Spanish American War
Compiled by Fred Greguras
This is a compilation of information about named military camps established during the Spanish American War period of February 15, 1898 to March 31, 1899, primarily in the United States. There were also many unnamed camps. The purposes of the camps included mobilization, assembly, training, staging, occupation and demobilization. The camps identified in Cuba and the Philippines were noted during primary research on camps in the United States and are not intended to be a comprehensive list. The camps for the U.S. volunteer regiments raised in 1899 to fight in the Philippines and the camps established in the Philippines during the so-called Moro War or Philippine insurrection are not intended to be covered by this compilation.
While these camps were temporary, they are worth remembering for the purpose of honoring the veterans of the Spanish American War and in particular, those who gave their lives both in combat and sickness during the war. This compilation is intended in a small way to honor such men by creating a record of the camps.
My interest in this project began in June, 1997 with a visit to Sagamore Hill, the home of Theodore Roosevelt. While there, I saw the announcement of the Turner Broadcasting production of the Rough Riders to be aired that fall. The scenes of the charge up San Juan Hill in the movie really sparked my research interest in the Rough Riders. In researching the Rough Riders, I learned about Camp Wikoff on Long Island where the Rough Riders camped upon their return from Cuba. The numerous stereo views of Camp Alger, Camp Tampa and Chickamauga Park available on eBay lead to more research on these and other camps. I also obtained a copy of Wright’s Official History of the Spanish American War, which has literally hundreds of photos of various camps and opened up many new research directions. About the same time, Dale Floyd provided me with the War Department’s list of named camps established during the Spanish American War (item 4 in the primary resources list). The list provided by Dale, while not complete, is the most comprehensive governmental source of camp names and locations by city and state.
The Internet has many Spanish American War and local history web sites. I also used email and letters to contact local libraries, historians, national guard commands and other possible sources. Most of my requests were quickly and pleasantly answered, sometimes with copies of newspaper articles, the contact information for another source or library loan information on how to obtain microfilm. Local newspapers were a major source for information on specific locations of camps and how they were named. The Stanford University library has a good collection of major city newspapers on microfilm which was supplemented by interlibrary loans. The website Newspaperarchive.com has digitized versions of many 1898 newspapers which were previously only available on microfilm. The key word search feature allows news items to be found that would be very difficult to find with a manual review of microfilm. Numerous visits to the Carlisle Barracks Army War Museum library provided a wealth of material. eBay has also been an excellent source for images of the camps. Many historical societies have images of the camps on their web sites and this availability continues to expand.
I was particularly interested in the camps in my home state, Nebraska. Sources on Camp Alvin Saunders in Lincoln were a little misleading but I quickly pinned down its location as the state fair grounds. Camp Meiklejohn at Omaha was a greater challenge. An undated clipping from a scrapbook which mentioned Camp Meiklejohn referred to Colonel Bills boys at Fort Omaha and I initially thought it meant William (“Bill”) Jennings Bryan, Colonel of the 3rd Nebraska Volunteer Infantry. The 3rd Nebraska was mustered in at Fort Omaha. Through research in contemporary Omaha newspapers, I determined that the Colonel of the 2nd Nebraska Volunteer Infantry was named Bills and had to revise my earlier conclusion. Camp Meiklejohn was the 2nd Nebraska’s muster out camp at Fort Omaha.
Certain other camps also were of particular interest to me, such as those in San Francisco and Honolulu, which is why there is more detail. During the 1960s, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Omaha, I purchased a four foot long, framed photo showing Camp Merritt in San Francisco in June, 1898. A company of the 51st Iowa volunteers that went to San Francisco was formed in Council Bluffs. Identifying street names, buildings and other landmarks in this photograph was a particular challenge.
Research continues. The “Google” web search engine can drill down into Web sites to an amazing level and results in both specific camp information and other sources to contact. An example is the Lakeland, Florida Public Library special collection Web page on the Spanish American War period in Lakeland. Access to the Army and Navy Journal for 1898-99 added a large amount of material. Additional camps continue to be discovered in reviewing regimental histories at Carlisle and microfilm of newspapers. Certain newspapers on microfilm have been digitized and are available on the Web.
