Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Georgia Volunteers in the Spanish American War

by Captain William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

On April 25, 1898, the United Stated declared war on Spain following the destruction of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor. The Treaty of Paris ended the war December 10, 1898. The conflict sandwiched between those dates would be referred to by Col. Theodore Roosevelt as a “splendid little war.” Indeed, the Spanish American War is in large part remembered for the flourish of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders who fought side-by side with the African American Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry Regiment at Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill. The war marked the emergence of the United States as an international power. Victory granted the United States the Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam and heralded the political rise of Theodore Roosevelt and the progressive movement. But despite the glory of Roosevelt’s “crowded hour,” the Spanish American War would have a deleterious effect on many of the Citizen Soldiers from Georgia who volunteered for service.

Brig. Gen. Phill G. Byrd. Georgia's Adjutant
General, 1900. Georgia Guard
History Archives
On October 17, 1900, the report of the Adjutant General of the State of Georgia for 1899 to 1900 was delivered to Georgia Governor Allen D. Candler. Brigadier General Phill G. Byrd, Adjutant General of the Georgia State Troops, in his foreword to the Governor noted: “…on January 1st, 1899, because of the demoralization growing out of the Spanish-American War, and other causes, the State Troops had become so badly disorganized as to exist in name only.” It is worth exploring what events caused the great demoralization the adjutant general lamented. What organizational ennui befell the Georgia State Troops as a result of their involvement in the Spanish American War?


As 1898 dawned, the modern concept of the National Guard was in its infancy. In Georgia, the military establishment was known as the Georgia Volunteers and would be known thus until a December 21, 1899 act changed the name to the Georgia State Troops. The Volunteers had an authorized strength of more than 12,000 men, but an organized strength of less than 5,000. The Volunteers were organized into six regiments and four battalions of infantry; one regiment, one battalion (not squadron) and one troop of cavalry; three batteries of artillery, a machine gun battery and four companies of Naval Reserve Artillery. African American Citizen Soldiers constituted  three of the infantry battalions, one troop of cavalry and one battery of artillery in the then segregated Volunteer structure.

The Georgia Volunteers were organized into companies, battalions and regiments, with the company being the basic maneuver element for most domestic missions, such as riot control. Companies were raised locally as they were prior to the American Civil War. Thus, many companies retained names evocative of their town of origin: The Macon Volunteers, the Albany Rifles or the Savannah Volunteer Guards. Uniforms were the private property of the volunteer and the standard firearm in service was the 1873 model 45 caliber Springfield Rifle.

The Albany Guards at Camp Northen, Griffin, Ga. 1894. Note the 1873 model
45 caliber Springfield Rifle. Georgia Guard Archives

Georgia Responds

In response to the April 25th declaration of war, Georgia’s Governor, William Y. Atkinson issued a proclamation calling for the volunteers to form two regiments of infantry and two batteries of light artillery for service in Cuba. General Order No. 5, issued April 28, 1898 established that each infantry regiment would be composed of 12 companies of at least 80 volunteers and that the light artillery batteries would have a minimum strength of 121. Colonel Alexander Lawton was appointed commander of the 1st Georgia Volunteers and Col. Oscar Brown was appointed commander of the 2nd Georgia Volunteers. Although these regiments bore the same number as existing units in the Georgia Volunteers, they were not composed of the same companies. As an example, the Company B of the 2nd Regiment of Infantry, the Macon Volunteers, became Company F of the 1st Georgia Volunteers.

On May 4, 1898, General Order No. 8 established Camp Northen in Griffin Georgia as the rendezvous for the Georgia Volunteers. Colonel Brown was appointed to command the state camp.

Over the next ten days, the Georgia Volunteer Regiments coalesced at Camp Northen. The 1st and 2nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiments completed their mustering from May 11 to 14, 1898 while the Georgia Light Artillery mustered from May 13 to 15. The 1st GVI mustered 1,006 officers and men while the 2nd GVI mustered 985. The Georgia Light Artillery mustered 254 volunteers.

