The Birth of an American Empire, 1898–1902

On the night of February 15, 1898, a Marine bugler played “Taps” aboard USS Maine, anchored in Havana’s harbor since late January. Captain Charles D. Sigsbee, the ship’s commander, finished writing a letter as the notes drifted off into the evening stillness. Just as he reached for an envelope, “a bursting, rending, and crashing roar of immense volume” rocked the ship, which trembled, listed to port, and settled into the mud. Out of 354 officers and men on board, 266 died in the explosion. What caused the disaster? No one knew for sure, but one thing was certain: The incident made war between the United States and Spain more likely.

Relations between the two countries had gradually deteriorated after the Cuban Revolution began in 1895. Commanded by Maximo Gomez, the revolutionary army relied on guerrilla warfare and devastation of the island’s economy to expel the Spanish. Eventually, Gomez thought, either Spain would cede independence or the U.S. would intervene on the rebels’ behalf. But Spain had no intention of granting independence to the last remnant of its New World empire and poured troops into the island. A “reconcentration” policy, initiated by Governor General Valeriano Weyler, involved herding the rural population into specified towns and areas while Spanish forces systematically devastated the countryside. Weyler hoped that the rebels, deprived of food, recruits, and timely information regarding enemy movements, would capitulate.

Americans watched the savage war with growing concern. Humanitarianism swelled for the Cubans’ suffering, as thousands died under Weyler’s reconcentration program. By disrupting trade with Cuba and threatening American investments there, the war touched not only Americans’ hearts but also their pocketbooks. The U.S. proclaimed neutrality in the summer of 1895, but enforcing it was hard, and maintaining coastal patrols and prosecuting offenders was expensive. Moreover, American expansionists considered Cuba in a larger perspective. Stressing the virtues of world power, they were eager to intervene as a means of propelling the nation into an active international role.

Imperialist aspirations collided with President William McKinley’s aversion to war and emphasis on domestic economic affairs. Having served in the Civil War, the president had seen enough death and destruction. With the country in a depression, he concentrated on tariff reform and maintaining a sound currency. Desiring a diplomatic solution, he refused to recognize Cuban belligerency or make preparations for possible intervention. Yet McKinley hinted that his patience was not inexhaustible and that Spain must end the suffering in the “near future.” He was also an astute politician who valued public opinion, which became increasingly pro-intervention. Pressed by McKinley, in late 1897 Spain initiated reforms, suspending the reconcentration policy, granting amnesty to political prisoners, and adopting an autonomy plan that gave Cuba greater home rule but left Spanish sovereignty intact. But the rebels rejected the scheme, and the Spanish garrison in Havana rioted in protest against it. The war continued, with neither side able to win.

Events in early 1898 drove Spain and the U.S. to war. On February 9 a stolen letter from the Spanish minister in Washington appeared in the press. It contained insulting comments about McKinley and revealed that Spain was not serious about its reformist policy. A week later Maine sank. Although an accidental internal explosion probably destroyed the ship, many Americans blamed Spain for the disaster, an impression heightened when a naval board of inquiry—hardly an objective group of inquisitors—concluded that a submarine mine had caused the ship’s forward magazines to explode. Just prior to the board’s report, Senator Redfield Proctor recounted his impressions from a recent tour of Cuba, detailing the human tragedy with dispassionate yet compelling language. Vividly described in the press, these events created a “sort of bellicose fury” among the public, which demanded intervention.

Ultimately responsive to public opinion, in late March McKinley informed Spain that it must grant Cuban independence. Confronted with this ultimatum, Spain stalled for time, hoping to avoid a crisis by indefinitely delaying it and trying (unsuccessfully) to mobilize European support to deter American intervention. Spain also made further concessions, declaring an armistice on April 10. But it would not concede independence. On April 11 McKinley asked Congress for authority to intervene to stop the misery and death, protect American lives and property in Cuba, curtail the damage to commerce, and end the onerous task of enforcing neutrality. Congress responded with a joint resolution that called for independence, immediate Spanish withdrawal, and, if necessary, use of armed force to attain these goals. The Teller Amendment to the resolution disclaimed any intention of annexing Cuba. On April 23 Spain declared war, as did the United States two days later.

