A Brief History of the Independent Battalion

South Carolina Volunteer Infantry

Compiled Originally Lieutenant Colonel Henry T. Thompson

Contributed by Kenneth H. Robison, II


Click here for a history of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (of which this military unit became a part)
General:

The Independent Battalion, South Carolina Volunteer Infantry eventually became part of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. It saw service in Cuba as part of the occupation forces as part of that regiment.

The Independent Battalion was mustered into service on May 22nd, 1898 at the Fair Grounds in Columbia, South Carolina. On  June 27th, it was reorganized as the 1st Battalion, 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. The Battalion was mustered out of service on April 19th, 1899, at Camp McKenzie, Augusta, Georgia.

The History:

Company Organization:

Company A, Darlington County, Darlington Guards
Company B [1st], Sumter County, Sumter Light Infantry
Company B [2nd], Statewide
Company C, Orangeburg County, Edisto Rifles
Company D, Clarendon County, Manning Guards

Battalion Officers:

Major Henry T. Thompson,commanding
1st Lieutenant W.E. Gonzales, Adjutant
1st Lieutenant Dr. E.J. Wannamaker, Assistant Surgeon
Lieutenant B.D. Wilson [Co. B], Acting Quartermaster
Lieutenant E.R. Cox [Co. A], Acting Quartermaster
Lieutenant A.H. Moss [Co. C], Commissary of Subsistence
Lieutenant A.C. Davis [Co. D], Ordnance Officer
Sergeant Major N.H. Bull [Co. C]
Sergeant James B. Holliman [Co. B], Color Sergeant
Private Walter Griffin [Co. A], Hospital Steward
 

The “Darlington Guards”, commanded by the writer of this article, volunteered for the war with Spain on April 27th, 1898, and their services were at once accepted. Before they were ordered to Columbia, however, that is, on May 3rd, Governor Ellerbe promoted their Captain to Major in charge of the Independent Battalion, and wired him to report in Columbia immediately. On his arrival there, the Governor assigned him to duty in connection with the organization and management of the camp at the Fair Grounds, where, a day or two later, reported the four companies that were designated to form the Independent Battalion, namely, the “Darlington Guards”, the “Sumter Light Infantry”, the “Edisto Rifles”, and the “Manning Guards”.

These companies came from the four contiguous counties of Darlington, Sumter, Orangeburg and Clarendon, respectively, and representing one section of the State, united naturally into a single com¬pact organization. Many of those originally in their ranks were rejected on the physical examination; but as their places became gradually filled by others, the four companies were mustered in, one after another, in the order given above, “Darlington Guards”, Company A; “Sumter Light Infantry”, Company B; “Edisto Rifles”, Company C, and the “Manning Guards”, Company D. On May 22nd, the organization was declared by the United States authorities to be complete, and the commanding officer and his Adjutant, First Lieutenant W. E. Gonzales, were duly mustered in, as was also Dr. E. J. Wannamaker, whom the Governor had appointed Assistant Surgeon, with the rank of First Lieutenant. Walter Griffin, of Company A, was appointed Hospital Steward of the Battalion by the Governor, and Sergeant N. H. Bull, of Company C, was detailed by the commanding officer as Sergeant Major. As thus completed, the Independent Battalion was the first organization in the State to be mustered into the service of the United States for the war with Spain.

The United States Regulations called for 84 men to a company. None of the companies in the State had more than half that number prior to hostilities, while many had considerably less than half. To complete the quota up to 84, therefore, it was necessary to use a large number of perfectly "raw" recruits. Add to these the recruits that were accepted in place of those who failed on the physical examination, and the number afterwards necessary to increase each company from 84 to 106, and it is safe to assert that nine-tenths of the Battalion were ignorant of the first principles of military drill before coming to Columbia, while very many of them had never even seen a militia company formed in line.

The camp at the Fair Grounds was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Tillman of the 1st Regiment. Besides the Independent Battalion, there were mobilized there several companies of the 1st Regiment and the Charleston Heavy Battery. On May 24th, the Battalion left the Fair Grounds and moved to Shandon, a southeastern suburb of Columbia. Being in daily expectation of orders to move to the front, this was regarded at the time as but a temporary abiding place; but it really proved to be the home of the Battalion for several months to come. The commanding officer gave to the Shandon camp the name of "Fitzhugh Lee," in anticipation of the service afterwards to be rendered in Cuba under that distinguished commander. On leaving the camp at the Fair Grounds, Lieutenant B.D. Wilson, of Company B, was detailed as Acting Quartermaster of the Battalion; Lieutenant A. H. Moss, of Company C, as Commissary of Subsistence, and Lieutenant A. C. Davis, of Company D, as Ordnance Officer.

