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Spanish American War


United States — versus — Spain

Introduction : 

Spanish American
 American soldiers at the siege of Santiago

In precise terms, the period during which Spain and American were technically at war was less than a year, between April and August of 1898. The incidents which propelled the war however, occurred over a much broader time frame. And if one considers the native rebellions that led up to the war in Cuba, and the native rebellions that occurred following America's possession of the Philippines, the period of hostilities is expanded considerably.

In Cuba, a nationalist party initiated a war for Independence in 1868, but after ten years failed to make progress and agreed to a truce. Hostilities did not resume until 1895 and the three year period leading up to American involvement, called the Cuban War of Independence. A nationalist movement in the Philippines began at this same time, so both Cuba and the Philippines were already in revolt when America intervened. Both native armies sought independence rather than American occupation, but the Cuban rebels cooperated with the Americans and were later recognized as a legitimate government. The Philippines, however, were not deemed to be "ready" for self-government by the American forces, so when Spain ceded the Island country to America, American inherited the ongoing rebellion.

On the home front, there was an unprecedented amount of propaganda and "yellow" journalism associated with the Spanish American War. Its intent was to inflame American patriotism and portray the invasion of Spanish territory as a humanitarian crusade, instead of an empire-expanding land-grab. A complete history of the Spanish American war, therefore, need include attention to the Cuban insurrection at proceeded the War, the Filipino rebellion that followed it, and a mention of the concerted press coverage and war-mongering publicity which led to the American declaration of war on Spain.

Wars of Liberation in Cuba : 1868-1898

Spanish American
 Antonio Maceo, Rebel leader

The insurrection in Cuba against the Spanish government began with a ten year guerilla war between 1868 and 1878, followed by a long truce, and ended with an re-invigorated campaign beginning in 1895. Once Spain determined to put down the rebellion once and for all, the brutal and inhumane methods she employed to deal with the insurgents and the rural peasants who supported them, led to wide spread international outrage and spurred America's involvement in the war.

There were few conventional battles associated with the rebellion, but there were several revolutionary heroes of particular note, and a few extraordinarily villainous Spanish generals. The Cuban insurrection leading up to America's involvement in the war, therefore, was of great interest and consequence, even though the military activity can be better described as "incidents" than battles.

There were at least four noteworthy Cuban nationals who played important roles in Cuban Independence. The two most romantic heroes were Antonio Maceo, and Jose Marti. Maceo was the oldest son in family of legendary heroes, and was a very effective guerilla leader. He was large of stature, and known for dramatic feats of strength and daring. He was killed in action, as were many of his brothers, but he continued to inspire resistance even in death. Jose Marti was better known as a literary figure that a fighter. He spent much of the time between the rebellions in exile, popularizing the cause of Cuban independence among intellectuals, but he returned to the island in 1895 and was killed in the Battle of Dos Rios.

The two other heroes of Cuban Independence were military leaders, one of whom deserted the Spanish army in order to lead the nationalist cause. Maximo Gomez was a leader in the early years of the war (1868-78), and the commander and chief for the Cuban forces from 1895-1898. Although trained as a conventional soldier, he readily adapted the nationalist army to incorporate guerilla tactics. He was, in fact, a leading strategist of guerrilla warfare, and the form of warfare takes its name from his movement. He conducted himself with integrity throughout the long war, and declined the presidency when it was offered to him. Calixto Garcia was a commander in the early rebellion, but was captured and imprisoned. When the fighting resumed in 1895 he was promoted to second in command, and was the Cuban general most closely allied with the American invasion.

The Spanish generals had a great deal of difficulty fighting guerilla warfare with regular troops. When Campos, the first Spanish general, proved ineffective in resisting the insurgents, he was replaced by General Valeriano Weyler, who gained a reputation as a perfect ogre. The insurgents were unable to take major cities but they were supported by the great majority of the rural population. In order to prevent country peasants from aiding and hiding the rebels, he gathered them into reconcentration camps, the precursor to such concentration camps of the 20th century. There many starved to death, and others died of disease amid wretchedly unsanitary conditions. These measures helped the Spanish cause somewhat in military terms, but were a disaster in terms of public relations. The American press reported on the conditions at the reconcentration camps, which outraged the general public. It changed the face of the war from a political dispute to a humanitarian crisis.

