MILITARY BICYCLING: 25th INFANTRY BICYCLE CORPS 3800 MILE TRIP, FORT MISSOULA to ST. LOUIS
Lieut. Moss, in Command, Describes the Organization and Accessories of the Detachment – The Training and Instructions – What the Soldiers Will Carry – Their Arms and Ammunition – Expect to Make the Trip in Six Weeks Each Way – The Party are all Colored Men.
Not many years ago the bicycle was looked upon as a mere toy, a kind of ‘dandy horse’ and the riders were regarded as fit subjects for pity. That time, however, is a thing of the past; the bicycle of today is a very important factor in our social and commercial life, and bids fair to figure conspicuously in the warfare of the future. France, Austria, Switzerland, England, Germany and other European powers have, of late years, devoted considerable attention to the bicycle as a machine for military purposes, resulting in its adoption as component parts of their armies.
During the last few years a number of experiments have been made in this country by officers, both of the regular Army and the National guard–nearly all of them, however, being tests of rapidity. With the exception of the work done last summer by the Twenty-fifth United States Infantry Bicycle corps, little or nothing has been done in testing the wheel as a means of transportation. Although equipped with ordinary roadsters taken from the general stock, carrying our cooking utensils in a crude way, not properly equipped with frame cases, luggage carriers, etc., and not having the advantage of experience, we made one trip of 800 miles at an average rate of six miles per hour. The greater part of the distance traveled was over some of the worst roads in the United States, through mud, water, rain, snow and sand; crossing and recrossing mountain ranges and fording streams; carrying our arms, ammunition, rations, tents, blankets, extra underwear, medicines, tools, repairing material, cooking utensils and extra bicycle parts.
Model 1873 Trapdoor Springfield Rifle
In 1897, 20 soldiers, an army surgeon and a reporter, led by Lt James A. Moss, rode bicycles from Fort Missoula in Montana to St. Louis as an experiment to see whether the bicycle could serve a useful purpose in the American army. The army was segregated, with most black units – known as ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ – serving in isolated outposts in the West. Fort Missoula, at that time, was home to the 25th Infantry, a black regiment. Moss was a Southerner and recent graduate of West Point. He was only twenty-five years old. He and some of the ’97 riders had done trips before. In the summer of 1896, eight of them rode first to the Mission Mountains, north of Missoula and then Yellowstone Park. For the St. Louis trip, Moss picked a path that mostly followed the railroads. 19-year-old reporter Eddie Boos rode along with the Corps to St. Louis and wired lengthy reports to the local Missoula paper, as well as newspapers all over the United States. Combining his accounts with those of Lt. Moss, there was a fairly detailed picture of the trip. What comes through is a group of highly dedicated, tough, resilient, men who at the end of a long, hard ride still had a keen sense of humor and enjoyment of life. A year after the trip they proved their mettle as soldiers, securing key victories during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Boos tells us that the Corps was escorted by hundreds as they drew closer to the finish of their journey and were welcomed by over 10,000 upon reaching their goal in Forest Park in St. Louis.*
The Spalding ‘Special’ had a different front fork than other Spalding models. There was a choice of two Spalding chainwheels (sprockets). This example is fitted with the larger chainwheel as illustrated in the 1897 catalogue (above). The bicycles shown in the 25th Infantry photos display the smaller Spalding chainwheel, probably because they were subsequently fitted with chaincases.
The heaviest man, stripped, tips the scales at 177, and the lightest at 125 1/2, the average weight being 148 1/2. The oldest soldier is 39 1/4 years of age and the youngest 24, the average age being 27. The men, with the exception of three or four who have just learned to ride, are all cyclists of more or less experience. They have been selected on account of their knowledge of cycling and their reliability, from among the four companies at this post.THE SURGEON: Dr. James M. Kennedy, the surgeon who will accompany the expedition, is a typical South Carolinian, who entered the service four years ago. He is 32 years of age, and being one of the finest young surgeons in the army, an enthusiastic wheelman and a fine speciman of manhood, he is in every way fitted to fill his new position.
Every other man will take along one towel, one bicycle wiping cloth and one cake soap. Each chief of squad will carry one comb, one brush, and one box matches.MEDICINES, TOOLS, REPAIRING MATERIALS, etc: The surgeon will carry a supply of medicine, case of surgical instruments, bandages, etc., the Corps will carry a complete outfit of repairing tools, oil, tire and rim cement, chain lubricant, extra tires, rims, spokes, cones, axles, pedal cranks, etc.
