Spanish American War: Preparation

At the start of the Spanish American war, the army problem was difficult to solve. Ever since the Civil War the army had been neglected, in spite of recommendations and protests from army officers and the War Department. Although the officers were as fine a body as ever wore uniform, Congress never looked upon them and the men as much more than ornamental police. Only in the last few years had the army been equipped with the modern small calibre rifle with smokeless powder cartridges, and there was not a large enough reserve supply at first for the regular recruits. The fear of militarism being ever before the eyes of Congress, some little good was done by a small appropriation to the various States for the National Guard. Nominally these organizations aggregated about 125,000 officers and men. In one State only was the organization perfected and used to duty. Pennsylvania's National Guard was a division of three brigades, each of five regiments of infantry, one troop of cavalry, and one light battery. These were accustomed to brigade evolutions, and had experience in division drill. In other Eastern States, and in some central States, the organization was more or less perfected, but in none of them was it adequate for war. The material was there, but it lacked the necessary training. The National Guard was equipped with Springfield rifles and black powder cartridges. Most of the tentage and material was drawn from the regular army, but the equipment was seldom complete.

When the call for 125,000 men was issued, the States furnished their quota usually by using the National Guard regiments as a basis. Those who desired to stay at home did so, and their places were quickly taken by volunteers. The new law provided for a regiment of three battalions of four companies, each company consisting of 106 men. Few militia regiments were so large, and they were consolidated or filled up to meet the requirements. It took but a short time for the States to raise the quotas in local camps. As they were filled the regiments were sent to camps of instruction in the South, so as to become acclimated, except a few which were detailed to guard powder-mills and public property. The principal camps were near Washington (Camp Alger), at Chickamauga (Camp Thomas), at Jacksonville (Camp Cuba Libre) and at Fernandina. Later there was a large camp near Middletown, Pa., and many smaller ones in Alabama and Georgia. On May 25 the President issued a call for 75,000 more men, making 200,000 volunteers, in addition to the volunteer cavalry, engineers, and immunes, not apportioned among the States. The First Volunteer Cavalry was commanded by Surgeon Leonard Wood, of the army, who had been advanced to the rank of Colonel, with Theodore Roosevelt as Lieutenant-Colonel, who left the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy to assume the position. This regiment was nicknamed the "Rough Riders," because it was largely recruited from cowboys and frontiersmen in Texas, Arizona, and adjacent territory. It also included a large number of college athletes and clubmen from New York. Nearly every race and religion were represented, as well as nearly every State. It gained more reputation than any other volunteer organization.

This army was organized into eight corps, only seven of which were completed. Each corps was supposed to consist of two divisions, each of three brigades of three regiments - nominally about 24,000 officers and men. To officer this army, whose maximum reached about 275,000 men, all the brigadier-generals in the regular army, as well as some other officers, were made major-generals of volunteers. There was inevitable confusion and some discontent over the welding of new masses of soldiers into a compact body ready for active service. Camps of instruction and recruitment for the volunteers were opened in every State, from which regiments, after mustering, were mobilized at Chickamauga National Park, Tennessee, at Camp Alger, Virginia, and Tampa, Florida. The regular troops were collected at New Orleans, Mobile, and Tampa.

On May 4 the President appointed the army staff, including the following as major-generals: Promoted from the regular army - Brigadier-Generals Joseph C. Breckinridge, Elwell S. Otis, John J. Coppinger, William R. Shafter, William M. Graham, James F. Wade, Henry C. Merriam. Appointed from civil life - James H. Wilson, of Delaware; Fitzhugh Lee, of Virginia; William J. Sewell, of New Jersey, and Joseph Wheeler, of Alabama.

Of the civilians, General Wilson and General Sewell had been distinguished Federal commanders during the Civil War, and General Fitzhugh Lee and General Joseph Wheeler served with corresponding distinction upon the Confederate side. General Sewell did not accept the appointment, however. He was serving as United States Senator from New Jersey, and it was held that his acceptance of a commission in the army would vacate his seat in the Senate. General Wheeler, who was representing his Alabama district in the lower house, entered the service immediately without regard to the point.

It took a long time for green officers to learn the rules, and in the mean time the men were often on short rations, while few companies at first had good cooks. In spite of all drawbacks, by July 1 there was an army of over 200,000 men, nearly all equipped, and all eager to fight. In spite of all complaints made by persons ignorant of war, this army was assembled and equipped in a shorter space of time than had ever been known before.

An effective auxiliary navy was more easily constructed. Four of the American Line steamers, the St. Louis, St. Paul, New York, and Paris (the latter two were re-named the Yale and Harvard), were turned into armed cruisers. The Morgan line contributed four more, and many yachts were turned into scout and fighting boats. Within two weeks there were eighty-eight effective fighting ships in active service, and Congress authorized the building of fifty-one new ships of war.

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