Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines

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Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines

The Spanish-American War began on April 21, 1898, when the United States decided to fight Spain for control of the Spanish colony of Cuba. Rebels had been fighting there since 1895 for independence from Spain. In April 1898, the United States declared war on Spain to end the revolution, which was hurting American business on the island. The United States said it wanted to secure freedom for Cuban civilians, who were dying by the hundreds of thousands in Spanish concentration camps. Many Americans, however, wanted to acquire Cuba and its rich farming economy.

What began as a war over Cuba, however, turned into an American campaign to strip Spain of its overseas colonies. In 1898, besides Cuba, the Spanish government controlled Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Guam, a small island east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, was interesting to the United States and European countries as a potential spot for military bases. Puerto Rico, southeast of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea, had a small agricultural economy. The Philippines, a collection of more than seven thousand islands south of China in the Pacific Ocean, had a rebel population that, like the Cubans, wanted freedom from Spain. America's war with Spain in 1898 took its military to each of these colonies.

The Philippines

The war's first major battle was fought in Manila Bay in the Philippines on May 1, 1898. Spanish admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón captained a six-vessel fleet that had opposed a Filipino revolution in 1897. When the United States declared war, U.S. naval secretary John D. Long (1838-1915) ordered U.S. commodore George Dewey (1837-1917; see entry in Biographies section) to sail from Hong Kong to Manila Bay with his seven-vessel Asiatic Squadron. Finding Montojo's fleet at anchor there, Dewey destroyed it in just a few hours on the morning of May 1.

In the wake of this early victory, U.S. president William McKinley (1843-1901; served 1897-1901; see entry in Biographies section) decided to maintain control of the Philippines until the war was over. The U.S. Army assembled an expedition to join Dewey and help him take the city of Manila. Commanded by Brigadier General Thomas Anderson, the expedition embarked from San Francisco, California, on May 25, 1898.


When Anderson left San Francisco, he had twenty-five hundred troops and four hundred tons of ammunition aboard three vessels—City of Pekin, City of Sydney, and Australia. When the expedition stopped in Honolulu, Hawaii, to get coal for its engines, the Charleston joined it for the voyage. By then, Captain Henry Glass of the Charleston had received orders to seize Guam on his way to the Philippines.

Glass's fleet arrived at Guam the morning of June 20. The Americans expected to find Spain ready to fight at the capital of Agaña and the harbor of San Luis D'Apra. Instead, Agaña was undefended and the forts at San Luis D'Apra were abandoned. When the fleet sailed into harbor and fired a few shots, Spain sent the port captain on a boat to speak with the Americans.

The Spaniard told Captain Glass that Guam did not know Spain was at war. Glass replied that the captain and his men were now prisoners-of-war and asked them to return to port to request a surrender by Guam's governor, Lieutenant Colonel Juan Marina.

Marina surrendered the next day because Guam lacked any ability to defend itself. Glass's expedition raised the American flag over Fort Santa Cruz and took Spain's military personnel aboard the City of Sydney as prisoners. Leaving behind a small occupation force, the expedition steamed back out of the harbor and headed for the Philippines.

Puerto Rico

Over the next two days, June 22 and 23, the U.S. Army landed on the southern coast of Cuba, east of the city of Santiago. Spanish admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete (1839-1909; see entry in Biographies section) was in port at Santiago, trapped there by U.S. Navy squadrons under the command of Admiral William T. Sampson (1840-1902). Cervera's fleet was Spain's main naval defense in Cuba.

By the end of the day on July 1, General William R. Shafter 's (1835-1906; see entry in Biographies section) troops had fought their way to San Juan Heights, just outside Santiago. On July 3, Sampson defeated Cervera's fleet as it tried to escape the blockade. The Spanish army surrendered at Santiago two weeks later because further defense of the island seemed futile.

General Nelson A. Miles (1839-1925), who commanded the war effort for the United States, decided to lead an expedition against Spain in Puerto Rico, one of Spain's colonies. Miles wanted to improve the army's image after the sloppy campaign in Santiago, where General Shafter had faced supply and disease problems while losing hundreds of American lives in poorly planned attacks.

