Spanish-American War

views updated Jun 08 2018


The Spanish-American War is widely misunderstood to be one conflict that began in 1898, lasted about four years, and was fought between the United States and Spain in two locations a world apart from each other, Cuba and the Philippines. While there is an element of truth in this, it is more accurate to think of two wars. The Philippine-American War, doubtless America's least known war, was fought between the United States and the Filipinos. It was a guerrilla war carried out entirely in the Philippine archipelago. The fighting began in February 1899 and continued for many years. The precursor to this war was the much shorter Spanish-American War, fought with Spain during the spring and summer of 1898 and waged principally in Cuba but also in the Philippines, in a single but decisive naval battle in Manila Bay in May, and in Puerto Rico, when in July the United States Army under General Nelson Miles invaded and occupied that island. This war was declared by the United States in late April, and the two nations signed a peace protocol in mid-August. The short duration and decisive outcome of the engagement with Spain led many U.S. leaders to agree with John Hay, the ambassador to Great Britain, when he wrote to his friend Theodore Roosevelt that it had been a "splendid little war" (Gale, p. 31).

The decision to enter the war did not come without significant resistance, however. What course to take in international affairs was not clear for a country just emerging from isolation. Officially, the American government sought to avoid war. But there were those who hankered for a fight as a way of showing that the nation had muscle, and in truth, most Americans did side with the Cubans against the Spanish colonialists. A sensationalist press fanning these hot attitudes helped decide the country's course of action.

The war was a coming-of-age rite for the nation. Its most famous soldier, Theodore Roosevelt, used it to define a national cult of manly patriotism and then rode his battlefield exploits into the White House. He was a thirty-nine-year-old asthmatic who had undertaken a rigorous bodybuilding program of hunting, horse riding, and boxing to overcome his physical limitations. For three years he had worked as a cowboy in the Badlands of the Dakotas. His memoir of the war, The Rough Riders (1899), bore an epigraph from the martial cadences of the 1863 patriotic Civil War poem "The Reveille" by Bret Harte (1836–1902) that captured the valorous and unquestioning rectitude Roosevelt wished to project:

"But when won the coming battle,
What of profit springs there from?
What if conquest, subjugation,
Even greater ills become?"
But the drum
Answered, "Come!
You must do the sum to prove it," said the
Yankee-answering drum.


Three decades before this war began, in the late 1860s, Cuban guerrilla fighters had fought for national autonomy from Spanish colonization. Unsuccessful then, they had renewed their efforts in the early 1890s. By that time, though, the United States had also become deeply interested in the island. American investments in the Cuban sugar business had grown to more than $50 million, and annual trade between the United States and Cuba was worth twice that amount. In addition, many Americans lived and worked on the island. These interests were jeopardized by the revolution, and by 1896 strong pressure had built for the United States to either purchase Cuba from Spain or, if Spain could not regain control, to intervene militarily. President Grover Cleveland had maintained a policy of neutrality, but President William McKinley, inaugurated in 1897, was predisposed, cautiously, to intervention. Almost as though to precipitate an incident, McKinley renewed the custom of having American warships pay uninvited visits to the Spanish colony.

So it was that on 25 January 1898 one of the nation's newest battleships, the U.S.S. Maine, a pride of the American fleet with its steam-power and its advanced steel construction, showed up in Havana harbor. The Spanish foreign minister, seeing the ship's presence as an act of intimidation, criticized McKinley in a private letter for being "weak" about neutrality and referred to him as a "petty politician." The letter was leaked to William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, which promptly printed it under the inflammatory banner headline, "The Worst Insult to the United States in Its History." McKinley demanded an apology from the Spanish government and he received it, but the situation was tinder. The spark came only days later, on the night of 15 February, when the Maine exploded and sank to the bottom of the harbor. When Hearst heard this, he demanded that the story be spread all over the front page and proclaimed, "This means war!" (O'Toole, p. 34).

A Naval Court of Inquiry determined that the cause was a submarine mine, although it took care not to name a guilty party. The jingoists in the United States Senate drew their own conclusion, however, and rallying to the slogan "Remember the Maine," blamed the Spanish government. A rebuttal by a Spanish court of inquiry was dismissed out of hand. McKinley ordered a blockade of Cuba, and four days later, on 25 April 1898, Congress declared war, though it promised to leave as soon as the war of "pacification" was over. A European naval authority, using nothing more than the published testimony in the Navy's own report, later proved that the Naval Court had reached a false conclusion, starting with an incredible, fundamental error—mistaking the location of the explosion. After still more inquiries conducted in the decades following, the true culprits, according to a comprehensive review of a century of debate, were conservative Spanish fanatics loyal to the ruthless and charismatic General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, the colonial governor who had been sent to Cuba in 1895 to quell the nationalist rebellion. "They had the opportunity, the means, and the motivation, and they blew up the Maine with a small low-strength mine they made themselves" (Samuels, p. 310).

