Spanish-American uniform grows collection

Published 4:34 am Wednesday, April 5, 2006

By Staff
BERRIEN SPRINGS - The Berrien County Historical Association recently acquired a rare Spanish-American War uniform for its collections.
Mary Gentile of Benton Harbor donated a uniform worn by her grandfather, George Henry Walker, who served as a bugler in the 31st Michigan Infantry.
Gentile also donated numerous photographs and other archival materials with the collection, all of which help place the uniform in a broader historical context.
Walker, a printer from Adrian, served as a bugler in one of four infantry regiments that Michigan furnished for the war. Almost every member of the Michigan National Guard volunteered for service when President William McKinley called for men in April 1898 after the declaration of war against Spain. The Guard was reorganized into four regiments of one thousand men each: the 31st, 32nd, 33rd and 34th Michigan Infantries. These followed the numerical order set in the Civil War, when Michigan furnished the 1st through the 30th infantry regiments.
The 31st Michigan was mustered on May 11, 1898 and left for Chickamauga Park, Georgia four days later. The regiment left Georgia after an outbreak of typhoid fever and moved to Knoxville, Tenn. It remained there until Jan. 25, 1899, when it was sent to Cuba.
The 31st landed at Cienfugas, Cub, and was ordered into the towns of Santa Clara Province to preserve order and protect property. After performing guard duty there, the regiment returned to the United States April 25, 1899. It was disbanded at Savannah, Georgia, on May 17, 1899.
Although it never saw action, 20 men of the regiment died of disease.
Walker kept his uniform when he returned home. He later moved to Chicago, where he continued his trade as a printer. Photographs show that he often wore his old uniform for regimental reunions. He died in 1970, shortly before his 98th birthday.
The Historical Association is planning an exhibit that will feature the uniform and photographs.