The Spanish-American War of 1898 ended Spain's colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere and secured the position of the United States as a Pacific power. U.S. victory in the war produced a peace treaty that compelled the Spanish to relinquish claims on Cuba, and to cede sovereignty over Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States. The United States also annexed the independent state of Hawaii during the conflict. Thus, the war enabled the United States to establish its predominance in the Caribbean region and to pursue its strategic and economic interests in Asia.
The war that erupted in 1898 between the United States and Spain was preceded by three years of fighting by Cuban revolutionaries to gain independence from Spanish colonial rule. From 1895-1898, the violent conflict in Cuba captured the attention of Americans because of the economic and political instability that it produced in a region within such close geographical proximity to the United States. The long-held U.S. interest in ridding the Western Hemisphere of European colonial powers and American public outrage over brutal Spanish tactics created much sympathy for the Cuban revolutionaries. By early 1898, tensions between the United States and Spain had been mounting for months. After the U.S. battleship Maine exploded and sank in Havana harbor under mysterious circumstances on February 15, 1898, U.S. military intervention in Cuba became likely.
On April 11, 1898, President William McKinley asked Congress for authorization to end the fighting in Cuba between the rebels and Spanish forces, and to establish a "stable government" that would "maintain order" and ensure the "peace and tranquility and the security" of Cuban and U.S. citizens on the island. On April 20, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution that acknowledged Cuban independence, demanded that the Spanish government give up control of the island, foreswore any intention on the part of the United States to annex Cuba, and authorized McKinley to use whatever military measures he deemed necessary to guarantee Cuba's independence.
The Spanish government rejected the U.S. ultimatum and immediately severed diplomatic relations with the United States. McKinley responded by implementing a naval blockade of Cuba on April 22 and issued a call for 125,000 military volunteers the following day. That same day, Spain declared war on the United States, and the U.S. Congress voted to go to war against Spain on April 25.
The future Secretary of State John Hay described the ensuing conflict as a "splendid little war." The first battle was fought on May 1, in Manila Bay, where Commodore George Dewey's Asiatic Squadron defeated the Spanish naval force defending the Philippines. On June 10, U.S. troops landed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and additional forces landed near the harbor city of Santiago on June 22 and 24. After isolating and defeating the Spanish army garrisons in Cuba, the U.S. Navy destroyed the Spanish Caribbean squadron on July 3 as it attempted to escape the U.S. naval blockade of Santiago.
On July 26, at the behest of the Spanish government, the French ambassador in Washington, Jules Cambon, approached the McKinley Administration to discuss peace terms, and a cease-fire was signed on August 12. The war officially ended four months later, when the U.S. and Spanish governments signed the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. Apart from guaranteeing the independence of Cuba, the treaty also forced Spain to cede Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States. Spain also agreed to sell the Philippines to the United States for the sum of $20 million. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on February 6, 1899, by a margin of only one vote.
The McKinley Administration also used the war as a pretext to annex the independent state of Hawaii. In 1893, a group of Hawaii-based planters and businessmen led a coup against Queen Liliuokalani and established a new government. They promptly sought annexation by the United States, but President Grover Cleveland rejected their requests. In 1898, however, President McKinley and the American public were more favorably disposed toward acquiring the islands. Supporters of annexation argued that Hawaii was vital to the U.S. economy, that it would serve as a strategic base that could help protect U.S. interests in Asia, and that other nations were intent on taking over the islands if the United States did not. At McKinley's request, a joint resolution of Congress made Hawaii a U.S. territory on August 12, 1898.
Following the defeat Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States acquired overseas colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific. In its new status as an imperial power, the United States pursued a series of policies designed to protect American territories and aggressively expand its international commercial interests.
These policies included the promotion of the "Open Door" policy in China and the attachment of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine that formally announced the intention to use military force to defend the Western Hemisphere against European incursions. At the same time, President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal, which would have profound economic implications for American trade, and engaged in great power diplomacy in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War. In just over a decade, the United States had redefined its national and international interests to include a large overseas military presence, overseas possessions, and direct engagement in setting priorities in international affairs.
After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. On February 4, 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo who sought independence rather than a change in colonial rulers. The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.
