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Spanish American Stories


Spanish American War

The headline read "War In Earnest." For four young men from Wood County, Friday, April 29, 1898 was the first time their names appeared in print in the Marshfield Times, and possibly anywhere at all. One can only imagine the pride they and their families felt.

Just the day before, the ladies of Marshfield had gathered food for all the brave boys who were leaving with Company A and more than 4,000 people showed up at the train depot to bid them farewell, 'midst tears and cheers. After their photo was snapped they boarded the train for Ashland, WI, where they would then be shipped out to military camps in the southern United States and hopefully end up in the fight against Spaniards in Puerto Rico.

No one at the depot that day could foresee what was coming for these four men and many like them because ultimately, it was not guns and fighting that spelled the end for these four, as two of the men never even made it to foreign soil, while the two that did never saw action, all four lives cut short by a most unexpected enemy at Camp Alger in Chickamauga Park, Georgia. Typhoid fever, brought on by contaminated drinking water was blamed.

The Spanish-American War (April-July 1898) was a brief, intense conflict that effectively ended Spain's worldwide empire and gained the United States several new possessions in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Preceded by the destruction of USS Maine at Havana, Cuba, the Spanish-American War featured two major naval battles, one in the Philippines and the other off Cuba, plus several smaller naval clashes.

The USS Maine was sent to Havana in January 1898 to protect American interests during the long-standing revolt of the Cubans against the Spanish government but on the evening of February 15, 1898, the Maine sank when her forward gunpowder magazines exploded. Nearly three-quarters of the battleship's crew died as a result of the explosion. While the cause of this great tragedy is still unsettled, contemporary American popular opinion blamed Spain, and war followed within a few months.

Before dawn on May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey's flagship Olympia led seven U.S. Navy cruisers and gunboats into Manila Bay. By 8 AM that morning Dewey's Squadron had located and destroyed virtually the entire Spanish naval force in the Philippines. Damage to the American ships was negligible, their crews suffering no fatalities and few injuries.

The total number of Americans killed in the war was 3,289. Deaths from loss of the Maine, not included in wartime casualties, since the Maine sunk before a state of war existed, were 260, bringing the total American loss to 3,549.

Information on the Spanish losses in the war are somewhat sketchy as the Spanish were already fighting an ongoing war with Cuban insurgents when the United States became involved and the war officially began. One century after the war experts still do not have a clear idea as data varies but most indicates that between 55,000 and 60,000 men died. Of these men, 90% died from malaria, dysentery and other diseases; the remaining 10% died during the battles or later as a consequence of their injuries.
For such a short war, it took a terrible toll on each side.
According to the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, October 17, 1898, a memorial service was held at the opera house there for all the soldiers who gave their lives in this war. Deaths of the Wood County men from the 2nd Wisconsin Division, Company A, were listed as follows:
Corp. Herman Bartels of Marshfield, aged 19 yrs. Died at Charleston, July 20, of typhoid fever.
Priv. John Van Breda of Marshfield, age 28. Died at Ponce, Puerto Rico on August 1, of typhoid fever.
Priv. Alfred Bargeron of Marshfield, aged 19. Died in Charleston, August 5, of typhoid fever.
Corp. John L. Davis of Marshfield, aged 27. Died at Ponce, August 9m of typhoid fever.
As we all know however, war loses its impact without faces, so I offer a little about those from Wood County who gave their lives during that war.

Herman Bartels was the first to die. A Marshfield News article on July 21, 1898 states that he had been a member of the Wisconsin National Guard for five years and held the rank of sergeant. He left the Guard when his time expired, but enlisted at the first call for men for the war. He went to the front as a private, but was advanced to corporal at Chickamauga.
Born January 29, 1875 in Calumet Wisconsin to Wilhelm and Kate Bartels, he was only 23 when he died in South Carolina.

Officially the second Wood County soldier to die in the Spanish-American War, John Van Bredda was the first to die in Puerto Rico, although his death too was from typhoid, with him being taken ill on the transport La Duchesse.

American by adoption, Van Breda was born in Holland in 1870, the son of John C. and Anna Van Breda. They immigrated to Grand Rapids MI and in January 1896, John moved to Marshfield where he was employed as a tailor. He died August 1, 1898 in Ponce, Puerto Rico and although originally interred in a cemetery in Ponce, his body was eventually returned to his parents in MI for burial.

The third of the Wood County men to fall was the youngest, Alfred Bargeron, born July 11, 1879 in Auburndale, Wisconsin, the son of John and Margaret Bargeron from Canada. He passed his 19th birthday in Charleston and died just 15 days later, from typhoid. Before he enlisted, he worked at a mattress factory to help support his family.

The fourth and final soldier to die while serving was John L. Davis. Davis, born December 24, 1870 in Fayette, IA, was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Davis and moved to the town of Richfield with his parents in 1878.

For two years before the war, he was teaching school at Bakerville in northern Wood County. His brother Aaron enlisted at the same time as John and Aaron was faithful in sending letters home to his family detailing John's illness and death.

John was buried in an English cemetery in Puerto Rico, according to a letter to his parents from Margaret Astor Chanler, who nursed him. Final mention of him was that his father was negotiating for his return to American soil for burial.

The four boys who left with such fanfare and press would have their names in the paper many more times, but even though lauded as heros, it is not the kind of mention anyone wants.

Now, more than a century later, as the Wood County War Veterans Memorial is dedicated, we pause once more to remember those young men, who died for cause and country.

İRhonda Whetstone Neibauer, Author



  Honoring Our Wood County War Dead