On July 25, over one week after the surrender at Santiago, American troops landed on the southern coast of Puerto Rico at Guánica. The Spanish army quickly surrendered the town and fled toward the capital of San Juan. Spain meant to mount its final stand there on the northeastern coast of the island.

The United States landed a force of fifteen thousand men on Puerto Rico. Miles organized the troops into four columns to march northward toward San Juan from different points on the island. The march resulted in six primary battles from August 9 to August 12. On the twelfth, Miles learned that the United States and Spain had signed a peace agreement, so he called a cease-fire.

Peace protocol

The United States began suggesting terms for a truce as early as June 3. That day, U.S. president McKinley demanded that Spain give up Cuba, Puerto Rico, a port in the Philippines, and a port in the Ladrone (also called Marianas) Islands in the Pacific Ocean. McKinley raised the stakes by the end of July by asking for the entire island of Guam. He also asked Spain to give the United States the port and city of Manila until treaty negotiations decided the fate of the Philippines. Under McKinley's offer, treaty negotiations would begin in Paris no later than October 1.

Spain refused to consider these terms at first. By August, however, the United States had the military advantage in Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines, and was advancing on San Juan in Puerto Rico. The Spanish government feared the United States might even send a naval fleet to attack Spain itself in Europe. Under pressure, the government of Premier Práxedes Mateo Sagasta (1825-1903) approved the peace protocol on August 12 to temporarily end hostilities until the signing of a formal treaty, which happened on December 10. U.S. secretary of state William R. Day (1849-1923) and French ambassador Jules Cambon (who had permission to act for Spain) signed the agreement in Washington, D.C., on August 12, 1898.

Fighting continues in the Philippines

After seizing Guam on June 21, 1898, Captain Henry Glass's expedition continued its mission, reaching Manila in the Philippines in late June. By then, Filipino rebels had declared independence from Spain and were attacking the Spaniards to capture the province surrounding the capital city. By the end of the month, General Wesley Merritt (1836-1910), who commanded the U.S. Army in the Philippines, had eleven thousand troops ready for attack.

The Filipino rebels presented a problem for the United States. After Dewey captured Manila Bay on May 1, he welcomed rebel assistance because he lacked the forces to attack Spain in Manila. Once Glass's transports reached the Philippines, however, McKinley decided to capture the city of Manila without assistance from the rebels. Pushing the rebels from the trenches, U.S. forces commenced fighting against Spain when Spanish soldiers opened fire on July 31. Small battles continued over the next few days.

On August 6, the United States demanded that Spanish commander General Fermín Jaudenes y Alvarez surrender his troops in Manila. With Dewey's fleet in Manila Bay, there was no way Jaudenes could hope to win. Pride, however, prevented the commander from giving up without the appearance of a real fight. Jaudenes said he would surrender only after staging a fake battle, and only if the United States would prevent rebel forces from coming into Manila afterwards.

Merritt and Dewey agreed to the proposal. On August 13, unaware that Spain and the United States had signed the peace protocol in Washington, D.C., the day before, Dewey bombarded a Spanish fort while Merritt and Jaudenes's troops exchanged fire. (Unable to secure Spanish permission to use the telegraph cable at Manila for sending news of his victory on May 1, Dewey had dredged up the cable from the harbor floor and cut it. Because Dewey had cut the telegraph cable, nobody in the Philippines yet knew of the cease-fire.)

Six Americans and many Spaniards died in the fake battle. Jaudenes signed surrender papers the next day, and two days later a boat arrived from Hong Kong with news that the war was over. Treaty negotiations that October would decide the fate of the Philippines.

For More Information

Collins, Mary. The Spanish-American War. New York: Children's Press, 1998.

Dolan, Edward F. The Spanish-American War. Brookfield, CT: MillbrookPress, 2001.

Feuer, A. B. The Santiago Campaign of 1898. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1993.

Feuer, A. B. The Spanish-American War at Sea. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1995.

Foner, Philip S. The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.

Gay, Kathlyn, and Martin K. Gay. Spanish American War. New York:Twenty First Century Books, 1995.

