My husband is a military history buff.
As a pilot in the USAF, it should come as no surprise that he enjoys reading and watching all things related to US military history. He can spout off names, dates, and battles like a Jeopardy! contestant; it’s enough to make your head spin.
But as I was researching today’s #historyfriday post, *I* had the upper hand for once. Because my military history buff husband didn’t know anything about the War of 1898.
And, okay, neither did I until I did some research. 😉
Beginning in 1492, Spain was the first European nation to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, explore, and colonize the Western Hemisphere. At one time, the Spanish colonization reached from present-day Virginia in the United States, westward to California, and south to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. However, by the end of the 19th century, most territories had either declared independence or fallen into other hands. Cuba and Puerto Rico remained the only two remnants of the Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere.
But not for long.
Beginning in 1868 and lasting on and off for over thirty years, guerrilla fighters in Cuba, inspired by the recent liberation of Latin America from Spanish rule, began waging their own war of independence. In response, Spain enacted drastic measures to try and repress the uprising, such as herding Cuba’s rural population into disease-ridden garrison towns and placing the entire country under marshal law.
The United States, although heavily invested in Cuba due to a nearly $50 million sugar trade, refused to intervene. Despite news reports from Havana inciting outrage from American citizens, President Grover Cleveland issued a proclamation of neutrality on June 12, 1895. As the situation continued to worsen, endangering not only trade but also American citizens living and working on the island, Cleveland eventually threatened involvement if Spain couldn’t get the “Cuba situation” under control. Ultimately, however, Cleveland still refused to act.
His successor, William McKinley, inaugurated in 1897, took a different approach.
In January 1898, McKinley authorized the USS Maine to the port of Havana as a show of force and to protect US citizens living in Cuba. On February 15, a massive explosion of unknown origin sank the ship, killing 260 of the 400 American crew members on board. Although an official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled that the ship was blown up by a mine, it did not directly place the blame on Spain. In the eyes of the American public (and in many members of Congress), however, Spain’s guilt was indisputable, and the call for war grew to a deafening roar.
Spain, however, beat them to the punch. On April 23, 1898, Spain officially declared war on the United States. The U.S. retaliated with a declaration of its own on April 25. On May 1, U.S. forces led by Commodore George Dewey destroyed the Spanish Pacific fleet at Manila Bay in the Philippines (another Spanish-held territory) in the first battle of the Spanish-American War.
Back in Cuba, the U.S. navy blockaded the Spanish fleet docked in Santiago harbor. In June, the U.S. Army Fifth Corps landed in Cuba and began a coordinated land and sea assault on the island. On July 1, the Americans won the Battle of San Juan Hill; by July 17, the Spanish surrendered Cuba to the Americans. On August 12 an armistice was signed between Spain and the United States, and an official treaty was signed on December 10 officially ending the Spanish-American War–and effectively ending the Spanish empire once and for all.