The Spanish American War of 1898
One hundred years ago, in 1898, the United States was fighting the Spanish-American War. The victory over Spain made the United States a colonial power. The Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, as well as the formerly independent nation of Hawaii, became American possessions.
The excuse for entering the war was the rebellion by the Cubans against Spanish rule and the explosion of an American battleship U.S.S. Maine. The Spanish colonies in mainland North and South America became independent in the early 1800s, but Cuba and Puerto Rico remained Spanish. Many Americans in the U.S. sympathized with Cuba, which began in 1895, and also, maybe more importantly, U.S. citizens owned $50 million worth of real estate and industry in Cuba. William McKinley became president in 1897, and later that year the Spanish prime minister was assassinated. After brutal rule that included concentration camps, Spain granted Cuba limited autonomy on January 1, 1898, but that was too little, too late. On January 12, there was a riot in Cuba against the Spanish.
On January 25, the U.S. government, concerned about this problem in Cuba, sent the battleship USS Maine to Havana. On February 15, the ship exploded, killing 266 crewmen. This raised a big outcry in the United States. On March 28, the Naval Court of Inquiry reported that the Maine was destroyed by a mine, and did not assign the blame to any party. Many newspapers, however, stirred up outrage and called for war. On April 11, 1898, President McKinley asked Congress to declare war. On April 22, the Unites States was at war with Spain.
Spain was by this time a decaying, weak empire, and no match for a vigorous, muscular American military kept in shape by killing American Indians. On May 1, U.S. ships under Commodore Dewey, sent from Hong Kong to the Philippines, won the Battle of Manila Bay. Before dawn on May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey's flagship Olympia led seven U.S. Navy cruisers and gunboats into Manila Bay. By 8 AM that morning Dewey's squadron had located and destroyed virtually the entire Spanish naval forces in the Philippines. Damage to the American ships was very little, and their crews suffered no fatalities and few injuries.
The Battle of Manila Bay was a singular demonstration of the daring and decisive application of sea power. In a few hours, Dewey had eliminated any threat that the Spanish Navy might pose to U.S. Far Eastern commerce and placed Spain's centuries-long rule of the Philippines in great jeopardy. A few days later, with the capture of Cavite arsenal, he also gained a repair and refueling base, essential for maintaining his squadron under wartime conditions thousands of miles from home.
On May 15, Theodore Roosevelt began training the famous Rough Riders for battles in Cuba, which brought him the fame that made him vice president in 1901 and then president on September 13 . In Washington, President...