Vermont In The Spanish American War
It has been said often about the hostilities with Spain that "It was only a little war". Comparing its cost in lives and property and its duration with other conflicts, it was a small event in history. But, considering it from the viewpoint of results, it becomes of major importance in the progress of the United States and in the history of the world.
Years of diplomacy had failed to relieve the suffering of the Cuban people under Spanish rule. The sinking of the battleship Maine in the harbor of Havana was the spark required to bring smouldering public opinion to the flaming point. Primarily, we fought to free cuba. To avenge the sinking of the Maine was of lesser importance.
When Spain asked for peace, we found ourselves for the first time a world power, with widely scattered possessions, a power second to none among the nations.
The First Vermont Volunteers did not see battle but did experience indescribable misery through the Nation's neglect. I am certain the Regiment would have perferred, yes, welcomed, battle to the suffering, heat, poor water, typhoid fever, dysentery, disgusting food and lack of medical equipment at Chickamauga. Vivid, undimmed by the years is my memory of the suffering of the sick, their courageous fights to live and the despair of those trying to aid them. All honor to them and to those men of Vermont who went stoically about their duties, half sick, through that terrible experience, Soldiers true, all of them.
I went times without number to the Division Hospital. I was appalled by the neglect of my comrades. I saw men dying who had received no attention for many hours. One day I asked a sick member of my Company about his temperance. He said he did not know because no one had been to see him for twenty-four hours. I went to the surgeon in charge and he said he lacked thermometers. I gave him a good dressing down for various reasons. Then I bought several thermometers and took them to him.
Water mains were not laid into camp until well into the summer. Previous to that time each company was allowed one barrel of water a day. This was drawn to the camp in teams and often a third of the water was spilled in transit. It was boiled for drinking purposes and was not pleasant to taste.
I recall only too well a visit to my tent by one of a number who had found a little trickle of water under a bank. They wanted to give me a cool drink from a cup in which the water was carefully collected as it fell, drop by drop. It was contrary to regulations to drink water from camp sources, and it was no pleasant task for me to forbid the drinking of that water.
Later on, when the mains were laid, I collected a bottle of water from them and saved it for years. There was muddy sediment upwards of half an inch think in it.
I mention the conditions outlined above and I could tell of many more incidents only to stress the severe lesson of unpreparedness and to give future generations some idea of what the Vermont troops endured. Happily, many of these mistakes were avoided when, nineteen years later, other loyal Vermont boys went forth to serve nobly in the World War.
Vermonters in other regiments served their country faithfully and well, even unto death. The Green Mountain State will ever be proud of them and of the important part taken by the Navy among whose leading officers were her illustrious sons, Admiral George Dewey and Captain Charles E. Clark.
As my mind goes back over the years, I think these are the three things which should be noted:
- The war made the United States a world power
- It marked the end of the use of the old Army blue uniform for field service
- It was the last in which the Army was raised by the Volunteer system since after the first few months of the World War the Selective Service Act took effect
A generation has passed since that conflict and the world is gradually working out ways of peace. May the time soon come when such suffering will be ended. In the meantime, may we bear in mind the lessons of unpreparedness so engraved on the memories of those who soldiered on the desolate wastes of Chickamauga
July 1, 1929
FRANK L. GREENE