When The Spanish-American War Came To Springfield

May 18, 2012 11 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Army Camps sprang to life as the Spanish American War came to Springfield and Panama Park. Join us as we march back in time to Camp Cuba Libre and a very different Jacksonville.

General layout of Camp Springfield, Camp Cuba Libre and Camp Wells. Source: Otis Historical Archives Nat'l Museum of Health & Medicine

¤ St. Johns Bluff Battery
(1898 - 1899), Jacksonville
An unnamed concrete two-gun battery (M1888 8-inch BL guns on modified 15-inch Rodman carriages) was built east of the site of Fort Caroline. A temporary field emplacement (two 5-inch BL seige rifles, later two 7-inch BL seige howitzers, with timber magazines) was originally emplaced at the site of the old CSA battery nearby. The concrete battery, now located on private property, is one-third mile southeast of the Ribaut Memorial. It is in excellent condition, with an interpretive signpost erected by the property owner. (text from: US Forts East) Photo Source: COJ

Many long time locals are familiar with the grand old St. Johns Bluff Battery, a site that has literally begged for further restoration and preservation, but how many knew that right in the heart of Jacksonville, the entire 7Th Corps of the US Army was encamped?

Source: historytunes.com

When the colonial forces of the Spanish Empire were being attacked by Cuban revolutionaries the US sent the battleship Maine to Havana Harbor as a show of solidarity with the Cuban People. All hell broke loose when the ship was destroyed, an act which right or wrong was immediately blamed on the Spanish Government. This is a typical patriotic lapel button recalling the mysterious sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor as a battle cry went up across the USA, "Remember the Maine - To hell with Spain."
Source: Major General Frederic Funston Boyhood Home and Museum.

Camp Cuba Libre, Jacksonville, FL

By November 1898, trainloads of soldiers were over crowding our streetcars, and filling the cars of both the Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line Railroads as the US Army's 7Th Corps moved to Camp Onward in Savannah for deployment in Cuba.

The troops had been assembled at a little known military installation called Camp Springfield, but the name was soon changed to ‘Camp Cuba Libre,' which translates to ‘Camp Liberation of Cuba,’ in English. The Richmond Evening Leader reported that the 2Nd Virginia Volunteer Infantry had arrived at 'Camp Reynolds,' in Jacksonville, but all subsequent reports have the Virginia boys in Camp Cuba Libre. The August 10, 1898 St. Louis Republic referred to the Jacksonville camp as Camp Jackson when reporting on the 6th Missouri’s destination upon its departure from St. Louis. No other references to this name have been found. Camp Cuba Libre was established on May 26, 1898, north of Jacksonville in an area known as 'Springfield.' The Camp boundaries were Iona Street on the east, 8Th street on the north, Main Street on the west, and 1St street on the south. By the end of November 1898, the Camp housed the 6Th Missouri, a single guard battalion.

Camp Cuba Libre, was the assembly point for Major General Fitzhugh Lee's, 30,000 man, Seventh Corps. Lee, a born prankster and practical joker was the nephew of General Robert E. Lee. Fitzhugh, he served in the War of Yankee Aggression as a Confederate officer, was a West Point Graduate and an excellent military leader.

The 50th Iowa Infantry Regiment at Camp Cuba Libra in Jacksonville, Florida, during the summer of 1898. Photo Source: Iowa Pathways

Caption on back of photo says, "The Neoga-ites in the Spanish-American War 1898 at Camp Cuba Libre, Jacksonville, Florida, July 18, 1898." Our relative is the 5th on the front row, Alvin Votaw.

From: Carol Ruth (Thu Oct 31 15:58:26 2002)
I want to list the soldiers as they are listed on the back of this photo (just in case we ever need to know these names.) Albert Barret, Alden Moxely, Alen Greenwaltt, Wil Davidson, Alvin Votaw, Charlie Ewing, Will Buchannan, unknown, unknown, unknown, Curtis Beck, Charlie Good, Frank Payne, Alvin Voris, Lelsie Needham, Jim Good, Ed Keller, Walter Keller, Harry Cullum, Dolph Husband, George Fancher, Fred Hawk, Huberet Cullum, and Jen Good in the back by tent. Photo and Text from DeVore Family Photos

Colonel William Jennings Bryan and Major General Fitzhugh Lee, Camp Cuba Libre. Photo Source: nebraskacuba.com


Following graduation, Lee served as a cavalry officer in Texas for two and a half years before being appointed an assistant instructor of tactics at West Point in late 1860.  While in Texas, Lee saw his first combat in battles against Indians.  He was seriously wounded in a skirmish on May 19, 1859.

