, Research Paper
The Spanish American War of 1898
One hundred years ago, in 1898, the United States was fighting the Spanish-American War. The victory over Spain made the United States a colonial power. The Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, as well as the formerly independent nation of Hawaii, became American possessions.
The excuse for entering the war was the rebellion by the Cubans against Spanish rule and the explosion of an American battleship U.S.S. Maine. The Spanish colonies in mainland North and South America became independent in the early 1800s, but Cuba and Puerto Rico remained Spanish. Many Americans in the U.S. sympathized with Cuba, which began in 1895, and also, maybe more importantly, U.S. citizens owned $50 million worth of real estate and industry in Cuba. William McKinley became president in 1897, and later that year the Spanish prime minister was assassinated. After brutal rule that included concentration camps, Spain granted Cuba limited autonomy on January 1, 1898, but that was too little, too late. On January 12, there was a riot in Cuba against the Spanish.
On January 25, the U.S. government, concerned about this problem in Cuba, sent the battleship USS Maine to Havana. On February 15, the ship exploded, killing 266 crewmen. This raised a big outcry in the United States. On March 28, the Naval Court of Inquiry reported that the Maine was destroyed by a mine, and did not assign the blame to any party. Many newspapers, however, stirred up outrage and called for war. On April 11, 1898, President McKinley asked Congress to declare war. On April 22, the Unites States was at war with Spain.
Spain was by this time a decaying, weak empire, and no match for a vigorous, muscular American military kept in shape by killing American Indians. On May 1, U.S. ships under Commodore Dewey, sent from Hong Kong to the Philippines, won the Battle of Manila Bay. Before dawn on May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey’s flagship Olympia led seven U.S. Navy cruisers and gunboats into Manila Bay. By 8 AM that morning Dewey’s squadron had located and destroyed virtually the entire Spanish naval forces in the Philippines. Damage to the American ships was very little, and their crews suffered no fatalities and few injuries.
The Battle of Manila Bay was a singular demonstration of the daring and decisive application of sea power. In a few hours, Dewey had eliminated any threat that the Spanish Navy might pose to U.S. Far Eastern commerce and placed Spain’s centuries-long rule of the Philippines in great jeopardy. A few days later, with the capture of Cavite arsenal, he also gained a repair and refueling base, essential for maintaining his squadron under wartime conditions thousands of miles from home.
On May 15, Theodore Roosevelt began training the famous Rough Riders for battles in Cuba, which brought him the fame that made him vice president in 1901 and then president on September 13 . In Washington, President McKinley received the news of the great battle. However, the battle of Manila did not end the war. 100 miles off the US coast is where Spanish held Cuba, by a substantial army, and hostile to American interests there. No naval force could impose on Cuba, and in order to force the Spanish out, a full scale invasion would have to be mounted.
In 1897, Theodore Roosevelt was already a well known national figure, hero of the frontier, vigorous patriot, champion of American values, and most importantly, chief spokesman for an aggressive American foreign policy. At the beginning of 1897, Roosevelt was in a perfect position to prepare the nation for what he believed to be an huge conflict with Spain. Appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy, by President McKinley, Roosevelt oversaw the expansion and modernization of the Navy that resulted in Dewey’s overpowering advantage at Manila. It was also Teddy, who would be instrumental in organizing and leading the force that would destroy the Spanish from Cuba.
Teddy always a man of action, knew his place was on the battlefield, not in the rear. At the age of 40 he took a fateful gamble. Determined to serve, not merely direct, he resigned from the Navy Dept. to organize and lead a crack regiment of volunteers for the Cuban invasion. Formally named the 1st United States Volunteer Calvary, they quickly became known as Teddy’s Rough Riders.
As soon as word spread that the colorful Roosevelt was looking for volunteers, the War office was swamped with requests to serve. 23,000 applied to ride with Teddy, roughly 2,000 were accepted. The unit Roosevelt assembled was unlike anything the Army had seen before. They came from far and wide, Princeton football players, full blooded Pawnee Indians, aristocratic English dandies, trail wise cowboys, polo players, and Rhodes Scholars. Drawn from every state and social area, the typical Rough Rider was equal parts cowboy and soldier, men who could out ride and out fight the Spanish every day of the week. Traditional military experience was helpful, but not required.
