Wartime military service comes in many forms. Not all soldiers are called upon to face the enemy on the field of battle. Many serve in essential “rear echelon” support roles, others become occupation forces after the armistice. Occupation forces help restore normalcy to war ravaged populations through peacekeeping roles and by stabilizing new governments as they rise from the ashes of conflict.
This was the role fulfilled by the men of the Adrian Light Guard in the Spanish-American War of 1898.
When war was declared in April 1898, the Adrian Light Guard was called into action.
Their marching order was written on the blackboard in the old armory on April 26, 1898, where it remained, protected behind glass, for years.
It read: “In compliance with the Adj’t Gen’s order this Company will assemble at the Armory at 6 o’clock April 26, A.M., forming in the armory promptly at 6:15, moving onto the street at 6:30, starting to the depot at 6:45. The company will move in heavy marching order. Each member is again cautioned to prepare himself with one day’s rations as no meals will be prepared on that day. J. M. Holloway, Captain.”
The Guard travelled to Island Lake, Mich., for training. One citizen, R. W. Angell, proprietor of Angell’s Cigar Store, recalled, “There wasn’t any business done in this town that day. Everyone was out to see the boys off. The train was late, too, and the crowds were so thick on the tracks they couldn’t hardly get started. It was after 9 o’clock before they left. I remember the boys didn’t have many medical supplies and we sent them stuff several times.”
At Island Lake, it joined with other Michigan companies and, on May 8, was mustered into the service of the United States as Company B, 31st Michigan Voluntary Infantry regiment under the command of Colonel Cornelius Gardner.
The 31st was the first Michigan regiment mustered into federal service for the war.
The regiment moved to Camp Thomas at Chickamauga Park in Georgia on May 15 for additional training and on the 17th, was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 1st Army Corps. The camp suffered from a water shortage with barely enough to drink and none for bathing and was unofficially dubbed Camp “Fever” for reasons that need no explanation.
The 1st Georgia regiment arrived at Camp Thomas on June 18. They were tired, dirty, thirsty and hungry. The “veteran” 31st Michigan “adopted” them providing food and helping them get settled into the new and strange environment of the camp.
The bonds of friendship formed in that simple act led to the units being known as the twin regiments. Never mind the fact that just 35 years earlier they had been on opposite sides in the Civil War. This can only be understood by veterans.
At Chickamauga the 31st adopted the red bandana as its signature neckwear. With thousands of soldiers and no clear markings on their uniforms to identify their regiments, Colonel Gardner ordered the 31st to discard their service ties and don red bandanas, thereby distinguishing his regiment.
There was a “down-side.”
More than one misbehaving soldier was seen trying to quickly hide his flamboyant bandana to avoid detection.
The twin regiments moved to Camp Poland near Knoxville, Tenn., in August for more training until January 1899. The armistice ending hostilities was signed in Paris on Dec. 10 so the regiment would not see combat, but there was still much to be done. They were sent to Camp Onward near Savannah for embarkation for Cuba. Incidentally, in Savannah, the home of many men from the 1st Georgia, the boys of the 31st Michigan were received like royalty.
Embarkation aboard the steamship Chester began on Jan. 24. Getting underway at 8 a.m. on the 26th, the ship ran aground twice before reaching deep water about noon on the 28th. Adding insult to injury, rough weather at sea caused much of the regiment’s tentage, baggage and other equipment to be washed overboard and lost.
They arrived at Cienfuegos, Cuba on Feb. 1 as part of the Army of Cuban Occupation and served at (get out your maps) Amaro and Rodrigo, maintaining peace and assisting in the establishment of local governments as they transitioned from Spanish rule to independence. On April 1, 1899, the regiment received orders to prepare to return to the U.S.
Returning to Cienfuegos they boarded ships bound for the disinfecting station at DeFushi Isle (now Daufuskie Island) near Savannah, arriving on April 19. Six days later they were back at Camp Onward.
The 31st Michigan was mustered out of federal service at Savannah, Ga., and returned home to Michigan on May 17, 1899. In addition to being the first Michigan regiment mustered in, they were also the last Michigan regiment mustered out.
Bob Wessel is the vice president of the Lenawee County Historical Society and can be contacted at email@example.com.