|Part of the Philippine Revolution, Cuban War of Independence|
Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, by Frederic Remington
| United States
|Kingdom of Spain|
| Nelson A. Miles
William R. Shafter
William T. Sampson
| Patricio Montojo
Arsenio Linares y Pombo
Manuel Macías y Casado
Ramón Blanco y Erenas
|Casualties and losses|
United States Army:
United States Navy:
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States. While many historians and experts routinely include the indigenous struggles for independence in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine Islands under this heading, the name Spanish-American War (explicitly suggesting the period of US military involvement, as it does) narrowly refers to the US-sponsored punctuation to the late-nineteenth-century turmoil in the Spanish colonies.
Ostensibly fought over the issue of Cuban independence, the four-month war developed into a global conflict as the U.S. Navy sought to dislodge Spain from longstanding colonial outposts in both the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Its outcome—with temporary administrative authority over Cuba and indefinite colonial authority over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines ceded to the U.S. through the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris—had long-range implications for both belligerent parties. For Spain, the conflict, thereafter referred to as “the Disaster,” contributed to the further weakening of the Restoration Government, the eventual rise of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, and Spain’s military insignificance in the twentieth century. The victorious United States, however, gained several island possessions spanning the globe and a modern navy capable of defending them.
The combined traumas of the Spanish War of Independence, the consequent loss of most of Spain’s American Empire in the early 19th century, and two disastrous Carlist wars effected a new interpretation of Spain’s remaining empire. Liberal Spanish elites like Cánovas del Castillo and Emilio Castelar attempted to redefine the idea of empire to more neatly dovetail with the emerging concept of Spanish nationalism. As Cánovas makes clear in his address to the Ateneo in 1882, Discurso Sobre la Nación, the Spanish nation was a cultural and linguistic concept that tied Spain’s colonies to the metropole notwithstanding the oceans that separated them. Cánovas argued Spain was markedly different from rival empires like Britain and France. Unlike these empires, the dissemination of civilization was Spain’s unique contribution to the New World. This popular reimagining of the Spanish empire had the effect of imbuing special significance to Cuba as an integral part of the Spanish nation. The new importance invested in maintaining the empire would have disastrous consequences for Spain’s sense of national identity in the aftermath of the war.
In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine had said that further efforts by European governments to colonize land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed by the United States of America as acts of aggression requiring US intervention.
From the early days of the American Republic, territorial expansion had been a vital component of the emergent U.S. national character. Yet it was in the wake of the U.S. Civil War, as veterans from both armies armed with barbed-wire and rifles spread across the vast west, that expansion became an integral part of the American experience. By 1890 the frontier, defined by congress as land occupied by two to six people, on average, per square mile, had disappeared. The importance of this recognition was not lost on the historian Frederick Jackson Turner. In his 1893 address before the American Historical Society, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” he argued that the frontier had made the United States unique. The availability of cheap land and the prospect of moving westward, he claimed, had allowed the U.S. to avoid the social problems plaguing Europe. The address was a passionate plea for the necessity of the frontier at a time when it ceased to exist outside the American imagination.
Just a few years earlier, Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan had published his most famous and influential work, “The Influence of Sea Power upon History,” which credits the rise of major global powers like Britain to the successful development of powerful navies. Mahan’s ideas on projecting strength through a strong navy had a powerful influence on Americans already mourning the loss of the frontier. Mahan’s friend, Theodore Roosevelt, later Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley and an aggressive supporter of a war with Spain over Cuba, was also strongly influenced by Mahan’s conclusions.
The first serious bid for Cuban independence erupted in 1868. The Ten Years War, as it was called, was eventually put down by the Spanish colonial authorities in 1878. Unfortunately for the Spanish, neither the brutal fighting nor the application of reforms in the Pact of Zanjón (Feb. 1878) were able to quell the desire for independence in some revolutionaries. One such revolutionary, José Martí, continued to advocate Cuban financial and political autonomy even in exile.
In early 1895, after years of organizing, Martí launched a three-pronged invasion of the island. The plan called for one group from Santo Domingo led by Máximo Gómez, one group from Costa Rica led by Antonio Maceo, and another from the United States (preemptively thwarted by U.S. officials in Florida) to land in different places on the island and provoke an indigenous revolution. While the grito de Baíre (as their call for revolution continues to be called) was successful, the expected revolution was not the grand show of force Martí had anticipated. With a quick victory effectively lost, the revolutionaries settled in to fight a protracted guerilla campaign.
