The combined problems arising from the Peninsular War (1807–1814), the loss of most of its colonies in the Americas in the early 19th-century Spanish American wars of independence, and three Carlist Wars (1832–1876) effected a new interpretation of Spain's remaining empire. Liberal Spanish elites like Antonio Cánovas del Castillo and Emilio Castelar offered new interpretations of the concept of "empire" to dovetail with Spain's emerging nationalism. Cánovas made clear in an address to the University of Madrid in 1882 his view of the Spanish nation as based on shared cultural and linguistic elements – on both sides of the Atlantic – that tied Spain's territories together.
Cánovas saw Spanish imperialism as markedly different in its methods and purposes of colonization from those of rival empires like the British or French. Spaniards regarded the spreading of civilization and Christianity as Spain's major objective and contribution to the New World. The concept of cultural unity bestowed special significance on Cuba, which had been Spanish for almost four hundred years, as an integral part of the Spanish nation. The focus on preserving the empire would have negative consequences for Spain's national pride in the aftermath of the Spanish–American War.
In 1823, U.S. President James Monroe enunciated the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the United States would not tolerate further efforts by European governments to expand their colonial holdings in the Americas or to interfere with the newly independent states in the hemisphere; at the same time, it would respect the status of the existing European colonies. Before the American Civil War, Southern interests attempted to have the United States purchase Cuba and make it new slave territory. The proposal failed, and national attention shifted to the Civil War.
After the American Civil War and Cuba's Ten Years' War, U.S. businessmen began monopolizing the devalued sugar markets in Cuba. In 1894, 90% of Cuba's total exports went to the United States, which also provided 40% of Cuba's imports. Cuba's total exports to the U.S. were almost twelve times larger than the export to her mother country, Spain. U.S. business interests indicated that while Spain still held political authority over Cuba, economic authority in Cuba, acting-authority, was shifting to the US.
The U.S. became interested in a canal either in Nicaragua, or in Panama, where the Panama Canal would eventually be built, and realized the need for naval protection. Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan was an especially influential theorist; his ideas were much admired by Theodore Roosevelt, as the U.S. rapidly built a powerful fleet in the 1890s. Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897–98 and was an aggressive supporter of a war with Spain over Cuba.
Meanwhile, the Cuba Libre movement, led by Cuban intellectual José Martí, had established offices in Florida and New York to buy and smuggle weapons. It mounted a large propaganda campaign to generate sympathy that would lead to official pressure on Spain. Protestant churches and Democratic farmers were supportive, but business interests called on Washington to ignore them.
Although Cuba attracted American attention, little note was made of the Philippines, Guam, or Puerto Rico. Historians note that there was little popular demand in the United States for an overseas colonial empire, though at this time the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan were dramatically expanding their overseas holdings, in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
The first serious bid for Cuban independence, the Ten Years' War, erupted in 1868 and was subdued by the authorities a decade later. Neither the fighting nor the reforms in the Pact of Zanjón (February 1878) quelled the desire of some revolutionaries for wider autonomy and ultimately independence. One such revolutionary, José Martí, continued to promote Cuban financial and political autonomy in exile. In early 1895, after years of organizing, Martí launched a three-pronged invasion of the island.
The plan called for one group from Santo Domingo led by Máximo Gómez, one group from Costa Rica led by Antonio Maceo Grajales, and another from the United States (preemptively thwarted by U.S. officials in Florida) to land in different places on the island and provoke an uprising. While their call for revolution, the grito de Baíre, was successful, the result was not the grand show of force Martí had expected. With a quick victory effectively lost, the revolutionaries settled in to fight a protracted guerrilla campaign.
Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, the architect of Spain's Restoration constitution and the prime minister at the time, ordered General Arsenio Martínez-Campos, a distinguished veteran of the war against the previous uprising in Cuba, to quell the revolt. Campos's reluctance to accept his new assignment and his method of containing the revolt to the province of Oriente earned him criticism in the Spanish press.
The mounting pressure forced Cánovas to replace General Campos with General Valeriano Weyler, a soldier who had experience in quelling rebellions in overseas provinces and the Spanish metropole. Weyler deprived the insurgency of weaponry, supplies, and assistance by ordering the residents of some Cuban districts to move to reconcentration areas near the military headquarters. This strategy was effective in slowing the spread of rebellion. In the United States, this fueled the fire of anti-Spanish propaganda. In a political speech President William McKinley used this to ram Spanish actions against armed rebels. He even said this "was not civilized warfare" but "extermination".
The Spanish Government regarded Cuba as a province of Spain rather than a colony, and depended on it for prestige and trade, and as a training ground for the army. Prime minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo announced that "the Spanish nation is disposed to sacrifice to the last peseta of its treasure and to the last drop of blood of the last Spaniard before consenting that anyone snatch from it even one piece of its territory." He had long dominated and stabilized Spanish politics. He was assassinated in 1897 by Italian anarchist Michele Angiolillo, leaving a Spanish political system that was not stable and could not risk a blow to its prestige.
