Spanish Colonial Infantry Uniforms of 1898: More Than Just Pajamas



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This article was  originally published in the July 2008 issue of "Military Trader" magazine and is reprinted here with their permission.  A few changes have been made from the the original article; the images are in color and a few spelling and contextual errors have been corrected.

Spanish Colonial Infantry Uniforms of 1898: More Than Just Pajamas

By William K. Combs

July 2008 marks the 110th. anniversary of the battles for Santiago de Cuba in the Spanish American War. These engagements include such famous events as the charge up San Juan Hill and the assault at El Caney, among numerous lesser-known fights. The uniforms, equipment, and weapons of the American soldier during this period are generally well documented, but little is known of the campaign dress of the Spanish defenders. Popular misconceptions that these uniforms were nothing more than pajamas or pillow ticking sacks are commonplace among many collectors. These misconceptions are not new and have their origins among the American veterans themselves. In his memoirs, The Little War of Private Post, 71st. New York Infantry Pvt. Charles Post observed just after the fall of San Juan Hill, “Just beyond the shed, two dead Spaniards sprawled in their thin, blue-and-white pin-striped uniforms – like pajamas to us – half covering the Mauser rifles beneath them.” In truth, Spanish colonial uniforms were more than just pajamas. They had evolved over the years that Spain ruled her tropical empire to become, by 19th. century standards, an efficient and comfortable service dress for the equatorial climate its wearers fought in, especially when compared to the wool clothing and felt hat that burdened the American soldier.

Peninsular Army Soldier, 43rd Infantry Regiment “Garellano”, Cuba.  This image illustrates the typical Spanish soldier on campaign that Americans would face in the fight for Santiago. He is dressed in a Guayabera pattern tunic and trousers of rayadillo.  His jipijapa straw hat is standard for the tropics.  The accoutrements are Model 1886 pattern with some improvements for the Mauser rifle he carries.  This equipment is made of black leather with a brass belt plate embossed with the regimental number "43".  He still retains the old pattern Remington cartridge pouch on his right side but has an improved 1895 cartridge box on his left.  Note the extra clips of 7 mm ammunition stuck into his suspenders.  Bill Combs collection.











When the United States went to war with Spain in 1898, American troops faced an army skilled in anti-insurgent warfare and well equipped for combat in the tropics. Spain’s troubled overseas possessions had rebelled several times in the 19th. century. The Ten Years War in Cuba that lasted from 1868 to 1878, as well as rebellions in the Philippines and Puerto Rico, had taught the Spanish Army many costly but valuable lessons about warfare on the Equator. Wool uniforms intended for the European climate were completely unfit for service in the colonies, so the uniforms worn by most Spanish soldiers stationed in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines were made of a special blue and white pinstriped cloth known as “Rayadillo.” This was a lightweight but very strong cotton drill fabric, similar in purpose to the rip-stop poplin used by the US Army in Vietnam.

Rayadillo Tunic “Guerrera” Puerto Rico Pattern with Model 1886 Accoutrements.  Troops stationed in the three major colonies each had their own pattern service tunic.  This example is the regulation pattern for troops stationed in Puerto Rico with roll collar and two inset breast pockets with flaps.  It is trimmed in matching rayadillo binding along the front, skirt hem, shoulder straps, side vents and side back seams, a distinctive feature found only on Puerto Rican issue tunics.  The rear skirt has two scalloped false pocket flaps with buttons as a decorative detail.  Displayed with this tunic is a complete set of the Mode 1886 Infantry equipment for use with the Remington Rolling Block rifle.  Bill Combs collection.









The regulations in place during the Spanish American War date from 1886 to 1891 (Correction update 5/27/2012: The regulations for Cuba date from 1890, slightly altered in 1896.  In Puerto Rico the orders date from 1893.  In the Philippines the original regulations were published in 1887 and amended for the infantry in 1892.  A possible later amendment for the Philippines is currently being researched.), depending on which colony they cover. Both the regulars, consisting of the permanent colonial regiments and battalions of the Peninsular Army from Spain, and the Volunteers, a militia force not unlike the National Guard in the US, wore similar uniforms with distinctions in insignia and equipment.

The Guerrera as a service dress tunic.  Another example of the Puerto Rican pattern tunic with green wool Light Infantry collar and cuff distinctions added for dress occasions. The yellow braid sardinetas are visible on the cuffs.  These wool additions were made to be easily removed for the frequent laundering these garments required in the tropics.  A Cazador in the 25th Light Infantry Battalion “La Patria” wore this particular tunic.  Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum collection.