The Spanish response was swift and decisive. Cánovas del Castillo, the architect of Spain’s Restoration constitution and the prime minister at the time, announced that “the Spanish nation is disposed to sacrifice to the last peseta of its treasure and to the last drop of blood of the last Spaniard before consenting that anyone snatch from it even one piece of its sacred territory.”  He ordered General Arsenio Martínez de Campos, a distinguished veteran of the war against the previous insurrection in Cuba, to quell the revolt. Campos’s reluctance to accept his new assignment and his method of containing the revolt to the province of Oriente earned him ridicule in the Spanish press. The mounting political pressure thus forced Cánovas to replace General Campos with General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, a soldier who had proven himself able to quash rebellions in both the colonies and in the Spanish metropole. Weyler’s strategy was to deprive the insurgency of weaponry, supplies and assistance by ordering the residents of some Cuban districts to relocate themselves near the military headquarters in what were termed reconcentration camps. While the application of this strategy was brutally effective at slowing the spread of rebellion, it had the unwelcome effect of stirring indignation in the United States. The Spanish reconcentrados placed nearly all of Cuba’s native population into camps, causing U.S. President William McKinley to remark that this “was not civilized warfare" but "extermination.” It can be argued that Senator Redfield Proctor’s March 17th, 1898 report to the U.S. Senate on the reconcentrados, personally witnessed during a fact-finding visit, was as much a cause for a war declaration as the sinking of the USS Maine.
The eruption of Cuban revolt, Weyler’s brutal tactics, and the popular fury these events whipped up proved to be a boon to the newspaper industry in the U.S. Both Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal recognized the potential for great headlines and stories that would sell copies. Both covered Spain’s actions in general and Weyler’s tactics specifically in a way that confirmed the extant popular disparaging attitude toward Spain in the U.S. In the minds, schoolbooks and scholarship of the mostly Protestant U.S. public, the Catholic Spanish Empire was a backward, immoral union built on the backs of enslaved natives and funded with stolen gold. While the yellow press, as the type of tabloid journalism Hearst and Pulitzer employed came to be known, helped turn these sentiments toward outright war with Spain, the American public’s natural inclination to support Cuban revolt hardly needed the additional sensational commentary.
It was not merely the righteous indignation stirred up by feuding newspapers and predicated on a popular prejudice against Spain that moved the U.S. closer to war. The U.S. had important economic interests that were being harmed by the prolonged conflict. Shipping firms that relied heavily on trade with Cuba suffered huge losses as the conflict continued unresolved. These firms pressed Congress and McKinley to seek an end to the revolt. Other U.S. business concerns, specifically those who had invested in Cuban sugar, looked to the Spanish to restore order to the situation. Stability, not necessarily war, was the ultimate goal of both interests. How stability would be achieved would depend largely on the ability of Spain and the U.S. to work out their issues diplomatically.
President McKinley, well aware of the political complexity surrounding the conflict, was predisposed to end the revolt peacefully. Threatening to consider recognizing Cuba’s belligerent status, and thus allowing the legal rearming of Cuban insurgents by U.S. firms, he sent Stewart L. Woodford to Madrid to negotiate an end to the conflict. With Práxedes Sagasta, an open advocate of Cuban autonomy, now Prime Minister of Spain (the more hard-line Cánovas del Castillo having been assassinated before Woodford arrived), negotiations went fairly smoothly. Cuban autonomy was set to begin on January 1, 1898.
Eleven days after the Cuban autonomous government took power a small riot, ignited by Spanish officers offended by the persistent newspaper criticism of General Weyler’s policies, erupted in Havana. Against the advice of the Consul-General in Havana, Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee, McKinley sent the USS Maine to Havana to ensure the safety of US citizens and interests. It set anchor in Havana harbor on January 25, 1898. Spain responded by having an armored cruiser, the Vizcaya, anchor off shore of New York City.
The need for the U.S. to send the Maine to Havana had been anticipated for months. In October of 1897 President McKinley had made arrangements for the USS Maine to be deployed to Key West, Florida via South Carolina. Nor was sending the Maine to Cuba an isolated naval maneuver. In fact, deploying the Maine to Havana was only one part of a larger, global deployment of US naval power. As the Maine left Florida a large part of the North Atlantic fleet was moved to Key West and the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, others were moved just off shore of Lisbon. And still others were moved to Hong Kong.
