Fix Bayonets! The 6th U.S. Inf. in the Santiago Campaign.

"I believe I may justly claim for the 6th Inf., they acted from first to last of this trying day like veterans of many battles. Neither at Gettysburg nor in the lines at Spotsylvania have I ever seen as hot a fire as the ten minutes in the grassy field from when the 6th entered it and sustained most of its loss, the highest of any regiment. The officers and men fought with a steady determination worthy of their country. Referring to the men of this regiment who fell in action, a fitting monument should be erected in memory of their valor. Lt. Col. Harry Egbert 6th Infantry, Commanding."

The 6th U.S. Infantry Regiment was formed in 1815 from veteran regiments of the War of 1812. It was one of the first six regiments organized and as such was a prestigious 'Old Army' unit, It was commanded by Zachary Taylor in the Seminole War and in the Mexican war it lead the assault on the fortress of Chapultepec. By 1860 they were stationed at Benicia Barracks, North of San Francisco. Before sailing to join the Army of the Potomac, the 6th fought the Piute Indians at Pyramid Lake in Nevada

During the Civil war, the 6th was assigned to the 5th Corps and fought at Gaines Mill, 2nd Bull Run, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. The 6th Inf. marched to New York to stop the draft riots and remained in garrison there for the rest of the war. After the war the 6th was stationed throughout the plains states and one company was with Gen. Terry's column for the Little Bighorn campaign of 1876.

In early 1898 the 6th Inf. was stationed at Ft. Thomas, Kentucky and as the sixth senior regiment it was commanded by the army's sixth senior colonel, Hamilton Hawkins. Senior colonels were usually assigned duties in the War Department and the 6th was actually run by Lt. Col. Harry Egbert On April 15, 1898 the 6th Inf. was ordered to Tampa, Florida. As with most Regular Army regiments it was under strength, leaving behind the 3rd Battalion (recruits) and joined the new 5th Corps with 34 officers and 490 men. It was assigned to Kent's 1st Division and the 1st Brigade commanded by brevet Brig. Gen. Hamilton Hawkins. Sailing from Tampa on the transport Miama, the 6th landed at Siboney but did not participate in the action at Las Guasimas.

On the morning of July 1st the regiment began moving towards San Juan Hill at 4:45 am. Following Gen. Wheeler's dismounted cavalry, the 6th Inf. led the 71st N.Y. Inf. and the 16th U.S. Inf. Behind the 1st Bgd was Wikoff’s 3nd Bgd. of the 13th, 9th and 24th infantry regiments, and Pearson's 2nd Bgd of the 2nd, 10th and 21st infantry regiments. Lawton's 2nd Division was to swing to the right (North) and take the Spanish position at El Caney before rejoining the 5th Corps for the assault on Santiago. Wheeler's Cav. Div. was to be on Kent's right and attack the hills to the North. Wheeler was ill and his division (mustering barely two thousand men) was led by Brig. Gen. Sumner.

The dismounted cavalry crossed the Aguadores River and headed for Kettle Hill with Wood's 2nd Bgd. of the 1st Cav., 1Oth Cav. and 1st Vol. Cav. on the far right and Carroll's 1st Bgd. of the 3rd, 6th and 9th cavalry regiments on the left. Kent's 1st Div. followed along the narrow jungle trail. The vegetation was so thick that there was no vision to the flanks and the column was reduced from four men abreast to single file. Kent and Hawkins with Col. Miley went forward to inspect the battlefield. Hawkins stated that his brigade could seize San Juan Hill and the rest of the division could roll up the Spanish flank. Col. Miley, representing Gen. Shafter, told him to do it. The Signal Corps balloon was sent up and quickly drew the attention of the Spanish. Before it was shot down, the balloon spotted a small trail diverting to the left which could aid the movement of Hawkins' 1st Brigade.

By 10 am Kent's Div. was crossing the Aguadores River and the alerted Spanish poured Mauser fire down on the 'Bloody Ford". The entire division crossed at this one spot with serious casualties, the 1st Bgd losing nearly 100 men. The 6th Inf. crossed and advanced towards San Juan Hill while a detachment of two Hotchkiss guns fired on the buildings visible on the crest. Lt. Col. Egbert had the regiment cross a grain field under scattered fire and halted it on the East bank of San Juan Creek. B Co. was sent to contact the 3rd Cav. which was thought to be to the right and have a line of skirmishers forward. Mainly due to the very dense jungle, the 3rd Cav. was not found. Lt. Col. Egbert decided to advance and engage Ft. San Juan. While crossing San Juan Creek and rapidly advancing through the jungle, the eight companies became thoroughly intermixed and H Co. headed to the right becoming detached. The rest of the regiment left the jungle and formed a firing line along a shallow road just behind a barbed-wire fence about 400 yards South-East of the Spanish position.

Gen. Hawkins had advanced on foot just behind the 6th, expecting to place the 71st N.Y. Inf. on the right and the 16th on the left Without his knowledge, Gen. Kent had ordered the 71st N.Y. Inf. with over 900 men to proceed on the small trail spotted by the balloon. The trail may have been no more than a dry creek bed for the 71st followed it to a small meadow where their lead battalion was blasted by Mauser fire. Men and officers fell and the battalion recoiled into the rest of the regiment still pressing forward. Officers tried to sort out the confusion while Gen. Kent ordered the 16th Inf. to remain on the main trail and pass the 71st.

