The Center for American War Letters has correspondence dating back to the Civil War and many letters from the major conflicts of the 20th century, but there are also some letters from the Spanish American War, which occurred just before the turn of the 20th century. While reading through some of these, the date on one letter stuck out, particularly with the upcoming holiday. It was dated July 5, 1898. The sender is only identified as “Orrin” and the envelope was addressed to “Miss Jeannette Dean” of Girard, Michigan. Orrin, who was stationed at Camp de Soto in or near Tampa, Fla, addresses Dean as “My dear friend.” The letter details the previous day’s celebrations at the camp and appears to refer to the “Battle of Santiago.”
“Yesterday was a day long to be remembered In camp De Soto; and not alone for the truth of independence, but more for the joyous news of Shafter’s work before Santiago. At 8:30 in the morning the regiment was assembled in front of the Colonel’s tent where he read the “Declaration of Independence” followed by the Washington dispatch. I can not tell you how the men cheered. Only those here can ever know. An endless chain of men formed by a single rank, marched all about the camp, shouting the names of Shafter and Sampson. A salute of 46 shots was fired at noon by 3 men detailed from each company in the regiment. The afternoon was passed by the playing of a ball game and other sports of interest, while in the evening fire-works lit up the sky till a late hour.”
Sampson is Rear Admiral William Sampson, who was commander of the naval squadrons that blockaded Santiago harbor. Major General William Shafter commanded the troops who fought the Spanish before Santiago de Cuba was surrendered, although this item from the Library of Congress indicates Shafter may not have played as heroic a role as the letter would suggest.