At 9:40pm on February 15 the USS Maine sank in the harbor after suffering a massive explosion. While McKinley preached patience, the news of the explosion and the death of 266 sailors stirred popular US opinion and large segments of Congress into demanding a swift belligerent response. To demonstrate his own willingness to avenge the loss—-as well as to buy more time for the Navy to complete their inquiry into the cause of the explosion-—McKinley requested Congress appropriate 50 million dollars for defense, to which Congress unanimously obliged. The Navy’s investigation, made public on March 28, concluded that the ship’s magazines were ignited when an external explosion was set off under the ship’s hull. This revelation poured fuel on popular US indignation and strengthened the hand of those officials already gearing up for war.
The conclusions of the Navy’s investigation, however, were not the only ones offered. Spain’s investigation of the circumstances surrounding the explosion had come to the opposite conclusion: that the explosion originated within the ship. Nor was this the last word on the demise of the Maine. A second Navy investigation was launched in 1910 and completed in 1911 came to much the same conclusion as the first. A private investigation, led by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover in 1976 and resulting in a 170-page book, How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed, came to the alternate conclusion that the explosion originated within the ship. Another private investigation, this one commissioned by the National Geographic in 1999, confirmed the original navy investigation’s conclusion that a mine had caused the initial explosion.
Upon the destruction of the Maine, newspaper owners such as William Randolph Hearst came to the conclusion that Spanish officials in Cuba were to blame, and they widely publicized this theory as fact. They fueled American anger by publishing sensationalistic and astonishing accounts of "atrocities" committed by Spain in Cuba. A common myth states that Hearst responded to the opinion of his illustrator Frederic Remington that conditions in Cuba were not bad enough to warrant hostilities with: "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." Lashed to fury, in part by such press, the American cry of the hour became, "Remember the Maine, To Hell with Spain!" President William McKinley, Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed and the business community opposed the growing public demand for war.
Senator Redfield Proctor's speech, delivered on March 17, 1898 thoroughly analyzed the situation, concluding that war was the only answer. Many in the business and religious communities, which had heretofore opposed war, switched sides, leaving President McKinley and Speaker Reed almost alone in their opposition to the war. On April 11, President McKinley asked Congress for authority to send American troops to Cuba for the purpose of ending the civil war there.
On April 19, while Congress was considering joint resolutions supporting Cuban independence, Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado proposed the Teller amendment to ensure that the United States would not establish permanent control over Cuba following the cessation of hostilities with Spain. The amendment, disclaiming any intention to annex Cuba, passed the Senate 42 to 35; the House concurred the same day, 311 to 6. The amended resolution demanded Spanish withdrawal and authorized the President to use as much military force as he thought necessary to help Cuba gain independence from Spain. President McKinley signed the joint resolution on April 20, 1898, and the ultimatum was forwarded to Spain. In response, Spain broke off diplomatic relations with the United States and declared war on April 25. The next day, Congress declared that a state of war between the United States and Spain had existed since April 21.
In the spring of 1898, the total strength of the U.S. Army was just 28,183 men. The size of the army was rapidly expanded to about 250,000 men, with the majority undisciplined troops lifted from the National Guard and the remainder untrained volunteers.
The Spanish had first landed in the Philippines on March 17, 1521, though colonization did not start until 1565. Since then, the islands had been a key holding for the Spanish Empire. In the 300 years of Spanish rule, the country developed from a small overseas colony governed from the Viceroyalty of New Spain to a modern partly-autonomous country, with infrastructure, schools, hospitals and universities.
The Spanish-speaking middle classes of the 19th century were mostly educated in the liberal ideas coming from Europe. Among these Ilustrados was the Filipino national hero José Rizal, who demanded larger reforms from the Spanish authorities. This movement eventually led to the Philippine Revolution, which the United States later backed. The first battle between American and Spanish forces was at Manila Bay where, on May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey, commanding the United States Navy's Asiatic Squadron aboard USS Olympia, in a matter of hours defeated a Spanish squadron under Admiral Patricio Montojo. Dewey managed this with only nine wounded.
With the German seizure of Tsingtao in 1897, Dewey's squadron had become the only naval force in the Far East without a local base of its own, and was beset with coal and ammunition problems. Despite these logistical problems, the Asiatic Squadron had not only destroyed the Spanish fleet but had also captured the harbor of Manila.
