CAMP WIKOFF NATIONAL MILITARY PARK PROPOSAL
“We have everything,” said a young Lieutenant. “We have life and we have death.”
— Commercial Advertiser, August 24, 1898
Camp Wikoff, Montauk, 1898
In the summer of 1898, a military encampment was established on 4,000 acres of hilly, treeless terrain in Montauk for the rest and recuperation of the US Fifth Army Corps in preparation for the fall military campaign against Havana during the Spanish American War.
Major General Shafter’s Fifth Army Corps, including Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, had defeated Spanish forces in battles near Santiago de Cuba in June and July, but thousands of soldiers, who had spent weeks in the hot, humid Cuban chaparral, suffered from malaria, typhoid, dysentery and yellow fever.
On August 4th, Sec. of War Alger ordered the immediate transfer of 22,500 soldiers in Cuba, and 7,000 soldiers at southern posts, to Montauk, chosen for its northern latitude, isolation, train service, and naturally deep water harbor at Fort Pond Bay.
On August 12th, shortly after the first troops from southern posts began to arrive in Montauk by train, and as transports began the seven-day voyage from Santiago de Cuba, a Protocol of Peace was signed in Paris, bringing hostilities between Spain and the United States to an end.
In anticipation of the fever-stricken troops that would be arriving from southern posts and Cuba, a 500-bed General Hospital and a 250-bed Detention Hospital were established in Montauk. The number of fever-stricken soldiers – three quarters of the troops returning from Cuba — far exceeded the capacity of those hospitals, and army provisions were unsuited to the soldiers’ dietary needs. Tragically, 357 died at Camp Wikoff, mainly of dysentery, malaria and typhoid. Reports of conditions at Camp Wikoff, some exaggerated by yellow journalism, began to appear in newspapers across the country, and soon Camp Wikoff was labeled a ‘pest hole’. Editorials began to demand that President McKinley replace Secretary of War Alger for his failure to anticipate the needs of the returning troops.
The number of beds was increased in the camp hospitals; the American Red Cross was contracted by the US Government to supply nurses; food delicacies were delivered to the camp from local sources, as well as supplies from New York City, the North Fork, Old Stonington and Newport. As a result, conditions at Camp Wikoff gradually improved.
On Saturday, September 3rd – “Montauk’s Great Day” – President William McKinley toured camp hospitals and addressed 5,000 cheering troops on Montauk’s Great Plain, telling them, “I bring you the gratitude of the nation, to whose history you have added by your valor a new and glorious page.”
On September 13th, Col. Theodore Roosevelt bid farewell to the Rough Riders, telling them, “You cannot imagine how proud I am of your friendship and regard.”
In appreciation of his leadership, the Rough Riders present him with Frederic Remington’s Bronco Buster statue.
On September 26th, General Wheeler, commander of the camp from August 19 to September 4th, said this of Camp Wikoff: “I think the camp was well laid out, considering the rapidity with which it had to be constructed. When Camp Wikoff was most populous, there were twenty-eight square miles of tents, and the scene presented was most beautiful.”
On October 9th, Sec. of War Alger ordered the Seventh Infantry to report to posts in Michigan, thus effectively bringing to a close the great military encampment at Montauk.
The troops returning home at Fort Pond Bay that summer were America’s first veterans of a war fought overseas on foreign soil, a seminal event in military history, as American troops liberated a foreign population from colonial rule, enforcing a policy that has continued, through successive military campaigns, to this day.
CAMP WIKOFF NATIONAL MILITARY PARK Proposal
US Fifth Army Corps, which returned home at Fort Pond Bay, directly from Santiago de Cuba, following a victorious campaign against Spanish forces in Cuba, June & July, 1898. The VFW traces its origin to Camp Wikoff.
American Red Cross (founded 1881), which first fulfilled its mission in the Spanish-American War, supplying nurses to the hospitals at Camp Wikoff. It was the first time the US Government contracted with the American Red Cross to aid in the care of soldiers. And, the first time women nurses worked in army hospitals, ending the all male nurse policy.
Volunteers – those who volunteered to serve in the military campaign and those who came to the aid of the fever-stricken troops.
NATIONAL HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE: Soldiers of the Fifth Army Corps were America’s first veterans of a foreign war fought overseas on foreign soil to return home. Camp Wikoff meets the criteria for National Military Park status: historic significance, prominent figures in American history, historic site, historic structure (Third House), and feasibility.
As the tenth national military park, CW NMP would complete the national military park system as originally conceived. The Spanish American War and all subsequent wars have been fought overseas, and, like the Spanish American War, have been wars of liberation. Camp Wikoff, established during the war (last several weeks), made it part of the war effort, marking the transition from US mainland wars (Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War) to wars fought overseas.
