2nd and 3rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

Experience a Forced March

Contributed by Mike Phillips


That the many volunteer troops flooding into the camps of concentration were not ready for action was an issue that slowly became clear to the U.S. government. Attempts meant to test the new recruits or "toughen" was not alway well received by the public. This newspaper article indicates the response to one of those instances.

"March in Hot Sun"

"Wisconsin Troops at Charleston Get taste Of Severe Discipline"

"According to dispatches from Charleston, S.C., where the Second and Third Wisconsin Regiments are now awaiting transports to take them to Porto Rico, the boys have been getting a taste of rather severe discipline.  Saturday morning before breakfast, the Wisconsin troops and the Sixteenth Pennsylvania regiments were ordered out for a practice march of eleven miles.  The thermometer was 110 in the sun and scores of the men were compelled to fall out of the ranks.  In many cases being completely overcome by the heat.  Nearly fifty percent of the boys also suffered from blistered feet as a result of the long walk, and there was much complaint that the officers should require so hard a task of the men, with no apparent reason other than to see just how much they could stand.  Even the residents of Charleston criticize the officers, saying it was too much for the men to endure: that no southerner would attempt it, and that it is folly for a northern soldier to try.  It was reported, however,  that Generals Wilson and Ernst are in no way satisfied with the showing made by the troops and will try it again today (Monday) –18 July. Orders to that effect were issued last evening.  The various company commanders were notified to turn out the companies, excusing only the sick and those on guard duty.  The men are to be in heavy marching order and none are to fall out without the permission of the company commanders.  Those who do, unless sick, will be placed under arrest.  The start was planned for  6:30 o’clock, the Third Wisconsin heading, followed by the Second Wisconsin, Sixteenth Pennsylvania and two companies of the Sixth Illinois.  Several ambulances and physicians will accompany the march."

"July 18- Forced march repeated with equally disastrous results as the previous march. Gov. Edward Scofield demands information on the marches."

"Late in June sickness began to play havoc with the Wisconsin troops in the South.  At Chickamauga the Second and Third regiments became infected with Typhoid-Malaria fevers due  partially to the bad drinking water.  Early in July the Second and Third regiments at Chickamauga began arrangements for embarking for Cuba to take part in the Santiago campaign.  On July 6, after various delays, the regiments left Chickamauga for Charleston, S.C., where they expected to take transports and depart for Cuba.  When they reached Charleston there weren’t enough ships and Gen. Miles sailed for Santiago leaving the Wisconsin troops and the Sixteenth Pennsylvania regiment behind.  Santiago surrendered just after the  regiments had loaded on to transports No. 30 and the Grand Duchess and were preparing to embark and they were retained at Charleston for the Puerto Rican campaign.  While waiting at Charleston the men were housed in vacant cotton warehouses.  The air was close and they were scarcely inhabitable.  At night, the men were forced to sleep on the wharves to get fresh air.  Nearly all the rations of the regiment had been loaded on the transports, and during the time that the men were housed in the warehouses the food supply was so limited that the company commanders of the two regiments bought large supplies out of their own  funds.  The sickness contracted at Chickamauga, and the unhealthy living conditions of the warehouses weakened the soldiers.  Yet in spite of these conditions, the regiments, on the morning of July 16, were ordered to prepare for a forced march.  Many of the men did not have breakfast because of low supply of food that morning and in spite of the high temperatures, they were put on an eleven-mile march.  Many were overcome by the heat and fell out of ranks along the route and others had convulsions on their return to camp.  The city hospitals were filled with sick soldiers.  In spite of the results, another march was announced and the generals censured the officers of the regiments for letting their men fall out.  The weakened condition of the men caused an investigation of the food supply and from that time till they embarked for Puerto Rico there was plenty to eat.  Wisconsin demanded an investigation by the War Dept., but the troops left on July 20th."


Weekly Northwestern Saturday, July 23, 1898.

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