Theaters of Operation in Spanish-American War
The first battle was in the sea near the Philippines where, on May 1, 1898, Commodore
George Dewey, commanding the United States Pacific fleet aboard the USS Olympia, in
a matter of hours, defeated the Spanish squadron, under Admiral Patricio Montojo y
Pasarón, without sustaining a casualty, at the Battle of Manila Bay.
Meanwhile, Dewey allowed Emilio Aguinaldo to return to the Philippines. Aguinaldo's forces
attacked the Spanish on land, successfully defeating them, and ended with the Battle of
Manila (July 25, 1898 - August 13, 1898) where the Spanish surrendered Manila, but the
U.S. Army made a deal to protect them from Filipino persecution.
Captain Henry Glass was on the cruiser USS Charleston when he opened sealed orders
notifying him to proceed to Guam and capture it. Upon arrival on June 20, he fired his
cannon at the island. The ill-equipped Spanish officer, not knowing that war had been
declared, came out to the ship and asked to borrow some powder to return the American's
salute. Glass responded by taking the officer prisoner and, after taking parole, ordered him
to return to the island to discuss the terms of surrender. The following day, 54 Spanish
infantry were captured, and the island becomes the possession of the United States.
Theodore Roosevelt actively encouraged intervention in Cuba and, while assistant secretary
of the Navy, placed the Navy on a war-time footing. He ordered Commodore George Dewey
and the Pacific fleet to the Philippines, and he worked with Leonard Wood in convincing the
Army to raise an all-volunteer regiment, the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. Wood was given
command of the regiment that became quickly known as the "Rough Riders".
The first battle in Cuba was at Guantanamo Bay on June 10 by U.S. Marines attempting
to establish a foothold in Cuba.
Spanish Admiral Cervera, who had arrived from Spain, held up his naval forces in Santiago
harbor where they would be protected from sea attack. Assistant Naval Constructor
Richmond Pearson Hobson was soon ordered by Admiral Sampson to sink the collier
Merrimac in the harbor to bottle up the fleet. The mission was a failure, and Hobson and
his crew were captured. They were exchanged on July 6, and Hobson became a national
hero; he received the Medal of Honor in 1933 and became a Congressman.
The Americans planned to capture the city of Santiago in order to destroy Linares Army
and Cervera's fleet, which they must to pass through concentrated Spanish defenses in
San Juan Hills and a small town in El Caney. The American forces were aided in Cuba
by the pro-independence rebels led by General Calixto García.
On June 22 and June 24, the U.S. V Corps under General William R. Shafter landed at
Daiquin and Siboney East of Santiago and established the American base of operations.
An advance guard of U.S. forces under former Confederate General Joseph Wheeler
ignored Cuban scouting parties and orders to proceed with caution. They caught up with
and engaged the Spanish rear guard who effectively ambushed them, in the Battle of Las
Guasimas. All four U.S. soldiers who had been operating as civil war-era skirmishers at
the point of the American column were killed, including Hamilton Fish, from a well-known
patrician New York City family. U.S. forces were held up momentarily although the Spanish
continued their planned retreat. The battle of Las Guasimas showed the U.S. that the old
linear civil war tactics did not work effectively against Spanish troops who had learned the
art of cover and concealment from their own struggle with Cuban insurgents, and had
learned to never reveal their positions while on the defense. The Spaniards were also aided
by the then new smokeless powder which also aided their remaining concealed even while
firing. American soldiers were only able to advance against the Spaniards in what are now
called "fire team" rushes, 4-5 man groups advancing while others laid down supporting fires.
Battle of El Caney, Las Gúsimas, and San Juan Hill
On July 1, a combined force of about 15,000 American troops in regular infantry, cavalry
and volunteer regiments, including Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders", notably the 71st New
York, 1st North Carolina, 23rd and 24th Colored, and rebel Cuban forces attacked 1,270
entrenched Spaniards in dangerous frontal assaults at the Battle of El Caney and Battle of
San Juan Hill outside of Santiago. More than 200 U.S. soldiers were killed and close to
1,200 wounded in the fighting. The Spaniards suffered less than half the number of U.S.
casualties. Supporting fire by Gatling guns was critical to the success of the assault.
Cervera decided to escape Santiago two days later.
The Spanish forces at Guantánamo were so isolated by Marines and Cuban forces that
they did not know that Santiago was under siege, and their forces in the northern part of
the province could not break through Cuban lines. This was not true of the Escario relief
column from Manzanillo, which fought its way past determined Cuban resistance but
arrived too late to participate in the siege.
After the battles of San Juan Hill and El Caney, the American advance ground to a halt.
