The Spanish-American War and
the Philippine Insurrection
History of The Iowa National Guard
CW2 David L. Snook
In the spring and summer of 1898, the United States waged a brief but decisive war against Spanish colonial forces in Cuba and the Philippine Islands. One cause of the war was revulsion among Americans against the ruthless tactics employed by Spain to suppress a revolt in its colony of Cuba. Another was the growing feeling that America’s "manifest destiny" did not end at the Pacific shore. Many Americans had come to believe that the future prosperity of the nation required it to play an active role in the worldwide scramble for colonial possessions. Secretary of State John Hay described the Spanish-American War as that "splendid little war." America’s victory in this conflict marked the emergence of the United States as a world power.
The immediate cause of the Spanish-American War was the sinking of the U. S. S. Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898. Although the cause of the explosion was never conclusively proven, it was widely attributed, by the American press, to a Spanish mine. On April 21, President William McKinley approved a congressional resolution demanding Spain’s withdrawal from Cuba. On April 24, Spain responded by declaring war on the United States.
The Spanish-American War was fought in two theaters, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. A U. S. naval force under
Commodore (soon to be Admiral) George Dewey defeated the Spanish Pacific Fleet at Manila Bay in the Philippine Islands in May of 1898. The actual occupation of Manila was delayed until August, after the arrival of 11,000 troops from the United States. Commanded by Major General Wesley Merritt, the Americans, with the support of Filipino revolutionaries, forced the Spanish garrison to capitulate on August 14. Meanwhile, for most Americans, the central focus of the war was Cuba. By the end of June, a combined force of almost 18,000 regular and volunteer troops commanded by rotund but capable Major General William Shafter, had landed in Cuba. General Shafter weighed over 300 pounds and, at one point during the hostilities, while suffering from heat exhaustion, he had to be carried from place to place on a makeshift litter made from a door.
General Shafter’s strategy was dictated, in part, by the fact that the Spanish Atlantic Fleet had chosen to anchor at the southern port city of Santiago. American commanders countered with a combined land and sea assault. The most famous battles of the Spanish-American War took place at El Caney and San Juan Hill. Kettle Hill, part of a series of ridges known collectively as the San Juan Heights, was taken by dismounted cavalry units, including the 9th and 10th Cavalry (both black regiments) and the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (known as the "Rough Riders"). American control of the high ground overlooking Santiago forced the Spanish Fleet to attempt an escape. The dramatic battle which followed ended with the destruction of the enemy fleet. The surrender of the Spanish garrison at Santiago was quickly followed by American occupation of the rest of Cuba as well as Puerto Rico.
In the peace settlement, approved by the U. S. Senate on February 6, 1899, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine Islands to the United States. The U. S. also established a temporary military administration in Cuba. Most American troops in Cuba were quickly returned to the United States. The situation in the Philippines was quite different. When it became clear that the United States intended to annex the islands, an insurrection followed, led by the revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo. It would require more than two years and over 63,000 U. S. soldiers to finally capture Aguinaldo and force the surrender of the insurgents.
Battle casualties were relatively light during the Spanish-American War. Only 379 U. S. soldiers died in combat. More than ten times that number (4,234) would be killed during the Philippine Insurrection. In addition, there was a very high death rate due to disease, especially typhoid fever, in both theaters. The total number of deaths attributed to disease and "other causes" during the Spanish-American War was 5,083. A significant number of these deaths actually occurred at training areas in the southeastern United States.
When war broke out, the Regular Army’s 28,000 men were scattered throughout the country at many different posts. The National Guard numbered around 100,000 men and was composed mostly of infantry units of widely varying degrees of readiness. There was also a question about the legality of sending the National Guard abroad. To circumvent the problem, the Volunteer Army Act was passed on April 22, 1898. It was so framed that National Guard forces could serve as state volunteer units with the approval of the respective governors.
