the Company; that was enough pay for the job.  Don't know how long we will stay here.  I am going to re-enlist if my time is out before the close of the war and fight for my country.  I am not fighting to free Cubans, but to revenge the Maine.

The Cubans are starving and it is a pitiful sight, but they steal everything they can lay hands on.  They are nothing more than savages.

Don't never worry over me, dear Parents, for I think and pray that God is protecting me, and some day you will see your loving, and happy boy again.  Until then, I bid you all a loving goodbye, with God's blessings.  Give my love to all.  Once more, goodbye, and God bless you all.  As ever. your loving son.

                                                 J. House Moore"

The Stories J. Moore House related to his grandson prior to World War Two:

Papa Moore enlisted for the Spanish-American War from Tennessee.  He was sent to Ohio for basic training--the first time he had EVER been out of the hills of Middle Tennessee!  The Sgt. who received the recruits yelled at them, refering to their descendency from female dogs, whereupon J. House promptly decked the Sgt. and spent his first night on Post in the guardhouse.  Next day, the same Sgt. lined up the recruits and yelled, "ATTENTION!".  Country boys know little or nothing about coming to attention but he tried.  The Sgt. came down the line and snarled,"Suck in that gut, Moore!", and hit J.House in the belly to emphasize the order.  Of course, J.House decked him again!  At the Summary Court-Martial, the   Capt. said, "What am I going to do with you, Moore?  You can't go around decking your Drill Sgt. like this."  Papa Moore told me that he explained that in the hills of Tennessee, calling a man a S.O.B. is the same as hitting him first, and that calls for hitting back. The same for being hit in the belly in formation.  The Capt. told the Sgt. to try to make a soldier out of J. House--but "DON'T cuss him and DON'T hit him".  So they tried but he had two left feet and wouldn't follow instructions very well--they made him a Bugler so that he had to be within arms' length of the Capt., ALL of the time.

At San Juan Hill, Papa Moore's Company was on the flank of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders.  Papa Moore said that if it had not been for a troop of Negro Cavalry, not one man of the Rough Riders would have survived.  The Cavalry rode around to the back side of the hill and charged up the slope, forcing the Spainards to swing their 3 & 6-Pound cannon around.  That's when the Rough Riders and the supporting Companies (including J. House's) charged and took the hill.

[editor's note: Mr. House was apparently relating the scuttlebutt he had heard in the field about the San Juan Hill assault, since he was at El Caney at the time. Though the African -American troops were instrumental in the assault, they did not attack from the rear.]

After the fighting, while waiting for transportation home, the troopers would catch scorpions and tarantulas, dig a pit, throw tham both in, and bet on the outcome of the inevitable fight. (That's how he got bitten by the tarantula.)  He said the tarantula was so much faster that it would jump on the scorpion first thing, but the scorpion would curl its tail up over its back and pop the tarantula with its stinger--that was all she wrote!  The tarantulas in the U.S. are very poisonous, so he just KNEW he was going to die when he got bitten on the finger.  He went running to the Hospital tent. Sick Call was going on at the same time.  All Doctors were very busy with the Yellow Fever patients, etc.  "Wait your turn, soldier", he was admonished, "But, I'm going to DIE, Doctor  don't you understand?--I've been bitten by a TARANTULA!"  The doctor wouldn't even look at the bite! He just asked if his tent-mate (they had two-man pup tents) chewed tobacco.  Papa Moore said yes, so the Doctor told him to get a wad of half-chewed tobacco and put on the bite to pull the poison out and,"DON'T BOTHER ME AGAIN!". Papa Moore said it got a little stiff in the joint above the bite, but in a week it was gone.

When the ship didn't come for a long time, boredom set in.  A bunch of young bucks slipped out of camp and met some girls with Cuban Rum on the beach, got drunk, passed out, and woke up LATE the next day.  By the time J. House got back to camp, his Company was gone!  The ship had come in, loaded up the men, and was sailing off.  He couldn't get to his Company, but got home with another group and found out he was listed as a DESERTER!  He got that changed to A.W.O.L. but still got a Dishonorable Discharge--it took 40+ years and finally an Act of Congress to get him off the Dishonorable List.   He was SO proud of the Bill of Forgiveness--he used the whole thing to warn me about whiskey and women when I was leaving for WWII in 1942.

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