“Captain Keye… asked all who were willing to volunteer their services… to step two paces to the front. Every man of the fifty-four stepped up at once.”
Thus did the local Fargo paper describe the response of Fargo’s National Guard company, Company B, to President McKinley’s call for volunteers to serve in the Spanish-American War. Those men who were accepted for service by the U.S. Government would go on to form the core of what became Company B of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry. What they could not know at the time was that this was the beginning of an eighteen month journey from peace to war and back again, and a fight mainly against revolutionaries in the Philippines who sought their country’s independence, rather than one to liberate the peoples of the Spanish Empire.
Fargo experienced the same surge of patriotic enthusiasm as the rest of the country with the declaration of war with Spain in April of 1898. It was in this context, with troops moving through the railroad town on their way to all the points of the compass, and patriotic meetings taking place throughout the city, that Captain Keye’s men had offered their services. While other Fargoans would see service alongside men from throughout the region and the nation in the U.S. Navy, the volunteer cavalry (some of them serving under Teddy Roosevelt), and both state and regular army units, Company B of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry was unique in being made up exclusively of Fargo men.
Within weeks, by early May of 1898, Company B, its original members supplemented with new recruits drawn from the Fargo area, including cadets from the Agricultural College (later NDSU), was encamped in tents in what was dubbed “Camp Briggs” in Fargo’s Huntington’s Addition (probably near the Great Northern Depot). Here they were united with other members of the First North Dakota Infantry, assembled from across the state, as well as various volunteer cavalry detachments. After a few weeks of drill and camp life for those who passed the physical examinations, Co. B, along with the other units from across North Dakota (including companies A-I of the First North Dakota), departed Fargo from the Great Northern Depot on May 26, 1898, amidst tears and cheers from local citizens. Thus began a long journey toward their ultimate destination—the Philippine Islands.
The First North Dakota participated in the attack on the Spanish in Manila in August of 1898. Though one man of Grafton Company C was killed and one of Bismarck Company A was wounded, no casualties were reported from Company B at that point. The war seemed to be wrapping up and the men expected to return to Fargo sometime after the final peace treaty, during the winter of 1898-1899. While peace was concluded between the United States and Spain in February 1899, the provision that Spain would sell the Philippines to America over the strenuous objections of a long-established and increasingly militarily-successful native independence movement under Emilio Aguinaldo assured that the North Dakotans would not be coming home as soon as they had hoped.
Just two days before the signing of the final peace treaty with Spain, on February 4th, 1899, Aguinaldo’s troops attacked the American forces. The First North Dakota was caught up in the first phase of the struggle, fought as a conventional battle between the two armies (after November 1899, the Filipinos switched to guerrilla warfare). Like many other American troops stationed near Manila, the First North Dakota appears to have been engaged with the Filipinos almost from the beginning. They were singled out for praise in official reports for their “eager and spirited” February 5th attack on enemy rifle pits after a tough march through the jungle. In the words of the official report, later printed in the Fargo Forum, “Major Frank White, with a battalion of the First North Dakota volunteers, left their trenches and made a gallant and effective charge on the insurgents concealed in the thickets in front of his position,” an attack that involved Co.’s B, D, G, and H. By June 1899, the First North Dakota was fighting alongside army regulars to capture the peninsula of Morong, forcing the Filipino army into the hills.
The men of the First North Dakota were soon suffering more casualties, from disease, tropical conditions, and battle wounds, losing Sergeant Whitaker (Co. A) to dysentery with Corporal Byron of Co. D paralyzed by a gunshot wound to the spine. Their regimental nurse, Miss Penney, was praised for her care for both men—and would be singled out more than once in future reports for similar devotion. A May 6, 1899, letter from Sergeant Edwards (probably the Corporal W.R. Edwards who shipped out with the Company in 1898 and was later promoted), revealed the situation in the Manila hospital where he was being treated for dysentery. He describes his own state as hungry (he was receiving little food to reduce the impact of his dysentery) and nervous and observes that the men were coming in 10-20 at a time exhausted from the extreme heat and being driven hard by their commanders. He also writes of Co. B’s Fred Hansche, shot through the right lung, and his long, painful journey to the hospital. Attitudes had also hardened toward the Filipinos, whom he refers to by the (apparently) racist nickname, the “Goo-Goos,” and he relays a story of the men being given permission to fire upon them if they refused to stop insulting the U.S. troops. Still, amidst what appears to have been worsening conditions and tensions, the North Dakotans continued to earn high praise for their behavior on campaign and in combat.
