The History of New York State
Chapter XI, Chapter 6, Part 1

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

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CHAPTER VI.
The Spanish War

When the Spanish War broke out an effort was made by the government of the State of New York through the department of the State Historian, to see to it that the records of the military organizations entering the war from New York should be accurately preserved. It was thought thus to profit by the oversight of officers and the remissness of subordinates during the Civil War, the literature of which subsequently grew to enormous proportions but had the defect of being based very largely on the recollection of participants unsupplemented by records taken down on the spot. We have, therefore, authentic accounts of the movements of New York regiments in the smaller and later war compiled by actual participants and spectators simultaneous almost with the events which they described. Not all the New York organizations saw actual service at the front, but one of them at least was conspicuous in the chief battles of the war. Before giving the records of the New York Volunteers we will present the background of the war and its general conduct, in which the soldiers and sailors from New York played a part proportionate to its importance among the great States.

The war, as is well known, grew out of the general irritation caused in this country as a result of the struggle of the Cubans to free themselves from the control of the Spanish Government, and the efforts made by that government to suppress all tendency to revolt. Cuba stood at the very doorstep of the United States, and to many it looked as though an actual portion of the United States was again going through all the horrors of the old Revolutionary period. The Cuban struggle was prolonged. It manifested itself as early as 1766, when it was first suppressed with much spilling of blood. In 1895 both sides got out of hand and the Cuban leader, Gomez, deliberately wasted the plantations owned by American to bring about American intervention. The scheme succeeded, and the war spirit was aroused throughout the United States.

In December, 1897, President McKinley, in message to Congress, said: "The most important problem with which this government is now called upon to deal, pertaining to its foreign relations, concerns its duty toward Spain and the Cuban insurrection. . . . .According to conservative estimates from Spanish sources, the mortality among the Cuban reconcentrados from starvation and the diseases thereto incident exceed one-half of their total number. This is not civilized warfare. It is extermination. The only peace it can beget is a wilderness. . . . the near future will demonstrate whether the indispensable condition of a righteous peace. . . . .is likely to be attained. If not the exigency of

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Further and other action by the United States will remain to be taken." The President certainly did not veil his thoughts; his words jolted Castilian dignity. "When that time comes," continued McKinley, "that action will be determined in the light of indisputable right and duty. It will be faced without misgiving or hesitancy in the light of the obligation this government owes to itself--to the people who have confided to it the protection of their interests and honor--and to humanity."

Spain was a proud Nation. Her great past, if not her present strength, gave her dignified place among the first-class powers of Europe, whereas the United States, though potentially formidable, was an unknown factor militarily. America had a standing Army of only 25,000. At sea, the two navies were about equal in number of warships.

In handling an unknown but potentially dangerous element, a certain degree of caution is advisable. When, early in 1898, the United States flatly declared her intention to send a warship to Havana to protect her interests in Cuba, Spain, with characteristic courtesy, but sinister implication, resolved to return the compliment by sending a Spanish cruiser to New York.

Destruction of the Maine--At this time, when both peoples were super-sensitive, the Spanish minister at Washington indiscreetly stated his personal opinion of our President. In a letter which was intercepted, Minister Dupuy de Lome characterized president McKinley as a "low politician." This letter was broadcast over the country by an alert young journalist of New York, William R. Hearst. Needless to say, Senor Dupuy de Lome was at once persona non grata, and soon left Washington, but Americans commonly interpreted his contempt of our President as Spain's contempt of America. Our minister in Spain countered in a characteristically American way. He, General Stewart Lyndon Woodford, a Civil War veteran and a former Lieutenant-Governor of New York, startled Spain by his frankness.

But something soon happened that could not be met by diplomacy, suave or frank. A week or so after the de Lome letter had been exposed, the United States battleship "Maine," commanded by Charles Dwight Sigsbee, a native of Albany, arrived in Havana. Americans were in Cuba. American property in Cuba, to the extent of $50,000,000, s in jeopardy, also American commerce which reached double that much annually. As Spain could not restore order on the island, the "Maine" would take the protection of American interests into her own hands. Unquestionably, the Spanish authorities at Havana could hardly be pleased, but they hid their feelings. They extended to the visiting warship all the customary courtesies. The "Maine" settled down in the anchorage assigned to her, and the festivities went on. On the night of February 15, at nine o'clock, while many of the officers of the "Maine" were being feted ashore, but while Captain Sigsbee was in his cabin and most of the crew were asleep

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in their hammocks, a terrific explosion occurred--and the "Maine" with two officers and 258 of her crew, went to a watery grave.

