AARON S. DAGGETT (June 14, 1837 – May 14, 1938) was the last surviving Union general of the Civil War. He fought at West Point, Gaines’ Mill, Golding’s Farm, White Oak Swamp, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Rappahannock Station and Fredericksburg. Daggett was also an abolitionist and fought alongside African-American soldiers with the 5th Maine. After the war, he went on to fight in the Indian Wars, for which he received a purple heart, the Spanish-American War and the Philippines-American War, for which he received another purple heart and the Gold Star. After the war, Daggett became a captain in the 16th U.S. Infantry in 1866 and continued in the army for decades thereafter.
In July 1899, Daggett and his soldiers were in Hawaii, likely resting while enroute to the Philippine-American War. There they attended the funeral of Hawaii’s last monarch whose kingdom, once independent and sovereign, had been aggressively overthrown by the United States, precipitated, in large part, by the interests of American sugar planters.
When President Grover Cleveland came to office in 1898, he condemned the annexation, calling it a “perversion of our national mission,” and blocked it through his term. Hawaii was officially annexed as a territory under President McKinley in 1900. It would take nearly 100 years before an American President – Clinton – and Congress would apologize for the annexation.
In this 6 pp, 5 ¾ x 9, written from Honolulu, H.I., July 4, 1899, on Quartermaster’s Department U.S.A. Transport Sheridan stationary, Daggett writes very candidly to his niece about attending the funeral of Hawaii’s last monarch and traveling with 1,800 officers and men aboard the U.S.A. Transport Sheridan. He writes about the funeral in the latter part of his letter.
“…How strange that we should have arrived just in season to witness what, it is said, can never occur on these islands, a funeral of the last of the original of the royal family. [Queen Kapiolani died on July 2, 1899. A copy of the newspaper article about her passing will be included with the letter.] It was gorgeous, beautiful in many respects, and interesting to all. Quite a number of Army & Navy officers were present and, of course, were given good seats and opportunities. I could not describe the scene & weird atmosphere…but they were mostly those of the Episcopal Church that gave a kind of propriety and comeliness to the occasion…”
He begins the letter: “We arrived here Sunday [the day the queen died], the 2 instant. How strange it seems! I never expected nor particularly desired to see the place. Our journey of seven and a half days was calm and smooth, but, of course, I was sea sick. When was I not on the ocean? But it was so smooth that I was not very sick…I have a good room (being in command naturally gives me that) and on the whole, I am getting along well. We have about 1,800 officers and men on board and nearly 200 of the ship’s crew. So you see we have quite a crowd on board; but our ship is a big one. It was thoroughly renovated and painted white outside and inside before leaving San Francisco: a shield on her brow in red, white and blue and her name in gilt letters; her smoke stack also red, white and blue. As we swung off at San Francisco, a large crowd was at the wharf waving flags and cheering. It was a beautiful and inspiring scene to those who would enjoy such things. But how hollow it all was to me! How gladly would I have been back at lovely, quiet, Huachuca [U.S. Army installation] or better still, at a loving and lovely home! It is not all because I have seen so much of such things before, but because my very nature seeks quiet and retirement. And then, after the experience of the Civil War and late the Spanish American War, I have had time to reflect and realize how…substantially are things of earth. Glory there may be in, or the world looks on glory, and it may continue as long as human nature remains as it is, but it will not include the great change which must come to all, and the eternity beyond.
“How strange that we should have arrived just in season to witness what, it is said, can never again occur on these islands, a funeral of the last of the original of the royal family. It was gorgeous, beautiful in many respects, and interesting to all. Quite a number of Army & Navy officers were present and, of course, were given good seats and opportunities. I could not describe the scene & weird atmosphere…but they were mostly those of the Episcopal Church that gave a kind of propriety and comeliness to the occasion.
“We are cooling and watering and may be here till the 5 or 6 instant. In the meantime, we are enjoying ourselves by visiting the town and returning calls and riding about and, I fear, will be overwhelmed by professed hospitalities. I am not going to stay a minute longer than necessary.
“We let the soldiers go in swimming and hundreds of them are swimming all about the ship. We are anchored a little out from the wharf.
“We have still a long journey before us, about 5,000 miles and 16 days’ journey [this is the distance from Hawaii to the Philippines]. I will write when we arrive there if I have time or send a chard, but it will be six or eight weeks from now before you get it.
Expected folds, toning but overall excellent and a very fine letter. The first we’ve ever had discussing the deposed Hawaiian monarchy. Background on Daggett included along with a copy of the newspaper story on the Queen’s passing.
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