15 March 2007

The Forgotten American War


"In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Col. Jackson down the mighty Mississip. . ." Oops, wrong war.

In most U. S. History classes, the Spanish American War is a blip in the curriculum. However, without this war the United States would not be the world power it is today.

The tensions began in 1823 when President James Monroe issued "The Monroe Doctrine." In it President Monroe asserted that the United States would prevent further European influence in the Western Hemisphere, in other words, no more European colonies in the Americas.

By the time the Battleship Maine exploded on February 15, 1898, the Cuban Insurrection had been going on for two years. War was not declared until April 22, 1898. The U. S. Blockaded the Spanish Fleet in Santiago Harbor. The first ground troops did not land until June 6, 1898.

Patriotic fever swept the country. Americans were outraged at the barbarous act of sinking one of our ships. Teddy Roosevelt was not immune to the call to duty. He resigned his post as Under Secretary of the Navy, and joined Col. Leonard Woods First Volunteer Cavalry "The Rough Riders." Bet you thought Teddy was the commander? Wrong, he was just a lieutenant.

There had been minor skirmishes outside the city of Santiago de Cuba, but July 1st is the date that will be remembered.

San Juan Heights had two attack points the village of El Caney and San Juan Hill. Both were hilltop fortifications. At both places, the Spanish soldiers were well placed to withstand an attack.

The order was given to charge both locations. The Spanish were out numbered at El Caney twelve to one, on San Juan Hill sixteen to one. But before the day was over it was clear that the American Army had underestimated the military skill of the Spanish soldiers.

American losses totaled 1,385; 205 dead and 1, 180 wounded. Spanish losses were 215 killed, 376 wounded, and 2 taken prisoner for a total of 593.

Although this was much less than the American total, the casualties amounted to approximately half of the Spanish defenders. They made a heroic stand.

In addition to the usual dangers involved in war, soldiers in Cuba faced yellow fever. Maj. Walter Reed and his associates in the Army Medical Corps conducted experiments with mosquitos. This led to the discovery that the bite of the Stegomyia mosquito caused yellow fever. "Before the war ended, 5,200 Americans would perish from disease." This breakthrough was responsible for the Americans being able to complete a project started and abandoned by others: the Panama Canal.

Most people generally think of the Spanish American War involved only Cuba, but this is not so. The other area of conflict was half a world away on Philippine Islands in the South Pacific.

In 1898 the Filipinos were engaged in a revolt against Spain. Rear Admiral George Dewey was the commander of the fleet that sailed into and took Manila.

Dewey did not loose a single man in the battle, and his fleet sustained little damage. After gaining victory, George Dewey showed his true generosity of spirit. He wired the President, "I am assisting in protecting the Spanish sick and wounded. Two hundred and fifty sick, and wounded are in the hospital within our lines." There was more to do in the Islands, but the stage had been set for final victory.

The results of the war were felt far into the twentieth century. The U.S. gained Guam, the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal. It was decided that the U. S. had won, not because of superiority, but because of opponent's weakness. This led to reorganizing the Military into the branches and services that we know today, the exception being the Air Force which came into being in the early twentieth century.

The last surviving veteran of this war was Nathan Edward Cook "October 10, 1885 - September 10, 1992" was a sailor in the United States Navy during the Spanish-American War. He was recognized as the longest surviving U.S. veteran of that war "although there is a claim that Jones Morgan was a Spanish-American war veteran and survived longer." He died at age 106 and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix.

The war also changed how the U. S. viewed Europe and how Europe viewed the U.S.. Great Britain supported the U. S. in the Spanish American War. This led to pro-British sentiment. There had been a great deal of anti-British sentiment up until that time. The German leaders were most dismayed that America was gaining an Empire. According to one newspaper, the Germans were in the Philippines, not to protect the existing German interest, but to find a new interest to protect.

A new sense of national unity developed that had not been present since the start of the Civil War. President McKinley contributed greatly to this new union. He selected generals from both Civil War Armies to lead units in Cuba.

In the aftermath of the war the Monroe Doctrine became the guiding principle of the U.S. foreign policy. This policy was backed up by a military that was prepared and ready to fight. This "splendid little war" set the stage for America and her role in the twentieth century.