Spanish American War

By: Danny Doglio


When pro-Weyler forces in Havana instigated riots in January 1898, Washington became greatly concerned for the safety of Americans in the country. The administration believed that some means of protecting U.S. citizens should be on hand, and the Spanish government should be reminded of America's serious interest in seeing an end to the Cuban conflict. As a result, on 24 January, after clearing the visit with a reluctant government in Madrid, President McKinley sent the battleship USS Maine from Key West to Havana.The battleship arrived on 25 January. Spanish authorities in Havana were wary of American intentions, but they afforded Captain Charles D. Sigsbee and the officers of Maine every courtesy. In order to avoid the possibility of trouble, the U.S. Navy captain did not allow his enlisted men to go on shore. Sigsbee and the consul at Havana, Fitzhugh Lee, reported that the Navy's presence appeared to have a calming effect on the situation, and both recommended that the Navy Department send another battleship to Havana when it came time to relieve Maine. Most of Maine's crew were sleeping or resting in the enlisted quarters in the forward part of the ship when the explosion occurred. Captain Sigsbee and most of the officers survived because their quarters were in the after portion of the ship.

American People Thinking

Brain Fried

As to the immediate cause of the disaster that has bereaved so many American households and robbed the American navy of one of the most valued elements of its fighting strength, we heed Captain Sigsbee’s appeal to sound judgment. The Government has set an investigation on foot, and the Journal has independently undertaken another. Between them the truth will soon be known. If it be found that the Spanish authorities have fought about this calamity, so profitable to themselves, no power from the White House to Wall Street will be able to restrain the American people from exacting a terrible retribution. And Spain’s innocence must be clearly proven. All the circumstances of the case fix the burden of proof upon her. The Maine was lying in one of her harbors, under the guns of her fortresses, with the warships at hand. The removal of the Maine meant a tremendous reduction in the odds against her in the event of the conflict that all Spanish Havana desired.

Yellow Press

On February 15, 1898, an explosion ripped through the American battleship Maine, sinking the ship and killing 260 sailors. Americans responded with outrage, assuming that Spain, which controlled Cuba as a colony, had sunk the ship. Two months later, the slogan "Remember the Maine" carried the U.S. into war with Spain. In the midst of the hysteria, few Americans paid much attention to the report issued two weeks before the U.S. entry into the war by a Court of Inquiry appointed by President McKinley. The report stated that the committee could not definitively assign blame to Spain for the sinking of the Maine. Many historians have focused on the role of the “yellow press” in stirring up sentiment that propelled the U.S. into its first imperialist war.


On February 15, 1898, an explosion ripped through the American battleship Maine, anchored in Havana Harbor, sinking the ship and killing 260 sailors. Americans responded with outrage, assuming that Spain, which controlled Cuba as a colony, had sunk the ship. A great deal of the American public’s outrage was generated by media coverage—newspapers and the emerging film industry—of the incident. In contrast to more sensational accounts of the Maine explosion, the staid New York Times cautiously reported on February 17, 1898, that there “was no evidence to prove or disprove treachery” as a factor in the sinking of the battleship.


The United States was simply unprepared for war. What Americans had in enthusiastic spirit, they lacked in military strength. The united states army was understaffed, under equipped, and under trained. Cuba required summer uniforms; the US troops arrived with heavy woolen coats and pants.

Battle of Manila Bay

Secretary Long telegraphed Commodore Dewey at Hong Kong on 21 April informing him that the U.S. blockade of Cuba had begun and that war was expected at any moment. They spent two days drilling, distributing ammunition, and stripping the ships of all wooden articles (which could add to fire damage on board ship caused by enemy gunfire). Almost immediately after Williams arrived on 27 April, the American ships departed for the Philippines in search of the Spanish squadron.In a meeting called by the governor general of the Philippines on 15 March, Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasaron, in command of Spanish naval forces in the colony, concluded that his squadron would be destroyed by the onslaught of the American ships. The Spanish squadron consisted of seven unarmored ships carrying thirty-seven heavy guns and weighing a total of 11,328 tons. The governor general agreed. However, Montojo did not track the progress of the work in Subic Bay.With the declaration of war the Spanish admiral took his squadron into Subic Bay only to discover that the commander there still needed another six weeks to mount his guns on Isla Grande at the bay's entrance. On 28 April, Montojo learned that the Americans had left Mirs Bay bound for the Philippines. After calling a council of his captains, he returned with his ships to Manila. Seventeen guns, including nine obsolete muzzleloaders, guarded the two passages into the Manila Bay. The Spanish attempted to mine the main channel, but the water was so deep and the entrance so wide that neither mines nor shore batteries were an effective barrier to enemy ships passing through during the night. Of the more than 200 guns near the city of Manila, only twelve were breech-loaders positioned to fire out to sea. Montojo rejected the idea of fighting under the guns of the city because civilian structures would likely be hit by American fire. The Spanish decided to anchor their ships in the shallow waters under the guns of the Cavite arsenal, on a small peninsula seven miles southwest of Manila. Deeply pessimistic about his fleet's chances of survival, Montojo believed the position gave his men the best chance to escape from their vessels should they be sunk in the upcoming battle.

Winning the war

The treaty of paris was most generous to the winners. The United States received the Philippines and the islands of guam and puerto rico. Cuba became independent, and Spain was awarded $20 million dollars for its losses. The treaty prompted a heated debate in the United States. The war was supposed to be about freeing Cuba, not seizing the Philippines. While the Spanish-American War lasted ten weeks and resulted in 400 battle deaths.