A Brief History of the

6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry


For a partial roster of the 6th Massachusetts click here
For information on the 6th Massachusetts, Co. L, click here
For information on the 6th Massachusetts at the Battle of Yauco,  click here
For a dogtag belonging to James Powers of the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Co. I,  click here
General:

The document below was written specifically about the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry's Company H. However, the majority of the information relates to the movements of the entire regiment. It is, of course, written in a manner that extolls the patriotism of the era, and also lauds  the Massachusetts Militia for being better trained than similar troops in other states, which is not necessarily true. The regiment saw service in Puerto Rico during the war. The regiment was initially part of the 2nd Brigade, Frst Division or the Second Army Corps. On arrivial in Puerto Rico, the regiment was reassigned to the First Provisional Brigade of the Second Army Corps.

Significantly, the account makes no reference to some important events involving the regiment when it arrived in Puerto Rico. During the first few days in Puerto Rico, the regiment exhibited such a lack of discipline on the march, had inexperienced  pickets fire on cattle, and showed a momentary panic during the Battle of Yauco. As a result, the regiment's colonel, lieutenant colonel, major and a captain were requested to resign and a regular army officer, Col. Frank Rice, was placed in command. The account below simply states "After one or two minor skirmishes the Spanish troops retired." Information on these issues can be found by clicking here. Some additional clarifying notes were added and are indicated.

The 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was mustered into service on May 12-13, 1898. At the time of mustering in, the regiment consisted of forty-seven officers and 896 enlisted men. When the regiment was mustered out on January 21, 1899, the regiment consisted of forty-six officers and 1,172 enlisted men. During its term of service, the regiment had one officer and three enslited men wounded, and twenty-five enlisted die of disease.

The History:

"Conditions in the Island of Cuba, then a Spanish Colony, had been growing worse and worse during the year 1897 and the early part of 1898, causing much friction between the United States and Spain, and many events, not the least of which was the blowing up , in Havana Harbor, of the battleship Maine, finally culminated in a Declaration of War by the United States.

On April 23rd, 1998, President William McKinley issued his first call for volunteers, 125,000 men being [requested]...

As the Militia was not a part of the Army, it became necessary, on the call for volunteers by the President, for the Governor of Massachusetts, Roger Wolcott, to ask the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia to volunteer for services in the United States Army; accordingly the Governor asked the various regiments to volunteer for two years’ service. One hour after the Governor asked for volunteers the Colonel of the Sixth Regiment, of which Co. H, was a part , had received word from every Company...

One evening early in May the commanding officer of Co. H was called on the telephone from the State House in Boston, and directed to report at the State Camp Ground, Framingham, with his Company on May 6th for necessary examinations and muster in to the service of the United States.
In response to those orders the Company assembled at the Armory on Main Street, Friday morning, May 6th, and amid great enthusiasm, cheered by thousands of the citizens, and escorted by Post 75, G.A.R., and the High School Cadets, with a band furnishing the music, paraded through the principal streets to the R.R. Station on Franklin Street and boarded the 8:20 A. M. train, for Boston.

Arriving in Boston the Company was joined by Companies A and L of the same Regiment, marched to the State House, where they were reviewed by Governor Wolcott, then entrained for South Framingham, at which place they went into camp. Here officers and men underwent a rigid physical examination, and the following eleven men were rejected, largely because of defective eyesight: Privates Hodge, Bowser, Ames, Goss, Piggrem, Muller, Murphy, Morse, Irving, Kendall and Merritt. The loss of these men delayed the muster of the Company, but Capt. Sweetser and Lt. Barnstead recruited a suffcient number of men from Stoneham, Malden and Lowell to replace them, on Friday, May 13th, at 2:30 P.M., the Company was mustered into the United States service.

During the following week campaign uniforms were issued, recruits fitted out, drills carried on, etc., and on Friday, May 20th, orders having been received to proceed to Camp Alger, Virginia, the Regiment marched to South Framingham cheered by friends from all parts of the State, who lined streets leading to the railway station. The train left South Framingham about 8:00 P.M. and was met at Worcester, Springfield, Pittsfield and other stations by enthusiastic gatherings of citizens, all eager to bid God-speed to their citizen soldiers.

