The Worst Week Ever for Florence Evaline Field Jordan
It’s Sunday night, May 13, 1900, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Roy E. Jordan’s body is finally in the ground, buried at Eastside Cemetery.
When Florence read the wire the previous Monday evening, it was hard. She knew that her son, Roy, 24, had been so sick with dysentery that he had been sent back to the US from Manila, where he was stationed in the Philippines. Stateside, since April 28, he’d been under care at the Army General Hospital in San Francisco.
After Roy had been mustered out at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, he returned safely home to Hutchinson. But, about six weeks later, with the eruption of the Philippine Insurrection, he reenlisted and was soon back in uniform.
Florence had hoped to see Roy soon. Now, re-reading the wire, the message was the same, but maybe, just maybe, she thought, there’d been a mix-up, a mistake. Maybe another boy had died who looked like Roy, another young man who was large, strong, and rugged.
Roy Jordan was patriotic, just like his dad, Allen. In 1861, at age 17, Allen Parley Jordan enlisted in Company K, 12th Regiment, Michigan Infantry, and didn’t muster out of his Civil War unit until 1866, after the war had ended.
Like his father, Roy responded to the first call for arms, enlisting at age 22, in the Second Missouri, at Carthage, in 1898, eager to join the fight in the Spanish-American War.
Florence Evaline Field Jordan (b. Hamilton, Michigan, October 10, 1847), like mothers everywhere, never knew if or when she was saying a final goodbye to a child. She kissed and hugged Roy as he left for war the first time. Roy’s enlistment was largely a response to the USS Maine exploding and sinking in the harbor of Havana in February 1898. Spain was suspected for the treacherous act. The US military blamed it on a mine.
Florence wasn’t as angry at Spain as most of the nation. Sure, she felt for the families of the 266 crew members who perished, the loss of a two million dollar ship, and the Cuban people who were being brutalized by the Spanish. But, she also understood that the war cry, “To Hell with Spain, Remember the Maine!” could eventually take grown children farther away from their homes than during the Civil War.
Losing Allen, her husband, had been a long, difficult departure. He’d been sick for four years. When he died at Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1888, he was 44, but his body and mind were in terrible shape, having wasted away.
When Allen died, she was 40. When Roy died, she was 52.
Roy had served for a year during the Philippine Insurrection, a member of Battery L, Third Artillery, when chronic dysentery caused his death. Friday night his body arrived by train in Hutchinson. On Sunday, they buried him.
At Roy’s funeral, Rev. David Donaldson of the Christian Church gave a touching tribute to the patriotism and self-sacrifice of a fallen soldier. The GAR took charge of the funeral with Company E, Kansas National Guard, escorting the casket to the church, and later conducting a long cortege of carriages to Eastside Cemetery.
The graveside service was a beautiful ceremony of the Grand Army, followed by Rev. Donaldson’s prayer. After a final blessing and consecration, the guards fired the military salute over the grave. As the volleys rang out, the bugler stepped forward and sounded the touching and sweet bugle call, the last tribute of his comrades to the soldier dead. (Hutchinson News, May 14, 1900)
And as the notes of the bugle call died away, all was hushed but the sobs of the grief-stricken mother and sisters, and the sighs of a score of mourning friends and comrades. And Hutchinson had given another of her bravest to her country. Ibid.
Now, with Roy gone, Florence craved the comfort of her family and a friend of Roy’s.
Florence sat in the parlor of her home at 831 East Second, Hutchinson, with her two daughters, Lena (Allene), 26; Verne (LaVerne), 18; her son, the youngest child, Hubert, 16; and her 83-old mother, Samantha Field.
Adelbert, 28, her oldest, hadn’t made the trip since he was back east in Maryland, with his wife, Elizabeth, who was expecting their second child—Florence’s second grandbaby—any day.
“John,” said Florence, referring to John Dalby (also spelled Dalbey), a good friend of Roy’s, “tell me about your work at the Missouri Pacific.
“I’m busy from morning to night,” answered John, as he laughed.
“You must be efficient to keep track of all that freight in all those cars,” said Florence.
