President mckinley had opposed the inclination of the people for immediate hostilities, and did not sanction an appeal to the arbitrament of battle until he had exhausted every device of diplomacy; yet, when once committed to war, he was most energetic in his efforts to prepare the country for its task. Himself a soldier, having served gallantly through the civil war between the States, he knew the value of immediate action. On the 22nd of April he issued a proclamation declaring the principal ports of Cuba in a state of blockade, and on the 23rd, a call for one hundred and twenty-five thousand volunteers to serve for two years or the war. A further call was later issued, raising the number of volunteers to two hundred thousand, and this appeal was eagerly responded to by the patriotic people. They showed the sincerity of their convictions by their acts, and the quotas of the various States were rapidly filled; camps of instruction were established in the East and South; arsenals, foundries, ship-yards, and all branches of military and naval construction, were soon the scenes of unsurpassed activity.
In a message to Congress, in 1898, President McKinley had said: "The long trial has proved that the object for which Spain has waged the war can not be attained. The fire of insurrection may flame or may smoulder with varying seasons, but it has not been, and it is plain that it can not be, extinguished by present methods. The only hope of relief and repose from a condition which can no longer be endured is the enforced pacification of Cuba. In the name of humanity, in the name of civilization, in behalf of endangered American interests which give us the right and the duty to speak and to act, the war in Cuba must stop."
"In view of all this, the Congress was asked to authorize and empower the President to take measures to secure a final termination of hostilities between Spain and the people of Cuba, and to secure in the island the establishment of a stable government, capable of maintaining order, observing its international obligations, insuring peace and tranquility, the security of its citizens as well as our own, and for the accomplishment of those ends to use the military and naval forces of the United States as might be necessary; with added authority to continue generous relief to the starving people of Cuba."
The response of the Congress, after nine days of earnest deliberation, was to pass the memorable joint resolution declaring:
"First, That the people of the island of Cuba are, and of right ought to be, free and independent.
"Second, That it is the duty of the United States to demand, and the Government of the United States does hereby demand, that the Government of Spain at once relinquish its authority and government in the island of Cuba and withdraw its land and naval forces from Cuba and Cuban waters.
"Third, That the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, directed and empowered to use the entire land and naval forces of the United States, and to call into the actual service of the United States the militia of the several States, to such extent as may be necessary to carry these resolutions into effect.
"Fourth, That the United States hereby disclaims any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for the pacification thereof, and asserts its determination when that is accomplished to leave the government and control of the island to its people."
This resolution was approved by the Executive on the next day, April 10th. A copy was at once communicated to the Spanish minister at the capital, who forthwith announced that his continuance in Washington had thereby become impossible, and asked for his passports, which were given him. He thereupon withdrew from Washington, leaving the protection of Spanish interests in the United States to the French ambassador and the Austro-Hungarian minister.
Congress had voted the President, in anticipation of war and the necessity for preparation, the sum of fifty million dollars, to be used at his discretion; and this money was soon spent for powder, guns, forts, and mines for coast defence, auxiliary ships for the navy, cannon, army and naval stores, medicines in vast quantities, and clothing for the new recruits.
"Under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, submarine mines were placed at the most exposed points. Before the outbreak of war permanent mining casemates and, cable galleries had been constructed at nearly all important harbours. Most of the torpedo material was not to be found in the market, and had to be specially manufactured. Under date of April 19th, district officers were directed to take all preliminary measures, short of the actual attaching of the loaded mines to the cables, and on April 22nd telegraphic orders were issued to place the loaded mines in position. The aggregate number of mines placed was 1,535, at the principal harbours from Maine to California."
The standing army of the United States in time of peace did not exceed twenty-five thousand men, but the State militia afforded drafts of soldiers who were soon converted into good fighting material in the various camps of instruction.