Events of 1898
The events of 1898 occurred rapidly. The Battleship Maine exploded on February 15, 1898. On April 23, two days before war was declared by the United States, President William McKinley issued a call for 125,000 volunteers to expand our small standing army. Most state mobilization camps were in existence for only a few weeks before the troops moved to staging and embarkation camps at San Francisco or on the east coast, particularly at Camp Alger, Chickamauga Park (Camp Thomas) and Tampa. The U.S. naval victory at Manila Bay occurred on May 1. The first Philippine expedition left the west coast staging area, San Francisco, on May 25. The second call for an additional 75,000 volunteers also came on May 25. The Cuba invasion force boarded transports in Tampa during June 12-14, and arrived off Santiago on June 20. On July 1, the invasion force won victories at El Caney and San Juan Hill. The Spanish fleet was destroyed on July 3 as it attempted to flee from Santiago. The peace protocol ending the war with Spain was signed on August 12, and the formal peace treaty, the Treaty of Paris, was signed on December 10, 1898. Due to sanitation problems in the camps, more men died of disease than in actual combat during the brief war.
Each state and territory had some muster in camp for its volunteers. Two federal calls for volunteer troops sometimes resulted in two camps in the same city at different times, often in different locations and with different names. There are also cases of different volunteer units at the same place at the same time such as a state national guard camp using different names for each of their camps.
At the outset of the war, there was also concern that our Atlantic coast would be attacked by Spain. The volunteer force supplemented garrisons at seacoast fortifications, particularly on the east coast.
Because the war was short, most of the volunteers never saw combat. Their biggest enemy was boredom and sanitary conditions. For example, Nevada’s unit of volunteer infantry spent a hot and unproductive summer in Carson City and never left the city before being mustered out. The first of the unit’s two camps at Carson City was at a racetrack which the owner soon reclaimed to prepare for the racing season. The volunteers’ only action came in local saloons and fights among themselves and with the locals.
In San Antonio, the Rough Riders camp, Camp Wood, was separated from Fort Sam Houston in part because of concern over possible fights between the regulars and the “cowboys.” There were military drills for the multitude of Sunday visitors to the Rough Riders camp. The Rough Riders were also interested in going visiting as indicated in the following extract from the San Antonio Daily Light of May 14, 1898: “The other night there was a private dance given in the pavilion at Riverside Park and several of the men went over to look on. ‘Can’t we get over there and dance too,’ said one of them to Mr. Quinn, the lessee. ‘No, that’s a private dance,’ said Mr. Quinn. ‘That’s all right,’ said the leader. ‘We’re all privates, there’s not even a non-com among us . . . .”
The regular and volunteer army was organized initially into seven corps. The Philippine expeditionary forces became the Eighth Corps. Each corps was to be organized into three divisions, each division consisted of three brigades and each brigade was comprised of three or more regiments. Some of the corps were never fully organized and there was no Sixth Corps. This organization overlaid the assignment of troops to the camps or, in some cases, the corps was defined by the concentration of troops in a particular place such as Tampa. For example, Camp Thomas was the initial camp of the First Corps and Camp Alger was the initial camp of the Second Corps. The winter camps of 1898-99 were division or brigade size camps.
There were the following general types of camps:
|•||Muster in camps for the state volunteers in response to the President’s two calls for volunteers. Camp Saunders, Nebraska is an example of this type of camp. In some states, company-sized units created temporary camps prior to reporting in to the statewide camp.|
|•||Muster in camps for the regiments of U.S. Volunteers. Camp Caffery, the camp of the 2nd U.S. Vol. Inf., is an example. Camp Wood, the camp of the Rough Riders, is another example.|
|•||Assembly and staging areas for each army corps. Camp Alger, the initial camp and Camp Meade, the second camp of the Second Corps, are examples.|
|•||Winter camps of 1898-99 for the readiness force. Camp Fornance, South Carolina is an example.|
|•||Recruit camps. Camp Hawkins, Pennsylvania, recruiting camp for the 10th Pennsylvania is an example.|
|•||Embarkation camps. Camp Onward, Savannah, Georgia is an example. The Seventh Corps departed for occupation duty in Cuba from this camp. Camp Brooke at Newport News is another example.|
|•||Occupation camps. Camp Columbia, Cuba is an example.|
|•||Muster out/demobilization camps. Camp Pratt, California, the muster out camp for the 7th Cal. Vol. Inf., is an example. Camp McKisson, the muster out camp of the 5th Ohio is another example.|
There were muster in camps for the state volunteers in every state and territory. The chart following the list of Primary Resources lists the muster in camps state by state. The next chart identifies the muster in camps for the U.S. volunteers. There were also camps for the U.S. regular units. The regulars initially moved to four staging locations: Camp Thomas at Chickamauga Park, Georgia, Mobile, New Orleans and Tampa. None of these staging camps for the regulars appear to have been formally named except for Camp Thomas. The Mobile camp was informally named Camp Coppinger by the troops. The April 23, 1898 Army and Navy Journal reported that creating the southern camps was President McKinley’s idea in part to acclimatize the troops to tropical temperatures. The camps in the south were also there initially because of the proximity to Cuba and later during the winter of 1898-1899 because of the warmer climate. So-called “immunes” units were raised in the south because the men were supposedly immune to yellow fever.
