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Cuba was at war with Spain since 2/24/1895. In fact, it was the third war against Spain for their independence. US arrived to the war in 1898, after the Maine's explosion. Very wise when Cubans had the war almost won.
But the other side of the history is that this war is known as Guerra hispano-cubano-norteamericana in the period when US entered in the war.
Naming conventions can seem a bit weird. For example, here in the States we know the Seven Years' War (well, to the extent that we know it at all) as the French and Indian War because… it was fought between the French and… the English, with various Native American tribes joining in on the French side. Southern sympathizers liked to call the American Civil War the War of Northern Aggression. I'd imagine that the English don't really care to call the Revolutionary War by the same name (or perhaps even refer to it as a war).
If anything, I'd say the Spanish-American War is more descriptive than a lot of those names. The US did, in the end, fight against the Spanish, even if they did so primarily in Cuba, and the spoils of that conflict certainly indicate that the USA was up against all of Spain - they took home not just Cuba but also the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. In fact, there were even a couple of (relatively minor) pitched battles in the Pacific Ocean:
For that matter, Puerto Rico saw some action:
I'm sorry, but this was flat-out not just a war (however short) about only Cuba. It was the United States' first real foray into imperialism (setting aside the "Manifest Destiny" expansion across the North American continent).
It's called the Spanish-American War because it was a war between the USA and Spain. While Cuba was part of it, a center of much of the action, the goal was to "liberate" the "oppressed" "natives" of the tattered remains of Spain's global empire from their "despotic" "masters". The proof in the pudding was Spain's behavior in Cuba.
The United States had just fulfilled it's "Manifest Destiny." Therefore the time had come to take up the "White Man's Burden" and "spread democracy" to the places that could use it most and were easiest to take over. Once the democratic occupiers had "raised up" the "natives" to an appropriate level of self-government (or fought hard enough for liberation, as the case may be), they would be eligible for independence - Cuba in 1902, Philippines in 1946, Puerto Rico and Guam, never.
Back in 2003 I was surprised at a used book sale to find a history of the Spanish American War from very shortly after the war, in which the discourse to justify US actions was a dead ringer for George W. Bush vis-a-vis Iraq. I even read paragraphs of it to my Western Civ class and they couldn't tell that it wasn't about Iraq. Sorry I don't have more info on that book, I've long since given the book to the person I would turn to for a better answer to this question: Jason Colby, author of The Business of Empire: United Fruit, Race, and U.S. Expansion in Central America", available on Kindle.
The Spanish-American War took place in 1898. Cuba became independent only in 1902. History records February 24, 1895 as the date, when the (preceding) Cuban War of Independence began. The latter war turned into the former when America intervened.
If one were to refer to the Spanish-Cuban-American War instead of Spanish-American-War, others could perhaps make the argument that it should be the Spanish-Cuban-American-Catalan (or even Spanish-Cuban-American-Catalan-Texan) War on the (off) chance that Catalonia (and even Texas) will become independent countries one day.
To a Cuban, it looks like a "Spanish Cuban, (North) American" war.
But to a (North) American, it looks like a war on several fronts against Spain, of which Cuba was one. Other battlefields included Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.
To the American way of thinking, it was a transfer of Spain's (remaining) overseas empire to the rising Americans. Cuba's revolution was advanced enough for her to assert her independence from America (although this was somewhat nominal until 1959). But the others just fell into the lap of the victors, and history is usually written by the victors.
From an American point of view, Cuba was what America didn't get, which is why Americans would likely omit "Cuba" from their description of the war.
American History: A Dispute Over Cuba Leads to the Spanish-American War
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
The Spanish-American War took place in the late eighteen hundreds during the administration of President William McKinley. This week in our series, Harry Monroe and Kay Gallant tell the story of that war.
HARRY MONROE: Unlike other presidents of the late eighteen hundreds, William McKinley spent much of his presidency dealing with foreign policy. The most serious problem involved Spain.
Spain ruled Cuba at that time. Cuban rebels had started a fight for independence. The Spanish government promised the Cuban people equal rights and self-rule -- but in the future. The rebels did not want to wait.
President McKinley felt Spain should be left alone to honor its promises. He also felt responsible for protecting the lives and property of Americans in Cuba. When riots broke out in Havana, he ordered the battleship Maine to sail there.
One night in early eighteen ninety-eight, a powerful explosion sank the Maine. More than two hundred fifty American sailors died. There was some evidence the explosion was caused by an accident in the ship's fuel tanks. But many Americans blamed Spain. They demanded war to free Cuba and make it independent.
KAY GALLANT: President McKinley had a difficult decision to make. He did not want war. As he told a friend: "I fought in our Civil War. I saw the dead piled up. I do not want to see that again." But McKinley also knew many Americans wanted war. If he refused to fight Spain, his Republican Party could lose popular support.
So, he did not ask Congress for a declaration of war right away. He sent a message to the Spanish government, instead. McKinley demanded an immediate ceasefire in Cuba. He also offered his help in ending the revolt.
By the time Spain agreed to the demands, McKinley had made his decision. He asked Congress for permission to use military force to bring peace to Cuba. Congress agreed. It also demanded that Spain withdraw from Cuba and give up all claims to the island.
The president signed the congressional resolution. The Spanish government immediately broke relations. On April twenty-fifth, eighteen ninety-eight, the United States declared war on Spain.
HARRY MONROE: The American Navy was ready to fight. It was three times bigger than the Spanish navy. It also was better trained. A ship-building program begun fifteen years earlier had made the American Navy one of the strongest in the world. Its ships were made of steel and carried powerful guns.
Part of the American Navy at that time was based in Hong Kong. The rest was based on the Atlantic coast of the United States.
Admiral George Dewey commanded the Pacific Fleet. Dewey had received a message from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt. If war broke out, it said, he was to attack the Spanish naval force in the Philippines. The Spanish force was commanded by Admiral Patricio Montojo.
KAY GALLANT: The American fleet arrived in Manila Bay on May first. It sailed toward the line of Spanish ships. The Spanish fired first. The shells missed. When the two naval forces were five thousand meters apart, Admiral Dewey ordered the Americans to fire. After three hours, Admiral Montojo surrendered. Most of his ships were sunk. Four hundred of his men were dead or wounded.
American land forces arrived several weeks later. They captured Manila, giving the United States control of the Philippines.
HARRY MONROE: Dewey was suddenly a hero. Songs and poems were written about him. Congress gave him special honors. A spirit of victory spread across the nation. People called for an immediate invasion of Cuba.
Unlike the Navy, America's Army was not ready to fight. When war was declared, the Army had only about twenty-five thousand men. Within a few months, however, it had more than two hundred thousand. The soldiers trained at camps in the southern United States. One of the largest camps was in Florida. Cuba is just one hundred fifty kilometers off the coast of Florida.
KAY GALLANT: Two weeks after the Spanish-American War began, the Army sent a small force to Cuba. The force was ordered to inspect the north coast of Cuba and to take supplies to Cuban rebels. That invasion failed. But the second one succeeded. Four hundred American soldiers landed with guns, bullets, and supplies for the rebels.
Next, the Army planned to send twenty-five thousand men to Cuba. Their goal was the Port of Santiago on the south coast. American ships had trapped a Spanish naval force there earlier.
One of the commanders of the big American invasion force was Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt had resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy when the war started. He organized a group of horse soldiers. Most of the men were cowboys from America's southwest. They could ride and shoot well. Some were rich young men from New York who simply shared Roosevelt's love of excitement. The group became known as Roosevelt's "Rough Riders."
HARRY MONROE: As the Americans landed near Santiago, Spanish forces withdrew to positions outside the city. The strongest force was at San Juan Hill.
The Spanish soldiers used smokeless gunpowder. This made their artillery hard to find. The Americans did not have the smokeless powder. But they had Gatling machine guns which poured a stream of bullets at the enemy.
When the machine guns opened fire, American soldiers began moving up San Juan Hill. Several American reporters watched. Later, one of them wrote this report:
"I have seen many pictures of the charge on San Juan Hill. But none seem to show it as I remember it. In the pictures, the men are running up the hill quickly in straight lines. There seem to be so many men that no enemy could stand against them.
"In fact," said the reporter, "there were not many men. And they moved up the hill slowly, in a close group, not in a straight line. It seemed as if someone had made a terrible mistake. One wanted to call to these few soldiers to come back."
KAY GALLANT: The American soldiers were not called back. They reached the top of San Juan Hill. The Spanish soldiers fled. "All we have to do," an American officer said, "is hold on to the hill and Santiago will be ours."
American Commander General William Shafter sent a message to Spanish Commander General Jose Toral. Shafter demanded Toral's surrender. While he waited for an answer, the Spanish naval force tried to break out of Santiago Harbor. The attempt failed, and the Americans took control of the port.
The loss destroyed any hope that Spain could win the war. There was now no way it could send more soldiers and supplies to Cuba.
General Toral agreed to a short ceasefire so women and children could leave Santiago. But he rejected General Shafter's demand of unconditional surrender. American artillery then attacked Santiago. General Toral defended the city as best he could. Finally, on July seventeenth, he surrendered. The United States promised to send all his soldiers back to Spain.
HARRY MONROE: In the next few weeks, American forces occupied Puerto Rico and the Philippine capital of Manila. America's war with Spain was over. It had lasted just ten weeks. The next step was to negotiate terms of a peace treaty. The negotiations would be held in Paris.
The victorious United States demanded independence for Cuba. It demanded control over Puerto Rico and Guam. And it demanded the right to occupy Manila. The two sides agreed quickly on the terms concerning Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam. But they could not agree on what to do about the Philippines.