The eruption of the Cuban revolt, Weyler's measures, and the popular fury these events whipped up proved to be a boon to the newspaper industry in New York City, where Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal recognized the potential for great headlines and stories that would sell copies. Both papers denounced Spain, but had little influence outside New York. American opinion generally saw Spain as a hopelessly backward power that was unable to deal fairly with Cuba. American Catholics were divided before the war began, but supported it enthusiastically once it started.
The U.S. had important economic interests that were being harmed by the prolonged conflict and deepening uncertainty about the future of Cuba. Shipping firms that had relied heavily on trade with Cuba now suffered losses as the conflict continued unresolved. These firms pressed Congress and McKinley to seek an end to the revolt. Other American business concerns, specifically those who had invested in Cuban sugar, looked to the Spanish to restore order. Stability, not war, was the goal of both interests. How stability would be achieved would depend largely on the ability of Spain and the U.S. to work out their issues diplomatically.
While tension increased among the Cubans and Spanish Government, popular support of intervention began to spring up in the United States, due to the emergence of the "Cuba Libre" movement and the fact that many Americans had drawn parallels between the American Revolution and the Cuban revolt, seeing the Spanish Government as the tyrannical colonial oppressor. Historian Louis Pérez notes that "The proposition of war in behalf of Cuban independence took hold immediately and held on thereafter. Such was the sense of the public mood." At the time many poems and songs were written in the United States to express support of the "Cuba Libre" movement. At the same time, many African Americans wanted to take part in the war because they saw it as a way to help end segregation. Serving their country seemed like the only way to finally earn respect at the time.
President McKinley, well aware of the political complexity surrounding the conflict, wanted to end the revolt peacefully. In accordance with this policy, McKinley began to negotiate with the Spanish government, hoping that the negotiations would be able to end the yellow journalism in the United States, and therefore, end the loudest calls to go to war with Spain. An attempt was made to negotiate a peace before McKinley took office, however, the Spanish refused to take part in the negotiations. In 1897 McKinley appointed Stewart L. Woodford as the new minister to Spain, who again offered to negotiate a peace. In October 1897, the Spanish government still refused the United States offer to negotiate between the Spanish and the Cubans, but promised the U.S. it would give the Cubans more autonomy. However, with the election of a more liberal Spanish government in November, Spain began to change their policies in Cuba. First, the new Spanish government told the United States that it was willing to offer a change in the Reconcentration policies (the main set of policies that was feeding yellow journalism in the United States) if the Cuban rebels agreed to a cessation of hostilities. This time the rebels refused the terms in hopes that continued conflict would lead to U.S. intervention and the creation of an independent Cuba. The liberal Spanish government also recalled the Spanish Governor General Valeriano Weyler from Cuba. This action alarmed many Cubans loyal to Spain. The Cubans loyal to Weyler began planning large demonstrations to take place when the next Governor General, Ramon Blanco, arrived in Cuba. U.S. consul Fitzhugh Lee learned of these plans and sent a request to the U.S. State Department to send a U.S. warship to Cuba. This request lead to the U.S.S. Maine being sent to Cuba. While the Maine was docked in Havana, an explosion sank the ship (an event discussed in more detail in the next section). The sinking of the Maine was blamed on the Spanish and made the possibility of a negotiated peace very slim. Throughout the negotiation process, the major European powers, especially Britain, France, and Russia, generally supported the American position and urged Spain to give in. Spain repeatedly promised specific reforms that would pacify Cuba but failed to deliver; American patience ran out.
McKinley sent the USS Maine to Havana to ensure the safety of American citizens and interests, and to underscore the urgent need for reform. Naval forces were moved in position to attack simultaneously on several fronts if the war was not avoided. As Maine left Florida, a large part of the North Atlantic Squadron was moved to Key West and the Gulf of Mexico. Others were also moved just off the shore of Lisbon, and still others were moved to Hong Kong.
At 9:40 on the evening of February 15, 1898, Maine sank in Havana Harbor after suffering a massive explosion. While McKinley urged patience and did not declare that Spain had caused the explosion, the deaths of 250 out of 355 sailors on board focused American attention. McKinley asked Congress to appropriate $50 million for defense, and Congress unanimously obliged. Most American leaders took the position that the cause of the explosion was unknown, but public attention was now riveted on the situation and Spain could not find a diplomatic solution to avoid war. Spain appealed to the European powers, most of whom advised it to accept U.S. conditions for Cuba in order to avoid war. Germany urged a united European stand against the United States but took no action.
The U.S. Navy's investigation, made public on March 28, concluded that the ship's powder magazines were ignited when an external explosion was set off under the ship's hull. This report poured fuel on popular indignation in the U.S., making the war inevitable. Spain's investigation came to the opposite conclusion: the explosion originated within the ship. Other investigations in later years came to various contradictory conclusions, but had no bearing on the coming of the war. In 1974, Admiral Hyman George Rickover had his staff look at the documents and decided there was an internal explosion. A study commissioned by National Geographic magazine in 1999, using AME computer modelling, stated that the explosion could have been caused by a mine, but no definitive evidence was found.
