ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
For several years prior to the Spanish-American War, the Cubans and other West Indians carried on an unsuccessful revolution against Spain. The citizens of the United States sympathized with the efforts of the natives to gain their freedom. This was partly because Americans generally felt sympathetic toward a colony throwing off the home government and partly on account of the cruel manner in which the Spaniards attempted to put down the rebellion.
In the early part of 1898 feeling among the people of the United States against Spain reached a stage where it could be classed as war fever. The United States battleship Maine, which was in Havana Harbor, was destroyed by an explosion February 15. President McKinley sent a message to congress April 10, recommending armed intervention in Cuba to stop the oppression of the natives. Other messages and resolutions went back and forth between the President and Congress, causing Spain to declare war April 24, and Congress passed a similar resolution the next day.
The President called for 200,000 volunteers, and the regular army was increased by 61,000 men. Work was hastened on the seacoast fortifications and mines were quickly placed in the harbors. Orders were issued concentrating the regular army at once in the southern states, and the regulars were soon followed by volunteers. Major General Shafter was placed in command of the Fifth Corps, which was in camp at Tampa, Florida. This corps was organized into one cavalry and two infantry divisions, the former commanded by the former Confederate General, Joseph Wheeler.
The troops of the Second Cavalry received orders at once and the whole regiment was assembled at Camp Thomas (Fort Oglethorpe), Georgia, by April 26, 1898, from Forts Riley, Kansas, Logan, Colorado, and Wingate, New Mexico. The regiment was all together here as a unit for the first time since the Civil War. Only two weeks were spent at this camp, where old acquaintances were renewed after many years of separation. The regiment was then ordered to Mobile, Alabama, where it arrived May 13. While at this place Troops L and M were again made active, bringing the troops to twelve in number. At the end of June there were twenty-two officers and 964 men for duty, and an aggregate of 1,251 present and absent in the regiment.
While commanding the entire regiment at Mobile, Colonel Huntt retired on May 31, 1898, as the state of his health would not permit him to carry on an active campaign in the tropics. A veteran of the Civil War, Colonel Huntt became the commander of the Second Cavalry April 20, 1891, after previously serving as lieutenant colonel of the Tenth Cavalry.
On June 3, 1898, orders were received to embark for an unannounced destination. Only four troops, A, C, D, and F, finally were put aboard, as there was no room on the transports for the remainder of the horses of the regiment. The next day the rest of the regiment left Mobile for Tampa, Florida, by rail. Upon arrival at that place they found all the transports which carried the troops from Mobile anchored in the bay. The second and third squadrons of the regiment tried to get billets in the transports but never succeeded in doing so. The First Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders) was camped near the Second at this time. After much political intrigue this unit succeeded in getting orders to go aboard. As they had no wagons to haul their baggage to the cars, Colonel Noyes loaned those of the Second and thus probably helped the unit to go to Cuba which had prevented the two squadrons of the Second from going.
General Shafter had decided to leave the horses of the cavalry division behind for lack of space on the transports. It was pointed out by General Wheeler that the separation of the men and horses was very undesirable for a cavalry unit. He was told that if he insisted upon this point the cavalry would be left behind. Under those conditions he withdrew all objections and the cavalry was put aboard dismounted. The four troops of the Second Cavalry under Major Rafferty had in the meantime embarked at Mobile, Alabama, with their mounts. This squadron was thus the only mounted cavalry accompanying the expedition to Cuba.