The soldiers who compose the Corps were selected from among 40 volunteers, and are bubbling over with enthusiasm. They are all colored men and about as fine a looking and well-disciplined lot as could be found anywhere in the United States Army. They take pride in the uniform, are respectful, obedient, and have implicit faith in their white officers. This last fact is well illustrated by an incident that happened last summer while we were going through Yellowstone Park on our bicycles. A member of the Corps upon whose face the map of Africa is most unquestionably stamped; was lazily sitting against a tree smoking his pipe and with one eye closed and the other half opened was amusing himself making smoke rings. A tourist who came strolling along asked him, “Where do you expect to go today?” To which he answered, “De Lawd only knows– we’re following de Lieutenant!”
THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR
An 1894 American tariff on sugar imports hurt the Cuban economy, and ‘insurrectos’ began a revolt against the ruling Spanish colonial regime. Spain sent General ‘Butcher’ Weyler to the island, and put most of the population into concentration camps. American businessmen had interests in Cuba and the American Press agitated against Spain.
After President McKinley came to office in 1897, the US dispatched the USS Maine to Cuba to rescue American citizens caught in the conflict. On 5th February, 1898, the Maine mysteriously blew up, and in April both Spain and America declared war. The US passed the ‘Teller Amendment’ promising Cuban independence.
On the orders of Assistant Naval Secretary Theodore Roosevelt, Commodore Dewey immediately attacked Manila harbor in the Philippines. On 1st May, Dewey destroyed the old, decrepit, and rotting Spanish fleet at Manila, and the US prepared for an invasion of the Philippines. The US also invaded Guam and Puerto Rico, other Spanish island colonies, during the war.
Under the leadership of General William R. Shafter, the US ground effort in Cuba was far from organized. Nonetheless, success was never in much doubt and the US defeated the Spanish with relatively little difficulty. On 10th December, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the war, and Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines became American colonies.
After the war, the US made improvements in Cuban infrastructure and educational systems, and prepared to leave. But before leaving, the US forced the Cubans to insert the Platt Amendment into their constitution, which gave the US a military base on the island (Guantanamo).
Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines became American protectorates, whose people, as the Insular Cases by the Supreme Court found, did not have full rights as American citizens. Some of the people in these new colonies were understandably upset, since they expected that they would be liberated just as Cuba had. Instead, the US kept the island colonies as coaling stations for its ships.
Immediately after being annexed by the US, in January 1899 the Filipinos declared themselves independent, beginning a guerilla war against the US, led by Emilio Aguinaldo. The rebellion lasted over a year, until March of 1901, when the US captured Aguinaldo.
The first column, the Rough Riders, was the first to strike the enemy in ambush 500 yards east of the junction of the two roads mentioned, receiving a volley that would have routed anybody but an American. The first regulars, hearing the music as they called it, hurried forward to join in the dance, and awoke a hornet’s nest of Spaniards on the left, north of the party engaging the Rough Riders, and had more music than they could furnish dancers for. But, to the credit of the uniform and the flag, there if no account of either column giving an inch. They advanced sufficiently to come into line, and holding their ground until the much abused and poorly appreciated sons of Ham burst through the underbrush, delivered several volleys and yelling as only black throats can yell, advanced on a run. Their position being still further to the north and opposite the left flank of the Spaniards, they could not stand it any longer, but broke and ran, and did not make a decided stand until they faced us at San Juan…When the battle closed June 24 there were nineteen or twenty killed, but only one of them was colored
A week later, the expeditionary force launched a two-pronged attack intended to secure the outpost at El Caney and the entrenchments on San Juan Hill. The two forces were to gain their objectives and join together for the final assault on Santiago. Troopers from the 25th Infantry acquitted themselves well at El Caney and were among the first to reach the outpost after heavy fighting. Meanwhile, the 24th Infantry and the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments were establishing a reputation for ‘themselves as fighting men’ at San Juan Hill once more in the shadow of the more heralded, but no more effective, Rough Riders. As the Rough Riders advanced up San Juan Hill they found themselves attacked from all sides and in great danger of being cut to pieces.
The black troops of the 9th and 10th Cavalry were some distance away when the word reached them. They went to help on the run. Leaving a trail of dead and wounded left behind, the troopers of the 10th Cavalry advanced under heavy fire, according to a New York reporter, ‘firing as they marched, their aim was splendid. Their coolness was superb and their courage aroused the admiration of their comrades.’ It was this action that led a grateful Rough Riders corporal to proclaim:
‘If it hadn’t been for the black cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated.’ Five black soldiers of the 10th Cavalry received the Medal of Honor and 25 other black soldiers were awarded the Certificate of Merit.
– Black Participation in the Spanish-American War **
Famous showman William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody had expanded the name of his wild west show for the 1893 Columbia Exposition to ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World’ and the name ‘Rough Riders’ was used for the 1st U.S Volunteer Cavalry, one of three regiments enlisted in 1898 to make up for the shortfall of soldiers due to the Civil War thirty years earlier. The unit comprised college athletes, ranchers, cowboys, gold miners, gamblers, hunters, Native Americans, police officers and military veterans; by selecting men from Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas it was hoped they would cope more easily with the Cuban climate.
