Today, the Infantry Soldier Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers the Great Relay Race begun 124 years ago to take a special military packet from Chicago to New York.
From the United States Congressional Record, an excerpt of the report by Nelson A. Miles, Major-General Commanding of the U.S. Army in September 1892:
A detachment of 8 soldiers, under command of First Lieut. W. T. May, and afterwards of Second Lieut. Henry J. Hunt, Fifteenth Infantry, has during the year made several successful practice marches upon bicycles, carrying the ordinary equipments and arms of the infantry soldier.
On the 18th day of May, 1892, a dispatch carried by relays of bi cycle carriers posted by the American Wheelmen’s Association left these headquarters for the headquarters Department of the East in the New York Harbor.
In spite of extremely bad roads and constant rains, the distance, 975 miles, was made in 4 days and 13 hours.
This experiment was the first one of its kind, and the results obtained, under the most adverse and discouraging conditions, prove conclusively that the bicycle will in future prove to be a most valuable auxiliary to military operations, not only for courier service but also for moving organized bodies of men rapidly over the country.
The 1892 periodical Bearings, The Cycling Authority of America printed articles from newspapers describing the relay:
A SPLENDID RECOGNITION.
The courageous bicyclists who have undertaken to carry Gen. Miles‘ dispatch to Gen. Howard, a distance of over one thousand miles in ninety six hours, not without good reason have attracted the attention of the whole country.
As a purely physical feat it is a remarkable one.
The plucky and enthusiastic young athletes have been engaged since last Wednesday noon in putting forth the maximum of effort to traverse roads which have been rendered well-nigh impassable to foot passengers and horses by the exceptionally heavy rains and overflows of rivers and creeks.
Many of these roads were bad and rough enough at their best, but their ordinary inequalities and roughness have been intensified by pools of water, quagmires, and a heavy coating of sticky mud, through which, often with the accompaniment of drenching storms, overflowed culverts, and the debris of floods, they have striven not only by day but in the darkness of night, where on more than one occasion the bold riders have lost their way and with it their time, which was of still more consequence.
It is not likely they could have selected a time more unpropitious or conditions of roads and weather that could have interposed more serious obstacles.
What they have accomplished, therefore, speaks well for their pluck and endurance, and it is also valuable testimony to the resources of the bicycle as a method of personal rapid transit under difficulties which would be well-nigh insurmountable on foot or by the ordinary horse and wagon method of travelling.
The primary object of this interesting experiment was to test the value of the bicycle as a method of military transportation where railroads cannot easily be utilized, and its availability for the performance of conducting regular courier service in place of cavalry.
So long as the rider is on terra firma, though on this ride terra is anything but firma, the relay experiment is unquestionably a practical success.
The one objection that has been made by the cavalry people is that a bicycle can’t swim the rivers that might intervene, but, as one of our contemporaries suggests, the rider can swim, the machine can be buoyed, and a wetting does not hurt the bicycle.
It already has been brought into use by the English, French, and German armies for courier purposes, on roads or in localities where it is inconvenient to use horses.
Gen. Miles and Gen. Howard at either end of the line will be the best judges of its availability for army use, and in coming to a decision on this point they, of course, will make all allowances for the extraordinary difficulties with which the riders have had to contend.
When it is taken into consideration that from the time they left Chicago, Wednesday at noon, until they arrived at Syracuse yesterday afternoon at two o’clock, the riders had but nine hours when it did not rain, that they had to contend against strong headwinds and horrible roads nearly all the distance, the announcement that they have recovered nearly all lost time and undoubtedly will make the finish on time is equivalent to the complete success of the experiment.
But even had the experiment failed it would have answered an excellent purpose in calling attention to the execrable condition of the average American road.
It should rouse a determination to improve our highways, and this, the bicyclers hope, will be the case.
One of the principal objects in this experiment has been the desire to call attention to the necessity of this great public reform, and this has been done most effectively.
If it shall lead to a general system of road improvement the relay ride will not have been in vain, whatever view the military men may take of it.-—Chicago Tribune, May 22.
END OF THE RELAY RIDE.
Though the bicycle relay ride finished in New York twelve hours behind the schedule time it was a success upon which we most heartily congratulate General Miles, who promoted it, the plucky and athletic young men who fought it out, and to the whole worshipful and valiant company of bicyclers in America.
It may not be gainsaid that the event opens up new and magnificent possibilities for the wheel in this country.
Of this the best corroboration is furnished by General Howard, to whom the daring and nervy cyclers carried General Miles’ message.
General Howard is quoted, because he has been from the inception of the relay ride distrustful, if not unfriendly to its success.
The general was moved yesterday to observe that the ride had been metamorphosed into a mere trial of endurance and speed by certain cyclists in covering a certain distance.
He said, however, that the ride under such trying circumstances through the mud, rain and hail was a wonderful example of what could be accomplished by the American youth of today.
He added that he had often heard young cadets and non commissioned officers remark that opportunities for proving their valor, nerve and judgment were lacking in these days.
To which complaint the general made this significant reply, inspired by the example then under his notice: “I have always answered that the chances were the same, and I now can call to their attention the grand ride of the young men who have carried a dispatch from Chicago to New York under such great difficulties, through mud and rain by night and by day, with nothing to urge them on but a feeling of pride. You may say that frankly I did not think them equal to the task. The men mounted on horses, with frequent changes or relays, ought to average over good roads eight miles an hour, but these men have outdone this by averaging a trifle over nine miles an hour over heavy roads. They have, indeed, done nobly. ”
It is to be proved hereafter what effect, if any, this creditable experiment may have on our army service. But we should set it down as certain that henceforward the bicycle will not be eliminated from the calculations of our military men.—Chicago Evening Post, May 23.
The Infantry Soldier Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with an image of an 1892 advertisement for a bicycle.