On the day of its removal to Shandon, Col. Jas. D. Blanding, on behalf of the Survivors Association of the Mexican War, in an eloquent address, presented to the Battalion the historic flag and spearhead of the gallant Palmetto Regiment, highly prized and greatly cherished relics - the first American emblems ever planted upon the walls of the City of Mexico. The commanding officer received them for the Battalion, and publicly placed them in the custody of Sergeant James Blanding Holliman, Company B, who had been detailed to act as Color Sergeant. In all of its wanderings thereafter, the Battalion had these colors with it, but on returning from Cuba, delivered them back to the Mexican Survivors' Association. They are thus the only South Carolina colors ever taken to two foreign wars.

Towards the end of May, the Governor was called on by the War Department to forward to Chickamauga the Independent Battalion, as being the only organization which the State had thus far com¬pleted. Subsequently, on June 3rd, the First Regiment was filled up by transferring the “Sumter Light Infantry” to it from the Independent Battalion. This was done by direction of the Governor, and resulted, in leaving the Battalion again in an incomplete condition. There upon, the orders of the War Department were changed, so that the First Regiment was to be sent to Chickamauga instead of the Battalion, greatly to the latter's disappointment, for at that time Chickamauga seemed to mean "going to the front."

The First Regiment left for Chickamauga on June 6th, being escorted to the depot by the Battalion. The chagrin which the latter experienced was short lived, for at the very time that it was passing through Main Street on escort parade, the commanding officer received a telegram from Major General Matthew C. Butler, at Camp Alger, Virginia, stating that the Battalion would be ordered to report to him immediately. The men were wild with delight at hearing this, and the prospect of serving under that gallant officer and distinguished Carolinian, so loved and admired by them all, seemed to fully reconcile them to seeing the 1st Regiment board the trains without them.

General Butler's telegram, however, was never followed by any spe¬cific orders from the War Department, though they were anxiously looked for day after day. This was probably due to a series of circumstances which followed, namely, the delay in equipping the Battalion, and in organizing it a second time after the loss of the “Sumter Light Infantry”; the fact that very soon after such reorganization it was made a part of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, for which, in turn, two more battalions had to be organized, and finally, the transfer of General Butler from his command at Camp Alger to the service of the government in an even higher sphere of usefulness in the West Indies.

On June 15th, a fourth company, to be known as "B," made up of men from all parts of the State, was organized for the Battalion. The following officers were elected by the members of the company, Governor Ellerbe having agreed to leave their selection to the men: W. G. Sirrine, Captain; T. C. Stone, First Lieutenant; Richard L. Dargan, Second Lieutenant. On the transfer of the “Sumter Light Infantry” to the First Regiment, Lieutenant E. R. Cox, of Company A, was detailed as Acting Quartermaster of the Bat¬talion.

The uniforms for the Battalion arrived on June 15th, thus making it the first South Carolina organization that was equipped by the government.

On June 21st, the ladies of Columbia treated the Battalion to an elegant banquet at Shandon - a graceful act, which was thoroughly enjoyed by the "soldier boys."

The weary days of waiting at Camp Fitzhugh Lee were spent chiefly in familiarizing the men with their duties, and in perfecting them in military drill; the progress which they made was excellent.

On June 23rd (which was just seven weeks from the time they had landed in Columbia), having received their uniforms, a battalion parade, participated in by Companies A, C and D, was given through the streets of the capital. Of this parade, The Columbia Register, on Friday morning, June 24th, said:
 

“Columbia had the pleasure of witnessing a battalion drill yesterday afternoon by the soldiers encamped at Shandon; It was a spectacle that caused every onlooker to feel a kind of pride and opened all eyes in astonished admiration. Those handsome, well uniformed and well disciplined recruits who yesterday executed the difficult battalion maneuvers with veteran like ease and perfectness, are the same recruits who a short time past did not know the first elements of military discipline and instruction. Experienced military officers say it was a wonderful contrast. They watched the parade with keen interest, and expressed great satisfaction both as to how the men were handled and as to the conduct of the men themselves

