A Brief History

of the

Sixteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

By Patrick McSherry


Charles Rice Walker, 16th Pennsylvania
Photo of Charles Rice Walker of the 16th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Co. B
of Duck Run, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Walker was eighteen years old when
he enlisted. After the war, he married Lillie Belle Shaffer and the couple had seven children
Walker was a coal miner and in 1926 was trapped in a mine cave-in for twelve hours.
Walker eventually moved to California where he passed away in 1958.


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Click here for a history of the Puerto Rican Campaign

General:

The Sixteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry saw action in Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War.

Unit History:

The regiment, under the command of Colonel Willis J. Hulings, was formed generally in western Pennsylvania (Newcastle, Punxsutawney and Jeanette, Pennsylvania) in early May 1898, and was then transferred to Camp Hastings at Mount Gretna in eastern  Pennsylvania. The regiment was formed in three battalions. The first two battalions consisting of companies A, C, D, E, F, H, I and K left Camp Hastings on orders to report to Camp Thomas at Chickamauga, Georgia. On arriving, the regiment was assigned to the Third Brigade, First Division, of the First Army Corps.

On July 5, these two battalions were ordered to Charleston, South Carolina, arriving the next day. Here the men were housed in some large cotton warehouses, which were clean, however, with the brick baking in the sun, the temperature at midnight in the buildings was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the men had ample opportunity to bathe and swim around the nearby wharves, and did not need to depend on army rations. The men were welcomed into the homes of many local families or chose to eat in local restaurants. It was here that some of the men began to exhibit signs of typhoid fever, apparently contracted at Camp Thomas. On July 22, the men departed Charleston aboard the Army Transport MOBILE. These companies arrived at Ponce, Puerto Rico on July 26. In Puerto Rico the regiment was reassigned to the First Brigade of the same division. The regiment was immediately deployed as an advance guard about four miles outside of Ponce.

In the four-pronged Puerto Rican Campaign, the 16th Pennsylvania was part of General Ernst’s First Brigade, along with the 2nd and 3rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry regiments, two batteries of artillery from the regular army and Troop C of the New York Volunteer Cavalry. The plan was have the brigade advance northwest from Ponce, toward the towns of Juana Diaz, Coamo, and Aibonito.

The 16th Pennsylvania’s most notable action was at Coamo on August 9. The regiment was detailed to flank the town via a nighttime march on a mountain trail that only permitted the regiment’s 650 men to proceed to single file. The maneuver brought the regiment in contact with the Spanish forces, dug in along the Aibonito road. The companies deployed in open ground. After a portion of the regiment flanked the Spanish positions, the Spanish retreated. The 16th Pennsylvania captured five officers (a major, a captain and three lieutenants) and 162 enlisted men. Colonel Hulings was recognized in the report of Brigadier General Ernst as being “an example and inspiration to his men.” With the brigades’ other forces attacking Coamo in frontal attack, and the Sixteenth Pennsylvania in the town’s rear, the Spanish troops in Coamo departed before the American forces arrived, leaving the town under the control of a few officers and newspaper correspondents, including Richard Harding Davis.

The Spanish also lost four enlisted men killed and forty wounded. The 16th Pennsylvania lost six men wounded, one of which subsequently died.

An armistice was announced between the United States and Spain on August 12, ending the fighting. The Sixteenth Pennsylvania eventually marched to San Juan.
Meanwhile, the third battalion consisting of the remaining companies (B, G, L and M) remained behind at
Camp Hastings. At some point the battalion was sent to Newport News, Virginia and then, on August 16, four days after an armistice ended the war’s fighting, was ordered to Camp Meade, in Middletown, Pennsylvania, not far from Camp Hastings. These four companies were later ordered to New York, where they boarded the transport OBDAM, bound for Puerto Rico. They arrived in San Juan on September 21. At San Juan apparently all three battalions were together for the first time during the war.

While the regiment was at San Juan, the men began to suffer from dysentery, malaria, and most notably, typhoid fever. Newspaper accounts indicated that only 225 men were available for duty. The decision was made to send the regiment home in an effort to save lives.

On October 10, the reunited regiment departed from Ponce aboard the
transport MINNEWASKA bound for New York, arriving on October 17. The regiment was immediately given a sixty day furlough on October 18. The companies were mustered out in their home towns between December 22 and 29.

At the time of muster out, the regiment consisted of forty-eight officers and 1,238 enlisted men. The regiment had six men wounded on battle, one of which died. Thirty-eight men died from disease and three men deserted. The regiment had captured two stands of Spanish colors, which were presented to President McKinley at the White House

Sixteenth Pennsylvania Mounment at Mount Gretna. PA
Sixteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry monument at the former Camp Hastings, Mount Gretna, PA.


Bibliography:
 

(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)

Clerk of the Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement: Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress. (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1899) Vol 3,  241-243.

Correspondence Relating to the War with Spain Including the Insurrection in the Philippine Islands and the China Relief Expedition April 15, 1898 to July 30, 1902. Vol. 1 (Washington DC: Center for Military History, 1993) 615

Reed, Walter, Victor C. Waughan, Edward O. Shakespeare, Report on the Origin and Spread of Typhoid Fever in U.S. Military Camps During the Spanish War of 1898, Vol. 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904), 28-32.

Sauers, Richard A., Pennsylvania in the Spanish-American War. (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, 1998). 5-11 (source for monument image).

“Sixteenth Coming,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA). October 6, 1898, page 1.

“The Minnewaska Brings Troops,” Scranton Tribune (Scranton, PA). October 18, 1898, page 1.

Walker, Charles - Image and information on Charles Rice Walker.


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