“Yes,” agreed John, “the daily reports of a car clerk would make a horse choke. I keep track of the arrivals and departures, but also the condition of the contents, and who gets billed.”
“Is that similar to the work of a freight inspector?” asked Florence, knowingly.
“It’s similar,” replied John. “Gus Hamner is Hutchinson’s freight inspector. He works for all the railroads, not just one. Gus inspects the freight shipped from this station to see that it’s properly classified, and in accordance with the railroad rules and agreements.”
Florence observed Allene, or Lena, who didn’t bat an eyelash at the sound of Gus’s name.
“Tell me again,” said Florence to John, “what was it like for you and Roy, spending months in Georgia waiting to be sent to the fighting?”
“In May of ’98, we, the 2nd Missouri, were mustered into Federal Service at Jefferson Barracks and sent to Camp Thomas, at Chickamauga National Military Park in Georgia. The germs and the weather of north Georgia, not the Spaniards, became our enemies. (“2nd Missouri Volunteer Infantry,” online article, no publication date listed, by Todd J. Wilkinson. His article has been quoted extensively for this essay.)
“The train trip south was an adventure,” recalled John. “When we passed through towns, especially Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and then Chickamauga, the local citizens turned out with sandwiches and coffee for us, served up by crowds of pretty girls.”
Florence observed Verne listening to John and watched her face grow pink. She also observed a sparkle in her daughter’s eyes.
“We camped about three miles inside the park,” continued John, “on terrain that reminded us of the Ozarks, on a hillside, with ground so rocky we split our tent pins. And the mud from the recent rains would have made a Missouri pig oink. Because we were in the shade of the forest all day long, we had a ‘wet camp.’ The sun never dried us out.
“As other regiments arrived, the Second was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division of the First Army Corps. By the end of May there were 80,000 soldiers in camp at Chickamauga, waiting for orders to move to the front.
“But, because of politics, probably, the 2nd was never sent to Cuba. Our colonel was a Free-silver Republican while President McKinley, as you know, still favors the current gold standard.”
Florence took a deep breath and said, “politics.”
“In June, the typhoid epidemic began,” said John. “Being in the Hospital Corps, John saved lives. Thousands of soldiers caught the disease, mostly from the numerous flies that always followed an army. Much of the typhoid, cholera, and other diseases had to do with our transition to army rations. We went from the good fare of civilian life to hardtack, bacon, and army coffee.”
During the summer we drilled constantly, five hours each day, as well as working on various fatigue details. After we moved our camp to an open plain, and out of the woods, our health improved.
“By the middle of July, the fighting in Cuba had ended with the surrender of Spanish forces. The Second was held for possible service in Cuba on occupation duty, but later in the summer we were moved to Lexington, Kentucky, not Havana, Cuba.
In October, orders came for the Second to prepare to embark to Mantanzas, Cuba. But again, we couldn’t believe our ears when we learned our destination was Albany, Georgia. The Second stayed in that city over the winter, but I found a way to escape Georgia and land in Cuba.”
“Commanding officer Captain Frank Lyman, Jr. gave all his men an opportunity to obtain discharges, if they wanted. In order to replace the men departing, the Signal Corps made it known that they wanted skilled telegraphers and electricians. My experience at Western Union gave me a leg up for this higher paying duty.”
“Someday,” said John, in conclusion, “I’d like to return to the island.”
“That would be interesting,” replied Verne as she considered a trip for two.
Suddenly sobbing, Florence asked Roy the question that had been bombarding her thoughts for the last week: “Was Roy’s death worth it?”
“Mrs. Jordan, I mean Florence,” said John, “I’m sorry for your deep, personal loss. While Roy’s death pains us all, he understood the risk. We discussed the possibility of returning home in a box. I know, he never wanted to hurt you, or Verne, Lena, Hubert, Adelbert, or Mrs. Field. With the loss of Allen, you’ve already all been through enough. But, Roy was clear about his feelings, to him his sacrifice was worth it.
“Thank you,” Florence replied, “I’ll remember your kind words, your honesty, and for informing me that he saved others. He never told me.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.