After the Maine was destroyed, New York City newspaper publishers Hearst and Pulitzer decided that the Spanish were to blame, and they publicized this theory as fact in their papers. They both used sensationalistic and astonishing accounts of "atrocities" committed by the Spanish in Cuba by using headlines in their newspapers, such as "Spanish Murderers" and "Remember The Maine". Their press exaggerated what was happening and how the Spanish were treating the Cuban prisoners. The stories were based on factual accounts, but most of the time, the articles that were published were embellished and written with incendiary language causing emotional and often heated responses among readers. A common myth falsely states that when illustrator Frederic Remington said there was no war brewing in Cuba, Hearst responded: "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."
This new "yellow journalism" was, however, uncommon outside New York City, and historians no longer consider it the major force shaping the national mood. Public opinion nationwide did demand immediate action, overwhelming the efforts of President McKinley, Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed, and the business community to find a negotiated solution. Wall Street, big business, high finance and Main Street businesses across the country were vocally opposed to war and demanded peace. After years of severe depression, the economic outlook for the domestic economy was suddenly bright again in 1897. However, the uncertainties of warfare posed a serious threat to full economic recovery. "War would impede the march of prosperity and put the country back many years," warned the New Jersey Trade Review. The leading railroad magazine editorialized, "From a commercial and mercenary standpoint it seems peculiarly bitter that this war should come when the country had already suffered so much and so needed rest and peace." McKinley paid close attention to the strong anti-war consensus of the business community, and strengthened his resolve to use diplomacy and negotiation rather than brute force to end the Spanish tyranny in Cuba.
A speech delivered by Republican Senator Redfield Proctor of Vermont on March 17, 1898, thoroughly analyzed the situation and greatly strengthened the pro-war cause. Proctor concluded that war was the only answer. Many in the business and religious communities which had until then opposed war, switched sides, leaving McKinley and Speaker Reed almost alone in their resistance to a war. On April 11, McKinley ended his resistance and asked Congress for authority to send American troops to Cuba to end the civil war there, knowing that Congress would force a war.
On April 19, while Congress was considering joint resolutions supporting Cuban independence, Republican Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado proposed the Teller Amendment to ensure that the U.S. would not establish permanent control over Cuba after the war. The amendment, disclaiming any intention to annex Cuba, passed the Senate 42 to 35; the House concurred the same day, 311 to 6. The amended resolution demanded Spanish withdrawal and authorized the President to use as much military force as he thought necessary to help Cuba gain independence from Spain. President McKinley signed the joint resolution on April 20, 1898, and the ultimatum was sent to Spain. In response, Spain severed diplomatic relations with the United States on April 21. On the same day, the U.S. Navy began a blockade of Cuba. Spain declared war on April 23. On April 25, the U.S. Congress declared that a state of war between the U.S. and Spain had existed since April 21, the day the blockade of Cuba had begun.
The Navy was ready, but the Army was not well-prepared for the war and made radical changes in plans and quickly purchased supplies. In the spring of 1898, the strength of the Regular U.S. Army was just 25,000 men. The Army wanted 50,000 new men but received over 220,000 through volunteers and the mobilization of state National Guard units, even gaining nearly 100,000 men on the first night after the explosion of the USS Maine.
The Department of State of the United States of America summarizes the aftermath of the war for the Filipino people:
"After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. On February 4, 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo, who sought independence rather than a change in colonial rulers. The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease."
In 1901, novelist Mark Twain wrote about the aftermath of the war for the Philippines:
"We have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America's honor and blackened her face before the world."
In his War and Empire, Prof. Paul Atwood of the University of Massachusetts (Boston) writes:
"The Spanish-American War was fomented on outright lies and trumped up accusations against the intended enemy. ... War fever in the general population never reached a critical temperature until the accidental sinking of the USS Maine was deliberately, and falsely, attributed to Spanish villainy. ... In a cryptic message ... Senator lodge wrote that ‘There may be an explosion any day in Cuba which would settle a great many things. We have got a battleship in the harbor of Havana, and our fleet, which overmatches anything the Spanish have, is masked at the Dry Tortugas.’"
In his autobiography, Theodore Roosevelt gave his views of the origins of the war:
"Our own direct interests were great, because of the Cuban tobacco and sugar, and especially because of Cuba's relation to the projected Isthmian [Panama] Canal. But even greater were our interests from the standpoint of humanity. ... It was our duty, even more from the standpoint of National honor than from the standpoint of National interest, to stop the devastation and destruction. Because of these considerations I favored war."
In the 333 years of Spanish rule, the Philippines developed from a small overseas colony governed from the Viceroyalty of New Spain to a land with modern elements in the cities. The Spanish-speaking middle classes of the 19th century were mostly educated in the liberal ideas coming from Europe. Among these Ilustrados was the Filipino national hero José Rizal, who demanded larger reforms from the Spanish authorities. This movement eventually led to the Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonial rule. The revolution had been in a state of truce since the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato in 1897, with revolutionary leaders having accepted exile outside of the country.