After a night and part of the next day on the train the Regiment arrived at Baltimore, Maryland, the city in which a mob had greeted the 6th Mass. Regiment in the Civil War, in 1861, and where the first men to lose their lives in that War had been killed. The citizens of Baltimore had sent an invitation to the Regiment to parade through the City, which invitation was accepted. Arriving at that city about 4:30 P.M. on May 21, the Regiment detrained, and marched about four miles through streets lined six or eight deep with cheering citizens. The Mayor welcomed the soldiers in the name of the city, officers and men were given box lunches, bands of music were provided, and in every way the city did its best to wipe out the remembrance of 1861.

After the reception here the Regiment entrained for Dun Loring, Virginia, arriving there Sunday morning, May 22 and from there marched to Camp Alger where the troops went under canvas. Here the Regiment remained until July 4th, during which time orders were received to recruit companies to a strength of three officers and one hundred and eight men. Recruiting parties were sent to the home towns of the various Companies and with some difficulty recruits were obtained. Taking into consideration the men recruited at Framingham to replace those rejected on the physical examination the Company (like all others in the regiment) had about 60% recruits. These men should of have had at least three months intensive training before being sent south, but as Massachusetts had, in all probability, the best troops of any State they had to be sent as soon as possible [editor's note - all regiments generally went through this same process in the same manner, with recruits being sent as soon as they were available]. While at Camp Alger the days were spent in drill and instruction, the Company participated in a practice march to the Potomac River, with practice battle exercises, etc., and on week-ends men were given an opportunity to visit Washington and other points of interest near. During its stay here the Company was detailed on outpost, and it is probable that while on this duty the water supply was contaminated and an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out which resulted in the death of Private Leon E. Warren, the only man the Company lost during the war, and also caused the death of officers’ orderly John Muller. Muller had been a member of the Company, was rejected on account of eyesight, but was so anxious to serve that he went with the Company as orderly to the officers.

On July 5th at 11:00 A. M., orders were received to move to Charleston, S.C., and at 2:00P.M. the Regiment took up the march to Dun Loring where they entrained, arriving at Charleston at 9:00P.M. July 6th. On the 8th the Regiment embarked on the S.S.Yale (formerly the liner Paris) which had been taken for a transport. This vessel was, of course, totally unfit for a transport, the only place for the men being on the deck, and cooking facilities were almost entirely lacking for such a number of men, with the result that it was impossible to care for the men properly [editor's note - the Yale, being an oceanliner prior to be being used as a transport was actually better suited for this task than the many freighters that were brought into service for transports]. The Yale sailed for Cuba July 9th and arrived off Sibonay July 11, and the troops prepared to debark but Santiago (in the attack on which the Regiment was to participate) surrendered on July 14th [July 17] and General Miles, in command of the expedition, decided to hold the Regiment on the Yale as Yellow fever was prevalent on shore, and he wished to send this Regiment to Porto Rico [editor's note - Miles' objective had always been Puerto Rico. There was some concern that the troops in Cuba had to be reinforced and the expedition was temporarily detoured should that be necessary, which turned out not to be needed]

After one or two minor skirmishes the Spanish troops retired , and July 30th, the Brigade to which the 6th was attached (the 2nd Brigade, 1st division) started to march across the island to attack the Capital, San Juan. The Regiment reached Yauco that night, the next day marched to Tallaboa, and the following day reached Ponce, one of the largest cities on the island. Here there was a few days delay owing to the receipt of new rifles, etc. On August 9th the march was resumed, the Regiment marching about twelve miles that day, and about five the following day, arriving at the village of Adjuntas on August 11th, and at Utuad on the 13th. Owing to the fact that the Regiment had been held on board the transport for so long a time on the poorest of rations, and the fact that they had landed in a tropical climate in the rainy season, still without proper rations, the men had suffered greatly during the time they had been on the island, with the result that many were then and later in various kinds of sickness.
At Utuado word was received that Spain had asked for peace, and, after camping several days in a swampy meadow the Regiment was ordered into buildings in the town, Company H being quartered with Company A of Wakefield in a schoolhouse, which made good quarters.

Here the Company remained for several weeks, during which time regular drills and instruction in rifle work were carried on, but there was not much improvement in rations. The lack of trained men, of transports, of arms, equipment, and supplies of all kinds showed how utterly unprepared the United States was for war, and had that war been with a first class power the outcome might have been very different.

While at Utuado there was much sickness, and many men of Company H were sent to the hospitals in the town, and later sent home on the various hospital ships.

