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V.P.I. in the Spanish American War

by Col. Harry D. Temple

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Text and pictures copyright 1996 by Harry D. Temple. Used with permission.

NOTE: The staff of Special Collections regret that it is unable to provide any further information on the subjects contained in this article.

Some alternative sources for information on the Spanish American War are:

Spanish-American War Centennial Website
Encyclopedia Britannica Online
Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures at the Library of Congress-- coming soon
Your local library and reference librarian

Tension between the United States and Spain had been building up since October 13, 1873 when a sailing vessel, the "Virginius," flying the American flag, was seized by the Spanish war steamer "Tornado" on the suspicion that it was conveying munitions to Cuban insurrectionists.

A revolt against Spain erupted in Cuba in 1895, and as the fighting dragged out over the subsequent years, concern in America increased. As a protective measure for American interests, the United States, in January 1898, dispatched the battleship U.S.S. Maine to the harbor of Havana. On the fateful night of February 15 a tremendous explosion sent the U.S.S. Maine to the bottom of that harbor. Two hundred and sixty-six officers and men of the United States Navy met sudden death in the twisted wreckage. News of the catastrophe sent shock waves all over America. Already provoked by the prolonged colonial misrule in Cuba, public sentiment was ignored.

In view of the impending threat of war, the Adjutant General of Virginia, by General Orders dated April 19, directed all units of the state militia to ascertain which of their officers and men would volunteer for service with the volunteer forces of the United States in the event of mobilization. The V.P.I. Battalion of Cadets was a unit of the Virginia Active State Militia. A V.P.I. Corps meeting was called on the evening of April 20 and the situation was discussed. By unanimous vote the following communication was sent to the Governor of Virginia on the next morning:

"His Excellency J. Hoge Tyler, Governor of Virginia"


"We hereby tender to the State of Virginia the services of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute Corps of Cadets, consisting of four companies of Infantry, one light battery of Artillery, commissioned and non-commissioned Staff and Band, for the defense of our country in the event of war.

We respectfully petition that if called into service, the United States War Department is requested to detail First Lieutenant D.C. Shanks, of the Eighteenth United States Infantry, United States Army, as Commandant of the Corps.

(Signed) Jno. B. Danforth, Captain, Co. D
Julian Ashby Burruss, Captain, Battery E
Benjamin Harrison, Jr., Captain, Co. B
Edward Graham, Captain, Co. C
Jno. S.A. Johnson, Captain, Co. A"

The Governor declined the offer with a letter expressing his "high appreciation of the patriotic spirit which promoted the cadets of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute to tender their services to the State in the event of war." He expressed his "profound thanks" and stated that "their tender of service was worthy of the highest commendation."

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