The life of the Common soldier in the Spanish American War



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Purpose It was the purpose of this study to describe the life of the common American soldier in the Spanish-American War. It was told not as seen through statistics, military strategy, or the press, but as it was experienced by the participants themselves. The study encompassed the background for the war, the enlistment of the soldier, his camp life, the fighting in Cuba, the siege of Santiago, the soldier’s return home, and his discharge. Rather than just sketching events of the war the investigation considered mainly the physical living conditions and environment of the soldier, as well as his attitudes and reactions to circumstances he faced. Methods The methods used to obtain information for this study were (1) interviews of veterans of the Spanish-American War, (2) the examination of periodicals, contemporary and current, letters of participants, books written by participants, government documents and reports, published reminiscences, general histories, newspaper articles, and published and unpublished diaries, and (3) correspondence with veterans of that war and their organization. Findings From the evidence presented in this study the following evaluations appear to be in order: 1. While the Spanish-American War lasted only a short time, it was responsible for many changes made in foreign and military affairs of the United States. 2. The causes for the conflict go much deeper than the sinking of the Maine. The United States eventually wanted a war that could have been avoided. Little consideration for preparedness was given by the government of the public. The war was not incited by conservative commercial interests but was considered a popular crusade to end Spanish misrule in Cuba. Enlistment was a simple but colorful event for a soldier. A variety of methods were used to entice enlistment, but patriotic appeal to answer his country’s call was the main inducement. 4. The training camps were poorly situated and posed hardships of climate and inadequate water supply in most of them. The soldier had to make a difficult adjustment to the routine, training, and manner of living in a regimented environment, but the training proved to be insufficient and outmoded. 5. The soldier’s equipment was found to be inadequate, particularly his clothing and firearms. The Volunteers came to camp with hardly any serviceable equipment, which caused a great deal of confusion, since it was supposed by the government that the National Guard and the Volunteers would have their essentials. 6. Many hardships befell the soldiers. Their food was often poorly prepared and monotonous. Again the Guardsmen were worse off than the regular army, and had to subsist on hardtack, beans, coffee, canned tomatoes, and canned beef. Worse than poor food were the epidemics of typhoid and dysentery that struck the camps during the summer months claiming many lives. The camp hospitals were appealing to the public and many camps were disbanded because of the terrible conditions which resulted. 7. The embarkation port of Tampa was a scene of mass confusion and hard work. Life aboard the crowded transports was trying to the troopers who were irked at the delays and conditions, but they did not complain because they wanted to be in the fighting. Once the enroute most enjoyed the voyage. 8. The trooper’s reactions under fire differed from what he thought they would be, and many found battle was not so glorious. The lack of preparation on the part of the government was displayed then more vividly than at any other time during the war. The soldiers faced an enemy that was well armed and experienced. The Americans had very little food, black powder ammunition exposed their positions, their artillery was of little help, and many errors in strategy increased unnecessarily the loss of life. 9. The problems of lack of supplies worked many hardships on the army during combat and during the siege which followed. 10. The living conditions of the men in the trenches were extremely unsanitary, and greatly weakened the entire army. The surrender of the Spanish saved the invaders from military disaster, because the army was so weakened by disease that it could not have withstood a severe counterattack. 11. The sick and wounded soldiers were left to their own care while the others were relieved and sent home. Later hospital ships (converted cattle boats) were sent to pick them up. 12. The spirit of individual self-reliance was one of the most outstanding characteristics of the soldier of this war.



Spanish-American War, life of common American soldier, conditions, environment of soldier, physical living conditions