A Short and One-sided War
In late March, McKinley proposed to Spain an armistice in Cuba, but under pressure from expansionists both in and out of Congress, he was won to the war cause. Although on Apr. 10, 1898, McKinley was informed that the queen of Spain had ordered hostilities suspended, he barely referred to that fact when he addressed Congress on Apr. 11. He asked for authority to intervene in Cuba. Congress responded by passing resolutions to demand Spanish withdrawal from Cuba and set terms for U.S. intervention; these included the Teller Amendment, which pledged that the United States would withdraw from the island when independence was assured. On Apr. 22, Congress authorized the enlistment of volunteer troops, and a U.S. blockade of Spanish ports was instituted. On Apr. 24, Spain declared war on the United States. The next day Congress retorted by declaring war on Spain, retroactive to Apr. 21.
The warfare that commenced was short and very one-sided. The first dramatic incident occurred on the other side of the world from Cuba. On May 1 a U.S. squadron under George Dewey sailed into the harbor of Manila, Philippine Islands, and in a few hours thoroughly defeated the Spanish fleet there. Dewey's name was greeted across the United States with almost hysterical praise. On May 19, Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete took the Spanish fleet into the harbor of Santiago de Cuba. Commodore W. S. Schley established (May 28) a blockade of the harbor, in which Rear Admiral W. I. Sampson joined, taking command of the blockading fleet on June 1. When the Spanish fleet attempted to escape on July 3, it was destroyed.
Meanwhile 17,000 more or less trained, poorly equipped but enthusiastic U.S. troops under W. R. Shafter landed and undertook a campaign to capture Santiago. The Spanish forces were weak, but there was some heavy fighting (July 1) at El Caney and San Juan Hill, where the Rough Riders, under Leonard Wood and Theodore Roosevelt, won their popular reputation. On July 17, Santiago surrendered. The war was, in effect, over. Troops sent under Nelson A. Miles to Puerto Rico were occupying that island when they received word that an armistice had been signed on Aug. 12. Dewey and Wesley Merritt led a successful land and sea assault and occupation of Manila on Aug. 13, after the armistice had been signed.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.