Spanish American War

Spanish-American War

Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill
by Frederic Remington
Date April 25 – August 12, 1898
Location Caribbean Sea: Cuba, Puerto Rico; Pacific Ocean: Guam, Philippine Islands
Result Treaty of Paris: Spain relinquished all claim of sovereignty over Cuba, ceded Guam, Puerto Rico, and other islands to the United States, and ceded the Philippines to the United States for a payment of $20 million.
Start of the Philippine-American War

United States
Republic of Cuba
Philippine Republic Kingdom of Spain
Nelson A. Miles
William R. Shafter
George Dewey
Máximo Gómez
Emilio Aguinaldo Patricio Montojo
Pascual Cervera
Arsenio Linares
Manuel Macías y Casado
Ramón Blanco y Erenas

Casualties and losses

3,289 U.S. dead (432 from combat); considerably higher although undetermined Cuban and Filipino casualties; roughly 20,000 dead Unknown

Pacific–Puerto Rico–Cuba

The Spanish-American War was a military conflict between Spain and the United States that began in April 1898. Hostilities halted in August of that year, and the Treaty of Paris was signed in December.

The war began after the American demand for Spain's peacefully resolving the Cuban fight for independence was rejected, though strong expansionist sentiment in the United States may have motivated the government to target Spain's remaining overseas territories: Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam and the Caroline Islands.

Riots in Havana by pro-Spanish "Voluntarios" gave the United States a reason to send in the warship USS Maine to indicate high national interest. Tension among the American people was raised because of the explosion of the USS Maine, and "yellow journalism" that accused Spain of extensive atrocities, agitating American public opinion. The war ended after decisive naval victories for the United States in the Philippines and Cuba.

Only 109 days after the outbreak of war, the Treaty of Paris, which ended the conflict, gave the United States ownership of the former Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam.


The historical background for the war was the growing Cuban struggle for independence from Spain that had been simmering off and on for over thirty years, which had captured the American imagination. American newspapers had been agitating for intervention with sensational stories of Spanish atrocities against the native Cuban population even though Spain had removed the general behind the harsh policies that had displaced thousands of Cubans in the countryside, Valeriano Weyler, and had placed them between 30,000 Spanish troops and the insurrectos, or Cubans fighting for independence. In January 1898, a riot broke out in Havana by Cuban Spanish loyalists leading to the destruction of the printing presses of four local newspapers for publishing articles critical of Spanish Army atrocities. Since this riot was largely also anti-American, because of the growing support in the US for Cuban independence, the US Consul-General, nephew of Robert E. Lee and former Civil War Confederate general Fitzhugh Lee, cabled Washington with fears for the lives of Americans living in Havana, the United States wasted no time sending a tepid response. It was into this explosive situation of an ongoing independence struggle that the USS Maine was sent to Havana, Cuba, to protect U.S. interests. With insurrection and civil disturbances the rule of the day, the mysterious sinking of the battleship USS Maine on February 15, 1898, at 9:40 p.m. in Havana Harbor was attributed, by Spanish scientists, to an internal and accidental explosion; but in 1898 a Naval inquiry reported that it was caused by submarine mine and one month later the war was declared.

A total of four investigations looked into the causes of the explosion with the investigators coming to different conclusions. An investigation conducted in 1976 by scientists, published by Hyman G. Rickover, US Navy Admiral, as How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed concluded that the explosion was most likely the result of a spontaneous combustion in the coal bunker next to the powder magazine. That led to a Spanish government statement, claiming there was no difference between USA and Spanish versions. However, US Naval History Center would say several scientists refuted Rickover's thesis, and the Spanish and USA versions would carry on with divergences. A 1999 investigation commissioned by National Geographic Magazine and carried out by Advanced Marine Enterprises disagreed, concluding that “it appears more probable than was previously concluded that a mine caused the inward bent bottom structure and the detonation of the magazines.” Spanish and Cuban opinions included a theory that would point that the USA government would have caused intentionally the detonation . in order to have an excuse to enter the war, which, in their opinion,[citation needed] would agree with his strategic interests at the time, and with the pre-war tension between the countries.

When the Maine blew up causing the deaths of 266 men, newspaper owners such as William R. Hearst leapt to the conclusion that Spanish officials in Cuba were to blame, and they widely publicized the conspiracy. Such publications practiced what was called "yellow journalism", which originated in New York. Yellow journalism fueled American anger by publishing astonishing "atrocities" committed by Spain in Cuba. Hearst when informed by Frederic Remington, whom he had hired to furnish illustrations for his newspaper, that conditions in Cuba were not bad enough to warrant hostilities, allegedly replied, "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." Lashed to fury by the yellow journalism, the American cry of the hour became, Remember the Maine, To Hell with Spain! President William McKinley, Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed and the business community opposed the growing public demand for war.

