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A Civilian in Lawton's 1899 Philippine Campaign

The Letters of Robert D. Carter

Edited by Michael E. Shay

Publication Year: 2013

In the midst of the Philippine-American War, twenty-two-year-old Robert Dexter Carter served in Manila as a civilian quartermaster clerk. Through his letters to his family, he provided a vivid picture of army life in Manila—the sights, the smells, and his responses to the native culture. In addition to his letters, his diary and several related articles present a firsthand account of the historic voyage of the United States Army Transport Grant through the Suez Canal to Manila in early 1899. Carter’s writings not only tell of his sometimes harrowing experiences, but also reveal the aspirations and fears of a young man not quite sure of his next steps on life’s journey.

Carter’s father, Robert Goldthwaite Carter, was a war hero and a longtime friend of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Lawton. Carter obtained his position through Lawton’s influence, and his respect for Lawton is clear throughout his writings. A frequent guest in the Lawton home, the young clerk was introduced to many notable figures both military and civilian. Carter’s letters, particularly to his father, are full of news and gossip related to his commander. In other letters, he reveals the kindness and generosity of Mrs. Lawton, who took time to look out for Carter while he was in the hospital and often loaned him books.

This well-researched and expertly edited work casts light on the role of support troops in war, a subject too often minimized or ignored. Shay begins each chapter with an introduction that establishes the setting, the context of events, and the disposition of Carter and his compatriots and provides notes and commentary to place the letters in context. By choosing not to edit the offensive expletives of a sometimes arrogant and racist young man, Shay presents a fully nuanced portrait of a young American exploring the larger world in a time of turmoil.

Enhanced by photographs from collections at the Library of Congress and the Military History Institute, as well as many of Carter’s own whimsical drawings, the book will appeal to armchair historians and scholars alike.

Published by: University of Missouri Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

...During the research phase of my biography of Major General Clarence Ransom Edwards, I eventually found my way to the papers of Robert Dexter Carter. In 1898, at the start of the Spanish-American War, Edwards, a career Army officer, accepted a commission as a major of Volunteers, and he was eventually assigned to the staff of Major General...

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Editor's Note

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pp. xiii-xvi

...In the process of reading and transcribing the letters of Robert Dexter Carter, I found that, although his spelling was generally good, his punctuation was almost nonexistent. Moreover, his sentence structure was poor, as he used run-on sentences. Capitalization was “hit and miss,” and in his haste to get his letters posted, he often left many articles and prepositions out altogether. In addition, some pages were missing or torn, while in...

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pp. 1-10

...If, in accepting General Washington’s orders to assume his new duties as quartermaster general of the Continental Army, Nathanael Greene viewed the assignment as the supreme vote of confidence in his abilities by the commander- in-chief, which it most certainly was, it would be difficult to glean that fact from his initial response. “Whoever heard of the exploits of a quartermaster,” an obviously disappointed Greene groused...

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Chapter One: The Diary

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pp. 11-17

...A beautiful day, magnificent sunrise, Hudson full of floating ice, the sun behind the great skyscrapers in NY. 23rd St. Ferry. Went to Hotel St. Denis, 11th & Broadway, fine breakfast. Found Percy, went down Broadway, crossed Brooklyn Bridge, went aboard...

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Chapter Two: January - February 1899

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pp. 18-31

...At this time, the Army Transport Service, part of the Quartermaster Department, was responsible for the transport of its own troops and supplies. During the run up to the Cuban expedition, the Navy had stolen a march on the Army when it quickly supplemented its own fleet...

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Chapter Three: March 1899

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pp. 32-49

...With the defeat of the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, Commodore (soon to be Admiral) George Dewey asked for a sufficient number of troops to garrison Manila, then occupied by the Spanish forces. Shortly thereafter, on June 30, 1898, nearly nine months before Lawton’s arrival, the first wave of American soldiers, a contingent of...

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Chapter Four: April - May 1899

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pp. 50-78

...This field duty would also provide him with new material for his writing. In general, the early fighting took place in the trenches surrounding Manila, and it eventually encompassed a substantial portion of the island of Luzon. Although there were other Filipino leaders, Emilio Aguinaldo was clearly the most influential leader of the independence movement and, arguably...

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Chapter Five: June - July 1899

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pp. 79-109

...At this time, Carter displays an increasing sense of disappointment with his service, tinged with some self-pity. He feels somehow that he has “just missed” golden opportunities, particularly when he sees men that he considers less worthy receive commissions. He does not wish to fail his father or himself, but he has become disillusioned. It is also clear that Carter...

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Chapter Six: August 1899

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pp. 110-136

...Carter’s road to recovery was a slow process, and he continued to have significant issues with his digestion and with his feet, which made walking very painful. He details his afflictions, from his bowels to the suppurating sores on his legs and feet, often in graphic terms. His disability kept him from going into the field during the months of July and August to take part...

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Chapter Seven: September 1899

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pp. 137-156

...For a young man obsessed with his salary, Carter was very optimistic about saving for his scheme to settle on a ranch in western Canada. He is clearly a young man conflicted. On the one hand he is emphatic that he’ll stick to the assignment, while on the other, he emphasizes his iffy health and uncertain...

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pp. 157-162

...Carter’s correspondence abruptly stops with a letter to his father dated September 28, 1899, just as General Lawton was preparing for his second campaign into Central and Northern Luzon. While he could not have known it at that time, the subsequent death of Lt. Col. Howard and the wounding of...


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pp. 163-186

Works Consulted

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pp. 187-192


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pp. 193-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273055
E-ISBN-10: 082627305X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220080
Print-ISBN-10: 0826220088

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 30
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1