The shooting war actually began on 11 June with the capture of Guantánamo Bay. The best known and most storied moment in the war occurred on 1 July in the San Juan hills near Santiago de Cuba, the island's second largest city and a Spanish stronghold. Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt had gathered an assortment of Ivy League polo players and western dead shots who were eager to live a rough and hardy life again. At a crucial moment, Roosevelt took unauthorized command. He spurred his horse up the ridge, pistol in one hand and saber in the other. His Rough Riders, together with an African American regiment, captured the position. It was a turning point in the war. Soon thereafter, when the Spanish agreed to surrender 23,000 troops around the city, the end of the war was near. Four years later, the United States made good on its promise and Cuba received its independence.

The war involved 190,000 Spanish troops, while 250,000 American soldiers, 200,000 of them volunteers, were allied with as many as 50,000 Cuban freedom fighters. It cost the United States $250 million and fewer than 3,000 lives—90 percent of whom died from disease and bad food. In the words of G. J. A. O'Toole in The Spanish War, "As wars go this was a cheap one" (O'Toole, p. 17).


It was a popular one, too. Most of its distinctive features were positive—coming to the aid of a people fighting for their freedom while at the same time defeating a former superpower, remembering the Maine, glorying in Roosevelt's charge. The war made the nation feel ebullient and proud. The huge number of volunteer soldiers reflected that pride.

The enthusiasm for this war that was mirrored in Harte's "The Reveille" was also in the imagination of Richard Hovey (1864–1900), and with more righteousness. Hovey's lineage included five Mayflower Puritan ancestors, and his many poems about this war revealed that moral fervor. Although he is unknown today, no poet more faithfully expressed the religious aspect of the nation's mood at the time of the war. In "The Word of the Lord from Havana," written two days after the sinking of the Maine in February 1898, the loss of the ship is viewed as a punishment as well as a message from God warning against America's neglect of the world's oppressed. Hovey's sonnet "America" (October 1898) recalls that the nation was conceived in violence and would not shrink from war to accomplish its holy mission, and "Unmanifest Destiny" (July 1898) concludes with a sure affirmation of the hand of Providence:

I do not know beneath what sky
Nor on what seas shall be thy fate;
I only know it shall be high,
I only know it shall be great.

(Hovey, p. 17)

Doubtless, such sentiments resonated with writer and publisher Elbert Hubbard (1856–1916), an ardent sympathizer with Roosevelt's rugged individualism. When he heard about the bravery of Lieutenant Andrew Rowan's secret mission to meet with Cuban general Calixto Garcia, Elbert wrote an inspirational essay, "A Message for Garcia," praising duty and initiative. Hubbard published it in February 1899, and it immediately took on a life of its own, with millions of copies distributed to American railroad employees, and later to Russian and Japanese workers, and finally to members of the United States Navy at the brink of World War I. According to the historian Charles H. Brown in The Correspondents' War: Journalists in the Spanish-American War, the words of the essay "could be recited by most Americans who had heard them come forth in organ tones from high school and college elocutionists for a quarter of a century" (Brown, p. 173). Though Rowan's exploits received the most attention, equally daring deeds were conducted with much less notice by a dozen correspondents who also carried messages to Garcia and other Cuban leaders or "who engaged in a variety of other espionage" (Brown, p. 173).


In this war as in no other, American newspapers and their correspondents were deeply engaged in arousing feelings of patriotism, heroism, and adventure. The press campaigned so forcibly that it "sometimes acted as though it were the government" and that publishers such as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer "usurped the functions of the Department of State" (Brown, p. vi). Before the war began, Hearst's Journal sent the novelist Richard Harding Davis (1864–1916) to Cuba to write stories about the freedom fighters and their Spanish oppressors. His dispatches coincided well with Hearst's efforts to pressure McKinley to intervene, for horrified by what he saw, Davis reported on "mass sickness, starvation and death" (Brown, p. 80).

Other novelists also transformed themselves into journalists to participate in the adventure. Frank Norris (1870–1902) put aside his nearly finished McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (1899) to report on the action for McClure's Magazine. He could hardly contain his eagerness: "You want to see excitement, turmoil, activity," Norris wrote, "the marching and counter-marching of troops, the excited going and coming of couriers a-horseback, the glint of epaulets and brass at street corners" (Brown, p. 170). Once in Cuba, he changed. A dispatch describing a dead Spanish soldier ends in horrified silence: "his face the color of wax; one poor, dirty hand hooked like a buzzard's claw; his arm was doubled under him, and—but the rest is not for words" (Brown, pp. 349–350).

To Norris, Stephen Crane (1871–1900), whom he met in Key West, embodied his idea of a war correspondent: "tanned to the color of a well-worn saddle" (Brown, p. 171). Crane was in Key West preparing to write a series on the Cuban revolution for the Bacheller publishing syndicate, which had serialized his novel The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War (1895). His essay "War Memories" (1899) reflected on his experiences in Cuba, which included several battles as well as the action in Havana after the conflict ended. His 1897 writings about the sinking of the Commodore, a ship smuggling arms to the Cuban insurgents on which Crane was a crew member, drew acclaim first as a newspaper report, "Stephen Crane's Own Story," and then as a short story, "The Open Boat."