Declaration of War--America was aghast; horror-stricken! So also was Spain, it seemed, and, indeed, must be believed, though condolences and explanations could not shake the belief that most Americans that "Spanish treachery' was the real explanation of the well-nigh inconceivable disaster. The Spanish cruiser, "Vizcaya," which reached new York waters at this time, found no welcome, though she was never in danger of a fate like that of the "Maine." The Mayor of New York was frank, even insulting, in his reception of the Spanish captain, and the "Vizcaya" lost no time in steaming away.

At Havana, another American warship, the "Montgomery," tool the place of the "Maine,' prepared for any eventualities. America flatly refused to recall Consul-General lee, and Captain Sigsbee--one of the few survivors of the "Maine"--was also at the post of duty, calm and determined to pursue investigations. The Spanish authorities promptly denied complicity in the supposed mining of the "Maine," and they took what measures were possible to ascertain the cause. Their investigators found, or were of the opinion, that an internal explosion had occurred. The American government, however, was not satisfied, so an American court of Inquiry studied the wreck, and 'reported that the ill-fated ship had been blown up by a submarine mine which had, in turn, set off some of the ship's magazines."

The country had long since reached the end of its patience, and the government also was now almost at the end of its diplomatic tether. "Remember the 'Maine'!" was the cry that echoed through the land.

The Untied States was not ready for war, but everywhere throughout American men were figuratively stripping for the fight. Fortunately, McKinley was counting the odds, but even he could not stand the pressure. Spain, alarmed by the clamor and, moreover, innocent as a government, of the atrocity that had engaged American, now strove to stave off the war. The Pope interceded, and the ambassadors of six nations added their pleas, while Spain indicated that she would meet American demands, giving Cuba to the Cubans. But it was too late. "Remember the 'Maine'!" was reverberating over the land, and nothing else could be heard. Calls went out to the American fleet, Congress voted $50,000,000 for National Defense, war corespondents began to gather at Key West and Tampa, Americans to leave Cuba, and on April 11 President McKinley sent a message to Congress, confessing that he had been 'brought to the end of his (diplomatic) effort" to secure the pacification of Cuba. After reviewing all efforts since 1895, he referred to the great calamity that was agitating the minds of Americans--the destruction of the "Maine." "The destruction of that noble vessel." Said McKinley, "has filled the National heart with inexpressible horror. Two hundred and

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fifty- eight brave soldiers and marines and two officers of our navy, reposing in the fancied security of a friendly harbor, have been hurled to death, grief and want brought to their homes and sorrow to the Nation." "The Naval Court of Inquiry," the message continues, ". . . . . was unanimous in its conclusion that the destruction of the 'Maine' was caused by as exterior explosion--that of a submarine mine. It did not assume to place the responsibility. That remains to be fixed."

"In any event," said the exasperated President, "the destruction of the 'Main,' by whatever exterior cause, is patent and impressive proof of a state of things in Cuba that is intolerable." . . . . . . ."In the name of humanity, in the name of civilization, in behalf of endangered American interests, which give us the right and the duty to speak and to act, the war in Cuba must stop."

The President placed the issue with Congress, and by joint resolution, on April 29, the Senate and House of Representatives, shocked by the "abhorrent conditions, which had existed for more then three years in the nearly island of Cuba, which turmoil had been "a disgrace to Christian civilization," culminating "in the destruction of a United States battleship," now declared: "That the people of the island of Cuba are and of right ought to be free and independent"; that the United States recognized its duty and so called upon Spain to relinquish its authority in Cuba and withdraw its armed forces from that island. To bring this about, Congress authorized the President of the United States "to use the entire land and naval forces" of the Nation and what further forces might be necessary, while disclaiming any sovereign intention other than to bring about the pacification of Cuba.

This ultimatum was, of course, tantamount to a declaration of war against Spain. The Spanish minister at Washington immediately asked for his passport and withdrew; and next day, before our minister at Madrid could present the resolution of Congress, General Woodford was notified by the Spanish minister for Foreign Affairs that diplomatic relations between Spain and the United States has ceased. thus, Spain had accepted the gage of battle; so on April 25 Congress approved an act which declared war "to exist, and that war has existed since the twenty-first day of April," between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain.

War Brief on Land and Sea--the war was short and sharp. The resistance of Spain was so short-lived, the initial fighting of the American forces, both on land and sea, was so vigorous, that Spain would not face the ominous future. She gave way to America almost before the latter had stretched herself; certainly before she had brought anything like her full strength into the effort.

