Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.
This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is a group of moustached military men. But instead of presenting a CORPS or PLATOON or SQUADRON, I give you merely ONE soldier – complete with moustache – one of 30,000 who reported to Jacksonville, Florida in 1898, to aid Cuba in its fight for independence from Spain.
Meet John Wesley Rucker, my great-grand uncle on my mother’s side. He was the second son of Frank and Sarah Rucker of Rockingham County, Virginia, and an older brother to my great-grandfather.
He was a member of the Virginia Volunteer Infantry that was part of the Seventh Corps under the leadership of Major General Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Robert E. Lee. When the Tampa area camps were full, Camp Cuba Libre was established in May 1898 near Jacksonville to serve as an assembly area in preparation for the liberation efforts in Cuba.
In the early days of Camp Cuba Libre, the soldiers had to fend for themselves as supplies were sent elsewhere. Some supplies were sent to other corps already scheduled to deploy; other supplies were deliberately withheld as a way to toughen up new soldiers. The men received only partial uniforms, and they ate with their hands off shingles since there were no forks or plates.
That was the early days before Fitzhugh Lee arrived on the scene. He saw the horrible conditions and implemented changes that turned Camp Cuba Libre into a model camp.
Like his comrades, John Wesley Rucker spent his days in drill and target practice. However, the Seventh Corps never saw action. With the fall of Santiago in July of 1898, morale and discipline at the camp fell apart since there was nothing to do. I wonder if John Wesley was part of the drunken riot that ensued in the streets of Jacksonville.
Most of the soldiers were gone by October, and the camp officially closed in January 1899. I don’t know when John Wesley was sent home, but he must not have stayed very long in Jacksonville. According to his obituary, John Wesley went to work in the shipyard in Norfolk on May 1, 1899. Within just a week he was too sick to work and returned home to Shenandoah where he died May 29 at the age of 44.
The obituary does not say, and I have no death record since this is a line that I have not researched extensively, but I wonder if he suffered from typhoid fever. The outbreak in the Florida camps had drawn so much national attention that even Clara Barton and Walter Reed visited Camp Cuba Libra to gather information. In fact, more soldiers died of disease in Jacksonville than did soldiers who died in battle.
I hope you’ll deploy to Sepia Saturday to see what my comrades have made of this week’s theme.