Academic journal article Military Review

The Eighth Corps in San Francisco, 1898

Academic journal article Military Review

The Eighth Corps in San Francisco, 1898

Article excerpt

At the outbreak of the SpanishAmerican War, the United States challenged Spain's military in the Philippines. Specifically, on I May 1898, US naval forces, commanded by Commodore George Dewey, wrestled control of Manila Bay from Admiral Patricio Montojo's Spanish squadron. In the wake of Dewey's quick victory, President William H. McKinley decided to send a land force to occupy Manila. No prewar plans existed to provide a blueprint for this endeavor. Furthermore, the Army, having anticipated commitments off the shores of Florida should the United States go to war with Spain, had already moved most of its regular organizations and logistic support to assembly areas in the Caribbean.

McKinley's decision forced military officials to shift focus to the Pacific. The Army needed a western assembly point where forces, subsequently designated the Eighth Corps, could gather before movement overseas. Securing a Pacific coast port became essential if forces were to reach the Philippines in a timely manner. On 4 May 1898, McKinley informed Secretary of War Russell Alger that troops "should be assembled at San Francisco for such service as may be ordered hereafter."1

Several factors account for the selection of San Francisco as the port of embarkation. By 1898, San Francisco was the premier city on the West Coast, boasting a population of over 330,000. It possessed first-rate municipal utilities and telephone and telegraph services. As a transcontinental railroad terminus, the city offered ready access to regular and volunteer forces traveling west for rendezvous. The location featured one of the country's best ports. Transportation overseas could be secured through oceanic steamship companies that maintained headquarters or offices in the city.2

San Francisco also sported an Army general depot over which the quartermaster general had direct control. Depending on available stocks, the military could use this facility and its organization to outfit both regular and volunteer forces converging on the West Coast. Since the 1870s, the Subsistence Department had also maintained a purchasing depot in the city. Through this facility, the commissary acquired fresh beef, flour and other commodities largely through local sources. Feed for livestock, lumber and other products could be secured by subsistence officers to establish bay-area campsites.3

After deciding where to locate an expeditionary force, McKinley named generals Wesley Merritt and Elwell Otis to quarter, organize, train and prepare designated forces in San Francisco for duty overseas. Drawing on available, but limited, logistic resources from area military organizations, Merritt's command began to accept the thousands of regulars and volunteers arriving at the Golden Gate region. Units initially camped on the Presidio but eventually spilled over into several other locations.

Logistic Challenges

Hastily dispatched to the West Coast, regular and volunteer organizations frequently reached San Francisco lacking essential equipment. The thousands of soldiers also needed daily rations and adequate medical care. The available military facilities and civilian infrastructure was capable of meeting the needs of many units. The challenge was to tap into those sources of aid to provide for the soldier's welfare.

The Army's Ordnance Department supported Benecia Arsenal, a major depot on the Pacific coast, stocked with large quantities of ammunition and .45-caliber Springfield rifles.4 Located about 43 miles northeast of San Francisco, Benecia afforded easy access to military organizations in need of weapons or munitions.5 For example, arsenal commander Colonel L.S. Babbitt received orders on 14 May to help supply two Ist Expedition units. Adjutant General Corbin directed Babbitt to provide the 1st California and 14th Infantry battalions "400 rounds per man [and] such arms as necessary to fully arm" the Californians.6 Four days later, Corbin hastened the partially armed 10th Pennsylvania to San Francisco, knowing that ordnance shortfalls could be made up on the coast. …

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