The Atlantic fleet of the united States left key West for Cuba on the day that Spain threw down the gage of battle. On April 22, the Presi-

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dent declared a blockade of the island. Next day he called up the States to mobilize this militia, to the number of 125,000, and authorized the expansion of the regular army to 61,919, a little later calling for 75,000 additional volunteers. On April 24, Dewey set the Asiatic fleet in motion. The forces of the New World were getting into quick step almost before Spain had recovered from the shock of the Congressional resolution as to Cuba.

States' Quick Response--The National government and the States had, indeed, carried their preparations well forward before during the last days of peace. On March 25, the Adjutant-General of New York State (C. Whitney Tillinghast) telegraphed to brigade commanders of State troops: "Hold your officers with call. Allow none to absent himself from these headquarters." On April 18, local commandeers were asked to ascertain how many soldiers of the National guard would volunteer for active service with the Untied State Army. The first to respond--indeed, not only the first in New York State, but "in the entire Nation" was, it is said, the 71st New York Regiment. Response was quick from all units. What is more creditable is the record that most of the regiments offered almost half their full strength, and were ready to march almost at once.

The New York State troops, it would seem, were in a more efficient state of preparedness that the militia of many other States. The country, as a whole, was wholly unprepared for military operations. But the national guard units of New York were of high standard, and the State, having been asked for only nine regiments of infantry and two troops of cavalry, was able to chose those organizations that stood highest inefficiency. In less than a week after the President called for State troops. The national Guard regiments of new York began to gather on Hempstead Plains, near Garden City, Long Island, the rendezvous becoming known as Camp Black.

The State troops that went into the United States service from New York under the President's first call were the 1st, 2d, 3d, 8th, 9th, 12th, 14th, 22d, 47th, 65th, 69th and 71st Infantry Regiments, each regiment being filled to war strength of twelve companies by drawing from other units, or by enlistment of men of some previous military experience. In addition to the infantry units, Troops A and C, of New York Cavalry, were mustered in. Altogether New York's response to the first call was 12,460 men of National Guard experience; and many patriotic New Yorkers who could not find places in the selected National Guard units quickly found their way into other volunteer organizations. Under the second call, which very soon followed, the Untied States could have filled its requirements (75,000) in New York State alone, had she wished. Tens of thousands flocked to the recruiting places; but ten of thousands went

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away disappointed. The volunteers accepted--at least those that come within the units recognized a of New York under the second call--numbered only 4,186, these being the personnel of the 201st, 202d and 203rd regiments of infantry, and the 4th, 5th, and 7th batteries of Artillery. In addition, there is record of 851 new Yorkers who found their way into the untied States naval service, these being drawn form the Naval Militia of New York.

Not many of the volunteers from New York reached Cuba in time for the initial fighting, for it was over almost before it had begun; but many were of the Army of occupation, many took part in the Porto Rican campaign in the Philippines. In all, new York may be satisfied with its Spanish War record.

After a few weeks at Camp Black, the new York units went to Southern camps, some to Chickamauga, Atlanta, Tampa, Camp Alger, expecting instant call to Cuba, some to San Francisco for Philippines service.

War on the Sea--While these volunteer organizations were rapidly organizing, events of great importance were happening at sea. If at the outset, the War Department was struggling to overcome its state of unpreparedness, the navy Department showed that its affairs had been administered by more alert men. The Untied States Navy was no stronger then Spain's, in ships and guns, but infighting equipment there was no comparison--at least, none that is favorable to Spain. The Spaniard was as brave, as patriotic, as ready to die for his country, as the most valiant American "tar," but in the use of naval arms he was no match the efficient American sailor. The North Atlantic Squadron was commanded by a new Yorker, Acting Rear Admiral William Thomas Sampson, who had shown coolness and intrepidity in dangerous situations, at once established a blockade of Cuba, and sending into key West dozens of prizes before the war was a fortnight old.

In the Far East also was another alert, capable naval commander. On April 27, the day upon which some of Sampson's ships were bombarding Matanzas and other place sin Cuba, Commodore Dewey steamed away from Mirs Bay in China with his Asiatic squadron, which consisted of the "Olympic," his flagship; the "Baltimore," the "Raleigh," the "Concord," the "Boston," and the "Petrel,' four of them protected cruisers of modern type. He was to find and give battle to Admiral Montojo's Philippines squadron of nine or ten ships, four of them cruisers. In armament, the American squadron was superior, but unless Dewey could draw the enemy out to sea, he would probably have to fight his way past shore batteries and through mined channel to get to this prey. However,

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Dewey's orders were explicit, and he did not hesitate. He headed straight for his objective. As day broke, they saw before them in the mist their prey--Admiral Montojo's fleet. It was advantageously placed under the protection of the shore batteries at Cavite.

