By Philip Staffelli-Suel
Welcome back Junior Curators! Today we are going to be talking about the Spanish-American War and Alfred Martin Ray. What is the Spanish-American War? In February of 1895, Cubans began a rebellion against Spanish rule. Over the next few years, support for the Cubans spread throughout the United States. Remember, the United State once fought to be free from a European power too. The way newspapers reported on the conflict became known as yellow journalism. This caused some problems. In December of 1897, riots in the port of Havana led the U.S. to send the battleship Maine to protect U.S. property and citizens in the area. The ship sank in February 1898. The cause of the sinking is still a mystery today. At the time though, newspapers blamed the sinking on the Spanish. Throughout the U.S. the public called for war, and on April 25, 1898, Congress declared war on Spain.
Image is of the 1st Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Flag from the Spanish American War, TSM collection
Alfred Martin Ray was born an enslaved man on May 16, 1856, in Jonesborough, TN. Alfred enlisted in the army on May 17, 1872, at the age of 16. The Army then was still segregated, and he was assigned to the 10th Colored Calvary stationed in Fort Concho, Colorado. He was considered a Buffalo Soldier and fought in the Indian Wars. Alfred was promoted to the rank of Sergeant as he improved his reading and writing ability. In 1898, the 10th Cavalry is moved to Florida to prepare for the Spanish-American War. After arriving, his unit joined with three other U.S. Army black units: the 9th Cavalry, the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. These units were designated “The Immune Regiments” because the U.S. Government believed African Americans were immune to tropical diseases.
Image is of U. S. Army colored troops who fought in the Spanish American War, TSM collection
On July 1st, 1898, Alfred and his men joined the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, also known as the Rough Riders. This group was ordered to take the heavily fortified San Juan Hill. As they advanced up the hill, many of the white officers were killed. Sergeant Ray and other officers rallied the troops. He carried the American flag up the hill as the battle continued. Ray was the first American to plant the flag on San Juan Heights. He was awarded a battlefield promotion to the rank of First Lieutenant. He was the first buffalo solider to rise through the ranks to achieve officer status.
This helmet and plume belonged to Colonel Lawrence D. Tyson. He commanded the 6th US Volunteer Infantry Regiment, an African American unit, during the Spanish-American War, TSM collection.
The Spanish-American War ended with a U.S. victory on August 12, 1898. Alfred continued to serve in the military and went on to serve in the Philippine-American War. Alfred retired after 31 years of service in April of 1903. He moved back to Jonesborough, TN, bought land, and built a home. He later married and had four children. Alfred died on July 11, 1917, and was buried in College Hill Cemetery. There is a Tennessee Historical Marker that acknowledges his service.
Rebellion - an act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler.
Yellow Journalism - journalism that is based upon shocking events and exaggeration regardless of fact. This type of journalism first emerged during the Spanish American War.
Calvary – soldiers mounted on horseback.
Buffalo Soldier - another name for the African American calvary soldiers.
Segregated – separated based on race.
Rough Riders - another name for the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. They became famous for their bravery in battle.
Rallied - come together to fight.
What was the name of the ship that sunk and led to the Spanish-American War?
When did Alfred Ray join the Rough Riders?
What are some of the problems that could be caused by “yellow journalism”?
Why do you think military units would use nicknames like “Buffalo Soldiers” or “Rough Riders” instead of official names like 9th Calvary or 25th Infantry?
Watch this short animated video on the Spanish-American War.
5.07 Analyze the causes, course, and consequences of the Spanish-American War, including: Imperialism, Rough Riders, USS Maine, Yellow journalism
“Alfred Martin Ray Buffalo Soldier.” The Historic Marker Database. February 7, 2021. Accessed May 23, 2022. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=83136.
Encyclopedia Britannica, Editors of. “Spanish-American War.” Britannica. April 14, 2022. Accessed May 23, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/event/Spanish-American-War/Fighting-in-the-Philippines-and-Cuba.
“Research reveals true Jonesborough hero.” Herald & Tribute. Accessed May 23, 2022. https://www.heraldandtribune.com/lifestyles/research-reveals-true-jonesborough-hero/.