Golay, Michael. The Spanish-American War. New York: Facts On File, 1995.

Graves, Kerry A. The Spanish-American War. Mankato, MN: Capstone Books, 2001.

Langellier, John P. Uncle Sam's Little Wars: The Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, and Boxer Rebellion, 1898-1902. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House, 2001.

Linderman, Gerald F. The Mirror of War: American Society and the Spanish-American War. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1974.

Musicant, Ivan. Empire by Default: The Spanish-American War and the Dawn of the American Century. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.

O'Toole, G. J. A. The Spanish War: An American Epic-1898. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1984.

Rosenfeld, Harvey. Diary of a Dirty Little War: The Spanish-American War of 1898. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2000.

Smith, Angel, and Emma Dávila-Cox, eds. The Crisis of 1898: Colonial Redistribution and Nationalist Mobilization. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Somerlott, Robert. The Spanish-American War: Remember the Maine! Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2002.

Wukovits, John F. The Spanish-American War. San Diego, CA: LucentBooks, 2001.

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present. 20th anniversary ed. New York: HarperCollins.

Admiral William T. Sampson (1840-1902)

William T. Sampson was the officer in charge of the U.S. Navy in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Born in Palmyra, New York, on February 9, 1840, Sampson did well enough in school to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated there first in his class in 1861.

Sampson served in the American Civil War (1861-65) aboard the monitor Patapsco. He was on the vessel's turret—armored gun—when the vessel exploded while removing mines in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, on January 15, 1865. After the war, Sampson completed many successful assignments before becoming captain of the battleship Iowa in the North Atlantic squadron in 1897.

In January 1898, tensions between Spain and the United States over Spain's colony of Cuba were approaching the boiling point. America had $50 million invested in business on the island. Spain's three-year war with Cuban rebels seeking independence was destroying business. Late that month, the United States sent the warship Maine to Havana, Cuba, to pressure Spain to end the conflict.

Anchored in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, the Maine blew up, killing more than 250 people onboard.Many Americans suspected the Spanish were to blame. U.S. Navy secretary John D. Long (1838-1915) appointed Sampson to preside over a court of inquiry to determine the cause of the disaster. Sampson, who paid great attention to detail, finally signed the court's report on March 25. The report concluded that an external mine had detonated ammunition in the Maine's magazines. Sampson could not determine, however, who had planted the mine.

The United States was at war with Spain less than one month later. Because the commander of the North Atlantic squadron was recovering from illness, Long elevated Sampson to the post. On April 21, Sampson received orders to use the North Atlantic squadron to form a blockade at Cuba to prevent Spain from arriving there with a squadron of its own.

The blockade failed; Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete (1839-1909) slipped into harbor at Santiago, Cuba, on May 19, 1898. Sampson quickly used his fleets to set up a blockade outside the harbor. The navy then protected the U.S. Army as it landed troops at Daiquirí and Siboney near Santiago on June 22 and June 23. Between then and July 1, the army marched and battled Spanish troops until it seized San Juan Heights and was in position to attack Santiago.

In danger of being captured while at anchor, Cervera received orders to leave port and run past Sampson's blockade. On July 2, Sampson's fleet saw smoke on the horizon, suggesting that Cervera's fleet was firing up its engines. That did not stop Sampson from leaving the blockade and heading east on the flagship New York for a meeting with U.S. Army commander General William R. Shafter (1835-1906) on July 3. As a result, Sampson was seven miles away when Cervera's fleet appeared at the mouth of Santiago harbor that day.

Following orders that Sampson left behind, Commodore Winfield S. Schley (1839-1909) led the navy to victory over Cervera's fleet. Sampson heard the battle and turned the New York around to try to join it. Although he received fire from Spanish forts, Sampson never reached the battle, which had been a race westward along the Cuban coast.

After the last Spanish vessel surrendered, Schley signaled Sampson with the message, "A glorious victory has been achieved. Details later," according to Michael Golay in The Spanish-American War. Sampson replied with the stern command, "Report your casualties." In fact, one American had died.

