The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
The Spanish-American War

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton



It was while Mr. Pingree was governor, in 1898, that war broke out with Spain, war being formally declared on April 25. The following account of Michigan's part in this war is taken from the excellent work entitled: "Michigan as a province, State and Territory:"

"The state cut something of a figure in the war, aside from the regiments which it put into the field. Russell A. Alger, who was secretary of war, was a former governor of Michigan. Upon his shoulders fell the responsibility of equipping, transporting across the sea and maintaining in the field the troops required in the campaigns in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. After more than thirty years of peace, it may well be supposed that the sudden call to active military operations found the country all unprepared for such an emergency. In response tot he President's call the country arose almost en masse. Tenders of service came from every direction. It is safe to say that ten men offered their services where on was required. These overwhelming offers were embarrassing. Meanwhile the war department was trying its utmost to et things in shape for equipping and hauling the recruits to the regular army and the volunteers gathered by the states. To transport the army and its equipment and supplies to Cuba required many ships. In this emergency Secretary Alger called to his assistance Col., Frank J. Hecker, of Detroit, of whose fitness for the task the secretary had personal knowledge, and assigned to him the duty of procuring the ships. They were promptly forthcoming. The command of the Fifth Corps, which was the army which invaded Cuba and fought before Santiago, was assigned to Major-Gen. William R. Shafter, a native of Michigan, who had served efficiently in the Civil War, which he entered as a lieutenant of the Seventh Michigan Infantry. After the close of the Civil War he joined the regular army, in which he had risen tot he rank of brigadier-general of volunteers and was assigned to the command in Cuba of a brigade composed of the Ninth Massachusetts and the Thirty-third and Thirty-four Michigan Regiments of Volunteers. Major George H. Hopkins, of Detroit, was appointed a personal aid to the secretary of war and was assigned to the duty of selecting camps and inspecting the sanitary and other conditions surrounding them. Only a small fraction of the regiments raised were called tot he front. Others were gathers in camps at Tampa, Mobile, Washington and Chickamauga. Besides these thus gathered in army camps, there were others in regimental camps in their several states, which never left them, but were disbanded after it became evident that their services in the field would not be required. It was the duty of Major Hopkins to familiarize himself with the conditions of these various camps and suggest methods of remedying defects. After the engagement at Santiago, which practically ended the war, the health of the troops in Cuba required that the men be sent north at the earliest possibly moment. Accordingly a convalescent camp was established at Montauk Point, Long Island, to which the whole of Shafter's army was brought. In this camp Major C. B. Nancrede, of the medical department of the State University, was chief surgeon. He had served from the beginning of the war as surgeon of the Thirty-third Michigan, and upon his promotion was succeeded by Major Victor C. Vaughan, also of the State University.

"It happened that the Legislature was in session when the war broke out. It promptly passed an act for a war loan of a half million dollars. Governor Pingree threw himself with all his wonderful energy into the task of raising, equipping and sending into the field at the earliest possible moment the state's quota. On the day following the call of the President an order was issued for the mobilization of the entire Michigan National Guard at Island Lake with three days. Gen. E. M. Irish was placed in command and the work of completing the roster of the several regiments was earnestly prosecuted. The regiments thus organized were designated Thirty-first, thirty-second, thirty-third, and Thirty-fourth Michigan Volunteer Infantry, following in numerical order the infantry regiments of the Civil War. The Thirty-first was mustered May 10th and left on the 15th, under command of Col. Cornelius Gardner, for Chickamauga Park, Georgia. The Thirty-second was mustered May 4 and left on the 19th, under the command of Col. William T., McGurrin, for Tampa, Florida. The Thirty-third was mustered May 20 and left on the 28th, under command of Col. Charles L. Boynton, for Camp Alger near Washington. The Thirty-fourth was mustered May 25 and left June 6, under command of Col. John P. Peterman, for Camp Alger. Under the second call of the president the Thirty-fifth Regiment was organized under Col. E. M. Irish, July 11, and left for Camp Meade, Pennsylvania, September 15. In organizing, equipping and training these regiments while in camp at Island Lake, Captain Irvine, of the Eleventh United States Infantry, and Lieutenant Winans, of the Fifth United States Cavalry, rendered efficient service.

