Camp Dewey, Sioux Falls, 1898
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The USS Maine entered Havana Harbor on a goodwill visit to the Spanish Colony of Cuba on January 25, 1898. Three weeks later on February 15, 1898 a massive explosion destroyed the battleship at anchor. An American court of inquiry concluded that the Maine was sunk by the explosion of a mine under the forward magazine. The Congress declared war on Spain on 25 April, 1898, and American embarked upon what Secretary of State John Hay termed “the splendid little war!” President William McKinley asked for 125,000 volunteers for service in the war. South Dakota’s quota was to supply 1,000 men.
South Dakota Governor Andrew Lee ordered the South Dakota National Guard mobilized and to muster at Sioux Falls at what became known as Camp Dewey. Camp Dewey, named after Commodore George Dewey whose Asiatic Squadron had destroyed a Spanish Fleet at Manila Bay in the Philippines on April 30, 1898. The camp was located on the south side of East 10th Street west of Cliff Avenue and north and east of the Big Sioux River.
The men of the SD National Guard were discharged to enlist in the Volunteers. The 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was mustered into service on May 13, 1898 at Sioux Falls. The regiment was commanded by Colonel Alfred S. Frost and numbered 1,004 officers and men in twelve companies.
The regiment remained in Sioux Falls for several weeks to drill and prepare for deployment. On May 22, 1898 the regiment was reviewed by Governor Lee and US Senator Richard Franklin Pettigrew. On May 28, 1898 Colonel Frost issued orders to strike tents. As the regiment marched to the Omaha Railroad Depot to board trains for San Francisco, thousands of people gathered to see them off.
As the 1st South Dakota Marched off, the men wore the uniforms authorized for the final campaigns of the Indian Wars. The basic items were the dark blue wool five button sack coat, dark blue wool shirt, sky blue wool trousers, a tan wool felt hat, black leather shoes and brown canvas leggings. Their accoutrements included a canteen, cup, haversack to hold food, blanket and shelter half. They were armed with the black powder, US Model 1873, Springfield Trapdoor Rifle in caliber .45-70. They carried their cartridges in a web belt around their waist.
The Regiment arrived in San Francisco on June 2, 1898 and camped at Camp Merritt near Golden Gate Park. The regiment continued to drill until July 22, 1898 when they board transports for the Philippines. They arrived in Manila Bay on August 27 too late to fight the Spanish. The 1st SD was part of the Manila garrison when the Philippine Insurrection began on February 4, 1899 in which the regiment saw heavy fighting. The men of the 1st South Dakota would return home in October 1899.
For more reading:
“South Dakota Regiment Edition” Supplement to theSioux Falls Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, SD October 13, 1899
Grant, Roger H., “The Fighting Firsts: The First South Dakota and Nebraska Volunteers in the Philippines , 1898-1899”, South Dakota History, Vol. 4, No. 3, Summer, 1974
Urwin, Gregory, The United States Infantry: An Illustrated History 1775-1918, Blandford Press, New York, NY, 1988
Pettigrew, Richard Franklin, R.F. Pettigrew Papers, Siouxland Heritage Museums, Sioux Falls, SD
Interview with Bill Hoskins, Director, Siouxland Heritage Museums
Host: Lori Walsh