Sampson's terse response to Schley's news foreshadowed a conflict between the two men. When Sampson telegraphed Washington, D.C., to report the victory, Americans disagreed over whether Sampson or Schley deserved the credit. Senior naval officers tended to say Sampson deserved the credit as head of the squadron. Schley observed that if the navy had lost the battle, there would have been no question that he was to blame.

Emilio Aguinaldo

Emilio Aguinaldo (1869-1964) was a revolutionary leader in the Philippines. Born there on March 23, 1869, Aguinaldo grew up in Cavite and went to college in the capital city of Manila at the University of Santo Tomás. In August 1896, Aguinaldo became the mayor of his hometown. Around that time he also served as leader of Katipunan, a group that fought for independence from Spain, which controlled the Philippines as a colony.

Spain and the rebels signed an agreement to end the revolution in December 1897. In return for governmental reform and a monetary payment, Aguinaldo agreed to be exiled with other rebel leaders. Aguinaldo left his homeland to live in nearby Hong Kong and Singapore.

Months later, in April 1898, war broke out between Spain and the United States over Spain's treatment of its colony of Cuba. Spanish Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón was then in Manila Bay with a six-vessel fleet that Spain had used to fight the Filipino rebels. U.S. commodore George Dewey's (1837-1917) seven-vessel fleet in nearby Hong Kong would soon sail to defeat Montojo.

Before Dewey left, U.S. consul general E. Spencer Pratt contacted Aguinaldo in Singapore, asking him to organize his rebels to attack Spain in Manila. Aguinaldo asked what the Filipinos would get in return. According to Ivan Musicant in Empire by Default, Pratt's response led Aguinaldo to believe that the United States would support independence for the Philippines.

Dewey defeated Montojo easily on May 1, 1898. At the urging of his fellow rebels, Aguinaldo returned to Manila on May 19 on the American warship McCulloch. There he met with Dewey, who told Aguinaldo to "go ashore and start your army," according to Musicant. Also according to Musicant, Dewey told Aguinaldo, "America is exceedingly well off as regards territory, revenue and resources and, therefore needs no colonies."

Aguinaldo organized the rebels to capture the province of Cavite around Manila before attacking the city. On June 12 the Filipinos declared independence, an action later ratified—meaning approved—by a formal assembly of Filipino rebels in September.

By late July, Aguinaldo wondered whether the United States would really support independence for his country. According to Harvey Rosenfeld in Diary of a Dirty Little War, Aguinaldo wrote a letter to U.S. consul general Rounsvelle Wildmand that foreshadowed his future war with the United States:

I have read in the [New York Evening] Journal that I am getting the'big head' and not behaving as I promised you. In reply I ask, 'Why should America expect me to outline my policy, present and future, and fight blindly for her interests when America will not be frank with me?' Tell me this: Am I fighting for annexation, protection, or independence? It is for America to say, not me.

I can take Manila as I have defeated the Spanish everywhere, but what would be the use? If America takes Manila, I can save my men and arms for what the future has in store for me. Now, good friend, believe me, I am not both fool and rogue. The interests of my people are as sacred to me as arthe interests of your people to you.

After fighting with Spain ended in August 1898, the United States decided to keep the Philippines for itself. U.S. president William McKinley (1843-1901) expressed the misinformed opinion that the Filipinos needed to be Christianized before they could govern themselves. America's desire to open foreign markets for its manufactured goods also influenced the president's decision.

American domination in the Philippines led to revolution again, however. In January 1899, Filipino rebels set up a republic by adopting a constitution. They then elected Aguinaldo president of their new government.

Fighting broke out with the United States the following month. Aguinaldo declared war and fled with the Filipino government north of Manila, which U.S. forces controlled. From there, the rebels waged a bloody guerilla war—a military tactic involving hit-and-run attacks from hidden positions. The United States captured Aguinaldo in March 1901 and forced him to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Fighting continued, however, until the rebels agreed to a cease-fire in April of 1902.

The United States controlled the Philippines until finally giving the Filipinos their independence in 1946. Aguinaldo worked on veterans' affairs, democracy, and foreign relations issues throughout the years before dying on February 6, 1964.