The first battle between American and Spanish forces was at Manila Bay where, on May 1, Commodore George Dewey, commanding the U.S. Navy's Asiatic Squadron aboard USS Olympia, in a matter of hours defeated a Spanish squadron under Admiral Patricio Montojo. Dewey managed this with only nine wounded. With the German seizure of Tsingtao in 1897, Dewey's squadron had become the only naval force in the Far East without a local base of its own, and was beset with coal and ammunition problems. Despite these problems, the Asiatic Squadron not only destroyed the Spanish fleet but also captured the harbor of Manila.
Following Dewey's victory, Manila Bay was filled with the warships of Britain, Germany, France, and Japan. The German fleet of eight ships, ostensibly in Philippine waters to protect German interests, acted provocatively – cutting in front of American ships, refusing to salute the United States flag (according to customs of naval courtesy), taking soundings of the harbor, and landing supplies for the besieged Spanish.
The Germans, with interests of their own, were eager to take advantage of whatever opportunities the conflict in the islands might afford. There was a fear at the time that the islands would become a German possession. The Americans called the bluff of the Germans, threatening conflict if the aggression continued, and the Germans backed down. At the time, the Germans expected the confrontation in the Philippines to end in an American defeat, with the revolutionaries capturing Manila and leaving the Philippines ripe for German picking.
Commodore Dewey transported Emilio Aguinaldo, a Filipino leader who had led rebellion against Spanish rule in the Philippines in 1896, from exile in Hong Kong to the Philippines to rally more Filipinos against the Spanish colonial government. By June, U.S. and Filipino forces had taken control of most of the islands, except for the walled city of Intramuros. On June 12, Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines.
On August 13, with American commanders unaware that a cease-fire had been signed between Spain and the U.S. on the previous day, American forces captured the city of Manila from the Spanish in the Battle of Manila. This battle marked the end of Filipino–American collaboration, as the American action of preventing Filipino forces from entering the captured city of Manila was deeply resented by the Filipinos. This later led to the Philippine–American War, which would prove to be more deadly and costly than the Spanish–American War.
The U.S. had sent a force of some 11,000 ground troops to the Philippines. Armed conflict broke out between U.S. forces and the Filipinos when U.S. troops began to take the place of the Spanish in control of the country after the end of the war, resulting in the Philippine–American War. On August 14, 1899, the Schurman Commission recommended that the U.S. retain control of the Philippines, possibly granting independence in the future.
On June 20, a U.S. fleet commanded by Captain Henry Glass, consisting of the protected cruiser USS Charleston and three transports carrying troops to the Philippines, entered Guam's Apra Harbor, Captain Glass having opened sealed orders instructing him to proceed to Guam and capture it. Charleston fired a few cannon rounds at Fort Santa Cruz without receiving return fire. Two local officials, not knowing that war had been declared and believing the firing had been a salute, came out to Charleston to apologize for their inability to return the salute as they were out of gunpowder. Glass informed them that the U.S. and Spain were at war.
The following day, Glass sent Lt. William Braunersruehter to meet the Spanish Governor to arrange the surrender of the island and the Spanish garrison there. Some 54 Spanish infantry were captured and transported to the Philippines as prisoners of war. No U.S. forces were left on Guam, but the only U.S. citizen on the island, Frank Portusach, told Captain Glass that he would look after things until U.S. forces returned.
Theodore Roosevelt advocated intervention in Cuba, both for the Cuban people and to promote the Monroe Doctrine. While Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he placed the Navy on a war-time footing and prepared Dewey's Asiatic Squadron for battle. He also worked with Leonard Wood in convincing the Army to raise an all-volunteer regiment, the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. Wood was given command of the regiment that quickly became known as the "Rough Riders".
The Americans planned to capture the city of Santiago de Cuba to destroy Linares' army and Cervera's fleet. To reach Santiago they had to pass through concentrated Spanish defenses in the San Juan Hills and a small town in El Caney. The American forces were aided in Cuba by the pro-independence rebels led by General Calixto García.
For quite some time the Cuban public believed the United States government to possibly hold the key to its independence, and even annexation was considered for a time, which historian Louis Pérez explored in his book Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy. The Cubans harbored a great deal of discontent towards the Spanish Government, due to years of manipulation on the part of the Spanish. The prospect of getting the United States involved in the fight was considered by many Cubans as a step in the right direction. While the Cubans were wary of the United States' intentions, the overwhelming support from the American public provided the Cubans with some peace of mind, because they believed that the United States was committed to helping them achieve their independence. However, with the imposition of the Platt Amendment of 1903 after the war, as well as economic and military manipulation on the part of the United States, Cuban sentiment towards the United States became polarized, with many Cubans disappointed with continuing American interference.
