Top This

I’ve been told my Grandfather Weddle’s maternal relatives, the Marshes, weren’t very close. In fact, on the rare occasions that they all got together, they typically spent their time and energy playing “Top This!” [1]

You know how that game goes: one sibling brags about their new car, or big bonus, or the latest remarkable feat of [insert name of family member] and no sooner do they finish their story than the other siblings jump in with their own tales of incredible proportion.

And on and on it goes… ad nauseum.

All families do it to some degree. What is so sad about this sort of one-up-man-ship is that it detracts from real accomplishments. Perhaps this is how my great great uncle, Robert Jesse Downing Marsh, felt about his service in the Spanish-American War, and the Distinguished Service Cross he received in 1931 to honor that service.

Robert Marsh receiving Distinguished Service Cross Award, March 1931

Sandwiched between the Civil War and the World Wars, the 1898 Spanish-American conflict seems pretty insignificant. I mean, be honest, who among you even knows what the Spanish-American War was about? [Unh unh unh. No fair googling…] It’s not really one of the military actions covered in our standard history classes, now is it? [2]

Poor Robert. Here he was with a military award—the only military award, by the way, that I’ve found in all my research across all the many families I’m digging into—for service in a war that paled in comparison. Not exactly the stuff of “Top This” competitions.

So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share Robert’s accomplishments, meager as they are in light of bigger wars, and give them the honor they’re due…

Robert was twenty-six when he enlisted in September of 1895 (his sister, my great-grandmother, Albinnia was only nine years old) and was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Infantry, Company A. In June of 1898, the 2nd Infantry was deployed to Cuba, and Robert’s company fought in what is now known as the Siege of Santiago, an engagement that lasted from July 1 through July 11 and included: Gatling guns, truces in negotiating and subsequently denying terms of surrender, a yellow fever outbreak, and a blockade of the city’s food and water. In August, the regiment returned to the United States but returned again in January 1899 where they remained until September. [3]

Uncle Robert must have liked Cuba, because when it came time for his regiment to leave to prepare for deployment in the Phillippines, Robert re-enlisted, joining the 7th U.S. Cavalry (who were to remain in Cuba) in April of 1899. While serving with the Cavalry, he quickly advanced to Corporal (early May 1899), then Sergeant (late May 1899), and finally to 1st Sergeant (May 1900). According to the 1900 Census, Robert was stationed in Pinar del Rio, the far west side of the island known as “the Mecca of Tobacco.” I sort of imagine him in uniform with a big ol’ stogy in one hand. Cuban cigars were famous, even then.

Now, about that award… I’d like to say it was for running in and saving Private Ryan, or some such act of valour. And, perhaps it was, although the certificate simply states “distinguished service.”

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross, in lieu of a previously issued Certificate of Merit and Distinguished Service Medal, to Musician Robert J. Marsh, United States Army, for distinguished service as a member of Company A, 2d Infantry Regiment, in battle at Santiago, Cuba, 1 July 1898.

General Orders: D.S.C. issued in lieu of the Certificate of Merit and the D.S.M. under the provisions of the act of Congress (March 5, 1931)

I was surprised about the musician part; one doesn’t consider the modern army having/needing musicians. Turns out Robert was a bugler. [You can see the electronic record of the award here.]

Of course, there were other aspects of Robert’s military career that could definitely be used in the “Top This” categories. For instance, Robert’s 2nd Infantry Regiment fought closely with Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders in the Cuba conflict [4].

Siege of Santiago
Siege of Santiago; from

Now that would be a great Top This… “I met and fought with Teddy Roosevelt.” It could even be exaggerated upon to “Teddy and I were great friends in the war.”

Who knows? Maybe they were. Now I wonder who can top that?


Pictures (clockwise from top left): Robert Marsh on horseback with 7th Cavalry; Robert Marsh in uniform c1898; Camp Columbia Base Hospital where Robert was likely treated after his service injury caused by a horse falling on him; the Pinar Del Rio Barracks – Robert’s home per the 1900 census records; Military trenches used at the Siege of Santiago.

Notes & Sources

[1] This aspect of the Marsh family is, in legal parlance, hearsay. But it’s all I have to go on, and comes, indirectly, from my grandfather, who remembers Marsh family get-togethers as usually devolving into bragging contests. But that may just be the nature of Thanksgiving Gatherings, eh?

[2] Read more about the Spanish American War here and here.

[3] The Siege of Santiago and The Battle of Santiago were different—but related—offensives. You can read about the Siege of Santiago here.

[4] Learn about Teddy and his Rough Riders in this short video.

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