History of the United States
Volume IV


Chapter XXVIII
The War with Spain

The spring of 1898 held new and thrilling interests for the United States outside of politics. Cuba, the largest of the isles of the West Indies, across the Gulf from Florida, a possession of Spain since the days of Cortez, was gasping and struggling for life under the mailed fist of its Castilian master. From 1868 to 1898 the Cubans were in a state of chaotic revolt. Again and again the spirit of human freedom, which cannot be killed, would rise up and cry for liberty for the oppressed people of Cuba. In 1895 the insurrection asumed such proportions as to become a veritable war. The insurgents were well organized and unconquerable. In 1897, early in the McKinley administration, the agitation of the Cuban question became so intense as to attract general attention in the United States. the Cuban insurgents numbered some capable and efficient men. They sought recognition by the United States government as belligerents, and persisted until they succeeded in getting a resolution to that effect passed by the Senate. The many Americans in Cuba with large nvestments, and the general sympathy of liberty-loving Americans for the oppressed natives of the neighbor island, had settled almost into a conviction that the United States Government would be forced to interfere in Cuban affairs.

The inhumanity of General Weyler, successor to General Campos, sent to operate against the insurgents, brought the situation to a crisis. Campos had dealt with the insurgents on a bsis of civilization, but Weyler adopted new and revolting methods and dealth with them in a spirit of brutality and barbarism. He placed the whole island under martial law, and the people were herded like animals within the Spanish lines, and perished by the thousands, from pestilence, starvation, and unsanitary surroundings. The policy with Weyler apparently was extermination since subjugation had been impossible. The final issue between the United States and Spain came in 1898, and was at bottom due to the activity of the filibuster party in Cuba and the States, the object of their agitation being to bring about a declaration of war between the two countries. In the abstract it would appear that this was a serious and grievous offense, but when it is remembered that the inhabitants of this little island were fighting for their very life, and were in the last ditch, who could blame them for striving to get their big, friendly neighbor into the fight? And so it worked out. They schemed to get an American battleship into a Cuban port. In January, 1898, the Mine was sent on a "friendly" visit to Havana harbor. On February 15th, between nine and ten o'clock, the ship was blown up from an unknown cause, and 264 enlisted men of the navy and two officers lost their lives. The report of the catastrophe reached Washington about midnight. When the astounding news flashed over the country the excitement and indignation swept from ocean to ocean like the thrill of an earthquake. Captain Charles D. Sigsbee, commander of the Maine, wired that public opinion should be suspended until further report, and while this advice was regarded, there was a general feeling that the treachery of Spain had been the cause of the disaster. President McKinley, supported by most of the press, manifested remarkable steadiness and poise under the strain. A naval court of inquiry was appointed to investigate the cause of the explosion, headed by Rear-Admiral William T. Sampson, then captain. The sum of the report was that the Maine had been destroyed from without, probably by a submarine mine. The report concluded without fixing the responsibility. Spain also appointed an investigation committee and its report was the reverse of the American report, stating that the cause of the explosion was from within.

The people of the United States quite generally believed Spain guilty and were stung to such a frenzy by a real or fancied outrage that war was now inevitable.

April the 11th the President sent a special message to Congress in which he asked to be empowered to use the military and naval forces of the United States to secure a full and final termination of hostilities between the Government of Spain and Cuba.

Congress responded on the 19th with a joint resolution authorizing the President to use the army and navy in carrying out a demand that Spain relinquish her sovereignty over Cuba and withdraw her forces from its territory, embodying in the resolution the intention that the government of the Cuban people should be left to themselves.

On the 21st Spain dismissed United States Minister Woodruff, breaking off diplomatic relations, which was practically a declaration of war. President McKinley at once ordered the Cuban ports blockaded, and issued a call for 125,000 volunteers. the financial end of the question was quickly and easily settled. Congress voted fifty million dollars war fund. Stamp taxes were laid which were expected to produce hundred millions a year, and a popular three per cent. bond issue was authorized for two hundred million dollars. the country was not prepared for war, was not on a war footing, but in site of this fact, soon there was a force of two hundred thousand men in the field, under arms, eager for action.

The naval forces were more quickly aligned for efficient service. In two weeks there were eighty-eight effective fighting vessels under orders, and fifty-one new warships were ordered built by Congress.

The first stroke of the war was most startling and dramatic. While the land forces were being mobilized mostly at Chickamauga, Camp Alger, and Camp Thomas, at jacksonville, the public eye was on the navy, the alert ear was listening for the detonations of the big guns on the warships, which had never yet been tried except in target practice. It was unknown just what would happen in real action or how the amateur American gunners would acquit themselves. The nations of the world looked on with mingled curiosity and interest. The might throng of the world's amphitheater had not long to wait. Ten days after the opening of hostilities, the reverberations of one of the most remarkable naval battles in history were heard around the world. Commodore George Washington Dewey had led the Asiatic Squadron of the United States Navy, consisting of six ships, into Manila harbor and utterly crushed the Spanish fleet of fourteen ships, under Admiral Montojo.

