Since freeing Cuba was the main focus and initial reason for the war, the United States sent two squadrons of U.S. Navy battleships and an army of regulars and volunteers to attack the Spanish in Cuba. At the same time, the United States also targeted the Philippine Islands, a colony of Spain. During the first week of the war, the U.S. Navy defeated a Spanish fleet that was anchored off the coast of Manila, the capital city. The naval commander of the battle, Admiral Dewey, was hailed a hero and his victory was celebrated across America.
After the naval battle, Spanish forces were trapped in Manila and the American army was sent to capture it, including the Thirteenth Minnesota. On August 13, 1898, the Americans attacked Spanish units defending the city, with the Thirteenth leading the right wing’s advance. After some fierce fighting and heavy casualties for the Minnesotans, the city of Manila was captured.
In the newspaper of the State Normal School in St. Cloud, former student Corporal F. E. Schacht of Company M described his unit's experience in this fight, which began with digging trenches for cover:
We were anxiously waiting for orders to fire but nothing of the enemy could be seen. All this time there was a continuous roaring. The fleet gave the impression of distant thunderpeals, while the Utah and Astor batteries were on our right and left and firing into the Spanish breast-work and block houses. Volley firing was intense. After about one hour and a half of severe firing the Spanish gave in and from all appearances were retreating.
Another St. Cloud student, George Arness, also served in Company M. His letter home hinted at some of the boredom of Army life and his nostalgia for home after he fought on the front line of the battle for Manila:
Sometimes I think of St. Cloud, the Normal and you fellows, and when I compare all to the barracks, hard tack, green coffee and the inconveniences of army life, I am inclined to use a little “Sunday talk.” But we have had a good time here and are not suffering hardships at present. Sometimes we have a great deal of fun around the campfires. Since we took the city we have not had anything to do. Company M has been on outpost duty twice since we came into the city, and now we are in permanent quarters doing nothing…
Ten years later, the First Infantry of the Minnesota National Guard published a book in 1909 detailing the history and achievements of its Company I. The book includes photographs and essays of their time in the Philippines, when they were part of the Thirteenth Minnesota. Use this viewer to page through the book and zoom in to view the images:
In this book, Frank T. Corriston, Captain of Company I during the war, wrote about the cohesion of his unit:
During the Spanish American War the members of the company performed their duties faithfully and well. In no company in the regiment was there a better spirit, or a more loyal devotion to duty. No internal dissensions arose to mar the pleasant relations of the officers and enlisted men, and at the same time discipline was at all times maintained.
Commemorative books like this one that look back on shared experiences can sometimes obscure the reality of war and combat with feelings of nostalgia and pride. But Minnesota’s volunteers did perform their duty and certainly played an important role in the Philippines.
Continue learning about the Spanish-American War using the page links below