(Montauk Point, Long Island, New York)
Camp Wikoff is one of the more famous caps of the Spanish American War. Many military units spent their last days as an organization at the New York camp.
The government had realized that with the outbreak of disease in Cuba and Puerto Rico, the returning soliders could not be imediately sent back to their homes, since the communicable diseases they may carry - yellow fever, malaria, etc. - may be carried home with them. The idea was started to create an isolated camp where the men could first be cleared of disease before being released.
Camp Wikoff, named for Col. Charles Wikoff of the 22nd U.S. Infantry who was killed in the San Juan Heights assaults, was constructed on five thousand acres of land that was owned by the Long Island Railroad Company. The land was rented from the company for $15,000, with the agreement to run between August 2, 1898 and May 31, 1899. The railroad allowed the government full use of all rail lines, terminals, docks, etc., that existed on the property and agreed to install additional rail sidings and terminals at its own expense.
The camp was originally placed under the command of Brig. Gen. Samuel B. M. Young. Young set about having wells dug, adding four and a half miles of rail sidings, and building warehouses. The camp was to consist of two areas. A smaller area of the camp would be a detention camp for men quarantined from the general population for reasons of disease. The larger portion would be a camp for rest and recovery for men simply weakened by the rough service and poor diet in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Each of the two areas were to be equipped with their own hospitals.
Work on the camp got off slowly, and, unfortunately, time was a crucial factor. Work was slowed by strikes, difficulty in shipping the quantity of supplies required, etc. as the 2nd U.S. Volunteer Engineers struggled to lay out and construct the camp. Only six days after the lease had been obtained, the troops began to arrive - 3,500 men of the cavalry division which had been left behind in Florida and did not travel to Cuba, along with the five thousand cavalry horses also left behind appeared at Camp Wikoff on August 8. The facilities were not ready, and the presence of the men and horses slowed the delivery of supplies, blocking supply routes and using the precious few wagons for their own needs.
On August 14, only twelve adys after the lease was obtained, the troops began to arrive from their service abroad. The camp was still not ready, with no floors for the tents, understaffed hospitals and short rations. The following day, Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler arrived from Cuba, and superseded Young in command of the camp. He was given brought lattiude in obtaining what was needed, and took full advantage. He purchased supplies, hired doctors and nurses, and had a bakery, water filtration plant, and a laundry facility constructed. Water was piped to each camp, resulting in the installation of twelve miles of water lines.
The camp was now in full service, with troops arriving and departing almost daily. Ultimately, forty-four transports delivered troops from abroad bringing in 22, 221 men. Of these men, 3,252 men arrived sick with two transports - the ST. LOUIS and GRAND DUCHESSE - arriving with men infected with communicable diseases. Additionally, a total of eight thousand men arrived from places such as Tampa and Fort McPherson, swelling the camp population. At one time, the camp contained over 21,000 men. The camp hospitals treated 10,000 patients in thirty days, while the hospital staffs grew to include three hundred female nurses.
In spite of the tremendous efforts to build infrastructure to support a small city within a very short time, the effort simply could not fully succeed. The challenge was too great. Complaints of mismanagement abounded, and the camp was close enough to New York for reporters to access the camp and report on the conditions.To show support, both President McKinley and Secretary of War Alger visited the camp.
By the time Maj. Gen. Shafter arrived to supersede Wheeler in mid-September, the crisis had passed. By September 23, only seven regiments still remained in the camp. The last unit to leave was a volunteer signal company, which vacated the camp on October 28, 1898.
At the camp, 257 men had died.
The following is a partial list of military units that spent time at Camp Wikoff:
1st District of Columbia Volunteer Infantry
1st U.S. Cavalry
1st U.S. Volunteer Infantry ("Rough Riders")
2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
9th U.S. infantry
22nd U.S. Infantry
33 Michigan Volunteer Infantry
71st New York Volunteer Infantry
(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)
Brito, Frank - Image of Camp Wikoff. (read about Mr. Brito's grandfather, Rough Rider Frank Brito, by clicking here).
Clerk of Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress. Vol. 3 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899) 243-245.
Cosmas, Graham A., An Army for Empire : The United States Army in the Spanish American War. (Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing Co., 1993). 262-265.