Following Dewey's victory, Manila Bay was filled with the warships of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Japan; all of which outgunned Dewey's force. The German fleet of eight ships, ostensibly in Philippine waters to protect German interests (a single import firm), acted provocatively—cutting in front of American ships, refusing to salute the United States flag (according to customs of naval courtesy), taking soundings of the harbor, and landing supplies for the besieged Spanish. The Germans, with interests of their own, were eager to take advantage of whatever opportunities the conflict in the islands might afford. The Americans called the bluff of the Germans, threatening conflict if the aggressive activities continued, and the Germans backed down.
Commodore Dewey transported Emilio Aguinaldo to the Philippines from exile in Hong Kong in order to rally Filipinos against the Spanish colonial government. By June, U.S. and Filipino forces had taken control of most of the islands, except for the walled city of Intramuros. On June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines.
On August 13, with American commanders unaware that a cease-fire had been signed between Spain and the United States on the previous day, American forces captured the city of Manila from the Spanish. This battle marked the end of Filipino-American collaboration, as Filipino forces were prevented from entering the captured city of Manila, an action which was deeply resented by the Filipinos and which later led to the Philippine–American War.
On June 20, 1898, a U.S. fleet commanded by Captain Henry Glass, consisting of the cruiser USS Charleston and three transports carrying troops to the Philippines entered Guam's Apra Harbor, Captain Glass having opened sealed orders instructing him to proceed to Guam and capture it. The Charleston fired a few cannon rounds at Fort Santa Cruz without receiving any return fire. Two local officials, not knowing that war had been declared and being under the misapprehension that the firing had been a salute, came out to the Charleston to apologize for their inability to return the salute. Glass informed them that the United States and Spain were at war. The following day, Glass sent Lt. William Braunersruehter to meet the Spanish Governor to arrange the surrender of the island and the Spanish garrison there. Some 54 Spanish infantry were captured and transported to the Philippines as prisoners of war. No U.S. forces were left on Guam, but the only U.S. citizen on the island, Frank Portusach, told Captain Glass that he would look after things until U.S. forces returned.
Theodore Roosevelt actively encouraged intervention in Cuba and, while Assistant Secretary of the Navy, placed the Navy on a war-time footing and prepared Dewey's Asiatic Squadron for battle. He worked with Leonard Wood in convincing the Army to raise an all-volunteer regiment, the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. Wood was given command of the regiment that quickly became known as the "Rough Riders".
The Americans planned to capture the city of Santiago de Cuba in order to destroy Linares' army and Cervera's fleet. To reach Santiago they had to pass through concentrated Spanish defenses in the San Juan Hills and a small town in El Caney. The American forces were aided in Cuba by the pro-independence rebels led by General Calixto García.
Between June 22 and June 24, the U.S. V Corps under General William R. Shafter landed at Daiquirí and Siboney, east of Santiago, and established an American base of operations. A contingent of Spanish troops, having fought a skirmish with the Americans near Siboney on June 23, had retired to their lightly-entrenched positions at Las Guasimas. An advance guard of U.S. forces under former Confederate General Joseph Wheeler ignored Cuban scouting parties and orders to proceed with caution. They caught up with and engaged the Spanish rearguard who effectively ambushed them, in the Battle of Las Guasimas on June 24. The battle ended indecisively in favor of Spain and the Spanish left Las Guasimas on their planned retreat to Santiago.
The U.S. army employed American Civil War-era skirmishers at the head of the advancing columns. All four U.S. soldiers who had volunteered to act as skirmishers walking point at the head of the American column were killed, including Hamilton Fish, from a well-known patrician New York City family, and Captain Alyn Capron, whom Theodore Roosevelt would describe as one of the finest natural leaders and soldiers he ever met. The Battle of Las Guasimas showed the U.S. that the old linear Civil War tactics did not work effectively against Spanish troops who had learned the art of cover and concealment from their own struggle with Cuban insurgents, and never made the error of revealing their positions while on the defense. The Spaniards were also aided by the then new smokeless powder, which also helped them to remain concealed while firing. American soldiers were only able to advance against the Spaniards in what are now called "fireteam" rushes, four-to-five man groups advancing while others laid down supporting fire.
On July 1, a combined force of about 15,000 American troops in regular infantry, cavalry and volunteer regiments, including Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders," notably the 71st New York, 1st North Carolina, 23rd and 24th Colored, and rebel Cuban forces attacked 1,270 entrenched Spaniards in dangerous Civil War-style frontal assaults at the Battle of El Caney and Battle of San Juan Hill outside of Santiago. More than 200 U.S. soldiers were killed and close to 1,200 wounded in the fighting. Supporting fire by Gatling guns was critical to the success of the assault. Cervera decided to escape Santiago two days later.