This proposal calls for a unique component, overlay, cooperative park system – comprised of existing parklands & preserves – with the addition of museums, monuments/markers, campsites, trails, gardens and kiosks/pavilions.
Note that this proposal received the support of Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, Dean of West Point in a letter dated March 4, 2008.
“Camp Wikoff played an important role in the American war with Spain in 1898. In many ways the Camp reflected the spirit of the times, especially with regard to volunteerism and the Progressive impulse of the late-19th and early 20th centuries. Through its gates passed thousands of heroic Americans—military and civilian, famous and ordinary—whose commitment and sacrifice brought victory in the war. For these reasons and the many others you outline in the proposal, we support your cause and encourage you to continue pursuing the project.”
— Patrick Finnegan, Brigadier General, US Army, Dean of the Academic Board, U.S. Military Academy, West Point
Fort Pond Bay: 22,500 soldiers debarked at the Iron Pier on Fort Pond Bay, which was the homeport of America’s first veterans of a war fought overseas on foreign soil.
▪ Reconstruction of the Iron (railroad) Pier
▪ Monument to the Fifth Army Corps
▪ Observation deck, overlooking Fort Pond Bay, accessible from the Montauk Station Memorial Walkway.
Memorial Garden & Walkway from Iron Pier at Fort Pond Bay to Montauk Station, with Memorial Gardens at the station & along the walkway dedicated to Gen. Shafter’s Fifth Army Corps.
Note that this proposal for a Memorial Walkway was reviewed by James Dermody, President of the Long Island Rail Road in 2006. In his letter, he stated that the proposal would have to be further reviewed by several departments of the LIRR; and arrangements would have to be made regarding liability and maintenance, but would be considered.
It should be further noted that Camp Wikoff was the greatest event in the history of the Long Island Rail Road. Thirty-five thousands troops, tens of thousands of visitors, hundreds of horses and mules, and tons of supplies were transported flawlessly by the Long Island Rail Road during the encampment. The Long Island Rail Road also added a rail spur to the Iron Pier to accommodate the movement of supplies.
Montauk Station: 7,000 soldiers arrived by train at Montauk Station from southern military posts. Virtually all soldiers in camp – 29,500 – left camp by train. Thousands of visitors and tons of supplies arrived by train. Station, post office, general store, telephone/telegraph building, Army officers’ club, restaurant, power building, among others, comprised the ‘village’ that was built at this site during the encampment.
Visitor Center & Camp Wikoff Museum: orientation for those visiting Montauk, with gallery & exhibits, and topographical map of Campgrounds.
Pullman Presidential Car: vintage rail car, decorated as Presidential McKinley’s Presidential Car. He was accompanied by Assistant Sec. Cortelyou, Vice President Hobart, Sec. of War Alger, Attorney General Griggs, Senator Proctor of Vermont, among others. He stayed in the Presidential cars overnight on September 2nd at the Amagansett Railroad Station, prior to his visit.
Spanish American War Museum, at Montauk Station or near the Village Green.
Montauk Village Green: Statue / Monument to President William McKinley, who addressed the soldiers of the Fifth Army Corps on September 3, 1898, welcoming them home and praising their accomplishments.
Montauk Downs: approximate location of General Hospital.
Monument to the American Red Cross, Women’s National War Relief Association,
East Hampton Relief Corps, as well as individual volunteers.
Shadmoor State Park: Campsite of the First D.C. Volunteers, Seventh Infantry, 10th Cavalry and 17th Infantry.
Pavilion, dedicated benches & camp information plaque.
— Monument to the VFW – originally formed by soldiers of the 17th Infantry, largely in response to conditions at Camp Wikoff.
Ditch Plains: Headquarters No. 2 of General Joseph Wheeler.
— Monument to General Joseph Wheeler; his daughter, Laurie; and his sons, Thomas and Joseph. General Wheeler, who served as Commander of Camp Wikoff from August 19 to September 4, established his second headquarters at Ditch Plains.
Wheeler graduated from West Point, rose to the rank of general in the Confederacy, then to rank of general in the United States Army, becoming, as a result, a symbol of the reunification of the country following the Civil War. General Wheeler’s family home — Pond Spring — is a historic site in Alabama. General Wheeler also served in the US House of Representatives for sixteen years.
Rita’s Stables: Roadside monument to the Rough Riders. Site of Rough Rider encampment, Roosevelt’s ‘Bully Pulpit’ & farewell speeches. And, where Col. Roosevelt announced that he would accept the Republican Gubernatorial Nomination, if offered to him. The regiment, numbering approximately 1,000 troops, camped at this site.
