Manitowoc’s Company H in the Spanish-American War
Members of the military hailing from Manitowoc have taken part in many historic conflicts, but one stands out as a particular demonstration of the endurance and dedication of a group of Manitowoc men. First organized in 1881 as the Rankin Guards, in honor of then-congressman Joseph Rankin, Company H of the Second Regiment of the Wisconsin National Guard presents an interesting story of Manitowoc volunteers working in service of their country.
Company H was the second military company to be organized in the city of Manitowoc, after Company A, which fought in the Civil War. In 1886, Manitowoc was chosen for the annual encampment of the Second Regiment. According to Louis Falge’s History of Manitowoc County, “the strict discipline, initiated here, continued thereafter and even increased” as Company H, and the other companies of the Second Regiment, drilled on the county fairgrounds in Manitowoc. The Company’s training continued in this way, meeting at annual encampments in different places in Wisconsin, until 1898, when war was declared, and the Spanish-American War began. The conflict, the result of building tensions between the United States, Spain, and a revolutionary Cuba, made it necessary for Company H to be called into action only five days after the declaration of war was made.
Company H reported to Camp Harvey in Milwaukee for two weeks of “incessant drill and preparation for field work” complete with a “severe physical examination” which removed 8 of the 72 members from service. More recruiting was done to increase the number of troops to 84, and on May 12, 1898, Company H was mustered into the service of the United States.
After the rendezvous at Camp Harvey, Company H set out for Chickamauga, a historic battleground from the Civil War located in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia. They stayed at Camp Thomas in Georgia, where they “experienced the first test of real field service in a poorly selected spot for the camp, where water had to be hauled in wagons from Crawfish Springs, a distance of five miles” according to Falge. Many members of the Company fell ill, and concern at home prompted many Manitowoc relatives to send money and supplies to their relatives in Georgia.
Company H then set out for Charleston, South Carolina, where the men were received with generosity and hospitality by the locals. Here, they participated in forced marches designed to test their endurance. It was also in Charleston that their captain, William Abel, was hospitalized with typhoid, and remained there for weeks while his company moved on.
In Charleston, Company H embarked on the steamer La Grand Duchess and set out for Puerto Rico, where they often guarded supply depots and wagon trains going inland, some of the members of the company using an old Spanish theater in Juana Diaz as their barracks. While the company was sometimes caught in skirmishes, they were not called to take part in any major battles, although the shenanigans of the troops prompted the local rum shop to be shut down by their commanding officers. The war came to an end on August 13, 1898, and Company H returned to Manitowoc on September 18th of that year. On November 16, they were officially mustered out of the service of the United States, although the company regrouped, many rejoining as Company H continued its service into the 1900s.