"Major Thompson assembled the Battalion at Camp Lee and began the march about 6 o'clock. The music of Pinckney's band was heard before the troops emerged into Main Street. Gervais was chosen as the route, and from there they appeared in Main, marching in columns of platoons. The six double columns of blue tramped with steady step up the main thoroughfare of Columbia. Hundreds of men, women and children lined the streets and peered out eagerly from the windows of the buildings on both sides of the avenue. The officers had the men under perfect control, and as each command was given it was executed without hesitation or confusion. As the lines passed in front of the Jerome Hotel the group of spectators burst into cheers. The enthusiastic yells were taken up and echoed all along the march. At the end of Main Street the soldiers executed fours right about and commenced the return. Cheers broke out at intervals as they passed back along the same route. On the whole, the exhibition of what the Battalion can do was enough within itself to put the seal of excellence on both soldiers and commander. Major Thompson was showered with congratulations."


And on the editorial page of that date, the same journal said:
 

 "Did you see those sturdy sons of South Carolina last afternoon? Could you ask better? Six weeks ago they came from the field, yesterday they marched like veterans. And, God bless them, they are imbued with that courage and determination that will make them remem¬bered if battles are to be fought, which we hope the good Providence will forefend. There were boys that had never known a harsher note than those of the reeds; their hearts were large, filled with milk of human kindness, and yesterday we saw them in martial array. Their arms were strong-so were their hearts. They simply meant business-trite but true. Major Thompson was made the commander of raw recruits, who have improved so that yesterday the people of this city saw a seasoned, well-drilled, goodly body of men."


On June 27th, the Independent Battalion was made the First Battalon of the new 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, and thereafter its history is a part of the history of that regiment. Colonel Wilie Jones, of Columbia, was made Colonel of the regiment, and the writer was made Lieutenant Colonel, which position enabled him to retain the command of the First Battalion.

The Battalion gave a second street parade in Columbia on July 4th, when it again attracted considerable attention and favorable comment on account of its proficiency in drill. On this occasion (which was exactly two months from the time the first companies had arrived in Columbia), the new B Company was also in line, and made an excellent appearance. The men were completely armed and equipped, and were ready for the field in every respect.

The health of the men during their stay at "'Camp Fitzhugh Lee" was remarkably good. Mild epidemics like measles and mumps flourished amongst them almost continuously; yet there was very little fever or serious sickness of any kind, and the men fared very well, but for the long period of weary waiting to which they were subjected.

There were only three deaths in the Battalion up to the time it was incorporated in the Second Regiment. The first of these was that of Private Joseph P. McLeod, Company D, on June 3rd. Young McLeod contracted pneumonia in camp, and was transferred to the Columbia Hospital, where everything possible was done for him, but in vain. The remains were interred at the soldier's home in Clarendon County. They were escorted to the train by the entire Battalion, and were sent the rest of the way under a guard of honor.

Private Argyle Gilbert, of Company A, died suddenly of heart disease on June 27th. He was a native of Virginia, and as it was found difficult to communicate with his relatives, he was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, in the city of Columbia, Camp Hampton, United Confederate Veterans, very kindly offering a part of its lot for that purpose. There, at sunrise on the morning of the 28th, in the presence of the whole Battalion, the young soldier, dressed in the complete uniform of the United States Army, was laid to rest by the side of that host of Southern soldiers who had "worn the gray." A handsome monu¬ment erected by his comrades of Company A marks the spot where he sleeps.

Private Joseph F. Stokes, of Company D, died of typhoid fever on July 27th, at his home near Brogden, Clarendon County, whither he had been sent from camp when he was first taken sick. He was buried the following day at Manning.

The organization of the 2nd Regiment brought about a number of changes in the Battalion. First Lieutenant E. J. Wannamaker, Assistant Surgeon, was promoted to Surgeon of the regiment, with the rank of Major; Hospital Steward Griffin was made the Chief Hospital Steward of the regiment; Adjutant Gonzales was made Captain of Company K; Lieutenant A. H. Moss, of Company C, was made Captain of Company L; First Sergeant H.L. Spahr, of Company C, was promoted to Second Lieutenant, vice Moss, promoted. Sergeant Major Bull was mustered out to accept the position of Adjutant of one of the new battalions, to which he had been appointed by the Governor, though he never qualified, as the War Department afterwards ruled that no provision had been made for battalion Adjutants for the 2nd South Carolina. For the same reason, no successor was appointed to Adjutant Gonzales, though Lieutenant T.C. Stone, of Company B, was detailed by the Battalion commander to act in that capacity. Sergeant F. J. Frederick, of Company C, was detailed as Sergeant Major, vice Bull, mustered out; Sergeant R. F. Woods, of Company A, was appointed First Lieutenant of Company H; Sergeant L. J. Bristow, of Company A, Second Lieutenant of Company L, and Sergeant C. J . Epps, of Company D, Second Lieutenant of I. R .L. Croswell, Bugler of Company A, was appointed Chief Bugler for the regiment, and J. S. Gibson, of Company A, Regimental Wagon Master. Lieutenant Stone, of Company B, was detailed as Ordnance Officer for the regiment, and Lieutenant Davis, of Company D, as Regimental Commissary.

