One of the most overlooked events in the annals of California's military history is the American occupation of the Philippines. The war in the Philippines, commonly referred to as the Spanish-American War, continued long after Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. The Philippine insurrection which followed was the bloodiest and most brutal guerrilla conflict the United States fought prior to Vietnam.
Only scattered fragments of that war's history exist: a few personal memoirs, newspaper accounts, official reports, a few photographs, and rare pieces of newsreel film are all that remain.
Unlike other wars few monuments exist to this war's victors. The history of its violence now seems distinctly unreal, benevolently assimilated into the fabric of America's social amnesia called American history. Yet, at times, the trauma of that war's effects can rise unexpectedly - and in this case in one of the most unusual form. For some, a monument or memorial can signal a past that is not quite past, and can intrude into the present as a reminder of the price of war.
When the Spanish-American war began, this small chain of islands was hardly thought of in the equation - at least in the minds of the average American.
All headlines focused on the destruction of the USS MAINE. This event transpired on February 15, 1898, in Havana, Cuba - thousands of miles away from the Philippines. Patriotism and glory were put on pinnacles by the American press with a battle cry of: "Remember the Maine!"
The daily headlines in virtually every American paper were centered around the events of Santiago, Havana, and Puerto Rico. Names such as Wheeler, Lawton, Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders were destined to become instant heroes with the press as would the battles at such places as El Caney and San Juan Hill.
But when the call for troops was made on April 23, 1898, here in California the National Guard gave freely of her young men for the war between the United States and Spain. When the war with Spain commenced California furnished two twelve-company regiments (First and Seventh California Volunteer Infantry), one regiment of eight companies (Sixth California Volunteers), and the First Battalion of Heavy Artillery (four batteries), and a Signal detachment of 3 officers and 20 men; all being furnished from the National Guard of California, excepting three batteries of heavy artillery, of which arm of the service California had none among her National Guard.
California also raised the Eighth Infantry Regiment, U.S. Volunteers, and a large portion of the 1st, 14th, 18th and 23d Infantry and Fourth Cavalry, U.S. Army, in addition to recruits for almost every regiment of volunteer units that passed through San Francisco; not to forget the officers and sailors from the Naval Militia of California who made up the National Naval Volunteers and U.S. Auxiliary Naval Forces and those Californians in the U.S. Navy aboard the OLYMPIA, OREGON and other ships of the American Navy.
Still, there are only a few reminders of the Spanish-American war here in California. Yes, in San Francisco, at the Presidio, an old canon captured from the Filipino rebel army sits on a grassy plain overlooking the San Francisco Bay. A plaque in honor of Colonel James F. Smith was placed at Camp Merriam (now a parking lot) where the First California Volunteer Infantry camped while awaiting transport to the Philippines. (1) Also in the center of Union Square in San Francisco stands a monument to Commodore Dewey (2). Farther south, by the Pacific Coast, is old Fort Funston, named after Major-General Frederick Funston, the general who captured the leader of the Filipino resistance, and even further south at the Los Angeles National Cemetery is a monument to the soldiers and sailors of the Spanish-American War, not to mention in Los Angeles' MacArthur Park there is a Memorial to Major-General Harrison Gray Otis, and of course, Fort MacArthur was named after Major-General Arthur MacArthur, another Spanish-American war veteran.
But there is but only one Spanish-American War monument that stands as a testament to the soldiers of the National Guard of California - more specifically, the men of the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard of California who lost their lives during that war. (3)
Ironically, it is not a memorial to those who fought on the foreign soil of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, or even the Philippines. No, this monument is dedicated to those soldiers lost in a war - not as fatalities caused by combat, but as a tribute to those who stood in wait, ready to defend their nation in time of war.
The history of this memorial begins on May 6, 1898, when the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard of California left Los Angeles by train to fight for America in its war with Spain. Their first destination was the Presidio in San Francisco.
The Presidio became the staging point because of its proximity to the San Francisco harbor. It possessed adequate land to house and train the large number of troops needed for service in the Philippines, from which some 80,000 men passed through on their way overseas. But army life at the Presidio was cramped and sickness often flared up in the temporary tent camps. When the rains came the streets became rivers of mud. Many of their tents were clammy and uncomfortable. The infantry troops envied the three batteries of California Heavy Artillery who had been mustered in at the same time, for they were quartered in the old Fontana warehouse, with dry blankets, stoves and all the other comforts of home. In reality, the Artillery men didn't have it that good as their building was in danger of collapsing, with cockroaches, rats and other unpleasant experiences. Because of this danger, they too soon joined their infantry counterparts in tents.
More than 1,000 members of the National Guard of California were encamped at the Presidio when the Armistice with Spain was signed on August 12, 1898.
Despite the fact that many of the Regiment never left the Presidio, eight men had died and many more were hospitalized by illness. Two months later, in October 1898, another twelve men had died by the time the Seventh Regiment arrived back in Los Angeles (4). The final fatality occurred on December 4, 1898, two days after the Seventh Regiment was mustered out of active duty. These fatalities were caused not by combat or accidents, but rather from a variety of illnesses the men suffered while stationed in San Francisco. (5)
On November 5, 1898, while on leave, Private George W. Swing of Company K, Seventh Regiment, United States Volunteers, wrote a letter on behalf of his regiment asking the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to organize a public drill in what is now called Exposition Park for the purpose of helping to raise money for a monument dedicated "to the memory" of the soldiers of the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard of California who died while serving during the Spanish-American War. (6) A similar letter was also mailed by Private Swing to the Los Angeles City Park Commissioners requesting support for the placement of a memorial costing about $3,000 in a city park that would honor "the memory" of the Regiment's comrades who recently died.
