By the late 1890s, the United States had passed through an era of extraordinary change.
Since the end of the American Civil War, the completion of transcontinental railroads, combined with rapid communication by telegraph to link the populations of the East and West coasts, led to the opening of the West.
Ohio literally was in the middle of an industrial revolution that stretched in a belt across the Midwest from Pittsburgh to Chicago.
As more and more people crowded into Ohio cities, the adaptation to the new industrial world was not always easy, with confrontations of all sorts. But with the exception of a continuing struggle with Native America, the one thing the U.S. had not seen since the end of the Civil War was another major military skirmish.
An entire generation of young Americans had grown up in the wake of a major conflict, but one that was becoming increasingly shrouded in myth and memory with the passage of time. Many young American men were lured by the image of proving themselves the soldiers their fathers and grandfathers once were.
In 1898, they would get their chance.
The Spanish-American War was a conflict that pitted an enormously powerful country, the United States, against a small country, Spain, that was desperately trying to hold onto the remnants of an empire. Observers had noted the deterioration of Spain's control over nearby Cuba for some time, and there was sympathy in America for that country.
President William McKinley initially was reluctant to seek a military confrontation with Spain, but the explosion of the USS Maine battleship in Havana's harbor in early 1898 was, rightly or wrongly, the catalyst to conflict.
The United States had an increasingly strong navy, and it would prove itself more than a match for Spanish naval power in both the Philippines and in the Caribbean. But to bring Spain's colonial armies to bay would require an army of our own.
This would pose something of a challenge as well as an opportunity, since the regular army was small. To fight a war in both the Atlantic and the Pacific would require a new volunteer army.
McKinley called for volunteers -- and he got them.
Dozens of young men flocked to enlist in military service. In central Ohio, it rapidly became clear that Columbus Barracks (now Fort Hayes) and the Columbus Arsenal (now the Cultural Arts Center) were too small to handle the large numbers of men arriving to serve. To meet the need for a mobilization and training center in central Ohio, military officials began to look for a place to put an encampment.
In short order, they found it in what was then the far east side of the city. For many years, East Broad Street from Fourth Street to Franklin Park had been a chic place to live. But by the turn of the century, some of the city's more affluent residents were beginning to look for new home sites on the east side of Alum Creek. A man named Logan Bullitt laid out a subdivision called Bullitt Park and had begun to sell lots.
It was in and around this site that Gov. Asa Bushnell approved the location of a military encampment -- and did not object when it was dubbed Camp Bushnell.
The camp would have a relatively brief existence from April to May 1898. During that time, a number of Ohio volunteer infantry units would form, train and prepare to depart for action.
The 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Battalion, the last to leave camp, was an African-American unit. At this time and for many years to come, the United States Army was segregated racially. There had been black regiments in the American Civil War; the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry regiments saw action as "Buffalo Soldiers" in the opening of the West. But all of these units had white officers.
The 9th Ohio did not. All its officers and its men were black. Its commander was Maj. Charles Young. Companies within the unit came from Springfield, Xenia and Cleveland, as well as Columbus.
The 9th Ohio began arriving in Columbus on April 25, 1898, and departed from Camp Bushnell on May 19. The battalion proudly paraded down Broad Street to Statehouse Square and marched north to Union Station to board trains heading east.
The battalion served in a number of locations, but like most of the soldiers who passed through Camp Bushnell, the 9th did not see battle.
What Secretary of State John Hay called a "splendid little war" was over by August 1898.
The 9th Ohio continued to serve until it was mustered out of service Jan. 28, 1899, in Summerville, South Carolina, and was back in Ohio three days later.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.