Nelson Oliver Harris
Hospital corps of the 4th U.S. Infantry
Stationed near Manila, Phillipines
About 1899
Spanish American War


Through the kindness of J. W. Harris, we publish below an interesting letter written by his son, N. O. Harris, of the hospital Corps, 4th U.S. Infantry, to his brother, W. J. Harris, of Watseka, Illinois.

Imus, August 20,1899

Dear Brother:

After this long delay I will answer your letter. The rainy season is no now on and we are not doing much fighting at the present, but with such sprinters as the natives, it can't be said things are at a standstill. The last skirmish and the 4th Inf. had with the natives, was last Friday, in which we lost one , killed outright, and a few wounded. We have been in Imus since the 19 of June except when we go out on hike to look for googoos. On our arrival at Imus June 19, a part of the regiment went out in the direction of the insurgents and had a sharp skirmish which lasted several hours. The mens' ammunition that was in their belts began to get short just at the time they discovered that the insurgents number was greater than they had expected to fund, and that the insurgents were firing on them from both sides and it is claimed by some that they had thier line nearly closed around our men. At the critical moment word was sent to the battalion I was with, for more ammunition and reinforcements. As soon as word was received the command was given to "Fall in with belts and canteens." That means no blanket rolls or rations and in about minute the men had fallen in s=and at another command they were going in the direction of firing. It was a hot little march of a little more than two miles,as we were taken down the road at a rapaid rate in the heat of the day. One man dropped out soon after we left camp because of the heat and died almost immediately. We were soon on the firing line which had been formed after a retreat only to take up a better position. Just as reinforcements arrived the insurgents began to beat a fast retreat taking their dead and wounded with them. We followed them a short distance then halted. In a short time the companies assembled and the number of the dead, wounded and the missing were reported to the commanding officer of the regiment; the 4th lost five killed, several wounded. Three men were found, that by some cause was not seen when our men retreated to their new positions.

In our advance after the surgents, we found those men had been mutilated by surgents. One man had his tongue cut out, another had his ear cut off, another had a gash across his throat and head.

After a short rest we began to try to discover something to eat and those not on guards, a place place to sleep. It was in a thickly settle district and the occupants of the shacks had left their homes because of the fight in the neighborhood. The boys soon appropriated some chickens for supper, and those not on guard lay down to sleep. About midnight the army escort wagons and caribocarts, caught up with us with with blankets rolls and rations

In the morning, June 29th, after a breakfast of bacon, hardtack, and coffee we displayed in a skirmish line on each side of the main road we were on and took up an advance in the direction of the insurgents. We made an almost steady advance for about three hours over rice fields which were flooded with water. I will here state that the rice fields are made up of leveld plots of ground which will average about 40 or 50 feet square, depending on the rolling condition of the field. Each plot is about six inches lower or higher than the joining ones and each plot has a ridge on all its sides which is about is usually about twelve inches high and eighteen wide for the purpose of holing water so the fields flood theentire space of each plot of ground. The water is nearly all furnished by the rains but some places the mountain streams furnish water for irrigation which the rain might not supply at times. Rice grows on the fields during the rainy season when the fields can be flooded. The condition of the ground at all time I refer to as it is now is about two to four inches of water and two to four inches of mud. Such a condition soon makes a man very warm under the jacket and a few not so strong have to go to the road to keep up or be hauled in an ambulance. After about three hours of advance, June we were fired on by insurgents. Owing to cruel way the natives treated the hospital men, the hospital corps were issued carbines and pistols soon after we attived on the island. Having my carbine along I tried my marksmanship on the insurgents for a short time, after which my attention was directed toward caring for the wounded and exhausted. After firing was kept up between insurgents and our men, the surgents got out of our reach and the men too exhausted to follow them., so after a rest they relished a supper very much , having no dinner. We had five wounded that day.

The next morning we came back to Imus, which has been our headquarters since that time. We had several skirmishes so I thought I would mention one or two while I am writing. Every few days two battillions go out to locate the insurents so as to know they are not getting to close to our outposts and sometimes we jave a skirmish with them in which the insurgents take a hike in another direction. Owing to bad roads, cause by the rainy season, we are not able to make a successful, permanent advance on them as we expect to do when the dry season comes and the roads are suvh that supplies can be brought to us. At present most of oout supplies are brought on cascoes up river.

You ask if I ever come in contact with the natives/ I see so many of them I get tired seeing them. They are of small stature, sometimes attaining the size of average white man. They are of strong build, and have well shape heads, wearing hair short, leaving it long enough on top to comb to one side a little. The color of their skin reminds me of the American Indian, only it is always very black. The women wear their done in a knot on the back of the head or let it hang loosely over the back. They are pround of their hair and always keep it well combed and oiled with cocoanut oil.