Mobilizing for War

Although he went to war reluctantly, McKinley was a strong commander in chief. He controlled strategy and diplomacy through a White House “war room” replete with large-scale maps studded with colored flags showing the location of troops and ships, telephones linking McKinley to cabinet officers and Congress, and telegraphic hookups giving him rapid overseas communications. The president devised an appropriate, limited-war strategy that effectively utilized force to further the nation’s limited political objective of compelling Spain to grant Cuban independence. He pursued a peripheral strategy, directing attacks against Spain’s colonies, hoping that many small victories, even if far from the enemy homeland, would have a cumulative effect. The president also served as liaison man between the Army and Navy and became involved in the details of Army operations. Understanding that overseas operations required joint planning, Secretary of War Russell A. Alger and Secretary of the Navy John D. Long organized an Army-Navy Board, composed of one officer from each service. However, the board was ineffectual, leaving McKinley as the interservice mediator.

The personalities of Alger and Commanding General Miles exacerbated the inherent difficulties in the command structure. Affable yet egotistical, Alger knew little about modern warfare, while Miles’s vanity, political ambitions, and desire to control Army operations made him ill-suited for his position. Alger and Miles quarreled incessantly, and McKinley learned to distrust them. For professional advice, the president initially turned to Schofield, who had retired in 1895, but increasingly relied on Adjutant General Henry C. Corbin. Discreet and committed to civilian control, Corbin became the president’s de facto chief of staff, assisting him with decisions that Alger and Miles should have made but did not.

Spain was poorly prepared for war, both militarily and psychologically. It had a large army, with 150,000 regulars in Cuba, 8,000 in Puerto Rico, 20,000 in the Philippines, and another 150,000 at home, but the figures were deceptive. Hard fighting against Cuban and Filipino revolutionaries, plus the debilitating effects of tropical diseases, had drained the colonial forces. The home army could not be deployed unless Spain controlled the seas, and its navy was small, in serious disrepair, and lacked trained crews. In the Atlantic, Spain kept part of its navy at Cadiz and assembled a squadron, commanded by Admiral Pascual de Cervera, at the Cape Verde Islands. Its destination was the Caribbean, but each of America’s battleships was capable of single-handedly defeating the squadron. In the Philippines, Spain had another antique squadron, commanded by Admiral Patricio Montojo. Many Spanish statesmen and officers were pessimistic, knowing they had little chance to win. At best, they hoped for a gallant and resourceful defeat.

The initial strategic principle for United States military preparations was that the war would be mainly a naval conflict, with little Army activity. The Navy would destroy enemy squadrons and merchant shipping, and perhaps bombard or blockade Spanish cities and colonies. No one contemplated dispatching large expeditionary armies to invade Spain or to conquer its colonies, although almost everyone assumed that the Army would send small forces to aid the Cubans. The Army’s paramount duty would probably be manning the coastal fortifications against possible enemy raids. The disposition of a $50 million military appropriation, approved by Congress on March 9, reflected strategic thinking: The Navy received three-fifths of the funds.

With their share of the appropriation, Long and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt readied the naval forces. Orders went out for commanders to retain men whose enlistments were about to expire, and the Navy stockpiled ammunition and fuel. The Navy Department ordered the battleship Oregon from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean. Rear Admiral Horace Eban received orders to prepare for the mobilization of a “mosquito flotilla” (later called the Auxiliary Naval Force) manned by the naval militia, which provided 4,000 officers and men during the war. The Navy also purchased or chartered warships and suitable merchant vessels and pleasure boats. In late February, Roosevelt sent orders to the European and Asiatic Squadron commanders to prepare for war. Finally, in March Long established a three-man Naval War Board, which included Mahan, to give him strategic advice.

