1898 War with Spain

1898 War with Spain


By Jim Reis-reprinted here with his permission from
Pieces of the Past-Volume I

The Kentucky Post banner headline on April 25, 1898 read, "War Declared".  Within hours, Northern Kentuckians were flocking to recruiting posts.  Prominent politicians were organizing volunteer regiments.  The Ft. Thomas military post was buzzing with activity.  Accounts that day in The Kentucky Post said recruiting stations were set up at Newport's Masonic Temple in Newport and at 515 Madison Avenue in Covington.

In Ludlow, Police Judge William Ronan announced he was organizing his own troops.  Only unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 30 could join.  A Newport mother was looking for her 17 year old son, William Creighton.  He turned up at a recruiting station in Tampa.  The boy's father, George Creighton, told a reporter he had run away at a similar age to fight in the Civil War.

Congressman Albert S Berry of Newport, speaking from Washington, predicted the war would be over in a week.  It was a feeling shared by many, especially in the light of the startling news of Commodore George Dewey's destruction of the Spanish Fleet in the Philippines.  Local soldiers grumbled that they weren't being mobilized fast enough.  They feared that the war would be over before they could get to the front.

Although Northern Kentuckians wound up serving in a variety of regiments, four stand out-three companies of the 2nd Regiment Infantry, Kentucky Volunteers and the 6th Regiment.  Those groups were organized in Cynthiana, Newport, Covington and Ft. Thomas.  The staging point for the local troops was the Southern Railway yard in Ludlow.  Large crowds packed the yard to wish them well.

To boost morale, Northern Kentuckians honored Commodore Dewey with a celebration.  On May 27, schools and public buildings were closed, a parade marched through the streets and a reviewing stand was set up at the Covington Government Building. Cuban and American flags were flown from businesses and homes in Covington.  A writer estimated that 10,000 school children took part in the parade and about 50,000 turned out to watch the festivities.

The tent factory at Second Street and Madison Avenue in Covington began working extra shifts to produce tents for the troops.  On June 22, 1898, American soldiers landed at Santiago, Cuba.  During the siege of Santiago nine days later, Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders made their famous charge up San Juan Hill.  Among those taking part in the charge were members of the Sixth Regiment from Ft. Thomas, an outfit that suffered high casualties.

In a later interview with a Post reporter, Regiment Commander Colonel M C Cochran expressed reservations about the wisdom of that charge and said he felt that the Sixth Regiment had not received the credit it deserved for the victory. "The charge was across an open country.  The enemy, which caused such heavy loss, could not be seen.  The regiment never wavered, nor fell back. If they had it would have meant defeat and the probable annihilation of the American Army."  Lt. Colonel Harry Egbert, who led the Sixth Regiment in the assault, was wounded.  William Taphorn of Covington was a member of the Sixth Regiment and was wounded at San Juan Hill.

Taphorn complained in a story that the Spanish were not abiding by the rules of warfare.  He claimed that the Spanish fired on medical teams that were trying to reach wounded men.  It was while trying to rescue a wounded comrade that Taphorn was shot.  He told a reporter that getting home was almost as dangerous as the battle.  He said his ship was fired on accidentally by American troops and the train he boarded in Tampa wrecked on the way to Cincinnati.

A flag sent by Newport residents was carried at the battle for Santiago by Frank Anderson of Newport, who wrote home thanking the people.  Keeping the local people informed of the battlefield events was First Sgt. J R Callahan of the Sixth Regiment.  He had been hired by The Kentucky Post as a correspondent.  For every soldier wounded in battle, many others suffered from typhoid and chronic dysentery.

Albert Boedecker, a German immigrant, was the first man to enlist in Newport.  He never made it to the battlefield, becoming ill en route.  he was sent to the Chickamauga, Georgia Military Hospital.  In a diary he wrote of having to sleep outdoors, of running a fever in excess of 104 degrees and of being fed meals that consisted of black coffee, hardtack and bacon.  Released 12 days later, he was put on guard duty and collapsed in the hot sun.  Three days later he died.  William Ronan, the former Ludlow police judge, also became ill and died at Chickamauga.  He was 26.  Other stories described a lack of medicine and sick soldiers being left in insect-infested beds. 

Spanish forces at Santiago surrendered on July 17.  A week later, American troops landed unopposed in Spanish held Puerto Rico.  In the Philippines, nationals under Emilio Aguinaldo declared their independence from Spain and helped American troops capture the capital city of Manila.  An armistice with Spain was signed on August 12, 1898 and the next month the Sixth Regiment was welcomed back to Northern Kentucky with parades and speeches.

In the celebrating was a story out of Lexington, where racial trouble broke out after white troops refused to salute black volunteers who had served in Cuba.  On December 10, 1898 a peace treaty with Spain was signed in Paris.  Cuba was granted its independence.  Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines were ceded to the United States.  In exchange, the United States paid Spain $20 million for public property in the Philippines.

The Filipinos expected their independence as had been granted to Cuba, so they began a guerrilla war.  In November 1899, the 31st Regiment U.S. Volunteers, was recruited at Ft. Thomas and shipped to the Philippines.  The violence ended with the capture of the Filipino leader in March 1901.  Gradually the Filipinos were given home rule and in 1946 were granted independence.

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