Short Biography
General Maceo Led the native forces against Spain in the Cuban Rebellion.
Jose Marti Leader of the Cuban independence movement. Exiled by the Spanish government.
Gen. Weyler Spanish commander to tried to break the insurgency by relocating rurals into concentration camps.
Gen. Blanco Spanish commander who replaced Weyler and tried to negotiate with the rebels.
Gen. de Campos Spanish general during the early years of the Cuban rebellion, who failed to crush the insurgency.
Maximo Gomez General who led the Cuban insurgency through decades of war, and laid the foundations for guerilla warfare.
Calixto Garcia Cuban general who cooperated with the American 'liberation' of Cuba.

American at War with Spain : May-August 1898

Spanish American
 After the Rough-rider's charge

Even before the sinking of the Maine, much of the American press was strongly pro-Cuba and there was a strong pro-war party. There were a wide range of reasons for this, ranging from compassion for the suffering, displace Cubans to nakedly imperialist ambitions. American nationalism was strong, and Spain's influence in the New World was increasingly resented, even though their claim to Cuba was based on an occupation of nearly 400 years. But until the American ship USS Maine was accidently sunk in the harbor of Havana, there was not a credible excuse for becoming involved in the rebellion. The Maine presumably sunk because it hit a Spanish mine, but the Spanish government disavowed any knowledge of the incident, and would never have done anything to intentionally provoke the United States. The mishap could not credibly be attributed to an act of hostility by Spain, but for a press and public looking for any excuse to become involved, it was enough to justify a declaration of war.

The first order of business, once American had declared war on Spain, was not the invasion of Cuba, but rather, the destruction of the Spanish fleet in the Philippines, in May. The situation in the Philippines was deemed to be critical because a large army of Filipino insurgents threatened the country from the inside, and British, Dutch, and German imperial navies threatened to interfere from the outside. Once Spain lost its grip on the Islands, the United States wanted to make sure it was positioned to assume control. Cuba, on the other hand was well within the exclusively American "sphere of influence".

Soon after Manila was secured, fighting got underway in Cuba. The first skirmishes were small scale naval battles. The main Spanish fleet was known to be under the command of Admiral Pascuel Cervera, but the whereabouts of the fleet was not known for several weeks. Eventually the Spanish fleet entered the harbor of Santiago, where it could safely defend itself, from the much larger American forces. For most of June therefore, there was a naval stand-off, although small scale skirmishes were fought at various ports where the Americans were attempting to land troops and supplies. The most famous landing of American troops on Cuba was at Guantanamo Bay in early June, when 620 Marines overran and captured the strategic port on the East coast of Cuba. With Guantanamo in American hands, the American forces could land and advance to Santiago by land.

The most famous land battle of the Spanish American War was fought July 1 on San Juan Hill, wherein a large American force, including Theodore Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders", over-ran a Spanish fortification protecting the city of Santiago. The Spanish were outnumbered nearly 20 to one, but put up a terrible fight, resulting in 200 Americans killed. The Americans then proceeded to El Canay, and began to besiege the city of Santiago. Two days later, Cervera led his fleet out of the Harbor and met the Americans in battle. Although he had the most modern fleet in the Spanish navy, he was utterly outgunned, but put up a noble fight. He had earned the respect of both the Americans and Spaniards for his upright bearing throughout the war, and chivalrous treatment of American captives.

The city of Santiago, the major port on the East side of Cuba fell to the united armies of the Americans and Cuban nationals in mid June. At this point, the Americans turned their attentions to Puerto Rico. Although there was no active nationalist movement on the island, the Americans desired to destroy Spain's influence in the new world, entirely. A land campaign in Puerto Rico was underway when the Spanish sued for peace. With their fleet entirely destroyed, they had no hope of holding distant colonies. There was no point in sacrificing more Spanish lives in holding towns that could not be provisioned or defended by sea. At Americans declared a cease-fire in August, and at the Treaty of Paris, Cuba was granted independence under the "protection" of the United States, and Spain Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. In one blow, Spain lost its possessions of 400 years in the New World, and the United States became a colonial power.

Battle / Outcome
Battle of Manila
Americans defeat Spanish
Fought May 1, 1898, between the American squadron of 6 ships, under Admiral Dewey, and 11 Spanish vessels, chiefly small, and unarmored. The Spanish fleet was totally destroyed, the Americans suffering no loss.

