Savannah Volunteer Guard
The Spanish-American War, 1898
On the quiet evening of February 15, 1898, the American exercise in saber rattling with Spain over the Cuban insurrection came to a sudden and violent end. Resting at anchor in the large harbor of Havana, Cuba, the battleship USS Maine (pictured) erupted in flames, with no warning, as an explosion nearly tore the ship in two. More than 250 sailors died in the vessel's sinking, and within days Spain was blamed for the attack as many American journalists and politicians cried for war.
Just a month earlier in Georgia, several newspapers had reported that any conflict with Spain over Cuba was "not generally wanted." As soon as news of the Maine reached the state, however, the papers quickly changed their tune and condemned U.S. president William McKinley for not going to war immediately. McKinley succumbed to the war hawks and on April 19 asked Congress to declare war on Spain. The war ended three months later. Most of the manpower mustered for duty abroad served as occupation forces after Spain's surrender.*
After war was declared by the United States Congress on April 25, 1898, a call for volunteers to serve in Cuba was issued. When the call for volunteers came, it was decided to give the organized state troops first chance. Governor William Y. Atkinson called for two regiments of infantry and two batteries of light artillery.
On April 28th, orders were received to fill out all companies to war strength and the Armory was ordered to open from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm for recruiting and equipment purposes. Recruiting parties were sent ot Springfield, Hinesville, Darien, Stateboro, and elsewhere. Out-of-town recruits were under the command of Colonel E.M. Wylly of Macon.
As troops prepared, the two most important camps were Camp Onward (pictured) in Savannah and Camp Thomas in the extreme northwest corner of the state. Savannah was selected as the point of embarkation for the Seventh Army Corps commanded by General Fitzhugh Lee.
The Savannah regiment began training from May 14th to May 21st when it left by rail for Tampa, Florida where it remained until July 23rd. They traveled to Camp Wheeler, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia, then back to Savannah for a 30-day furlough. Although it was one of the best regiments in the service it suffered a setback when a northern regisment took its place aboard a transport at Tampa to join General William Shafter's army in Cuba. Much effort was made to keep this regiment in the regular army after hostilities had ceased, but the Guards and other companies from Atlanta, Rome, Athens, and Augusta were mustered out and returned to their homes.
The Guard moved on to Camp Brown in Savannah and were finally mustered out of active service on November 22nd, 1898, reverting to state status, after being on active duty about seven months.
During his command, the United States declared war (April 25,1898).On April 17th the Corps met at the armory to vote on whether to volunteer or not. The “Guards” voted overwhelmingly to volunteer. Garrard then began to recruit in order to fill out all units. Men from Statesboro, Darien, Springfield, Hinesville began to sign up.
The “Guards” were ordered to Camp Northern, at Griffin, GA.The “Guards” were designated as the 2nd battalion of the 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment under command of Colonel E.M.Wylly of Macon, GA.
After being fitted, they were sent to Tampa Heights, Flordia on August 19, 1898.They went to Camp wheeler on September 21, 1898, and they were shipped to Atlanta. When Spain asked for peace, the “Guards” were mustered out of Federal Service on November 22, 1898.
More detail is available in History of the Savannah Volunteer Guards, Inc. 1802-1992 by Henry J. Kennedy.
*Additional text and photos courtesy:The New Georgia Encyclopedia