The northern muster in camps for state volunteers were often cold and rainy because the time was mid-spring, 1898. For example, there were heavy rainstorms and some snow throughout the muster in for Pennsylvania volunteers at Camp Hastings at Mt. Gretna, Pennsylvania. According to a Warren Mail newspaper clipping, when Company I of the 16th Pennsylvania reached Camp Hastings on April 26, 1898, there was “plenty of snow, rain and mud.” A May 10, 1898 clipping from the same newspaper says: “a few words about the wet weather can’t do justice to the subject.”
The San Francisco camps at and near the Presidio were the assembly and staging area for the Philippines Expeditions. The Cuba assembly and invasion staging area at Tampa was very overcrowded which resulted in a number of camps being established in the area around Tampa such as Ybor City and also farther away at Lakeland.
1898-99 Winter Camps
Part of the volunteer forces were kept in service through the winter of 1898-99, primarily as a reserve for possible occupation duty in Cuba and Puerto Rico. On October 1, 1898, the War Department selected winter campsites in the south for state side volunteer troops. Northern camps were abandoned and the troops of the First and Second Corps were to be sent to the following locations:
The final list didn’t change much. The December 31, 1898 Army and Navy Journal reported that there were major camps of state volunteers at these southern locations:
Albany, GA (Camp Churchman)
|Columbus, GA (Camp Conrad)|
Americus, GA (Camp Gilman)
|Greenville, SC (Camp Wetherill)|
Anniston, AL (Camp Shipp)
|Huntsville, AL (Camp Forse)|
Athens, GA (Camp Haskell)
|Knoxville, TN (Camp Poland)|
Augusta, GA (Camp McKenzie)
|Savannah, GA (Camp Onward)|
Columbia, SC (Camp Fornance)
|Summerville, SC (Camp Marion)|
The Journal referred to the camps only by location. I have added the names. The brigade at Camp Poland, Tennessee that was assigned to Atlanta (in the October 1, 1898 list) was diverted to Cuba before moving to Atlanta.
State Military Camp Grounds
Existing state national guard camps were often used for the muster in and out camps for state volunteers, for example, in Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Vermont. Fairgrounds, “exposition” grounds and racetracks were also popular sites for the camps because of their generally spacious grounds, large buildings, water and other facilities. Existing buildings were often used for quarters. Most camps were tent camps and only temporary buildings were constructed, usually for hospitals, mess halls and warehouses. The winter camps in the south usually had many buildings.
Existing Camp Buildings
The buildings that were Camp Graham/Graham Barracks in Kansas City and Camp Plume in Buffalo still exist. Exposition Hall on the Illinois State Fairgrounds which was used as a barracks for Camp Tanner also survives. Details on their locations are in the respective camp summary.
Cities with Most Camps
Cities with the most camps appear to be Macon, GA and Lexington, KY. There are references to at least five camps in Macon, GA (Fornance, Haskell, Price, Prior and Ray) and possibly eight in Lexington, KY (Bradley, Collier, Hamilton, Hobson (renamed Corbin), Miles, Mill Farm, Sanger and Wilson). Some of the Lexington camps were the same place but called different names by different sources. The New Orleans fairgrounds was probably the most popular camp location. Initially, several regular army regiments camped there in a camp without a name. Camp Foster, the camp for Louisiana state troops was located there at the same time as the regulars’ camp. Camp Corbin, the camp of the 9th U.S. Vol. Inf., followed Camp Foster and then Camp Riche, the camp of the 1st U.S. Vol. Inf., was established. Camp Riche (later renamed Camp Houston) was at the fair grounds at the same time as Camp Corbin.
Sources of Camp Names
President McKinley, state governors and heroes and casualties of the naval campaigns and Santiago campaign were the most popular sources of names for the camps. In many states, annual national guard camps had been previously named after the current state governor. This custom continued for many Spanish American War state volunteer muster in camps. In Tennessee, the Nashville camp of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Tennessee regiments was named after Governor Bob Taylor, as was the Knoxville camp of the 4th Tennessee.
I have visited only a small number of the sites of the camps: Camp Alger, Camp Alva Adams, Camp Bell, Camp Black, Camp Cobb, Camp Hastings, the Honolulu Camps, Camp Meade, the Nebraska camps, Camp Pfeifer, the San Francisco camps, Camp Snyder and Camp Stephens. There are historical markers at a number of the sites. I have visited the site of Camp Meade several times. The attraction of Camp Meade is that part of the site remains farmland and looks as it did in 1898. There are many 1898 period photos that can easily be compared with current locations.
©2005 Fred Greguras