Spanish American War

Frank C. Talbot

USS Maine entering Havana harbor, 1898. Contributed by Detroit Publishing Co., publishers, to Library of Congress.
USS Maine entering Havana harbor, 1898. Contributed by Detroit Publishing Co., publishers, to Library of Congress.

Frank C. Talbot (1878-1898) of Bath joined the crew of the USS Maine the day after Christmas in 1897. He had just completed one month of shipboard training. In mid-January, while docked at Key West, Florida, Talbot wrote his family to tell them how much he enjoyed life as a sailor and that the next day the Maine was headed for Havana, Cuba. It was the last letter they ever received from him.

Cuba, still a colony of Spain, was engaged in civil war for independence. Since Cuba was barely 100 miles from Florida many Americans lived there, had businesses on the island, or traded goods with the Cubans. The USS Maine’s mission was simply to watch over American interests on the island, in a warm port during winter. It should have been easy. Instead, precisely at 9:40 pm February 15th, an explosion tore apart the USS Maine. Landsman Frank Clinton Talbot and 252 others died that night. Another 14, who initially survived the blast, would die from their injuries, increasing the final death toll to 266.

Spain was blamed for the devastation of the USS Maine and on April 20, 1898, U. S. President William McKinley asked Congress to declare war on them. The Spanish-American War started the very next day.

For more on the destruction of the USS Maine go to: USS Maine


William H. Thompkins

Thompkins, Wm H image
Photo of William H. Thompkins, submitted to by Curtis Jackson.

William H. Thompkins (1872-1916) was born in Paterson, N.J., the son of John and Angeline (Free) Thompkins. In 1897, the 25-year-old man enlisted in the 10th Cavalry, one of the Army’s segregated African American units known as Buffalo Soldiers.

During the Spanish-American War the following year, the 10th Cavalry was one of the units sent to confront the Spanish in Cuba. That June a reconnaissance detail of 15 Cuban rebel soldiers and 15 Americans was discovered by Spanish scouts near the fort at the mouth of the Tallabacoa River in Cuba. The Spanish fired on the troops, killing some. Others managed to swim to the USS Peoria. Others were stranded on shore.

The first four rescue attempts during the night of June 30th failed. Then Privates William H. Thompkins, Dennis Bell, Fitz Lee, and George H. Wanton volunteered to launch another attempt. Together with Lieut. Ahern, the rescue party rowed to shore. Despite heavy fire from the Spanish, they successfully located and rescued the surviving soldiers.

A year later Thompkins, Bell, Lee, and Fitz were each awarded were the Medal of Honor. Private Thompkins’s citation reads:

“Voluntarily went ashore in the face of the enemy and aided in the rescue of his wounded comrades; this after several previous attempts at rescue had been frustrated.”

Thompkins remained in the Army, in the 25th Infantry. He was stationed all along the Pacific coast, at Fort Lawton in Seattle, then Schofield Barracks in Honolulu, ending his service in California. Corporal William H. Thompkins died in 1916 and is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio in California.

For a more detailed and vivid description of the rescue at the Battle of Tayabacoe, go to Valor.


Frank Brito

Frank C Brito image165983
Pvt. Frank C. Brito from Added by Eddie Ortiz Gonzales.

Frank Brito (1877-1973) was born Francisco Charles Brito in Pinos Altos, New Mexico, the son of miner Santiago Brito, a “Yaqui Indian” from Mexico. At the start of the Spanish American War, Frank and his brother Jose enlisted in the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, commonly known as the Rough Riders. Because he spoke both Spanish and English, Brito was given charge of the stockade prepared for potential Spanish prisoners of war.

Genealogy website Rootsweb records that over his lifetime Brito was a “Cowboy, Miner, Deputy Sheriff, Town Constable, City Jailor and Game Warden.” He also served in the US Army National Guard, and in 1916 was posted to the New Mexico border to prevent raids by Mexican revolutionary general, Pancho Villa.

Frank Brito was the next-to-last surviving Rough Rider, outlived by Jesse Langdon who died in 1975.

For a more complete biography of Frank Brito written by his grandson for The Spanish American War Centennial Website go to Rough Rider.


John Chidwick

Father John Chidwick FindaGrave
Father John Chidwick from Added by Grand Army of the Republic.

John Chidwick (1863-1935) was born in New York City, the son of John Bagley and Margaret O’Reilly Chidwick. He graduated from Manhattan College in Brooklyn in 1883, earning a Master of Arts in 1912. After graduating in 1883, he entered Catholic St. Joseph’s Seminary, and was ordained as a priest in 1887. After serving in New York churches, in 1895 he was appointed as a chaplain in the US Navy, assigned to the USS Maine.

When the Maine exploded, Chidwick rushed on deck to find the ship rent in pieces and on fire. Without regard to the very real threat of further explosions, he tended the wounded and said prayers with the dying.

Chidwick performed burial rights three times for those lost that night, first for those interred directly after in Havana cemeteries, then again in 1912 when the wrecked battleship was re-floated to be sunk at sea, and finally at Arlington Cemetery for those recovered when the Maine was raised.

In 1903 he resigned from the Navy with the rank of Commander. He returned to New York where he served as chaplain of the NYPD, as a parish priest, and as president of a Catholic school and college. Known as the Hero of the Maine, he was a popular speaker, especially at veterans’ events.

In 1922, the citizens of Bangor, Maine, were enthralled when Monsignor Chidwick spoke at the dedication of their Spanish-American War Memorial.

For more about Father John Chidwick see Hero.