One beneficent effect of this appeal to arms in support of a cause which enlisted the highest sympathies, was the obliteration of all sectional lines that had existed on account of the civil war between the States. Many Confederate veterans, who had fought against the Union, now hastened to offer their services in its defence. A wave of patriotism swept the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Great Lakes to the Florida Channel. The solidarity of the country was made apparent when such brave officers of the civil war as Generals Lee and Wheeler, who had fought on the "losing side," sought and obtained positions of a rank commensurate with their great abilities. It was conclusively shown that the Americans had not, as often charged by their enemies, become weak and effeminate in sordid pursuits, and lost to all sense of honour and moral obligations.
The nation, then, responded nobly to the President's call for soldiers and supplies, and within a week its naval vessels were blockading the ports of Cuba, and its armies moving southward to a base whence they could promptly invade the enemy's territory. On the 27th of April the Spanish batteries of Matanzas, Cuba, were shelled by Admiral Sampson's flagship, the New York, and other war vessels, though without any material advantage. On the 29th of April a Spanish fleet, commanded by Admiral Cervera, and consisting of four armoured cruisers and three torpedo boats and "destroyers," left port in the Cape de Verde Islands and sailed for West Indian waters.
At the outset it was believed that the Spanish navy was vastly superior to that of the United States, for there were several battle ships of vast tonnage and heaviest armament, and cruisers of greater speed than any possessed by the Americans. So, when it was at first rumoured, then asserted as a certainty, that a formidable Spanish fleet was headed toward American shores, all was anxiety along the Atlantic coast. Nothing is more certain than that the Spaniards, had they but possessed the necessary dash and vigour, might have ravaged a portion of the coast and destroyed several cities before their enemies' scattered fleets could have concentrated to destroy them. But while at the outset Spain had cruisers and battle ships, torpedo boats and "destroyers," in numbers exceeding their opponents, yet there was one factor she had overlooked—the men who manned the ships and trained the guns! While the American navy was at first inferior, in guns and ships, to that of Spain, yet the men had been trained to a higher state of efficiency, than the Spanish sailors, as will be shown a little later on.
But while a state of terrible suspense prevailed regarding the whereabouts of Admiral Cervera's Spanish fleet, then presumably on its way to destroy the coast cities of the United States, there transpired something in the far-away isles of the Pacific that at once dissipated the gloom and restored confidence.
When, at the outbreak of the war, Great Britain declared all her ports neutral—that is, not open to war vessels of either combatant—the United States Asiatic squadron, consisting of four protected cruisers, two gun-boats, and a despatch boat, was lying in the British port of Hong Kong. Driven out of this port by the proclamation of neutrality, Commodore George Dewey, in command of the squadron, acting under orders from Washington, steamed direct for the Philippine Islands, valuable possessions of Spain, discovered by Magellan in 1521, and settled by Spaniards in 1565. He may have had orders to go to the Philippines in any event; but now that he was deprived of a port, Commodore Dewey felt constrained to take possession of another; so at daylight on the morning of the 1st of May, 1898, his little fleet was discovered by Spaniards on the watch groping its way, over sunken mines and between defensive batteries, into the bay of Manila! The rich city of Manila, and perhaps the entire Philippine chain, consisting of about two thousand islands, was to be the ultimate prize; but the immediate objective was the Spanish fleet assembled for the protection of the capital. This fleet, consisting of seven cruisers and several gunboats, was at last discovered by Commodore Dewey, drawn up in battle array in the harbour o Cavite, an inlet of Manila Bay, and at once attacked.
Then ensued a scene of carnage, and ultimately a victory, which was, perhaps, all things considered, without a parallel in history. For, though the opposing vessels were very well matched, and their crews were about the same in number, in a few hours every Spanish ship was either blown up or sunk, and the land batteries of Cavite were completely silenced! The Spanish loss was terrible, amounting to three hundred and eighty-one in killed and wounded; but on the American side not one was killed, only nine were wounded, and eventually every man returned to duty!
