SOLDIER LIFE


February 21, 1901

 

SOLDIER LIFE

 

On an Island in the Harbor of New York.

 

FT. COLUMBUS, N.Y.H. }
February 13, 1901.   }

EDITOR PRESS:--Quite a little while has elapsed since the writer has sent a few columns to your paper, and at that time he was in Porto Rico, and wishing for a change to get back to the United States again.  The change was made.  What so many of the blue coated, or rather brown coated boys were longing for many a day, they had obtained.  They were sent from the tropics, from Porto Rico, where quite a few lost their hearts to the dark-eyed senoritas, to their home shores, the country they loved so well.  And better than that, they took station near the most cosmopolitan town of the globe, New York City.

Governor's Island, their station, is situated about one mile from New York city, and is one of the many islands in the harbor.  From its shore one can overlook the three large cities, New York, Brooklyn (the city of churches), and Jersey City.  As an island it is not more than any other island, in the harbor.  But the importance of it from a military standpoint of view is clear.  It commands the immediate entrance to the North and East rivers, which two rivers surround New York city.  The island is divided into three parts:  Headquarters, Department of the East, New York Arsenal and Fort Columbus.  A casual visitor coming to the island would call this ridiculous.  He would say I can see nothing more than an island, covered with houses and barracks.  But a soldier can see the difference before he is 5 minutes on the place.  The most conspicuous building on it is Castle William, erected in 1811, and now used as a military prison.  It is situated on the southwestern corner and was formerly one of its foremost defenses.  All that remains of its former formidable character are a few guns on the ramparts, which are never fired.  There are about 200 prisoners confined there now, who are in charge of a prison officer and two prison overseers (both non-commissioned officers) and who work daily about the island, coaling the government ferry boats, policing the island, etc., under charge of the guard of Fort Columbus.  This Fort is now garrisoned by three companies of the 11th Infantry.

The island itself is under command of Maj. General John R. Brooke, former Governor-General of Cuba.  How long the three companies will remain here, is a question which is asked by many a soldier but which only the power that--the War Department--can answer.  Good things don't last long, and life here is one of those good things.

The biggest attraction for a soldier around here is New York city which can be reached by a government ferry boat in seven minutes.  From the island can be seen the tall sky-scrapers towering high in the air.  The boat lands at the old battery park, and the soldier is ready to start on his way up town to take in the attractions.  But it puzzles him considerably where to go.  The theatres are numerous and he has to study the programs until he has chosen one play that attracts him and to that theater he goes.

Afternoon strolls are of rare occurrence.  But when it does happen the stroll is delightful.  What in the noise of the elevated railroads, the pushing and shoving of the crowds in the streets, everything is new to the men who have been banished for two years in the tropics.  Confused becomes his head when he is obliged to cross the street at the crossing of 5 or 6 street cars, and anxiously he looks forward, sideward and backward to avoid the rapidly coming cars.  The eyes and head become tired from the noise and bustle, and he seeks a place of rest and quiet.  There is only one such place in this great town, where there is to be had not only quiet, but where one can find also all the attractions of nature.  And this is the central park.  This park is one of the greatest of its kind, not only in size, but also in its exhibitions.  Small forests change with lagoons, ponds, bridges and the greatest floral displays imaginable.  The greatest of its attractions is the Zoo of the park.  Almost every animal in Zoology of nature is represented; but the greatest attraction of it for visitors is the house containing the monkeys.

But the afternoon soon draws to a close and the bugle at the post does not wait for a tardy man.  So we take the elevated road to the battery and along the house tops we whirl along and in a short time reach our destination.  A short trip across the river and we are at home again.

There are several other places to visit from here which can be done on certain days. The government steamer Gen. Meigs goes on certain days to West Point up the Hudson, to Davids Island, Sandy Hook, that formidable Watch island, at the entrance of the harbor and most of the outlying islands, and every trip is delightful.

The view across the river now is gloomy. The water is covered with floating ice, going backward and forward with the tide and the navigation in the harbor is greatly hampered by it. But that will last only a short time longer, and with the spring we will be able to again make nice trips unless our Commander-in-Chief says "No; your next trip will be to the Phillippines. [sic]"

BERT E. WOODY,
Corporal Co. C. 11th Inf.

 

Source:  Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1879-1907, February 21, 1901, Image 1 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.

 

[My comments are in brackets.]