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Dear Mr. Earle,
Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!
Military records in our custody do not include the record of assignment and operational activity of individual pieces of equipment. Under normal War Department and Department of the Army records management procedures, such documentation would be destroyed after initial administrative use.
American forces involved in the Battle of San Juan Hill, also known as the Battle of San Juan Heights consisted of the Fifth Army Corps, divided into the 1st Division with three brigades, and the Cavalry Division (dismounted) with two. Each brigade in turn was made up of three regiments, and each regiment might have over a thousand soldiers. The Corps also had attached artillery and other units. See here for a list of units. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Juan_Hill_order_of_battle
We searched the National Archives Catalog and located Muster Rolls of Regular Army Organizations, 1784 - 10/31/1912 that may have records listing the personnel of the Regular Army regiments during the Cuban campaign. Personnel files for state and U.S. volunteers can be found in the record series Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the Spanish-American War, 1899 - 1927. Carded service records are arranged by state, type of regiment (artillery, cavalry, and infantry), and then by the number of the regiment. The records for the volunteers (but not the regulars) are name indexed by the series Indexes to the Carded Records of Soldiers Who Served in Volunteer Organizations During the Spanish-American War, 1899 - 1927. Portions of the above listed series have been digitized and can be viewed online by clicking on the blue “search within this series” button. Please contact the National Archives in Washington, DC - Textual Reference (RDT1) via email at Archives1reference@nara.gov to access the remaining records.
The index for the volunteers also can be viewed on Fold3 under the title Spanish-American War Service Record Index. There may be a fee for this service. Instead, you may view these records online at one of NARA's facilities for free via a NARA PC. For the nearest NARA location, please consult our web page at http://www.archives.gov/locations. Additionally, you may check with your local public or university library as these institutions often provide access to Fold3.com.
We also recommend searching online and in libraries for published histories of the regiments present at the battle, as they sometimes include lists of soldier names.
We searched online for the term “Silent Guns” in connection with the Spanish American War and located two pieces of poetry containing the term. One was the poem “Our Uncle Sam” by Charles H. Hilber. This poem was collected in Spanish-American War Songs: A Complete Collection of Newspaper Verse During the Recent War with Spain published in 1898. The other was the poem “Do Not Cheer,” inspired by words attributed to Captain Philip at the Battle of Santiago. Broader searches for the term show many other uses as well, often simply to refer to weapons that have not yet started shooting or have ceased shooting at the end of a battle. However, we could not find a reference to a unit with that nickname.
We hope this information is helpful. Best of luck with your research!
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Are all serial numbers matching? because according to the Springfield Research Service Serial Numbers book, Volume 4 ( 1999 Edition) serial number 334043 was manufactured in 1901, after San Juan Hill. The model 1898 rifle starts at serial number 109000 in 1898 and ends with 478000 in 1905.
Texas Military Forces Museum
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I can answer your directly asked question quite simply. No, it is not possible than an M1898 Krag-Jorgensen rifle was at the Battle of San Juan Hill nor was it issued to a member of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry, the so-called Rough Riders.
The Regular Army Infantry Regiments in Cuba were issued with the M1892 model rifle, some of which were upgraded to the M1896 pattern, although this upgrade program would not be complete until after the war. Regular Army Cavalry Regiments were equipped with the M1896 Carbine, and due to the political influence of the Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry, they were also equipped with the same carbine as the Regular Army. Other militia and volunteer units used the M1873 rifle, the 'Trapdoor Springfield'.
The M1898 pattern was not approved for until 1898, and was produced in enough quantity to begin issue until after the war. Many M1898s saw active service in the Philippines during the insurrection, but not during the Spanish-American War. According to http://oldguns.net/sn_php/mildateslookup.php that particular rifle was manufactured in 1901.
Taking one more step - this type of engraving would not be done to a military weapon. The rifles issued to the United States Army are property of the United States Government. You cannot deliberately damage United States Government property that is in your charge, whether you are a Soldier, Sailor or Marine, or United States Government employee. As such, a Soldier carving his name or anything else into the stock would be charged under Article 108 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in the modern Army, and under Article 38 of the Articles of War at that time.
So how did this rifle come to be in the condition indicated by your photographs? The simple answer is that as the M1903 rifle began coming into active service, the Krags were passed first to State regiments to replace the old M1873s, and then as the Springfields and the M1917 rifles equipped the last units of the various State National Guard regiments, the Krags were returned to the Federal Government, which disposed of them as surplus. These rifles were generally sold to dealers, who then retailed them on the civilian market. The ammunition was cheap and readily available and so they were reasonably popular among hunters and people who simply wanted an old rifle. As the rifle was then personal property, it could be modified in whatever way the whim of the owner struck him.
If the rifle was purchased by a veteran of the Battle of San Juan Hill, that might be the reason for this carving. If the rifle was purchased by someone who for whatever reasons wished to claim he was at the battle, then that might be the reason. It could also have been carved in there at some point who wished to inflate the value of the rifle by passing it off as having been at that battle. Or it could have been carved by someone who simply wished to commemorate one of the most famous military engagements at which similar rifles were used. In that context, I have no idea what the vertical lines or the "Silent Guns" could be a reference to - although if were done by a veteran who wished to commemorate friends killed at the battle, that could an explanation. It is unlikely that anyone would refer to the Krag as "Silent" even in comparison to the Trapdoor Springfield. However, silent guns are a frequent metaphorical reference to peace after a war.
As a side note, while it is not definitive, I have never seen "Wm" used as anything other than an abbreviation for William. However, a list of people named "William T---" who served at the Battle of San Juan Hill would likely be fairly lengthy, as the previous answer gives the scale of troops present at that fight.
John M. Atkinson
Some years ago I was asking an arms expert about a musket from the American Revolution which had famous battles carved on the stock, and the fellow said that some rifles of that time and later were carved to falsely imply that the rifle had been used in some historical event, done to enhance the sale price of the firearm at some later time, possibly at about the time of the Centennial of the US in 1876.
It may be that the term you asked about, Silent Guns, preceded by I believe 9 marks,was meant to imply that the rifle had been used to kill or disable 9 persons in the battle of San Juan Hill. I did a web search of the phrase Silent Guns and could not find it in any of the slang dictionaries of that era mentioned on the web, but to me it seems to imply that the user of the rifle has shot or killed 9 persons in combat.
Is it likely that this is the case? Presently it's an unknown, and from some of the other responses I'd say it's unlikely. The serial number tells quite a different story.
So, it may just be a poorly maintained rifle about which you can spin a tale or two if you are so inclined.
As for its overall condition I can recall seeing surplus Krag rifles for sale in the late 1950's - early 1960's that were pristine, and this one is certainly not that.
Hope this helps.
I am looking for information on My great grandfather’s service record. He died when my grandpa was very young so he never passed on his military info. In my many searches of mixing names and locations your post just showed up today. We know that he was in the Spanish American War and have some other info that looks like he was wounded at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. My grandfather even had a brother named San Juan (guessing he picked this name due to his involvement in the war). His father's name was William T. Earle. Possibly a coincidence of the WmT initials? But I see that your last name is Earle. Is this something that you have gotten from family and are related to William T. Earle? I’d love to hear from you to see if we have any family connections!