Dewey was anchored at Hong Kong with his fleet, and had received orders from Washington to strike the Spanish navy wherever found. He had received notice to leave Hong Kong in accordance with the international law governing neutral waters, and on the 24th of April headed his fleet across the China Sea toward the Philippine Archipelago. At Mirs Bay on the China coast a stop was made, where the ships were stripped for action, and the forces informed as to the orders received and the plans to be carried out.

The Philippines are a numerous group of islands in the eastern Pacific, which had been a possession of Spain for over four hundred years, numbering between seven and eight million inhabitants, and to Spanish avarice had yielded vast treasure, like Cuba, and other isles of the West Indies, and like them had bitterly suffered under Spanish oppression.

Manila is the capital of the Philippines, and its bay is one of the largest and deepest in the world, with an area of a hundred and twenty-five square miles. Its entrance was protected by the towering rocky islands, Corregidor and Caballos, the former strongly fortified with searchlights and powerful batteries of modern artillery. Beneath the deep waters were deadly mines, electrically adjusted so that the touch of the keel of a warship would close the circuit of destruction. Dewey determined to run this gauntlet of possible death, the perils, the uncertainties, the issue of which could not be foreseen. At eleven o'clock at night, April 30th, the American fleet--the Baltimore, Raleigh, Boston, Concord, and colliers Zafiro and Nashua, led by Dewey's flagship, the Olympia, filed through Boca Grande, the channel on the south of Corregidor, into Manila Bay. On each side were deadly batteries. Ahead on the great rock El Fraile lay concealed artillery. Dewey said to his men, "We are to seek the Spanaird and smash him as soon as we find him." He had located him in Manila harbor. It was a highway of unknown dangers and possible death, but coolly, silently, lights out, in the dim shadow of a waning moon, the fleet passed leisurely along the channel. For eighteen hours every man had been at his post holding sleepless vigil as in active battle. It seemed that the fleet would slip by the sentry on Corregidor unchallenged, but escaping sparks from one of the ship's funnels gave the alarm, and with scream and crash thundered the mighty guns from the fortifications of Corregidor and El Fraile. From several of Dewey's ships the fire was returned. The batteries were silenced and the squadron moved on unharmed into Manila Bay. Out of danger, the ship's crews stood at rest, slowly creeping up the harbor, awaiting the fateful morning.

The Spaniards felt secure within the safe confines of Manila Harbor, and had not the remotest idea that the American fleet would have the audacity to enter the bay. When it became known that they had passed the forts the incredible news caused amazement, and the wildest excitement spread over the city of Manila and among the ships' crews. The Spanish fleet consisted of fourteen ships. Admiral Montojo, on his flagship, Reina Cristina, with the largest tonnage and the best armament in the fleet, formed his ships in battle line, under cover of the fortresses at Manila and Cavite. The fire opened upon the American fleet at 5.15, simultaneously from Cavite, Manila (five batteries), and Montojo's fleet, but without effect. Steadily moving forward under the fire for nearly half an hour, the men stood at their guns, stripped to the waist, waiting for the word to fire. Captain Gridley was in the conning tower, and at the signal from Dewey on the bridge, "You may fire when ready, Gridley," the Olympia was no longer a phantom ship, but a nighty engine of destruction.

Fire and tons of iron and steel projectiles and shells leaped forth like demonds of death from the six American warships. Sweeping by the enemy in a circular maneuver, five times, and each time nearer and more deadly than before, the squadron countermarched, leaving ruin and death in its wake. At 7.35 the American fleet steamed beyond the range of the enemy, and in the reports from the various vessels, to the amazement of all, it was discovered that not a man had been killed nor a ship disabled.

The Spanish fleet had been practically destroyed. After a hearty breakfast had been served to the valiant sailors, the squadron again advanced the enemy, and the remnant of Montojo's fleet was sunk or scuttled and fired, excepting one transport, which was captured. The arsenal at Cavite was blown up and the battery destroyed. Thus at a stroke in a few hours Spain had lost her fleet, 1,600 men killed and wounded, with no loss in men or ships to the American squadron, which was now master of the Philippine Archipelago.

The effect of this extraordinary victory upon the American nation and the world was momentous and far-reaching. Amazement and admiration were expressed by all nations. Enthusiasm and unbounded joy thrilled every American heart. No heroes were ever accorded greater honor and glory than the heroes of Manila Bay. Dewey's name was on every lip and he was classed with Farragut, Porter, and Nelson. He was immediately appointed rear-admiral, and the following year upon his return to the United States he was given an ovation, and the same year he was made admiral.

