Michigan Joins the War
The Spanish-American War is assumed to have started April 21, 1898. On April 23, the President called for 125,000 volunteers. A second call was made May 25 for another 75,000 men. The call was at first confined to existing units but was then issued to the citizens at large. Members of existing units were the first to be accepted and organized.
Michigan's Governor ordered out the National Guard and attempted to turn the units over intact as volunteers to the federal government. This however, was not in compliance with federal law and as a result, each individual was required to volunteer as an individual rather than as part of a unit.
Practically every member of the National Guard volunteered. They were reorganized into the same units in which they had been serving but the regiments were reorganized so that the existing five regiments of eight companies each became four regiments of 12 companies each. To fill the regiments, eight new companies had to be organized. Each Michigan regiment was to contain 1,000 men. Upon the second call, Michigan furnished one more regiment of 1,200 men as well as an additional 200 men to each of the four original regiments.
The regiments organized in the spring of 1898 were designated the 31st, 32nd, 33rd, and 34th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, following in numerical order the infantry regiments of the Civil War. They were all mobilized at Island Lake, near Detroit.
The 31st was mustered May 11 and left on May 15 for Chickamauga Park, Ga. The 32nd was mustered May 14 and left May 19 for Tampa, Fla. The 33rd was mustered May 20 and left May 28 for Camp Alger, near Washington, D.C. The 34th was mustered May 25 and left June 6 for Camp Alger. Under the second call of the President, the 35th was organized and left for Camp Meade, Pa. September 14.
The Real Enemy is Disease
The men in the southern camps, particularly at Chickamauga and Camp Alger, suffered severely from sickness. At Chickamauga, there was an epidemic of typhoid fever, and the 31st Regiment moved to Knoxville, Tenn. where it remained until January 25, 1899, when it was sent to Cuba.
The 31st landed at Cienfugas and was then distributed in the towns of Santa Clara Province to preserve order and protect property. The regiment performed guard duty until it returned to the United States April 25, 1899. It was disbanded at Savannah, Ga. on May 17, 1899. While in service, 20 men died from sickness in southern camps and hospitals.
The 32nd was one of the earliest regiments moved to Fernandian, Fla., where it remained in camp for some time. It was among those assigned to service in Cuba but did not leave the United States. While enroute, its transport ship collided with another ship. The regiment was unloaded; it never left the port. After remaining in Florida for awhile, the regiment was transferred to Fort McPherson, Ga., where it remained until September. It then returned to Michigan and was disbanded between October 25 and November 9, 1898. While in service, 20 men from this regiment also died of disease.
Battles in Cuba
The 33rd and 34th Regiments left Island Lake in May 1898 for Falls Church, Va., and shortly embarked from Tampa, Fla. for Cuba on the transports "Paris" and "Harvard." The regiments were assigned to General Duffield's brigade, a part of General Shafter's army which fought and defeated the Spaniards at Santiago. They did not participate in the fight at San Juan Hill, but were engaged in the attack at Aguadores, which was planned to divert the enemy from the main battle and prevent their reinforcing it.
In this engagement, three men of the 33rd were killed or died of wounds. Yellow fever broke out in the camp at Siboney and 50 men died there, at Montauk Point or on the transport bound for the latter camp. The 34th suffered even more severely; 88 deaths in that Regiment were recorded. A large proportion of the deaths were due to yellow fever the soldiers had contracted while in camp near Santiago or in the hospitals on Long Island, N.Y.
Upon leaving Cuba, the 33rd reached Detroit September 2,1898, and then departed to their various home stations where they were disbanded between September 3, 1898 and January 6, 1899. The 34th returned to Montauk Point August 27, 1898, and was disbanded between September 3,1898, and January 2,1899. The 35th was disbanded at Augusta, Ga., March 31, 1899. The 35th did not participate in foreign service. Although it remained in the United States, 23 of its men died of disease.