Further information: Propaganda of the Spanish American War
The decisive event was probably the speech of Republican Senator Redfield Proctor delivered on March 17, 1898, which thoroughly and calmly analyzed the situation and concluded war was the only answer. The business and religious communities, which had opposed war, switched sides, leaving President William McKinley and Thomas Brackett Reed almost alone in their opposition to the war. Thus, on April 11, McKinley asked Congress for authority to send American troops to Cuba for the purpose of ending the civil war there.

On April 19, Congress passed joint resolutions supporting Cuban independence and disclaiming any intention to annex Cuba, demanded Spanish withdrawal, and authorized the president to use as much military force as he thought necessary to help Cuban patriots gain independence from Spain. (This was adopted by resolution of Congress and included from Senator Henry Teller of Colorado the Teller Amendment, which passed unanimously.) The Senate passed the amendment, 42 to 35, on April 19, 1898, and the House concurred the same day, 311 to 6. President McKinley signed the joint resolution on April 20, 1898, and the ultimatum was forwarded to Spain. In response, Spain broke off diplomatic relations with the United States and declared war on April 23. On April 25, Congress declared that a state of war between the United States and Spain had existed since April 20 (later changed to April 21).

Theaters of operation

The first battle was the Battle of Manila Bay where, on May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey, commanding the U.S. Navy's Asiatic Squadron aboard the USS Olympia, in a matter of hours, defeated the Spanish squadron under Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón. Dewey managed this while sustaining only one casualty, and that because of a heart attack.

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 his logistical problems, Dewey had not only destroyed a fleet but had also captured a harbor.

Following Dewey's victory, Manila Bay was filled with the warships of Britain, Germany, France, and Japan; all of which outgunned Dewey's force. The German fleet of eight ships, ostensibly in Philippine waters to protect German interests (a single import firm), acted provocatively—cutting in front of United States 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. Germany, hungry for the ultimate status symbol, a colonial empire, was eager to take advantage of whatever opportunities the conflict in the islands might afford. Dewey called the bluff of the German admiral, threatening a fight if his aggressive activities continued, and the Germans backed down.

Commodore Dewey had transported Emilio Aguinaldo to the Philippines from exile in Hong Kong in the hope he would rally Filipinos against the Spanish colonial government. U.S. land forces and the Filipinos had taken control of most of the islands by June, except for the walled city of Intramuros and, on June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo had declared the independence of the Philippines.

On August 13, with American commanders unaware that a peace protocol had been signed between Spain and the United States on the previous day, American forces captured the city of Manila from the Spanish. This battle marked an end of Filipino-American collaboration, as Filipino forces were prevented from entering the captured city of Manila, an action which was deeply resented by the Filipinos and which later led to the Philippine-American War.


Captain Henry Glass was on the cruiser USS Charleston when he opened sealed orders notifying him to proceed to Guam and capture it. Upon arrival on June 20, he fired his cannon at the island. A poorly equipped Spanish officer, not knowing that war had been declared, came out to the ship and asked to borrow some powder to return the American's salute. Glass responded by taking the officer prisoner and, after taking parole, ordered him to return to the island to discuss the terms of surrender. The following day, 54 Spanish infantry were captured, and the island became a possession of the United States.


Staff of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Regiment, the "Rough Riders" in Tampa—Lt. Col. Roosevelt on right, Leonard Wood is next to him and former Civil War Confederate general, Joseph Wheeler is next to Wood. Taylor MacDonald is on the far left.
Spanish steamer Cristóbal Colón. Destroyed during the Battle of Santiago on July 3rd of 1898.
Detail from Charge of the 24th and 25th Colored Infantry and Rescue of Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, July 2, 1898 depicting the Battle of San Juan Hill.Theodore Roosevelt actively encouraged intervention in Cuba and, while assistant secretary of the Navy, placed the Navy on a war-time footing and prepared Dewey's Asiatic Squadron for battle. He 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".

Naval operations

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. Thus Guantánamo Bay with its excellent harbor was chosen for this purpose. The 1898 invasion of Guantánamo Bay happened June 6–June 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, 1898, 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 1898, Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete, was first spotted in Santiago Harbor where his fleet had taken shelter for protection from sea attack. For two months there was a stand-off between the Spanish naval forces and American. When the Spanish squadron attempted to leave the harbor on July 3, the American forces destroyed or grounded five of the six ships. Only one Spanish vessel, the speedy new armored cruiser Cristobal Colón, survived, but her captain hauled down his flag and scuttled her when the Americans finally caught up with her. The 1,612 Spanish sailors 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, United States Assistant Naval Constructor Richmond Pearson Hobson had been ordered by Rear Admiral William T. Sampson to sink the collier 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 and became a Congressman.

Ground operations

The Americans planned to capture the city of Santiago de Cuba in order 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.