In April of 1898, President William McKinley sent out a nationwide call for 125,000 volunteers. The Iowa National Guard responded by providing 4 infantry regiments, 2 light artillery batteries, 1 signal company and 1 colored (African American) infantry company. Altogether, the Iowa forces numbered about 5,000 men and represented the communities of Burlington, Dubuque, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Charles City, Independence, Vinton, Marshalltown, Waukon, Toledo, Lyons, Maquoketa, Keokuk, Davenport, Muscatine, Washington, Centerville, Fort Madison, Ottumwa, Chariton, Iowa City, Grinnell, Newton, Fairfield, Des Moines, Villisca, Glenwood, Knoxville, Oskaloosa, Shenandoah, Creston, Bedford, Corning, Red Oak, Mason City, Fort Dodge, Sioux City, Boone, Emmetsburg and Cherokee.
The entire National Guard force was mustered into federal service at the state fair grounds in Des Moines on April 26, 1898. The First, Second, Third and Fourth Infantry Regiments were renumbered the Forty-ninth, Fiftieth, Fifty-first and Fifty-second in order to follow in numerical sequence the 48 infantry regiments provided by Iowa during the Civil War. Also mustering at the fair grounds were the Fifth and Sixth Artillery Batteries from Cedar Rapids and Burlington, a volunteer signal company and a company of colored immunes (African American soldiers with supposed immunity to tropical diseases) which was designated as Company M, Seventh United States Infantry Volunteer Immunes.
The four infantry regiments would be sent to four different training camps – the 49th to Savannah, Georgia; the 50th to Jacksonville, Florida; the 51st to San Francisco, California; and the 52nd to Chickamauga Park, Georgia.
The 49th Iowa Infantry, from Dubuque, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Charles City, Independence, Tipton, Vinton, Marshalltown, Waukon, Toledo, Lyons and Maquoketa, eventually served in Cuba. It was part of the U. S. occupation force from December 19, 1898 until April 5, 1899.
Iowa Infantry, from Des Moines, Villisca, Glenwood, Knoxville, Shenandoah, Oskaloosa, Creston, Bedford, Corning, Council Bluffs and Red Oak, saw duty from March to August, 1899, on the island of Luzon, in the Philippines, participating in engagements at Guadalupe Church, East and West Pulilan, Calumpit, Santo Tomas, San Fernando, Calulut and Angeles. These actions were part of the U. S. effort to put down the Philippines Insurrection which lasted from 1899 until the early part of 1901.
Iowa units suffered 210 casualties in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. The Fifty-first Infantry had 38 battle casualties. Private Walter Wagner(Company A) of Fort Madison was killed in action near Paranque on June 13, 1899, while on special duty with Battery D Sixth U.S. Artillery. Private Alfred J. Boudewyns (Company H) of Des Moines was reported missing from a scouting party on March 28, 1899. Thirty-six soldiers were wounded in action. There were 9 soldiers wounded accidentally - 7 in the Fifty-first and 2 in the Fifty-second. Non-battle losses, particularly from typhoid fever, were high for all regiments – 55 for the Forty-ninth, 32 for the Fiftieth, 40 for the Fifty-first and 36 for the Fifty-second.
The Fifty-second Infantry was mustered out of federal service on October 30, 1898 at Camp McKinley in Des Moines. The Fiftieth followed exactly one month later. Upon its return from Cuba, the Forty-ninth mustered out at Savannah, Georgia on May 13, 1899. The Fifty-first Infantry served much longer. When it finally returned to San Francisco in late October of 1899, it was greeted by an official delegation from Iowa that included Governor Leslie Shaw and Adjutant General Melvin Byers, along with a throng of family and friends. A joyous meeting followed "between fathers, mothers and sons, wives and husbands, sisters and brothers, sweethearts and lover!" Iowa’s participation in the Spanish-American War officially ended with the mustering out of the Fifty-first on November 2, 1899 at San Francisco.