Today, we take filming of wars for granted, but in the early 20th century, the mobile motion picture camera had only recently been invented and war films were very new.
The Spanish-American War was the first war to be filmed by a motion picture camera. The film industry was still in its infancy, yet the following films reveal much about the military during that time.
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, the result of American intervention in the Cuban War of Independence. Thomas A. Edison’s Company filmed quite a few events during this time showing how important events could be captured in time.
The film below depicts life in a military camp in 1899 at Orange, New Jersey. Can you imagine such a thing as children riding trick bears in the camp like this occurring in today’s military?
Thomas A. Edison; 27 Nov. 1899; From Edison films catalog: Showing a group of soldiers and Red Cross nurses being amused by a number of small children who are riding upon the backs of trick bears. A remarkably fine picture, with U.S. Infantry camp in the background. Filmed ca. June to September 1899, probably in Orange, New Jersey
American attacks on Spain’s Pacific possessions led to involvement in the Philippine Revolution and ultimately to the Philippine–American War. In the military, segregation was still the order of the day as seen by this film of an all black 25th Infantry returning from Mt. Arayat.
Filmed by Thomas Edison’s Company on March 23, 1900, in the Philippine Islands, following the 25th Infantry’s participation at the battle of Mt. Arayat in January 1900.
The film below was taken by Thomas A. Edison; 20 May 1898 in Tampa, Florida of the 10th U.S. Infantry, 2nd Battalion, leaving cars. The description states:
“American infantry troops dressed in field uniforms of the Spanish-American War can be seen close to the foreground of the camera position. Three companies of men, in columns of fours, march by the camera. In the background are railroad passengers, indicating the film was photographed on a rail siding area.”
Many battles of the Spanish American War were reenacted for filming by the Thomas Edison film Company. This is an amazing film of a reenactment of a battle in the Philippines for the Thomas Edison film company in Orange, New Jersey. The description states:
The enemy threw up a high earth embankment during the night, and are defending it with great stubbornness. The pits are crowded with Filipinos, who fire volley after volley. The artillery of the Americans plays havoc with their ranks and they fall back, leaving many dead. Their retreat is hotly covered by a company of U.S. Infantry, with a mounted officer. They tumble over the embankment into the trench, fire a volley and advance. The officer carefully examines the earthworks, his horse picking his way cautiously over the bodies of the fallen foe.
We’ve come a long way since 1898 in how we care for soldiers wounded in battle as this film taken by American Mutoscope & Biograph Co.; 24Apr1903 reveals. The description states:
This picture was taken after the battle of Las Guaymas, and shows a large number of wounded soldiers embarking in a rowboat from an extemporized dock, on their way to the hospital ship “Olivette.” A high sea was rolling in at the time, which made embarkation exceedingly difficult, and the pitiful condition of the wounded soldiers under such conditions can readily be imagined. This picture is remarkably fine photographically and has made a marked sensation wherever it has been shown.
About 12,000 mules were taken to Cuba during the Spanish American War and were used primarily for transporting immediate reserves of small-arms ammunition. In this film, a group of mules loaded with boxes of ammunition is being driven along a trail, probably near Santiago, Cuba. Some of the men may be civilian mule skinners hired by the Army to handle the pack mules. This film by Thomas A. Edison Company was taken 5 October 1898. The description states the following:
The narrow trail shown in this picture leads from Baiquiri [sic] westward to Sibony, thence northward to Santiago. It will be seen it is hardly more than a woodpath. At first, it was overgrown with brush and shut in close by chaparral, but the passage of thousands of soldiers has broadened it considerably. A great bunch of pack mules swings into vision. The advance scout or guide is evidently a Cuban, and he approaches rapidly followed by the train. It is a fine sight.
Bama Cotter, artist, owns an art and craft shop in a small town in Alabama. She inherits a dead woman’s nosy parrot, who quotes Shakespeare, and they reveal the identity of an unlikely murderer to Indian police chief, Boone Lightfoot.