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Alabama and the Spanish-American War—1898

Dr. Leah Rawls Atkins, Auburn University (Retired)

Correlates to Alabama Course of Study: Social Studies 11th Grade Content Standard 3, p. 76
Correlates to Graduation Exam Eligible Content Standard VI, Objective 1

  • The Spanish-American War was one of the shortest wars fought by the United States, lasting only from April 25 to December 10, 1898. Alabama had three white regiments and one black battalion (composed of the Montgomery Capital City Guards and the Mobile Gilmer Rifles), but the state had a difficult time bringing its National Guard units and volunteers up to desired strength of numbers because too many men could not pass the physical exams of the War Department (they failed at the rate of 50 percent). The commissioning of the units was delayed and many Alabama troops never left the state.

  • Alabama's troops gathered at Camp Clarke near Mobile where clothing, food, and medical care were inadequate. It was June 24 before Alabama troops were moved to Miami, where things were hardly better. The war was over before these troops could leave the United States.

  • Alabama, however, did provide two of the war's most highly regarded heroes: Joseph Wheeler and Richmond Pearson Hobson.

  • "Fighting Joe" Wheeler was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1836. A West Point graduate, Wheeler was a twenty-five-year-old cavalry lieutenant fighting Indians in the west when the Civil War began. He returned to the South and was offered a commission in the Confederate army. By May 1864, he was made senior cavalry general of the Confederate armies. At the end of the war he retired to his plantation in north Alabama and studied law. In 1881 he was elected to represent Alabama's 8th Congressional district. He was serving in Congress when the Spanish-American War began and immediately petitioned for an army commission. President McKinley made Wheeler a major general, and he was sent to Cuba and given command of the cavalry. As one historian has noted, Wheeler was "a potent symbol of national reunification." Wheeler distinguished himself in the battles of Santiago and El Caney. Suffering from a fever (the usual reason given for his lapse in memory), Wheeler yelled to his troops during a charge against the Spanish position at San Juan: "Now, at them, boys, and wipe those Yankees off the face of the earth!"

  • Richmond Pearson Hobson was born in Greensboro (Hale County), Alabama, on August 17, 1870. He was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis (1889) and of the French National School of Naval Design in Paris (1893). He left the U.S. Navy in 1903. During the Spanish-American War he led the Merrimac and a volunteer crew of eight in a daring attempt to sink the Merrimac in the channel of Santiago Harbor, thus preventing the Spanish navy from sailing. This daring feat was not completely successful, but it made Hobson a naval hero. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1933 for this heroic deed. Hobson represented Alabama in Congress from 1907 to 1915, when he retired from political office and left Alabama for California. He later moved to New York, where he died in 1937.