In 1898, Calvin Mixter enlisted in the Fifth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment to serve his country in the Spanish-American War. A drummer in the regimental band, Mixter and his fellow volunteers were stationed at four locations between May 1898 and late March 1899, mustering in at Camp Wolcott in Gloucester, Mass., and then being transferred successively to Camp Dalton in South Framingham, Camp Meade in Middletown, Pa., and Camp Wetherill in Greenville, S.C. Assigned to the 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps throughout their enlistment, the regiment never made it to the theaters of action.
The soldiers of the Fifth Massachusetts Infantry were determined to serve their country honorably. Although most hoped to see action in the Caribbean, they were more than willing to fulfill their daily routines in the safer environs of camps in the United States, and according to Mixter, the regiment carried out its duties as well as any in the army. Accounts in the local newspapers chimed in, praising the Fifth for its efficiency. Their single moment of glory occurred in October, 1898, when they participated in the elaborate Peace Jubilee held in Philadelphia, a three-day celebration and parade featuring dozens of returning regiments and a small flotilla of warships. Mixter was elated to have been called on to play his drum before President McKinley and a crowd of several thousands.
While the fight eluded the Fifth, disease did not. Suffering from typhoid, malaria, or pneumonia, many soldiers seemed to spend more time recuperating in hospital or resting on furlough than they did in the ranks. The alarming rate of mortality in the camps caused not only grief but, in some cases, anger, particularly since some of the deaths appeared to be avoidable. Mixter was incensed when Nat Kieley, a private in Company E, died of typhus after the physician, Dr. Pearl, delayed admitting him to the hospital. According to Mixter, the doctor seemed more interested in riding horses and socializing with women than caring for the sick. After this incident, several soldiers requested that the doctor be brought up on charges.
Mixter, however, remained in fairly good health throughout his enlistment, allowing him to spend his free time visiting nearby cities. While stationed at Camp Meade, he often visited friends in Harrisburg, where he marveled at the electric trolleys, and at Camp Wetherill, he ventured into Greenville, which he considered "behind the time."
Interesting sights and small honors like marching in the Peace Jubilee did little to prevent the frustration of inactivity from creeping up on the soldiers of the Fifth, and in January, 1899, several petitioned for either foreign service or discharge. The military command objected to this initiative, and reduced the ranks of a few noncommissioned officers, including Mixter's friend, Will Mann. According to Mann, three or four other corporals denied signing the petition and were allowed to keep their stripes. The dissatisfaction they expressed stemmed mainly from their assignment to an apparently useless, behind-the-lines position, but it was certainly exacerbated by the spate of rumors about where the regiment would be sent. At some points, it seemed likely that they would be ordered to Puerto Rico or Cuba, but at other times, they appeared headed for more inactivity in Savannah or Augusta, Ga. The Boston Globe even reported that the Fifth would be discharged and sent home to Massachusetts. In the end, the Globe's report proved the most accurate, and in February, 1899, Colonel J. H. Whitney received a telegram ordering the discharge of the Fifth Regiment soldiers.