U.S. Secretary of State John Hay called the Spanish-American War of 1898 a “splendid little war.” Superficially, the description seemed apt. After the battleship Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor — an incident then blamed on Spain — America went to war, our citizens urged to free Cuba from Spanish rule as well as avenge the Maine. Largely a naval war, an American squadron under Commodore George Dewey destroyed the Spanish squadron at Manila; likewise, the U.S. Navy crushed Spain’s Caribbean squadron off Cuba’s port of Santiago. In each engagement, the United States suffered only one fatality. Things went tougher for American troops in Cuba, where malaria and yellow fever proved as daunting as Spanish bullets. But American schoolchildren would thereafter thrill to tales of Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders,” and of the famed charge up San Juan Hill. Defeated on land and sea, Spain sued for peace. The war lasted less than four months; our fighting forces distinguished themselves with valor; and the United States, acquiring territory from Puerto Rico to the Philippines, emerged as a “world power.”
Life at sea: The U.S. was pushing forward on all industrial frontiers. Here, a crew members stands aboard the U.S.S. Chicago between 1980 and 1901
Life at sea: The crew's 'athletes' aboard the U.S.S. Oregon between 1896 and 1901
Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.
Regrettably, Jefferson’s sentiments were little heeded in the 1890s. And a new media rogue had arrived — William Randolph Hearst, whose name became synonymous with “Yellow (dishonest) Journalism.” In 1895, the wealthy Hearst purchased the New York Journaland battled Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World to achieve the nation’s highest circulation.
Lieutenant Wendell C. Neville and Marine Guard, USS Maine, ca. 1895
Lieutenant Wendell C. Neville (far left, with sword) presents the Marine Guard aboard the USS Maine, circa 1895. Neville would later become the 14th Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1929; the USS Maine would later be sunk in Havana Harbor in 1898, sparking the Spanish-American War.
Hearst won, learning that in journalism, lies can become “truths” for the right price. But he and Pulitzer shared a common goal: war with Spain over Cuba.
Looking across Manila Bay on top of the wall of Fort San Antonio Abad in Malate, Philippines.
Among his characteristic quotes: “McKinley is bent on peace, I fear.” One afternoon in February 1898, Roosevelt exploited the absence of Navy Secretary John Long to put the Navy on a war footing; he cabled Commodore Dewey in Hong Kong to prepare to attack Manila — even though war had not begun. When Secretary Long learned of this, he didn’t revoke the order, but said of Roosevelt, “the very devil seemed to possess him yesterday afternoon.”
For the recognition of the independence of the people of Cuba, demanding that the government of Spain relinquish its authority and government in the island of Cuba and Cuban waters, and directing the President of the United States to use the land and naval forces of the United States to carry these resolutions into effect.
Spain could not have accepted this demand. It had ruled Cuba since 1511. All Spanish political parties, liberal and conservative, considered Cuba part of Spain, just as Americans consider Hawaii part of America. If it relinquished Cuba, the Spanish government would have faced revolution at home. Given a choice between revolution and war, the Spanish elected to fight, with honor, a war they could not hope to win. This delighted William Randolph Hearst. With the war in full swing, his newspaper’s headline gloated: “How Do You Like the Journal’s War?”
How our hearts burned with indignation against the atrocious Spaniards.… But when the smoke was over, the dead buried and the cost of the war came back to the people in an increase in the price of commodities and rent — that is, when we sobered up from our patriotic spree — it suddenly dawned on us that the cause of the Spanish-American War was the price of sugar.
Hawaii and the Philippines also yielded huge sugar revenues, and were steps toward a larger economic target: China. By 1899, McKinley already proclaimed his “Open Door” policy, demanding that European nations grant the United States equal access to Chinese ports.
I have spent 34 years in active service as a member of the Marine Corps. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank to collect revenues.
Nevertheless, the war disabled opposition that had been simmering against Wall Street monopolists. Thanks to press propaganda, “Spain” replaced “Morgan and Rockefeller” as the enemy. The rising Populist Party was neutralized. After the 1896 elections, it ceased to play a significant role in American politics. Distinctions between the Democratic and Republican parties, both of whom supported the war, continued fading.
Sidebar: What Sank the Maine?
The original Naval Court of Inquiry, headed by Captain William Sampson, concluded that the Maine sank when a mine detonated, causing the ship’s forward magazines to explode. The court of inquiry based this on eyewitness testimony of two explosions, as well as inward bending of part of the hull. However, it did not fix responsibility for the mine.