Crane was the first of many to draw upon the country's enthusiasm for the war and its enchantment with Cuba and revolution. Novels like Kirk Munroe's "Forward March": A Tale of the Spanish-American War (1899) romanticized the war and America's might, and The Rough Riders (1927) by Herman Hagedorn (1882–1964) mythologized Roosevelt's unit. Hagedorn's book was adapted as a movie the same year it was published, and a remake appeared in 1997. The Bright Shawl, a spy novel by Joseph Hergesheimer (1880–1954), featured a beautiful young dancer whose shawl represents the youthful dreams of Cuban freedom fighters in the decades before the war. It was published in 1922 and made into a film the following year. By far the best-known, most-sophisticated—and least-favorable—treatment of the war was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) by L. Frank Baum (1856–1919). The novel was popular enough in its own time and it was given considerable additional cultural longevity by the 1939 movie adaptation. Embedded in its fairy-tale narrative is an elaborate criticism of the consequences of the Spanish-American War as well as a satire of contemporary politics and monetary policy.


The war did have other dark features, but some of them led to positive outcomes. Alarmed by the high death rate among the soldiers due to sickness, General Miles accused the suppliers of meat for the troops, the powerful "beef trust" and especially Armour & Company, of sending meat that had become spoiled in the heat. (Since the meat had been "preserved" with chemicals, it was facetiously called "embalmed beef.") This was the most famous scandal of the war. Miles's charges, reinforced by Roosevelt's own first-hand observations, embarrassed McKinley and the army and led to investigations by a specially appointed "beef court" in February 1899 and, in turn, to the forced resignation of the secretary of war, Russell A. Alger. As recorded later by Upton Sinclair (1878–1968), affidavits published in the New York Journal in March 1899 concluded: "In other words, the Armour establishment was selling carrion" ("The Condemned-Meat Industry, 1906"). The fury over these revelations set the stage for Sinclair's The Jungle (1906), an enormously influential exposé of the filth and corruption of the nation's beef industry that gained important credibility for muckraking journalism and virtually by itself led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906), a benchmark in progressive legislation.

See alsoImperialism and Anti-Imperialism; Philippine-American War; Weaponry


Primary Works

Hovey, Richard. Along the Trail: A Book of Lyrics. 1903. New York: AMS, 1969.

Roosevelt, Theodore. The Rough Riders. New York: Scribners, 1899.

Sinclair, Upton. "The Condemned-Meat Industry." Every-body's Magazine 14 (1906): 608–616. Available at

Secondary Works

Berner, Brad K. The Spanish-American War: A Historical Dictionary. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 1998.

Brown, Charles H. The Correspondents' War: Journalists in the Spanish-American War. New York: Scribners, 1967.

Dighe, Ranjit S., ed. The Historian's Wizard of Oz: Reading of L. Frank Baum's Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002.

Gale, Robert L. John Hay. Boston: Twayne, 1978.

Linneman, William R. Richard Hovey. Boston: Twayne, 1976.

Mansfield, Harvey. "The Manliness of Theodore Roosevelt." New Criterion 23, no. 7 (March 2005): 4–9.

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

Samuels, Peggy, and Harold Samuels. Remembering the Maine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.

"The Spanish-American War." Small Planet Communications. Available at

"The United States Becomes a World Power: The Spanish American War." Digital History. Available at

"The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War." Hispanic Division, Library of Congress. Available at

Terry Oggel

Spanish-American War

views updated May 09 2018

Spanish-American War


In the late nineteenth century, the United States grew in industrial and economic strength. By the 1880s, the nation was one of the most robust in the Western Hemisphere, wielding increasing power in the region despite a stated policy of neutrality. In 1898, diplomatic relations between the United States and Spain began to sour over Spain's domination of Latin America and some parts of the Caribbean. Reports of the brutal rule of Spanish General Valeriano Wyler in Cuba inflamed public opinion in the United States. The convergence of anti-Spanish public opinion and the government's desire to protect American economic interests in Cuba prompted tense diplomatic meetings between Spain and the United States.

During the negotiations, two events spurred the United States to declare war. A U.S. ship, the USS Maine sank off the coast of Cuba on February 15, 1898. A Navy inquiry board incorrectly declared that a mine fatally wounded the

vessel. 266 Navy seamen and two high-ranking officers perished in the accident. The event consumed newspaper headlines for weeks. Sensationalistic reporting, dubbed "yellow journalism," helped to swell the tide of pro-war sentiment in the United States.

Within weeks of the sinking of the Maine, intelligence operatives intercepted a private letter between the Spanish Ambassador to the United States and a friend in Havana, Cuba. The letter disparaged U.S. President McKinley, and hinted at plans to commit acts of sabotage against American property in Cuba. The letter was published by several newspapers, further agitating public opinion. On April 19, 1898, Congress resolved to end Spanish rule in Cuba.

