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On Behalf of the North Dakota Boys

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In February of 1898, a massive explosion sent the battleship Maine to the bottom of Havana harbor. The Spanish were quickly blamed for the destruction of the American ship and for the deaths of 260 American sailors, over half of the crew. Many influential Americans including Teddy Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst demanded a forceful response. There were other voices like Mark Twain who remembered the horrors of the Civil War and urged calm, but the cooler heads were unable to prevail. The United States declared war against Spain.

North Dakotans responded with their typical patriotism. Volunteers from across the state filled out the ranks of the eight companies of the First North Dakota Volunteers. In May, 1898 they reported to Camp Briggs in West Fargo. They shipped out the end of the month. Everyone expected them to go to the Philippines, defeat the Spanish, and return home in short order. It didn’t work out that way. After the Spanish defeat, American forces became engaged in a conflict with Filipinos who demanded full independence. Expectations for a quick victory evaporated as the conflict extended into months. North Dakotans became anxious for their boys to come home.

On this date in 1899, North Dakota newspapers printed an article by Senator Hansbrough. While Hansbrough acknowledged that Minnesota Senators got more press coverage than he did, “all of them combined have not made any greater or more effective demands for fair treatment of the Minnesota troops in Manila than have been made on behalf of the North Dakota troops.” Hansbrough said that he met with the war department and had been assured that the volunteers would be mustered out in the order in which they arrived in Manila. There had been a suggestion that the First North Dakota was made up of the healthiest troops and, therefore, might be willing to stay on beyond their enlistment. Hansbrough said it was not a matter of health, but one of “right and justice.” He assured North Dakota citizens that he was looking after the boys to the best of his ability.

Hansbrough’s efforts were apparently effective. The enlistment was not extended for the North Dakota volunteers. The boys returned in October, 1899, after spending over a year in the service of their country.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Hansbrough’s Efforts.” Devils Lake ND. 1/20/1899. Page 1.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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