The natives are more intelligent than one would expect, by just hearing that they are an uncivilized people. They learn music very easily and it is not unusual things to see a Filipino band in thier towns. I have seen many pieces of books and manuscripes, about destroyed and vacant buildings that were printed and written in Filipinos. The Filipinos have churches galore. It appears that nearly all of them belong to a church. Their religion is that of a Catholic faith similar to that of the Spaniards but I have heard that they would not recognize the Filipinos religion with their faith. Every neighborhood seems to have a church and the priest is the ruling element. The towns have presidents but are greatly influenced by the priests. There are no schools in the country or small town districts and their learnings seems to find its own source from the church literature.

Some are industrious but a great many are very lazy. They are capable of getting an education and mastering trades but usually perfer to live or exist the easy way they can. They live principally on rice and fish. The more well-to-do have pork, beef, green corn and vegetables occasionally which is principally on Sunday and holidays.

I received the first letter about March 14 th, which was only four days after we arrived here; a Watseka paper the middle of April, which I was very glad to get. Your second letter found me at Pasay about June 17 th, the same day we started for Imus. Judging by the letters I have, which I now will have a chance to answer soon, I believe my mail reaches me as Promptly as I can expect. Hoping to hear from you soon and hear that you are well as myself I will close sending my best regards to all. Your brother N. O. Harris

Hosp. Corps 4th U.S. Inf. Manila, P. I.
(Big Barn Burns-Seymour Lockwood's barn and contents burned to the ground..


May 18,

Argos Reflector
Marshall County, (Indiana) boy at Manilla

N.O. Harris writes of his trip from New York to the Phillipines. (The following letter was written by N. O. Harris, of the hospital corps of the 4th U.S. Infantry now stationed at Manila. Coming from the scene of actual war and written by a marshall Co. boy it will be of unusual interest. The letter was originally written to his brother at Watseka, Illinois, and then forward to his father, Westly Harris of near Maxinkuckee. He says:)

This finds me in Manila. It was Jan. 31 we anchored at sea, and we seemed almost lost when the ship stopped for it was the first time since leaving New York. When our ship came around the Rock we fired the national salute of 21 guns, and was answered by the fort on the Rock of Gibralter. The harbor was full of ships of all descriptions, and ours was quarentined while we were there. The British officiers allowed the officeiers of the regiments to go ashore, being the first troop ship of the U. S. that had been in the harbor.

On Feb, 2 nd our ship anchored near the north-west end of the Rock, and Gen. Lawton, our staff went ashore in our stream lunch during the afternoon. The governor of Gibralter came on board our ship about noon and the band played 'Brittanica' and other British airs. There is a stone wall all around Gibralter and about 7,000 soldiers there. We left the morning of the 4th Feb. 5th, we were in Mediterranean inside of Algiers all day. The coast is very mountainous, with no sign of habitation except several light houses along the coast of old black Africa.

We had very smooth sea across the Mediterranean and when we arrived at Port Said we learned of the hostile attitude of the natives in and around Manila. We took on coal and water and were on our way through the canal before daylight. We were in the Suez Canal one whole day. The principle sights were many side hills on either side, with numerous droves of camels. Occasionally, some ruined building would greet the eye and indicate that there had been some settlement at that place sometime. Canal stations,consisting of a signal tower and a dwelling for one family, were located every two or three miles.

There were some natives along the canal; some were dressed with a short skirt and some not at all. The boys would throw clothing, tin can, boxes, etc. over board to see the natives swim after them. At Parem some of the natives furnished much amusement. They would swim out into the harbor and swim about the ship for hours. All we could hear them say was some native jibber that sounded like 'di-di-di- which we soon found out that if we would throw money into the water they would dive and get it before it reached the bottom. They would keep the silver coins, and throw away the pennies. These natives are the best divers I ever saw.

About daylight the morning of march 10th, we sighted land at the entrance of Manila Bay. We anchored in the bay about 9:00 o'clock and were taken ashore on lighters that would carry about 100 men each. The water is too shallow for large ships to come up to the dock. One battation went out to the firing line immediately and that same night we had a fight with the insurgents. The other two battalions of the 4th are doing guard duty in the city. No one is allowed on the streets between 7:00 P. M. and 6;) except soldiers on duty, and they are stationed at every street corner. The insurgents are about 8 miles out and have a firing line almost 13 miles long in circling the city. The Americans are holding their ground now and waiting for enough to drive them back in true American style. The insurgents fire on Americans every night. This is the third day I have been on land, and I am better pleased with the city and the climate than I expected.

With best reguards to all,
I am , Your Brother,

N.O. Harris

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