In the first military action of the war, the United States blockaded Cuban ports on April 22, 1898. The Navy transferred several vessels to neighboring Florida to consolidate the forces available to fight the Spanish in the Caribbean. Naval presence off the Florida coast also facilitated the transfer of information from the battlefront to the government in Washington, D.C.

The Office of Naval Intelligence established sophisticated communications intelligence operations in support of their efforts in Cuba. Martin Hellings, who worked for the International Ocean Telegraph Company, was sent to Key West, Florida, to intercept Spanish messages. Hellings convinced other telegraph operators to copy Spanish diplomatic messages and deliver the copies to him. Within a few days, he operated a sizable communications ring, conducting surveillance on underwater and land-based telegraph cables. Hellings also employed a courier to run special messages between his offices and United States ships in the region.

The theater of war rapidly expanded to include other Spanish strongholds, including the Philippines. Intelligence operations were not initially as well developed in the Pacific as they were in the region around Cuba. Cuba's proximity to the Florida coast aided intelligence and espionage operations. United States military commanders knew little about the Philippines and the Spanish defenses there. To obtain information, the Office of Navy Intelligence and the Army's Military Intelligence Division employed human intelligence. Agents were sent to the remote islands to obtain information about Spanish defenses, military strength, and island terrain. The operation moved swiftly, and within weeks, United States commanders learned that the Spanish were ill-prepared to fight a strong offensive in the Philippines.

On May 1, 1898, the United States Asiatic Squadron, under the command of George Dewey, sailed into Manila Bay and attacked the Spanish. The Spanish fleet was decimated, but the United States sustained no losses. Though the Spanish surrendered the Philippines, the United States fleet remained, and began a campaign to take the island as a United States territory. The ensuing conflict lasted until 1914.

Human intelligence was not limited to operations in the Philippines. The United States employed covert agents in Europe, Cuba, and Canada. These agents aided the war effort by spying on Spanish diplomats abroad and providing intelligence information to dissident groups in Cuba. German-educated Henry Ward traveled to Spain in the guise of a German physician. William Sims, an American attaché in Paris, managed a spy ring throughout the Mediterranean. In Cuba, Andrew Rowan united rebel groups and reported on the location and size of the Spanish fleet. He supervised the trafficking of arms to rebel outfits and helped plan their assaults on Spanish targets. Human intelligence also contributed to counterintelligence efforts. Based on agent reports, the United States Secret Service was able to infiltrate and destroy a Spanish spy ring working in Montreal, Canada.

In June 1898 United States intelligence learned, via telegraph intercepts, that the Spanish fleet planned to attack the U.S. blockade in Cuba and draw ships into a naval battle in the Caribbean. When the Spanish fleet arrived in the region, United States Naval Intelligence tracked them and gave chase. United States commanders hoped to deplete Spanish fuel reserves before engaging them in battle. The United States backed off, and redeployed to aid blockade ships stationed around Havana. The Spanish ships proceeded undetected to the narrow harbor of Santiago, Cuba. When the Spanish commander telegraphed his government to declare his position, U.S. agents working in Florida intercepted the cable. The United States fleet moved to intercept the Spanish at Santiago. The U.S. Navy blockaded the port and immobilized the Spanish fleet. The Spanish attempted to run the blockade on July 3, but the entire fleet of six ships was destroyed.

In the final phase of the war, the United States deployed ground forces to sweep Spanish forces out of Havana and Santiago. The "Rough Riders," the most famous of which was Theodore Roosevelt, worked with rebel groups to take control of the nation's capitol and ferret out remaining Spanish forces in the countryside. The U.S. troops then departed Cuba for Puerto Rico, driving the Spanish from the island.

The war ended with the Spanish surrender on July 17, 1898. The event signaled a new international stance for the United States, as the nation began to acquire territories and dominate the politics of the Western Hemisphere. As a result of the Spanish-American War, or in its immediate wake, the United States gained Guantanamo Bay, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Hawaii.

The Spanish-American War, though a brief conflict, helped to revolutionize United States intelligence organizations and their operations. Before the war, agencies like the Office of Naval Intelligence relied on openly available sources for their information. After the war, personnel were trained in espionage tradecraft, and covert operations became standard intelligence community practice. Congress briefly entertained the idea of establishing a permanent, civilian intelligence corps, but the agency never materialized. Despite the progress made with technological surveillance, espionage tradecraft, and inter-agency cooperation made during the war, the intelligence community was once again allowed to slip into disarray until the eve of World War I.



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

O'Toole, G. J. A. The Spanish-American War: An American Epic, 1898. New York: W.W. Norton, 1986.


