On April 25, 1898, after months of discussion and negotiations concerning the revolt in Cuba, an island possessed by Spain, the U.S. Congress officially declared war upon Spain. For months, the national media, including Arkansas newspapers, had been filing exaggerated reports concerning the revolt in Cuba, stirring up anti-Spanish sentiment throughout the country. By the time of the unexplained sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor in February 1898, many citizens of Arkansas were ready for war.
On the same day as the war declaration, Governor Daniel Webster Jones received a message from the U.S. Department of War requesting that Arkansas provide two regiments of National Guard troops, approximately 2,000 soldiers. Jones proposed raising two new infantry regiments consisting of men from throughout the state, because only two State Guard companies were judged to be organized well enough to be mustered in intact. The remaining twenty companies were raised from volunteers, most of whom were serving in other State Guard companies. Two regiments of approximately 1,000 soldiers each were created from these volunteers. On May 14, the First Arkansas Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Colonel Elias Chandler, was mustered into federal service, followed on May 25 by the Second Arkansas Volunteer Infantry under the command of Colonel Virgil Cook. Before the end of the month, both regiments arrived at Camp George H. Thomas at Chickamauga Park, Georgia, where the soldiers expected to receive their basic training and assignment to Cuba.
During their deployment in Georgia, they were assigned to the First and Second Brigades, Second Division, Third Army Corps. However, the war in Cuba ended before either of the regiments made it into combat. Still, camp life in the low-lying areas of humid Georgia caused much suffering for the Arkansas men. Within four months, the Second lost sixteen men to disease.
For all practical purposes, the war concluded with the signing of an armistice in early August. When the First received its orders to return to Arkansas in late September, the Second also began to make preparations to return home. However, the Second did not receive its mustering-out orders but instead was one of the regiments chosen to remain in the service.
At approximately the same time the First returned home, the Second was reassigned to Camp Shipp in Anniston, Alabama. Although living conditions were reported to be better, the five months spent there were not happy times, with various illnesses continuing to be a problem. Some members of the Second were involved in a race riot when a member of the African-American Third Alabama Infantry was arrested and jailed by local officials for intoxication. Apparently, members of the Third Tennessee and Second Arkansas assisted in defending the jail and participated in the violence when soldiers of the Alabama regiment attempted to free their comrade.
On January 25, 1899, the Second received notification that they were to be mustered out of the service. At the time of its official mustering out at Anniston on February 25, the regiment had lost a total of one officer and twenty-seven infantrymen to disease. Colonel Cook was the last member to be mustered out.
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Spanish-American War, 1898.
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