Forgotten memories

Last surviving member of Company I from Spanish American War spoke to Historical Society in 1958

Photo courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society Included in the Spring 1958 edition of Stepping Stones, this photo includes, fourth from left, Harry Shawkey and was taken at Chickamauga Park, Georgia in may 1898.

Memorial Day is a time to remember those in the armed forces who sacrificed their lives in service to our country.

Harry Shawkey doesn’t meet that criteria.

The war in which he fought is almost entirely forgotten.

We’re sure his name has been forgotten, as well.

So, even though he survived the Spanish-American War and lived into the 1960s, let’s take a few moments to remember him – the last surviving Spanish-American War veteran of Warren’s Company I of the National Guard.

Library of Congress photo A drawing of Spanish American War soldiers boarding a transport ship.

The Warren County Historical Society interviewed Shawkey for the Spring 1958 and I stumbled across the article while looking for something else. I want to thank the Historical Society for their constant willingness to share their archives with the Times Observer.

The U.S. Army’s Center for Military History’s Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain notes that the 16th sailed from Charleston on July 22, 1898, on the steamship Mobile and arrived in Puerto Rico on July 26.

They would spend less than three months in Puerto Rico, participating in an advance from Ponce to Aibonito and fought at Coamo on August 9.

They returned to the New Youk on October 17 and were mustered out of the service during December.

The Army’s records show that there were six men wounded (one of which died), three that deserted and an additional 38 that died of disease of a total of about 1,280 men.

Here’s the interview he gave to the Historical Society:

I didn’t have any strong feelings about the War until I got to Puerto Rico and saw how the Spaniards treated the natives. We all volunteered. We didn’t have any kind of medical examination before induction, either. That made it difficult to secure our pensions when the War was over. Congress had to pass a bill to enable us to get them. We were certainly unprepared for that war – in every way.

I enlisted in Warren, in Company “I.” We traveled to Mt. Gretna and Harrisburg by train. When we got there, we found three inches of snow on the ground. Our barracks in Harrisburg consisted of a big poultry house on the State Fairgrounds, on red clay soil. The melting snow made a mess, but that was nothing to the fact that the building hadn’t been cleaned since the chickens had been in it! However, we were tough, so we stood it. After a few days we were sent on to Chickamauga Park, Georgia. You’ve read about the money that was raised in Warren, a benefit for the boys at Chickamauga. We got a big fish dinner out of it, our best meal in months. We had six weeks of intensive drilling there, then we were sent on to Charleston, South Carolina. It took about a week to load the transports, when we were off to Puerto Rico, in July, in heavy woolen uniforms.

We landed at Ponce, then the next day we marched across the island to El Cota and Juanadiaz, and a few days later to Coamo, where we saw our only fighting. I’d never seen such jungles. We had to hack out a trail in order to outflank the Spaniards. When the Spanish general saw he was surrounded he rode out on his horse. He probably was going to surrender, but he didn’t carry a flag of truce and we shot him down. There were 28 bullet holes in his body, and his horse looked like hamburg. No Americans were killed or wounded. A few Spaniards were. We took about a hundred prisoners. They were started back to San Juan, a forty mile forced march, with fresh relays of American soldiers every five miles. We wanted to get those prisoners off our hands. Besides, the War was over, so they were shipped back to Spain. There was a big celebration banquet for Company “I” when they got back to Warren but I missed it. I was in the hospital.

In that war the fighting was nothing, but we suffered other hardships. The food was the worst thing. The hardtack was wormy. We ate it at night so we didn’t have to look at it. The Colonel didn’t believe it was wormy and asked to see some of it. I made the mistake of showing some to him. All I for got my pains was 24 hours of extra duty.