Success on a huge scale: The Navy vessel, the U.S.S. Oregon, sits in dry dock at Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1898 after taking part in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba
Spanish-American War: Trial Run for Interventionism
Ghosts of a forgotten war: Naval archivists discover trove of never before seen photographs from Spanish-American conflict of 1898
Archivists at the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington DC were going through a backlog of artifacts this week when they came across an unexpected treasure: a wooden box filled with 150 original glass plate photos from the Spanish-American War.
‘The plates were individually wrapped in tissue paper and include full captions and dates, which were likely prepared by the photographer, Douglas White,’ said Lisa Crunk, NHHC's photo archives branch head.
The large container fitted with a leather shoulder strap came with an etching on the cover explaining that it contains photographic slides of U.S. naval military activities in and around Manila, Philippines, during the Spanish-American War of 1898, which were made by war correspondent Douglas White.
Naval History and Heritage Command's photographic section archivist, looking at a glass plate photograph of Spanish Adm. Pasqual Cervera taken in 1898 or 1899
Hidden treasure: This image of U.S. soldiers manning a battle signal corps station was among some 150 glass plate photos discovered in a wooden box in a storage space at the Washington Naval Yards
The archivists at NHHC did some digging and discovered that White was a reporter and photographer at the San Francisco Examiner, then owned by controversial publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.
Crunk noted that the collection of rare images, which had been hidden from public view for over a century, is significant because the Navy played a pivotal role in every aspect of the conflict between the U.S. and Spain, which played out over ten weeks of fighting in the Caribbean and the Pacific.
‘American planners and leaders anticipated that the fight with Spain would be primarily a naval war,’ she said. ‘The U.S. Navy's victories at Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba were pivotal events that turned the course of the war and joint Army-Navy operations at Santiago, Puerto Rico, and Manila sealed the success won by the U.S. Navy's command of the seas.’ On April 25, 1898, the U.S. declared war on Spain following the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15 of that year.
The conflict was fueled by newspaper magnates Joseph Pulitzer and Hearst, the owner of the Examiner – widely regarded as the fathers of 'yellow journalism# - who used sensationalistic headlines and exaggerated accounts of 'atrocities' committed by the Spanish in Cuba to sway public opinion in favor of the war.
Provenance: The uncovered images, among them this undated photo of American troops disembarking from an unknown ship onto small boats near Cavite, Philippines, were likely taken by San Francisco Examiner special war correspondent Douglas White
Theater of war: This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows the burning of San Roque, Philippines, February 9, 1899 - more than a month after the signing of the Treaty of Paris that put an end to the conflict
Aftermath of carnage: This photo depicts damage to Fort San Antonio Abad in Manila caused by eight-inch shells from the U.S. Navy cruiser Olympia (
The armed conflict, which ended on the ground in August, was officially concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Paris December 10, 1898, establishing the independence of Cuba, and ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States.
As the victor in the war, the U.S. also was allowed to buy the Philippines Islands from Spain for $20million.
The war had cost the U.S. $250million and 3,000 lives, of whom 90 per cent had died from infectious diseases, according to information from the Library of Congress.
The cache of 116-year-old glass plates showing scenes from the various theaters of war was uncovered in an archival storage space at the Washington Naval Yard as staffers Dave Colamaria and Jon Roscoethe were laying the groundwork for a major upgrade of their collection.
Fanning the flames of war: William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner used sensationalistic headlines and exaggerated stories to sway public opinion in favor of the war
Boots on the ground: The U.S. paid dearly in blood and treasure for its ultimately successful involvement in the Spanish-American War, which claimed 3,000 lives, 90 per cent of whom had died from diseases
Victory: Soldiers receiving the news of surrender of Santiago, Cuba in 1898
Old-time heroes: 'Teddy's colts,' at the top of the hill which they captured in the battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish American War
'The images are an amazing find, though they were never really lost - they were simply waiting to be re-discovered,’ Crunk said.
Among the black-and-white photos shot by White in 1898 is one showing American troops disembarking from a ship onto small boats near Cavite, Philippines.
Another undated glass plate depicts the burning of San Roque, Philippines, during the conflict, while a third shows damage to Fort San Antonio Abad in Manila caused by eight-inch shells from the U.S. Navy cruiser Olympia.
As part of NHHC's planned overhaul, all the images in their possession would be digitized in high resolution, catalogued and uploaded onto the organization’s website for easy access.
Historic moment: August 12, 1898, Secretary of State William Day signs the treaty ending the Spanish-American War in the Cabinet Room of the White House as President McKinley and other members of the Cabinet look on
The Naval History and Heritage Command is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. Naval history and heritage.
It is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Archives, the Navy art and artefact collections, underwater archaeology, Navy history, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.