When we think of revolutionary, history-altering events in American history, the Revolutionary War, or the Civil War come to our minds first. But does anyone know what happened in 1898?
The year holds significance for the 4-month conflict between the United States and the Kingdom of Spain. The war actually refers to the armed US intervention in four Spanish colonies―Cuba, Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico―in the late 19th century.
Run-Up to the War
Following a string of American victories over European colonizers in the early 19th century, trans-Atlantic relationships were at an unprecedented low. In the early days of the USA, territorial expansion was a vital component of its national character.
Further, in 1832, the Monroe Doctrine declared that any further effort by a European government to colonize or interfere in any country in the Western Hemisphere would be treated as an act of aggression, and would be followed by the USA intervening militarily.
The doctrine, however, failed to clarify the USA's stance on the already colonized nations, such as the occupation of Cuba by Spain. Also, in 1868, there was a serious bid for independence in Cuba, which was successfully defeated by the Spanish forces after ten years of bloodshed.
To please the advocates of freedom, Spain put forth a reforms pact, known as the Pact of Zanjon. But, even after such reforms were being implemented, some revolutionaries in Cuba, led by the exiled leader Jose Marti, continued to press for complete independence.
In early 1895, Marti decided to launch a three-pronged invasion of Cuba to free the island, one of the incursions being from Florida. This attack from the US coast was thwarted by US officials, which resulted in the full-fledged attack being converted into mere guerrilla warfare, which did not have the required intensity.
This was followed by a slew of atrocities by the Spanish forces led by General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau. Weyler's brutalities did not go down well with the American press in particular. This was followed by a small riot ignited by some Spanish officers in Havana, who were not happy with the criticism of Spain in American newspapers.
The targeted neighborhood had a substantial American population. To ensure the safety of US nationals, President McKinley ordered the deployment of a ship, USS Maine, in Havana. The tension escalated when Spain deployed an armored cruiser, the Vizcaya, off the coast of New York City.
In February 1898, the Spanish sunk the Maine, orchestrating an explosion in its base, an allegation denied by Spain. 266 sailors perished, and there was widespread outrage across the US and demands were made to chuck out the Spanish beyond the Atlantic.
Slogans like "Remember the Maine, To Hell with Spain!" fueled tremendous public anger. McKinley soon requested the Congress to allocate an additional 50 million USD to refurbish the armed forces, to which the Congress instantly obliged. The size of the army was rapidly expanded from a mere 28,183 men to a humongous 250,000 men within months.
On April 11, 1898, President McKinley requested the Congress for complete authority to ship American troops to Cuba to end the civil war. The resolution passed by the Senate and the House demanded complete Spanish withdrawal from Cuba, and authorized McKinley to make use of as much military as he thought necessary to liberate Cuba from Spain's clutches.
In response, Spain broke off all diplomatic and trade ties with the US, and declared war on April 25. A war that began on the southeastern US coast soon took a global form, when it spread to other Spanish colonies, like Guam and Philippines. On the Filipino frontier, this war eventually led to the Philippine Revolution, which received the backing of the US.
On May 1, 1898, the first battle broke off between American and Spanish forces, at the Manila Bay. Commodore George Dewey, commanding USS Olympia, defeated a Spanish naval squadron within hours. In June, the US along with the Filipino troops had taken control of islands from Spain. On June 12, 1898, the independence of the Philippines was proclaimed.
On the Guam front, a US fleet commanded by Captain Henry Glass, aboard USS Charleston and flanked by three transports carrying soldiers to the Philippines, entered Guam's Apra Harbor on June 20, 1898, and the war in Guam was won without much bloodshed. The island of Guam was later annexed to the US.
After overwhelming the Spanish in Cuba, the American forces started to leave Cuba on August 7, 1898. The evacuation, however, was not complete, and the army decided to keep the Ninth Infantry Regiment in Cuba to defend the newly liberated country.
So, as an outcome of the war, the US temporarily occupied Cuba, and exercised colonial authorities over Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, through the Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10, 1898.
This war also laid a firm foundation for America's immense military strength and a naval capability that could span almost the entire world. For Spain, the war proved to be disastrous, and further contributed to Spain's military and economic downfall in the twentieth century.