The efficiency of the American navy and the superiority of American sailors would never again be questioned. The United States was instantly recognized as a world power. The effect upon Spain of this stunning defeat at one blow was most humiliating and depressing. She had not planned for defeat; riots occurred and the Government was taunted with the charge of incapacity and decadence. The Government blustered, placed a censor on the press, and made ostensible preparations for more aggressive action.

The scene was changed--while Dewey with his invicible fleet was making history in the Orient, a theater for another and equally dramatic events was preparing on Cuban soil ten thousand miles away. The American army under General William R. Shafter, with 10,000 men, was investing the city of Santiago, Cuba, the stronghold of the Spanish land forces, commanded by General Toral.

Admiral William J. Sampson, with the American fleet in Cuban waters, instituted a close blockade of Santiago Hqrbor on June 1st. The remainder of the Spanish navy was a fleet of six vessels, commanded by Admiral Cervera. After a long search over the ocean Cervera's fleet had been located in Santiago harbor. It was the plan of Sampson and Commodore Schley thus to keep Cervera "bottled up" at Santiago. So the two fleets of ironclads, like sea monsters, lay inactive on the blue waters in sleepless vigilance, awaiting the next move.

Three grand assaults were made on Santiago by the land forces under General Shafter. The fighting began on June 24th. The Spaniards were strongly intrenched. On the 29th by desperate fighting, the Americans had reached the vicinity of the peaks in front of Santiago, a mile or so from the city, but not until June the 3d had they succeeded in the capture of El Caney and San Juan, sustaining a loss of 1,641 in killed and wounded. It was apparent that Santiago must fall. Old men, women, and children, numbering 20,000, poured out of the city for forty-eight hours, through the American lines into the woods in the rear.

Cervera, aware of the coming doom of the city, was not put to extremities to escape with his fleet. There had been spectacular events, brilliancy, and notable bravery at San Juan Hill and El Caney, in the siege of the city, but the land fighting was prosaic and commonplace in comparison with the romantic glory of the sea fight when the Spanish fleet steamed out of Santiago harbor.

Early in the dawning of the morning of July the 3d, Cervera made a dash with his entire fleet from the harbor for the open sea. Commodore Schley was the officer in charge of the American ships on guard, Rear-Admiral Sampson, with his flagship, the New York, being seven miles away, and Schley's order to close in on the run-away fleet was obeyed with wonderful celerity and terrible effect.

It was a most courageous thing, admired nd wondered at by the Americans, when Cervera with his flagship Maria Teresa, led his fleet under a full head of steam, pushing under the very muzzles of the mighty guns on the American men-of-war. Futile was his daring; vain his last hope. Though the Spanish guns vomited forth a torrent of fire upon the foe obstructing the path, though the engines increased their speed to the fullest power, destiny had marked Cervera's fleet for a fite like Montojo's. Spanish skill and courage could not cope with this new race in the land of Columbia.

It was soon ended. It was the story of Manila Bay over again. When the smoke cleared away there were no Spanish ships to be seen afloat. Spain had no navy; her ships were destroyed, her sailors were dead or captured. The last vessel taken, the Cristobal Colon, was beached forty miles away from the entrance to the harbor, where she had been run down by the Brooklyn. The Spanish losses in men were several hundred killed or drowned and 1,300, including Admiral Cervera, captured. The American loss was one killed and one wounded, without injury to the fleet. The American methods of fighting were startling to the nations looking on, as well as to the enemy. In war as in trade, with Americans, results were the object, without waste in maneuvers or formalities.

Santiago promptly surrendered, which practically ended the war, and Cuba was under the guardian hand of the United States.

Startling as were the prosecution and speedy termination of the war to Spain, and other nations, it was expected and planned for by the United States, and scarcely disturbed the normal business conditions of the country. The actual war lasted only about ninety days, but its effect upon many nations of the world was more important and far-reaching than any war since the Revolution.

It remained only to arrange a peace treaty, and on August the 12th the peace protocol was signed, the final treaty being made the following October at Paris. By the terms of agreement Cuba was to be free, Porto Rico was ceded to the United States, and Spain was to receive twenty million dollars for the Philippine Islands. In January, 1899, the long-suffering Cubans saw their fondest hopes fulfilled by the complete evacuation of Spanish troops from Cuban soil. To aid the enfeebled country in the formatin of a government for self-rule, the United States temporarily set up a military government which was maintained until 1902, when a president (Palma) was elected as chief magistrate of the new republic, the United States reserving protectorate rights. Thus majestically, gloriously, and voluntarily America demonstrated to the world her unselfishness and magnanimity in the war with Spain as declared in the beginning. Millions of money, including three millions to reimburse Cuban soldiers in fighting for their own liberty, was spent by the American Government, and the talent of the ablest men in the nation given to aid this infant republic to stand alone and free among the nations of the world.

