Instituto de Voluntarios de Puerto Rico
by Miguel Hernandez

General:

The men of the "Instituto de Voluntarios de Puerto Rico" were an active military force in Puerto Rico. Some members of the organization were involved in the conflict.

Unit History:

The "Instituto de Voluntarios de Puerto Rico" was a military organization roughly equivalent to the various state volunteer units and National Guard in the United States.  The "Voluntarios" were informally established in late 1868  when the Spanish government decided to disband the existing  "Milicias Diciplinadas"  or Regular Militia  dating from 1765. The reason for the disbandment  was that some members of the "Milicias"  participated in the Lares revolt in September 19, 1868.
 

The Commanding Officer and Staff of the First Volunteer Batallion of Puerto Rico" 1897

However, it was not until 1812 that the Voluntarios became a formal military force in Puerto Rico, recognized  by the Spanish Crown and consisted of some 14 battalions with both infantry companies and cavarly units based scattered around the Islands cities and towns  As "week-end warriors" their mission was to train and be ready to assist the regular Spanish Army in the event of a war and in peacetime they functioned as a quasi-constabulary dealing with any public disorders that might arise.

The individual "Voluntario" soldier was paid only when he was called to active service by the Governor of Puerto Rico. He had to provide his own food, uniform and other military acoutrments with the exception of his weapon, the Remington, "rolling block' rifle  that was manufactured under license from the Remington Arms company by the Spanish armory at Oviedo.  It was the standard Spanish infantry arm from it's adoption in 1871 until the Mauser was adopted in the 1890s. Voluntario officers wore pistols of various manufacture and a machete-like sable.  The "standard" uniform was of the the so called "Rayadillo" cotton material similar to what the regular Spanish army wore, but  in practice, a  variety of materials were used by the different batallions in accordance to what locally available.  All Voluntario uniforms however, sported green collars and cuffs.

In addition to being part-time soldiers, every Voluntario was also a member of a political party known as "Incondicionalmente Español"; meaning unconditionally Spanish. In essence, they were an armed political party. Originally, membership was limited to Spanish born immigrants but later this requirement was expanded to include native-born Puerto Ricans, the so-called " Criollos" i.e., creoles.  In spite of the costs of being a Voluntario there was no shortage recruits as there was a certain amount of cache and other social, economic and political benefits to be derived from membership.

In late 1897, just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Spanish military authorities in Puerto Rico issued orders calling for disarmament of the Voluntarios. Their militant, pro-Spanish sentiments were viewed as detrimental to the peaceful establishment of the newly empowered "Autonomist" government of Puerto Rico that allowed a modicum of self-government to the island.
 

M1871/89 Spanish (Oviedo) Remington Rolling Block Rifle

But, when the war with the U.S. was declared, the Governor General of Puerto Rico rescinded the autonomy and ordered the Voluntarios into service.  However, it was further decreed that they would not be allowed to fight in their own distinct units and were to be inducted as individual soldiers and integrated into the regular Spanish Army. This order did not sit well with them and with exceptions, the majority of the 8,000 part-time soldiers did not respond to the Spanish call to to be subsumed into the Spanish Army.

And, soon after the American forces invaded the island on July 25, 1898  it became clear that  the Spanish policy was to negotiate a peace, instead of fighting for  Puerto Rico,  the Voluntarios felt betrayed and were not enthusiastic to join  Spanish rear guard battles.  In any event,  recently rediscovered muster records at the Spanish Military Archive in Segovia show that many Voluntarios were present at the various combats including the final one at El Asomante near the town of Aibonito. The Instituto de Voluntarios was disbanded at the close of the Spanish American War in 1898.


Bibliography:

Instituo de Voluntarios de Puerto Rico en 1897. Publisher: La Gazeta de Puerto Rico. (Official Press of the Spanish Colonial Government at that time) (The photo of the group of Voluntario officers)

Iriarte, Luis,  owner of website 1898 - Guerra Hispano-Americana en Puerto Rico http://home.coqui.net/sarrasin/index.htm (The drawing of Mr. the Voluntario Officer).

Méndez, Capitán Angel Rivero,  Cronica de la Guerra-Hispano-Americana en Puerto Rico. First edition (Madrid: 1922).

Negroni, Hector A., Col. Ret. USAF,  Historia Militar de Puerto Rico (San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1992).

Rubi, Teniente Coronel Barceló, ARMAMENTO PORTATIL ESPAÑOL 1764-1939., (Published by Editorial San Martin, 1976) (The photo of the Remington Rifle)


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