A Brief Overview Of NY In The Spanish American War April 25, 1898-August 12, 1898
"It has been a splendid little war; begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that fortune which loves the brave. " Ambassador to Great Britain John Hay, to Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, U S Volunteers
On February 15, 1898, at 9:40 pm, the USS Maine exploded while anchored in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, with the loss of 260 men. Captain Charles D. Sigsbee of Albany wired the Secretary of the Navy that the cause was unknown, and judgement should be suspended.
This was more than the American press, many politicians, and the crusading American public, who for years had longed to help the bleeding and desolate land of Cuba suffering under Spanish Dominion; this was asking for more patience than they were willing to give. On April 25th, Congress, after several days of debate, voted for war.
Almost immediately the strident "yellow press" had a victory to report. "Dewy was the morning, and Dewey was the man, that sank the Spanish Navy, upon the First of May." Having gone to war to aid the suffering inhabitants of neighboring Cuba, the American public found itself having to look in atlases to see where the Philippines were, and perhaps to wonder what we were going to do with them, now that we had sunk the Spanish Fleet there.
With little thought, and less regard for the implications, America embarked upon its four decades of imperialism, and inexorably, to war with Japan, when they too, struck Manila in 1942.
Meanwhile the American seacoast feared for it's safety as the Spanish Fleet left Spain. In terms of size and material the opposing fleets seemed evenly matched. However the US Navy was much better trained, its ships much better maintained. The Spaniards would be fighting an ocean away from their bases; but most importantly, the Americans expected to win, the Spaniards to lose.
The Spanish fleet eventually took shelter in the harbor of Santiago, on the south coast of Cuba, and was bottled up, once the Americans found them. But the Americans could not get at the Spaniards. Eventually the US War Department, in the absence of any other practical plans for winning this unexpected war, decided to land an army corps to capture Santiago from the land, thus pulling the Navy's chestnuts out of the fire.
The US Army consisted of 26,000 men deployed all over the nation, most still expecting to fight Indians. (In the winter of 1898 an Infantry regiment had to put down "trouble" on a reservation.) This army had gotten it's first magazine rifles only six years earlier. It's artillery was in some cases Civil War muzzle-loaders re bored and made into breech loaders. Its units were at about half authorized strength. It had not fought a modern enemy in 33 years.
There were 100,000 Spanish regulars on the Island of Cuba, and as many veteran Cuban militiamen, committed to Spanish Rule. They were armed with a version of the superior German Mauser. Illiterate conscripts, and lacking many support weapons and services the world considered necessary, the Spanish soldier was brave, could endure hardships, cared well for his weapons and obeyed his orders promptly and exactly.
On May 30, 1898 Major General William R. Shaftner, a 300+ pound veteran of the Civil War in which he had won the Medal of Honor, was ordered to take the Fifth Army Corps of about 15,000 men, then at Tampa, Florida, to Santiago. On June 22nd they disembarked at Daiquiri, 15 miles from Santiago, and prepared to march along the jungle tracks to that place. On the morning of June 24, the dismounted cavalry of Major General Joseph Wheeler's division, (West Point, class of 1859 and once a 29 year old Lieutenant General in the Confederate States Army) advanced to unexpected contact with the Spaniards at Las Guasimas. The 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, and the Black soldiers of the 9th and 10th US Cavalry, deployed and after suffering from Spanish long range fire, spontaneously charged through the jungles and captured the ridge line. It established the pattern for all future fighting.
On July 1st, a prepared American assault captured the ridge lines commanding the city of Santiago, and it's harbor. This "Battle of San Juan Hill" forced the Spanish Fleet to sortie on July 3rd, which led to their total destruction by the blockading US ships. With no further need to protect the fleet, the Spanish commander now felt it pointless to defend the city. Indeed, the Spaniards now concluded it was pointless to continue the war. The peace 'gave' the US Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, and the US meanwhile annexed the Hawaiian Islands.
Given the inadequate preparations and lack of expertise of the US Army, and given the deadliness of Cuban tropical diseases, the US was lucky the Spanish enemy was so ineptly commanded. One of the most telling statistics of the war, was the fact that five times as many soldiers died from disease, as died of enemy bullets. High sick rates were true even of those units which never left the United States. Indeed, one of the results of this war was the attention given to tropical diseases by Army medical researchers, particularly Surgeon Walter Reed, who headed the team which discovered that mosquitoes spread Yellow Fever. This discovery of "carriers" made it possible to prevent many tropical diseases.
As a result of the inevitable postwar scandals, and even more, from the bush fighting in the Philippine jungles during the next decade, the US Army began its path to reform and modernize itself. This struggle enjoyed considerable success, but the US Army was still found to be woefully inadequate to meet the needs of World War I.
The first officer killed in Cuba was Lt. Wansboro, a graduate of Albany's Christian Brothers Academy. New York supplied 30,000 men to the Armed Forces, about 10% of the total war effort. Eight units served overseas; the 71st National Guard Regiment from New York City, being one of only two national Guard units to see serious fighting.
Elbert Hubbard of East Aurora, NY wrote A Mission to Garcia, an inspirational piece often recited at school exercises for the next 40 years, and well known to Americans of that era. Another literary work of great importance was Theodore Roosevelt's, The Rough Riders; which made him governor of New York, and later President. I cannot resist Finley Peter Dunne's somewhat unfair remark, that the book ought to be called Alone in Cuba.
This splendid little war sometimes has an air of farce, but given the fact that the war ushered in what has come to be called "The American Century" with all that implies, I think the war to be worthy of study and commemoration .
New York State Military Heritage Institute - Albany, NY - January, 1998 - Robert E. Mulligan, Jr., Institute Historian
Spanish American War, 1st NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment
First Resident US Troops in Hawaii,
August 16, 1898-February 1899
In the early days of the Spanish-American War, and prior to the outbreak of hostilities in the Caribbean, Captain George Dewey and his U.S. Navy fleet sank the Spanish Fleet in Manila Harbor on May 1, 1898.
U.S. troopships carrying American soldiers stopped at Honolulu on June 1, 1898, enroute to the Philippines, where Spanish land forces would soon be handily defeated, and the Philippines would become am American colony.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Hawaii Annexation Treaty on June 15, 1898 by 209 to 91 votes, and the U.S. Senate passed the treaty June 16, 1898 by a vote of 42 to 21. The following day, President McKinley signed the joint congressional resolution on annexation.
On August 12, 1898, With Marines from two U.S. warships guarding Iolani Palace and other government buildings in Honolulu, Hawaii sovereignty passed from the Republic to the United States.
Four days later on August 16, 1898, U.S. Army soldiers from the 1st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd U.S. Volunteer Engineers, arrived as the first resident Army units in Hawaii. They established Camp McKinley in the vicinity of the present Kapiolani Park, and began the history of the United States Army in the Hawaiian Islands. The 1st NY had been the 10th Battalion Infantry, New York Guard, Headquartered in Albany. The 10th had been redesignated as the 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment on 28 April 1898 and mustered into federal service 20 May as the 1st NY Vol Inf. This NY unit was the first to garrison Hawaii, and officially raised the first US Flag at Iolani Palace. The 1st NY returned and mustered out 20 February 1899, and resumed State service as the 10th Battalion Infantry.