First hand accounts of the Spanish American War are hard to come by. So imagine our excitement when we were able to acquire a diary written by a soldier from Connecticut! William E. Jackson of Willimantic, Connecticut, entered the army late, traveling to Philadelphia to enlist in May 1898. He was sent to Cuba andtook part of the siege of Santiago. After a long illness, he was ready to come home in August.
Some of Jackson’s observations are interesting, and some are disturbing. He commented on how Southern and Western men did not swear as much as Northern and Eastern men. As his company was marching toward Santiago, they heard some yelling, and that is when they encountered the Rough Riders, who had been caught in an ambush. Cubans, he observed, often gave soldiers coconuts. He witnessed some Cubans cutting off the head of a wounded Spanish soldier instead of helping him. He also described taking a block house, and digging trenches around Santiago. His most common complaint was about the wet weather–it rained too much. As a result, he and many other men became ill. He was particularly concerned when his tent-mate was hospitalized.
One of the things I found most interesting in the diary was the reference to the Knight of Pythias. Jackson was a member of that organization and made quick friends with other men who identified themselves as Knights. There is something significant there, but I have not been able to put my finger on it. Any insights would be welcome.
This diary brings to ten the number of manuscript items we have about the Spanish American War, and the only first hand account. To read the diary, request Ms 101672.