Spain rejected the American demand for control. It did not want to give up this important colony. Negotiations on this point of the peace treaty lasted for days.
The Black “Immune” Regiments in the Spanish-American War
(Library of Congress)
In April 1898 Congress declared war on Spain, and patriotic Americans of all colors rallied to the flag. The rampant discrimination that characterized race relations in this country during the Gilded Age caused some black citizens to question America’s crusade to end Spanish oppression of dark-skinned Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Filipinos, when they were facing similar conditions of injustice in the United States. Many other African Americans, however, hoped that they could gradually expand opportunities for racial equality by supporting the “splendid little war.”
The soldiers of the Regular Army’s four black regiments–the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry–performed their duty without question. They deployed to Cuba and made significant contributions to the speedy victory, earning five Medals of Honor and twenty-nine Certificates of Merit for their gallantry under fire. Thousands of other African Americans also served in the 200,000-man Volunteer Army that was specially raised to augment the regulars. President William McKinley asked each of the states, territories, and the District of Columbia to provide a quota of units based upon their respective populations, and eight governors–from Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia–included segregated black units in their contributions to that force. Ohio’s Governor Asa S. Bushnell offered command of his state’s black battalion to 1LT Charles Young, the Regular Army’s only black line officer, and Young’s acceptance earned him a temporary promotion to major in the Volunteer Army.
Concerned about the health risks that tropical diseases would pose for American troops when they deployed to the Caribbean theater of operations, the War Department almost immediately began to consider organizing specialized units. In late April, the New York Times reported that Secretary of War Russell Alger wanted to recruit “at least half a dozen special regiments of yellow fever immunes for service in Cuba.” Alger asked Senator Donelson Caffery (D-LA) whether 6,000 immunes could be recruited in the Gulf states, and Caffery optimistically responded that “he could raise 20,000 such volunteers in New Orleans alone, as practically all the natives had had the fever, and all would volunteer.”
Congress settled for half the number of men offered by Senator Caffery, and in early May it empowered President McKinley to authorize Secretary Alger to organize “an additional volunteer force of not exceeding ten thousand enlisted men possessing immunity from diseases incident to tropical climates.” The resulting ten infantry regiments were popularly known as the “Immunes,” and they soon attracted volunteers–primarily from the South–who had been unwilling or unable to enlist in Regular Army or state units. The Washington Post ridiculed the concept, saying: “Among all the fallacies and crack-brained nonsense bred by the war, we know of none so extravagant as the ‘immune regiment.’” The New York Times pointed out, however, that efforts would be made to secure recruits who, if they had not passed through yellow fever epidemics, at least would be “thoroughly acclimated to a hot climate and…accustomed to outdoor life. When so made up[,] it is considered that these regiments will be far superior for rough and ready campaigning in Cuba to the ordinary volunteers.”
Many erroneously believed that African Americans were naturally immune to tropical diseases or at least were better suited for service in the tropics. Booker T. Washington wrote the Secretary of the Navy that Cuba’s climate was “peculiar and danger[o]us to the unaclimated [sic] white man. The Negro race in the South is accustomed to this climate.” Other black leaders lobbied in Washington to reserve all ten regiments for their race. Although they lacked the political clout to accomplish that lofty goal, President McKinley was well aware that most states had refused to accept black volunteers, and he wanted to recognize the martial spirit of the minority that staunchly supported his Republican party. On 26 May, the adjutant general’s office issued General Orders, No. 55, indicating that five of the Immune regiments would be composed of “persons of color.” Shortly thereafter, that number was reduced to four, and the 7th through the 10th U.S. Volunteer Infantry (USVI) were designated for black enlisted men and lieutenants. Company commanders and “field and staff” officers were to be white, a policy that angered most African Americans.
The issue of commissioning black officers was a sensitive one, because many Americans doubted that a people only one generation removed from slavery could produce effective military leaders. More than 100 black men had “worn shoulder straps” during the Civil War–one surgeon had even earned the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel–but they all had left the service during or shortly after the war concluded. Since that time, the Regular Army had commissioned eight African Americans–three line officers and five chaplains–but Charles Young and four chaplains were the only ones remaining on active duty. Governors from twenty-two states and the District of Columbia also had commissioned hundreds of black officers in the segregated units that served in their respective militias. Many of these units were still serving in 1898, and the African American community reasonably expected that they should be accepted into the Volunteer Army without leadership changes. John Mitchell Jr., the outspoken editor of the Richmond Planet, expressed this view as “No officers, no fight!”
All the officers in the Volunteer Army’s black state units were African Americans, except for those in the 3d Alabama and the commander and one assistant surgeon in the 6th Virginia. The War Department, however, decided that it would only authorize 100 black officer billets for the Immunes–twenty-four lieutenants and a chaplain in each black regiment. Officials hoped that this policy would not create problems, but many doubted the efficacy of commissioning so many African Americans. The New York Times reported that “Army experts” regarded black officers as “an experiment which may or may not turn out well,” and it also noted that “there is some doubt whether colored troops will follow one of their own race as well as they would a white officer.” Virginia’s Richmond Dispatch offered a blunter assessment that “the presence of shoulder-strapped Negroes in our army would be a constant source of embarrassment and weakness.”
To organize the Immune regiments, the War Department divided the South into recruiting regions. General Orders, No. 60, issued on 1 June 1898, designated the commanders for eight of the ten units–all but the 1st and 2d USVI–and assigned them geographic areas in which to recruit, as well as specific cities in which to locate their regimental headquarters. The states of Arkansas, Missouri, and western Tennessee were assigned to the 7th Immunes, and CPT Edward A. Godwin of the 8th Cavalry was selected as the regimental commander. The 8th Immunes would recruit in Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, and West Virginia, and be commanded by MAJ Eli L. Huggins of the 6th Cavalry. The 9th Immunes would come from Louisiana and be commanded by CPT Charles J. Crane of the 24th Infantry. The 10th Immunes would recruit in Virginia and North Carolina. The regiment’s first commander would be MAJ Jesse M. Lee, of the 9th Infantry, but he would be replaced by CPT Thaddeus W. Jones, from the 10th Cavalry. The order failed to indicate which units would accept black volunteers, but Adjutant General (BG) Henry C. Corbin had already sent the new colonels a confidential letter informing them that their lieutenants and enlisted men were to be “persons of color.”
CPTs Godwin, Jones, and Crane were West Point graduates–Godwin having graduated in 1870, Jones in 1872, and Crane five years later. Godwin and Huggins had seen enlisted service during the Civil War, and in 1894 Huggins had received the Medal of Honor for his “great boldness” fighting Sioux Indians in Montana in 1880. Lee had served with black regiments for four years in the 1860s. Crane and Jones had each been assigned to black regiments for more than twenty years, and Jones accompanied the 10th Cavalry to Cuba and earned a Silver Star citation before joining the Immunes. All of the officers were seasoned professionals and well qualified to command volunteer regiments, but many Southern congressmen resented their selection, as well as the six colonels designated to command the white regiments. The politicians complained that while most enlisted Immunes came from their region, only one of the colonels–the 6th USVI’s Laurence D. Tyson, of Tennessee–could be “credited properly to the South.”
Promoted to colonel in the Volunteer Army, Edward Godwin proceeded from Fort Meade, South Dakota, to Memphis, Tennessee, the city designated as his regimental headquarters. In mid-June, however, he moved his headquarters 250 miles north to St. Louis, instructing his company commanders to gather at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, a picturesque army post overlooking the Mississippi River, a few miles south of the city. COL Godwin eventually accepted seven companies from Missouri, three from Arkansas, one from Tennessee, and one from Iowa. Some of these units had been raised by black men, who were forced to step aside and allow white captains to command them.
Each Immune company was authorized three officers and eighty-two enlisted men and was slightly smaller than state volunteer companies. Regiments had an additional “field and staff” (headquarters) of ten officers and eight enlisted men, for a total authorized strength of 46 officers and 992 enlisted men. Recruits between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were enlisted for two years of service (unless sooner discharged), and those whose leadership abilities impressed their company commanders were appointed as noncommissioned officers (NCOs)–a first sergeant, a quartermaster sergeant, four sergeants, and eight corporals. Two musicians, an artificer (mechanic), a wagoner, and sixty-four privates rounded out each unit. As the regiment’s twelve companies were mustered into federal service, they were lettered from A to M (J was not used).
COL Godwin’s first companies came from St. Louis, which had a black population approaching 35,000. Because the War Department refused to commission black officers above the rank of lieutenant, the city’s recruits initially gave the new regiment “the cold shoulder.” According to the Post-Dispatch, the recruiting was “the flattest thing which has struck St. Louis recently.” Professor Obadiah M. Wood, a local black high school principal whose earlier offer to raise a regiment with himself as its colonel had been rejected, actually hindered the recruiting and expressed doubts that a single black company would be raised in Missouri. In spite of obstacles created by him and other disgruntled black leaders, three St. Louis companies (A-C) were mustered into service by mid-July. Four other Missouri companies came from Moberly (E), Columbia (F), Kansas City (K), and Springfield (L). Little Rock, Arkansas, also provided three units (G-I), while Company D came from Memphis. Company M, from Des Moines, Iowa, completed the regiment’s organization on 23 July.
Godwin selected a fairly impressive group of black officers. There were at least six college graduates (two with professional degrees) and seven had invaluable military experience–three in the Regular Army and four in the National Guard. When Godwin reported his unit’s status to BG Corbin, he indicated that the question of appointing lieutenants had given him “more trouble than everything else connected with the organization of the regiment.” He added that his black officers were “industrious and willing,” but they had “everything to learn, as well as the men.” Godwin also opined: “I believe that the regiment is composed of good material, and will in time do good service.”