From June 22 to 24, the Fifth Army Corps under General William R. Shafter landed at Daiquirí and Siboney, east of Santiago, and established an American base of operations. A contingent of Spanish troops, having fought a skirmish with the Americans near Siboney on June 23, had retired to their lightly entrenched positions at Las Guasimas. An advance guard of U.S. forces under former Confederate General Joseph Wheeler ignored Cuban scouting parties and orders to proceed with caution. They caught up with and engaged the Spanish rearguard of about 2,000 soldiers led by General Antero Rubín who effectively ambushed them, in the Battle of Las Guasimas on June 24. The battle ended indecisively in favor of Spain and the Spanish left Las Guasimas on their planned retreat to Santiago.
The U.S. Army employed Civil War-era skirmishers at the head of the advancing columns. Three of four of the U.S. soldiers who had volunteered to act as skirmishers walking point at the head of the American column were killed, including Hamilton Fish II (grandson of Hamilton Fish, the Secretary of State under Ulysses S. Grant), and Captain Allyn K. Capron, Jr., whom Theodore Roosevelt would describe as one of the finest natural leaders and soldiers he ever met. Only Oklahoma Territory Pawnee Indian, Tom Isbell, wounded seven times, survived.
The Battle of Las Guasimas showed the U.S. that quick-thinking American soldiers would not stick to the linear tactics which did not work effectively against Spanish troops who had learned the art of cover and concealment from their own struggle with Cuban insurgents, and never made the error of revealing their positions while on the defense. Americans advanced by rushes and stayed in the weeds so that they, too, were largely invisible to the Spaniards who used un-targeted volley fire to try to mass fires against the advancing Americans. While some troops were hit, this technique was mostly a waste of bullets as the Americans learned to duck as soon as they heard the Spanish word Fire, "Fuego" yelled by the Spanish officers. Spanish troops were equipped with smokeless powder arms that also helped them to hide their positions while firing.
Regular Spanish troops were mostly armed with modern charger-loaded 1893 7mm Spanish Mauser rifles and using smokeless powder. The high-speed 7×57mm Mauser round was termed the "Spanish Hornet" by the Americans because of the supersonic crack as it passed overhead. Other irregular troops were armed with Remington Rolling Block rifles in .43 Spanish using smokeless powder and brass-jacketed bullets. US regular infantry were armed with the .30–40 Krag–Jørgensen, a bolt-action rifle with a complex rotating magazine. Both the US regular cavalry and the volunteer cavalry used smokeless ammunition. In later battles, state volunteers used the .45–70 Springfield a single-shot black powder rifle.
On July 1, a combined force of about 15,000 American troops in regular infantry and cavalry regiments, including all four of the army's "Colored" regiments, and volunteer regiments, among them Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders", the 71st New York, the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, and 1st North Carolina, and rebel Cuban forces attacked 1,270 entrenched Spaniards in dangerous Civil War-style frontal assaults at the Battle of El Caney and Battle of San Juan Hill outside of Santiago. More than 200 U.S. soldiers were killed and close to 1,200 wounded in the fighting, thanks to the high rate of fire the Spanish were able to put down range at the Americans. Supporting fire by Gatling guns was critical to the success of the assault. Cervera decided to escape Santiago two days later.
The Spanish forces at Guantánamo were so isolated by Marines and Cuban forces that they did not know that Santiago was under siege, and their forces in the northern part of the province could not break through Cuban lines. This was not true of the Escario relief column from Manzanillo, which fought its way past determined Cuban resistance but arrived too late to participate in the siege.
After the battles of San Juan Hill and El Caney, the American advance halted. Spanish troops successfully defended Fort Canosa, allowing them to stabilize their line and bar the entry to Santiago. The Americans and Cubans forcibly began a bloody, strangling siege of the city. During the nights, Cuban troops dug successive series of "trenches" (raised parapets), toward the Spanish positions. Once completed, these parapets were occupied by U.S. soldiers and a new set of excavations went forward. American troops, while suffering daily losses from Spanish fire, suffered far more casualties from heat exhaustion and mosquito-borne disease. At the western approaches to the city, Cuban general Calixto Garcia began to encroach on the city, causing much panic and fear of reprisals among the Spanish forces.
The major port of Santiago de Cuba was the main target of naval operations during the war. The U.S. fleet attacking Santiago needed shelter from the summer hurricane season; Guantánamo Bay, with its excellent harbor, was chosen. The 1898 invasion of Guantánamo Bay happened between June 6 and 10, with the first U.S. naval attack and subsequent successful landing of U.S. Marines with naval support.
The Battle of Santiago de Cuba on July 3, was the largest naval engagement of the Spanish–American War and resulted in the destruction of the Spanish Caribbean Squadron (also known as the Flota de Ultramar). In May, the fleet of Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete had been spotted by American forces in Santiago harbor, where they had taken shelter for protection from sea attack. A two-month stand-off between Spanish and American naval forces followed.
