ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
In early January, 1899, the regiment received orders for pacification duty in Cuba. As this was a permanent change of station, the families were allowed to accompany the officers. With an aggregate strength of 1,019 officers and men, the regiment was now starting on the colonial duty of which the army was to experience a great deal of during the next fifteen years. Lieutenant Colonel Rafferty left Camp A. G. Forse, near Huntsville, Alabama, with Troops A, C, D, F, G, and M, January 31, 1899. They went to Savannah, Georgia, by rail and then sailed for Matanzas, about fifty miles east of Havana, Cuba, arriving there February 7. The other troops and headquarters of the regiment left for Savannah February 12 and sailed to Cienfuegos, Cuba, on the southern coast, where they arrived February 21. Camp sites were selected at these two places primarily with regard to sanitation.
During the next three years the regiment remained in this part of Cuba generally located a short distance east of Havana. The officers and men fraternized freely with the natives and there were no unpleasant events to mar the friendliness. In the evening there were band concerts during which the people walked around the main plaza. The color line was drawn among the natives in a novel way. No matter what the shade of the skin, if the hair were kinky they were classed as negroes, and if the hair were straight they were white. The negroes walked around the outer circle of the plaza while the others walked around the inner circle.
Soon after the arrival of the troops at Cienfuegos, the Cubans organized a parade of their forces in honor of the Second Cavalry. For this occasion the houses were decorated and triumphal arches placed across the streets. The Cuban soldiers presented a bedraggled appearance after living so long as fugitives away from towns during their struggle for liberty.
The inhabitants generally were very poor at this time as a result of the late revolution. At first most of the natives depended upon the American army and the Red Cross to feed them. Sanitary conditions were wretched, and hospitals, jails, and asylums were full. Streets generally were full of garbage and trash to such an extent that they were almost unpassable. The streets were cleaned, and a house-to-house inspection was made by the sanitation officer.
During the time spent on the island the officers of the regiment lived in houses rented in the towns or in the hotels, but the latter were of very poor quality. The troops occupied leased buildings and generally built their own stables. The regiment gradually settled down to regulate drills, target practice, field exercises, and marches. Details were sent out to make maps of various parts of the island. Schools were opened with native teachers, and a course in sanitation taught to the people.
At the end of the year 1899, the troops of the regiment were stationed as follows: Headquarters and Troops B, E, H, and K at Santa Clara in the interior, Troops I and L at Placetas, also in the interior, and the other troops at Matanzas on the northern coast.
In May, 1900, yellow fever appeared in the regiment at Santa Clara, and although stringent efforts were made to stamp it out, several deaths occurred. Finally, General Wilson inspected the command and ordered them to go into camp outside the town and to move the camp every day. This failed to improve the situation, as forty cases appeared in June, resulting in six deaths. It was decided to abandon the post of Santa Clara and station the Headquarters and Band at Matanzas, Troops B and H at Cardenas, and Troops E and K at Placetas. Since it was now the rainy season, the troops suffered much while marching to their new posts.
During August, 1900, after the yellow fever epidemic improved, the regiment was ordered to concentrate at Matanzas on the north coast, where half the troops were already located. The Headquarters, Band, and four troops occupied Christina Barracks at the eastern border of the city, five troops moved into the new post called Hamilton Barracks, two troops went to Drum Barracks, and one troop to the old military prison called Fort San Severino. As a result of the early sanitary measures taken by the American troops, Matanzas soon became a model of cleanliness.
Early the next year another change in station came when the third squadron was ordered to Cienfuegos, where part of the regiment was formerly stationed. They relieved a battalion of the Tenth Infantry and moved into Rowell Barracks February 12.
Many duties other than those of a military nature devolved upon the troops while stationed in Cuba. The officers also were called upon to administer as civil officials in such positions as superintendent of education, sanitary engineer, collector of customs, and inspector of police. During this time the organizations kept up regular military duties, especially in sketching and reconnoitering.
The regiment was ordered back to the United States in the early part of 1902, after doing three years of pioneer duty in one of the most unsanitary and unhealthful parts of the world at that time. The Headquarters, Band and Troops F and G took station at Fort Myer, Virginia, where they arrived January 23. Troops E and H went to Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, for station. Troops A, B, C, and D left Matanzas April 24 for station at Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont. Troops I and K left Rowell Barracks April 30 and went to Fort Ethan Allen. Troops L and M left that place on the same day and took station at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.
The regiment now began a tour of garrison duty which lasted nearly two years before it was again called upon to take the field. During the years 1902 and 1903 the troops remained at the same stations to which they were assigned upon the return from Cuba. In addition to regular training at this period, the troops participated in ceremonies of patriotic organizations, trained with various national guard units, gave exhibition drills at the reunion of the Society of the Army of Santiago, and at county fairs, participated in the unveiling of monuments to Generals Hooker and Sherman, and represented the cavalry at the tournament at Madison Square Garden.
By special request of Mr. Anthony Fiala, the War Department consented to allow Sergeant Jefferson E. Moulton, Troop G, to accompany the Ziegler Polar Expedition, which left New York in the spring of 1903.