On October 9th orders were received for Company H together with Companies F, K and L to move to Aricibo the following day, and the Company left Utuado at 7:00 A.M. for a march of twenty-two miles, arriving just outside Aricibo late in the afternoon. The next morning the battalion entered Aricibo, and the Regiment of Spanish soldiers that had been stationed there left by train for San Juan to embark for Spain.

The following day Company H received orders to proceed to the town of Manati, it having been found necessary to have Companies of American troops occupy the larger towns to prevent depredation by the “Black Hand” society, an outlaw organization which at that time infested the out-lying towns and villages. A detachment from Company H was sent to the small town of Vega Baja to maintain order in that locality.

Only a few days were spent in Manati and Vega Baja as word had been received that the 6th Regiment had been ordered home, and on the 18th, having been relieved by the “Immunes” [editor's note - "immunes" were regiment raised in the U.S. of men who were thought to have immunity to tropical diseases. They did not, and many deaths resulted]  the Company entrained for San Juan, the Capital and largest city of the island, arriving there early on the 19th, boarding the transportMississippi” at once. Officers and men were allowed “shore leave” until Friday noon when all were back on board, and the ship sailed for the United States that afternoon.

The “Mississippi” , while not built for a transport was far better than the “Yale”, and every man had a hammock. The cooking facilities too were much better so that the men could get good food. The weather became much colder, of course, as the vessel steamed north and the men were uncomfortable in their campaign uniforms, but it was not for long as the “Mississippi” docked at Boston early Thursday morning, October 27th, having been met in the harbor by the “Vigilant” with Governor Wolcott on board.

Boston gave the Sixth a wildly enthusiastic welcome, the Regiment marching from the wharf where the transport docked through dense crowds of cheering spectators to the State House where they were reviewed by the Governor.

Company H then proceeded to the North Station and entrained for Stoneham where they were to receive another tremendous ovation. The people of the town had been notified early in the day that the Company would arrive in the afternoon, and it seemed to the returning soldiers that everyone in the town and hundreds from surrounding towns were on hand when the train pulled into the Station on Franklin Street. The Company formed and marched through the streets to the Armory escorted by a band, The G.A.R. Post No. 75, the Provisional Company of the M.V.M., the High School Cadets, and the Fire Department. The crowed was so dense and so enthusiastic that it was difficult for the parade to move, but the Armory was reached at last, and the men dismissed with orders to report at the Armory November 3rd at which time they signed payrolls, etc., and were furloughed for sixty days.

Officers and men reported at the Armory again January 2nd, were examined physically, muster out rolls were prepared, and preparations were made for their discharge from the service. Previous to their discharge, however, the townspeople arranged a banquet and reception at the Armory which crowed the building to its doors. Judge William B. Stevens delivered the address of welcome home and Capt. Sweetser responded, giving a brief story of the campaign. Col. Edmund Rice was the honored guest of the occasion.

On January 21st the Company entrained for Boston, marched to the South Armory, on Irvington Street, and were mustered out of the United States service at three P.M. after having served something over eight months. On the evening of that day the officers of the Regiment, including Capt. Sweetser, Lt. Barnstead and Lt. Thayer of Company H gave a testimonial banquet to Colonel Edmund Rice at the University Club, Boston. Colonel Rice had taken command of the Regiment in Porto Rico, and had made himself loved and respected by every officer and man.

While only the deaths during the campaign were Private Leon E. Warren, and officers’ orderly John Muller, (both from typhoid fever) there was a great deal of sickness and suffering owing to the prevalence of typhoid fever, malaria, dysentery and other troubles caused by improper food, exposure to a tropical climate, poor medical arrangements, etc.

As in all wars in which the United States has been engaged the fact that the country was unprepared caused untold suffering among those who responded to the call to arms. The so-called pacifists have themselves to blame for a large part of the sickness, misery and deaths which have taken their toll of the flower of America’s young manhood in every war."


Bibliography:

Correspondence relating to the War with Spain And Conditions Growing Out of the Same Including the Insurrection in the Philippine Island and the China Relief Expedition. Vol. 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902) 597.

Standish, Lemuel W., Stoneham – The Friendly Town. Article entitled “A Brief History of Co. H, 6th Inf., M. V. M., in the War with Spain” by Colonel Warren E. Sweetser [roster of Co. H, courtesy of Carole McDonough] [Source of main text]


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