More welcome than any praise, however, was word that the men would soon be returning home. On July 5th, 1899, American commander in the Philippines General Otis cabled the War Department that within four days the North Dakotans would board the U.S. Grant alongside troops from Idaho and Wyoming for the journey home. The news brought an enthusiastic response from the North Dakota home-front, with the Fargo Forum estimating the boys would return by early September. Suggestions for a grand homecoming were immediately made. Planning began soon after, with representatives from across the state gathering in Fargo to prepare for the event.
Like the war itself, however, the voyage home proved longer, more complex, and more difficult than had been previously imagined. July was over before the men would embark on the Grant. There followed a long delay while the ship was held up in Japan for various reasons, with the men’s experiences detailed in passages from Sergeant “Billy” Edward’s diary, portions of which were published in the Fargo Forum. They contain stories of the weeks the men spent visiting Japanese cities and tourist sites, including mention of a baseball game against a team from Yokohama (the Americans lost), more praise for the unit’s nurse, Miss Penney, and notes on the wounded. A number of wounded men, including Joe Wurcer of Co. B, were aboard, and a soldier from Co. K had died on the trip. The men finally left Japan for San Francisco on August 14th, though two men from Co. B apparently failed to make it back to the ship on time, making them technically deserters (though they were probably only guilty of enjoying Japan a bit too much).
Preparations to receive the men at home reflected these delays and new information coming into Fargo. When it became clear that the unit would be mustered out when it arrived in San Francisco—and therefore that the U.S. Government would not be paying for the North Dakotans’ train tickets home—citizens from throughout the state began to donate to a fund to pay the troops’ way home (though a few men planned to stay on to enjoy California for a while). Such campaigns were carried out successfully in each community that sent a unit to the Philippines. In Fargo itself, supporters received badges reading, “I Say Co. B Rides Free. What Say Ye?”
After six weeks at sea and in port, the First North Dakota Regiment was finally mustered out of the federal service at San Francisco on September 25th, 1899. Beginning apparently in San Francisco itself, where it was said “restaurants and cigar stores will not take their money” (they were being treated), the First North Dakota seemed to receive a heroes’ welcome on its journey back, described as “one continuous ovation.” Stopping along the way to let out various companies, beginning with an enthusiastic 2 am, October 2nd, reception at Dickinson, the Jamestown, Devil’s Lake, Mandan, Valley City and other companies were delivered as the train traveled across the state. Everywhere the reception was warm, but the estimated 10,000 people who greeted Company B (and I of Wapheton and C of Grafton who were traveling with them) mobbed the depot for a full hour before the balance of the First North Dakota arrived at Fargo at 8am. Cannon salutes and a parade to the armory including bands and Civil War veterans of the G.A.R., as well as members of the local lodges, culminated in a massive meal served to the returning veterans and a series of brief, often emotional and patriotic speeches.
The final act of the homecoming was a massive community barbecue and potluck held the next day in Island Park with an estimated attendance of 15,000. A few speeches were given and music was provided by the First North Dakota Infantry band, but a major attraction was the huge amounts of food, “stacks of meat—beef, pork and lamb… hundreds of loaves of bread, thousands of doughtnuts… a stack of pies… all the good things to eat that could be desired.” Of course, the real draw was the return of Fargo’s native sons and the chance to welcome them back to the community.
What thoughts the men of Company B had about their service experience, which had so quickly turned from the defeat of what many Americans saw as a corrupt and oppressive Spanish empire to a fight against would-be Filipino independence fighters, is perhaps to be revealed by later research. While other men served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War from the Fargo area both before and after Company B, perhaps the chairman of the welcome committee, North Dakota Agricultural College President Worst, whose own son Clayton, served as first sergeant of Cavalry Troop G , said it best for all of them in his welcome home speech at the reunion barbeque:
“(Y)ou patriotically enlisted… you never questioned an order for duty… It was not a question of our soldiers—as to what were causes—they were soldiers—they obeyed orders and come home to us.”
-Chris Hummel, Digital History 2013. (Additional research provided by Dustin Olson)
 “Co. B Stand Together,” Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, April 22, 1898. (This newspaper will be hereafter referred to as FFDR). Later articles, many of them cited below, make clear that not every man of the 54 was accepted for overseas service. Some failed the medical examination while others stayed home to care for their families—it seems sometimes against the soldier’s own wishes. It is likely these men were a bit older than the average volunteer for the war, given that a number them appear to have been National Guard members for several years. Still, they provided the core for Company B of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry, a unit exclusively made up of Fargo area recruits.