Such a decisive victory for the Americans, and such a crushing defeat for Spain, had its effect upon the respective countries, raising the spirits of the "Yankees," and correspondingly depressing those of the Spaniards. The city of Manila, which was dependent upon the fleet for its protection, was now absolutely at the mercy of the American commodore; but he, as merciful as he was brave and invincible, refrained from bombarding it, preferring to await the arrival of troops for its capture. As soon as possible troops were despatched to the Philippines; but it was the last week in May before the first were aboard the transports; and about a month more before they arrived at Manila. Eventually some twenty thousand American troops were concentrated at Manila, and then the city was assaulted and captured, on August 13th, by the combined action of the army and navy.
It was a strange chance that threw the Philippines into the hands of the United States; for, in the first place, it is said that when the New World was divided between Portugal and Spain, by the celebrated "bull" of Pope Alexander VI, in 1493 (according to which all discoveries after that west of an ideal meridian were to belong to Spain, and those east to Portugal), the Philippines would rightfully have fallen to the last-named country. But by a mistake of Magellan, their discoverer, they were placed twenty or thirty degrees nearer to America than they really were, and the error was never rectified. So, through an error of the great Magellan, and the prowess of the gallant Dewey, the United States were put in possession of one of Spain's most valuable colonies.
It is said that republics are ungrateful; but if the American Republic has been open to that accusation in the past, it nobly redeemed itself during the campaign against the Spaniards. Commodore Dewey was at once advanced to the rank of rear admiral, and. the thanks of the nation were conveyed by its President to the brave sailors under him, with the promise of substantial emoluments later on. The moral effect of this victory was vastly greater than the mere material acquisitions; for it corrected a long existent misapprehension in Europe as to our; abilities, and advanced us at once an immeasurable distance in its estimation.
Meanwhile in the United States every effort was still put forth to equip the armies, to perfect the fleets, and to bring the conflict to an early and honourable close. With out animosity toward their foes, with the highest motives and incentives, the Americans yet relaxed no endeavour in the vigorous prosecution of the war.
The first American victims fell on May 11th, in an engagement with the batteries of Cardenas, Cuba, when Ensign Bagley and four sailors on the gunboat Winslow were killed by Spanish shells; and the next day, in the bombardment of San Juan, Puerto Rico, one sailor was killed. This bombardment was merely an incident in the search of our fleets for Admiral Cervera's squadron, the whereabouts of which remained a mystery for three long weeks. During this time a "flying squadron" was organized and held at Newport News, under command of Commodore Schley, ready to steam to the succour of whatever point should be menaced by the Spanish ships, either North or South. At last it became known that the Spaniards had been seen in the West Indies, and the flying squadron sailed for those waters. Admiral Sampson meanwhile was cruising in the Caribbean Sea, seeking an engagement with the Spanish fleet; and as it was thought that the enemy might seek shelter at San Juan, a port on the north side of the island of Puerto Rico, it was visited; but with no result other than the bombardment of the fortifications by the American fleet, though without inflicting any material injury.
Word came at last that Admiral Cervera had, in a roundabout way, safely reached the landlocked harbour of Santiago de Cuba on May 19th, and there he was "bottled up," a few days later, by the flying squadron, which was soon re-enforced by the fleet under Admiral Sampson, who took command. Even then, there was much doubt as to the actual location of the Spanish squadron, until Lieutenant Victor Blue by a daring reconnoissance penetrated the enemy's lines, at the risk of being captured and shot as a spy, and ascertained beyond peradventure that the fleet was in the harbour of Santiago.
While the United States Government had been concentrating troops at Tampa, and its fleets at Key West and off the port of Havana, yet it was apparently uncertain at which point to invade Cuban soil, until the arrival of the Spanish fleet at Santiago suddenly determined the future theatre of war. As the destruction of Admiral Cervera's powerful squadron was of more importance than anything else, all the energies of the Government were now put forth to accomplish it. The fleet under command of Admiral Sampson included the largest and most heavily armoured cruisers and battle ships, besides smaller craft, as gunboats and torpedo destroyers. Added to these, the splendid battle ship Oregon, which had been ordered from San Francisco to the theatre of war, arrived during the blockade of Santiago after a memorable "run" around South America and through the Caribbean Sea. Thus the American admiral had a fleet vastly superior to that within the harbour; but the problem was, how to get at it! Securely intrenched behind the frowning hills around the harbour entrance, which latter was filled with torpedoes and submarine mines, the Spanish squadron was for the time safe from harm.
