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The Spanish-American War

"A Splendid Little War"


Fought between April and August 1898, the Spanish-American War was the result of American concern over Spanish treatment of Cuba, political pressures, and anger over the sinking of USS Maine.  Though President William McKinley had wished to avoid war, American forces moved swiftly once it began.  In rapid campaigns, American forces seized the Philippines and Guam.  This was followed by a longer campaign in southern Cuba which culminated in American victories at sea and on land.  In the wake of the conflict, the United States became an imperial power having gained many Spanish territories.

Causes of the Spanish-American War

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

Beginning in 1868, the people of Cuba began attempting to overthrow their Spanish rulers. Having defeated two insurrections, the Spanish took a heavy hand when a third began in 1895. Using harsh policies that included concentration camps, Gen. Valeriano Weyler sought to crush the rebels. These horrified the American public which had deep commercial concerns in Cuba.  As the situation on the island worsened, President William McKinley dispatched the cruiser USS Maine to Havana to protect American interests. On February 15, 1898, the ship exploded in the harbor.  Initial reports indicated it was caused by a Spanish mine.  Incensed by the incident and encouraged by the press, the public demanded war which was declared on April 25.

Campaign in the Philippines & Guam

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

Anticipating war, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt ordered Commodore George Dewey's US Asiatic Squadron to Hong Kong from which it could quickly descend on the Spanish in the Philippines.  With the declaration of war, Dewey crossed the South China Sea and won a stunning victory over Admiral Patricio Montojo at the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1.  Over the next few months, Dewey worked with Filipino rebels, such as Emilio Aguinaldo, to secure the rest of the archipelago.  In July, troops under Major General Wesley Merritt arrived to support Dewey.  The following month they captured Manila from the Spanish.  The victory in the Philippines was augmented by the capture of Guam on June 20.    

Campaigns in the Caribbean

Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

While a blockade of Cuba was imposed on April 21, efforts to get American troops to Cuba moved slowly. Though thousands volunteered to serve, issues persisted in equipping and transporting them to the war zone. Finally landing in June the US V Corps, led by Major General William Shafter, came ashore at Daiquiri and Siboney. Advancing on the port of Santiago de Cuba, they fought actions at Las Guasimas, El Caney, and San Juan Hill while Cuban rebels closed on the city from west.  With the enemy nearing, Admiral Pascual Cervera attempted to escape the harbor with his fleet but was crushed by Admiral William T. Sampson at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba.  While the city fell on July 16, American forces continued to fight in Puerto Rico.

Aftermath of the Spanish-American War

Photograph Source: Public Domain

With the Spanish facing defeat on all fronts, they elected to sign an armistice on August 12 which ended hostilities.  This was followed by a formal peace agreement, the Treaty of Paris, which was concluded in December.  By the terms of the treaty Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States.  It also surrendered its rights to Cuba allowing the island to become independent under the guidance of Washington.  While the conflict effectively marked the end of the Spanish Empire, it saw the rise of the United States as world power and aided healing the divides caused by the Civil War.  Though a short war, the conflict led to protracted American involvement in Cuba as well as spawned the Philippine-American War.  

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