Two tunic patterns, both made of rayadillo, were issued to most Spanish Infantrymen: the “Guerrera” and the “Guayabera.” The Guerrera was a slightly tailored garment with a seven-button front and two inset breast pockets with flaps. Tunics in the three principal colonies were similar but differed in details from each other. The Guerrera issued in Cuba was the plainest with a simple roll collar. In Puerto Rico the tunic sported a matching rayadillo binding on most edges and scalloped false pocket flaps on the rear skirt. Philippine issued Guerreras had standing collars and concealed button fly fronts. Removable wool collars and cuffs in branch of service colors were worn on dress occasions by regular troops but removed for field service. Volunteer troops, on the other hand, often continued to wear the colored distinctions, even on campaign. In Cuba the color for Line Infantry was dark blue, for Light Infantry it was green with three small yellow pointed braids, called “sardinetas” on each cuff. In Puerto Rico and the Philippines, all Infantrymen wore green facings. All Volunteer Infantry wore green Light Infantry distinctions with the sardinetas. In the Line Infantry, brass regimental numbers were displayed on the collar ends. Light Infantrymen, known as “Cazadores”, wore a brass hunter’s horn with a battalion number in the twist on their collars.

Model 1886 / 1895 Improved Accoutrements for the Mauser Rifle.  With the introduction of the Model 1893 Mauser bolt action rifle, the need for new equipment became immediate. Larger front and rear reserve cartridge boxes, and stronger suspenders were issue to accommodate the extra ammunition load.  The accoutrements continued to be made in black leather and the belt and brass belt plate remained unchanged.  Bill Combs collection.

By the mid 1890’s, the Guayabera began to be issued in large numbers as a fatigue and campaign uniform. A simple sack coat, the Guayabera was based on a traditional Caribbean agricultural worker’s jacket and was the Spanish tunic most often encountered by American troops during the Santiago campaign. By war’s end most regulars had been issued this tunic but Volunteers, who had to buy their own uniforms, seldom wore it. The garment's characteristic features are a yoke shoulder, two sets of box pleats down the front and center back, and four large cargo pockets on the skirt.  Most examples have a concealed button fly front.  As the Guayabera was principally a field service uniform, it will seldom be seen with colored cuffs, but collar insignia is often observed.

Two Peninsular Army Soldiers, 55th Infantry Regiment “Asia”, Cuba.  The Corporal standing on the left wears a Cuban pattern Guerrera with his rank insignia pinned to his cuffs.  His comrade on the right, the great grand father of the photo's donor, wears a Guayabera and brandishes on of the many variations of machetes carried by Spanish Infantrymen.  Both display brass regimental numbers on their collars and they have placed their straw hats on the ground to show off their cockades.    Photo courtesy of Agustin Garces Amo.








José Antonio Pallejá Solé, 3rd Provisional Battalion, Puerto Rico. In a detail from a cabinet card portrait of the Great Grandfather of the donor, the subject is wearing the Puerto Rican pattern rayadillo Guerrera with distinctive edge trim. To adapt his service tunic to Dress or 'Gala' mode, he has applied green wool shoulder wings, unique to Puerto Rican regulars, and cuffs with yellow braid Light Infantry 'sardinetas'. The collar is without colored cover, a common practice after the mid 1890's. The collar insignia is not clearly visible, but appears to be a medium size brass horn device used by the Light Infantry and Volunteers, probably with the number "3" in the center. His Regular Infantry pattern belt buckle is embossed with the unit number "3" and he is armed with a Model 1893 Mauser bayonet. Posed next to him is his white canvas covered pith helmet with brass royal crest, introduced into Puerto Rican service by an 1894 Royal Order. Photo courtesy of Jose Maria Fabregat.




FROM HEAD TO TOE: The Complete Picture

In all cases, straight leg trousers of matching rayadillo cloth were issued. Those worn by regular Infantrymen were generally unadorned. The trousers of Volunteers often displayed side seam stripes in branch of service colors. Volunteers also normally wore black enameled leather or white canvas leggings in a wide variety of patterns. This practice was less common in regular units, but it did occur in some regiments, probably at the whim of the Colonel.

A Bearded Cazador, 2nd Expeditionary Battalion, Philippines.  15 special Light Infantry Expeditionary Battalions were raised for service in the Philippines. This NCO wears the rayadillo tunic distinctive to the Philippines with standing collar and concealed button fly front closure. The collar has the Light Infantry horn insignia in brass with a "2" unit number in the center. His Corporal or "Cabo" rank insignia of red and black braid is displayed on both cuffs. His straw hat also has the wide linen binding on the brim commonly seen on issue hats in this colony. The brown leather belt with brass frame buckle is part of the Model 1896 Colonial Infantry equipment and he is armed with a Model 1893 Mauser bayonet.  Bill Combs collection.






Several types of headgear were issued. The most common type worn on campaign was a wide brimmed straw hat or “Sombrero de Jipijapa” with the national cockade pinned to one side or the other. Although worn by thousands of soldados, these fragile hats are now quite scarce. Regular troops in Puerto Rico were issued white British style pith helmets adorned with a brass Spanish crest front plate. A pillbox cap of rayadillo, white cotton or dark blue wool known as a “Gorro Cuartelero” was worn for fatigue duty, often with a branch of service colored band.