Future U.S president Theodore Roosevelt was initially second in command, but subsequently led the regiment, which therefore became ‘Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.’ The regiment wore a cowboy version of the normal cavalry uniform, and became the epitome of America’s public image. The Press showed Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites, fighting against a common enemy in the hope of healing scars left by the Civil War. But with its appearance and charisma, plus Roosevelt’s skill at publicity and self-promotion, much greater coverage was subsequently given to the ‘Rough Riders’ than the Buffalo Soldiers.
The 1979 book ‘Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts’ states that bicycles were used by the U.S army to quell riots in Cuba in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War:
At the end of the Spanish-American War, in 1898, the United States occupied Cuba. Rioting mobs in the street, along with outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever, created havoc in the country. Lieutenant James Moss was sent with his troops to maintain order; they were successful. The unique thing about Moss’s 25th Infantry of only 100 men was that they were a bicycle corps — they all rode bicycles, they were all black, and they never once used their weapons while in Cuba.
However, this account is untrue. Contemporary American newspapers’ ‘yellow journalism’ – embellishment and glorification – was notorious: their influence on public opinion had been instrumental in helping the American government declare war on Spain.
Although the Americans did not send bicycles to Cuba with the Buffalo Soldiers for the ten-week war, American cycle exports were strong at this time and Cuba did already have many American bicycles. America reneged on its initial promises of Cuban independence (receiving Guantanamo Bay as a permanent naval base) and after the war American bicycle exports to Cuba increased dramatically. So, with the bicycle prevalent as a means of transportation, it would obviously have seen service in various ways during the war, to assist civilians fleeing the fighting and as transportation for local fighters.
Though bicycles were used in European wars since 1870, the first armies to use the bicycle extensively in war were the Boer Kommando and British army in 1899 during the 2nd Boer war. But in the ‘Jameson Raid’ of January 1896, which precipitated the Boer war, a British soldier and his Boer colleague famously rode bicycles through Boer lines on a spying mission and with dispatches for the British commander concealed under the saddle pin.
THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR, 1898-1901: PHILIPPINES
As the war progressed many African American soldiers increasingly felt they were being used in an unjust racial war. The Filipino insurgents subjected Black soldiers to psychological warfare, using propaganda encouraging them to desert. Posters and leaflets addressed to ‘The Colored American Soldier’ described the lynching and discrimination against Blacks in the United States and discouraged them from being the instrument of their white masters’ ambitions to oppress another ‘people of color.’ Blacks who deserted to the Filipino nationalist cause would be welcomed and given positions of responsibility.
During the war in the Philippines, fifteen U.S. soldiers, six of them Black, would defect to Aquinaldo. One of the Black deserters, Private David Fagen became notorious as a ‘Insurecto Captain,’ and was apparently so successful fighting American soldiers that a price of $600 was placed on his head. The bounty was collected by a Filipino defector who brought in Fagen’s decomposed head.
A Black newspaper, the ‘Indianapolis Freeman,’ editorialized in December, 1901: ‘Fagen was a traitor and died a traitor’s death, but he was a man no doubt prompted by honest motives to help a weakened side, and one he felt allied by bonds that bind.’
The sentiments of most Black soldiers in the Philippines would be summed up by Commissary Sergeant Middleton W. Saddler of the 25th Infantry, who wrote:
‘We are now arrayed to meet a common foe, men of our own hue and color. Whether it is right to reduce these people to submission is not a question for soldiers to decide. Our oaths of allegiance know neither race, color, nor nation.’
– The Philippine War: A Conflict of Conscience for African Americans ***
Despite the Buffalo Soldiers’ impressive war record, black soldiers were not treated well when in the southern states of the USA, in keeping with the racist attitudes of the era. After their service in Cuba, they were among the 126,000 American troops sent to the Philippines to fight the guerrilla war there. Many American soldiers noted the irony of entering the war to help Cubans fight for independence while simultaneously suppressing Filipino independence. Black soldiers also found themselves fighting black Filipinos. The Philippine ‘Republic of Negros’ had won independence from Spain in 1898 – by forcing Spanish surrender after attacking with imitation weapons such as rifles carved from palm fronds and cannons of rolled bamboo mats. Though it was initially recognised by America as a separate state, it was annexed in 1901.
The Filipinos had expected to be granted independence after America gained the country from Spain; but America had instead created its own colonial empire. As a result of the Philippine-American War, an estimated 400,000 ‘insurrectos’ died under American fire, and an even greater number of civilians were killed (estimated figures of one million are probably not an exaggeration, as there are records of 300,000 being killed in just one area). Although the war officially ended in 1902, guerrilla resistance continued until 1936. Due to the horrific slaughter of islanders by American soldiers, the war was often described as a genocide.