Roosevelt assembled him men in San Antonio, where, in typical Teddy style, he whipped them into army shape. Day after miserable day, they marched, rode, shot, and paraded under the scorching, Texas sun. Inspired by the energetic Roosevelt, the Rough Riders gave it their all. It wasn’t pretty, but within a few short weeks together this gang became the fierce, fearless unit that Teddy needed to break the grip of the Spanish on Cuba. By mid, June they were ready, and Teddy and his beloved Rough Riders boarded trains for Tampa, Florida and the Cuban invasion. Landing on the southern coast, near the small city of Daiquiri, the Rough Riders were one of the first units to come ashore. That week they and the other American forces marched and fought their way through the interior, toward the principal Cuban garrison, at Santiago. The Spanish resistance was fierce along the way, and a number of Rough Riders were killed and wounded. Roosevelt himself came under fire a number of times, and earned the nickname “Old Icebox” for his calm courage.
The morning of July 1, 1898, found the Rough Riders within sight of the hills that defended Santiago. This would later be known as the famous battle at San Juan Hill. Assigned the task of capturing the heavily armed high ground, Teddy assembled his troops for what he would later call, “the greatest day of my life”. After a brief bombardment, the 1st American Volunteer Cavalry began its assault. The hill was steep, and covered in dense underbrush. Sniper bullets whirled around the men, crashing into Rough Riders to Teddy’s right and left. Artillery burst all around. At times the Rough Riders hesitated, but Teddy led them on. “Forward March”, he yelled above the crash of battle, and the Rough Riders surged forward. With Teddy at the head, the Rough Riders at last gained the top of the hill, San Juan Hill. Not once, but twice, Teddy led his men along the ridge to root out the Spanish units. The Rough Riders were triumphant that day and were a big part in making the United States a colonial power.
Two months after Commodore George Dewey destroyed Manila Bay, Admiral William Sampson repeated with an annihilating victory over the Spanish in a running battle off Santiago, Cuba. One by one the Spanish ships were taken under a withering storm of American shells and were forced to abandon their run to the open sea and instead turn toward the safety of the Cuban coast. The Spanish ships returned fired, but the volume of fire could not match the fire from the American guns. The Oregon and the Brooklyn engaged each ship and continued to pursue the eluding Spanish vessels forcing them to turn toward land. Iowa, Texas, Indiana and the New York also engaged and administered destruction to the Spanish ships. (Oregon, Brooklyn, Iowa, Texas, Indiana, and New York were all American Battle Ships.) First the Infanta Maria Teresa fled the seen. Next was the Almirante Oquendo, then the Vizcaya. Only the Cristobal Colon, the fastest in the Spanish fleet remained. The great chase began.
The Colon, the newest and fastest ship in the Spanish inventory, was already six miles ahead when the Oregon and Brooklyn took up the chase. Slowly the two American warships gained on the Colon. The Colon at times looked for a safe haven somewhere on the beach but continued her flight down the coast. The Oregon and Brooklyn fired eight inch shells at Colon and Colon in turn replied. All shots fell short. As the Oregon came within main battery range, she commenced firing with her thirteen inch guns. The engineers heard the great guns fire and work furiously to speed Oregon up. Chief Engineer Milligan gave the order to use the precious Cardiff coal and the speed of the Oregon increased. Slowly but surely, the ship gained on the fleeing Spaniard. Shortly before 1:00 pm, a thirteen inch shell dropped in front of Colon at a range of five miles. She immediately turned to the coast. A few minutes later another shell struck under the stern of the evading Spanish ship. She lowered her colors and surrendered. The battle between the American fleet and the Spanish Fleet was decidedly one-sided in favor of the Americans and resulted in an overwhelming American victory. The entire Spanish fleet of four armored cruisers of modern European design and three destroyers were sunk or severely damaged. 160 Spanish sailors lost their lives and about 1700 sailors captured. The American Fleet of three battleships, two cruisers, and three gunboats, on the other hand, suffered minor damage to its ships, and one crewman killed and one wounded.
On June 6, the U.S. military landed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. By July 3, the Spanish fleet in Cuba was destroyed. On July 25, the US Army invaded Puerto Rico. On August 13, U.S. troops took Manila in the Philippines. On December 10, 1898, the war was over. The United States was now a global colonial power, with territory in Latin America, the Pacific Ocean, and eastern Asia. To show the imperialist mentality of the time, the Cubans, who had helped defeat Spain, were not invited to the surrender ceremonies and the Treaty of Paris that concluded the war.
The Spanish American War also led to the annexation of Hawaii. There had been proposals for annexation during that decade, and on July 7 1898, on the excuse that Hawaii was needed as a naval military base for the war against Spain, the U.S. annexed Hawaii.