"The men gathered in the southern camps, particularly at Chickamauga and at Camp Alger, suffered severely from sickness. At the former camp there was an epidemic of typhoid fever and the Thirty-first Michigan was removed to Macon, Georgia, where it remained in camp until January 1899, when it was sent to Cuba. It was landed at Cienfugas and was thence distributed in the towns of Santa Clara province to preserve order and protect property. The regiment was engaged on this service until the following April, when it was returned to this country and mustered out. It lost fourteen men who died from sickness in southern camps and hospitals.

"The thirty-second was one of the earliest regiments moved to Fernandina, Florida, where it remained in camp for some time. It was not among those assigned to service in Cuba, and after a little delay it was transferred to Fort McPherson, Georgia where it remained until September, when it was returned to Michigan, and mustered out of service. While in the service twenty men died of disease.

"The Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth went to Tampa, whence they were embarked for Cuba on the transports 'Paris' and 'Harvard.' They were in General Duffield, brigade,, which formed a part of General Shafter's army which fought and defeated the Spaniards at Santiago. They did not participate in the fight at San Juan Hill, but were engaged in the attack at Aguadores, which was planned to divert the enemy from the plan of battle of the main army and prevented their reinforcing it. In this engagement three of the Thirty-third were killed or died of wounds. Yellow fever broke out in the camp at Siboney and fifty died there or at Montauk Point or on the transport bound for the latter camp. The thirty-fourth suffered even more severely, for eighty-eight deaths in that regiment are recorded, a very large proportion of these being from yellow fever while in camp near Santiago, or in hospital on Long Island. These regiments were returned from Cuba in August and reach Michigan in September. They were mustered out at various times between September 3, 1898, and January 2, 1899. Of those who survived the hardships of the campaign, many returned broke in health. The Thirty-fifth was mustered out at Augusta, Georgia, March, 1899. Of its members, twenty-three died of disease in camp.

"The whole number of men mustered was six thousand six hundred and seventy-seven, and the total number of deaths about two hundred and fifty. Through the efforts of Governor Pingree, the men were permitted to draw thirty to ninety days pay upon furlough prior to discharge. Those who were in Cuba were also allowed pay for the fever-infected uniforms they were compelled to destroy.

"Besides the infantry regiments furnished to the volunteer service, Michigan was represented in the naval arm. Being encouraged thereto by the general government, a naval brigade was organized in Michigan in 1897. The navy department assigned for the use of such naval brigade the United States ship, 'Yantie,' which was at the time in the Boston navy yard under going repairs. The delicate international question of getting this war vessel through Canadian waters was successfully disposed of. The governor of Michigan, on behalf of the state receipted for the 'Yantie' to be delivered to her commanding officer, Lieut.-Com. Gilbert Wilkes, at Montreal, From that point she was taken and handled by the officers and men of the state naval reserves, and arrived at Detroit, December 8, 1897. The men had some opportunity to drill and familiarize themselves with naval discipline. Before the call for volunteers, Governor Pingree received a telegram from the navy department asking for men for service on the united States ship 'Yosemite.' The call was promptly responded to and two hundred and seventy men and eleven officers of the naval Militia of Michigan enlisted in the navy. The 'Yosemite' was wholly manned by Michigan men and, under the command of Lieut.-Com. W. H. Emory, convoyed the transport 'Panther' to Guantanamo and covered the first successful landing of American troops on Cuban soil. Afterwards it maintained, since-handed, the blockage of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and proved the efficiency of the ship and her crew by the capture of prizes and the destruction of blockade runners. The governor in his annual message congratulated the state on the showing made in the war by its naval militia, and also congratulated the men upon the records they made."


