A New Navy, A New War
After the Civil War, the United States neglected its navy, which ranked twelfth in the world by 1880. Although the United States had no overseas colonies to protect, business and government leaders realized that a strong navy was essential to defend trade and growing international interests. Beginning in 1881, Congress supported a modernization program that would make the American navy effective. The new ships would have steel hulls, steam engines, and large, rifled guns. At first, the ships still used sails as a backup to steam power. But by the 1890s, the U.S. Navy had converted to all-steel and -steam, and ranked among the top five navies in the world. Naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan stated, Americans must now begin to look outward. The growing production of the country demands it . . . .
This Means War!
On February 15, 1898, a mysterious explosion sank the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor, triggering a war between the United States and Spain.
The Maine had come to Cuba to protect American citizens while Cuban revolutionaries were fighting to win independence from Spain. The United States supported their cause, and after the Maine exploded, demanded that Spain give Cuba freedom. Instead, Spain declared war, and America quickly followed suit, moving Commodore George Dewey into position in the Phillipines and Commodore Winfield Scott Schley into Santiago Bay.
War fever was fanned by the press, particularly publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Although the United States claimed it had no designs on Cuba, many believed the war would be an opportunity to seize other overseas possessions and begin building an American empire. Newspapers printed maps to help Americans follow the war. The United States now entered an era of overseas expansion.
The War in Cuba
To win in Cuba, the United States had to defeat the Spanish Navy. As the war began, Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera concentrated his small squadron in Santiago Bay to help protect the forts. The United States Navy, commanded by Commodore Winfield Scott Schley, trapped the squadron when it blockaded Santiago along with other major Cuban ports. American land forces began to attack the city from the north on July 1, 1898. Cervera was ordered to try to break out of the harbor to save his ships. Although realizing this maneuver would probably fail, Cevera attempted it early on July 3. All of his ships were destroyed, one after another.
The Cuban Land Campaign
Like the naval campaign, the land campaign in Cuba centered on Santiago. On July 1, 1898, General William Shafter attacked the San Juan heights that overlooked Santiago. In a series of fierce engagements, the Americans pushed the Spanish off the hills. The American troops were better equipped and employed the decisive use of Gatling guns, which had multiple barrels revolving around a central axis and were fired rapidly by turning a crank. Having suffered heavy losses, the Americans now besieged the city rather than attack it further.
The fall of Santiago on July 17 convinced Spain to concede defeat in Cuba. Following the victory, the person who attracted the greatest public attention was not General Shafter, but Theodore Roosevelt, a flamboyant Rough Rider who had charged up San Juan Hill.
Defeating Spain in the Philippines
The opening battle of the Spanish American War took place in the Philippines. As soon as the United States declared war, Commodore George Dewey led his Asiatic squadron from Hong Kong to the Philippines. With the words, You may fire when you are ready, Gridley, Commodore Dewey ordered Captain Charles V. Gridley to fire on the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. On May 1, 1898, Dewey decisively defeated the Spanish squadron in Manila Bay, sinking or capturing every Spanish ship with no loss of American life. It was dramatic evidence that the United States was now a major naval power.
Following his victory at Manila Bay, Commodore George Dewey became an overnight sensation in the United States. His picture appeared everywhere, and young people, like those seen here, honored and emulated him.
Becoming an International Power
The United States relied greatly on assistance from Filipino revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo, who already controlled much of the countryside and had proclaimed a Philippine republic. American troops did not arrive in large numbers until July. They negotiated Spains surrender of Manila in August, as the war ended. But, instead of liberating the Philippines from Spanish domination, the United States chose to annex the islands and begin building an American empire.
A Filipino-American War
Many Americans strongly opposed this new trend of imperialism, as did the Philippine revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo. He turned from fighting Spain to resisting American domination. Defeating Aguinaldos guerillas took longer than defeating the Spanish. The United States combined tactics of pacification and social improvement with brutal military strikes. Aguinaldo was captured in 1901, and then in 1902 President Roosevelt officially declared an end to the conflict. However a Filipino-American War continued on until 1915. In years to come, Americans remained divided over the nations actions and imperial ambitions.
Theodore Roosevelts Big Stick
Theodore Roosevelt became the twenty-sixth president after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. Roosevelt strongly supported American expansionism, and increased the size of the military to implement it. His policy was epitomized in the phrase, Speak softly, but carry a big stick. Following the fall of Cuba, the Spanish possessions of Puerto Rico, Samoa, Guam, and Wake Island became American territories.