Lee's tenure as an instructor at his alma mater would last only 6 months. Like many Southern officers (including Lee's famous uncle, Robert E. Lee) he resigned his commission in May, 1861 and was named a first lieutenant in the regular Confederate army shortly after.

Promotion in the Confederate army was fast for young Lee; he rose to, major general, in September, 1863; after achieving his greatest notoriety in the Battle of  Chancellorsville where, leading the only full brigade of Confederate cavalry, he guarded the Confederate's flanking march around Union General Hooker's exposed right wing.

Lee saw much more action throughout the war.  In September, 1864 he was wounded again and out of action for four months.  By the time of his return, however, the Southern fate was all but certain. Lee surrendered on April 11, 1865.

Following a short stint as a Union prisoner, Lee turned his efforts to farming, taking pride in his success in the endeavor.  In addition to farming Lee wrote several books in this period.  He also began improving his political skills.  Lacking any boastfulness and quick-witted, with an excellent sense of humor, the above-average soldier was an even better politician.  The unusual mix of abilities would serve him well.

Democratic President Grover Cleveland, battling the continued economic woes of the 1890's, diplomatic troubles with Spain and England, and harsh congressional critics such as conservative Henry Cabot Lodge, appointed Lee consul-general to Havana in 1896.

Lee arrived in June to an island torn by civil war and mass poverty. Three weeks after his arrival he informed the State Department that Cuban rebels did not have the strength to drive the Spanish out, but that the Spanish were equally unable to subdue the rebellion.  He railed against the Spanish tactics to suppress the rebels and fought for the rights of American citizens in Cuba.

Ironically, Lee won the praise of Cleveland's staunchest critics, who used Lee's strong stance against Spain as further fuel against the more benevolent President.  Lodge wrote of Lee's "good sense and firm courage," while lamenting that Lee "was not sustained by the (Cleveland) Administration as he should have been."

December, 1897 saw more unrest in Havana.  While much of the violence was actually caused by the Cuban rebels (often directed toward American-owned sugar plantations), Lee's concern was chiefly the safety of Americans in Cuba. Lee requested a warship be ready in Key West in case violence erupted.  The MAINE was ordered to Florida in January. Lee never sent a further call for the MAINE. President McKinley and Navy Secretary John Long, however, did order MAINE to Havana.

Though Lee was unnerved by the MAINE's sudden arrival when he had specifically advised against it's visit at that time, months later he would recall the arrival as "a beautiful sight and one long to be remembered."  Perhaps this underscored his own uncertainty of the situation.

In spite of Lee's misgivings, MAINE arrived in Havana on January 25.  Lee and Sigsbee were treated to a bullfight by hosting Spanish officers as part of the "good will" visit.  Underneath it all, however, was an undeniable tension.  Washington soon began to realize that the presence of the MAINE would only serve temporary goals, and many wondered how long she should remain in Havana.

One of those who worried about overstaying his welcome was Secretary of Navy Long.  Nearly the opposite of his fiery assistant, Theodore Roosevelt, Long openly considered pulling the MAINE out of Cuba.  Upon that suggestion, Lee threw away earlier  objections to  the ships visit, and both he and Sigsbee strongly opposed withdrawing the MAINE, unless it was relieved by another warship. "Many will claim Spain demanded it should go," Lee wrote Washington," we are master of the situation here and I would not disturb or alter it."

Following his return to a hero's welcome in the U.S., Lee was commissioned major general of volunteers and assigned the VII Army Corps.  Lee's logistical and planning abilities and previous military experience exhibited itself through the VII Corp's few health and administrative problems; problems which plagued many of the other army corps.  After the war he commanded what amounted to an army of occupation in Havana and was charged with the restoration of order on the island.

Fitzhugh Lee retired a brigadier-general on March 2, 1901.  He died four years later. Lee was buried in his U.S. Army uniform, which caused one ex-Confederate to say "What'll [deceased Confederate general] stonewall think when Fitz turns up in heaven wearing that!"

