Loyal Legion Vignettes
At approximately 2145 hours on 15 February 1898, the battleship U.S.S. Maine blew up in Havana harbor. With that shattering explosion one hundred years ago the careers of a number of Companions of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion soared into history. Of course many of the Companions who were to be intimately involved in the Spanish American War were already well known for their participation in the War of the Rebellion but this new conflict allowed them to put a capstone on their battlefield experiences. Other Companions, who had been junior officers, or even enlisted men in the Civil War, now had a chance to prove themselves in senior command positions; it was an opportunity they had not expected, and they rushed to get into the war. The "Splendid Little War" offered a chance for either repeated or newfound glory and Companions of MOLLUS were in the forefront of almost every action.
The Spanish-American war technically began on April 23, 1898 with the Declaration of War on the United States by Spain, but that was simply the culmination of what had been a long history of conflict and tensions between Washington and Madrid. The United States had been supporting the Cuban revolutionaries in their attempts to gain their freedom from the Spanish monarchy through various covert operations, all of which were well known, to the Spanish. The blowing up of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor was just the excuse for bringing to a head the conflict between the two powers.
In an address to the Maine Commandery of the Loyal Legion, Dr. William Gillespie said, "In the recent war with Spain nearly all the officers of high rank received their practical training in that great conflict between the North and the South, serving both for and against our flag, and…by uniting the followers of Grant and Lee we gained in the Spanish war more than was ever accomplished in any war in the same length of time."
MOLLUS involvement began at the highest levels in government finding both the Commander-in-Chief (President William McKinley) and the General-in-Chief (Major General Nelson Appleton Miles) active and enthusiastic Companions of the Order. Almost all of the senior officers of the Regular Army and the Navy and Marine Corps were Civil War veterans and the great majority of them were Companions of the Loyal Legion.
The raising of volunteer forces increased the participation of MOLLUS members until virtually every unit involved in the fighting had a Companion somewhere in its ranks. Among the best known regulars were Wesley Merritt, William R. Shafter, Edwin Vose Sumner, Jr., and John H. Wilson whose active service must have seemed to them to have ended with the Indian campaigns and the close of the frontier. Career naval officers such as George Dewey, William T. Sampson and Winfield Scott Schley saw themselves apparently headed for dry-docking with employment no more exciting than dredging harbors and repairing lighthouses when opportunities for active service suddenly opened before them.
Companions who had not been as widely known as some of the others, but whose reputations were greatly enhanced by their participation in the war were Arthur MacArthur, John R. Brooke, and Samuel S.B. Young; all three of these men, along with Nelson A. Miles and Grenville M. Dodge eventually served as Commander-in-Chief of MOLLUS. Brigadier General Charles King, the well-known author from Milwaukee, son of General Rufus King of the Iron Brigade, commanded the 1st Brigade, 1st Division; of VIII Corps in the Philippines along side his fellow Milwaukeean, Brigadier General Arthur MacArthur. Other officers who were also Companions were Elwell S. Otis, Henry W. Lawton, Frederick Dent Grant, Guy Victor Henry, Adna R. Chaffee, Joseph Warren Keifer, Alexander C.W. Pennington, and Roy Stone. Naval officers included French Ensor Chadwick chief of staff to Admiral Sampson; Henry Clay Taylor commanded the battleship Indiana, while Robley Dunglison Evans commanded the Iowa. Companion Charles Edgar Clark, an 1864 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a participant under Admiral David Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay, took command of the battleship Oregon in March 1898 and, in one of the most famous incidents of the war, sailed her in a 67 day voyage around the Horn arriving in time to participate in the battle off Santiago.
Older Companions, whose careers had run their course, also tried to get into the action. Lt. General John M. Schofield was invited by President McKinley to act as his personal military advisor, but the old general's ideas of strategy and tactics were too much in conflict with his fellow Legion Companion, Nelson A. Miles, so Schofield removed himself, albeit grudgingly, from his position. Major General Adelbert Ames, veteran of Gettysburg and a former senator and governor from Mississippi, managed to get a commission as a brigadier general of volunteers and served for 6 months.
