Shortly after America declared war against Spain in April 1898, Iowa Governor Leslie Shaw answered the army’s mobilization call by offering four National Guard regiments. The 51st Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Infantry bears the twin distinction of pulling the longest duty of the four, and being the only Iowa National Guard regiment to serve overseas in the Philippines. Composed of units from southeastern Iowa, the 51st mustered and began initial training at the state fairgrounds at a makeshift area called Camp McKinley. In June, a train took them to their next destination—a camp at the Presidio in the San Francisco area for four and a half months of training. During this time, 27 soldiers died of disease, the deadliest enemy they faced.
In November, the 51st departed aboard a hastily converted transport ship, the
Pennsylvania, staying a grueling 90 days aboard ship. They arrived in the Philippines
on December 7, but had to remain on board until February 3, awaiting orders.
The day after the troops landed on Philippine soil, fighting erupted between
U.S. troops and Filipino revolutionaries who had previously been allied with
America. The unit stayed in the Philippines for about eight months occupying
trenches that guarded Manila and the nearby base and fort at Cavite. There they
engaged in a series of actions against Filipino insurgents. Of the 1,344 who
served, two died in combat, 41 died of disease and 38 were wounded. The regiment
left for the United States on September 22, 1899, arrived 30 days later, and
on November 2, was released after 18 months of duty.