Augusta memorial respects Spanish-American war

Georgia's last Spanish-American War veteran, Joseph Reese, died in 1984. Nathan Cook, the nation's last veteran from the short war in 1898, died eight years later.

 

A 28-year-old from South Carolina seems like an unlikely candidate to carry on the legacies of those men and the more than two million others who served in the country's first all-volunteer army.

But that's what Kenneth Robison set out to do in 2004, when he founded the Sons of the Spanish American War Micah John Jenkins Camp No. 164 with 13 charter members.

"They can't speak for themselves," said Robison, who has been the group's president as it has grown to about 40 members from Georgia and the Carolinas. "It's up to us."

So, when his planned speakers fell through for Saturday afternoon's Santiago Memorial Service near the Spanish-American War monument in Augusta's Magnolia Cemetery, it was Robison who stepped up and gave a brief history of those who fought in the war, from the sinking of the USS Maine in February 1898 to Santiago's surrender to the U.S. on July 17, 1898 and its aftermath.

"As long as for even five minutes we remember even one or two of the guys that are buried here, this ceremony had made a difference," Robison said in his concluding remarks.

The Chapin, S.C., native is an avid military history buff, and he said he began to develop a serious interest in the Spanish-American War in 2000 or 2001, when he found out that his great-great-great uncle, Rufus E. Bass, had fought in the conflict.

Robison found an obituary in a 1905 newspaper that said Bass was one of the Rough Riders who charged up San Juan Hill in the war's decisive battle.

As he continued his research, he learned that not only was Bass actually in Cuba at the time, but President Theodore Roosevelt's original charge was actually up Kettle Hill in San Juan Heights, while another group of soldiers scaled the nearby San Juan Hill.

That's just a small part of the knowledge he's gained while pursuing the camp's main goal of marking the graves of all Spanish-American War veterans.

Robison said he believes he has found about 80 percent of the names of soldiers found in the war, including about 50 in Magnolia Cemetery.

One of the camp's newest members, Brian Sharp of Harlem, was on hand at Saturday's ceremony, fully dressed in a replica of the uniform the soldiers would have worn 113 years ago. He also carried over his shoulder an original 1898 Krag-Jorgensen rifle.

Sharp's great-uncle, Charles H. Dumas of Mobile, Ala., served as a corporal and cook in Company E, Second Alabama during the Spanish-American War. Sharp said the "men of '98" helped the U.S. take some of its first steps toward becoming a major military power.

"It's real important that these fellows get remembered," Sharp said. "These are the fellows that volunteered their lives and so many of them gave their last full measure of devotion for their country."

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF

Kenneth Robison (center) and his group honoring the legacies of Spanish-American War soldiers held a memorial service Saturday at Magnolia Cemetery. \nMICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF

Dressed in a period uniform, Brian Sharp pours water on the headstone of a Spanish-American War veteran. Sharp's great-uncle was a corporal and cook during the 5-month conflict.