Battle / Outcome
Battle of Cardenas
Spanish defeat Americans
Fought May 11, 1898 off the coast of Cuba between 3 American ships, and 5 Spanish ships. Two American ships were disabled and the Americans suffered 11 dead and wounded.
Battle of Guantanamo Bay
Americans defeat Spanish
Fought June 6-10, 1898 between a Spanish force of 800 and 623 American Marines, and resulted in the American conquest of a important bay on the East coast of the Cuban mainland.
Battle of San Juan Hill
Americans defeat Spanish
Fought July 1, 1898, when 12,000 Americans, under General Shafter, captured from the Spaniards, after heavy fighting, the strong position of El Caney and San Juan Hill, commanding Santiago de Cuba. The Spaniards made various attempts on the 2nd and 3rd to dislodge them, but without success. The American losses during the three days amounted to 115 officers and 1,570 men killed and wounded.
Battle of Santiago
Americans defeat Spanish
Fought July 3, 1898, between the American fleet of 4 battleships and 3 cruisers, under Admiral W. T. Sampson, and the Spanish fleet of 4 armoured cruisers and 3 torpedo-boats, under Admiral Cervera. The Spaniards endeavoured to escape from the blockaded harbour of Santiago, but were unsuccessful, the whole squadron being destroyed. The Americans suffered hardly any damage, the Spanish gunnery being very inefficient, and lost only 1 man killed.
Battle of Santiago
Americans defeat Spanish
This city was besieged by American and Cuban ground forces soon after the Naval battle of Santiago opened the ports to American ships. The city was blockaded by the American force while a combined force of over 20,000 Cuban nationals and American regulars fought under General Shafter assaulted the town. The Spaniards, under General Toral were well fortified, and the besieging forces suffered 1600 casualties. After two weeks of fighting, the Spanish general surrendered to the Americans.

Short Biography
George Dewey Highest ranking Naval Officer in U.S. Hero of Battle of Manila Bay in Spanish American War.
Montojo Spanish admiral in charge of the fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay.
Admiral Cervera Gentlemanly captain of the Spanish navy at Santiago.
Admiral Sampson Captain of the American fleet at the Naval battle of Santiago.
Calixto Garcia Cuban general who cooperated with the American 'liberation' of Cuba.

American Philippine War : 1899-1902

Spanish American
 Annihilation of the Spanish Fleet at Manila

Just as the Cuban War of Independence got under in 1895, a similar group of insurgents arose in the Philippines, under young general by the name of Emilio Aguinaldo. The Spanish however, were able to buy off some of the leaders, and exiled Aguinaldo in 1897. Guerilla attacks persisted for the following year, but they were not well coordinated. After the U.S. declared war on Spain, they brought Aguinaldo back to the Philippines so that his rebels could assist the U.S. occupation. However, Aguinaldo was not trusted by many of the American leadership, and he was greatly feared by the Spanish.

The leader of the Spanish army in Manila agreed to surrender to the Americans on the condition that they exclude the native Filipinos from the government. It was feared that the uneducated peasants who made up most of the Filipino army would deal harshly with the native Spaniards. It was in American interests also to maintain a tight control of the government. The Filipinos were therefore excluded from the final occupation of Manila, and were deemed to be "unready for self-government. When the United States took over the Philippines, therefore, they inherited the Spaniards rebel problems.

The ensuing Philippine-American war continued for three years, at which point Aguinaldo agreed to cooperate with the American government. There were only a few notable battles, at Manilia, Zapote Bridge, and Mabatic to name a few. The war was primarily carried on through guerilla tactics. The Filipinos could not resist the superior American fire power, but they were expert at disappearing into jungles and small scale ambushes. Even after Aguinaldo surrendered attacks continued for ten more years, but on a small scale that did not threaten government operations.

It was not until 1935 that the United States agreed to grant Philippine independence, and by then the Japanese were the predominant imperial power in the region. Before the Americans handed over power to an indigenous government, the country was invaded by the Japanese.

