The 22nd U.S. Infantry in the Spanish-American War

An extract from "Combat Diary - Episodes from the history of the Twenty-Second Regiment, 1866-1905"

Contributed by A. B. "Bud" Feuer; Special Thanks to Gary Krek


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Click here to read an account of the 22nd's trip to Cuba


General:

The 22nd U.S. Infantry fought in Cuba as part of the Vth Army Corps under the command of Major-general William Shafter.

Prelude:

The Spanish-American War is difficult to evaluate.  In actual combat, the Indians at Little Big Horn killed almost as many Americans in one afternoon as the Spanish did during the entire conflict.

The real tragedy, however, was that, although the U.S. Army lost approximately 350 men killed in the Cuban campaign against the Spaniards,nearly 2,500 died from disease - malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, and dysentery.

As in all its major wars, the United States found itself woefully unprepared.  The entire army consisted of only 28,000 regulars - many of whom would still be needed at frontier post to keep order in the farwest.

It was no secret that there were 200,000 Spanish soldiers stationed throughout Cuba - but their exact disposition was unknown - and there were no accurate maps of the country or its harbors.

Like all regular army units of this period, the 22nd Infantry Regiment had been brought up to a high state of efficiency and readiness.  Most of the troops had had several years of service.  They were a fearless breedof men, accustomed to being vastly outnumbered, and could be depended up onto fight to the last man.

After the Maine disaster, as the nation drew nearer to the outbreak of hostilities with Spain, the 22nd Infantry Regiment quietly made preparationsfor war.

Movement toward Cuba -

On April 18, 1898, the Regiment, under the command of Colonel Charles A. Wikoff, departed Fort Crook, Nebraska by rail, enroute to Mobile, Aalabama. Twenty-nine officers and 484 enlisted men constituted the organization.

At every stop, the troop train carrying the 22nd Infantry Regiment was greeted by enthusiastic citizens and brass bands.  As the train lumbered south, decorative flowers were attached to the railroad cars. Colonel Wikoff and his frontier soldiers arrived at the Alabama port on April 20 - war was officially declared on April 25, 1898.

On April 28, 1898 the 22nd Infantry Regiment received orders to break camp.  They boarded a train for Tampa, FL and arrived on May 2.  For the next few weeks, the monotonous and tedious days would be spent in drillingby company, battalion, and Regiment.

While at Tampa, the 22nd Infantry Regiment was assigned to the First Brigade,Second Division, Fifth Army Corps.  The First Brigade was comprised  of the 22nd and 8th Infantry Regiments (thus continuing a close relationship between the two regiments which started in the Indian Wars and continued in World War II, the Cold War, Vietnam, and elements are still part of the 4th Infantry Division today), and was commanded by General William Ludlow.  Major General William R. Shafter was the Fifth Corps commander.

General Shafter's corps was composed of 15,337 men - including nineteen infantry regiments, four light artillery batteries, two siege batteries, two companies of engineers, one detachment of signal corps, forty-eight troops of cavalry (dismounted), and a single hospital unit.  The Fifth Army Corps was almost entirely composed of regulars, with the exceptionof three regiments, including Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders.

When Nelson Miles, commanding general of the army, arrived in Tampa on June 1, he was appalled at what he saw.  Miles immediately realized that the army was not ready for a campaign in the tropics - the troops from the northern posts were still wearing their winter uniforms.  Because of delays in the army's supply department, summer clothing had never been shipped.The 22nd Infantry was one of the units that wasforced to wear their heavyuniforms thoughout the Cuban action.

On the morning of June 7, 1898, the 22nd Infantry Regiment broke camp and marched aboard the ORIZABA.  After a delay of seven days, the troops sailed for Santiago.Aboard the ORIZABA, the men of the 22nd Infantrypacked the railings to watch the unforgettable spectacle.  Lieutenant Kreps noted: "The scene presented by the embarkation was a memorable one - and was witnessed from the wharves by thousands of people who had been arriving at the port during the past twenty-four hours. . . . Bright signal flags and bunting whipped from every mast.  And that, along withthe cheering and patriotic music, lifted the spirits of the wearysoldiers.  The waiting was over - we were off to war at last!"

The expedition arrived off the Morro Castle entrance to Santiago Bay about noon on June 20.  At that time, Colonel Wikoff was transferred to the Third Brigade, and Lieutenant Colonel John H. Patterson was placed in command of the 22nd Infantry Regiment.