Meanwhile, COL Eli Huggins was consolidating his 8th Immunes at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, which overlooked the Ohio River about three miles southeast of Cincinnati. COL Huggins accepted four companies from Tennessee, which were recruited in Greenville (C), Harriman (D), Murfreesboro (E), and Columbia (F). Three units came from the Kentucky cities of Louisville (H) and Winchester (I and K), and two from Charleston (L) and Parkersburg, West Virginia (M). Two companies also came from Washington, D.C. (B and G), while Newark, New Jersey, provided Company A. The Newark Evening News covered its volunteers’ well attended departure for Kentucky, reporting that as the train pulled out, “a rousing cheer went up …and every face that looked out of the car was seemingly a happy one.”
Huggins’s staff included a black assistant surgeon, 1LT William W. Purnell, a graduate of Howard University Medical School in the nation’s capital. Six other black Washingtonians also secured commissions in the regiment, including Company G’s first lieutenant, Benjamin O. Davis, who would later enlist in the 9th Cavalry, earn a commission in the Regular Army in 1901, and end his exemplary military career by becoming the Army’s first black general in 1940. 1LT William McBryar, of Company M, was one of more than a score of talented black NCOs from the Regular Army who were commissioned in the Immune regiments. McBryar, from the 25th Infantry, had been awarded the Medal of Honor in 1890 for his bravery pursuing Apache Indians in Arizona.
The men who enlisted in the 8th Immunes were primarily semi-skilled and unskilled workers–the case in all four of the black regiments–with only about two percent of them having white-collar jobs. More than three out of five men worked as laborers, which was the main occupation listed for each company. Farmer, cook, miner, and waiter were the next four most common occupations, although they were not found in every unit. Almost half the regiment’s farmers enlisted in Company K, from Winchester, while the miners only served in the companies raised in Harriman (D), and Charleston (L). More than one-third of the men were illiterate, as evidenced by the “Xs” they placed on company muster-in rolls. Only about one-sixth of them were married.
On 20 August, COL Huggins proudly notified BG Corbin that “the regiment is now ready to go on short notice.” Two weeks later, the 8th Immunes was joined by the African American portion of Indiana’s Volunteer Army quota–two companies, primarily recruited from Indianapolis and Evansville. Indiana had included two black companies in its militia since the mid-1880s and had even assigned them to otherwise white regiments until 1896 (a rare instance of militia integration). Governor James A. Mount had been willing to raise a black regiment in addition to his assigned troop quota, but Secretary Alger told him that such a unit could only be accepted as part of Indiana’s quota. Mount was not that indebted to black voters, so he only allowed about 200 black Hoosiers–Companies A and B, 1st Indiana Volunteers–to be mustered into federal service in mid-July. These men would remain attached to the 8th Immunes, as a provisional fourth battalion, for four-and-a-half months.
In October COL Huggins and his men were transferred to Camp George H. Thomas, at Chickamauga Park, Georgia. A few days after arriving there, the Immunes were inspected by a three-man team of officers, led by LTC Marion P. Maus, who found that “[t]he men appeared and marched fairly well, and seemed to be respectful, and generally well contented.” He also reported, however, that the regiment “would not be fit for duty” on account of its “very poor and insufficient clothing” and “badly worn and unfit shoes.” Maus judged the officers to be “fairly well fitted for the performance of their duties” but recommended that three black lieutenants be discharged, one dishonorably.
Maus also inspected the two Indiana companies and found them to be as well drilled as the Immunes. He reported, however, that their six officers, with the exception of one first lieutenant, were “very poorly and insufficiently educated to hold commissions” and that “there was an objection shown to having these companies with the 8th, as it might be considered that they were a part of their organization.” Maus recommended that the Hoosiers be mustered out and that “such of the men that desire to remain in the service” should be assigned to Immune regiments.
The 8th Immunes had strained relations with the local white community, and in November the New York Times reported that the mayor of Chattanooga had informed Secretary Alger that “their presence near the city is undesirable and prejudicial to good order.” COL Huggins explained to the adjutant general that one of the most serious incidents involved one of the Hoosier volunteers, who refused “to leave the ‘white’ car and take the one assigned to colored people.” Huggins added that “[t]he distorted and exaggerated press reports of this affair” falsely attributed the disturbance to his regiment. Chattanooga’s mayor asked that the 8th Immunes be transferred, but it remained at Camp Thomas.
The Indiana companies were mustered out of service in January 1899, and COL Huggins’s regiment followed suit in March. As a train left Chattanooga carrying about half of the discharged soldiers home, it was reported that “a number of the men, who had in some way secured revolvers, began to discharge them in the air and into sheds and vacant houses.” Three local men were wounded. Police roughed up the Immunes when their train passed through Nashville, and the New York Times reported that they “presented a battered appearance” when they reached Louisville, Kentucky.
The 9th Immunes’ designated headquarters was New Orleans, and COL Charles Crane arrived there on 3 June. Crane was not pleased with the War Department’s decision to integrate his regimental officers, a racist attitude shared by most of the “Crescent City’s” white population. A New Orleans Daily Picayune editorial underscored this attitude: “Any association of black with white officers must be official only, and not in any way social. This is the only way to prevent demoralization.” Crane sent a telegram to BG Corbin advising: “If the Lieutenants are to be colored it will be hard to get good men for Captains.” Corbin wisely responded: “Go slow in the matter and wait results without reaching hasty conclusions. It may be much easier and much better than you think.”
New Orleans was the largest city in the South, with more than 70,000 black citizens, but COL Crane initially encountered the same recruiting problem that had confronted the 7th Immunes in St. Louis–local African American leaders were angry that no black officers above first lieutenant would be accepted, and they threatened to boycott the 9th Immunes’ recruiting if that policy was not changed. This situation did not concern Crane, however, and he informed BG Corbin that he could raise the regiment “outside of Louisiana, if necessary, accepting only companies from Texas and Mississippi and Alabama.”
New Orleans eventually provided the vast majority of the 9th Immune’s recruits, but two companies from Texas did join COL Crane’s regiment. There was a five-company Battalion of Colored Infantry in the Texas Volunteer Guard, but Governor Charles A. Culberson refused to include any black units in the Lone Star State’s Volunteer Army quota, so black Texans eager to serve asked Representative Robert B. Hawley of Galveston to use his influence to get them added to the ranks of an Immune regiment. Hawley contacted the War Department, and on 6 June Secretary Alger notified COL Crane that he wanted him to accept at least two companies from Texas and to correspond with Hawley about the matter.
In late June, Crane and his mustering officer rode the train to Galveston and Houston to muster-in two newly raised volunteer companies–the Hawley Guard and the Ferguson Rifles. The man selected to command the latter unit was CPT Claron A. Windus, from Brackettville, Texas. Born in Wisconsin in 1850, Windus had served as a drummer boy during the Civil War and then lied about his age so that he could enlist in the 6th Cavalry in 1866. Four years later, his bravery as a company bugler during a fight with Kiowa Indians on the Little Wichita River in northern Texas earned him a Medal of Honor. After leaving the Army and becoming a deputy sheriff, Windus gunned down a suspected murderer while trying to arrest him in Brackettville. Ironically, the lawman’s victim was another Medal of Honor recipient–former Seminole-Negro Indian Scout Adam Payne.
The two Texas units joined the 9th Immunes as Companies G and I. The men in the other ten units all came from New Orleans, except for some Louisianans from Donaldsonville and New Iberia, who enlisted in the regiment’s last two companies. As the citizens of the Crescent City celebrated the Fourth of July, COL Crane called upon his personal connection with BG Corbin (they had served together in the 24th Infantry), asking him in a letter to “please see that my regiment is given a place among those sent to Cuba.” Four days later, Corbin replied: “The moment you are ready for assignment, telegraph me and [the] order will be made.”
On 19 July Crane notified Corbin that his regiment was complete, and four weeks later the Picayune made the surprising announcement that “Crane’s Black Band” would be leaving for Cuba immediately, in lieu of COL Charles S. Riche’s 1st USVI. Colonel Riche’s Immunes, which had been recruited in Galveston, had already begun to load equipment on the steamship Berlin when the unit was directed to disembark and make way for the 9th Immunes. The newspaper said “the conclusion seem[ed] inevitable that [the substitution] was intended as a slight to the white Texans.” It noted that Secretary Alger had done everything possible “to snub and slight the Southern troops and the Southern States.” The Picayune concluded that “immunes from the overwhelmingly Democratic State of Texas [were] not good enough for the Secretary’s political partisan purposes, and so they [were] set aside for negroes.”
COL Riche’s Immunes had many disciplinary problems while they were in New Orleans, but COL Crane’s friendship with the adjutant general may have been the key factor in causing the substitution. Whatever the true reasons for the regimental switch were, Crane’s men were happy to be sailing to Cuba. On 17 August, the proud members of the 9th Immunes marched from Camp Corbin, their encampment at the city fairgrounds, down Esplanade Avenue, arriving at the levee in mid-afternoon to board the Berlin “amid the cheers and farewells of a multitude of negroes.” The Times-Democrat said “it was a day long to live in the annals of New Orleans negrodom.” The 1st USVI was the only white Immune regiment that did not deploy overseas, and as it prepared for its humiliating return to Galveston, the 9th Immunes sailed down the Mississippi River, crossed the Gulf of Mexico, and arrived in Santiago, Cuba, on 22 August 1898.