Monroe Doctrine

Spanish-American War

views updated May 17 2018


SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR. The sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898 provided a dramatic casus belli for the Spanish-American War, but underlying causes included U.S. economic interests ($50 million invested in Cuba; $100 million in annual trade, mostly sugar) as well as genuine humanitarian concern over long-continued Spanish misrule. Rebellion in Cuba had erupted violently in 1895, and although by 1897 a more liberal Spanish government had adopted a conciliatory attitude, U.S. public opinion, inflamed by strident "yellow journalism," would not be placated by anything short of full independence for Cuba.

The Maine had been sent to Havana ostensibly on a courtesy visit but actually as protection for American citizens. A U.S. Navy court of inquiry concluded on 21 March that the ship had been sunk by an external explosion. Madrid agreed to arbitrate the matter but would not promise independence for Cuba. On 11 April, President William McKinley asked Congress for authority to intervene,

and, on 25 April, Congress declared that a state of war existed between Spain and the United States.

The North Atlantic Squadron, concentrated at Key West, Florida, was ordered on 22 April to blockade Cuba. The Spanish home fleet under Adm. Pascual Cervera had sortied from Cadiz on 8 April, and although he had only four cruisers and two destroyers, the approach of this "armada" provoked near panic along the U.S. East Coast.

Spanish troop strength in Cuba totaled 150,000 regulars and forty thousand irregulars and volunteers. The Cuban insurgents numbered perhaps fifty thousand. At the war's beginning, the strength of the U.S. Regular Army under Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles was only twenty-six thousand. The legality of using the National Guard, numbering something more than 100,000, for expeditionary service was questionable. Therefore, authorities resorted to the volunteer system used in the Mexican-American War and Civil War. The mobilization act of 22 April provided for a wartime army of 125,000 volunteers (later raised to 200,000) and an increase in the regular army to sixty-five thousand. Thousands of volunteers and recruits converged on ill-prepared southern camps where they found a shortage of weapons, equipment, and supplies, and scandalous sanitary conditions and food.

In the Western Pacific, Commo. George Dewey had been alerted by Acting Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt to prepare his Asiatic Squadron for operations in the Philippines. On 27 April, Dewey sailed from Hong Kong with four light cruisers, two gunboats, and a revenue cutter—and, as a passenger, Emilio Aguinaldo, an exiled Filipino insurrectionist. Dewey entered Manila Bay in the early morning hours on 1 May and destroyed the Spanish squadron, but he had insufficient strength to land and capture Manila itself. Until U.S. Army forces could arrive, the Spanish garrison had to be kept occupied by Aguinaldo's guerrilla operations.

In the Atlantic, Cervera slipped into Santiago on Cuba's southeast coast. Commo. Winfield Schley took station off Santiago on 28 May and was joined four days later by Rear Adm. William T. Sampson. To support these operations, a marine battalion on 10 June seized nearby Guantánamo to serve as an advance base. Sampson, reluctant to enter the harbor because of mines and land batteries, asked for U.S. Army help. Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter, at Tampa, Florida, received orders on 31 May to embark his V Corps. Despite poor facilities, he had seventeen thousand men, mostly regulars, ready to sail by 14 June and by 20 June was standing outside Santiago. On 22 June, after a heavy shelling of the beach area, the V Corps began going ashore. It was a confused and vulnerable landing, but the Spanish did nothing to interfere.

Between Daiquiri and Santiago were the San Juan heights. Shafter's plan was to send Brig. Gen. Henry W. Lawton's division north to seize the village of El Caney and then to attack frontally with Brig. Gen. Jacob F. Kent's division on the left and Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's dismounted cavalry on the right. The attack began at dawn on 1 July. Wheeler, one-time Confederate cavalryman, sent his dismounted troopers, including the black Ninth and Tenth cavalries and the volunteer Rough Riders, under command of Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, against Kettle Hill. The Spanish withdrew to an inner defense line, and, as the day ended, the Americans had their ridge line but at a cost of seventeen hundred casualties.

Shafter, not anxious to go against the Spanish second line, asked Sampson to come into Santiago Bay and attack the city, but for Sampson there was still the matter of the harbor defenses. He took his flagship eastward on 3 July to meet with Shafter, and while they argued, Cervera inadvertently resolved the impasse by coming out of the port on orders of the Spanish captain general. His greatly inferior squadron was annihilated by Schley, and on 16 July the Spaniards signed terms of unconditional surrender for the 23,500 troops in and around the city.

At the end of July the VIII Corps, some fifteen thousand men (mostly volunteers) under Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt, had reached the Philippines. En route, the escort cruiser Charleston had stopped at Guamand accepted the surrender of the island from the Spanish governor, who had not heard of the war. Because of an unrepaired cable, Dewey and Merritt themselves did not hear immediately of the peace protocol, and on 13 August an assault against Manila was made. The Spanish surrendered after token resistance.

The peace treaty, signed in Paris on 10 December 1898, established Cuba as an independent state, ceded

Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States, and provided for the payment of $20 million to Spain for the Philippines. Almost overnight the United States had acquired an overseas empire and, in the eyes of Europe, had become a world power. The immediate cost of the war was $250 million and about three thousand American lives, of which only about three hundred were battle deaths. A disgruntled Aguinaldo, expecting independence for the Philippines, declared a provisional republic, which led to the Philippine Insurrection that lasted until 1902.


