Naval Involvement in the Spanish-American War

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In 1823, President James Monroe gave an address to Congress effectively establishing the United States presence in the Western Hemisphere and forbidding European colonization throughout the Western Hemisphere. Seventy-five years later, Spain occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Spanish East Indies, an island chain including modern-day Philippines. As expected, they were met with firm resistance from both the United States and Cuba. Up through the 1890’s, Cuba had led numerous unsuccessful rebellions against the Spanish govern. After the explosion of a United States naval ship, the U.S.S. Maine, and the expressed interests of Cubans and Filipinos, President William McKinley had few alternatives to following the people’s call for war on Spain. The explosion of the U.S.S. Maine was an instrumental part to the beginning of the war and it helped contribute to the call for war by the American people through inflammatory journalism and patriotic conclusions. The declaration of war on Spain by the U.S. was also intriguing because of the unwillingness of President McKinley to support the declaration, but it also succeeded the Teller Amendment, a promise not to annex Cuba. Finally, The Battle of Santiago Bay was a prominent battle in the war and a resounding American victory. The Spanish-American war established a strong U.S. presence in the Western Hemisphere, as well as asserting the U.S. once more as a global power.

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        The battleship U.S.S. Maine was one of the older battleships in the United States Navy when it was sent to protect Americans in Cuba. It was stationed in Havana Harbor when it exploded, killing two-thirds of the crew, which was nearly 260 men. About 75 men were identified in the terrible incident, and as expected provocative journalism initiated a resonating desire for war on the enemy who was controlling Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The Maine weighed over 6,000 tons and cost over $2 million. After the explosion, the U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry decided that The Maine was blown up by a mine in Havana Harbor, convincing Americans that the Spanish were behind the explosion. With few alternatives, President McKinley started looking towards war. He and the government faced great pressure and criticism from the press and the people now that every eye was on their next move on the Spanish. Many years after the incident, in 1976, American investigators found that The Maine was likely obliterated by a fire in the ammunition storage, as many skeptics during the time leading up to the war believed. The explosion of The Maine was not only a disastrous event, but it contributed to the call for war from the citizens of the U.S.

        Succeeding the explosion of The Maine was the declaration of War on Spain. McKinley, finally submitting to the people’s cry for war against Spain asked Congress to declare war and Congress agreed on April 25, 1898. Six days before, on April 19, the Senate passed the Teller Amendment, which was presented by Henry M. Teller as an amendment to the declaration of war. It stated the United States would not retain permanent control of Cuba after Spain left the island. The U.S. presence remained in Cuba until 1902, only for the purpose of reconstruction and protection from other empires while it was still vulnerable from the Spanish rule. Cuba then became its own independent country in 1902. The first fighting after the declaration was when Commodore George Dewey arrived in Manila Bay of the Philippines. Commodore Dewey was in charge of the U.S. Asiatic Squadron and was ordered to attack the Spanish Fleet in the water around the Philippines. The newer U.S. fleet struck the older Spanish fleet at around 5:00 in the morning, when Commodore Dewey gave the

You May Fire When Ready, Gridley: The U.S.S. Olympia, Commodore Dewey’s flagship which he led the U.S. fleet on in the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines. This picture, taken in 2007, is of the Olympia at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia.

famous orders, You may fire when ready, Gridley. within a few hours of fighting, the whole Spanish fleet was decimated. This marked the first fighting in the war, and it later became known as the Battle of Manila Bay. The first fighting in Cuba came when Teddy Roosevelt, under General William Shafter and his army, led the 1st Volunteer Cavalry to an attack on the city of Santiago in an endeavor to force the Spanish-Caribbean fleet out of Santiago bay. Teddy Roosevelt accustomed the people to hearing his name when he charged up San Juan Hill, leading his volunteer cavalry to a victory in this very brief war.

        After the charge on San Juan Hill, the Spanish fleet in the Caribbean was forced to evacuate Santiago Bay because of the possibility of an attack from inland, but they were met and decimated by the U.S. naval forces, specifically the Flying Squadron, a group of ships made up of the U.S.S. Texas and Massachusetts, cruisers Brooklyn, Columbia, and Minneapolis and several other auxiliary cruisers. The Flying Squadron was led by Commodore Williams Schley. The Spanish-Caribbean fleet, led by Pascual Cervera attempted to escape to the westward side of the island but was met by Schley and the Flying Squadron. This effort by the U.S. was an outright victory by the U.S. and it started to bring this very brief war to a close. On July 17, 1898, just 14

The U.S.S. Brooklyn: This image is of the U.S.S. Brooklyn at the New York Navy Yard. The Brooklyn was part of the Flying Squadron which attacked the Spanish-Caribbean fleet in the Battle of Santiago Bay. The picture was taken in 1898 by Robert Enrique Muller.

days after the Battle of Santiago Bay and less than four months after the U.S. declaration of war, Santiago surrendered to the U.S. Then, on December 10, the Treaty of Paris was signed where the United States paid $20 million to Spain for them to drop all influence and ownership of the Philippines, Cuba, Guam, and Puerto Rico. This is one of the most important treaties in American history because it forced European powers out of the Western hemisphere and the U.S. gained many territories.

        In conclusion, the Spanish-American war was a brief, yet important war in American history. President McKinley found himself with few, if no alternatives to declaring war on Spain after the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor. General William Shafter and Teddy Roosevelt led an attack on Santiago Cuba, and the Spanish-Caribbean fleet was decimated after Commodore George Dewey led his ships on Manila Bay, Philippines and destroyed the unexpecting Spanish fleet. After the Treaty of Paris, the United States occupied Cuba until 1902 to assure it was not at risk of being conquered again. As stated in the Teller Amendment, the U.S. left Cuba to become their own nation. The Philippines were inhabited by the U.S. until 1946, but the first few years were bloody and rough. The Filipino Insurrection (1899-1902) was a period of time after the Treaty of Paris where many of the Filipino guerilla fighters killed Americans in the Philippines. The Philippines earned its full independence in 1946. Puerto Rico and Guam remain U.S. territories today. The effects of the Spanish-American war still remain today when spanish influence in culture and architecture is exemplified in the territories ceded to the United States, or when there is power struggles in Cuba or disputes. After the Spanish-American war the U.S. confirmed its title as the most powerful nation in the Western hemisphere and showcased its imperialistic aspect.

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Naval Involvement in the Spanish-American War. (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved December 7, 2022 , from
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