The decision by U.S. policymakers to annex the Philippines was not without domestic controversy. Americans who advocated annexation evinced a variety of motivations: desire for commercial opportunities in Asia, concern that the Filipinos were incapable of self-rule, and fear that if the United States did not take control of the islands, another power (such as Germany or Japan) might do so. Meanwhile, American opposition to U.S. colonial rule of the Philippines came in many forms, ranging from those who thought it morally wrong for the United States to be engaged in colonialism, to those who feared that annexation might eventually permit the non-white Filipinos to have a role in American national government. Others were wholly unconcerned about the moral or racial implications of imperialism and sought only to oppose the policies of President William McKinley's administration.
After the Spanish-American War, while the American public and politicians debated the annexation question, Filipino revolutionaries under Aguinaldo seized control of most of the Philippines' main island of Luzon and proclaimed the establishment of the independent Philippine Republic. When it became clear that U.S. forces were intent on imposing American colonial control over the islands, the early clashes between the two sides in 1899 swelled into an all-out war. Americans tended to refer to the ensuing conflict as an "insurrection" rather than acknowledge the Filipinos' contention that they were fighting to ward off a foreign invader.
There were two phases to the Philippine-American War. The first phase, from February to November of 1899, was dominated by Aguinaldo's ill-fated attempts to fight a conventional war against the better-trained and equipped American troops. The second phase was marked by the Filipinos' shift to guerrilla-style warfare. It began in November of 1899, lasted through the capture of Aguinaldo in 1901 and into the spring of 1902, by which time most organized Filipino resistance had dissipated. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed a general amnesty and declared the conflict over on July 4, 1902, although minor uprisings and insurrections against American rule periodically occurred in the years that followed.
The United States entered the conflict with undeniable military advantages that included a trained fighting force, a steady supply of military equipment, and control of the archipelago's waterways. Meanwhile, the Filipino forces were hampered by their inability to gain any kind of outside support for their cause, chronic shortages of weapons and ammunition, and complications produced by the Philippines' geographic complexity. Under these conditions, Aguinaldo's attempt to fight a conventional war in the first few months of the conflict proved to be a fatal mistake; the Filipino army suffered severe losses in men and material before switching to the guerrilla tactics that might have been more effective if employed from the beginning of the conflict.
The war was brutal on both sides. U.S. forces at times burned villages, implemented civilian reconcentration policies, and employed torture on suspected guerrillas, while Filipino fighters also tortured captured soldiers and terrorized civilians who cooperated with American forces. Many civilians died during the conflict as a result of the fighting, cholera and malaria epidemics, and food shortages caused by several agricultural catastrophes.
Even as the fighting went on, the colonial government that the United States established in the Philippines in 1900 under future President William Howard Taft launched a pacification campaign that became known as the "policy of attraction." Designed to win over key elites and other Filipinos who did not embrace Aguinaldo's plans for the Philippines, this policy permitted a significant degree of self-government, introduced social reforms, and implemented plans for economic development. Over time, this program gained important Filipino adherents and undermined the revolutionaries' popular appeal, which significantly aided the United States' military effort to win the war.
In 1907, the Philippines convened its first elected assembly, and in 1916, the Jones Act promised the nation eventual independence. The archipelago became an autonomous commonwealth in 1935, and the U.S. granted independence in 1946.
The most famous of all the units fighting in Cuba, the "Rough Riders" was the name given to the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt resigned his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in May 1898 to join the volunteer cavalry. The original plan for this unit called for filling it with men from the Indian Territory, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oklahoma. However, once Roosevelt joined the group, it quickly became the place for a mix of troops ranging from Ivy League athletes to glee-club singers to Texas Rangers and Indians.
Rough riders grave sites
The graves of the Rough Riders
Photographic History, p. 251.
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Roosevelt and the commander of the unit Colonel Leonard Wood trained and supplied the men so well at their camp in San Antonio, Texas, that the Rough Riders was allowed into the action, unlike many other volunteer companies. They went to Tampa at the end of May and sailed for Santiago de Cuba on June 13. There they joined the Fifth Corps, another highly trained, well supplied, and enthusiastic group consisting of excellent soldiers from the regular army and volunteers.
The Rough Riders saw battle at Las Guesstimate when General Samuel B. M. Young was ordered to attack at this village, three miles north of Shinboney on the way to Santiago. Although it was not important to the outcome of the war, news of the action quickly made the papers. They also made headlines for their role in the Battle of San Juan Hill, which became the stuff of legend thanks to Roosevelt's writing ability and reenactments filmed long after