When the Spanish squadron finally attempted to leave the harbor on July 3, the American forces destroyed or grounded five of the six ships. Only one Spanish vessel, the new armored cruiser Cristóbal Colón, survived, but her captain hauled down her flag and scuttled her when the Americans finally caught up with her. The 1,612 Spanish sailors who were captured, including Admiral Cervera, were sent to Seavey's Island at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, where they were confined at Camp Long as prisoners of war from July 11 until mid-September.
During the stand-off, U.S. Assistant Naval Constructor, Lieutenant Richmond Pearson Hobson had been ordered by Rear Admiral William T. Sampson to sink the collier USS Merrimac in the harbor to bottle up the Spanish fleet. The mission was a failure, and Hobson and his crew were captured. They were exchanged on July 6, and Hobson became a national hero; he received the Medal of Honor in 1933, retired as a Rear Admiral and became a Congressman.
Yellow fever had quickly spread amongst the American occupation force, crippling it. A group of concerned officers of the American army chose Theodore Roosevelt to draft a request to Washington that it withdraw the Army, a request that paralleled a similar one from General Shafter, who described his force as an "army of convalescents". By the time of his letter, 75% of the force in Cuba was unfit for service.
On August 7, the American invasion force started to leave Cuba. The evacuation was not total. The U.S. Army kept the black Ninth US Cavalry Regiment in Cuba to support the occupation. The logic was that their race and the fact that many black volunteers came from southern states would protect them from disease; this logic led to these soldiers being nicknamed "Immunes". Still, when the Ninth left, 73 of its 984 soldiers had contracted the disease.
In May 1898, Lt. Henry H. Whitney of the United States Fourth Artillery was sent to Puerto Rico on a reconnaissance mission, sponsored by the Army's Bureau of Military Intelligence. He provided maps and information on the Spanish military forces to the U.S. government prior to the invasion.
The American offensive began on May 12, 1898, when a squadron of 12 U.S. ships commanded by Rear Adm. William T. Sampson of the United States Navy attacked the archipelago's capital, San Juan. Though the damage inflicted on the city was minimal, the Americans were able to establish a blockade in the city's harbor, San Juan Bay. On June 22, the cruiser Isabel II and the destroyer Terror delivered a Spanish counterattack, but were unable to break the blockade and the Terror was damaged.
The land offensive began on July 25, when 1,300 infantry soldiers led by Nelson A. Miles disembarked off the coast of Guánica. The first organized armed opposition occurred in Yauco in what became known as the Battle of Yauco.
This encounter was followed by the Battle of Fajardo. The United States was able to seize control of Fajardo on August 1, but were forced to withdraw on August 5 after a group of 200 Puerto Rican-Spanish soldiers led by Pedro del Pino gained control of the city, while most civilian inhabitants fled to a nearby lighthouse. The Americans encountered larger opposition during the Battle of Guayama and as they advanced towards the main island's interior. They engaged in crossfire at Guamaní River Bridge, Coamo and Silva Heights and finally at the Battle of Asomante. The battles were inconclusive as the allied soldiers retreated.
A battle in San Germán concluded in a similar fashion with the Spanish retreating to Lares. On August 9, 1898, American troops that were pursuing units retreating from Coamo encountered heavy resistance in Aibonito in a mountain known as Cerro Gervasio del Asomante and retreated after six of their soldiers were injured. They returned three days later, reinforced with artillery units and attempted a surprise attack. In the subsequent crossfire, confused soldiers reported seeing Spanish reinforcements nearby and five American officers were gravely injured, which prompted a retreat order. All military actions in Puerto Rico were suspended on August 13, after U.S. President William McKinley and French Ambassador Jules Cambon, acting on behalf of the Spanish Government, signed an armistice whereby Spain relinquished its sovereignty over Puerto Rico.
With defeats in Cuba and the Philippines, and both of its fleets destroyed, Spain sued for peace and negotiations were opened between the two parties. After the sickness and death of British consul Edward Henry Rawson-Walker, American admiral George Dewey requested the Belgian consul to Manila, Édouard André, to take Rawson-Walker's place as intermediary with the Spanish Government.
Hostilities were halted on August 12, 1898, with the signing in Washington of a Protocol of Peace between the United States and Spain. After over two months of difficult negotiations, the formal peace treaty, the Treaty of Paris, was signed in Paris on December 10, 1898, and was ratified by the United States Senate on February 6, 1899.
The United States gained all of Spain's colonies outside of Africa in the treaty, including the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico with the exception of Cuba, which became a U.S. protectorate. The treaty came into force in Cuba April 11, 1899, with Cubans participating only as observers. Having been occupied since July 17, 1898, and thus under the jurisdiction of the United States Military Government (USMG), Cuba formed its own civil government and gained independence on May 20, 1902, with the announced end of USMG jurisdiction over the island. However, the U.S. imposed various restrictions on the new government, including prohibiting alliances with other countries, and reserved the right to intervene. The U.S. also established a perpetual lease of Guantánamo Bay.