A constant watch was kept on the narrow entrance to Santiago's harbour, on one side guarded by the ancient Morro Castle, and on the other by more modern batteries, upon which at night were trained powerful electric search-lights; and not a moment passed during any twenty-four hours in which the captive squadron could have escaped unobserved from the trap in which it was caught.
The actual invasion of Cuba was begun on the loth of June at the bay of Guantanamo, to the eastward of Santiago, by a force of six hundred marines, when several men were killed before a secure camp could be obtained. Among the great results of this occupation was the capture of the submarine cable station, by means of which fleet and army were soon put in communication with Washington.
On the 3rd of June a deed of heroism was performed in the sinking of the collier Merrimac across the narrow channel of Santiago harbour by Lieutenant Hobson and a crew of seven men. This was done under a heavy fire from the Spanish batteries, and while exposed to the torpedoes set off by the enemy when they discovered this attempt to obstruct the channel. Lieutenant Hobson and his men escaped death almost by a miracle only to fall into the hands of the enemy, by whom they were taken to the Morro and imprisoned. The attempt to block the channel and thus absolutely prevent the escape of the squadron within was unavailing; but; this does not render the deed the less heroic. And to show of what material the America navy is composed—a navy that has been derided by Europe and made the object of ridicule by some citizen politicians—it was reported that hundreds volunteered for this desperate enterprise, even though well aware that it meant to those who took part in it almost certain death!
In response to the request of Admiral Sampson, who represented that he would not risk forcing the harbour entrance, filled as it was with mines, an expedition of sixteen thousand men was soon afloat on transport in Tampa harbour, Florida, and after long delays, reached the coast of Cuba, off Santiago, on the 22nd of June. These troop comprising the Fifth Army Corps, commanded by General Shafter, were soon landed at Baiquiri and Siboney, despite the tremendous surf, and lost no time in possessing themselves of the country adjacent.
As time was precious, the troops of General Shafter's command were landed rapidly, each man with three days' rations and two hundred rounds of ammunition, and the van was pushing for Santiago while the rear was disembarking. They encountered little opposition at first, and the second day, or on the 23rd of June, a base of operations was secured by the capture of Juragua. On the 24th the first blood was spilled, when the dismounted cavalry, known as the Rough Riders, were attacked, several miles beyond the most advanced position, at La Guasimas, and lost sixteen in killed and fifty-two wounded. This attack by the Spaniards upon troops struggling through a tropical thicket was referred to by the men themselves as merely a skirmish, and did not for a moment cause them to falter.
The Spaniards withdrew from their advanced positions, and a few days after the skirmish at La Guasimas eight thousand troops, under Generals Wheeler and Lawton, occupied the hamlet of Sevilla without opposition. The first great battle was a week later, on the 1st of July, when a general advance was ordered upon the outworks of Santiago. Two important positions were taken and held, that of El Caney by General Lawton, consisting of a strong blockhouse defended by rifle pits, and San Juan Hill by General Kent. Both positions, were gallantly and obstinately defended by the Spaniards, and it was only after repeated charges by our troops that they were taken. The charge up the steep slopes of San Juan Hill, led by Colonel Roosevelt, compelled the unstinted admiration of the foreign attaches representing various European governments, who could not sufficiently praise the gallant "initiative," as they called it, of the American soldier. After two days' hard fighting the men intrenched and lay down on their arms, with a loss of two hundred and thirty killed and more than twelve hundred wounded. Volunteers and regulars vied with each other in deeds of bravery, in individual heroism, and it would be impossible to mention every hero of this fight. The Spaniards fought well also, and as they possessed weapons superior to those of the Americans, and cartridges loaded with smokeless powder, and were in the main sheltered behind intrenchments, they had a great advantage.
