Pennsylvania Volunteers
in the Spanish-American War

1898-1899

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PA Spanish-American War

Letter Home from Charles Hofmann

Charles L. Hofmann, a member of Battery A, Pennsylvania Light Artillery, which was recruited almost entirely in Philadelphia, in a letter to his sister, under date of August 13th, gave an interesting account of the leading and early experiences of the battery in Puerto Rico. The letter, which was dated from Port Ponce was as follows:
Here we are, just after having slept on the plaza around an old Spanish cathedral, on the hard cement pavement. This is the most curious place I have ever even read about, and I'll try to give you an idea of some of it. To begin with, we had four horses to die on our trip and wound up by being shipwrecked. We sighted land at seven bells or 3:30 A. M., Wednesday, which proved to be the Island of Mona, no more than a big rock, about 400 high and not a mile in circumference.

About 4:15 we sighted the Island of Porto Rico, and steamed along the southern coast until we sighted Porto Ponce, dropped anchor about two miles out at 10 A. M., and started on again at 11:30, only to go aground on a reef about a mile outside of Porto Ponce.

Well, we were badly strained and began to settle on the reef, but fortunately for us, we could go no further down, but as our plates were strained we began to take in water. The sea was very heavy and the ship would roll from one side to the other and stop very abruptly, nearly throwing us overboard.

We pounded on that reef til Thursday night about 9 P. M., when we were transferred to the gunboat Annapolis, and I slept on deck with an iron cleat for a pillow; then about 7 A. M., we were taken ashore and I first set foot on Porto Rico at Porto Ponce, at 7:30 A. M. Thursday, August 12. We were at once corralled at this old church, and at 11 A. M. we were given run of the town.

At first a few of us went over and made a trip through the Governor's palace. The island is a regular Garden of Eden. The Governor's palace is one story high, as are all the houses here. It looks like a big stable on the outside; but the inside is something rich and grand - everything that a king could desire. The courtyard is enclosed in a wall eight feet high, the top of which is covered sith spikes, for fear some one might steal their daughters, for they are very beautiful. All the wall are alike here and all the daughters are protected by their mistresses, and they are not allowed to see even their lovers until the day before they are married, but strange to say, they are allowed to see us, and some who speak broken English are allowed to talk to us.I was in a house yesterday, the courtyard of which was paved with beautiful tiles; it had fountains, all manner of gorgeous birds and tropical plants - a regular heaven.

The way I happened to get in this place was, I wanted a match to light my cigarette which everybody smokes here, even the women of the better classes, so I sallied right into the open portal and asked for my match as well as I could in Spanish, which by this time we are all beginning to get on to; it is very easy.

Business hours here are 10 to 11 A. M. and 2 to 4 PM and to live here all you need is about four or five dollars a week of our money. Things are very cheap except bread; flour is $32 a barrel and we pay five cents for a loaf of rice bread not larger than an ordinary breakfast roll, but they are delicious. The people live mostly on fruit, but for a while, all that we are allowed are oranges, sugar cane and bananas. The native can't do enough for us. For instance, all you have to do is say 'pan' or hold your canteen up and the boys all make a bead to buy us either bread or water.The milk men drive their cows up to a front door and milk them for just a much as you want to buy. You can buy the best cigars here for two cents, such as you would pay ten or twenty-five cents for at home, and their cigarettes are good and strong.Yesterday afternoon I took a carriage, for six cents, and went up to Ponce city. It is of 32,000 people and one of the finest places you ever saw. Fakirs by the hundreds, and such a jabbering you never heard. If you want a carriage you have to jump into one while it is going, they can't wait for you. Everybody is on the hustle. The driver may ask you $1, but we never give him more than 12 or 13 cents and away you go like the wind and never think of smashing into one another.

I was in the Spanish (or now American) barracks at Ponce and saw a lot of Spanish prisoners. They are all little runts, not over five feet high and stood at attention and took off their hats and saluted us when we entered. There is not much danger from the Spanish regulars, but the country is full of guerillas and bushwhackers and they make lots of trouble. Although the Ponce papers said yesterday that peace had been declared, no doubt it will be many a day before we see God's country again, for I believe we are to be garrisoned here somewhere. There is a road from Porto Ponce to San Juan, over 80 miles long and it is better than the Chester pike. You should see a Spaniard run from us - you would think we were going to cut their heads off. Back in the country we can have everything we want for nothing, and if I could only carry them I could get all the souvenirs I wanted.


Source: Thrilling Stories of the War by Returned Heroes, Young, Hon. James Rankin, 1899





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