The Spanish fleet and the shore batteries could, between them throw more metal in each volley than could come from Dewey's six fighting ships, but the American commodore was quick to see and seize a naval advantage. He kept his ships in constant motion, circling round and round the bay--somewhat after the Indian method of fighting--all the while getting nearer and nearer to the motionless enemy, whose stationary ships gave Dewey's gunners an ideal target while his own moving ships were hard to hit. He held his fire until within 5,000 yards of the enemy, and then let loose a blasting tornado. Five times Dewey's ships made the circle, and each time as they passed the motionless enemy, they send shoreward showers of destruction. Within two hours the American squadron had sunk three of the Spanish ships, and badly damaged some of the others. The battle was to all intents won; so Dewey drew off, to rearrange his supply of ammunition before going in to finish what he had begun. This was misinterpreted in Manila, and while Dewey's men calmly breakfasted, the Spanish Captain-General telegraphed to Madrid the glorious news of a great Spanish victory. But he was a soldier, inexperienced in the ways of resourceful naval men. At eleven o'clock, the American ships again approached. Before 12:30 p. m., the shore batteries were silenced and every Spanish ship of war was either sunk or burned.

The enemy lost 381 in killed and wounded. The American casualties numbered only seven, all wounded.

Bu before news of the glorious victory at Manila reached America, information of grave import was agitating the public mind, and compelling the attention of the Navy Department. A much more powerful Spanish fleet than Montojo's had put to sea, heading westward from the Azores. Sampson, with seven ships, stood guard off the coast of Cuba, and a flying squadron under Commodore Schley lay in Hampton Roads, with steam up, ready to dash to sea to engage the enemy as soon as he has been located.

In the third week of an anxious month, word reached the navy Department that the fleet they were hunting was then hiding, or at least riding at anchor, in Santiago de Cuba. The news was flashed to Schley and Sampson, the latter with his flying squadron hurrying to Santiago, while Sampson drew in the north Atlantic fleet. By the 30th, both commanders, with their strong fleets, were in position off the narrow harbor entrance to Santiago. Cervera lay in a trap from which there was no escape. The seas were safe once more.

So the army transports began to move out of Tampa. Owing to supposedly loose tactics by Commodore Schley, Captain

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Sampson,. His junior, was given supreme naval command. He was not content in merely patrolling the harbor entrance; his ingenious mind soon developed another plan of "sealing the bottle" into which Cervera had slipped. So as to close thoroughly the entrance of Santiago Harbor, and enable the American fleet to patrol more thoroughly the Cuban coast, so as to prevent blockade runners getting through with supplies for the Spanish Army of Occupation, Sampson decided to sink the American collier "Merrimac," in the harbor entrance. The daring exploit of American instructor Hobson is well known to all the world. His was one of the most brilliant episodes of the war, though the "Merrimac" did not settle down athwart the channel, and so did not quite seal the bottle, and more warships had to be kept off Santiago than would otherwise have been necessary.

War on Land--In Rear Admiral Sampson, new York was well represented at sea; and in military circles, a new Yorker, General Nelson Appleton Miles, was in first place. He was the commandeer-in-chief of the United States Army. But for this he would have been the first general to take up the Cuban operations. He was at Tampa, supervising the organization of General Shafter's corps, and begged to be permitted to go to Cuba with the first transports. But the Secretary of War held him back, and Shafter went to begin what was thought would be the preliminary work, while Miles concentrated his thoughts upon the greater responsibility of organizing the great army of regular, militia, and volunteer troops that was so rapidly growing. But very many New Yorkers were in Shafter's army corps. One of those killed in the first engagement bore a very well-known New York name--Hamilton Fish. And among those left on San Juan Hill was a young cavalry captain, Albert L. Mills, a native of Brooklyn. He had been shot through the head and left as dead as the troops passed on. he recovered eventually, and in time rose to the rank of major-general. His National service was recognized in the naming of Camp Mills, of World War time. Another energetic new Yorker was William Astor Chanler, a New York assemblyman, who had raised a volunteer regiment at his own expense in New York, feeling confident that in the President's second call for volunteers a place for it could be found. Governor Black thought differently, and Chanler, disappointed, but still determined to reach the front, hurried South with some of his military associates. They found places in the forces that were being gathered in Tampa. Thus, many of the disappointed rejected New Yorkers reached the front sooner than would have been their luck had they enlisted in New York units. Chanler was on General Wheeler's staff, as adjutant-general.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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