A Brief History of the 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry

By Patrick McSherry

Quartermaster John L. Wells, 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry

Quartermaster Sgt. John L. Wells of Company L, 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry

Please Visit our Home Page to learn more about the Spanish American War
Click here for a roster of the 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry.
Click here to see the uniform of Quartermaster Sgt. John L. Wells of the 1st South Dakota.
Click here to read Col. Frost Orders thanking the men of the 1st South Dakota for their service.
Click here to read the Orders for the Plan of the Day aboard the Transport RIO DE JANEIRO.
Click here to read a letter from 1st Lt. Jay Beck, written while in transit aboard the Transport RIO DE JANEIRO.
Click here to read a about the floral send-off received by some members of the unit from the ladies ot Terry, South Dakota.

The 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry served in the Philippines during the Spanish American War and the Philippine American War.

The Unit History:

The 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry was formed from part of the South Dakota National Guard. The unit was ordered mobilized on April 30, 1898, under the command of Colonel Alfred S. Frost, a former U.S. Army lieutenant. Encamped at the east end of Souix Falls, the men were placed in in tents - ten to a tent - formerly used by the Madison Chautauqua. Mustering into Federal service occurred between May 12 and 19, 1898. The unit consisted of 46 men and 983 enlisted men. By the time of its muster out, the unit would decrease in size to include only 622 enlisted men.

Camp life was somewhat trying between the hard work, the boredom and the outbreaks of disease. With men brought together from all areas, often childhood diseases would spread rapidly to pockets of men not formerly exposed. Such was the case among the men of the First South Dakota, which lost several men to measles. The local citizens did their best for men, with various churches preparing dinners for the unit's different companies. It was also while they were in camp that men received their weapons. They were issued the outdated 1873 Springfield .45-70 "Trapdoor" rifle, a weapon the men would have to use during their entire term of service.

After training, the 1st South Dakota was sent to Camp Merritt. The unit departed for this camp, located at San Francisco near the Presidio, among a series of cemeteries, on May 29. At Camp Merritt, the men of the unit finally received their uniforms. Unfortunately, the color was not stable, and the uniforms soon became very "un-uniform." The uniforms were returned to the manufacturer and new uniforms supplied.

The First South Dakota left for the Philippines on July 23, 1898, with part of the unit making the journey aboard the SAINT PAUL and RIO DE JANEIRO along with troops from Colorado and Minnesota. After nine days at sea, a first for most of the South Dakotans, the unit arrived in Hawaii, where part of the unit was encamped at Queen Lili'uokalani's palace.

On August 10, the First South Dakota departed Hawaii on the last leg of its journey, arriving at Cavite, in Manila Bay, on August 31. The troops settled into quarters in the Cathedral of Cavite. On arriving, the men would have learned that the fighting had ended. Manila had fallen to U.S. forces on August 13, the same day that an armistice was signed between the U.S. and Spain ending the fighting.

About a month later, the First South Dakota was transferred from Cavite to Manila, where the First and Third battalions were quartered in the former home of a Spanish officer, and the second battalion was quartered in Spanish Barracks at the Malacanan Palace, where General Otis had his headquarters. The unit's work involved guarding the San Lazarus Leper Hospital, Bilibib Prison, the Bridge of Spain, as well as providing guards for Generals Otis, McArthur and Miller.

While at Manila, the unit was officially issued new cork helmets. However, the colonel ordered these destroyed,  and ordered straw hats with a black tally reading "First South Dakota Volunteer Infantry" in yellow letters for the men.

On February 4, 1899, the Philippine American War broke out between the U.S. and its former defacto ally, the Filipino Insurgents. The First South Dakota saw actions in the opening phases of this conflict.

On August 11, 1899 the First South Dakota Volunteer Infantry boarded the Transport MORGAN CITY, with some members being aboard the Transport INDIANA, bound for San Francisco, by way of Japan. The unit was mustered out on October 5, 1899 at san Francisco.

During its term of service, one of its officers drowned, twenty-four enlisted men were killed in action or from wounds, thirty-five were lost to disease, one died in an accident, four men deserted. In addition, three officers and nienty men were wounded, and fifty-nine were discharged for disabilities.


Hosford, Olin - Image of John L. Wells

Krueger, Herman F., "A South Dakotan's Experiences in the Spanish American War" South Dakota Historical Collections, Vol. 39 (Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society, 1979).

Statistical Exhibit of Strength of Volunteer Forces Called into Service During the War with Spain; with Losses from All Causes. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899).

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