Spanish-American War Veteran
Buried in Rosedale Cemetery,
exact location unknown
John A. Rodgers, African American, was born around 1873 in Senatopia, Mississippi. On July 12, 1898, he enlisted in Company E, 23rd Kansas Volunteer Infantry. It was a segregated unit drawn from several Kansas communities founded by freedmen in the post-Civil War era. Black units were being sent to Cuba on the theory that African Americans would have some immunity to tropical diseases. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case.
By the time the regiment reached Santiago, Cuba, in August 1898, the shooting war was already over. The 23rd Kansas was tasked with guarding 5000 defeated Spanish soldiers awaiting transport back to Spain. During much of his tour of duty in Cuba, Rodgers was laid up with dysentery and then malaria.
On March 1, 1899, the 23rd Kansas boarded a transport ship for New York City. Rodgers was discharged on April 10 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he married a woman named Annie Pickett on October 3, 1900.
Rodgers’s military service had left him debilitated and unfit for heavy physical labor. Pension records show that he was 6 feet 4 inches , unusually tall for that era. He became a tailor, possibly because readymade clothing did not fit him and he had to sew his own anyway.
On May 26, 1906, Rodgers applied for and received a disability pension (Invalid Certificate #1022317). Owing to his bout with dysentery in Cuba, he was afflicted with large, protruding piles (hemorrhoids). Initially, he received $10 a month. Over the years, payment was increased to $17 a month.
In mid 1908, John Rodgers was experiencing heart problems, although he was only 35 years old. He left his wife in Hot Springs and went to Los Angeles, possibly to the Old Soldiers Home in Sawtelle. Thereafter, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he rented a room at 30 North 2nd Avenue. To support himself, he placed ads in the local newspaper, asking for work repairing old carpets and refurbishing used clothing.
John A. Rodgers died on November 14, 1908, of aortic insufficiency, mitral regurgitation, and hypertrophy of the left ventricle. He was buried in Rosedale Cemetery.
Several days after Rodgers’ death, Marshal Moore of Phoenix received an urgent letter from a Mrs. Jennie Reeves, asking the marshal to take charge of Rodgers’ body and effects. She also said that the deceased was a military veteran and asked that Rodgers’ body be returned to Arkansas for burial or sent to the National Cemetery. Her request could not be accommodated, however, because Rodgers was already buried and no one could attest to Mrs. Reeves’ legal rights to Rodgers’ property.
© 2022 by Donna Carr. Last revised 1 November 2022.
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Image: Army Invalid card for John A. Rodgers, 1908, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)