Scioto County Invades Puerto Rico

By John McHenry - South Webster

Most everyone with a little bit of Scioto County history under their belt knows of its contribution to America’s wars. Although not a big player in the Revolution, some of the bottom land along with Scioto River was parceled off as pension payments to a few of its veterans. Some are buried here and there around the county. A plaque in Tracy Park commemorates them. Looming above all on his pedestal smack dab in the middle of the park is the Union Soldier of the Civil War guarded by four cannons. On the Chillicothe Street side of the park is the veteran’s memorial circle that lists the names of those killed from World War I to our current modern wars. Probably the Civil War and World War II can be mentioned the most if you were to ask a Scioto Countian. The War of 1812 and the Mexican War rank down the list. And then there’s Spain.

Yes, Spain. Thirty-three years after the Civil War ended Americans became stirred up over one of the last remnants of the Spanish Empire, Cuba. There was a bubbling insurrection there that inflamed the passions of some Americans. Revolutionary struggle in Cuba became equated with our own a century before. Then when an American battleship blew up in Havana Harbor (“Remember the Main!”) killing American sailors off, we were again beating the war drums. Cuba Libra!

We have never lacked for patriotism in this country. Over 2,000 marched off for the Union in the Civil War. It’s a long list of dead on that memorial wall in Tracy Park. When the Spanish-American War came along in 1898 the same patriotic fervor filled the folks of Scioto County. Portsmouth raised an infantry unit, Company H of the 4th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The roster of Company H rings with names familiar to us today. Kinney (Kinney’s Lane), Calvert (Calvert’s Lane), Herms (Herms Hill and Herms Florist), Searl (Searl, Miller and Fitch, attorneys), Distel (Distel construction), Cole (Cole’s Blvd.), and many more. On the day Company H marched off Portsmouth took on a holiday air. An old black and white photo shows them marching down Second Street the color bearer on horseback out front holding high a Cuban flag. Four bands, two drum corps, a formation of the Grand Army of the Republic and any number of small boys marched along with them. Sidewalks were lined with people. Another photo shows when they got to Government Square (the current Esplanade) they knelt on one knee probably to hear prayers and speeches. Then it was up and away to the N & W train station at the corner of 10th and Waller Streets (long gone).

The newspapers reported on them regularly. They formed up at Camp Bushnell in Columbus (now the Bexley area) then to Camp Thomas, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Camp life was boring. By the time they boarded ship in Newport News fighting had ended in Cuba. So the 4th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment with our Company H were rerouted to Puerto Rico. The campaign lasted about two weeks. There was some shooting but nobody in Company H was killed. Unfortunately though five succumbed to disease.

And then they came home and moved back onto common life. There was a veterans’ organization formed to honor their service. They were given extra “points” on the exam for a civil service job. As the men died off their widows kept the memory alive until they died. The last meeting appears to have been in the 1930s. One memorial plaque to their memory has been located . The flag pole at the Boy Scout Camp Oyo was dedicated to them. State Route 23 from Toledo to Portsmouth was also dedicated to all Ohioans who served in “The Spanish War.”

There used to be a blue sign designating the highway as such at the exit of the rest area just inside the Scioto County line driving south but it is missing. The Portsmouth of 1898 is mostly gone though a few buildings Company H passed on its march to the train station still stand in the Boneyfiddle area of town.

Not all who left from Scioto County were in Company H. It’s just easier to report on them as if they were. Others though were in different volunteer units or the regular U.S. Army and some were in the Navy. Allegedly a certain Clarence Clark from Harrison Township was with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Frank G. Allard of Sciotoville was in the regular Army, whom was wounded in the Battle of Santiago but died from typhoid while in the hospital.

This author is gathering material for a book on the topic. The uniform worn by Corporal Joseph C. Bratt has been located. The owner lives in Urbana and has promised to unpack it and send a picture. Any contribution by the reader, adding to the story, would be great. Letters and diaries would be gold. Feel free to contact me.

John McHenry

PO Box 240

South Webster, OH 45682

By John McHenry

South Webster