The 6th Inf. had engaged the Spanish on San Juan Hill without support for nearly an hour before the 16th Inf. came up and deployed on their left The two regular army regiments numbered fewer than one thousand men and Hawkins, a Civil War veteran unaware of the fire Mausers could produce, suspected a large number of Spanish defenders. Hawkins did not expect much from the old black powder '88 Trapdoors the 71st carried but he planned to take San Juan Hill with the bayonet and for that the 71st would do very well, if he could find them.

Wikoff’s 3rd Bgd crossed the Bloody Ford and was directed to pass behind the 1st Bgd to deploy on the left. Col. Wikoff double-timed his men to the sound of the guns when he fell to a Mauser bullet. His men carried the colonel back across the Bloody Ford where he was hit again. Dying in the Cuban river his last orders were 'Get on up boys, they need you.' Lt. Col. Worth of the 13th Inf. took command of the brigade but within five minutes he was shot through the chest. Lt. Col. Liscum of the 24th Inf. took over and got the brigade over the river before he too was wounded. Lt. Col Ewers of the 9th Inf. at last got the brigade on line.

The 71st N.Y. Inf. remained on the trail as the battle raged around them. Gen. Kent had even attached the Gatling Gun battery to them and it has been suspected that his intent was to sideline the volunteers and 'contraptions' to get them out of the way of the regulars. But duty and courage are often standard issue for soldiers and Lt. Parker's Gatling battery soon left for the battle followed by the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 71st

The 6th had kept a steady fire on the Spanish positions but had continued to lose men. E Co and F Co were sent forward as skirmishers only to be driven back. Lawton's 2nd Div. was still fighting at El Caney and had not been able to join the attack on Santiago. The plan had unraveled and with casualties mounting the attack either had to be canceled or pushed forward despite the cost. Gen. Hawkins' aide, Lt. Jules Ord had urged him to order the attack and offered to lead it himself. Hawkins hesitated but finally allowed Ord to lead the charge.

Capt. Clingman of A Co. 6th Inf. heard Ord give the command to attack but he may have been the only one. Most of the officers of the 6th Inf. were trying to reassemble their companies when suddenly the line surged forward. Captains yelled "Come on boys! For God's sake come on!" and the regulars ran across the open field to the base of the hill. The 16th Inf. was intermingled with the 6th and advanced with them. The 13th Inf. was just to the left and charged towards the hill mixing with the men of the 6th and 16th. Capt. Kennon of E Co. 6th Inf. was with a few skirmishers on the slopes of San Juan Hill trying to advance and avoid fire from the rear. Cpt. Turner of B Co. led a group of men from three or four companies to the base of the hill and collapsed from heat stroke. Lt. Col. Egbert was seriously wounded and Major Miner took command of the regiment. The slope of the hill was safe from Spanish fire and the men of three regiments struggled up it without formation all of them heading for the block house at the top.

On the right Wood's Bgd. had taken Kettle Hill and began firing upon San Juan Hill. The 9th and 24th infantry regiments joined the attack on the left and the 2nd Bgd advanced as a second line. At 1:15 Parker's Gatling battery began firing on San Juan Hill silencing the Spanish. The charging regulars came over the hill, they tore down the barbed wire with their hands and fought the Spanish soldiers in their trenches. Most of the Spanish were retreating in good order pouring in Mauser fire as they fell back. Three dozen Spanish stubbornly defended the block house, firing from loopholes through the reinforced walls. Men from the 6th, 16th and 13th charged the building and climbed onto the roof. Breaking through the roof tiles with the butts of their Krag rifles some were shot by the Spanish defenders but fifteen jumped in and fought the Spanish hand to hand. Private Arthur Agnew of the 13th Inf. hauled down the Spanish colors.

The 2nd Bgd. was now on the hill, 71st N.Y. men were at the block house and Lt. Col. Roosevelt had led most of Wood's Bgd. onto San Juan Hill securing the right flank The Spanish fell back from the hill keeping it under heavy fire. The color guard of the 16th Inf. had came up and planted their flags on the crest.

The Santiago Heights were the scene of frantic activity. Gen. Wheeler rode to the battle despite malaria and ordered tools be brought forward to prepare defensive positions. Pack mules with rations and ammo came up while the wounded were carried down. To Gen. Shafter the positions seemed precarious but Gen. Wheeler insisted it could be held. At 8:20 pm the position was ordered to be held.

The 5th Corps had over 1600 casualties. 1st Brigade suffered 237 wounded and 43 killed The 6th Infantry which had 464 officers and men on the morning of July 1 lost 105 wounded and 17 killed, including Lt. Jules Ord. The siege of Santiago would last 2 more weeks and many would fall to disease. When the 6th Inf. returned to Ft. Thomas in September it mustered only 81 men with 267 in the hospital.

The 6th Infantry would be sent to fight in the Philippines in 1899. In latter years it fought in WWI and WW2 and was the main component of the Berlin Brigade until 1994. The 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment continues to serve today with the 2nd Armored Division at Ft Hood, Texas.* **

References:
*The Little War of Private Post" by Charles Post Little, Brown & Co. , Boston, 1960.
**Official Reports of the War Dept for 1898", Gov. Printing Off., 1898.

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