Austin, G. F.
“Extracts from Fred’s Letters to his Mother” – kept in a vest pocket diary, recording Austin’s Experiences in Camp with Troop G, First Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, in Lakeland, Florida – 1898

16mo, 23 pages, plus blanks, original printed wrappers, entries are written in ink in a legible hand, in very good condition.

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      The item offered here is a “journal” based on the letters of G. F. “Fred” Austin, a member of Troop G., First Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, while stationed in Lakeland, Florida undergoing training for service in the Spanish American War. The volume covers the period from July 8, 1898 to August 2, 1898, the period when Austin’s unit reported to Florida and received orders to report to Puerto Rico for active duty.

       The entries, extracted from letters sent home and copied by a family member deal strictly with Austin’s experiences while stationed in Florida. Austin enlists for two years or the duration of the war, he mentions the train journey from Akron, Ohio to Lakeland, Florida. He comments on Florida and his experiences in camp during training, drilling, the routine of camp life and training in unbearable heat. His unit, the First Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, was nicknamed “McKinley’s Pets.” Austin notes that the post hospital is full of typhoid cases, and he also mentions a visit with the 10th US Cavalry, “Negro Regulars”, better known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Austin states that Col. Day was promoted to Acting Brigade Commander and the volume ends when the regiment receives orders to proceed to Puerto Rico.

Sample Quotations:

“Sunday, July 17, Lakeland Fla. We reached here late Friday 30 mi N.E. of Tampa. There are several beautiful lakes here & they afford ample opportunity for bathing & washing clothes. Lots or alligators are in them. Palms & Rubber trees are here, near camp a big Orange orchard with lots of oranges but not yet ripe. … This is the best Volunteer Cavalry in the army and is equipped just like the regulars. Col. Day is bro. of Judge Day, Sec’y of State. … We are nicknamed “McKinley’s Pets.” …”

      “Monday July 18, 898, Lakeland, Fla., The trip down here took 36 hours. The Horse is the only arm of service to be in. Col. Day is a Regular Army & “Medal of Honor” Man… I have enlisted for 2 yrs or until the end of the war. I am gradually getting acquainted in the other troops & have met many college men. One fellow in Troop A is worth six millions & is a common private.”

      “July 23, ’98 Lakeland, Fla… The horse I have is a mighty pretty one with fine head & neck – a dark bay. But he is a herd horse & hadn’t been ridden a half dozen times. I have lots of trouble with him yet as he is great at rearing and kicking, but have been lucky enough not to be thrown. It is a great deal better than to have an old cow to ride… We have had long drills in fencing on horseback and in cutting at heads. A course is laid out at intervals stakes with sand-bags on top. One man goes at a time on a dead gallop with drawn sabre & knocks the heads down. On my first try I hit 3 out of 4 missing one because the horse shied. I like it greatly, much better than the other drills…”

       “July 24, ’98 Lakeland, Fla. … I have not yet tired of the routine of Army life & like it immensely. The hospital is quite full but I never felt in such fine condition. Most of the cases are typhoid. I am very careful about the water & about covering up at night. There are 2 men in the troop who play on the guitar and mandolin… It sounds awfully pretty after mess in the evening to hear them… A great many of the men are eating green oranges right off the trees, it is a mighty foolish thing to do & they are almost certain to be sick… The Canteen has not been opened & will not be. It is a very good plan not to start it, for beer is the worst thing a man can drink in this climate. … The officers think that we don’t have enough to do I guess & so besides the two drills daily we graze horses for 3 hours…”

      “July 28, ’98, Lakeland, Fla. The trouble in sleeping in a hammock is that one is exposed to the night dew which is as thick as rain it is much more injurious to sleep out without a shelter over one than to sleep on the ground under a tent. I have changed messes and am much better fixed. Instead of 5 in the tent have now only 3 which gives much more room. …”

      “July 29, ’98, Lakeland, Fla. There are 2 drills a day. Boots & Saddles 6 a.m. and dismounted saber & carbine drill at 6 p.m. This morning we made the horses jump hurdles and also had head cutting in the drill ring. To day I am on Feed & Stable police. There are a good many details each day – Stable guard – Feed & Stables Police – Forage & Water wagon – Kitchen Police – Regimental Guard and Street Police. I have been on all but one Forage & Water. … Sick call is at 6:30 p.m. & all who need medicine report to Sergt… who when he enlisted had a large practice in Columbus O & he takes them up to the Hospital. In drill the bugle is used entirely to give the commands. The trumpeter rides right behind the captain & blows the orders. I have all the bugle commands down in good shape now. …”

      “July 30, ’98 – Lakeland, Fla. …To day we had inspection & I worked all morning polishing my accoutrements. We had to have everything in perfect condition, not a speck anywhere. With sand & sapolio I got my stuff in good shape …This morning at drill we had some … cow-boy rough riding. Four men together went around the ring at a full gallop jumping five hurdles about 4 feet high. It was exciting & lots of fun. One man’s horse fell on him after the jump but I was in good luck all the way through. Mosquito bars have been issued & I sleep under one & wear it much during the day. We had a swell dinner alligator soup, bread, potatoes & meat. The alligator soup was pretty strong I thought.”

       “Aug. 1, ’98. Lakeland, Fla. Every morning now the troop is drilled in rough riding. The Capt. Put the horses & riders in an awkward squad. … The troop rec. yesterday 53,000 rounds of ammunition. The rifle range is being fixed up & this week we will start rifle practice. The Regulars have target work every day & say the guns shoot very straight. Yesterday I took the horse out for a long ride about 4 hours. I visited the Negro Regulars Camp, that is the 10th U.S. Cavalry all the officers are white. There is another regular regt. here… Col. Day has been promoted to acting Brigade Commander. The Peace outlook is unpleasantly encouraging. I do hope something will turn up to stop all this peace talk.”

“Aug. 2 ’98 – Lakeland Fla. We have recd good news & I only hope that the orders will not be countermanded. The Reg’t is ordered to Porto Rico. Strict orders have been issued against cheering. We are cavalry & are regarded as being in the field now. Every one is delighted… We will take our horses of course as the roads there are in magnificent condition. I am a little afraid by the time we get there all the fighting will be over but yet may not be & that leaves me a little hope.”