The war lasted ten weeks. John Hay (the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom), writing from London to his friend Theodore Roosevelt, declared that it had been "a splendid little war". The press showed Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites fighting against a common foe, helping to ease the scars left from the American Civil War. Exemplary of this was the fact that four former Confederate States Army generals had served in the war, now in the US Army and all of them again carrying similar ranks. These officers included Matthew Butler, Fitzhugh Lee, Thomas L. Rosser and Joseph Wheeler, though only the latter had seen action. Still, in an exciting moment during the Battle of Las Guasimas, Wheeler apparently forgot for a moment which war he was fighting, having supposedly called out "Let's go, boys! We've got the damn Yankees on the run again!"
The war marked American entry into world affairs. Since then, the U.S. has had a significant hand in various conflicts around the world, and entered many treaties and agreements. The Panic of 1893 was over by this point, and the U.S. entered a long and prosperous period of economic and population growth, and technological innovation that lasted through the 1920s.
The war redefined national identity, served as a solution of sorts to the social divisions plaguing the American mind, and provided a model for all future news reporting.
The idea of American imperialism changed in the public's mind after the short and successful Spanish–American War. Due to the United States' powerful influence diplomatically and militarily, Cuba's status after the war relied heavily upon American actions. Two major developments emerged from the Spanish–American War: one, it greatly enforced the United States' vision of itself as a "defender of democracy" and as a major world power, and two, it had severe implications for Cuban–American relations in the future. As historian Louis Pérez argued in his book Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos, the Spanish–American War of 1898 "fixed permanently how Americans came to think of themselves: a righteous people given to the service of righteous purpose".
The war greatly reduced the Spanish Empire. Spain had been declining as an imperial power since the early 19th century as a result of Napoleon's invasion. The loss of Cuba caused a national trauma because of the affinity of peninsular Spaniards with Cuba, which was seen as another province of Spain rather than as a colony. Spain retained only a handful of overseas holdings: Spanish West Africa (Spanish Sahara), Spanish Guinea, Spanish Morocco, and the Canary Islands.
The Spanish soldier Julio Cervera Baviera, who served in the Puerto Rican Campaign, published a pamphlet in which he blamed the natives of that colony for its occupation by the Americans, saying, "I have never seen such a servile, ungrateful country [i.e., Puerto Rico].... In twenty-four hours, the people of Puerto Rico went from being fervently Spanish to enthusiastically American.... They humiliated themselves, giving in to the invader as the slave bows to the powerful lord." He was challenged to a duel by a group of young Puerto Ricans for writing this pamphlet.
Culturally, a new wave called the Generation of '98 originated as a response to this trauma, marking a renaissance in Spanish culture. Economically, the war benefited Spain, because after the war large sums of capital held by Spaniards in Cuba and America were returned to the peninsula and invested in Spain. This massive flow of capital (equivalent to 25% of the gross domestic product of one year) helped to develop the large modern firms in Spain in the steel, chemical, financial, mechanical, textile, shipyard, and electrical power industries. However, the political consequences were serious. The defeat in the war began the weakening of the fragile political stability that had been established earlier by the rule of Alfonso XII.
The Teller Amendment, which was enacted on April 20, 1898, was a promise from the United States to the Cuban people that it was not declaring war to annex Cuba, but to help it gain its independence from Spain. The Platt Amendment was a move by the United States' government to shape Cuban affairs without violating the Teller Amendment.
The U.S. Congress had passed the Teller Amendment prior to the war, promising Cuban independence. However, the Senate passed the Platt Amendment as a rider to an Army appropriations bill, forcing a peace treaty on Cuba which prohibited it from signing treaties with other nations or contracting a public debt. The Platt Amendment was pushed by imperialists who wanted to project U.S. power abroad (in contrast to the Teller Amendment which was pushed by anti-imperialists who called for a restraint on U.S. rule). The amendment granted the United States the right to stabilize Cuba militarily as needed. In addition, the Platt Amendment permitted the United States to deploy marines to Cuba if its freedom and independence was ever threatened or jeopardized by an external or internal force. The Platt Amendment also provided for a permanent American naval base in Cuba. Guantánamo Bay was established after the signing of the Cuban–American Treaty of Relations in 1903. Thus, despite that Cuba technically gained its independence after the war ended, the United States government ensured that it had some form of power and control over Cuban affairs.
The U.S. annexed the former Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. The notion of the United States as an imperial power, with colonies, was hotly debated domestically with President McKinley and the Pro-Imperialists winning their way over vocal opposition led by Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who had supported the war. The American public largely supported the possession of colonies, but there were many outspoken critics such as Mark Twain, who wrote The War Prayer in protest.
Roosevelt returned to the United States a war hero, and he was soon elected governor and then vice president.
The war served to further repair relations between the American North and South. The war gave both sides a common enemy for the first time since the end of the Civil War in 1865, and many friendships were formed between soldiers of northern and southern states during their tours of duty. This was an important development, since many soldiers in this war were the children of Civil War veterans on both sides.