Much of the guidance of the military and naval aspects of the war was under the control of MOLLUS Companions. The Secretary of War, Russell A. Alger was a Companion of the New York Commandery and serving on the four man Naval Board were Companions Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan and Rear Admiral Montgomery Sicard. A perhaps unexpected benefit of the Spanish-American War was the increase in membership in the Loyal Legion. Admiral Bancroft Gherardi, Commander-in-Chief from 1896 through 1899 reported the largest ever membership in the Legion at one time, which topped out at 9,009 Companions.
The war with Spain resulted in a number of papers on the subject of that war and the Civil War appearing in various publications of MOLLUS Commanderies. Dr. Walter Kempster of the Wisconsin Commandery wrote, "The Army of '98 and the Army of '61: A Comparison." Major General Grenville M. Dodge of New York held forth on "The Army in the Philippines" and John W. Clous wrote "Remarks Upon the Army as a Pioneer of Civilization and as a Constructive Agency under Our Government" which dealt with both Cuba and the Philippines. Rear Admiral Oscar Warren Farrenholt, past Commander of the California Commandery who commanded the cruiser U.S.S. Monacacy in the Spanish-American War in an address before the California Commandery said that the Spanish-American War was "a skirmish compared with the four years of the Civil War." That was an observation that no Companion seemed willing to dispute.
Companions participated at all levels of service. Manning Davidson Birge of the Illinois Commandery recruited a regiment of 1,300 men and was elected colonel, but he was out done by his fellow Illinois companion Charles Rudolph Edward Koch who raised 1,800 soldiers for his regiment two days before war was declared.
The Companions by inheritance were, as might be expected, very active taking the opportunity to emulate their fathers by enlisting in the army or navy. Campbell Elias Babcock of the Illinois Commandery and son of Brig. Gen. Orville Babcock, served in Col. Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders. John G. McClaughry and Thomas Edward Lannan both served in Illinois volunteer regiments. General John A. Logan's son, Major John A. Logan, Jr. was killed in action.
The first action of the war was the attack by ships of the U.S. Navy on the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines. The Spanish fleet was completely destroyed in an action that commenced at 5:15 AM and ended at 12:40 PM. In overall command of the United States squadron was Commodore and Companion George Dewey and by his side as Executive Officer was Companion George P. Colvocoresses. Dewey had served as a Lieutenant on the U.S.S. Mississippi during the Civil War and was at the capture of New Orleans. Colvocoresses had served under his father, Captain George M. Colvocresses on the U.S.S. Supply on South Atlantic blockade duty. The younger Colvocoresses eventually rose to the rank of Rear Admiral and was Commandant of Cadets at the United States Military Academy at Annapolis; he was a member of the District of Columbia and New York Commanderies. For his part, George Dewey became Commander of the Vermont Commandery of MOLLUS.
The other major naval action of the war was the destruction of the Spanish fleet off Santiago, Cuba, on 3 July 1898. The battle commenced at 9:35 AM. And in less than four hours (1:15 PM) the Spanish fleet under Admiral Cervera was nothing more than burning and sinking hulks. The command of number of the major American battleships as well as over all naval leadership were in the hands of Loyal Legion members.
MOLLUS Companions led the forces which subdued Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines and commanded all the land actions in the Spanish American War. General Shafter was in over all command of the Cuban expedition, General Miles, who was also General-in-Chief of the Army and General John R. Brooke commanded the Puerto Rican expedition and Generals Arthur MacArthur and Wesley Merritt were among the commanders in the Philippines.
The Spanish American War came to an end on 12 August 1898 with the declaration of a cease-fire. On the stroke of noon on 1 January 1899, the Spanish Captain General of Cuba turned over the government of that island to Major General Brooke. The war against insurgents in the Philippines continued for several years and Companion MacArthur was instrumental in bringing about the pacification of the islands; his son Douglas, at one time Sr. Vice Commander of the Wisconsin Commandery, led the forces which freed the Philippines in World War II.
The Spanish American War had its critics and after the conclusion of hostilities President McKinley appointed a committee to investigate the conduct of the War Department. Because General Grenville M. Dodge, was chairman of the committee, the investigative group became known as the "Dodge Committee." With the exception of an ex-Confederate captain all the members of the Committee were Companions of the Loyal Legion. The committee made some recommendations but found that the War Department's performance was satisfactory.
From start to finish the Spanish American War was an event in which the Companions of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion were major participants. The experience they had gained as officers in the Civil War enabled them to lead the forces of the United States, both on land and sea, with competence and success.
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