Tropical Headgear.  This selection of headgear worn by Spanish soldiers includes a white British pattern pith helmet with brass badge as issued in Puerto Rico.  Two variations of straw hats display their red and yellow cockades.  The blue wool Infantry pill box cap with red band and piping was standard issue in Spain and was also commonly worn in the colonies.  Bill Combs collection.


Most regular soldiers were armed with the Model 1893 Mauser bolt-action rifle in 7 mm complete with a knife bayonet. Initially made in Germany, by 1896 these were being manufactured at the royal arsenal at Oviedo. It was one of the most advanced Infantry weapons of its day and superior to the Krags and Trapdoor Springfields carried by American soldiers. Not all Spanish troops were fortunate enough to be armed with a Mauser. During the war most volunteers, as well as some regular units, were still armed with the American designed single shot Remington Rolling Block rifle in 11 mm and matching socket bayonet.

Three Cazadores, 5th Light Infantry Battalion "Tarifa", Cuba.  A commercial image taken by an American photographer immediately after the war shows the two soldiers at the center and left wearing rayadillo Guayaberas while their comrade sports a Cuban pattern Guerrera.  Two of the men have blanket rolls slung over their shoulders, a popular practice with Spaniards in the field.  All have 1895 improved accoutrements to service their Mauser rifles, on which they have fixed the knife bayonet.  Their brass belt plates are embossed with the hunter's horn with a "5" in the twist.  All three men are crowned with slightly different styles of straw hats.  Bill Combs collection.

Edged weapons included bayonets and a wide variety of machetes, an indispensable tool in jungle warfare. The Remington rifle used a socket bayonet with a 21-inch blade while the Mauser employed a knife bayonet with an 8-inch blade. Remington bayonets were made in Spain and the United States while Mauser bayonet production took place in both Spain and Germany. Machete patterns included numerous Collins patterns made in the US, an eagle head pattern being particularly popular. A regulation machete, the Model 1891, was manufactured in Spain exclusively for the army in Cuba.

Rayadillo Tunic “Guayabera” with Model 1896 Colonial Infantry Accoutrements.  The utilitarian nature of the loose fitting Guayabera is apparent, but the shoulder yoke, box pleats and large cargo pockets still gave it a soldierly look.  It was widely issued to regulars in Cuba and the Philippines; however, its use in Puerto Rico has not yet been documented.  The example shown here is displayed with a set of the Model 1896 Colonial Infantry accoutrements in brown leather.  The four pocket cartridge pouch, worn on the front of the waist, is a unique feature of this pattern.  Bill Combs collection.

Leather equipment included the pattern adopted in 1886 and an improved version with new cartridge pouches and stronger suspenders for the Mauser rifle in 1895. This pattern was issued to both soldiers in the colonies and the Peninsular Army in Spain. A special equipment set for the Colonial Infantry was adopted in 1896. It was of brown leather and had a four-pocket cartridge pouch and leather haversack. Other locally made accoutrements were issued to volunteers. This consisted of a single flapped belt pouch with loops for cartridges worn at the center front and a bayonet. On campaign, a white canvas knapsack with a black oilcloth flap, canvas haversack, and a canteen, generally a leather wine bottle, completed the soldier’s appearance.

Volunteer Infantryman, Separate Volunteer Company Naranjo, Cuba.  This citizen soldier is outfitted in a Cuban pattern Guerrera with green wool collar and cuffs.  The collar has applied hunter's horn insignia and the yellow braid sardinetas are visible on the cuffs.  His typical black enameled leather accoutrements consist of cartridge loops covered with a flap on a belt worn on the center front of the waist and a bayonet scabbard.  He is armed with a Remington Rolling Block rifle and socket bayonet.  Bill Combs collection.















The war ended in the defeat of Spain and the loss of her overseas possessions. The surviving Spanish soldiers were returned home as quickly as possible still dressed in their combat uniforms. The rayadillo uniform had served the Spanish soldier well. Far from being just pajamas, it was one of the earliest attempts by any nation to design a practical tropical and jungle warfare service uniform, being a contemporary of the more famous British khaki of Indian legend. Partially out of embarrassment for the defeat and partly to keep from transporting tropical diseases to Spain, a Royal Order was issued to burn all the uniforms of the returning army. Because of this order, few colonial uniforms survive in Spain today. Thankfully for collectors and historians, American soldiers, then as always, were great souvenir hunters. They returned home from the “Splendid Little War” loaded down with the spoils of their victory. It may have been just a cockade and a few buttons in the pockets of a New York Private or trunk loads of arms, swords, saddles, and uniforms in the baggage of an high ranking Ohio officer, but through their plunder they unintentionally saved the material cultural history of the last days of Spain’s 400 year long colonial empire.



All material is Copyright 2007 by William K. Combs.  No portion may be used without permission.