Captain Wassell wrote: "Daiquiri, seventeen miles east of Santiago, was the sitechosen for the 22nd Infantry to disembark.  There was an iron pier, five hundred feet long, and also a wharf.....The Regiment climbed into the boats and headed through the rough seas toward thesmoldering dock.  Enthusiasm ran high and rousing cheers burst from the transports still waiting to be unloaded.  Regimental bands played -while out at sea, the navy bombarded the wooded mountains that roseabove from the beach.  Shells whistled over our heads and exploded farup on the heights......Near the dock, a wall of surf roared an angrywelcome - then broke in swamping torrents.  Boats smacked against boats,and crashed against the pier - then, thrown back by outgoing waves, theywere flung forward again - someone finally grabbing a line tossed fromthe beach.  The troops scrambled out, tossing blanket rolls ahead of them - but carefully handing rifles to helping comrades. Surf drenched and panting, the men of the 22nd Infantry caught their breath - then cheered as the Regimental colors were unfurled."  The 22nd Infantry Regiment was the first American regiment to land in Cuba.  The royalpalm on our Regimental colors forever commemorates that deed.

After a brief rest, the 22nd Infantry marched about four miles in the direction of Siboney and then camped near Daiquiri Creek.  Captain Carroll Dunham, division medical officer, described the march inland:"When the troops landed on the beach at Daiquiri, each man carried ablanket, poncho, and three days' rations rolled up in half of a sheltertent.  However, as they trudged along the hilly trail, the choking dust turned to mud on their sopping wet uniforms.  The ferocious sun boredown on the uncomfortable men and many threw away their blankets.  Itwas not long beforeclothing and haversacks began to litter the path.The scene looked more like a retreat than an unopposed advance.....Many of the men had abandoned their rations - and as there was no hope of a supply train reaching the camp before two or three days, the situation threatened to become serious."

The following morning, the 22nd Infantry Regiment headed the advance inland and by noon had taken possession of Siboney.  For the next several days, the 22nd fought the heat and the elements.  On the morning of June 27, 1898, General Ludlow moved the 22nd Infantry forward about four miles on the El Caney road.  The Regiment remained there until the afternoon of June 30, when General Lawton ordered the entire division to resume its march north.

On July 1, 1898, General Ludlow's First Brigade slowly approached El Caney.  Captain Wassell described the action: "The 22nd Infantry led the advance along a trail overgrown with brush and vines until wereached the main Santiago-El Caney road near the Ducoureaud House.  The Second Battalion was then deployed and skirmished northward through the jungle to check if there were any paths over which the Spaniards in the town might escape to Santiago.  The First Battalion continued along the main road toward El Caney.  About a thousand yards from the city, CompanyA, our advance guard, came under sharp Mauser fire.  The battalion deployed rapidly east and west of the road.  LTC Patterson was severely wounded by the sudden enemy attack, and Major Van Horne took over command of the Regiment.....For more than a half-hour we cut through undergrowth and tangled vegetation, which was so dense that the battalion could not see more than ten feet to the front.  In order to keep the line in order, menwere continually forced to call out their position to skirmishers on either side of them... "After three hours of battle, the First Battalion had creptto within seven hundred yards of the enemy positions - suffering heavy losses in the process.

Meanwhile at El Caney, the Second Battalion of the 22nd Infantry, under the command of Captain B. C. Lockwood, was located to the extreme left of General Ludlow's line.  The battalion received orders to hack its way through the jungle for half a mile, then swing east until they came to theCuabietas road.  This was to be their assigned position to block any enemy retreat from the town.

As Lockwood's troops cut their way through the heavy underbrush, they came underfire from Spanish snipers.  The advance was so difficult thatit was impossible to keep the formation together.  Captain Robert Getty'scompany became separated from the rest of the battalion.  They reconnoitered the area west of Lockwood's position, and succeeded in cutting the El Caney telephone line along the Cuabietas road.  Getty rejoined the battalion at the edge of the fire-swept clearing, about five hundred yards from the trenches and main blockhouse.

Captain Wassell narrated: "The Spanish use of barbed wire proved to be very effective in stopping our advance.  Wires were stretched near the ground to trip our men when they would run from one location to another. A few yards beyond, the Spaniards had constructed tall fences - strungwith many lines of wire.  These defenses were laid in cultivated valleysand other open spaces near the entrenchment's.  Enemy snipers were posted in the treetops around the clearings.  Every fence compelled a momentary halt in our progress - and during those moments, we were exposed to pitiless fire.  From noon until one o'clock there was a lull in the fighting,and men with wire cutters moved forward.  Taking advantage of bushes and dips in the ground, they crawled to within two hundred yards of the trenchesand cut many of the wires.  They returned to our lines safely.  Owing to the great extent of the front occupied by the Regiment, General Ludlow moved the Second Battalion still farther to the west, and advanced the First Battalion to within five hundred yards of the enemy.  The 8th Infantry waspositioned between the First and Second Battalions."