Crane’s unit was the fourth (and only black) Immune regiment to deploy to the island, where fighting had ceased, but scores of American troops were dying from tropical diseases. Shortly after guarding Spanish prisoners on San Juan Hill for a few days, “a wave of tropical fevers” passed through the regiment, killing almost thirty enlisted men and one lieutenant. By mid-September, the men appeared to be stronger, and the unit relocated to a new camp located just outside San Luis, a city about eighteen miles north of Santiago. In San Luis, the 9th Immunes formed a brigade with two other black units–the 8th Illinois and the 23d Kansas.
Neither of the state regiments had white officers, and this caused friction with the Immunes. One member of the 8th Illinois was not impressed with Crane’s “superior and selfish southern white officers” and wrote that as far as they were concerned, “the man who did the most grinning…and could dance the best or make the best monkeyshines, was the best Negro soldier.” In his memoirs, COL Crane reached quite a different conclusion, noting that his regiment was better disciplined than either of the state units.
In mid-November, several drunken Immunes tried to steal a pig, and a member of the newly organized rural police attempted to arrest them. Later, unidentified Immunes shot at the policeman’s house, and he and several other Cubans were killed, as well as one soldier. COL Crane was away from San Luis at the time and hurried back to investigate the incident, but without success. All three of the black units were ordered to new camps outside San Luis, and the American press gave the affair much bad publicity. The Boston Globe reported that the Immunes belonged to “a command that, from the first, has been disorderly and inefficient.”
In early 1899, Cuban bandits began burning sugar cane fields and robbing plantations, so Crane’s regiment was broken up, and eight of its companies were stationed in towns outside San Luis. Houston’s Company I exchanged its Springfield rifles for carbines and horses and became one of three units that was mounted to pursue the lawbreakers. The men earned the nickname “Bandit Chasers,” and Crane later noted that they killed several of the “Cuban banditti” and thanks to their frequent operations “were fast becoming good soldiers.” When the regiment finally left Cuba in late April, MG Leonard Wood presented Crane with a letter stating that his unit’s work in suppressing bandits had been “especially worthy of commendation.”
The 9th Immunes sailed from Santiago on 26 April, having lost three officers and seventy-three enlisted men to disease. Six days later, after passing through the Staten Island quarantine station, the regiment arrived at Camp George G. Meade, near Middletown, Pennsylvania, for its final muster out of federal service. The War Department allowed volunteers to purchase their weapons, but aware of the problems that the 8th Immunes had encountered in Tennessee, Crane convinced his men to ship them separately. Thanks in part to this preventive measure, his Immunes had no problems as they rode trains to Louisiana and Texas, although one sergeant was killed in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, railway station when another veteran accidentally fired a revolver.
The 10th Immunes had been assigned the states of Virginia and North Carolina for its recruiting. COL Jesse Lee had originally designated Raleigh, North Carolina, as his headquarters, but he claimed that Governor Daniel L. Russell discouraged him from doing this. Lee then considered Charlotte, North Carolina, before finally settling on Augusta, Georgia. In addition to one company from that city (G), Lee accepted two other Georgia units from Atlanta (A) and Rome (I) four Virginia companies from Richmond (B), Alexandria (C), Pocahontas (E), and Hampton (F) three South Carolina units from Spartanburg (H), Darlington (K), and Aiken (M) Company D from Washington, D.C., and Company L from Jacksonville, Florida.
The integration of the 10th Immunes’ officers’ mess attracted national attention in July. In “Jim Crow” America, it was deemed socially unacceptable for the unit’s black and white officers to dine together. According to the New York Times, when COL Lee learned that his officers’ mess would be integrated, he decided to resign his temporary commission in the Volunteer Army and return to the 9th Infantry as a major. The Times approved of Lee’s action, saying that: “His course is simply the course taken by practically the entire white population of the country…as often as the occasion for it arises…The delusion that the two races are socially assimilable is a little too antiquated.”
Two of the 10th Immunes’ first lieutenants, Floyd H. Crumbly and Thomas Grant, had been lieutenant colonels in the Georgia militia–some of the few black militia officers who had been willing to accept demotions to secure commissions in the Immune regiments. Another subaltern, 1LT Edward L. Baker, Jr., reported to the regiment after spending six years as the 10th Cavalry’s sergeant major. In 1902 Baker would receive a belated Medal of Honor for leaving cover and, under fire, rescuing a wounded comrade from drowning at Santiago, Cuba, on 1 July 1898.
By 13 July, half of the 10th Immunes’ companies had arrived at Camp Dyer, the regimental headquarters established near Augusta. Under the watchful eye of LTC Charles L. Withrow, a New York lawyer in civilian life and the senior officer present, the new recruits pitched tents and learned what “soldiering” was all about. According to the Augusta Chronicle, they were eager to learn, but the large number of “green men” made the training very trying for the officers who were patiently attempting to instruct them.
A correspondent from the New York Times visited the regiment and pronounced that its men were “the finest specimens of physical manhood that can be found in the volunteer service.” Noting that visitors of both races came to the camp on Sunday afternoons, he wrote: “Handsomely gowned women mingled on the parade ground with the wives and sisters of the soldiers–their cooks and chambermaids–and thus a black and white tout ensemble is presented, which is rare, indeed, in an old-time Southern city.”
The War Department quickly designated Thaddeus W. Jones as the new commander of the 10th Immunes, and on 2 August–still weak from a bout with malaria that he had contracted in Cuba–COL Jones arrived at Camp Dyer. A North Carolinian with about twenty-five years of service with the “buffalo soldiers,” Jones was fully sensitized to racial issues and an excellent choice to replace Lee. The Augusta Chronicle reported that being a Southerner, “he would naturally understand the negro.”
September brought news that the 10th Immunes was being transferred to Lexington, Kentucky, where it would form a brigade with the 7th Immunes and perhaps eventually be shipped to the Philippines, since Spanish forces in Cuba had already surrendered. The first elements of COL Jones’s regiment arrived in Lexington on 18 September, and the men established a camp at Weil’s Farm, a few miles west of the city.
In October LTC Maus’s team inspected the 7th and 10th Immunes at Weil’s Farm. Maus was impressed with the number of COL Godwin’s men who were present for inspection, reporting: “I doubt whether another regiment in the volunteer service could show as many men present for duty.” He found that the unit’s marching was excellent, but the men “were very poorly dressed.” Maus also recommended that all three of the officers from Memphis’s Company D be discharged. After the team inspected the 10th Immunes, Maus reported that the men’s clothing was “in a shameful condition.” He found that many of the men “were in rags, while a number had civilian trousers. In some cases the feet of the men were showing through their shoes.” Maus reported that the officers seemed “to perform their duties acceptably” but recommended that four of them–LTC Withrow, a major, a captain, and a lieutenant–be discharged.
The 10th Immunes only stayed in Lexington until mid-November, when it returned to Georgia, this time reporting to Camp Haskell, a few miles from Macon. There were eventually four black regiments assigned to the camp–the 3d North Carolina, the 6th Virginia, and the 7th and 10th Immunes. The men in these units dreaded the oppressive discrimination that characterized race relations in the deep South. It only took some of them a few days to get into trouble with the local authorities, who refused to modify the Jim Crow restrictions that they routinely imposed on Macon’s black community. One member of the 7th Immunes wrote that “the hatred of the Georgia cracker for the Negro cannot be explained by pen.”
None of the black troops responded well to Macon’s racism, but unlike the state units, the 10th Immunes avoided making headlines. In December, a 6th Virginia private was shot and killed by a street car conductor, because he refused to ride in the “trolley” for black passengers that was attached to the rear of the regular car. Later, two men from the 3d North Carolina were shot and killed in a Macon street fight. Such incidents caused one Virginian to describe Macon as “this pest hole of the South,” where a week never passed without some black soldiers being “justifiably homicided.”
The Virginia and North Carolina regiments were finally mustered-out of federal service in late January and early February, and the 7th Immunes followed suit at the end of February. COL Godwin’s men were able to travel to their respective cities without major incidents, and most of the units were joyously welcomed home by friends and family. St. Louis’s three companies were officially welcomed by their mayor, who tendered them the freedom of the city. Recalling his unpleasant stay in the South, one lieutenant told the crowd: “If I owned both Macon, Georgia, and hell, I would rent Macon and live in hell.”
The 10th Immunes suffered through an additional week at Camp Haskell and finally mustered-out on 8 March, as news arrived that two days before, the 8th Immunes had encountered problems after it mustered out of federal service 200 miles to the northwest. This story marked the beginning of national press coverage painting a picture of violence and destruction left in the wake of two black Immune regiments as they traveled home from Georgia.
When the train carrying the first increment of the 10th Immunes reached Griffin, about halfway between Macon and Atlanta, the men began firing small arms and yelling like Indians. The New York Times reported that the city was “at the mercy of the negroes, who kept up a fusillade of shots until the train carried them beyond the city limits.” Before the regiment’s second increment reached the town, Griffin’s mayor activated the local militia company, and its men were issued five rounds of ammunition and marched to the railroad station, where they were joined by nearly 100 deputized civilians.
About two hundred heavily armed and angry Georgians met the next trainload of Immunes and ordered them to be quiet, but as the train pulled out of the station, the soldiers began shooting again, and the militia company reportedly fired a volley into the last car. This resulted in a white brakeman being fatally wounded, while one of the Immunes suffered a slight wound. The Immunes’ lack of discipline resumed as they traveled farther north through the Carolinas. According to the New York Times, “the riotous troops forced their way into stores and saloons, taking whatever they wanted. A switchman who failed to run at their command was fired upon and people on the streets [were] insulted.” When the four companies of Virginians finally arrived in their hometowns–Alexandria, Hampton, Pocahontas, and Richmond–there were no reported incidents, nor were there problems with the Washington unit’s homecoming.