Battle / Outcome
Battle of Manila
Americans defeat Filipinos
This city was besieged by American and Philippino forces. The Spanish residents agreed to surrender on conditions that the Americans, rather than the Philippino rebels took possession of the city. A mock battle was staged to keep up appearances, but the Philippinos were not permitted to take part. This event undermined the American-Rebel alliance.
Battle of Zapote Bridge
Americans defeat Filipinos
Fought June 13, 1899 between a force of 3000 Americans, led by Major Lawton, and a force of 5000 Filipinos, led by Pio del Pilar. The native forces were entrenched in elaborate breastworks, but in spite of a valiant defense did not have the firepower needed to resist the Americans superior firepower. The Americans suffered 15 dead and 60 wounded, while the Filipinos suffered over 500 casualties.
Battle of Tirad Pass
Americans defeat Filipinos
Fought Dec 2, 1899 between a force of only 60 Filipinos, under Gregorio del Pilar, and 500 Americans under General March. The purpose of the action was to prevent the capture of the Philipino rebel leader Aguinaldo, and the Filipinos fought to the last man, entrenched in a mountain pass. The delaying tactic was successful, although the Americans eventually prevailed at a loss of over 30 men.
Battle of Mabitac
Filipinos defeat Americans
Fought September 17, 199 between a force of 800 Filipino insurgents and an American force of 145. The battle began when a small force of Americans advanced into difficult terrain held by the native forces. Seriously outmanned and unable to maneuver, the Americans sustained heavy casualties, including 21 killed and 23 wounded.

Short Biography
George Dewey Highest ranking Naval Officer in U.S. Hero of Battle of Manila Bay in Spanish American War.
Emilio Aguinaldo Leader of the Philipino insurrents during the Philippine-American War

Story LinksBook Links
Spain in Our Day.  in  Child's History of Spain  by  John  Bonner
Dewey at Manila Bay  in  America First  by  L. B. Evans
Dewey at Manila Bay  in  Boys' Book of Sea Fights  by  C. C. Fraser
Battle of Santiago Harbor  in  Boys' Book of Sea Fights  by  C. C. Fraser
The Battle of Manila  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A.  Guerber
Hobson's Brave Deed  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A.  Guerber
Surrender of Santiago  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A.  Guerber
The Philippine War  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A.  Guerber
New Monarchy  in  Greatest Nations: Spain  by  C. F.  Horne
Maceo and the Struggle for Cuban Independence  in  Historical Tales: 3—Spanish American  by  Charles  Morris
Hobson and the Sinking of the Merrimac  in  Historical Tales: 3—Spanish American  by  Charles  Morris
The Sea-fight at Manila  in  War with Spain  by  Charles  Morris
First Fight on Cuban Soil  in  War with Spain  by  Charles  Morris
The Raid of the Rough Riders  in  War with Spain  by  Charles  Morris
The Battle of Santiago  in  War with Spain  by  Charles  Morris
The Siege and Fall of Santiago in  War with Spain  by  Charles  Morris
The Siege of Manila  in  War with Spain  by  Charles  Morris
Manila and Santiago  in  Historical Tales: 7—Spanish  by  Charles  Morris
Cuba's Fight for Freedom  in  Spain: History for Young Readers  by  F. A. Ober
War with the United States  in  Spain: History for Young Readers  by  F. A. Ober
Freedom for Cuba  in  Growth of the British Empire  by  M. B.  Synge

Book Links
War with Spain  by  Charles Morris

Image Links
Battle of Manila Bay  in First Book in American History Battle Map: Manilla Bay in Boys' Book of Sea Fights The Olympia  in Boys' Book of Sea Fights
Battle Map: Santiage Harbor in Boys' Book of Sea Fights U.S. Cruiser New York  in Boys' Book of Sea Fights After the explosion of the Maine  in Story of the Great Republic
The Oregon on July 3  in Story of the Great Republic The Spanish fleet ready to sail against the United States in 1898 in Greatest Nations: Spain The Alamo  in Historical Tales: 2—American
The wreck of the Maine in War with Spain Plan of the Battles of Manila in War with Spain Annihilation of the Spanish fleet at Manila in War with Spain
Lieutenant Hobson on the Merrimac in War with Spain Marine Bombardment of Santiago in War with Spain Soldiers going on Transports at Tampa in War with Spain
Massachusetts volunteers at Siboney in War with Spain Infantry Camp at Las Guasimas in War with Spain Plan of the Battle of Santiago in War with Spain
American Soldiers at Santiago in War with Spain Cervera's fleet endeavoring to escape. in War with Spain Wreck of the Spanish cruiser Oquendo in War with Spain
The Oregon after her chase of Cristobal Colon in War with Spain Wounded at Siboney after the Rough Rider's charge in War with Spain Soldier's life--washing clothes in the stream in War with Spain
The Annihilation of the Spanish Fleet in the Harbor of Manila  in Historical Tales: 7—Spanish Roosevelt and his Rough Riders Storming San Juan Hill  in True Stories of Our Presidents Dewey on the Bridge of the Olympia  in Builders of our Country Vol. II