Within the fortifications of Santiago were about fifteen thousand soldiers under General Linares; without, as many Americans under General Shafter, who by two days of fighting had gained positions whence they could command the city. Re-enforcements were constantly arriving, and soon the heavy siege guns would be brought to the front and the Spaniards driven from the forts and intrenchments. At first a general assault was contemplated by the Americans, but this idea was abandoned when it was found that the enemy was so strongly intrenched, so desperate, and equipped with superior arms.
While the American general was undecided what to do, a new diversion was caused, on the morning of July 3rd, by the fleet of Admiral Cervera making a sudden dash for liberty. The admiral's position had become, or soon would become, untenable, and he was forced to the desperate determination to fly out in the face of the Yankee war ships and take the one chance for liberty. About half past nine in the morning the lookout on the battle ship Texas gave the alarm: "The fleet is coming out!" Signals were set, but the black smoke from the funnels of the fleet betrayed their design, and the battle ships Iowa and Oregon, and the armoured cruiser Brooklyn, at once hastened with all steam toward the harbour entrance.
It was a magnificent spectacle: that of the gathering war ships speeding toward the Spanish squadron, which, with the Infanta Maria Teresa, Admiral Cervera's flagship, in the lead, followed by the Cristobal Colon, the Vizcaya, the Almirante Oquendo, and the two torpedo destroyers Furor and Pluton, steamed slowly into view, and then, with increasing speed, turned down the western coast.
What followed then was a test of speed and endurance, for it had long been maintained that the Spanish war ships were the superiors of the American in these respects. What then ensued quickly proved the contrary to be true, for within one short hour three of the great battle ships were driven ashore and sunk, riddled with shells, and with flames bursting from every port. The Texas, Oregon, Iowa, and Brooklyn dashed upon them like eagles swooping upon their prey, pouring in terrible broadsides and sweeping their decks with their rapid-fire guns. The great thirteen-inch shells tore through the belts of steel armour, smashed the boilers and machinery, setting fire to the magazines, and in a short time completely disabling the pride and boast of the Spanish navy. The two torpedo destroyers, which had been so much exploited as terrors of the sea, were disposed of in a few minutes by the Texas, Iowa, and Gloucester, and sunk with a loss of two thirds of their crews. Meanwhile, the Cristobal Colon, the only ship remaining, was speeding along the coast, with the Oregon and Brooklyn, followed by the New York, Admiral Sampson's flagship, in close pursuit. But it was a vain attempt at escape; about fifty miles from the harbour of Santiago the Colon was driven ashore, shattered by shells and on fire in many places. This was at one o'clock, and thus it had taken less than five hours for the glorious Yankee ships with their gallant crews to destroy the Spanish squadron and capture its officers and crews. And this was effected with a loss to the victor of but one man killed, while the losses of the Spaniards amounted to more than six hundred killed and thirteen hundred prisoners!
This disparity in casualties might be considered miraculous were it not for the notorious fact that Spanish gunners can not shoot, and that on this particular occasion many of them were intoxicated and fired wildly; while the Yankee sailors, trained by long practice, made all their shots "tell" with terrible effect. It was then seen that, more than to battle ships and belts of armour, more than to speed and calibre of cannon, the American nation was indebted for victory to the men behind the guns! The Spaniards were brave even to rashness; they may have fought equally well with the Americans, yet they did not possess their skill, their tenacity of purpose, their intelligence.
It was a glorious victory, yet tempered with regret for the fallen foe. The national sentiment of pity and sympathy was voiced by Captain Philip, of the Texas, who, when his crew sent up shouts of exultation at the sight of the shattered Vizcaya's men driven from their guns by an explosion, cried out: "Don't cheer, boys; those poor fellows are dying!" And every effort was put forth to save the survivors, by those who so recently had been intent upon their destruction.