LIMA — By the middle of the 20th century, the young men who had marched off on a spring morning in 1898 to fight the Spanish were getting long in tooth and short in memory. Gatherings of the veterans, who had formed into fraternal organizations not long after the last shot was fired, were far fewer and much smaller. The old soldiers were fading away, although the last few veterans of the war didn’t die until the early 1990s, more than nine decades after answering the call to duty.
For Lima’s Company C of the 2nd regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the call came early on the morning of April 26, 1898. “The fire bells commenced ringing at 6:10 o’clock and this was the signal that the boys were to move to the front,” the Lima Daily News reported.
After mustering at the armory on South Main Street, Company C, 85 strong, began the march to the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago railroad station at a little after 8 a.m. for the trip to Kenton where they would join companies from Wapakoneta, Van Wert, Paulding, Findlay and elsewhere in northwest Ohio.
“As the procession moved northward from the armory cheers went up all along the line,” the News wrote, noting the contingent was escorted down the flag-bedecked streets to the train station by about 300 veterans of the Civil War.
“The scene about the P.F. depot was simply one that pen is incapable of describing,” the Daily News reporter wrote, before giving it a shot anyway.
“Banked in from the Cambridge house to the very sides of the coaches was a gathering of not less than 10,000 loyal men, women and children,” he wrote. “Mothers, their eyes filled with tears, sisters holding with a death like grip the hand of the brave brother responding to duty’s call. Sweethearts, with the yearning of love burning in their very souls, yet overshadowed by the pride within, that their treasure was one of the gallant phalanx that would die in the cause of Cuba Libre. Even an Angello could not paint that stirring scene, why should cold type attempt description!”
The Daily News judged it the “largest and most patriotic gathering in the history of the city …”
What happened to the “gallant phalanx” was far less dramatic than the sendoff. For many, the war, which officially ended about two weeks before 1898 did, simply didn’t last long enough to allow for much gallantry. Like many units, the 2nd Ohio didn’t actively participate in what Secretary of State John Hay would call a “splendid little war.”
Initially, the regiment was stationed at Camp Bushnell in Columbus before being sent in mid-May 1898 to Camp George H. Thomas on the former Civil War battlefield at Chickamauga, Georgia. However, by late summer, when conditions at Camp Thomas deteriorated because of overcrowding, the 2nd Ohio was sent to Knoxville, Tennessee. It would remain until February 1899. The unit was mustered out of federal service at Macon, Georgia, in mid-February 1899, at Macon, Georgia.
Soon after the war ended, discharged veterans began forming fraternal societies to keep in touch with old comrades. At the beginning of the 20th century, these groups began to merge, eventually becoming known as the United Spanish War Veterans. Among the groups to merge were the veterans of the Philippine insurrection, which followed on the heels of the Spanish-American War and lasted until July 1902. Filipino rebels, it seemed, found the Americans not much of an improvement on the Spanish. Several members of Company C, after returning home, “enlisted for service in the Philippine Islands, where they remained until 1902,” The Lima News noted in an April 6, 1927 story.
“The Lima camp of the Spanish American War Veterans was organized in the old YMCA building with the late George H. Quail as the first commander,” the story added. “The camp now has a membership of more than 100, and the Ladies auxiliary of the Spanish War Veterans has a membership of more than 73.”
A notice in the Lima Times-Democrat from June 12, 1902, states that “Lima Command No. 155 Spanish War Veterans will be mustered in at the YMCA, Thursday evening, June 12, at 7:30. If you served during the war with Spain or in the Philippines you should be on hand and join this organization. All comrades will assemble at Hotel Norval promptly at 7 p.m. …”
As in 1898, veterans answered the call and the Spanish war veterans became a prominent fraternal organization in the first decade of the 20th century. Veterans groups from cities in Northwest Ohio banded together to form the Northwest Ohio Boosters Association. The boosters, according to a 1931 article in the Sandusky Register, “was formed for the sole purpose of furthering the claims of United Spanish War Veterans’ and Auxiliaries.” In 1929, the Northwestern Ohio Boosters Association was comprised of 22 local camps.
Although the groups may have been formed “for the sole purpose of furthering” the claims of veterans, they also provided a handy excuse to reunite with old comrades. “In August 1905, a statewide convention of veterans was held at Findlay,” the Times-Democrat noted April 25, 1905. “One of the features of the encampment will be the competitive drills by teams of various camps. The Lima contingent will be dressed with Prince Albert suits and silk hats while the Wapakoneta camp will be garbed in striking garments of white.” About 10,000 were expected at the convention, which was held at the end of August 1905 and during which, despite their natty attire, neither local drill team won a prize.
The Spanish war veterans also took an active part in local charity work. On May 26, 1918, the News announced that the “United Spanish War Veterans Carnival” would open “on the North Main Street grounds, with Krause Greater Shows furnishing all the attractions.” Among the attractions, the newspaper noted, were the “Krause Minstrels with 20 finished artists, special scenery and costumes, the Wonder City, a mechanical marvel” and “Kelly, the strongest human of them all,” as well as three “riding devices,” a “Ferris Wheel, the Carry-Us-All and the Whip.”
The Spanish veterans’ groups continued regular meetings and conventions throughout the 1920s and ‘30s. On April 26, 1927, the News announced that “Spanish War veterans of Lima, Findlay and Wapakoneta will meet at Memorial Hall at 8 p.m. Wednesday to observe the 29th anniversary of the declaration of the Spanish American War. More than 150 veterans are expected to join the reunion.”
An announcement of a meeting of the Northwestern Ohio Boosters Association in Defiance from Aug. 8, 1939, contained a hint of the toll time was taking on the veterans. “Attractions at the meeting will be the Toledo camp’s firing squad, color guard and the only remaining drum corps in the state composed entirely of Spanish war veterans,” the News wrote Aug. 8, 1939.
Meeting notices for the veterans’ groups continued to appear through the 1940s but had almost entirely disappeared by the middle of the 1950s.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.