Because the 10th Immunes had already mustered out of federal service and was no longer subject to military discipline, the War Department did not investigate or make amends for the Griffin affray or any of the other alleged incidents. There were few doubts that some of the homeward bound black veterans had been drinking and firing privately owned weapons, but the extent of their misconduct and whether white citizens had overreacted remained subject to interpretations that were predictably divided along racial lines. A few of the 10th Immunes’ white officers publicly supported their men, including LTC Withrow, who wrote a widely publicized letter to Georgia’s Governor Allen D. Candler criticizing the Griffin militiamen, “who disgrace[d] the uniform of your state and demonstrate[d] their total unfitness to bear your commissions and your arms.” Governor Candler strongly supported the actions of his white constituents and later attempted to justify a lynching at Palmetto, Georgia, by complaining that the Immune regiments had “placed in the mind of the negro a spirit of boldness.”
Thus, the overall record of the black Immune regiments was forever tainted by the San Luis, Chattanooga, and Griffin affrays. White Americans, especially in the South, would always remember the units as undisciplined mobs, and racists would cite their indiscipline as clear proof that African Americans were unsuitable for military service. The Atlanta Constitution declared: “The modern negroes are now in a transition state and it will be years to come before they come around to that conception of citizenship which enables the whites to submit to the discipline necessary to make good troops.” A New York Times editorial maintained that enlisting “the so-called immune regiments was a mistake,” because “[t]hey were not ‘immune’ from anything but the obligations of law and discipline and decency.”
The War Department was much fairer in its assessment of the black Immunes. Although neither black nor white Immune regiments had shown any immunity to diseases–a total of seven officers and 241 enlisted men had succumbed to them–it was still commonly believed that black soldiers performed better than white troops in tropical climates, so in September 1899 the last two of twenty-five new volunteer regiments organized for service in the Philippine War–the 48th and 49th USVI–were reserved for African American enlisted men and company officers.
Thad Jones became the lieutenant colonel of the 48th USVI, while Charles Crane held the same rank in the 38th USVI, and COL Edward Godwin commanded the 40th USVI. More than thirty former Immune lieutenants served as officers in the new black regiments, and several former Immune NCOs also were able to secure shoulder straps. Scores of other black Immunes also headed for the Philippines by enlisting in the 48th and 49th USVI or in one of the Regular Army’s four black regiments. Reporting on the leadership of the two black volunteer units, the adjutant general noted: “It is believed that the best equipped men of our colored citizens have been commissioned in these regiments.” An even greater demonstration of official confidence, however, was the fact that all of the companies in the 48th and 49th USVI were commanded by black captains. This was a small but important step in the advancement of the race, not only in the Army, but within society as well.
Race and the Spanish-American War
Santiago, Cuba&mdashIn America's tortured history of race, the shameful event that occurred between Cubans and Americans in this grand old, if faded, city over a century ago is an overlooked chapter that still reverberates in U.S.-Cuban relations. The finale of the Spanish-American War, or the War of Independence as the Cubans call it, is a story of wounded pride and a tragic misunderstanding rooted in racial prejudice.
For most Americans the Spanish-American War is dimly recalled as the conflict that made a hero out of Teddy Roosevelt, charging up San Juan Hill with his Rough Riders. John Hay, Roosevelt's friend and later secretary of state, called it a "splendid little war," and, indeed, the action in Cuba lasted barely a month and cost fewer than 500 combat casualties. (Almost by accident, the United States also won the Philippines after a brief and one-sided naval engagement against a sorry Spanish fleet. Subjugating the Philippines sucked America into a guerrilla war that cost the lives of 4,000 more American soldiers.)
Almost forgotten in the glory that showered over Roosevelt and other stalwarts of '98, like Adm. George Dewey, hero of Manila Bay, was the original raison d'être of the war, the liberation of the Cuban people from Spanish rule.
By 1898 the Cubans had been fighting, off and on, for three decades for their independence from Spain. The Cuban population was more than half black or mulatto, and the rebels had, over time, created a fighting force that was ahead of its time&mdashtruly integrated at all ranks, with black as well as white officers. (The Liberation Army was roughly 60 percent black 40 percent of the officers were black.) The rebels' number two general, Antonio Maceo, a mulatto known as the "Bronze Titan," declared that there were "no whites nor blacks, but only Cubans." The rebels had worn out a Spanish occupying force of some 200,000 and were close to driving the Spaniards from the island when the Americans intervened in 1898.
The Americans went into Cuba for a number of reasons, mostly humanitarian, but also because some businessmen saw economic opportunity. The immediate spark was the destruction of an American warship, the Maine, in Havana Harbor in January 1898 (thought to be the work of a Spanish torpedo, actually the fault of a badly designed coal bunker). Crying "Remember the Maine!" America was swept by war fever. More than three decades had passed since the Civil War, and a new generation of young men was eager to prove itself in action. Roosevelt and other hawks were driven to demonstrate that in the "survival of the fittest," as the Social Darwinists saw the struggle of races around the world, the white races would come out on top. (Roosevelt's light reading, as his Rough Rider troop made its way from Texas to its pushing-off point in Florida, was a French volume called "Superiorité des Anglo-Saxons," a work typical of its time.)
When the Americans landed near Santiago, Cuba, early that June, they joined forces with the rebel army. The Americans were shocked by their new allies. After years of fighting on the run against a superior force, the Cubans wore rags and avoided frontal assaults. A few stole the Americans' food and weapons. And many of the Cuban soldiers were black. This was just the time, after Reconstruction and with the rise of Jim Crow in the South, when American racism was peaking, and many of the American soldiers used the N word to describe their comrades in arms (American as well as Cuban: the American force included a large detachment of black soldiers, deployed to Cuba under the false hope that their race made them immune to yellow fever).
Thanks to Cuban insurgents, the Americans landed unopposed in Cuba and Spanish relief columns were pinned down and kept from the fight. But the Americans gave the Cubans little credit for the ultimate victory against the Spaniards. Incredibly, the American commanders barred the rebel army from attending the Spanish surrender ceremony in Santiago. Ostensibly the reason was to safeguard against reprisals, but the greater motivation, revealed by letters and diaries of the time, appears to have been the disdain with which the Americans regarded the Cubans as a mongrel army. The Spaniards (an all-white force) wanted to preserve their honor by surrendering to the Americans in Santiago. In the end most of the Spanish soldiers scattered elsewhere around Cuba, where there were no American forces, surrendered to the Cuban rebels without suffering recrimination. The vanquished Spanish soldiers were allowed to keep their arms and embark for Spain. But the Americans disbanded and disarmed the victorious Cuban army.
America refused to end its occupation of Cuba until 1902, not until the American commanders were satisfied that the Cubans were sufficiently "civilized" for self-rule. (But the republic's constitution allowed Washington to send in American troops at any time.) Black officers and leaders were purged as uneducated and uncultured. Slavery had been abolished only in 1886, and blacks had not attained the social standing of whites, despite the egalitarian philosophy of rebel heroes like José Martí, who preached that there was no such thing as race, only humanity. Eager to appease the Americans (and get them out of the country), many Cubans became embarrassed and confused and lost sight of their own progressive principles. Before long, the Cuban leaders were guilty of their own racial prejudice, violently suppressing a political party formed by discarded and disenfranchised black veterans in 1908.
Over the years the memory of the humiliation of 1898 rankled the Cubans. "Of course, we felt betrayed," Rafael Izquierdo, the president of the Cuban Historical Society, told me as we sat in his Havana office last Tuesday, discussing the Cuban point of view for a book I am writing about the Spanish-American War. (Modern Cuban officials, steeped in socialist ideology, suspect a plot by wealthy American businessmen to annex Cuba.) In the 1940s and '50s, among those nursing a grudge against "los Norte Americanos" was Fidel Castro. When his guerrilla force of rebels came out of the mountains and took Santiago from the corrupt Batista regime in January 1959, Fidel exulted, "This time the manbisas [rebels] are going to come into the city." He was recalling the day 60 years earlier when the Americans had blocked the Cubans from celebrating their own freedom. It is interesting to think how history might have been different if the Americans had been as racially tolerant as the Cuban Liberation Army in 1898, or if they had just had the common sense to show the Cuban freedom fighters some dignity.
The War That Made America a Superpower (No, Not World War II)
Historians and experts alike always seem to forget the Spanish-American War—a big mistake.
The end of the Second World War is often considered the defining moment when the United States became a global power. In fact, it was another war forty years earlier, a war that ended with America having an empire of its own stretching thousands of miles beyond its continental borders. The Spanish-American War, which lasted five months, catapulted the United States from provincial to global power.
The Spanish-American War was a classic example of the “Thucydides Trap,” in which tensions between a declining power, Spain, and a rising power, the United States, resulted in war. By the end of the nineteenth century, Spain was clearly in decline, and Madrid’s grasp on its empire was increasingly tenuous. Cuba and the Philippines both experienced anti-Spanish revolts, and Spain’s difficulty in putting them down merely illustrated to the rest of the world how frail the empire actually was.
Meanwhile, in North America, the American doctrine of Manifest Destiny had run its course. The admission of Washington State to the Union in 1890 had consolidated America’s hold on the continent. Americans with an eye toward expanding America’s business interests and even creating an American empire couldn’t help but notice weakly held European colonial possessions in the New World and the Pacific. The march towards war in America was multifaceted: even liberal-minded Americans favored war to liberate Cuba from a brutal military occupation.