The Spanish forces at Guantánamo were so isolated by Marines and Cuban forces that they did not know that Santiago was under siege, and their forces in the northern part of the province could not break through Cuban lines. This was not true of the Escario relief column from Manzanillo, which fought its way past determined Cuban resistance but arrived too late to participate in the siege.
After the battles of San Juan Hill and El Caney, the American advance ground to a halt. Spanish troops successfully defended Fort Canosa, allowing them to stabilize their line and bar the entry to Santiago. The Americans and Cubans forcibly began a bloody, strangling siege of the city. During the nights, Cuban troops dug successive series of "trenches" (actually raised parapets), toward the Spanish positions. Once completed, these parapets were occupied by U.S. soldiers and a new set of excavations went forward. American troops, while suffering daily losses from Spanish fire, suffered far more casualties from heat exhaustion and mosquito-borne disease. At the western approaches to the city, Cuban general Calixto Garcia began to encroach on the city, causing much panic and fear of reprisals among the Spanish forces.
The major port of Santiago de Cuba was the main target of naval operations during the war. The U.S. fleet attacking Santiago needed shelter from the summer hurricane season. Thus Guantánamo Bay with its excellent harbour was chosen for this purpose. The 1898 invasion of Guantánamo Bay happened June 6–10, with the first U.S. naval attack and subsequent successful landing of U.S. Marines with naval support.
The Battle of Santiago de Cuba on July 3, 1898, was the largest naval engagement of the Spanish–American War and resulted in the destruction of the Spanish Caribbean Squadron (also known as the Flota de Ultramar). In May 1898, the fleet of Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete had been spotted by American forces in Santiago harbour, where they had taken shelter for protection from sea attack. A two-month stand-off between Spanish and American naval forces followed. When the Spanish squadron finally attempted to leave the harbour on July 3, the American forces destroyed or grounded five of the six ships. Only one Spanish vessel, the speedy new armored cruiser Cristobal Colón, survived, but her captain hauled down her flag and scuttled her when the Americans finally caught up with her. The 1,612 Spanish sailors who were captured, including Admiral Cervera, were sent to Seavey's Island at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where they were confined at Camp Long as prisoners of war from July 11 until mid-September.
During the stand-off, United States Assistant Naval Constructor Richmond Pearson Hobson had been ordered by Rear Admiral William T. Sampson to sink the collier USS Merrimac in the harbour to bottle up the Spanish fleet. The mission was a failure, and Hobson and his crew were captured. They were exchanged on July 6, and Hobson became a national hero; he received the Medal of Honor in 1933 and became a Congressman.
On August 7, 1898, the American invasion force started to leave Cuba. The problem was fiebre amarilla, yellow fever, which had quickly spread amongst the American occupation force, crippling it. A group of concerned officers of the American army chose Theodore Roosevelt to draft a request to Washington that it withdraw the Army, a request that paralleled a similar one from General Shafter, who described his force as an “army of convalescents”. By the time of his letter, 75% of the force in Cuba was unfit for service.
The evacuation was not total. The Army kept the black Ninth Infantry Regiment in Cuba to support the occupation. The logic was that their race and the fact that many black volunteers came from southern states would protect them; this logic led to these soldiers being nicknamed “Immunes”. Still, by the time the Ninth left, 73 of its 984 soldiers had contracted the disease.