Third House, Montauk County Park: headquarters of General Young during the first few weeks of Camp Wikoff. Inn for Officers. Col. Roosevelt stayed overnight on August 17th, 1898; his wife and daughters stayed there September 7th & 8th. Roosevelt met with Lemuel Quigg, Senator Thomas Platt’s emissary, to discuss possible Republican Gubernatorial candidacy. At that meeting, Roosevelt said that he would accept the nomination if offered to him, but would not say so publicly until mustered out of service.
▪ Monument to Spanish American War – a war that liberated the Cuban people from 400 years of colonial rule.
▪ Statue / Monument to Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
▪ Reconstruction of original barn near Third House for Rough Rider Museum.
▪ Army officer platform tent campsites.
▪ Army wagon, and related carriage, displays/rides.
▪ Bugle, Flag Signaling Demonstrations.
Montauk Point Lighthouse: visited by hundreds of troops during the encampment, including Col. Theodore Roosevelt.
▪ Monument to the soldiers who died on the transports & were buried at sea.
▪ Monument to Volunteers: civilian & military.
————————————Off Site Markers:
▪ Amagansett Railroad Station: President McKinley & the Presidential Party slept in Pullman cars at the Station on Friday night, September 2, 1898. Central telegraph office for Camp Wikoff located in the Railroad Station.
▪ Auxiliary hospitals for the convalescence of troops were established at sites in Amagansett, East Hampton, and Sag Harbor.
ANNUAL CONFERENCE / LAST WEEKEND in APRIL: five primary topics—
- Spanish American War (declared on April 21, 1898).
- Camp Wikoff: US Fifth Army Corps, American Red Cross & Citizen Volunteers.
- Theodore Roosevelt and the New York State 1898 Gubernatorial Campaign.
- Roosevelt’s Rough Riders
- Cuba, then & now.
————————————RE-ENACTMENTS, ACTIVITIES, ANNUAL EVENTS
▪ Veterans of foreign war: celebration of the arrival of the transports from Santiago de Cuba & the debarkation of the Fifth Army Corps troops.
▪ Re-Enactments of President William McKinley’s speech, September 3rd.
▪ Re-Enactment of Col. Theodore Roosevelt’s Bully Pulpit Speech and his farewellspeech to the Rough Riders.
▪ Classes: Bugle, Flag Signaling, Telegraphy, Army Band (1898 military tunes)
▪ Camp: Army officer wall tent platform campsites at Montauk County Park.
▪ Army wagon rides from Montauk Railroad Station to Montauk Point Lighthouse, withstops at Montauk Village Green, Shadmoor State Park, and Third House.
Note on Transportation: The Long Island Rail Road played a significant role at Camp Wikoff, flawlessly transporting tens of thousands soldiers & civilians, horses & mules, and tons of supplies.
This would be the most appropriate means of transportation to and from Camp Wikoff National Military Park, whether traveling from New York City or East Hampton.
Train cars could be outfitted as they were at the time, and with popular songs of the era. Also, Pullman Presidential Train Car, outfitted like the one in which President McKinley traveled, could be on permanent display at Montauk Station.
Army wagons and shuttle buses would transport visitors to the related historic sites. Bicycles would also be available to rent (bicycling was a very popular activity in 1898).
Note on Cuba: Voyages from Santiago de Cuba to Fort Pond Bay, retracing the sea route of the Fifth Army Corps returning home to Fort Pond Bay.
In 1956, during the Eisenhower administration, a ‘Sister City’ relationship was established between East Hampton and Playa (a borough of Havana), Cuba. See Sister Cities International for more information.
— Camp Wikoff National Military Park — Proposed by Jeff Heatley, June, 2016. Editor of BULLY! Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders & Camp Wikoff, Montauk, New York – 1898. A Newspaper Chronicle. 509 pages.Published by the Montauk Historical Society & the Pushcart Press, 1998.
For Camp Wikoff Portfolios (select illustrations & text pages from BULLY!), please check the following links:
— Or, reference BULLY!
Above Illustrations/ Photograph:
Victor — And Victim / New York Herald, August 31, 1898. Charles Nelan, Illustrator.
Birdseye View of Montauk / The World, August 15, 1898
Landing Scene at Montauk Pier / Chicago Tribune, August 31, 1898
Camp Scene Sunday Afternoon / New York Herald, September 4, 1898
Army Officers Headquarters / New York Herald, August 16, 1898
Third House, October, 2014 / Jeff Heatley Photo
The Montauk Light / The World, August 5, 1898
New York Press Masthead, 1898
“Remember Camp Wikoff!”
— Samuel L. Parrish, Letter to the Editor, New York Times, August 31, 1898