The sinking of the battleship USS Maine on February 15 was the last straw in a long and increasingly tense series of crises between Washington and Madrid. In Havana harbor at the request of the American ambassador, the Maine was reportedly struck by an underwater mine, although it seems far more likely in hindsight the sinking was the result of an accidental onboard explosion. The destruction of the ship, as well as the deaths of 266 sailors, made war inevitable even for those, like President William McKinley, who wished to avoid it.
On April 19, 1898, President McKinley’s request to intervene in Cuba on behalf of the rebels was approved by Congress. The U.S. Navy began a blockade of Cuba two days later, and Spain replied by declaring war on April 23. The United States replied by declaring war on the twenty-fifth.
At the time war broke out, Spain maintained 150,000 regular ground forces and eighty thousand local militia in Cuba. An impressive force on paper, in reality it was poorly trained and supplied and more of a garrison force to protect landowners from insurgents. It was not an army capable of fighting a conventional war. Spain maintained weak naval squadrons in both Cuba and the Philippines, but distance rendered it unable to reinforce either in any meaningful sense.
The United States was equally ill-prepared. Never before had the United States attempted war on such a global scale. The entire U.S. Army consisted of only 28,747 officers and men spread through the country in company-sized formations. Following the end of the Civil War, the Army had optimized itself for small-scale insurgency warfare against Native American tribes in the West and had distanced itself from large-scale conventional war. With war imminent, the Army and Marine Corps began a rapid buildup during which it was besieged by amateurs and recalled Civil War veterans to regain knowledge on large-scale conventional operations. The U.S. Navy was in better shape, with sufficient ships to take on a blockade/sea control mission around Cuba.
The first action of the war was on May 1 in the Battle of Manila Bay, in which Commodore George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron quickly defeated the local Spanish fleet and shore defenses. This severed Madrid’s sea lines of communications to the Philippines, and consequently its hold on the entire archipelago. U.S. ground forces arrived in July, and after token fighting, the Spanish government in the Philippines surrendered.
The actual war in and around Cuba was brief. The land campaign started on June 22, as the U.S. Army’s Fifth Corps made an unopposed landing east of Santiago. Another landing was by U.S. Marine at Guantanamo Bay and another on the island of Puerto Rico. Working with indigenous Cuban troops, the Army marched on Santiago and forced a series of battles that, while not entirely successful, demonstrated that Spain’s hold on the island was permanently broken.
Meanwhile, the Spanish Caribbean Squadron was destroyed on July 2 at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, and after bombardment by the U.S. Navy, Santiago surrendered on the seventeenth. Despite the briefness of the campaign thus far Spain’s defeat was clearly imminent. American forces only grew stronger and Spanish forces only grew weaker, and thanks to the blockade the latter had no prospect of relief. On July 18, the Spanish government sued for peace, and negotiations to end the war ceased on August 12. As a result of the war the United States annexed the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, and occupied Cuba until 1903. Although Washington granted Cuban independence, it retained a say in Cuban affairs.
The Spanish-American War made the United States a global power. The defeat of a continental European power, Spain, was a major military accomplishment. The handing over of Guam and Philippines would have greater repercussions down the road, as placed the United States on a collision course with another rising, expansionist country: Japan. Like many conventional state-on-state conflicts, the Spanish-American War upset the old order and set the stage for a new one.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.
Image: Battle of Manila Bay, 1898. Wikimedia Commons/Public domain
Theodore Roosevelt and the Spanish American War
The 26th President of the United States had paid his dues with years of public service before reaching the pinnacle of the government pyramid. Roosevelt had begun as an assemblyman in the New York State legislature, civil service commissioner, police commissioner, and finally on the national scene, Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
His appointment by President McKinley in 1897 was to a department where the Cabinet Secretary John D. Long was an absentee landlord. Assistant Secretary Theodore Roosevelt became the de facto head of the Department of the Navy. With little naval experience, Roosevelt embarked on a campaign to ready the navy for war.
Roosevelt's imprint on policy was immediate. He sensed that war with Spain was inevitable. The litany of Spanish misrule in Cuba was endless.There was the harsh treatment of Cuban women and children placed in concentration type camps and repression of those calling for freedom. Then there was proximity--90 miles from Florida and vocal Cuban emigres in America's sunshine state.The press was ready to exploit the situation and called the Spanish "butchers" in an effort to stir greater readership. Not least in importance was one hundred million dollars in American investment in the island. The new Assistant Secretary of the Navy ordered more ammunition, more supplies, more refitting and modernizing the existing fleet, and more sailors and additional war drills.
It is evident that Spain was on Teddy Roosevelt's near horizon. In addition to possessions so close to the United States, it was a European country with extensive colonial territories in Asian waters where America was already asserting itself in a near collision with Germany over control of Samoa (1889). The Secretary was particularly judicious in selecting a new commander for the U.S. Pacific Squadron. He chose George Dewey, a man who would not shy from action, and a highly competent strategist. In short, he must have seen Dewey as a kindred combative spirit.
Roosevelt gave notice to his boss that in the event of war he would resign and actively join the war effort. He had been commissioned as a first Lieutenant in the New York National Guard in 1882 and ultimately resigned as a captain in 1886.
Secretary Long referring to Roosevelt:
"He bores me with his plans of naval and military movements, and the necessity of having some scheme of attack arranged for instant execution in the case of emergency".
Despite this criticism, he also privately expressed that he was satisfied with the performance of his Assistant Secretary. They merely had differences about the Roosevelt expansionist views. Those views were starting to get favorable publicity in the press. A fact that pleased Roosevelt. After all, he was a politician that always looked for the next step up on the ladder.
Senator Mark Hannah on Roosevelt: " --if Roosevelt had been put in the State Department, we'd be fighting half the world".
Roosevelt was suspicious of German intentions in the western hemisphere. He believed that they coveted colonies in Central and South America. As a fervent supporter of the Monroe Doctrine, he objected to their military presence in an American sphere of influence. He also saw Spain's presence in Cuba as a violation of the spirit of the Doctrine. His belief was obviously shared with Captain Sigsbee of the Maine and Admiral Dewey when they both took particular notice of the German naval presence in Havana Harbor and Manila Bay.
Japan did not escape the Roosevelt view. When it was obvious that the United States would annex Hawaii (January 1899), Japan complained that it was a threat to the large Japanese population that emigrated there. In typical Roosevelt bluntness he responded:
"The United States is not in the position which requires her to ask Japan, or any other foreign power, what territory it shall or shall not acquire".
Three weeks into his office (May 3, 1897), as Assistant Secretary, he wrote that there was a need to build a dozen battleships and half of those for duty in the Pacific theater. He continued:
"---I am fully alive to the danger from Japan---".
Closer to home waters, the under secretary sought to beef up the naval squadron at Key West, Florida. This was no longer an academic exercise when news of the explosion on USS Maine in Havana Harbor made the front pages on February 15, 1898. Up to this point, Secretary Roosevelt was operating behind the back drop of a McKinley administration that was adverse to any expansion that would plunge America into war. In fact, there is some evidence that he hewed to the initial McKinley line that the explosion was an accident. Privately, he made no effort to avoid blaming Spain for sinking the Maine with an underwater mine.
On the following day, Roosevelt wrote his boss, Secretary Long:
"The coincidence of [the Maine’s] destruction with her being anchored off Havana
by an accident such as has never before happened, is unpleasant enough to
seriously increase the many existing difficulties between ourselves and Spain. It is
of course not my province to in any way touch on the foreign policy of this
country but the Navy Department represents the arm of the government which
will have to carry out any policy upon which the administration may finally
Roosevelt knew war was the only alternative. He cabled Admiral Dewey in the Pacific,
On April 25, 1898, Spain declared war on the United States. Teddy Roosevelt had his war. He tendered his resignation as Assistant Secretary of the navy against the strenuous objection of many in the administration. He responded:
"For the last year I have preached war with Spain. I should be ashamed------if I now failed to practice what I have preached".
On April 27, Admiral Dewey was ordered to launch an attack on Spain's war ships in Manila Bay.
Roosevelt responded to McKinley's call for volunteers. He set about recruiting for a volunteer cavalry regiment. He accepted a Lt. Colonel commission to serve under Colonel Leonard Wood. When asked why he was not in full command, Roosevelt said he did not have the experience to lead a regiment, but, with his usual self confidence, (some might say hubris) it would only take him a month to be ready to assume full command (if required).
(Note below the introduction of khaki colored uniforms in the United States army.)
Colonels Wood and Roosevelt to the right of their Division commander, General Joseph Wheeler.
Roosevelt's recruiting concentrated on the southwest where men were more in tune with the climate of Cuba. The men were drawn from all walks of life college men, cowboys, hunters. Applicants exceeded the demand. They were all gathered for a hard training regime in Texas and deemed battle ready.
The new regiment was shipped to the port of Tampa, Florida to be part of the invasion force destined for the south east coast of Cuba. They were immediately exposed to the chaotic conditions of the transports that were too small for the first wave to leave Florida.
The 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment had been dubbed by the newspapers, "The Rough Riders". They learned that their horses could not be shipped and that they would serve as dismounted cavalry. Colonel Roosevelt managed to include his mount in the shipment. Space was at a premium, and with great disappointment the regiment had to leave behind four full troops (companies) depleting regimental man power..
The Rough Riders regiment landed in Daiquiri on June 22, 1898 . The standing order was to remain on the beach and commit no offensive movement until all troops had landed. The commander of the Cavalry division ignored the order. General Joseph Wheeler was intent on spearheading the coming battle instead of the usual strategy that dictated that the cavalry would follow the infantry.