Cosmas, Graham A. An Army for Empire: The United States Army in the Spanish-American War. Shippensburg, Pa.: White Mane Publishing, 1994.

Hoganson, Kristin L. Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.

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

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

Traxel, David. 1898: The Birth of the American Century. New York: Knopf, 1998.

Edwin H.Simmons/a. g.

See alsoJingoism ; Maine, Sinking of the ; Paris, Treaty of (1898) ; Teller Amendment ; Territories of the United States ; Yellow Journalism ; andvol. 9:Anti-Imperialist League Platform ; A Soldier's Account of the Spanish-American War .

Spanish-American War

views updated Jun 27 2018


The 1898 war between the United States and Spain lasted only four months, yet its effects are still felt today. It ended in a relatively easy victory for the United States, which, just over a century after its birth as an independent nation, seemed eager to claim its place as a world power. In what Secretary of State John Hay (18981905) called "a splendid little war," the country demonstrated an intent to protect its economic interests abroad and to promote its own expansion. The brief conflict also marked an increased U.S. involvement in global affairs and a step away from the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, which suggested that the country would assert its power only within its own hemisphere. Significantly more far-reaching were the war's effects on Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines, whose destinies remained unalterably changed by the events that occurred between April and August of 1898.

The United States' initial impetus for going to war was its interest in Cubaan interest that was primarily economic in nature. One of the last and largest remaining colonies of Spain, Cuba had been gearing up for a revolution throughout the nineteenth century. Its politically active population craved independence, and the United States sympathized with that plight. Already engaged in a guerrilla war with Spain, Cuban rebels looked to their country's larger neighbor for support. The United States supplied that support for reasons that were clearly apparent: It had $50 million invested in Cuba, and its annual trade with the sugar-producing island amounted to $100 million. Moreover, the United States had long opposed Spanish rule in Cuba for humanitarian reasons. The American press printed passionate coverage of Cuba's troubled relations with Spain: William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer's national newspapersthe so-called yellow press declared the situation "intolerable." And the American public apparently agreed.

A tragic event ultimately motivated the country to take action: On February 15, 1898, the U.S. battleship Maine mysteriously exploded and sank in the Havana Harbor, where it apparently had been making a courtesy visit. Although the cause of the sinking, which claimed 266 lives, remains unexplained to this day, a naval investigation at the time surmised that the explosion was external in origin. The Spanish government approached the issue in a conciliatory manner, wishing to avoid conflict with the United States. But Madrid would not negotiate on the one issue that would have prevented war: the granting of independence to Cuba. Responding to an angered public, President William McKinley (18971901) and Congress took action, ordering the withdrawal of Spanish forces from Cuba on April 19 and officially declared war on April 25.

The war strategy of the United States included a blockade of Cuba; a naval campaign in the Philippines; an attack with ground forces in Santiago, Cuba; and a dispatch of troops to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The media reported that the blockade of Cuba, which involved the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of volunteer and army troops, was poorly organized. Soldiers lacked supplies; sanitary conditions were poor; and the food was unacceptable. Although by the war's end only 379 American men died in combat, thousands perished of disease. The Spanish military suffered from its own insufficiencies, particularly the decrepitude of its fleets, which remained vulnerable to U.S. naval power.

It did not take long for the United States to claim victory in the war, which ended on August 12 with the signing of a peace protocol. The final terms were set on December 10 with the negotiation and signing of the Treaty of Paris. Cuba was to gain its independence, while Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines were to belong to the United States. The U.S. paid nothing for Puerto Rico and Guam, but it gave Spain $20 million for the Philippines. The Filipinos, however, continued to revolt and finally achieved independence in 1946. Eager for global expansion, President McKinley had already annexed Hawaii in July. Thus, the nation made the transition from hemispheric power to world power in one fell swoop.

The outcome of the war was an economic boon to the United States. The country was able to protect its interests in Cuba, and it even managed to gain potentially lucrative territory overseas. With the Hawaiian Islands the United States gained fruitful sugar plantations and a promising fishing industry. Of course, the United States paid dearly for its conquests: The war cost the country $250 million. Political unrest in the Philippines, which struggled for its own independence, was to be a source of grief for many years. But for the most part the American public wholeheartedly approved of the terms of its victory. Advocates of U.S. expansion and global prowess particularly exulted in their triumph, which secured the nation's place as a world power.

See also: Imperialism, Philippines


Dictionary of American History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976, s.v. "Spanish-American War."

Gordon, John Steele. "The Meaning of '98." American Heritage, May-June 1998.

Karp, Walter. The Politics of War. New York: Harper, 1980.

Millis, Walter. The Martial Spirit. Cambridge, MA: The Literary Guild of America, 1931.

Zimmerman, Warren. "Jingoes, Goo-Goos, and the Rise of America's Empire." Wilson Quarterly, Spring 1998.