Spanish troops successfully defended Fort Canosa, allowing them to stabilize their line
and bar the entry to Santiago. The Americans and Cubans forcibly began a bloody,
strangling siege of the city. During the nights, Cuban troops dug successive series of
"trenches," (actually raised parapets) toward the Spanish positions. Once completed,
these parapets were occupied by U.S. soldiers and a new set of excavations went forward.
American troops, while suffering daily losses from Spanish fire, suffered far more casualties
from heat exhaustion and mosquito borne disease. At the western approaches to the
city Cuban General Calixto Garcia began to encroach on the city, causing much panic and
fear of reprisals among the Spanish forces.
During May 1898, Lt. Henry H. Whitney of the United States Fourth Artillery was sent to
Puerto Rico on a reconnaissance mission, sponsored by the Army's Bureau of Military
Intelligence. He provided maps and information on the Spanish military forces to the U.S.
government prior to the invasion. On May 10, U.S. Navy warships were sighted off the
coast of Puerto Rico. On May 12, a squadron of 12 U.S. ships commanded by Rear Adm.
William T. Sampson bombarded San Juan. During the bombardment, many buildings were
shelled. On June 25, the Yosemite blocked San Juan harbor. On July 25, General Nelson
A. Miles, with 3,300 soldiers, landed at Guánica and took over the island with little
With both of its fleets incapacitated, Spain sued for peace.
Hostilities were halted on August 12, 1898. The formal peace treaty was signed in Paris
on December 10, 1898 and was ratified by the United States Senate on February 6, 1899.
It came into force on April 11, 1899. Cubans participated only as observers.
The United States gained almost all of Spain's colonies, including the Philippines, Guam,
and Puerto Rico. Cuba was granted independence, but the United States imposed various
restrictions on the new government, including prohibiting alliances with other countries, and
reserved for itself the right of intervention.
On August 14, 1898, 11,000 ground troops were sent to occupy the Philippines. When
U.S. troops began to take the place of the Spanish in control of the country, warfare broke
out between U.S. forces and the Filipinos.
The Spanish–American War was a “splendid little war” according to Theodore Roosevelt.
The press showed Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites fighting against a
common foe, helping to ease the scars left from the American Civil War, replacing them with
brand new scars of US vs Spain, non-state vs state, and throwing America's hat into the ring
as another Imperialist nation.
The Spanish–American War is significant in American history, because it enabled the young
nation to emerge as a power on the world stage, though with a colonial domain smaller than
that of Britain or France. The war marked American entry into world affairs: over the course of
the next century, the United States had a large hand in various conflicts around the world.
The Panic of 1893 was over by this point, and the United States entered a lengthy and
prosperous period of high economic growth, population growth, and technological innovation
which lasted through the 1920s.
The war marked the effective end of the Spanish empire. Spain had been declining as a great
power over most of the previous century, especially since the Napoleonic Wars. The defeat
caused a national trauma because of the affinity of peninsular Spaniards with Cuba, which
was seen as another province of Spain rather than as a colony. Culturally a new wave called
the Generation of 1898 originated as a response to this trauma, marking a renaissance of the
Spanish culture. Economically, the war actually benefited Spain, because after the war, large
sums of capital held by Spaniards not only in Cuba but also all over America were brought
back to the peninsula and invested in Spain. This massive flow of capital (equivalent to 25%
of the GDP of one year) helped to develop the large modern firm in Spain in industrial sectors
(steel, chemical, mechanical, textiles and shipyards among others), in the electrical power
industry and in the financial sector. However, the political consequences were serious.
The defeat in the war generated a period of political instability which led to the coup d'état by
Primo de Rivera in 1923
Congress had passed the Teller Amendment prior to the war, promising Cuban independence.
However, the Senate passed the Platt Amendment as a rider to an Army appropriations bill,
forcing a peace treaty on Cuba which prohibited it from signing treaties with other nations or
contracting a public debt. The Platt Amendment was pushed by imperialists who wanted to
project U.S. power abroad (this was in contrast to the Teller Amendment which was pushed
by anti-imperialists who called for a restraint on U.S. hegemony). The amendment granted
the United States the right to stabilize Cuba militarily as needed. The Platt Amendment
also provided for the establishment of a permanent American naval base in Cuba; it is still
in use today at Guantánamo Bay. The Cuban peace treaty of 1903 governed Cuban-American
relations until 1934.
The United States annexed the former Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and
Guam. The notion of the United States as an imperial power, with colonies, was hotly debated
domestically with President McKinley and the Pro-Imperialists winning their way over vocal
opposition led by Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who had supported the war. The
American public largely supported the possession of colonies, but there were many
outspoken critics such as Mark Twain, who wrote The War Prayer in protest.