About one o'clock, the Spaniards increased their firing with renewed vigor.  The Americans were forced to hug the ground at the edge of the clearings, and strain their eyes for moments when they could catch a glimpse of the enemy.  The fierce heat from the sun was intolerable - andwater was almost impossible to obtain.

Jacob Kreps related: "Occasionally, the defenders stood upright in their trenches and parapets in order to fire volleys.  At other times their rifle pits appeared dotted with straw hats - and a moment later,the enemy was invisible again.  Our soldiers would shoot the hats topieces but did not kill anyone.  The Spaniards had resorted to the oldtrick of placing their hats on sticks for the men to shoot at.  The blockhouse and trenches at the south end of town were protected by talltrees.  Not only did they conceal the enemy's movements, but snipers stationed in the trees became a major problem.  The sharpshooters couldnot be seen, however, their fire was devastatingly accurate."

Because of the two-mile range of the high-powered Mausers, the American artillery was useless at close distances against the Spanish defenses. The most frustratingaspect about the failure of artillery support was the fact that the gun batteries were unable to cover the infantry assaults on the San Juan heights and El Caney adequately...

At the same time that Chaffee's troops were assaulting the hilltop, Ludlow's brigade - led by the 22nd Infantry Regiment - rushed from their jungle cover and sprinted across the fire-swept clearing.  Yard by yard,trench by trench, and blockhouse by blockhouse, the brigade fought its way into the town.  The Spanish garrison was besieged on all sides.  The enemy became confused and disoriented.  They searched for a route to withdraw their forces to the safety of Santiago, but there was only one path still open - the Cuabietas road.

Captain Lockwood's Second Battalion had been waiting all afternoon to get into the fight.  They could hear the battle raging, but had no ideaof the outcome until Spanish soldiers were seen fleeing toward them.  Very few, if any, of the enemy escaped Lockwood's ambush.  More than two hundred dead and wounded were counted along the intended retreat route.  Captain Wassell recalled the moment of triumph: "We heard shouting from the hill. At first we did not comprehend the reason for the celebration but as thesounds rose in volume, we realized that they were American voices cheeringtheir victory."

The Fifth Army Corps casualties for the one-day battle at San Juan Heights and El Caney totaled 200 dead and nearly twelve hundred wounded. The 22nd Infantry Regiment was saddened by the news that Colonel Wikoff had been killed earlier in the day at San Juan Hill.

The weary soldiers of the 22nd Infantry had hoped for a good meal and a few hours' rest - but it was not meant to be.  During the early morning march to El Caney, the troops had been ordered to stack their haversacks and blanket rolls at different locations along the road.  The belongings were placed under guard.  However, a few hours later, when the walking wounded began straggling to the rear, the surgeons called upon the sentriesto help bring the injured men to the aid station.  Two miles of blankets, ponchos, and rations were left unguarded, and anyone who passed along thetrail helped themselves to whatever they happened to need.

After the conflict, when the Regiment returned to pick up their belongings, very little was left.  About six o'clock, rain started to fall, and the dead tired soldiers - without having eaten, and no blankets or ponchos to keep themselves dry - laid down alongside the muddy roadway - and slept.

At three o'clock the following morning, July 2, Lawton's division was ordered to head for Santiago.  His brigades were harassed by snipers during the march, but managed to reach their assigned positions on schedule. The string of American trenches stretched in a five-mile horseshoe curve around the city.  The 22nd Infantry dug themselves in on the extreme rightof the line.  At 10:30 that night, the Spaniards launched an artillery barrage and infantry against the right flank of the division.  The 22nd InfantryRegiment held their ground and beat back the enemy charge.

The 22nd Infantry held their position through the remainder of July 2 and 3.  Dr. Dunham recorded the tragic set of circumstances that wereabout to occur - and would take more American lives than the war itself: "When the notice of the bombardment was sent to General Toral, the city gates were opened and thousands of miserable inhabitants rushed out toward the invading corps.  They were received with compassion and kindness - whichdid more credit to the hearts of our men than to their heads.  The rabble were hungry, and stricken with disease and infection.  They were truly more menacing to the Americans than all the soldiers of Spain."

The chief surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel Senn, stated: "Our troops were in a strange land among strange people.  The Americans enjoyed the novelty of hero worship - not realizing how dearly they would be called upon to pay for such a privilege.  Houses and huts in which yellow fever was raging were visited regularly, and the dangerous germsof this and other diseases were inhaled as a matter of course.  The results of such intimate associationby our susceptible soldiers with the natives could not be readily foreseen. It required only the usual time for the disease to make its appearance. And when it did so, it was everywhere along the lines of entrenchment's."