Spanish-American War

views updated Jun 11 2018

Spanish-American War

Spanish-American War, a short and decisive conflict fought in 1898 that assured the final expulsion of Spain from the New World and the emergence of the United States as the dominant Caribbean power. Public opinion and the media in the United States had been urging intervention since the beginning of the Cuban rebellion against Spain in 1895. Many of the Cuban landowning elite had also been calling for U.S. intervention to restore order to the island. The pretext for the U.S. to enter the war was provided on 15 February 1898, when the U.S.S Maine, sent to Havana harbor to protect U.S. citizens, exploded and sank, killing 260 officers and enlisted men. No agreement was reached as to the cause of the explosion, but the United States concluded that it had been perpetrated from outside the ship. Since no accord for reparations was reached with Spain, the U.S. Congress declared war against Spain on 25 April. In the Teller Amendment to the war declaration, the United States asserted that it would make no attempt to establish control over the island.

The first battle of the war was fought in the Philippine islands, where the U.S. Navy destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay on 1 May 1898. The Spanish quickly surrendered possession of the Philippines to the United States. In June, 17,000 troops landed at Siboney and Daiquirí, east of Santiago de Cuba. On 3 July the U.S. Navy destroyed the Spanish fleet, and subsequent land victories by Cuban and U.S. forces prompted the final surrender of the Spanish troops on 12 August.

The Cuban struggle for independence played a key role in Spain's defeat. The conflict had been consuming the crown's resources for several decades. From the outset of the rebellion in 1895, the Cuban Army of Liberation had controlled the rural areas, although not Havana or Santiago, the major cities. By the end of 1897, Cuban victory was all but complete. Yet although the war was fought between Cuban revolutionaries, the Spanish army, and the U.S. forces, Cuba was excluded from the peace negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Paris. The independence movement of 1895–1898 had lost its most vital, younger leaders in the struggle, leaving older men and a weary liberation army to accept the compromise of its independence that was demanded by the U.S.

The Treaty of Paris, signed on 10 December 1898, involved more than just Spain's withdrawal from Cuba. In addition Spain lost Puerto Rico, the Philippine islands, and other islands in the Pacific and the West Indies. It terminated Spain's overseas empire. On 1 January 1899, when Spanish government officials retired from Cuba, General John R. Brooke established the U.S. military occupation of the island. Advocates of Manifest Destiny were vindicated by a relatively easy and inexpensive war. The United States assumed formal possession of Cuba and the right to supervise its national government by claiming responsibility for ending Spanish colonial government and unilaterally negotiating the peace terms.

See alsoCuba, War of Independence .


French E. Chadwick, The Relations of the United States and Spain: The Spanish-American War, 2 vols. (1911).

Walter Millis, The Martial Spirit (1931).

Joseph E. Wisan, The Cuban Crisis as Reflected in the New York Press, 1895–1898 (1934).

Julius W. Pratt, Expansionists of 1898: The Acquisition of Hawaii and the Spanish Islands (1936).

Cosme De La Torriente y Peraza, Fin de la dominación de España en Cuba (1948), and Calixto Garc͂ia: Cooperó con las fuerzas armados de los Estados Unidos en 1898, cumpliendo órdenes del gobernio cubano (1950).

Ramiro Guerra y Sánchez, et al., eds., Historia de la nación cubana, 10 vols. (1952).

Frank Freidel, The Splendid Little War (1958).

Hugh Thomas, Cuba; or, the Pursuit of Freedom (1971).

James D. Rudolph, Cuba: A Country Study (1985).

Louis A. Pérez, Jr., Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Carrasco García, Antonio. En guerra con Estados Unidos: Cuba 1898. Madrid: Almena Ediciones, 1998.

Pérez, Louis A. The War of 1898: The United States and Cuba in History and Historiography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

                             David Carey Jr.

Spanish-American War

views updated Jun 11 2018


The Spanish-American War of 1898 lasted only a few months. It resulted in a U.S. victory that not only ended Spain's colonial rule in the Western Hemisphere but also marked the emergence of the United States as a world power, as it acquired Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. theodore roosevelt's military exploits in Cuba catapulted him onto the national stage and led to the vice presidency and, ultimately, the presidency.

The conflict had its origins in Spain's determined effort in the 1890s to destroy the Cuban independence movement. As the brutality of the Spanish authorities was graphically reported in U.S. newspapers, especially Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, the U.S. public began to support an independent Cuba.

In 1897 Spain proposed to resolve the conflict by granting partial autonomy to the Cubans, but the Cuban leaders continued to call for complete independence. In December 1897, the U.S. battleship Maine was sent to Havana to protect U.S. citizens and property. On the evening of February 15, 1898, the ship was sunk by a tremendous explosion, the cause of which was never determined. U.S. outrage at the loss of 266 sailors and the sensationalism of the New York press led to cries of "Remember the Maine" and demands that the United States intervene militarily in Cuba.

