cover of book

A Civilian in Lawton's 1899 Philippine Campaign: The Letters of Robert D. Carter
edited by Michael E. Shay
University of Missouri Press, 2013
Cloth: 978-0-8262-2008-0 | eISBN: 978-0-8262-7305-5
Library of Congress Classification DS679.C28 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.

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