Prior to the President's second call for troops, the four companies of the Battalion, under orders received from the War Department after its organization, had been recruited up to 106 men each, the "war footing." The department having decided that the companies of the 2nd Regiment should consist of only 84 men each, the four companies of the First Battalion were cut down to that number, the difference between 84 and 106, in every case, being transferred to the various companies of the Second and Third Battalions, which were then being organized. There were also transferred to the latter a number of non-commissioned officers and privates from the First Battalion (particularly from the three older companies), who were induced to make the change because they obtained promotion thereby. Thus it was that a number of the most efficient non-commissioned officers of the new battalions received their training in the First; while privates from the latter were scattered all over the rest of the regiment. As a result of all this the imprint of the First Battalion was implanted upon the regiment from the very beginning.

In September, the regiment left Columbia for Jacksonville, to join the 7th Army Corps, under Major General Fitzhugh Lee. On the occasion of its first appearance on dress parade there, General Barclay, to whose brigade it had been assigned, rode up to the commander of the First Battalion and publicly complimented him in flattering terms on its appearance and its proficiency in drill.

The 7th Army Corps was moved from Jacksonville, Florida, to Savannah, Georgia, in November. Shortly after its arrival in the latter city, the First Battalion of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment gave an exhibition drill there, which was witnessed by some 10,000 people, and which was commended in the highest terms by distinguished United States army officers who were present.

In the closing days of the year, when the corps was reviewed by President McKinley in Savannah, shortly before embarking for Cuba, the 2nd South Carolina Regiment had the honor of being on the right of the line. As a result, the First Battalion of that regiment was the first organization to pass the President's stand when the march in review began, the men marching in column of companies with their usual accuracy and precision of movement. They occupied a similar position and with the same degree of success, when the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 7th Army Corps, passed in review before General Gomez in the streets of Guines, Cuba, in March, whither the brigade had been sent by General Lee from its station near Havana, for the purpose of duly impressing the natives in the inter¬vening country.

Shortly before the regiment left for Cuba, Sergeant Major Frederick, of the First Battalion, was promoted to the position of Regimental Sergeant Major, and Sergeant Mabry, of Company C, was detailed to act in his place. The Battalion became a thing of the past on April 19th, 1899, when, with the rest of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, it was mustered out of the service of the United States in the city of Augusta, Georgia. It was made up of a fine body of represen¬tative Carolinians, who, had they been called upon to engage in actual hostilities, would have been heard from in no uncertain way. As it was, they discharged, to the fullest extent, every duty that was required of them, and won a name for their organization which, in the opinion of competent military critics, reflected credit on the State.

The successful career of the Battalion was due, in a very great degree, to the ability, soldierly qualities and faithful services of Adjutant Gonzales and the company officers. Such a combination, in particular, as that of Captain’s Boyd, Herbert, Davis and Sirrine, is rarely to be found in a battalion of volunteers; and it is to their able management, in a large measure, that the Independent Battalion owes the reputation it made.

Walter Griffin, the Chief Hospital Steward of the regiment, who had been with the Battalion since its organization in Columbia, in May of 1898, died in the army hospital in Savannah, Georgia, a day or two before the regiment was mustered out. He contracted fever in Cuba, and early in March was sent to Savannah on the hospital ship “Missouri”. By the time of his service, which was almost exactly coincident with the life of the organization itself; by his unselfish devotion to duty, and his tender and unremitting care of the sick comrades who were entrusted to him, his name is inseparably linked with that of the Independent Battalion and what he did for it must ever form an important part of the history of that organization.



Bibliography:

Floyd, Joseph W., Historical Roster and Itinerary of South Carolina Volunteer Troops who served in the late war between the United States and Spain, 1898, coupled with Brief Sketches of their movements from the Beginning to the Ending of the Conflict. (Columbia, S.C., The R.L. Bryan Company, 1901).


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