Roosevelt returned to the United States a war hero, and he was soon elected governor and
then Vice President
The war served to further cement relations between the American North and South. The war
gave both sides a common enemy for the first time since the end of the Civil War in 1865,
and many friendships were formed between soldiers of both northern and southern states
during their tours of duty. This was an important development since many soldiers in this
war were the children of Civil War veterans on both sides.
The black American community strongly supported the rebels in Cuba, supported entry
into the war, and gained prestige from their wartime performance in the Army. Spokesmen
noted that 33 black American seamen had died in the Maine explosion. The most influential
black leader, Booker T. Washington argued that his race was ready to fight. War offered
them a chance "to render service to our country that no other race can," because, unlike
whites, they were "accustomed" to the "peculiar and dangerous climate" of Cuba. One of
the black units that served in the war was the Buffalo Soldiers. In March 1898, Washington
promised the Secretary of the Navy that war would be answered by "at least ten thousand
loyal, brave, strong black men in the south who crave an opportunity to show their loyalty
to our land and would gladly take this method of showing their gratitude for the lives laid
down and the sacrifices made that the Negro might have his freedom and rights."
In 1904, the United Spanish War Veterans was created from smaller groups of the veterans
of the Spanish American War. Today, that organization is defunct, but it left an heir in the
form of the Sons of Spanish American War Veterans, created in 1937 at the 39th National
Encampment of the United Spanish War Veterans. According to data from the United
States Department of Veterans Affairs, the last surviving U.S. veteran of the conflict,
Nathan E. Cook, died on September 10, 1992, at age 106. (If the data is to be believed,
Cook, born October 10, 1885, would have been only 12 years old when he served in the war.)
Propaganda in the war
In the 1890s, while competing over readership of their newspapers in New York City, William
Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer’s yellow journalism are said to have swayed public
opinion in New York City. The influence of the New York newspapers upon the nation at
large was very great. The World, Journal, Sun, and Herald, all with special correspondents
in Cuba, sold their news service to papers outside the city. The Chicago Tribune used the
World service and also the Journal syndicate service; the Boston Herald and Chicago
Times-Herald secured the New York Herald service; the San Fransisco Chronicle took
both the New York Herald and the Sun services; and the San Francisco Examiner, a
Hearst paper, was furnished the same service as the Journal. Furthermore, since all the
leading New York newspapers except the Sun were members of the Associated Press,
their news was available for transmission to other member papers. A study of Public
Opinion for the period from February 1895 to April 1898 shows that of 181 excerpts quoted
from the nation's newspapers concerning Cuban affairs, the New York press furnished 56.
By appealing to the territoriality and ethnocentrism of readers, Hearst and Pulitzer had
some influence over American opinion of the Spanish. The Spanish soldiers, portrayed as
cruel and bloodthirsty, were accused of countless illegal and immoral acts. Allegations
were made that innocent women were strip searched by callous troops, or taken prisoner
and thrown into Cuban jails full of violent criminals. These images and stories invoked the
public outcry that led to war.
One of the most effective ways to rouse emotion was to portray the victimization of women,
the most prominent being Evangelina Betancourt Cisneros. The articles describe her as an
affluent, innocent young woman. The response the authors wanted was support for the
Cubans. Evangelina Cisneros was actually the daughter of a rebel leader who had been
imprisoned. In order to get her father moved to a better prison, Evangelina offered to stay
in prison with him. After an incident with a Spanish colonel, the nature of which is unclear,
Evangelina was moved to a much harsher prison.
Film was used a propaganda for the first time in the Spanish–American War. A short ninety
second film, called Tearing Down the Spanish Flag, produced in 1898, was a simple moving
image designed to inspire patriotism and hatred for the Spanish in America. This film, as the
title suggests, depicts the removal of the Spanish national flag and its replacement by the
Stars and Stripes of America.
The conflict produced the first major recognition of individual acts of bravery by soldiers,
Marines, and sailors alike. The United States awards and decorations of the
Spanish–American War were as follows:
Medal of Honor (Extreme Acts of Heroism or Bravery)
Specially Meritorious Service Medal (Navy and Marine Corps Meritorious Actions)
Spanish Campaign Medal (General Service)
West Indies Campaign Medal (West Indies Naval Service)
Sampson Medal (West Indies service under Admiral Sampson)
Dewey Medal (Battle of Manila Bay Service)
Spanish War Service Medal (U.S. Army Homeland Service)
Army of Puerto Rican Occupation Medal (Post-War Occupation Duty)
Army of Cuban Occupation Medal (Post-War Occupation Duty)
The Spanish Campaign Medal was upgradeable to include the Silver Citation Star to
recognize those U.S. Army members who had performed individual acts of heroism.
The governments of Spain and Cuba also issued a wide variety of military awards to
honor Spanish, Cuban, and Philippine soldiers who had served in the conflict.
Back to North Carolina in the Spanish-American War