During May 1898, Lt. Henry H. Whitney of the United States Fourth Artillery was sent to Puerto Rico on a reconnaissance mission, sponsored by the Army's Bureau of Military Intelligence. He provided maps and information on the Spanish military forces to the U.S. government prior to the invasion. On May 10, U.S. Navy warships were sighted off the coast of Puerto Rico. On May 12, a squadron of 12 U.S. ships commanded by Rear Adm. William T. Sampson bombarded San Juan. During the bombardment, many government buildings were shelled. On June 25, the Yosemite blockaded San Juan harbor. On July 25, General Nelson A. Miles, with 3,300 soldiers, landed at Guánica, beginning the Puerto Rican Campaign. The troops encountered resistance early in the invasion. The first skirmish between the American and Spanish troops occurred in Guánica. The first organized armed opposition occurred in Yauco in what became known as the Battle of Yauco. This encounter was followed by the Battles of Fajardo, Guayama, Guamaní River Bridge, Coamo, Silva Heights and finally by the Battle of Asomante. On August 9, 1898, infantry and cavalry troops encountered Spanish and Puerto Rican soldiers armed with cannons in a mountain known as Cerro Gervasio del Asomante, while attempting to enter Aibonito. The American commanders decided to retreat and regroup, returning on August 12, 1898, with an artillery unit. The Spanish and Puerto Rican units began the offensive with cannon fire, being led by Ricardo Hernáiz. The sudden attack caused confusion among some soldiers, who reported seeing a second Spanish unit nearby. In the crossfire, four American troops — Sargeant John Long, Lieutenant Harris, Captain E.T. Lee and Corporal Oscar Sawanson — were gravely injured. Based on this and the reports of upcoming reinforcements, Commander Landcaster ordered a retreat.
With defeats in Cuba and the Philippines, and both of its fleets incapacitated, Spain sued for peace.
Hostilities were halted on August 12, 1898, with the signing in Washington of a Protocol of Peace between the United States and Spain. The formal peace treaty was signed in Paris on December 10, 1898, and was ratified by the United States Senate on February 6, 1899.
The United States gained almost all of Spain's colonies in the treaty, including the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. The treaty came into force in Cuba April 11, 1899, with Cubans participating only as observers. Having been occupied as of July 17, 1898, and thus under the jurisdiction of the United States Military Government (USMG), Cuba formed its own civil government and attained independence on May 20, 1902, with the announced end of USMG jurisdiction over the island. However, the United States imposed various restrictions on the new government, including prohibiting alliances with other countries, and reserved for itself the right of intervention. The US also established a perpetual lease of Guantanamo Bay.
On August 14, 1899, the Schurman Commission recommended that the U.S. retain control of the Philippines, possibly granting independence in the future. The U.S. sent a force of some 11,000 ground troops occupy the Philippines. When U.S. troops began to take the place of the Spanish in control of the country, warfare broke out between U.S. forces and the Filipinos resulting in the Philippine-American War.
The war lasted only four months. John Hay (the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom), writing from London to his friend Theodore Roosevelt declared that from start to finish it had been "a splendid little war." The press showed Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites fighting against a common foe, helping to ease the scars left from the American Civil War.
The war marked American entry into world affairs. Ever since, the United States has had a significant hand in various conflicts around the world, and entered into many treaties and agreements. The Panic of 1893 was over by this point, and the United States entered a lengthy and prosperous period of economic and population growth, and technological innovation that lasted through the 1920s.
The war also effectively ended the Spanish Empire. Spain had been declining as an imperial power since the early 19th century as a result of Napoleon's invasion. The loss of Cuba caused a national trauma because of the affinity of peninsular Spaniards with Cuba, which was seen as another province of Spain rather than as a colony. Spain retained only a handful of overseas holdings: Spanish West Africa, Spanish Guinea, Spanish Sahara, Spanish Morocco and the Canary Islands.
The Spanish soldier Julio Cervera Baviera, who served in the Puerto Rican Campaign, published a pamphlet in which he blamed the natives of that colony for its occupation by the Americans, saying: "I have never seen such a servile, ungrateful country [i.e., Puerto Rico]... In twenty-four hours, the people of Puerto Rico went from being fervently Spanish to enthusiastically American... They humiliated themselves, giving in to the invader as the slave bows to the powerful lord." He was challenged to a duel by a group of young Puerto Ricans for writing this pamphlet.
Culturally, a new wave called the Generation of '98 originated as a response to this trauma, marking a renaissance in Spanish culture. Economically, the war actually benefited Spain, because after the war, large sums of capital held by Spaniards not only in Cuba but also all over America were brought back to the peninsula and invested in Spain. This massive flow of capital (equivalent to 25% of the gross domestic product of one year) helped to develop the large modern firms in Spain in industrial sectors (steel, chemical, mechanical, textiles and shipyards among others), in the electrical power industry and in the financial sector. However, the political consequences were serious. The defeat in the war began the weakening of the fragile political stability that had been established earlier by the rule of Alfonso XII.
