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War With Spain

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.

During the quarter of a century preceding 1898, the Army averaged only about 26,000 officers and men, most of whom were scattered widely across the country in company- and battalion-size organizations. Consequently, the Army rarely had had an opportunity for training and experience in the operation of units larger than a regiment. Moreover, the service lacked a mobilization plan, a well-knit higher staff, and experience in carrying on joint operations with the Navy. The National Guard was equally ill prepared. Though the Guard counted over 100,000 members, most units were poorly trained and inadequately equipped. Thus, while most regulars were armed with Krag-Jorgensen rifles firing smokeless powder cartridges, most guardsmen were still equipped with Springfield rifles that could fire only black powder ammunition.

The utility of the Guard was further compromised by question as to whether it was legal for Guard units to serve abroad. Consequently, as in the Civil War, the national government on April 22 called upon the states to raise 125,000 volunteers for federal service. Guardsmen were encouraged to enlist, and in some cases entire regiments of militia volunteered for federal service, thereby permitting the units to remain intact. In most cases, however, guardsmen enrolled as individuals and took their places alongside men devoid of any military background in entirely new organizations. War fever soon led Congress to increase the size of the volunteer force by an additional 75,000 and to create some special forces, including 10,000 enlisted men "possessing immunity from diseases incident to tropical climates," the so-called Immunes.

The regular army of the United States at the beginning of the war wilh Spain was composed of 2,143 officers and 26,040 enlisted men. Of general officers and staff corps there were 532, with 2,026 enlisted men; cavalry, 437 officers, 6,047 enlisted men; artillery, 288 officers, 4,486 enlisted men; infantry, 886 officers, enlisted men 12,828.

The army was increased in March and April, 1898. In the four months following the declaration of war with Spain, the enlisted men in the regular army numbered, in May, 41,934; June, 49,513; JulY, 53.931; August, 56,365. These figures include 5,365 men of the hospital corps. The regular officers were 2,191 in May, and 2,323 in August. The enlistments in the regular army were, in May, 9,569; June, 9,311; July, 6,586; August, 3,400. There were 387 regular officers appointed in the volunteer army. There were 15 major-generals, 45 brigadier-generals, 86 officers of volunteer regiments. The enlisted men in the infantry of the volunteer army were, in May, 118,580; June, 153, 355; July, 203,461; August, 188,947.

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.

The Adjutant-General then faced the delicate duty of selecting the organizations to be mustered out, it being impossible "to preserve the absolutely correct arithmetical proportion, in the first instance, to the State quotas, bnd, in the second, to the actual number of troops from the several states," and he adds: "Since the signing of the Protocol the officers and men of the volunteer regiments have remained at their posts of duty, in most cases at great personal sacrifice. That they have done this cheerfully and without complaint makes it all the~more desirable that a speedy increase of the regular army be provided for in order that the volunteers may be released from further service and be allowed to return to their peaceful vocations."

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:37:01 ZULU