By Jack Thomas Tomarchio
With the advent of the Troop Social season: Anniversary Dinner, Church Service, Debutante Ball
and the George Washington Dinner, the Troop silver will be on display again. Our collection of
silver, which resides in the safety of the Troop Silver Vault deep in the bowels of the Armory is
truly a delight to behold: goblets, punch bowls, loving cups and candelabras all in gleaming,
ornately carved brilliance. But how did our tiny organization come to acquire such an eclectic and
magnificent assemblage of silver? The story can be found in the Troop Archives in a nine page
single spaced typed document written on onion skin paper. While the author is unknown, it is
believed to be the work of Colonel William Innes Forbes, No. 989 who died in 1967.
According to this account, the genesis of the Troop silver came as a result of the Spanish American
War. Prior to the 1898 conflict, there were some silver pieces in the Armory, usually two handled
loving cups given by the Active Roll to departing Troop Captains upon their change of command.
For their part, the Troopers didn’t care about silver as long as the food was decent and the liquor
was plentiful at monthly dinners and on special occasions when the Troop dined together.
The Troop was called to active duty and ordered to Mt. Gretna on April 28, 1898, after being the
first militia unit to volunteer for service in the War with Spain. On July 29, 1898, the Troop
embarked for Puerto Rico from Newport News, Virginia. The Troop landed at Ponce, P.R. and its
area of operation was on the south side of the island between Ponce and Guyamas. The 1st Army
Corps to which the Troop was assigned received exceedingly poor rations, namely the so-called
“Alger Beef”, named after Secretary of War Russell A. Alger. “This beef was canned and from which
all the blood had been extracted, leaving a white slimy pulp. This pulp was supposed to be cooked
with vegetables to make it more palatable. The Troop called it “Dead Baby.” The rest of the food
was equally bad. Because of the poor rations that it was provided, the Troop’s members returned
to the United States in September 1898 emaciated, underweight and sick. Once landing in Hoboken,
the Troopers boarded a train for Philadelphia where they were met by cheering crowds and then,
mounting police horses, they rode to Horticultural Hall at 260 South Broad Street where the City
Fathers gave them a banquet.
This banquet which consisted of terrapin, chicken salad, champagne and ice cream almost
wrecked the men physically as their systems which had been deprived of good food for the past
three months were simply unable to handle the richness of the menu now spread before them. As
the banquet progressed many Troopers sweating profusely and in apparent gastrointestinal
discomfort were seen to dash out of the meal with great haste headed for the nearest rest room
where they proceeded to “relieve” themselves of the newly consumed delicacies. Present at the
banquet was one Dr. William Smith Forbes, Professor of Anatomy at the Thomas Jefferson College
of Medicine and himself a veteran surgeon with the 13th Corps of the Union Army in the Civil War.
His son, William had deployed with the Troop to Puerto Rico.
The next morning, Dr. Forbes said to his son, “William, my son, I never saw men so emaciated,
under weight and in such poor condition , as the Troop looked last night.” His son replied. “Well,
father, that was the result of our Puerto Rican Campaign.” Dr. Forbes then said that he thought the
Troop parents should do something to honor their sons’ service and asked Will what the Troop
might need. His son suggested a fine silver service similar to those used in the crack British
Regiments. With that, Dr. Forbes, who had himself volunteered as a surgeon with the British Army
in the Crimean War in the 1850’s, decided to approach the fathers of other Active Roll Troopers to
see if a committee might be formed to purchase a fine silver service for the Troop to commemorate
its Spanish War Service. In the end, thirteen Troop fathers joined a “Committee of Fathers of
Troopers” and from their efforts over $5,800 was raised to purchase a 24” Silver Punch bowl, four
10” Silver Candelabra and two tall sterling silver flagons. These pieces were manufactured by the
firm of J.E. Caldwell & Company and were presented to the Active Roll on April 27,1899, a year and
a day after their call to active duty. At the banquet, Dr. Forbes, as Chairman of the Fathers’
“And now on behalf of these parents and kinsmen it becomes my pleasing duty to convey to the Troopers through you, their Commanding Officer, this Memorial, as an expression of the permanent satisfaction they have in regard to the gallant bearing of the Troop during the entire war with Spain.”
From that bequest, the Troop silver collection has grown to include silver pieces commemorating
the Troop’s service in the World Wars as well as subsequent deployments to Bosnia and Iraq. In
2003, our original Spanish American War Silver Service, purchased for $5846.00 in 1898 was
valued at $125,782.77. Fourteen years after that appraisal its value has no doubt increased even
more. To members of all Rolls, our silver, a memorial to our Troop predecessors is indeed priceless.