Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Thomas Albert Riggin: Spanish American War Veteran

Today is the 120th anniversary of the date on which President McKinley declared war on Spain. In commemoration of that anniversary, I am highlighting the service of Thomas Albert Riggin, my great uncle.

At the age of 21, Thomas Albert Riggin enlisted in the U.S. Army in St. Louis, Missouri. The date was 26 May 1898, one month and a day after President McKinley declared war on Spain. He was assigned to the Troop D of 2nd Cavalry. The Second Regiment of Cavalry had been organized in 1836, making the Second Dragoons the oldest continuously serving mounted regiment in the U.S. Army. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the regiment was quartered in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. They were assembled together in Chickamauga, Georgia, for the first time since the Civil War.

Troops A, C, D, and F entrained for Mobile, Alabama, and sailed to Cuba. They were assigned to Maj. Gen. William Shafter's Headquarters Troops and were the only horse-mounted regular Army troops under Shafter's command. The remainder of the regiment traveled overland to Tampa, Florida, and served as logistical support due to lack of transport ships to Cuba.

The mounted troops in Cuba fought along side Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and fought at the battles of El Caney (1 July), San Juan Hill (1 July), Aguadores (1 July), and the siege of Santiago (which began on 3 July). Teddy Roosevelt observed, "the Second Cavalrymen are everywhere. All day long you see them. All night long you hear their clattering hooves.”[1]

The Battle of San Juan Hill was the decisive battle of the short war. It was also the bloodiest and most famous. During the armistice, D Troop was responsible for feeding and policing 22,000 refugees in a town with a usual population of a few hundred. In January 1899, the entire regiment was assigned pacification duties in Cuba. They remained on the island for three years and eased access to public education and improved sanitation.

Clementine (Wells) Riggin Collins with three of her sons. Thomas Albert
Riggin is on the far left; Henry Wilburn Riggin, middle; and I believe
Lawrence Wesley Riggin is on the right. Photograph courtesy of William A.

Thomas Albert Riggin, however, was sent to Huntsville, Alabama, where he was discharged from the Army on 26 January 1899. It was noted in his file that he had been an excellent soldier.

Albert, or T. A., as he was known throughout his life was the uncle of my paternal grandmother, Alice (Muir) Jennings. He was born on 23 April 1877 in Troy, Illinois, and was one of six children of his father, John Wesley "Wes" Riggin and his second wife, Clementine Wells. His father died when he was four years old.

His mother married William Collins, a widower, who worked in the coal mines, the year before Albert enlisted. Upon his return from Cuba, he, his brother Henry and his sister Ida, my great grandmother, lived in East St. Louis, Illinois, and boarded in the home of Otto and Mary Davis. Albert worked as a grocery clerk.

On 2 November 1904, he married Triphosa "Fosie" Bowker, daughter of Richard "Dick" and Elizabeth Ann (Mallalieu) Bowker. The couple honeymooned in Iowa. Albert and Fosie had one daughter, Alberta Riggin. They lived in Collinsville, Illinois, their entire married life and Albert owned and operated a fruit and vegetable business for several years.

He and Fosie hosted several Riggin family reunions at their summer place. My grandparents attended often, driving to Illinois from Virginia. Albert died on 3 September 1952 at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in St. Louis of heart disease. His widow, Fosie, died in March 1975.

In 1972 my grandmother, father and I drove to the St. Louis area and I had the opportunity to meet "Aunt Fosie," as my grandmother called her.

[1] Golden, Chris. 2d Stryker Cavalry Regiment: History, Customs and Traditions of the "Second Dragoons," 2d Cavalry Association, page 11 (accessed on 27 Apr 2017)

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