The Philippine Islands, with a population of over seven and a half millions, of which nearly one million were uncivilized tribes, now became a ward of the United States. The outcome of the war had thus laid upon the nation responsibilities and problems, constitutional and moral, not dreamed of a few months before. The military and civil history of the United States in relation to the inhabitants of the Philippine Archipelago, partially barbaric, is a story of its own. It was a matter of coincidence that this people came into the hands of the American Republic, but the government could not shirk or ignore so patent a duty as the obvious sponsorship of these islands. There soon arose an insurrection in the islands against the United States, a demand being made for independence, the natives claiming the right to govern themselves. Thirty thousand armed natives were led by Aguinaldo, a brilliant and educated young Filipino, who had assisted the Americans in the capture of Manila. It developed into a long drawn out guerrilla warefare, and not until sixty-five thousand American soldiers had been sent to quell the uprising, and the capture of the daring young leader, was the insurrection put down. It had cost many lives and many millions of money, but the people of the islands were absolutely incapable of self-rule.

President McKinley, fully conscious of the grave responsibility resting upon the nation and upon himself as its chief executive, appointed a commission in January, 1899, to visit the islands to obtain reliable data on which to base the policy of future action. No definite results were derived from the work of this commission, which was headed by President J. G. Schurman, of Cornell University. In 1900 another commission was appointed, with Judge William H. Taft, of Ohio, as chairman, who later became Governor of the islands, and efficiently and ably established a stable form of government, securing for them the modern school system and civil and religious liberty. For a decade the Philippines have been in peace and prosperous under the form of government adopted by the United States.

The war between the United States and Spain, though not a great war in the accepted sense, marked an era in the cycle of events, and opened a new chapter in the history of nations. The ignorance of the masses in other countries relative to the United States had been amazing, but with the war came great enlightenment.

The effect on the United States was to produce a complacent feeling of justifiable pride and serene self-confidence which makes men and nations strong. Commercially the United States took on new life after the war. Impelled into swifter strides of commercial and social progress with a momentum and a speed that were amazing and bewildering beyond the dreams of seers and prophets, the twentieth century in the United States was like a millennial dawn. With materialprosperity, educational and religious fervor found expression in the temples of religion and learning side by side with the industrial and mechanical institutions of the commercial world. Coincident with the awakened activity throughout the country, crops were abundant and agricultural products commanded unusually high prices at home and abroad. This was due to two causes; one was that the foreign market had been greatly expanded, materially and permanently increasing the demand for American foodstuffs, and the other cause, contributing permanently to higher prices, was the fact that free land in the United States was practically exhausted. Here was a combination of circumstances creating a problem of the not far distant future, that of feeding the people. The time had passed in the United States when there would be no market for agricultural products.

About this time there was also a harvest in the world of invention as well as in the golden fields. The new and marvelous mode of transportation by the automobile was being perfected, and came into general use, and manufacturing plants worth millions of dollars were established in all parts of the country.

The Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio, perfected the aeroplane or flying machine, and astonished the world with its practicability, and the problem of aerial navigation, till then unsolved, has been answered, and aeroplanes are coming rapidly into use all over the world, though, it must be added, they have thus far proved little else than a plaything.

The most wonderful practical invention of the period was the Marconi system of wireless telegraphy. The inventor was an Italian and through his wonderful invention ships have been saved at sea, messages sent to tourists in mid-ocean, and newspapers published on Transatlantic liners at full speed across the waters.

In the Presidential capaign of 1900 the question of what should be done with the Philippine Islands became an important issue. Free silver was again made a plank in the Democratic platform, but imperialism was declared to be the paramount issue by the party. Bryan was again the Democratic candidate against William McKinley. There was a great diversity of opinion, and the question of imperialism was widely depated viva voce and through the press by the ablest thinkers among scholars and statesmen in the country. This division of opinion gave new zest and hope to the insurrectos then in revolt. The election again gave McKinely the majority of the electoral vote over Bryan, this time almost two to one.

This decided the future policy toward the Philippines, and the leader of the insurrection, Aguinaldo, being captured in the early spring of 1901, the islands soon became tractable under the able and tactful administration of Governor Taft. The methods adopted by the McKinley administration in dealing with those foreign possessions have proved wise and successful, and, with little exception, without local disturbances or dissatisfaction.

For a time our relations with Porto Rico caused considerable agitation in Congress, but President McKinley's recommendation of civil government and free trade, though opposed by the sugar trust, was finally made law, and Porto Rico, like the Hawaiian Islands, became a Territory of the United States.


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