49Th Iowa, in camp for transfer to Jacksonville. Photo Source: Spanish American War Centennial Website

30,000 men march through Jacksonville, Included in the parade were Theodore Roosevelt with his Rough Riders and William Jennings Bryan. Photo Source: Florida State Archives

Camp Pass, Source: http://www.milantique.com/

Established on May 31, 1898, Camp Cuba Libre appeared to be a barely survivable experience at first glance. Supplies were scarce as the military rushed them to the 8Th and 5Th Corps, ready for deployment in Cuba and the Philippines. There were no plates, forks, knives or spoons at the camp which forced soldiers to fend for themselves. Most settled into a routine of eating with their fingers off of a 'plate' made from discarded shingles. From my point of view, it seems that not much changed between The Spanish American War and Vietnam as we all were forced to: "Improvise, adapt and overcome." We were drilled to precision, taught that there is but one correct answer to the question, "What do you do if you find yourself cut off, alone, and surrounded by 100 enemy soldiers?" "Kill them all!" Such was the training that took place at Camp Cuba Libre. Uniforms were not shipped from the factories in a timely manner, arriving in Jacksonville piecemeal, so that by the time a soldiers shirt arrived, the pants and shoes were worn out.

Word came back to the Camp that Washington deliberately held back supplies in order to 'toughen up the men.' General Lee went to battle for his men. They located items such as floorboards for their tents, and medical supplies at local sources, getting the full support of area sawmills and the Red Cross.

Lee chose the Springfield site because of its higher elevation and sandy absorbent soil that alleviated the sewage problems prevalent at other camps especially those located on low ground near our rivers. Various army camps around Jacksonville filled with soldiers as the camps in Tampa were overcrowded with men awaiting transport to Cuba. Lee, quickly had water piped directly into the camp and had all facilities thoroughly cleaned. As disease and epidemics swept through the other camps, Camp Cuba Libre had already prepared its hospital for the situation. In short order, the massive army camp was recognized as the model of what a modern military installation should look like.

Day's were spend in military drills, target practice, boxing and wrestling matches and instruction, as well as major troop movements to prepare for a planned assault on Havana, Cuba. Most of these efforts were unneeded as Santiago Cuba quickly fell and an armistice was declared. Obviously an army out of a job, as leadership was moved back toward Washington, discipline completely fell apart. In what was no doubt a response to the conditions of living in a tent in Florida through a long hot summer, with the added burden of being unneeded that led to a drunken riot that swiftly engulfed downtown Jacksonville.

When the war ended, elements of the 7th Corps were sent to Cuba as part of the occupation forces. Included in the occupation forces were the elements of the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry and others. The U.S. continued to occupy Cuba until 1902.

Colonel and Mrs. William Jennings Bryan in a tent under the live oaks. Photo Source: Florida State Archives


William Jennings Bryan was born on March 19, 1860 in Salem, Illinois. Bryan followed in his father's footsteps by combining the closely related professions of law and politics. He soon became renowned as an excellent orator and took full advantage of this gift.

With the advent of the controversy in Cuba, Bryan remained unusually uninvolved and continued the remain focused upon the issues of silver currency. As the political currents of his contemporaries shifted in favor of a conflict with Spain, he began to ardently campaign for Cuban independence. He argued that America was responsible for spreading the virtues of democracy to such a close neighbor. Waving a small Cuban flag in one hand and a small American one in the other, he excited large crowds in favor of his optimistic ideals.

At the start of the war, Bryan offered his services to his chief political opponent, President McKinley. Before the president assigned him a particular duty, he volunteered as a private in the Nebraska militia, eventually becoming colonel of the Third Nebraska Volunteer Infantry, nicknamed the "Silver Regiment." In July of 1898, his regiment joined the Seventh Corps at Camp Cuba Libre near Jacksonville, Florida. His men saw no active service.

After the war, Bryan became a staunch supporter of the Anti-Imperialist League. Running for the Democratic and Populist parties against Republican candidate William McKinley. McKinley beat Bryan by a large margin.

In 1925, Bryan, at age 65, became prominent again as a prosecutor in the Scopes trial, which determined whether or not evolution should be allowed to be taught in American public schools. With the end of the trial, Bryan was exhausted and soon became very sick. He died on July 26, 1925.