On the morning of July 4, the 22nd Infantry was ordered into position three miles farther to the right and closer to the besieged city.  During the night, the 22nd Infantry Regiment was moved forward to the northeast point of Santiago Bay - less than two hundred yards from the enemy rifle pits.  Captain Wassell stated: "We were so close to the Spaniards that wecould yell at each other.  Some of our men could speak Spanish, and many verbal exchanges took place - usually ending in mutual cursing."

However, the lengthy siege was beginning to take its toll on the Fifth Army Corps.  General Marcus Wright observed: "The men had been standing day and night crouched in the trenches - often knee deep in water from thunderstorms, and always short on rations.  The oppressive heat and sickness was having a detrimental effect on the troops.  They were unprotectedfrom the drenching rains, and fell easy prey to tropical diseases.  Moralewas low, and every day it became more difficult to arouse them to vigorous action."  The troops maintained their positions amid the terrible conditions and finally, on July 16, the final terms of the Spanish surrender were agreed upon.

After General Shafter and men of the 2nd Cavalry and 9th Infantry Regiments entered Santiago, the celebration began in the Fifth Corps rifle pits.  Jacob Kreps described the joyous scene: "The 22nd Infantryand their band paraded in perfect formation alongthe battlefront.  As far as the eye could see, solders were jumping about on the crests of thetrenches, celebrating their hard won victory.  The surrounding hills were alive with frolicking troops - and brightly colored regimental and Americanflags dotted the landscape.  On the following day, July 18, the Regiment was moved back to San Juan Heights.  Everyone was suffering from unavoidable exposure.  During the daily thunderstorms, the men had only been able to getslight protection from their shelter halves.  For many days and nights theyhad worn the same wet clothing and slept in water filled trenches.  Malaria,yellow fever, typhoid, and dysentery spread throughthe Regiment until only a few officers and a small number of men were fit for duty - and these only because they were less sick than the others."

No matter how hard the medical department worked to save lives, the soldiers continued to succumb to the tropical illnesses at an alarming rate. General Shafter held a meeting with his division and brigade commanders. It was unanimously decided that the only salvation for the troops was toleave Cuba as soon as possible.  The Regiments would be replaced with menfrom southern states - who were thought to be immune to yellow fever.  The Surgeon General selected Montauk Point, New York as the campsite for the returning American soldiers.  It was located at the extreme eastern end of Long Island and thought to be far enough away from populated areas for safety. The receiving station was named Camp Wikoff in honor of the 22nd Infantry's popular colonel.  As the American troops boarded the transports for theirtrip back to the United States, they were issued summer uniforms - just intime for the sharp sea breezes and chilly nights at Montauk Point.

General Ludlow's brigade, including the 22nd Infantry Regiment, was notified onAugust 11, 1898 that they were to return home aboard the transport MOBILE. The troops were inspected by medical officers for signs of yellow fever. All infected clothing was burned, and summer uniforms issued.  The brigade embarked on August 13.  Jacob Kreps wrote: "The journey from Cuba to theUnited States added more hardships to the Regiment's already long list. No provisions had been made for the sick.  Men suffering from fever, chills,and various stomach ailments, were compelled to eat ordinary rations. Eleven deaths occurred during the trip.  We reached Montauk Point on August 20. But by now the news of the dreadful campaign, and the appalling stories ofthe ocean voyages, had reached the American public.  Privations were now athing of the past. The people seized every opportunity to load upon the returning soldiers all thedelicacies of life.  Nothing was left undone, by the government or private citizens, that could add to the comfort - andthe luxury - of the troops.  And although the majority of the men were prevented by sickness from enjoying the many good things thrust upon them,the kindness prompting these gifts cheered more than one invalid to recovery."

On September 16, 1898, the 22nd Infantry Regiment left Camp Wikoff for its former station - Camp Crook, Nebraska.  Out of the 513 officers and men who had left the post four months earlier, only 165 returned - and almost all of those were still suffering from disease and malnutrition.

Upon the 22nd's return to Nebraska, four additional companies were authorized - bringing the Regimental strength to twenty-six officers and 1,070 enlisted men.  Jacob Kreps was advanced in rank to captain and appointed commanding officer of Company M.  However, nearly the entire Regiment was now comprised of new recruits.  It would take four months of intensive training before the 22nd Infantry Regiment would be prepared tobe sent into action again - and they were again on the road to war whenthey received orders on January 27, 1899 to proceed to California by rail for embarkation to the Philippines.


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