The African-American community strongly supported the rebels in Cuba, supported entry into the war, and gained prestige from their wartime performance in the Army. Spokesmen noted that 33 African-American seamen had died in the Maine explosion. The most influential Black leader, Booker T. Washington, argued that his race was ready to fight. War offered them a chance "to render service to our country that no other race can", because, unlike Whites, they were "accustomed" to the "peculiar and dangerous climate" of Cuba. One of the Black units that served in the war was the 9th Cavalry Regiment. In March 1898, Washington promised the Secretary of the Navy that war would be answered by "at least ten thousand loyal, brave, strong Black men in the south who crave an opportunity to show their loyalty to our land, and would gladly take this method of showing their gratitude for the lives laid down, and the sacrifices made, that Blacks might have their freedom and rights."
In 1904, the United Spanish War Veterans was created from smaller groups of the veterans of the Spanish American War. Today, that organization is defunct, but it left an heir in the Sons of Spanish–American War Veterans, created in 1937 at the 39th National Encampment of the United Spanish War Veterans. According to data from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the last surviving U.S. veteran of the conflict, Nathan E. Cook, died on September 10, 1992, at age 106. (If the data is to be believed, Cook, born October 10, 1885, would have been only 12 years old when he served in the war.)
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) was formed in 1914 from the merger of two prior veterans organizations which both arose in 1899: the American Veterans of Foreign Service and the National Society of the Army of the Philippines. The former was formed for veterans of the Spanish–American War, while the latter was formed for veterans of the Philippine–American War. Both organizations were formed in response to the general neglect veterans returning from the war experienced at the hands of the government.
To pay the costs of the war, Congress passed an excise tax on long-distance phone service. At the time, it affected only wealthy Americans who owned telephones. However, the Congress neglected to repeal the tax after the war ended four months later, and the tax remained in place for over 100 years until, on August 1, 2006, it was announced that the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS would no longer collect the tax.
The change in sovereignty of Puerto Rico, like the occupation of Cuba, brought about major changes in both the insular and U.S. economies. Prior to 1898 the sugar industry in Puerto Rico was in decline for nearly half a century. In the second half of the nineteenth century, technological advances increased the capital requirements to remain competitive in the sugar industry. Agriculture began to shift toward coffee production, which required less capital and land accumulation. However, these trends were reversed with U.S. hegemony. Early U.S. monetary and legal policies made it both harder for local farmers to continue operations and easier for American businesses to accumulate land. This, along with the large capital reserves of American businesses, led to a resurgence in the Puerto Rican sugar industry in the form of large American owned agro-industrial complexes.
At the same time, the inclusion of Puerto Rico into the U.S. tariff system as a customs area, effectively treating Puerto Rico as a state with respect to internal or external trade, increased the codependence of the insular and mainland economies and benefitted sugar exports with tariff protection. In 1897 the United States purchased 19.6 percent of Puerto Rico's exports while supplying 18.5 percent of its imports. By 1905 these figures jumped to 84 percent and 85 percent, respectively. However, coffee was not protected, as it was not a product of the mainland. At the same time, Cuba and Spain, traditionally the largest importers of Puerto Rican coffee, now subjected Puerto Rico to previously nonexistent import tariffs. These two effects led to a decline in the coffee industry. From 1897 to 1901 coffee went from 65.8 percent of exports to 19.6 percent while sugar went from 21.6 percent to 55 percent. The tariff system also provided a protected market place for Puerto Rican tobacco exports. The tobacco industry went from nearly nonexistent in Puerto Rico to a major part of the country's agricultural sector.
The Spanish–American War was the first U.S. war in which the motion picture camera played a role. The Library of Congress archives contain many films and film clips from the war. In addition, a few feature films have been made about the war. These includeThe Rough Riders, a 1927 silent film
A Message to Garcia, 1936
Rough Riders, a 1997 television miniseries directed by John Milius, and featuring Tom Berenger (Theodore Roosevelt), Gary Busey (Joseph Wheeler), Sam Elliott (Buckey O'Neill), Dale Dye (Leonard Wood), Brian Keith (William McKinley), George Hamilton (William Randolph Hearst), and R. Lee Ermey (John Hay)
The Spanish–American War: First Intervention, a 2007 docudrama from The History Channel
Baler, a 2008 film about the Siege of Baler
Los últimos de Filipinas ("The Last Ones of the Philippines"), a 1945 Spanish biographical film directed by Antonio Román.
The United States awards and decorations of the Spanish–American War were as follows:Wartime service and honors
Medal of Honor
Specially Meritorious Service Medal
Spanish Campaign Medal – upgradeable to include the Silver Citation Star to recognize those U.S. Army members who had performed individual acts of heroism.
West Indies Campaign Medal
Sampson Medal, West Indies service under Admiral William T. Sampson
Dewey Medal, service during the Battle of Manila Bay under Admiral George Dewey
Spanish War Service Medal, U.S. Army homeland service
Postwar occupation service
Army of Puerto Rican Occupation Medal
Army of Cuban Occupation Medal
The governments of Spain and Cuba also issued a wide variety of military awards to honor Spanish, Cuban, and Philippine soldiers who had served in the conflict.