Shortly after mustering, the 1st GVI and Light Artillery moved to the Chickamauga Battlefield in north Georgia and encamped awaiting further orders. For these and many other units, Chickamauga would be a final destination rather than a way point.
Private John L. Hancock, Company M, 1st Georgia
Volunteer Infantry. Georgia Guard Archives

The Long Wait of the 2nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry

The 2nd GVI advanced to Tampa, Fla. May 21, 1898. Less than a week later, the 2nd was assigned to the Seventh Army Corps, commanded by former Confederate Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee. Over the next two months, the 2nd was transferred from one brigade to another. The Georgians sweltered in the Tampa heat as U.S. troops landed east of Santiago Cuba and engaged the enemy at Las Guasimas June 24, 1898. The Georgians were still awaiting orders when Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders charged up Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill July 1.

The Barnesville Blues, then Company F, 2nd Georgia Volunteers stand in formation
on Main Street in Barnesville after volunteering for service in the Spanish American War.
Their commander, Capt. John Howard stands to the left. Georgia Guard archives

More than three weeks later, on July 23, 1898, The Secretary of War directed the 2nd GVI be dispatched to Santiago Cuba, along with the 5th Maryland Volunteers and 1st Florida Volunteers. Two days later, land operations began in Puerto Rico and the 2nd GVI, still in Tampa, was ordered to proceed to Puerto Rico instead. By July 30, the regiments had yet to depart, and no further orders were issued for their movement.  

1st Lt. William H. Moncrief, asst. surgeon
of the 2nd GVI. Georgia Guard Archices
Hostilities ended August 12, 1898 following the destruction of Spanish naval squadrons in Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba and the successful persecution of the land campaign in Cuba. On August 18, the 2nd GVI finally departed Tampa. Rather than Cuba or Puerto Rico, the 2nd arrived August 21, 1898 in Huntsville, Ala. Crestfallen, the volunteers of the 2nd GVI returned to Georgia and were mustered out of service in November along with the 1st GVI and Georgia Light Artillery. None of the men who rushed to volunteer for service in May ever left the United States. Of the regiments with which the 2nd GVI were brigaded at Tampa, only the 1st District of Columbia Volunteer Infantry reached Cuba where they saw service during the Santiago campaign.

The 3rd GVI Goes Forth

In June 1898, with the Georgia Volunteers mired at Chickamauga and Tampa, the Adjutant General of Georgia announced recruiting for a third regiment of volunteers. This regiment, the 3rd GVI, mustered in on August 24, 1898 at Camp Northen, 12 days after Spain sued for peace and 72 hours after the 2nd GVI abandoned their hopes for overseas service.

Recruiting poster for the 3rd GVI.
Georgia Guard Archives
The 3rd GVI left Griffin November 21, 1898 and arrived in Savannah the next day. On January 14, 1899 the regiment sailed for Nuevitas, Cuba aboard the S. S. Roumania and arrived after a voyage of four days. The 3rd GVI arrived in Cuba five months after the bulk of U.S. forces had left the island amid outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever. The regiment remained in Cuba little more than two months before sailing for home on March 25, 1899.

In April 1899, long after the victory parades had faded into memory, the men of the 3rd GVI mustered out of service in Augusta, Ga. They received no medals, and no campaign credit for their service.

In total, the Georgia Volunteers mustered 3,531 men for service. One hundred fifty-six became casualties to accidents and disease. Still others simply left the ranks to return home, disillusioned that their volunteerism had been for naught.


Those Georgians who flooded the ranks of the Georgia Volunteers did so with tales of past glory ringing in their ears from Civil War veterans. They fully expected to be tested as their forefathers had, but in the end, they would not share in the ten-week conflict and returned to their hometowns without the laurels of victory. The situation was so bad that the Adjutant General’s office did not even have sufficient funds to issue an annual report in 1898 as required by an act of the Georgia legislature. Nevertheless, reforms and reorganization initiated by Byrd in 1899 salvaged what remained of the morale and structure of the Georgia Volunteers and set the stage for the training and equipping of troops for the coming Great War.
Soldiers of Company L, 3rd Georgia Volunteer Infantry preparing to be mustered
out at Augusta, Ga.  Georgia Guard Archives.


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