Puerto Rico has provided military men and women for the United States since 20,000 newly created U.S. citizens were drafted from Puerto Rico in 1917 to fight in WWI. It is not as well known that there were Puerto Rican soldiers in the American Civil War.
In the 1800s, many Puerto Ricans lived in Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. Just as they have in the 20th and 21st centuries, Puerto Ricans living in the United States in the 19th century joined the armed forces when war threatened. Civil War records typically describe Puerto Rican soldier as “Spanish,” since Puerto Rico belonged to Spain until it became a U.S. possession in 1898.
One of these soldiers was Lt. Augusto Rodriguez, a native of San Juan, who volunteered in the 15th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. He defended Washington, D.C., became the commander of the division, and led his men at the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Wyse Fork. After three years of service, he received the Army Civil War Campaign Medal.
Though his name was spelled in various ways in different records, it is clear that Rodriguez finished his days as a businessman and a volunteer firefighter in New Haven. He married and had one daughter.
In 2013, Rodriguez was recognized as the first known Puerto Rican veteran of the U.S. military.