The 2nd U.S. Infantry

Its service during the Spanish-American War

By  Patrick McSherry

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The 2nd U.S. Infantry took part in the Santiago Campaign in Cuba.

Unit History:

As the war approached, the various companies comprising the 2nd U.S. Infantry were scattered over a large area, as was typical in the U.S. Army in its effort to defend the frontier. Specifically, Companies A, E, F, H and the regimental headquarters were located at Fort Keogh, Montana; Companies D and G were at Fort Yates, North Dakota, and Companies B and C at Fort Harrison, at Helena, Montana. From these posts the regiment was assembled and sent to Camp George H. Thomas, situated on the site of the Civil War Chickamauga Battlefield in Georgia on April 26, 1898. Initially, the regiment was commanded by Col. John C. Bates. Bates was, however, promoted, and was replaced by Lt. Col. William H. Wherry. The regiment consisted of two battalions as follows:

1st Battalion (Maj. Charles Dempsey, commanding)

Company B
Company C
Company D
Company G

2nd Battalion (Major Smith commanding)

Company A
Company E
Company F
Company H

The 2nd U.S. remained at Camp Thomas until May 12, 1898 when it marched to Rossville Georgia, where it was placed aboard a train to head south. The regiment became part of the Second Brigade of the First Division of the 5th Army Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Rufus Shafter. The regiment was sent to Tampa, Florida where the companies were filled out to their wartime complement of 106 men, and Company I, consisting of 83 men, was added.

On June 8, the regiment embarked aboard the transports that would take them to Cuba. The 1st battalion went aboard the SAN MARCOS. The Second Battalion and the headquarters and band were placed aboard the YUCATAN, a transport it would share with the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (“Rough Riders”). Because of overcrowding, Companies B and D were relocated to the transport CLINTON on June 12.

The YUCATAN arrived at Daiquiri on June 22, and the Rough Riders were offloaded. The 2nd U.S, however, remained aboard and was offloaded at Siboney in the early hours of June 24. The regiment was assembled ashore and the first battalion was ordered out in support of the forces that had met the Spanish at Las Guasimas. However, the regiment was later ordered to hold its position as the Spanish had retreated.

On June 26, the 2nd U.S. Infantry accompanied a reconnaissance mission following the railroad to Aquadores. The mission was a six and a half mile march in each direction. The new experience of the Cuban heat, and the weakened condition of the men from their sojourn on the transports took its toll. Many of the men fell out of the ranks. First Charles Elwell of Company C died, it was believed that the cause was heat exhaustion.

On June 27, the regiment started on the road toward Santiago, marching 4 and a half miles to five miles the first day. On June 30 the regiment encamped along the Guasimas River.

July 1 1898 was the day of the assault on the San Juan Heights, the pivotal land assault of the Cuban campaign. That morning the regiment was ordered to follow the 10th U.S. Infantry toward Santiago. By Noon, the regiment began to experience fire from the Spanish forces atop the ridge line known as the San Juan Heights. The regiment passed Grimes Battery, wound its way through the brush and then through the 71st New York Volunteer Infantry which was not advancing.

After crossing the San Juan River, the regiment was ordered to form on the left of the 10th U.S. Infantry, and then to mass on the rear of the heights, which had already been taken, as a reserve.  From there the regiment was ordered to advance with the first battalion (Smith) being ordered to take a wooded hill on the left of the 10th U.S. Infantry’s position, and the second battalion was put to the left of the first battalion. A sunken road was found and several companies of the second battalion were deployed in this naturally fortified position. The men of the 2nd U.S. Infantry faced the Spanish lines 800 to 1,150 yards away.

The position occupied by the regiment was the extreme end of the battle line, and its flank was dangerously exposed, requiring extra vigilance. The following day, the 20th U.S. Infantry was moved in on the regiment’s left. At 9:30 PM on July 2, the Spanish advanced on the American line, but was repulsed.

On July 3, during a period of truce, the regiment tallied its losses finding it had six enlisted men killed, with four officers and 48 enlisted men wounded. July 4 and 5 were spent quietly in the lines, with 105 of the regiment’s men, who had been left behind in Tampa, rejoining the regiment. Still dangers continued. Capt. Charles W. Rowell was killed on July 10.

The regiment returned to the U.S., surviving the rigors of Camp Wikoff, Long Island, New York. The regiment was shipped to New York City aboard the transport BERLIN.

By October, 1898, the regiment was located at Camp Shipp, Anniston, Alabama serving as part of the Military Department of the Gulf. On October 15, in the early morning hours, an unexplained conflict broke out between men of the 2nd U.S. Infantry and some members of a volunteer force, apparently in Anniston. In the melee, a shot fired by the provost guard filled Sgt. Heise of the 2nd U.S. Infantry, and injured several other men.

By November, the regiment was relocated to Huntsville, Alabama.

In August and September of 1900, the regiment departed the U.S. via San Francisco, bound for service in the Philippines.


“At the County Seat,” Middletown Daily Argus. (Middletown, New York) November 1, 1898, p 5 (Huntsville, Alabama)

“Blood is Stirred,” The Herald. (Syracuse, New York), April 24, 1898, 3 (pre-war distribution)

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, 393-397, 487.

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. (Washington DC: Center for Military History, 1993) Vol. 1 127, 465, 541, Vol. 2, 1204.

New York Times - September 20, 1898 (2nd U.S. Infantry on BERLIN)

“One Bullet’s Frightful Work,” The Herald-Despatch. (Decatur, Illinois), October 19, 1898, 7 (the October 15th Riot).

Wright, General Marcus J., Wright's Official History of the Spanish American War. (Washington: War Records Office 1900) 164.

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