The Spanish-American War

Copyright 1993, 1996 by Mark Grimsley
All rights reserved. This means you.

    I. Introduction

      A. The Spanish-American War is one of the more peculiar military contests of American history. It lasted only a few months, resulted in a comparative handful of casualties, and involved no really critical American interests.

      B. Yet it had two critical outcomes:

        1. Placed the United States firmly on the world stage as the seventh great power (along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Japan).

        2. Gave the United States a number of overseas possessions--led directly to a period of informal empire.

      C. Both developments had critical implications for the American military.

        1. In addition, the conduct of the war itself

          a. vindicated Mahanian notions of seapower and accelerated the creation of a new battleship Navy.

          b. and pointed out the pressing need for reforms in the Army.

            (1) Although a military victory, the SpAm War highlighted critical weaknesses.

            (2) For the Regular Army, it "felt" like a defeat.

    II. Civil-Military Relationships

      A. McKinley as war president

        1. reluctant to undertake war; did so in large measure because of strong domestic pressures.

          a. "psychic crisis"--response to rapid societal change in 1890s.

          b. growing consensus re expansionism

          c. moral outrage over Spanish conduct in Cuba

          d. McKinley hoped to silence critics, control this unruly popular clamor. Eyes on off-year elections and esp. election of 1900.

        2. Kept close track of planning, administration, operations.

          a. War room in White House with cable, telegraphic communications.

          b. Frequent conferences with Navy, War Dept.

          c. Approved Navy's war plans; e.g., famous dispatch to Dewey to operate against Spanish squadron at Manila.

          d. Placed large reliance on regular military to run war.

      B. Leadership in Navy and War Dept.

        1. John D. Long--able SecNav; fair organizer and worked well with professional advisers.

          a. Pre-war preparations by T.R. had incalculable impact, as Navy prepared.

          b. Worse problems--command relationships at sea (Sampson, Schley), and personality of Dewey.

        2. Russell A. Alger--CW veteran, important representative from Michigan. Businessman, millionaire in lumber business.

          a. Scapegoat of war. McKinley sympathetic to difficultes.

          b. Not a politically adept or vigorous administrator.

          c. Regular Army's war from management view. Relied on Bureau Chiefs.

            (1) At war with CG, Gen'l Nelson A. Miles.

    III. Naval Operations

      A. Strategy and Administration

        1. The fleet--8 BB's; cruisers, torpedo boats.

          a. Lack of scout craft and auxiliaries.

            (1) All sorts of vessels purchased or borrowed at war's outset; e.g., Vanderbilt yacht.

          b. Navy monopolized ships thate were suitable for carrying troops. Bureaus steamed on.

        2. Strategy

          a. Naval War Board--ad hoc committee est. by Long early in 1898. Members:

            (1) TR, CPT A.S. Crowninshield, Chief BuNav; two other active captains.

            (2) Pre-war strategy: hit Spain's colonies.

              (a) Blockade Cuba

              (b) Take Puerto Rico

              (c) Wipe out Asiatic Squadron and hold Manila.

              (d) Board knew Spain's naval weakness; planned to concentrate fleet in Caribbean.

          b. War Board included Rear Admiral Montgomery Sicard (ret.); Capt. A.T. Mahan (ret.) Mahan moved into TR's DC home. Mahan--suggested no fleet sail to Spain or Eur. colonies. Mahan urged Long to do away with Board, have a single naval adviser.

            (1) After war, Board proposed permanent coaling stations (e.g., Guantanamo); need for Panama canal (esp. in light of Oregon's voyage.

      B. Naval Operations and Strategy

        1. Philippines--Dewey shattered fleet at Manila shortly after war began (May 1); needed troops to occupy Manila and Luzon.

          a. McKinley sent 20,000 troops under ex-CW gen'l Wesley Merritt.

        2. Caribbean

          a. Key West--North Atlantic squadron under William T. Sampson. Blockade.

          b. Hampton, VA--"Flying Squadron" under Commodore W.S. Schley; held there primarily because of civilian fears for coastal safety against Cervera.

          c. Strategy--Sampson and Long wanted to bombard Havana and invade with 50,000 troops.

            (1) Nuts: Spanish had 100,000-man garrison; 120 guns.

          d. Cervera scare--Cervera puts in to Santiago; Navy bottle him up. After pressure from Army, Cervera sorties and is destroyed (3 July).

        3. Conclusion--Navy preparations paid off. Everyone satisfied. Bureaus self-satisfied. Navy won great popular image; reservoir of popular support, assured more BBs.

    IV. Army Operations

      A. The Army's war went less smoothly and less happily.

      B. Mobilization

        1. Pre-war spending and plans--McKinley got $50 million in March 1898.

          a. Spent it largely on Navy, coast defense. Little spent on supplies.

        2. Men--no legal relationship with NGs. Troops took oath individually, not as units to avoid any constitutional difficulties.

        3. Strategy

          a. Army's basic position: a small army working with insurgents could free Cuba (worked). Maximum needed manpower--100,000 for expedition, coast defense.

        4. RA plan--expand the Regulars and they were reorganized as cadre for expansion.

          a. Adoption of 3 bn. T/O urged.

        5. The Hull Bill--proposed March 1898. Named for John A.T. Hull, Chm. House Mil. Affairs Comm.

          a. Embodied RA proposal--3 bn. T/O; vols. to fill RA units.

          b. Country to be divided into national recruiting areas to enlist, accept volunteers into all Regular formations. Volunteers to be credited to state quotas. Army of 104,000 Regulars to fight war.

          c. died in Congress. Met opposition from an alliance of convenience among Guard bloc, populists, anti-war bloc, Southern Dems who resented the Army. NGs particularly incensed that there was no provision for them. Objected to serving as recruit depot for Regulars.

        6. Ultimate policy

          a. RA got new T/O and temporary increase to 65,000 to fill existing regiments.

          b. Vols.--War Dept and NGs cooperated. Organizations to be state-oriented.

            (1) Pres. appointed gen'ls but if NG unit enlisted it got to retain its officers.

          c. Special Federal volunteer regiments raised, too: e.g., 1st Vol. Cav (Rough Riders); "Immune Reg'ts."

          d. A total of 250,000 men were raised; the overwhelming majority never saw active service.

      A. Strategy and Administration

    V. Conclusion


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