President william mckinley, who had originally opposed intervention, approved an

April 20 congressional resolution calling for immediate Spanish withdrawal from Cuba. This resolution precipitated a Spanish declaration of war against the United States on April 24. Congress immediately reciprocated and declared war on Spain on April 25, stating that the United States sought Cuban independence but not a foreign empire.

The war itself was brief due to the inferiority of the Spanish forces. On May 1, 1898, the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines was destroyed by the U.S. Navy under the command of Commodore George Dewey. On July 3, U.S. troops began a battle for the city of Santiago, Cuba. Roosevelt and his First Volunteer Cavalry, the "Rough Riders," led the charge up San Juan Hill; he emerged as one of the war's great heroes. With the sinking of the Spanish fleet off the coast of Cuba on July 3 and the capture of Santiago on July 17, the war was effectively over.

An armistice was signed on August 12, ending hostilities and directing that a peace conference be held in Paris by October. The parties signed the treaty of paris on December 12, 1898. Cuba was granted independence, and Spain agreed to pay the Cuban debt, which was estimated at $400 million. Spain gave the United States possession of the Philippines and also ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States. Many members of the U.S. Senate opposed the treaty, however. They were concerned that the possession of the Philippines had made the United States an imperial power, claiming colonies just like European nations. This status as an imperial power, they argued, was contrary to traditional U.S. foreign policy, which was to refrain from external entanglements. The Treaty of Paris was ratified by only one vote on February 6, 1899.

further readings

Crawford, Michael J., Mark L. Hayes, and Michael D. Sessions. 1998. The Spanish-American War: Historical Overview and Select Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, Dept. of the Navy.

Hendrickson, Kenneth E. 2003. The Spanish-American War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

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

Zimmermann, Warren. 2002. First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Spanish-American War

views updated May 11 2018

Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War lasted just four months, but it had a major impact on international relations.

A splendid little war

In 1898 the United States had been an independent nation for just a little over a century. Its leaders were still eager to expand its territory as well as its power. The war with Spain served several purposes, and U.S. secretary of state at the time, John Hay (1838–1905), called the conflict “a splendid little war.”

The reason for declaring war on Spain was the United States's interest in Cuba. Cuba was one of the biggest colonies of Spain, and it had been getting ready for a revolution throughout the nineteenth century. The Cubans wanted their independence, and the United States understood that desire. They were already involved in a war with Spain, so Cuban rebels looked to the United States for help.

The United States had good reason for wanting to aid Cuba. It had fifty million dollars invested in the island, and the annual sugar trade there totaled one hundred million dollars. In addition the United States had long believed that the Spanish rule in Cuba was wrong for humanitarian reasons. This viewpoint was encouraged by newspapers of the day, which covered the situation with great passion—and without a steady reliance on fact.

Sinking of the Maine

On February 15, 1898, the United States found a reason to declare war on Spain. The U.S. battleship U.S.S. Maine had been docked in the Havana Harbor, where it had made a courtesy visit. The ship exploded and sank, killing 266 Americans. At the time a naval investigation concluded that the cause of the explosion was external, meaning something from outside the ship was responsible. More modern experts surmise the explosion probably occurred due to faulty equipment from within the ship, but nothing has ever been determined with certainty.

One New York newspaper printed photos allegedly showing how the Spanish attached an underwater bomb to the ship and had detonated it from the shore. This type of less-than-truthful reporting was called yellow journalism, and newspapers resorted to it frequently in an effort to increase circulation and sway readers to agree with publishers' points of view.

Spain did not want to go to war with the United States, but it refused to negotiate on the sole issue that would have prevented conflict: Cuba's independence. In response President William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901) ordered Spanish troops to withdraw from Cuba. When that failed to happen, war was officially declared on April 25.

The war ended within four months and claimed the lives of around 379 American soldiers. Thousands more, however, died from disease as a result of unsanitary living conditions and lack of supplies. On August 12 a peace treaty was signed. Its final terms were set on December 10 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Cuba was finally independent. Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines were now under the control and authority of the United States. The Philippines would revolt and win their independence in 1946. In July 1900 Hawaii became a U.S. territory, and so the United States had become a world power.

Economic progress

The war improved the U.S. economy, but not without cost. The government paid $250 million for that four-month war, and it would have to deal with major unrest in the Philippines for years to come. Despite these facts the American public was, for the most part, happy with the outcome.

Spanish-American War

views updated Jun 08 2018

Spanish-American War (1898) Conflict fought in the Caribbean and the Pacific, between Spain and the USA. The immediate cause was the sinking of the US battleship Maine at Havana. Fighting lasted ten weeks (April–July). The US Navy destroyed Spanish fleets in the Philippines and Cuba. Spanish troops in Cuba surrendered after defeat at San Juan Hill, where Theodore Roosevelt led the ‘Rough Riders’. The USA also seized Guam and Wake Island, annexed Hawaii and the Philippines. The Treaty of Paris forced Spain to cede Puerto Rico.

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