Congress had passed the Teller Amendment prior to the war, promising Cuban independence. However, the Senate passed the Platt Amendment as a rider to an Army appropriations bill, forcing a peace treaty on Cuba which prohibited it from signing treaties with other nations or contracting a public debt. The Platt Amendment was pushed by imperialists who wanted to project U.S. power abroad (this was in contrast to the Teller Amendment which was pushed by anti-imperialists who called for a restraint on U.S. hegemony). The amendment granted the United States the right to stabilize Cuba militarily as needed. The Platt Amendment also provided for the establishment of a permanent American naval base in Cuba. Guantánamo Bay was established after the signing of treaties between Cuba and the U.S. beginning in 1903.
The United States annexed the former Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. The notion of the United States as an imperial power, with colonies, was hotly debated domestically with President McKinley and the Pro-Imperialists winning their way over vocal opposition led by Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who had supported the war. The American public largely supported the possession of colonies, but there were many outspoken critics such as Mark Twain, who wrote The War Prayer in protest.
The war served to further repair relations between the American North and South. The war gave both sides a common enemy for the first time since the end of the Civil War in 1865, and many friendships were formed between soldiers of northern and southern states during their tours of duty. This was an important development, since many soldiers in this war were the children of Civil War veterans on both sides.
The African-American community strongly supported the rebels in Cuba, supported entry into the war, and gained prestige from their wartime performance in the Army. Spokesmen noted that 33 African-American seamen had died in the Maine explosion. The most influential Black leader, Booker T. Washington, argued that his race was ready to fight. War offered them a chance "to render service to our country that no other race can," because, unlike Whites, they were "accustomed" to the "peculiar and dangerous climate" of Cuba. One of the Black units that served in the war was the 9th Cavalry Regiment. In March 1898, Washington promised the Secretary of the Navy that war would be answered by "at least ten thousand loyal, brave, strong Black men in the south who crave an opportunity to show their loyalty to our land, and would gladly take this method of showing their gratitude for the lives laid down, and the sacrifices made, that Blacks might have their freedom and rights."
In 1904, the United Spanish War Veterans was created from smaller groups of the veterans of the Spanish American War. Today, that organization is defunct, but it left an heir in the form of the Sons of Spanish–American War Veterans, created in 1937 at the 39th National Encampment of the United Spanish War Veterans. According to data from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the last surviving U.S. veteran of the conflict, Nathan E. Cook, died on September 10, 1992, at age 106. (If the data is to be believed, Cook, born October 10, 1885, would have been only 12 years old when he served in the war.)
Finally, in an effort to pay the costs of the war, Congress passed an excise tax on long-distance phone service. At the time, it affected only wealthy Americans who owned telephones. However, the Congress neglected to repeal the tax after the war ended four months later, and the tax remained in place for over 100 years until, on August 1, 2006, it was announced that the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS would no longer collect the tax.
There is an alternative view to the mainstream analysis of the origins of the war which is extremely skeptical of the sincerity of U.S. action. Several American historians, for example Charles A. Beard, Howard Zinn and Richard Hofstadter, claim that U.S. expansionism led to a contrived Spanish–American War. They posit that it was sponsored and promoted by U.S. business interests and corporations who needed overseas markets for their goods. Detailed evidence for this claim is outlined by Philip Foner in his ten-volume The History of the Labor Movement in the United States and by Daniel B. Schirmer in Republic Or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War. The American Anti-Imperialist League was founded specifically to express dismay at the invasion of the Philippines..
The war was condemned by Mark Twain, who was vice-president of the League from 1901 until his death in 1910. He described the war as "a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater" and in 1901 published the anti-war essay "To The Person Sitting In Darkness". Explaining his views in an article published in the New York Herald on October 15, 1900, Twain wrote that the United States had gone to the Philippines "to conquer, not to redeem". Other notable members were Henry James, his brother William James, Andrew Carnegie, Grover Cleveland, Ambrose Bierce and Jane Addams.
There is also controversy over whether the USS Maine was indeed destroyed by a mine or by an accident involving spontaneous combustion in its coal bunkers. Various investigations have come to opposing conclusions over the years.
The Spanish-American War was the first U.S. war in which the motion picture camera played a role. The Library of Congress archives contain a number of films and film clips from the war. In addition, a number of feature films have been made about the war. These include
The United States awards and decorations of the Spanish–American War were as follows:
The governments of Spain and Cuba also issued a wide variety of military awards to honor Spanish, Cuban, and Philippine soldiers who had served in the conflict.
It has been a splendid little war; begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by the fortune which loves the brave. It is now to be concluded, I hope, with that firm good nature which is after all the distinguishing trait of our American character.