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A Brief History of the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry

By Patrick McSherry

The 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, Co. K at Camp Alger
The 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, Co. K at Camp Alger, Dunn Loring, Virginia.

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The following is a brief history of the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry. The regiment served its term of service in the continental U.S.

Unit History:

Recruiting for the regiment began immediately following President William McKinleys call for volunteers. Recruiting stations were set up at Providence, Woonsocket, Newport and Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The newly enlisted men were sent to Camp Elisha Dyer, located at Quonsett Point at North Kingstown. The camp had been set up and was being run by the Rhode Island Militia.

The First Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry was mustered into service between May 10 and May 17, 1898 at Camp Elisha Dyer and placed under the command of Colonel Charles W. Abbott. At the time of muster in, the unit consisted of forty-six officers and 958 enlisted men.  This regiment was the only infantry regiment raised on Rhode Island during the war.

The regiment departed Quonsett Point on May 26, with orders to proceed to Camp Alger at Dunn Loring, Virginia, where it arrived two days later. The regiment had boarded the Steamer RHODE ISLAND which carried the regiment to Jersey City, New Jersey. There the regiment boarded the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bound for Washington DC  and then to Dunn Loring.

Once at Camp Alger the regiment was assigned to the First Brigade, Third Division of the First Army Corps. The first task was to clear the land on which they were to place their camp. One their camp At Camp Alger was set up, the regiment began training in earnest. On June 17, the regiment was ordered to take a practice march to Difficult Run in Fairfax County, Virginia. The regiment returned to Camp Alger on June 19. At about this time, the regiment was expanded in size with
McKinleys second call for volunteers. With the new recruits in place, the regiment made a second practice march on June 27th to 30th.

The 1st Rhode Island remained at Camp Alger until August 2 when it was ordered to Camp Meade located at Middletown, Pennsylvania along with the remainder of the division. The regiment would march part of the distance from Camp Alger to Camp Meade before boarding a train for the remainder of the trip. It is the march that was burned into the memory of the men of the regiment.

On the first leg of the march, of the division's eleven thousand troops on the march, made under the hot August sun, only four thousand of the men completed the march that day. To allow for the stragglers to catch up, the division did not take up the march again until August 5. From this point on the march, the regiment was broken up and did not complete the march together. First, companies B, C, E, I G and K marched together under the command of Lt. Col. Cook. Companies A, D, F, H, L and M took a different route and marched through Bristow to Chapel Hill. Companies C and K departed the four companies that they had been marching with and were marched to Bristow and then apparently on to Chapel Hill. They were followed by companies E and I which also marched to Chapel Hill. Company G also followed but, unfortunately, was forced to ford a swollen stream through water up to the mens' necks. As the men linked arms to survive the crossing, many lost their packs and their rifles. The entire regiment eventually arrived at a camp near Manassas, having marched for the last two days through a drenching downpour that made the muddy roads nearly impassable. After staying at this location for nearly two weeks, the regiment was loaded onto railroad cars bound for Camp Meade, arriving at Middletown on August 23.

While the regiment was enroute for Camp Meade an armistice had been agreed to between the United States and Spain, ending the wars fighting.

On August 27, President McKinley arrived at Camp Meade for an informal visit. On the same day, John Sullivan of Company A was one of two men killed when they were hit by the engine of a mail train on the Pennsylvania Railroad. By the end of the month there were rumors that the regiment would be sent to the Philippines as part of the army of occupation. The rumors proved to be untrue.

On November 13, the 1st Rhode Island was ordered to depart Camp Meade, bound for Columbia, South Carolina, where it arrived two days later. While the regiment was at Columbia, the Treaty of Paris was signed by the United States and Spain, ending the Spanish American War.

The regiment was mustered out of service on March 30, 1899 at Columbia, South Carolina. At the time of muster-out, the regiment included forty-five officers and 1, 039 enlisted men. During its term of service, the unit lost eleven enlisted men who died from disease and one enlisted man who died as the result of an accident (Sullivan). Thirty-five more enlisted men were discharged for disability. Interestingly, the unit also had thirteen enlisted men court-martialed and eighty-nine men desert the regiment.


"1898 Spanish American War, Camp Meade, Pennsylvania, A Roster and Souvenir, 1st Rhode Island Regiment," (Harrisburg, PA: Clepper & Sigler, 1898), 3-4.

Correspondence relating to the War with Spain And Conditions Growing Out of the Same Including the Insurrection in the Philippine Island and the China Relief Expedition. Vol. 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902) 617.

"Delicacies for the Sick," The Scranton Republican. August 31, 1898, 1.

"Soldiers Killed by Train," Boston Globe. August 28, 1898, 4.

Statistical Exhibit of Strength of Volunteer Forces Called into Service During the War with Spain; with Losses from All Causes. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899).

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