 See “Troops Galore” and “A Mass Meeting,” FFDR, April 22, 1898.
 On the cavalry company offered by Wheatland, ND, for service under Roosevelt, see “Wheatland Cavalry Company,” FFDR, April 26, 1898. Articles in the FFDR provide a wealth of information on Fargo during the Spanish-American War, only a small portion of which could be examined in the course of our research and included in this brief entry. There is much that remains to be uncovered and written about by later historians both in local newspapers and archival collections. If nothing else, this brief discussion will hopefully generate interest in doing further research.
 See “The Soldier Boys,” FFDR, May 5, 1898; “Saturday Night,” FFDR, May 7, 1898; “The White City,” FFDR, May 8, 1898. These and other articles detail visitors to the camp, gifts and tributes given to the soldiers by local citizens, groups, and businesses, and personal details about some of the soldiers and their officers. Other units of the First North Dakota were also recruited or nationalized from the National Guard on a local basis by company. Thus Co. A was from Bismarck; Co. C, Grafton; Co. D, Devil’s Lake; Co. G, Valley City; Co. H, Jamestown; Co. I, Wapheton; Co. K, Dickinson; etc.
 For the departure, see “Getting Ready,” FFDR, May 26, 1898 and especially “Tears Were Shed,” FFDR, May 26, 1898. According to the Forum and Daily Republican, when the men first heard they were going to the Philippines they were “jubilant,” looking forward to “a magnificent ocean voyage” to “a country much healthier and prettier than Cuba” where they were “pretty sure to see some service” (“To the Philippines,” FFDR, May 13, 1898). Whether they shared this rosy assessment of ocean travel after their difficult return trip and of the country after suffering from tropical diseases and guerrilla attacks there is a bit unlikely—but they certainly did see some military service. The FFDR continued to follow Co. B on the trip to San Francisco from where they shipped out and through letters throughout their deployment in the Philippines.
 “North Dakota Heroes,” FFDR, August 27, 1898. Data on casualties from Co. B is scattered and spotty in the newspaper and the time we had for research did not allow a thorough and systematic study of the entire war period. More research in official records, other archives, and the local newspapers would doubtless provide a fuller picture to later researchers.
 Much has been written about the Philippine Insurrection or the Philippine-American War and it is not our purpose to review it in detail here. For a brief, solid discussion of the key points in the conflict, see the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian website article, “Milestones: 1899-1913—The Philippine-American War,” at http://history.state.gov/milestones/1899-1913/war
 “Dakotans Commended,” FFDR, June 22, 1899. The battle took place in February, but the report had not appeared until months later, shortly before it was published in the newspaper. Judging from newspaper accounts, such praise of the unit was fairly common.
 “Major White Complimented,” FFDR, June 21, 1899.
 “Again on the Warpath,” FFDR, June 5, 1899.
 “Whitaker’s Death,” FFDR, June 5, 1899.
 “From the Hospital,” FFDR, June 9, 1899.
 “North Dakotans O.K.,” FFDR, June 22, 1899.
 “General Otis Cables Washington…,” FFDR, July 5th, 1899. For an update, see “Will Sail Sunday,” FFDR, July 26, 1899.
 “The N.D. Boys,” FFDR, July 31, 1899 and “For the Soldiers,” FFDR, August 5, 1899.
 The diary appears in several separate installments, all entitled, “Sergt. Billy’s Diary,” in the FFDR on September 14, 15, and 16, 1899. There was apparently one on September 13th, but I somehow missed this one in my research. This appears to be the same Sergeant Edwards whose letter was cited above (“From the Hospital,” FFDR, June 9, 1899).
 Ads for the campaign and a running tally of the donations received appeared daily in the FFDR. See the September 15, 1899 paper for one example.
 “The End,” FFDR, September 25, 1899.
 “What Hansbrough Says,” FFDR, September 18, 1899.
 “Home at Last!” FFDR, October 2, 1899.
 “The Barbecue,” FFDR, October 3, 1899.
 This is briefly mentioned in the second column of the article, “Getting Ready,” FFDR, May 24, 1898.
 “The Barbecue,” FFDR, October 3, 1899.