Battle of Las Guasimas

Between June 22 and June 24, the U.S. V Corps under General William R. Shafter landed at Daiquirí and Siboney, east of Santiago, and established the 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 rear guard 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. All four U.S. soldiers who had volunteered to act as skirmishers walking point at head of the American column were killed, including Hamilton Fish, from a well-known patrician New York City family and Captain Alyn Capron, whom Theodore Roosevelt would describe as one of the finest natural leaders and soldiers he ever met. The Battle of Las Guasimas showed the U.S. that the old linear Civil War tactics 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. The Spaniards were also aided by the then new smokeless powder, which also aided their remaining concealed even while firing. American soldiers were only able to advance against the Spaniards in what are now called "fireteam" rushes, four-to-five man groups advancing while others laid down supporting fire.

Battles of El Caney and San Juan Hill

On July 1, a combined force of about 15,000 American troops in regular infantry, cavalry and volunteer regiments, including Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders", notably the 71st New York, 1st North Carolina, 23rd and 24th Colored, 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. 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 ground to a halt. 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" (actually 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 and sniper rifles, 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.

Puerto Rico

U.S. 1st Kentucky Volunteers in Puerto Rico, 1898.During 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. On May 10, U.S. Navy warships were sighted off the coast of Puerto Rico. On May 12, a squadron of 12 U.S. ships commanded by Rear Adm. William T. Sampson bombarded San Juan. During the bombardment, many government buildings were shelled. On June 25, the Yosemite blockaded San Juan harbor. On July 25, General Nelson A. Miles, with 3,300 soldiers, landed at Guánica and invaded the island with little resistance in the brief Puerto Rican Campaign.

Peace treaty
With both of its fleets incapacitated, Spain sued for peace.

Hostilities were halted on August 12, 1898 with the signing in Washington of a Protocol of Peace between the United States and Spain. The formal peace treaty was signed in Paris on December 10, 1898 and was ratified by the United States Senate on February 6, 1899. It came into force on April 11, 1899. Cubans participated only as observers.

The United States gained almost all of Spain's colonies, including the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Cuba, having been occupied as of July 17, 1898, and thus under the jurisdiction of the United States Military Government (USMG), formed its own civil government and attained independence on May 20, 1902, with the announced end of USMG jurisdiction over the island. However, the United States imposed various restrictions on the new government, including prohibiting alliances with other countries, and reserved for itself the right of intervention.

On August 14, 1898, 11,000 ground troops were sent to occupy the Philippines. When U.S. troops began to take the place of the Spanish in control of the country, warfare broke out between U.S. forces and the Filipinos. See Philippine-American War.


With the end of the war, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt musters out of the U.S. Army after the required 30 day quarantine period at Montauk, Long Island, in 1898.The war lasted only four months. Ambassador (later Secretary of State) John Hay, writing from London to his friend Theodore Roosevelt declared that from start to finish 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, replacing them with brand new scars of U.S. versus Spain and non-state versus state.

The war marked American entry into world affairs: over the course of the next century, the United States had a large hand in various conflicts around the world. The Panic of 1893 was over by this point, and the United States entered a lengthy and prosperous period of high economic growth, population growth, and technological innovation which lasted through the 1920s.

The war marked the effective end of the Spanish empire. Spain had been declining as a great power over most of the 19th century, especially since the Napoleonic Wars and had already lost the rest of its colonies. The defeat 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. Only a handful of African territories remained of Spain's overseas holdings.

The Spanish military man Julio Cervera Baviera, involved in the Puerto Rican Campaign, blamed the natives of that colony for its annexation by the Americans: "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 1898 originated as a response to this trauma, marking a renaissance of the Spanish culture. Economically, the war actually benefited Spain, because after the war, large sums of capital held by Spaniards not only in Cuba but also all over America were brought back 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 firm in Spain in industrial sectors (steel, chemical, mechanical, textiles and shipyards among others), in the electrical power industry and in the financial sector. 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.

1898 political cartoon: "Ten Thousand Miles From Tip to Tip" meaning the extension of U.S. domination (symbolized by a bald eagle) from Puerto Rico to the Philippines. The cartoon contrasts this with a map of the smaller United States 100 years earlier in 1798.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 (this was in contrast to the Teller Amendment which was pushed by anti-imperialists who called for a restraint on U.S. hegemony). The amendment granted the United States the right to stabilize Cuba militarily as needed. The Platt Amendment also provided for the establishment of a permanent American naval base in Cuba; it is still in use today at Guantánamo Bay. The Cuban peace treaty of 1903 governed Cuban-American relations until 1934.

The United States 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.

1900 Campaign poster.The war served to further cement 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 both 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.

Segregation in the U.S. Military, 1898.The black 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 black 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 Buffalo Soldiers. 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 form of 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.)

Finally, in an effort 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 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.



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