This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Spanish-American War. In response to civil unrest in Cuba, President William McKinley sent the USS Maine in January 1898 to Havana, Cuba, “to protect U.S. interests.” On Feb. 15, a massive explosion sunk the Maine, killing most of her crew.
Although the cause of this tragedy has never been definitively resolved, “Remember the Maine” became a rallying cry which contributed to McKinley’s decision to blockade Cuba and to a formal declaration of war against Spain on April 25, 1898.
On April 27, 1898, two days after the declaration of war, West Virginia Gov. George Wesley Atkinson summoned the West Virginia National Guard to mobilize at the state capital. Locally, after hearing a rousing speech delivered by Roger Preston Chew, Jefferson County’s Company I, W.V.N.G commanded by Capt. J.M. Pyne boarded the B&O Railroad at its East North Street station headed first to Harpers Ferry, then west to Grafton, and finally south on the old Coal and Coke Railway to Charleston.
In early May, McKinley requested that Atkinson mobilize the Second Regiment of Infantry to be composed of companies from around the state. The governor selected state Senator Henry Clay Getzendanner from Shepherdstown to recruit an infantry company in Jefferson County, and on June 28, 1898, Getzendanner and 28 men camped at Morgan’s Grove near Falling Spring, the home of William Augustine Morgan, Getzendanner’s father-in-law.
Two days later, Getzendanner and his men arrived at Camp Atkinson in Charleston and were mustered in as Company M, 2nd West Virginia, U.S. Volunteer Infantry Regiment. From Camp Atkinson, the regiment moved to Camp Meade at Middletown, Pennsylvania, where it stayed for several months. Just before Thanksgiving 1898, the 2nd Regiment left Pennsylvania for South Carolina, where it was headquartered at Camp Wetherell. Due to an August 1898 ceasefire, the 2nd Regiment saw no action and remained in South Carolina, where it was mustered out of service in March 1899.
Unlike Pyne and Getzendanner and their men, Charles Town native John Henry Quick saw action in the Spanish-American War. Quick had chosen a military career, and in 1892 enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. When war against Spain was declared, Sgt. Quick was among the Marines who assembled at the Marine barracks in New York City. The 650 Marines who reported were organized into the First Marine Battalion, consisting of five infantry companies and one artillery company.
Quick was the Signalman for Company C. The Battalion embarked from New York City on April 22 aboard the Navy transport Panther. The Panther docked the next evening at Hampton Roads, and for the next three days the battalion was put through its paces under the command of Col. Robert Watkinson Huntington. On April 26, the First Battalion left Hampton Roads aboard the Panther headed for Key West.
It took three days for the Panther and the cruiser Montgomery to make the trip to the tip of Florida. For the next several weeks, the battalion left the Panther each morning aboard small boats headed to shore where it conducted training maneuvers. Then, on May 23, the Panther received orders to tow a repaired monitor to the American fleet, leaving the First Battalion stranded ashore in Key West.
On June 4 the battalion received orders to prepare to embark, and on June 6, once again aboard the Panther, the Marines set sail to join the American fleet anchored off of Santiago, Cuba.
On June 10, the First Battalion received orders to seize Guantánamo. As they moved to establish a base, the Spanish took a position near the village of Cuzco, whose well provided their water source. On the 14th, a sharp fight ensued, and the Marines called for artillery support from the USS Dolphin. The Dolphin’s guns had difficulty finding their target, so Quick, the battalion’s signalman, at great personal risk, moved to a position on a hill where he could guide the Dolphin’s artillery fire. For his bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Company C’s Commander, Capt. George Frank Elliott, described Quick’s action in the following citation: “Sergeant Quick volunteered to signal, using a dark blue flag belonging to the Cubans. After a trial of twenty minutes, it was found impossible for the USS Dolphin to read the signal against the background, and that it was necessary to make it from the crest of the hill, so that the flag would show against the sky. Sgt. Quick on each occasion stood fairly on the crest, his back to the enemy, a number of whom opened fire, and made his signal as coolly as if on a parade ground; bullets drifted by him, and some cut the dust near his feet, of which he must have been conscious. When a signal was ended, the sergeant, remaining on the same ground, would kneel and fire.
“Personally, I think of no words that express his action so well as that it was beautiful. I respectfully recommend that Sergeant Quick be granted a medal, of such a class as the Honorable Secretary of the Navy may see fit to adjudge.”
Sgt. John Henry Quick received the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross on Dec. 13, 1898. He continued his service with the Marines and in World War I, now Sgt.-Maj. Quick, fought in every battle until Oct.16, 1918. For gallantry at the Battle of Belleau Wood, he was awarded a second Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross. He continued on active duty until retirement on Sept. 15, 1920. In retirement he settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where he died on Sept. 10, 1922. He is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Jennings, Missouri.
Doug Perks, a retired history teacher and Shepherdstown resident who serves as the historian at the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town, is a contributor to the Spirit of Jefferson.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.