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Spanish American War Divisions

On 25 April 1898, Congress declared that a state of war existed between the United States and Spain. Even though the USS Maine had been sunk six weeks before, threatening war, the nation had taken only minimal steps toward mobilization. One of these steps, however, was congressional authorization for President William McKinley, when necessary, to organize a new army consisting of the Regular Army and the Volunteer Army of the United States. The regiments of the Volunteer Army were to be raised and officered by the states and eventually included most of their organized militia units. The regulars and volunteers were to be formed into brigades, divisions, and army corps. On 23 April the McKinley administration directed the regulars concentrated at Chickamauga National Park, Georgia, to be organized as an army corps; those at Mobile, Alabama, as an independent division; and those at New Orleans, Louisiana, as a separate brigade.

After the declaration of war McKinley revised that arrangement and approved the organization of eight army corps, each of which was to consist of three or more divisions of three brigades each. Each brigade was to have approximately 3,600 officers and enlisted men organized into three regiments and, with three such brigades, each division was to total about 11,000 officers and men. Thus the division was to be about the same size as the division of 1861, but army corps were to be larger. The division staff initially was to have an adjutant general, quartermaster, commissary, surgeon, inspector general, and engineer, with an ordnance officer added later. The brigade staff was identical except that no inspector general or ordnance officer was authorized.

The Commanding General of the Army, Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles, had planned to expand the Army in an orderly fashion by holding the volunteers in state camps for sixty days. There they would be organized, equipped, and trained for field duty. During that period the War Department was to prepare large training camps and collect the necessary stores to outfit the new army, while McKinley was to appoint the general officers who would command the new brigades, divisions, and army corps. Miles' plan soon went awry. Because of the lack of Regular Army officers to staff state camps and the need to have volunteers and regulars train together, he quickly abandoned it. In mid-May the volunteers were moved to a few large unfinished camps in the South, and when they arrived only seven instead of the eight projected army corps were organized. Two army corps, the IV and V consisted of regulars and volunteers, while the others were made up of volunteers.

To facilitate command and control, corps and division commanders requested permission to use distinctive Civil War flags and badges for their units. Secretary of War Russell A. Alger, however, disapproved the request because of pressure from Civil War veterans who had been permitted by Congress to wear their distinctive unit insignia and guarded the privilege jealously. The quartermaster general, therefore, had to prepared an entirely new group of heraldic items for the recently organized army corps and their divisions and brigades.

The Spanish-American War badge designs used to shape to distinguish a corps, and the colors further discriminated the divisions within a corps. First divisions had badges in red, 2d divisions white, and 3d divisions, blue. Units assigned to corps headquarters had badges that were concentrically colored, from the outside in, red, white, and blue.The small enameled badges worn by soldiers are somewhat well known to military insignia collectors, but the flags and pennants in this series are certainly scarce, even in museums.

Before the new army completed its organization and training, it was thrust into combat. About two-thirds of V Army Corps, one dismounted cavalry and two infantry divisions, sailed for Cuba in June 1898. Expeditions also were mounted for Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands in which partial army corps provided the troops. The war ended in August 1898, and less than two months later the wartime army began to fade away. The War Department disbanded the last army corps on 13 April 1900. Following the war, the Army maintained troops in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, but those commands did not employ army corps and divisions.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:35:34 ZULU