Private Clarence "Bert" Cecil Eaton at Camp Wells(?) Jacksonville, served with Company K 2nd Illinois Infantry. He enrolled on April 26, 1898 at Chicago, Illinois and was mustered in May 16, 1898 at Camp Tanner, Chicago, Illinois.
Photo Source: provided by Diane Meyer


While the 3Rd Nebraska was attached to the VII Corps, they were actually located at 'Camp Wells' in Panama Park. Camp Wells was occupied through the summer of 1898 and was the location of the rifle range.

According to Colonel William Jennings Bryan,
the first camp of the 3rd Neb. Vol. Inf. was at Panama Park, Florida, near Jacksonville beginning about July 22, 1898. “We are located at Panama Park, a high, sandy, well drained piece of timberland, situated about six miles north of Jacksonville.” There was little shade at this site and the heat forced a move to a camp near the beach at Pablo Beach on
September 9. Pablo Beach, a resort area, was renamed Jacksonville Beach in 1925 and is southeast of Jacksonville. The general camp site was in what was then downtown Pablo Beach, north of Beach Avenue about 150 yards in from the ocean, generally in the rectangle formed by 1st and 2nd Streets and Beach Boulevard and 1st Avenue North. The September 14, 1898 New Orleans Daily Picayune places the
Nebraska camp a mile south of the town. The September 13, 1898 Florida Times-Union and Citizen places the 3rd Neb. camp “nearly” a mile south of the “railway station “at Pablo Beach. Following flooding of its Pablo Beach camp on October 2, 1898, the 3rd Neb. moved to its final Jacksonville camp in the Fairfield area. Fairfield is in the southeast corner of Jacksonville. On October 24, 1898, the regiment moved with the Seventh Corps to Camp Onward at Savannah, Georgia.

The Camp Barber Shop. Photo Source: Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College

Jacksonville youngsters enlist in their very own 'military' taking lessons from the nearby army maneuvers. Photo Source: Florida State Archives



Dear Brother and Sister,

As I have nothing better to do I will try and write you a few lines.

I am well and hope you are the same.  We are having fine weather here. It is quite hot in the forenoon and until about 4 in the afternoon and then it gets quite cool and the nights are nice and cool; and we can sleep forty knots an hour.  We canšt get enough sleep.

I was on guard yesterday and last night I wanted to go down to St., Augustine on an excursion but I couldnšt, so I will have to wait until next Sunday, but I am going to go if it takes a hind leg. I am having a good time here.

The boys drilled this morning for the first time since we have been here.  They went out at 6:45 and came at 9:00. We are camped in a pine grove about a mile and a half from town and we don't get to go to town unless we run the guard, which is not so easy to do.

One night three of us wanted to go to town so we run the guards. We were late and thought we couldnšt get in without fooling the guard so I took some banana peeling and pinned it on my shoulders and we went up to where there was a young Dutchman on the post. He halted and says who is there? I says, Officers. He says, Advance one officer and be recognized. I went up to where he was and pointed to my shoulder straps (banana peels) and he saluted and says, Pass on and I turned and says to the boys, Come on. And we passed through all right

And the next morning the joke was so good that we hunted up the fellow and told him about it.  It made him s mad that he went and reported us.  We were called up before the Col. and he asked us what we meant by telling a sentinel we were officers.

We made a clean breast of it and he laughed until he cried when we told him that it was a banana peel o my shoulder. He thought we had stolen some officeršs clothes and gone to town with them on. It was great to see him roast the Dutchman for letting us impose on him. That way we were jacked up a little---given one hour of police work and the Dutchman got it for three days and the boys kangarooed him for reporting it, But while we came out ahead, we will not try it again for there was nine officers stopped and held for about an hour by the guards the next night on account of it.

Well there is not much more to write about except that I have been vaccinated, but I guess it will not take.

I have been fishing for sea crabs in the St. John River twice and I have also been in swimming in salt water for the first time.

Well, I can think of nothing more to write about so will close for this time with love to all.  Write soon.

                            Co. C 49 IA Vol."

When the boys from Nebraska broke down in our sub-tropical heat they moved their camp to a location a mile south of this station at Pablo (Jacksonville) Beach.

Nebraska Volunteers about one mile south of Pablo (Jacksonville) Beach. Note the families frolicking in the surf in the background. =