Wheeler marched his men (no mounts) northward. The Roosevelt regiment had its first contact with a tropical jungle. A reporter described it as "a maze". They were about 10 miles north of the landing area at Siboney following a jungle track. The heat was intense.They dropped equipment as they moved forward. Roosevelt later said that he only traveled with a tooth brush and a rain slicker. The oppressive heat was taking its toll on the men. some were suffering from heat stroke. They arrived at Las Guasimas with less than 500 men to find the army regulars in battle with a Spanish rear guard charged with delaying the Americans movement toward Santiago de Cuba. In the next hour and half they helped to dislodge the Spaniards and opened the road to their target city--Santiago. The cavalry unit and Roosevelt had fought on foot although they had not trained as infantry. They had lost 8 and 31 wounded. More men were to die over the next week from fever. Roosevelt had personally led the G Company attack on a fortified building dislodging the Spaniards.
Illness was also decimating the officer ranks. Colonel Wood was promoted to fill the Brigadier General role and took over a brigade. Roosevelt was given the command of his regiment and made a full colonel.
Looking at Las Guasimas from the coastal south to north with landing sites at Daiquiri and Siboney.
On July 1 the Roosevelt regiment was given orders to move northward toward Santiago. They were instructed to encamp at the foot of the San Juan Heights and took a position at the base of Kettle Hill which was separated by a small gully and a pond from the more elevated San Juan Hill. It was evident to Roosevelt that his men were being held in reserve.
The First Infantry Division began the assault on San Juan Hill. Roosevelt had received no new orders and was becoming impatient. He finally received the command to assault Kettle Hill. He noted that the 1st and 9th cavalry and received no orders to advance. He requested that they join his forces and they complied.
Roosevelt later explained why he began the ascent mounted. He said that his men would not be able to see or hear him as he issued commands and he would of necessity constantly rotate his position. When they encountered barbed wire it forced him to dismount. The Spaniards in trenches at the crest were pouring fire on the advance below. Then the rapid fire of Gatling guns started raking the Spanish trenches. Those machine guns beat off a Spanish counter attack. The Americans had an opening to exploit and rushed upward. The defenders feared hand to hand combat with the Americans and withdrew to the Santiago perimeter.
Roosevelt was effusive in the praise of Lt. Parker's Gatling detachment:
"I think Parker deserved rather more credit than any other one man in the entire campaign. he had the rare good judgment and foresight to see the possibilities of the machine-guns..He then, by his own exertions, got it to the front and proved that it could do invaluable work on the field of battle, as much in attack as in defence ( sic )".
Roosevelt's men were equally as proud of their new commander who had exhibited rare courage and calming influence under enemy fire. They would never forget him waving his hat as he rode before them up the hill. They would never forget his compassion for his men that led him to personally forage for food. He found 100 pounds of beans that he distributed in his camp.
Roosevelt then rallied his men to cross the valley between Kettle and San Juan Hills. By the time he reached San Juan Hill the battle had been won. Roosevelt was ordered to return to Kettle Hill where he repulsed a counter attack with the aid of one Gatling gun.
Teddy Roosevelt referred to July 1, 1898, as the"great day of my life". He also marveled that he had survived unscathed. Of the 400 Rough riders in action, there were 86 casualties. Richard Davis, whose reporting of the battle, fascinated American readers. He recounted the courage of Roosevelt in the forefront of the charge assaulting a Spanish trench in the face of their Mauser bullets.
Subsequent to the surrender of Santiago, Roosevelt and his men were repatriated to Montauk, Long Island where they received treatment for the enervating fevers contracted in the jungles.
In September, 1898, the Roosevelt regiment was disbanded and Roosevelt was presented a gift from his men: the famed Frederic Remington "Bronco Buster".
Back in the United States, Roosevelt was besieiged by political leaders to run for office. His reputation and name identity were known in every household. Tom Platt was the powerful three term senator from New York, and the political boss of the state's Republican party. He was not particularly partial to Roosevelt, but previewed history when he said if he becomes governor (of New York), "he will have to be President of the United States". The bullet that assassinated President McKinley on September 14, 190l, accelerated the process when Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was elevated to the highest elected office in the land as the 26th President of the United States.
President Theodore Roosevelt died January 6, 1919. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously 82 years after his valorous conduct in combat in Cuba (2001) .
Empire over Liberty
However, there were Americans who preferred empire to liberty. They were the saltwater imperialists, like Indiana Sen. Albert Beveridge, a noted progressive—a leader of a movement filled with social engineers determined to destroy the old constitutional order. Humility was not his strong suit: He claimed God “has made us the master organizers of the world…to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth.” Doing so is America’s “divine mission,” he added. “We are trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous peace.”
Public figures such as Teddy Roosevelt, who spent much of his life promoting war, piously clamored for US intervention.
In the case of Spain, this meant transferring, not freeing, its colonial possessions. The proximate cause of the war was Cuba. The sinking of the warship Maine on a visit to Cuba, which American jingoists blamed on Spain, greatly increased tensions. Of course, Madrid had no reason to furnish Washington with a casus belli. The ship shouldn’t have been there: Sending the vessel was a gross provocation. It most likely sank due to spontaneous combustion in the coal bunker.
The most important cause of the war was an uprising by the Cuban people against their Spanish rulers, creating a sympathetic cause exploited with great effect by America’s Yellow Press, especially those owned by press barons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. The Spanish government responded brutally, but the newspapers did not stop with the truth, turning fake news into an art form.
Public figures such as Teddy Roosevelt, who spent much of his life promoting war, piously clamored for US intervention. Even he acknowledged the existence of interests in Cuban sugar and tobacco production, as well as the use of the island to support what became the Panama Canal. However, he emphasized “the standpoint of humanity.”
Yet American complaints about Spanish conduct mixed sanctimony with hypocrisy. The US Army and irregular forces rarely hesitated to kill Native American women and children US atrocities against civilians were common in the Mexican-American War Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan avidly visited the horrors of war upon Southern civilians. Moreover, the prospect of US involvement caused the Cuban rebels to reject conciliatory offers from a new, more liberal Spanish government. They believed, rightly, that Washington would give them all they wanted.
American Imperialism: The Spanish-American War
The United States has always been active in helping other nations gain independence, although historians argue about the United States’ motives for doing so. Whether in South Vietnam, South Korea, or Cuba, US foreign policy has long been one of providing economic and military assistance to others. But when is the United States defending its democratic ideals and when, despite its status as a former colony, is it extending its control and influence through military force as an imperial power? One of the earliest examples is US intervention in Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain, which led to the Spanish-American War in 1898. Encouraged by sensationalist American journalism about the Cuban conflict and the mysterious sinking of the US Navy battleship Maine in Havana harbor, the United States declared war against Spain in late April. After only months of fighting the under-resourced Spanish military in Cuba and Philippines, the US emerged victorious as a new world power with a stake in international politics. In the December 1898 Treaty of Paris, Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States, and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States for $20 million. What motivated America to take on a superpower like Spain? Review the sources in this set to gain insight into the motivations for US engagement in the Spanish-American War.
22.2 The Spanish-American War and Overseas Empire
The Spanish-American War was the first significant international military conflict for the United States since its war against Mexico in 1846 it came to represent a critical milestone in the country’s development as an empire. Ostensibly about the rights of Cuban rebels to fight for freedom from Spain, the war had, for the United States at least, a far greater importance in the country’s desire to expand its global reach.
The Spanish-American War was notable not only because the United States succeeded in seizing territory from another empire, but also because it caused the global community to recognize that the United States was a formidable military power. In what Secretary of State John Hay called “a splendid little war,” the United States significantly altered the balance of world power, just as the twentieth century began to unfold (Figure 22.7).
THE CHALLENGE OF DECLARING WAR
Despite its name, the Spanish-American War had less to do with the foreign affairs between the United States and Spain than Spanish control over Cuba. Spain had dominated Central and South America since the late fifteenth century. But, by 1890, the only Spanish colonies that had not yet acquired their independence were Cuba and Puerto Rico. On several occasions prior to the war, Cuban independence fighters in the "Cuba Libre" movement had attempted unsuccessfully to end Spanish control of their lands. In 1895, a similar revolt for independence erupted in Cuba again, Spanish forces under the command of General Valeriano Weyler repressed the insurrection. Particularly notorious was their policy of re-concentration in which Spanish troops forced rebels from the countryside into military-controlled camps in the cities, where many died from harsh conditions.
As with previous uprisings, Americans were largely sympathetic to the Cuban rebels’ cause, especially as the Spanish response was notably brutal. Evoking the same rhetoric of independence with which they fought the British during the American Revolution, several people quickly rallied to the Cuban fight for freedom. Shippers and other businessmen, particularly in the sugar industry, supported American intervention to safeguard their own interests in the region. Likewise, the “Cuba Libre” movement founded by José Martí , who quickly established offices in New York and Florida, further stirred American interest in the liberation cause. The difference in this uprising, however, was that supporters saw in the renewed U.S. Navy a force that could be a strong ally for Cuba. Additionally, the late 1890s saw the height of yellow journalism , in which newspapers such as the New York Journal, led by William Randolph Hearst, and the New York World, published by Joseph Pulitzer, competed for readership with sensationalistic stories. These publishers, and many others who printed news stories for maximum drama and effect, knew that war would provide sensational copy.