At the election of 1900 Aaron T. Bliss, of Saginaw, was elected governor. He was a native of Smithfield, Madison county, New York, and, like Governor Pingree, was a veteran of the Civil War, having served in the Tenth new York Cavalry. In 1882 he was elected from Saginaw county to the state Senate; he also served one term in Congress. In 1897 he was elected department commander of the Grand Army of the republic. The main subjects of legislation while he was governor were [primary reform and railroad taxation. The Western State Normal School was established at Kalamazoo. At Saginaw was established the Michigan Employment Institution for the Blind.

Governor Bliss was succeeded in 1905 by Fred M. Warner, of Farmington, Oakland county. Previous to this time Mr. Warner had served in the state Senate and as secretary of state. He has the distinction of being among the very few governors of Michigan who have served three terms in succession, being re-elected in 1906 and 1908. During his first term the semi-centennial of the passage of the first boat through the Sault Ste. Marie canal was celebrated (1905). At the election in 1908 the revised constitution as drawn up by the constitutional convention held at Lansing in 1907-8, was adopted. This constitution, which followed closely that of 1850, curtailed the power of the Legislature, and extended that of home rule in the municipalities. Among the acts of legislation while Mr. Warner was governor were provision for direct nomination of candidates for state offices, provision of r a popular advisory vote for United States senator, and provision for the present state railroad commission.

The first governor elected under the constitution of 1908 was Chase S. Osborn, Republican, who served one term, beginning in 1911. He was a native of Huntington county, Indiana, and in early life engaged in newspaper work. In 1887 he purchased the Sault Ste. Marie News, and since then has lived mainly at the "Soo." The principal laws enacted during his administration were a general revision of the primary election law, a city home rule bill authorizing the use of the initiative, referendum and recall, provision for a state fire marshal and a law allowing women to vote at school primaries.

Since January 1, 1913, Woodbridge N. Ferris, of Big Rapids, has been governor. His second term, will expire December 31, of this year (1916). Mr. Ferris was born in 1853 in a log cabin four miles from Spencer, Tioga county, New York. In this neighborhood and in neighboring academies he received his early education, and later taught school and earned his way through the Oswego Normal and Training School. In 1873, he entered upon the medical course in the University of Michigan. In 1875 he organized a business college at Freeport, Illinois, and later became principal of the normal department in the Rock River University. In 18877 he organized a business college in Dixon, Illinois , and in 1884 the Ferris Industrial School at big Rapids. The latter school was stated with fifteen students; the enrollment for the current year (1916) is about two thousand students. Through his extensive educational work, Mr. Ferris became one of the best known citizens of Michigan. He is the first Democratic governor since the election of governor Winans in 1890, and received at his second election nearly forty thousand more votes than the Republican candidate Chase S. Osborn.

One of the bitterly contested bills while Mr. Ferris has been governor is the "Sliding Scale" bill, to increase passenger fares on Michigan railroads, which was defeated in the house by a vote of forty-five to fifty-four. A new primary election law has been passed, providing for a separate ballot for each party; no person who is the regular candidate on the ballot of one party can have his name written in on the ballot of another party; and in order to gain a place on the ticket a candidate must receive in the primary a ten per cent vote of his party. A teachers' retirement fund has been secured; the Michigan Historical Commission created; also an annual appropriation of one hundred thousand dollars for the use of the state board of health for the study and prevention of tuberculosis. In 1913 occurred one of the most serious crises in the recent industrial history of Michigan, when the Western Federation of Miners, attempting to get a foothold in the Michigan copper, fomented a strike of the miners, which lasted from July 1913, to April 1914. Throughout this controversy the course of Governor Ferris was such as to secure the hearty approval of the miners, the mine owners, and of the people of the state generally. The mine owners were induced to offer re-employment to all men who had not been guilty of violence, on condition of renouncing membership in the Western Federation of Miners, which was agreed to by the striking members of the federation through a referendum vote. In addition, the main demands of the miners were granted, which included a minimum wage of three dollars, an eight-hour day and better working condition.


History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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