The Board of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce responded by forming a committee composed of J. A. Slausen, J. R. Newberry, R. W. Burnhan, A. B. Cass and H. W. Frank to "investigate the feasibility of the proposition." (7) The city's Park Commission, which met the following day, requested that the Seventh Regiment appoint a committee to act as a liaison with the Park Board. (8)
On Thanksgiving Day, 1898, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored the regiment's drill in Exposition Park which raised $3,052.50 for the memorial from the sale of some 10,000 25 cent tickets to the patriotic citizens of Los Angeles. (9)
At their January 11, 1899 meeting, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce appointed Colonel W. S. Schreiber, Major William D. Welch, Major Dana R. Weller, Captain Frank L. Reynolds of Company F; Captain Alfred D. Clark, Chaplain of the Seventh Regiment U.S. Volunteers to act as a Committee of Consultation for the Chamber regarding the design, location and inscriptions of the Seventh Regiment Monument. (10) The committee reported to the board on May 13, 1899 that they had received 15 proposals and had selected one by architects Goddard & Kilpatrick calling for a "regulation United States soldier standing at rest" on a stone pedestal on which would be inscribed "Seventh Regiment members who died while in camp in San Francisco." The architectural firm of Eisen & Hunt was chosen as supervising architects and the northeast corner of Central Park (now Pershing Square) (11) was selected as the location for the monument. (12)
Two days later, Chamber members Slauson, Frank, and Burnham formally asked the City Council for permission to install the monument at the corner of Sixth and Hill in Central Park, which the Park Commission approved. (13)
The monument was completed in Spring 1900 and dedicated on Memorial Day 1900, which was chosen as the occasion to unveil the commemorative statuary. The dedication of the Seventh Regiment Memorial distinguished that day by looking to the future when Memorial Day was a time to remember all those who died while serving our country in war rather than a day of remembrance of the Civil War. (14) This was the first time that the Los Angeles Herald linked the graves of civil war veterans with the graves of the local volunteers in the Spanish-American war as being people who equally "upheld the honor of their country."
The dedication of the Seventh Regiment memorial was an elaborate affair - its ceremony being attended by thousands of people, including most of the members of the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard of California. J. S. Slauson, chairman of the monument committee, spoke during the public unveiling. "Rather than enshrining the memory of those who died with ephemeral daisies and flowers," Slauson said, "they are enshrined in eternal granite as a lasting and eternal reminder to this generation and succeeding generations to hold these dead in loving remembrance." Mayor Eaton then accepted the monument for the city, pledging "that it will always be cared for." (15) After its dedication, the name of Herman Hils, the Regiment's 21st fatality, was inscribed on the side of the pedestal.
For many years the Seventh Regiment Monument has served as a source of pride for the people in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Herald described it as having "unusual excellence of pose and possesses a dignity and strength too often lacking. It represents a Seventh regiment fighting man in trim for action, standing at parade rest. It is a strong composition from the crown of the slouch hat to the feet, and there is a virility in the countenance that commands and holds attention." (16) The statue depicts a soldier, clothed in a composite of an enlisted-man's uniform, holding the muzzle of his rifle while standing at parade rest. The soldier wears a hat, a cartridge belt, a canteen, a haversack, and on the proper left side there is bayonet holder hanging from the belt.
There is no record who designed the pedestal for the Seventh Regiment Monument, but it originally had a strong architectural presence that indicates great attention and care were lavished on it. Fashioned from a piece of California's granite by the Pacific Marble and Granite Company of Los Angeles, the pedestal was originally 14 feet tall. The top of the pedestal had a block inscribed with "Seventh California Infantry U.S.V." with "In Everlasting Remembrance" inscribed just below that in a slightly wider block. Next was a cornice on top of a rectangular block inscribed on the front with the names of the twenty people who died, and on the rear the year "1900." On the base of the pedestal was inscribed with: "Our Dead. They lie in scattered graves, the silent heroes of our battalion" and "War With Spain A.D. 1898," was inscribed on a block that rested on a multi-course foundation of roughly cut stone. (17)
Today, the sculpture is located in Pershing Square (previously named Central Park), the oldest park in the city, and is found among a grouping of two other sculptures in the northeast corner (often called the "Historic Court") of the park. (18) The once grass covered park is now a concrete plaza located on the roof of a parking garage, partially planted with a small grove of date trees.
Regrettably, the monument's pedestal was reduced in height when the block inscribed with "In Everlasting Remembrance" and the multi-course foundation were removed. This alternation, however, was necessitated by the construction of the Pershing Square parking garage because the total weight of the monument of 15,000 pounds. and was greater than what the roof of the garage could support. (19)
Though the monument has been physically changed, it remains the oldest part of Pershing Square and is the oldest work of public art in Los Angeles. In honor of its unique status, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission recognized the monument as Cultural-Heritage Monument No. 480 in 1990. (20)
In addition to the Spanish-American War Monument, another memorial was later added to Central Park, and the name of the park was changed from Central Park to Pershing Square, following World War I. This monument represents the sacrifices of the 20,000 people in Los Angeles County who served during the war and the 185 people from Los Angeles County who died in that war who were likewise memorialized by the addition of "The Doughboy" monument.
It should be noted that at the dedication
ceremony of "The Doughboy" on July 4, 1924, Lieutenant-Colonel
Perry W. Weidner spoke on the need for unilateral rearmament.
Referring to the Guardsmen who died at the Presidio during the
Spanish-American War, he described the monument as a grim "reminder
of the cost of unpreparedness." Few monuments speak to the
trauma of the war's effects as does the Spanish-American War Monument.
But, by its very presence, this memorial acknowledges a time past
that intrudes into the present as a reminder of the price of war
- even for those who stand in wait on the home front. (21)