However, even as sensationalist news stories fanned the public’s desire to try out their new navy while supporting freedom, one key figure remained unmoved. President William McKinley, despite commanding a new, powerful navy, also recognized that the new fleet—and soldiers—were untested. Preparing for a reelection bid in 1900, McKinley did not see a potential war with Spain, acknowledged to be the most powerful naval force in the world, as a good bet. McKinley did publicly admonish Spain for its actions against the rebels, and urged Spain to find a peaceful solution in Cuba, but he remained resistant to public pressure for American military intervention.
McKinley’s reticence to involve the United States changed in February 1898. He had ordered one of the newest navy battleships, the USS Maine, to drop anchor off the coast of Cuba in order to observe the situation, and to prepare to evacuate American citizens from Cuba if necessary. Just days after it arrived, on February 15, an explosion destroyed the Maine, killing over 250 American sailors (Figure 22.8). Immediately, yellow journalists jumped on the headline that the explosion was the result of a Spanish attack, and that all Americans should rally to war. The newspaper battle cry quickly emerged, “Remember the Maine!” Recent examinations of the evidence of that time have led many historians to conclude that the explosion was likely an accident due to the storage of gun powder close to the very hot boilers. But in 1898, without ready evidence, the newspapers called for a war that would sell papers, and the American public rallied behind the cry.
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Visit Office of the Historian to understand different perspectives on the role of yellow journalism in the Spanish-American War.
McKinley made one final effort to avoid war, when late in March, he called on Spain to end its policy of concentrating the native population in military camps in Cuba, and to formally declare Cuba’s independence. Spain refused, leaving McKinley little choice but to request a declaration of war from Congress. Congress received McKinley’s war message, and on April 19, 1898, they officially recognized Cuba’s independence and authorized McKinley to use military force to remove Spain from the island. Equally important, Congress passed the Teller Amendment to the resolution, which stated that the United States would not annex Cuba following the war, appeasing those who opposed expansionism.
WAR: BRIEF AND DECISIVE
The Spanish-American War lasted approximately ten weeks, and the outcome was clear: The United States triumphed in its goal of helping liberate Cuba from Spanish control. Despite the positive result, the conflict did present significant challenges to the United States military. Although the new navy was powerful, the ships were, as McKinley feared, largely untested. Similarly untested were the American soldiers. The country had fewer than thirty thousand soldiers and sailors, many of whom were unprepared to do battle with a formidable opponent. But volunteers sought to make up the difference. Over one million American men—many lacking a uniform and coming equipped with their own guns—quickly answered McKinley’s call for able-bodied men. Nearly ten thousand African American men also volunteered for service, despite the segregated conditions and additional hardships they faced, including violent uprisings at a few American bases before they departed for Cuba. The government, although grateful for the volunteer effort, was still unprepared to feed and supply such a force, and many suffered malnutrition and malaria for their sacrifice.
To the surprise of the Spanish forces who saw the conflict as a clear war over Cuba, American military strategists prepared for it as a war for empire. More so than simply the liberation of Cuba and the protection of American interests in the Caribbean, military strategists sought to further Mahan’s vision of additional naval bases in the Pacific Ocean, reaching as far as mainland Asia. Such a strategy would also benefit American industrialists who sought to expand their markets into China. Just before leaving his post for volunteer service as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. cavalry, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt ordered navy ships to attack the Spanish fleet in the Philippines, another island chain under Spanish control. As a result, the first significant military confrontation took place not in Cuba but halfway around the world in the Philippines. Commodore George Dewey led the U.S. Navy in a decisive victory, sinking all of the Spanish ships while taking almost no American losses. Within a month, the U.S. Army landed a force to take the islands from Spain, which it succeeded in doing by mid-August 1899.
The victory in Cuba took a little longer. In June, seventeen thousand American troops landed in Cuba. Although they initially met with little Spanish resistance, by early July, fierce battles ensued near the Spanish stronghold in Santiago. Most famously, Theodore Roosevelt led his Rough Riders , an all-volunteer cavalry unit made up of adventure-seeking college graduates, and veterans and cowboys from the Southwest, in a charge up Kettle Hill, next to San Juan Hill, which resulted in American forces surrounding Santiago. The victories of the Rough Riders are the best known part of the battles, but in fact, several African American regiments, made up of veteran soldiers, were instrumental to their success. The Spanish fleet made a last-ditch effort to escape to the sea but ran into an American naval blockade that resulted in total destruction, with every Spanish vessel sunk. Lacking any naval support, Spain quickly lost control of Puerto Rico as well, offering virtually no resistance to advancing American forces. By the end of July, the fighting had ended and the war was over. Despite its short duration and limited number of casualties—fewer than 350 soldiers died in combat, about 1,600 were wounded, while almost 3,000 men died from disease—the war carried enormous significance for Americans who celebrated the victory as a reconciliation between North and South.
“Smoked Yankees”: Black Soldiers in the Spanish-American War
The most popular image of the Spanish-American War is of Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, charging up San Juan Hill. But less well known is that the Rough Riders struggled mightily in several battles and would have sustained far more serious casualties, if not for the experienced Black veterans—over twenty-five hundred of them—who joined them in battle (Figure 22.9). These soldiers, who had been fighting the Indian wars on the American frontier for many years, were instrumental in the U.S. victory in Cuba.
The choice to serve in the Spanish-American War was not a simple one. Within the Black community, many spoke out both for and against involvement in the war. Many Black Americans felt that because they were not offered the true rights of citizenship it was not their burden to volunteer for war. Others, in contrast, argued that participation in the war offered an opportunity for Black Americans to prove themselves to the rest of the country. While their presence was welcomed by the military which desperately needed experienced soldiers, the Black regiments suffered racism and harsh treatment while training in the southern states before shipping off to battle.
Once in Cuba, however, the “Smoked Yankees,” as the Cubans called the Black American soldiers, fought side-by-side with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, providing crucial tactical support to some of the most important battles of the war. After the Battle of San Juan, five Black soldiers received the Medal of Honor and twenty-five others were awarded a certificate of merit. One reporter wrote that “if it had not been for the Negro cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated.” He went on to state that, having grown up in the South, he had never been fond of Black people before witnessing the battle. For some of the soldiers, their recognition made the sacrifice worthwhile. Others, however, struggled with American oppression of Cubans and Puerto Ricans, feeling kinship with the Black residents of these countries now under American rule.
ESTABLISHING PEACE AND CREATING AN EMPIRE
As the war closed, Spanish and American diplomats made arrangements for a peace conference in Paris. They met in October 1898, with the Spanish government committed to regaining control of the Philippines, which they felt were unjustly taken in a war that was solely about Cuban independence. While the Teller Amendment ensured freedom for Cuba, President McKinley was reluctant to relinquish the strategically useful prize of the Philippines. He certainly did not want to give the islands back to Spain, nor did he want another European power to step in to seize them. Neither the Spanish nor the Americans considered giving the islands their independence, since, with the pervasive racism and cultural stereotyping of the day, they believed the Filipino people were not capable of governing themselves. William Howard Taft, the first American governor-general to oversee the administration of the new U.S. possession, accurately captured American sentiments with his frequent reference to Filipinos as “our little brown brothers.”
As the peace negotiations unfolded, Spain agreed to recognize Cuba’s independence, as well as recognize American control of Puerto Rico and Guam. McKinley insisted that the United States maintain control over the Philippines as an annexation, in return for a $20 million payment to Spain. Although Spain was reluctant, they were in no position militarily to deny the American demand. The two sides finalized the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. With it came the international recognition that there was a new American empire that included the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The American press quickly glorified the nation’s new reach, as expressed in the cartoon below, depicting the glory of the American eagle reaching from the Philippines to the Caribbean (Figure 22.10).
Domestically, the country was neither unified in their support of the treaty nor in the idea of the United States building an empire at all. Many prominent Americans, including Jane Addams, former President Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, and Samuel Gompers, felt strongly that the country should not be pursuing an empire, and, in 1898, they formed the Anti-Imperialist League to oppose this expansionism. The reasons for their opposition were varied: Some felt that empire building went against the principles of democracy and freedom upon which the country was founded, some worried about competition from foreign workers, and some held the xenophobic viewpoint that the assimilation of other races would hurt the country. Regardless of their reasons, the group, taken together, presented a formidable challenge. As foreign treaties require a two-thirds majority in the U.S. Senate to pass, the Anti-Imperialist League’s pressure led them to a clear split, with the possibility of defeat of the treaty seeming imminent. Less than a week before the scheduled vote, however, news of a Filipino uprising against American forces reached the United States. Undecided senators were convinced of the need to maintain an American presence in the region and preempt the intervention of another European power, and the Senate formally ratified the treaty on February 6, 1899.
The newly formed American empire was not immediately secure, as Filipino rebels, led by Emilio Aguinaldo (Figure 22.11), fought back against American forces stationed there. The Filipinos’ war for independence lasted three years, with over four thousand American and twenty thousand Filipino combatant deaths the civilian death toll is estimated as high as 250,000. Finally, in 1901, President McKinley appointed William Howard Taft as the civil governor of the Philippines in an effort to disengage the American military from direct confrontations with the Filipino people. Under Taft’s leadership, Americans built a new transportation infrastructure, hospitals, and schools, hoping to win over the local population. The rebels quickly lost influence, and Aguinaldo was captured by American forces and forced to swear allegiance to the United States. The Taft Commission, as it became known, continued to introduce reforms to modernize and improve daily life for the country despite pockets of resistance that continued to fight through the spring of 1902. Much of the commission’s rule centered on legislative reforms to local government structure and national agencies, with the commission offering appointments to resistance leaders in exchange for their support. The Philippines continued under American rule until they became self-governing in 1946.