Though America brought a much more democratic style of education to the Philippines, the writing of its history was strictly controlled, and the story of the Philippine Republic and its struggles for independence was suppressed. Generations of Filipinos and Americans grew up learning very little about this war.
America was well known for its anti-colonial stance, and fiercely critical of British imperialism. (Great Britain was the world superpower at the time, and was therefore resented in the same way America is nowadays). Many American mercenaries fought with the Boers against the British in South Africa for that reason, particularly as the ‘Irish Brigade’ and ‘American Scouts.’ The Americans also had racist attitudes in common with the Boers. In his book London to Ladysmith, Winston Churchill recorded his conversations with his Boer captors:
Is it right that a dirty Kaffir [native] should walk on the pavement without a pass? That’s what they do in your British colonies. Brother! Equal! Ugh! Free! Not a bit. We know how to treat Kaffirs …They were put here by God Almighty to work for us. We’ll stand no damned nonsense from them. We’ll keep them in their proper places.
The issue of American expansion and colonialism was hotly debated within America, most notably by the Anti-Imperialist League. In 1901, Mark Twain campaigned against the atrocities committed by the U.S Military in the Philippines, and asked:
Is it perhaps that there are two kinds of Civilization – one for home consumption and one for the heathen market?
In the context of this article on the Buffalo Soldiers, a relevant point is that Filipinos were ‘de-humanised’ in the eyes of American soldiers in the Philippines. This is common military practice but also the essence of racism. The army’s treatment of Filipinos as ‘savages’ was no different than American southern whites’ attitude toward Afro-Americans. De-humanization allowed the perpetrators to justify the ill-treatment of their victims, either to kill them en masse (Philippines) or to enslave a population (America).
AFTER THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR
Shortly after the end of the Spanish-American War a decline began in the status of Black serviceman. White sentiment ran against Black soldiers; too much apparently had been made of their success, causing them to forget their subservient ‘place.’ Even Theodore Roosevelt, who had been a supporter of Black soldiers, reversing his earlier praise, stated that Black soldiers were peculiarly dependent upon their white officers and Black noncommissioned officers generally lacked the ability to command and handle the men like the best classes of whites. Roosevelt apparently was bowing to the pressures of public opinion.
At the close of the century, however, Black servicemen had become impatient with the long-standing policy of limited opportunities, discrimination, and paternalistic white officers. Chaplain Steward’s comments revealed the deepening dissatisfaction of Black servicemen: ’The colored American soldier, by his own prowess, has won an acknowledged place by the side of the best trained fighters with arms,’ he said. ‘In the fullness of his manhood he has no rejoicing in patronizing paean, the colored troops fought nobly, nor does he glow at all when told of his ‘faithfulness’ and devotion to his white officers, qualities accentuated to the point where they might well fit an affectionate dog.’
The military refused to meet the growing expectations of its Black soldiers**
A.G. Spalding was a sporting goods company from Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. In the mid-1890s, they claimed to be America’s leading bicycle manufacturer. (Columbia made an identical claim). They marketed the renowned Christy Anatomical saddle, the Spalding Cyclometer and other cycle accessories.
THE CHRISTY SADDLE
MODEL 1873 ‘TRAPDOOR’ SPRINGFIELD RIFLE
The Model 1873 ‘Trapdoor’ Springfield was the first standard-issue breech-loading rifle adopted by the US army. The black powder Model 1873 continued to be the main service rifle of the U.S. Military until it was gradually replaced by the ‘Model 1892’ bolt-action rifle (based on the Norwegian Krag-Jørgensen action). Replacement began in 1892, but the Model 1873 was still used by secondary units during the Spanish-American War in Cuba and the Philippines, although it was at a major disadvantage against the Spanish forces armed with Spanish M93 Mauser bolt-action rifles using smokeless powder.
* All 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps information thanks to – http://bicyclecorps.blogspot.co.uk and – http://www.fortmissoulamuseum.org/docs/pubs/bailey_cyclists_02.97.pdf
Republic of Negros info with thanks to – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Negros
Churchill quote with thanks to – http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support/the-churchill-centre/publications/finest-hour/issues-109-to-144/no-114/644-woods-corner-fh-114
** Black Participation in the Spanish-American War with thanks to – http://www.spanamwar.com/AfroAmericans.htm
*** The Philippine War: A Conflict of Conscience for African Americans – http://www.nps.gov/prsf/historyculture/the-philippine-insurrectiothe-philippine-war-a-conflict-of-consciencen-a-war-of-controversy.htm
Trapdoor Springfield Rifle – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springfield_Model_1873