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The wreck of the USS Maine, after it was raised in 1910, and then scrapped.
Photo courtesy Library of Congress



Originally published: 2012-04-05 11:23:31
Last modified: 2012-04-05 11:26:01

Our Avery County: Local men remembered the USS Maine

Michael Hardy / (news@averyjournal.com)

“Remember the Maine” was the charge broadcast in headlines across the nation in February 1898. The USS Maine, in Havana Harbor, Cuba, mysteriously exploded one night. The ship sunk, and 266 of her 350 sailors were killed. Many believed that the Spanish government was involved. After an official investigation by the United States, our Congress declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898. 

Spain controlled Cuba, and the United States had an economic interest, mostly in the sugar trade, as well as a humanitarian concern for the people. A rebellion had broken out on the island in 1895, and in 1897, Americans began clamoring for an independent Cuba. 

President William McKinley put out a call for 125,000 volunteers. North Carolina recruited two white regiments and a third regiment of black enlisted men and officers. Only two other states, Illinois and Kansas, recruited all-black regiments. 

Although exact numbers are hard to secure (there was no Avery County in 1898), at least eight men from what is now our county served in the 2nd North Carolina Volunteers, one of the two white infantry regiments. Thomas H. Perry and Virgil Reed came from the Banner Elk area, while Moulten Banner, George Church, Ralph Faulkner, Robert Clements, Robert Rominger and James Watson listed their mailing addresses as Montezuma Post Office. 

The 2nd North Carolina Volunteers was mustered into service on May 9, 1898. Many of the field and staff officers were former Confederate soldiers, such as Colonel William H. S. Burgwyn, who had served as a captain in the 35th North Carolina Troops during the late unpleasantness. The men from our area did not enlist until July 10. 

After training, the 2nd North Carolina Volunteers was broken up. Companies A and E, with Perry, Reed, Banner, Church and Faulkner, were sent to Tybee Island in Georgia. Headquarters staff members – along with Companies B, H and K, including Clements, Rominger, and Watson – were sent to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. The 2nd North Carolina Volunteers spent the duration of their service guarding costal fortifications and were mustered out of service in November 1898. 

Several local men crossed into Tennessee and enlisted there in the 4th Tennessee Infantry. They included Roby Greer, Roe Hartley, William J. Keller, Strobe Perkins and Jerome S. Tucker. The 4th Tennessee Volunteers were mustered into service in Knoxville, Tenn., in July 1898. In December 1898, the regiment was stationed in Cuba, serving as part of the occupation force until March 1899, when it transferred to Savannah, Ga. The 4th Tennessee Volunteers was mustered out of service in May 1899. 

Barney Hicks and William Teaster served in the 3rd Tennessee Volunteers. This regiment was organized in Nashville, Tenn., in May 1898, but spent most of its time in camp on the old Chattanooga Battlefield. This regiment was mustered out of service in December 1898. 

The Spanish-American War was not confined to Cuba and Puerto Rico. Action also took place in the Pacific, with American and Spanish forces battling in the Philippines. With Spanish army and naval forces in defeat, Spain sued for peace, and an armistice was declared on Aug. 12, 1898. The Treaty of Paris was signed on Dec. 10, 1898, and was ratified by the United States Senate on Feb. 6, 1899. The United States took possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. While some of these islands settled down and created their own governments under the watchful eyes of the United States, the Philippine-American War soon broke out in the Philippines. The conflict pitted the United States against Filipino revolutionaries. While the conflict officially ended on July 4, 1902, some factions continued to battle United States forces until 1913. The United States did not grant the territory independence until the Treaty of Manila in 1946. 

Once again, there were a few locals involved in the conflict, although information is scarce. Carick Perkins was a soldier in the 26th United States Volunteer Infantry, a regiment that fought in the Philippines. He was back in the area claiming an invalid pension in 1901. James M. Winters served in the 40th United States Volunteers.

There was much debate about the United State’s involvement. It seemed to many that the United States was becoming an imperial power, with numerous colonies. Citizens were torn over the idea. But the wars also produced heroes, like Theodore Roosevelt, who returned from Cuba to be elected governor of New York, and later vice-president and president of the United States. 

The contribution by local citizens was not significant. About 21 men from the area served in the armed forces during the conflict. Today, it largely remains a forgotten conflict, a footnote to the pages of the history of the United States, though it loomed large in the lives of those who served. Many today might even remember the call to war: “Remember the Maine.” Most have probably never heard the whole rallying cry: “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!” 

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