A Brief History of the 8th U.S. Infantry

By Edward Frank and Patrick McSherry


General:

The 8th U.S. Infantry saw action in Cuba during the war, and portions served in Puerto Rico as part of the occupation force..

The History:

The 8th U.S. Infantry took part in the invasion of Cuba. Two companies were were shipped via the transport SENECA. It appears that only seven of the regiment’ companies went to Cuba – Companies A, B, C, D, E, G, and H. The unit was part of the First Brigade, Second Division of the Fifth Army Corps.

July 1, 1898 was the date of the assaults against the Spanish forces defending the city of Santiago. As part of the overall assault General Henry Lawton, Commanding the Second Division was charged with attacking the Spanish garrison at El Caney. Four blockhouses defended El Caney.  The First Brigade, under the command of Brig. Gen. Ludlow, attacked on the left, with the 8th U.S. Infantry, the 22nd  U.S. Infantry, supported by the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. During the assault, the Second Massachusetts was hampered by its use of the Springfield “Trapdoor” rifles, which used black powder. The black powder smoke marked the mens’ position and also made it more difficult for them to aim. The Spanish, with their mausers, and the other American forces were using smokeless poweder. The combination forced the Second Massachusetts to move out of the line.

The Third Brigade had the right prong of the attack and was commanded by Gen. Adna Chaffee. Brig. Gen. Bate’s brigade sent to reinforce Lawton.  The intensive battle against a greatly outnumbered Spanish force was won when the Spanish ran low on ammunition and American artillery moved forward.  The final assault came shortly after 4:00 P.M.. The Spanish force lost heavily, including their commander Brig. Gen. Joaquin Vara de Rey.

It was thought that El Caney would fall quickly and that Lawton’s troops, including the 8th U.S. Infantry, would be able to advance and join in the assault on the San Juan Heights which began shortly after the fight at El Caney. The stubborn Spanish resistance had tied up Lawton’s troops, and they would not arrive in time to join in the San Juan Heights assaults.

The 8th Infantry eventually held the extreme right end of this line, with Cuban volunteers to their right and in the rear.  Santiago surrendered on July 17.

The beginning of August brought the invasion of Puerto Rico. The invasion was ended before it could be fully completed with the agreement to an armistice between the U.S. and Spain on August 12, 1898. Company F of 8th U.S. Infantry was sent to Puerto Rico to serve as part of the occupation force. Later, this company appears to have been sent to Cuba as part of the occupation force there.

The portions of the 8th U.S. Infantry that served in Cuba were sent back to the United States, landing at Camp Wikoff on New York's Long Island. From there, in late September, the men were shipped aboard the Transport ROUMANIAN to join companies I, K, L, and M at Huntsville Alabama.



Bibliography:

Clerk of Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899) Vol. 3, 361, 487, 488.

Esposito, Brig. Gen. Vincent J., The West Point Atlas of American Wars. Vol. I. (New York: Praeger Publishers 1972).

New York Times - September 20, 1898 [8th U.S. on ROUMANIAN].


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