All of these preparations had a sharp focus, for beginning in the mid-1890s the Navy had developed war plans against Spain. At Luce’s suggestion, the Naval War College began studying the strategic implications of a war with Spain, and in 1896 Lieutenant William W. Kimball completed a document titled “War with Spain.” Although several subsequent plans materialized, the basic features of the Kimball plan remained intact. Kimball assumed that the war would be fought to achieve independence for Cuba, that the U.S. did not contemplate major territorial acquisitions, and that command of the sea would determine the outcome. The main objective should be Spanish forces in and around Cuba, with attacks on the Philippines and Puerto Rico being secondary. Only if these assaults against the Spanish empire failed to achieve results would the Navy shift its attention to the Iberian peninsula. Kimball envisioned limited land operations only in the Caribbean, where the Army would assist Cuban rebels and perhaps attack Havana and occupy Puerto Rico. However, expeditionary forces would not be dispatched until the Navy had gained mastery in the Atlantic.

Acting in accordance with these plans, modified by public concern for coastal protection, Long and Roosevelt deployed the Navy in five squadrons. The Asiatic Squadron, commanded by George Dewey, was at Hong Kong poised to descend on the Philippines. A Northern Patrol Squadron guarded the waters between Maine and the Delaware capes, the Auxiliary Naval Force watched numerous ports, and a Flying Squadron, based at Hampton Roads under Winfield Scott Schley, provided additional protection for the east coast. The bulk of the North Atlantic Squadron was at Key West under the command of William T. Sampson. On April 23 Sampson began a blockade of Cuba, initially concentrating on Havana, other points on the northwest coast, and Cienfuegos on the south shore, in order to prevent Spain from resupplying and reinforcing its largest troop concentration on the island. Almost all naval leaders opposed the division of the Atlantic fleet, wanting it concentrated for blockade duty and to defeat a Spanish naval relief expedition in a decisive battle. As one officer complained, the fragmentation “was the badge of democracy, the sop to the quaking laymen whose knowledge of strategy derived solely from their terror of a sudden attack by Cervera.”

Compared to the Navy’s preparations, the Army’s initial mobilization was chaotic. One problem was the diffusion of responsibility within the War Department. A second difficulty was that the Army lacked the money and streamlined procedures for advance preparations. The Army spent most of its share of the $50 million appropriation to improve the coastal fortifications. Only small amounts went to the Medical, Quartermaster, and Signal Departments. With their meager allotment, these departments began to stockpile supplies, but congressional regulations choked their activities in red tape. The Army’s greatest handicap was the belief that it would need only about 100,000 men under professional command to serve as a compact striking force for its limited overseas missions. The War Department assumed that once the Navy controlled the Caribbean, it would send a small force to secure a Cuban beachhead and perhaps dispatch smaller forces to attack other Spanish possessions. If these measures did not secure peace, then the Army might attack Havana with 50,000 men.

To meet the contingencies, the Army had Representative John A.T. Hull introduce a bill in Congress. Intended as a permanent reform, the Hull bill proposed an expansible 104,000-man Army that would eliminate the need for state manpower. The National Guard would simply garrison coastal defenses and serve as a manpower pool. Eastern Guardsmen supported the measure, but unfortunately for the Army’s hopes for a modest but orderly mobilization, inland Guardsmen protested. Joined by southern Democrats, Populists who feared the Army, and a few regular officers with technical objections to the legislation, they defeated the Hull bill. Bowing to this strong indication that any manpower legislation must fully utilize the Guard, the administration introduced a new bill to create a volunteer army. Passed on April 22, the law permitted the president to limit an initial call-up of volunteers to National Guard members, with state quotas based on population. McKinley could appoint all volunteer staff officers and general officers, but governors would appoint lesser officers. The law also forbade states from sending new regiments into federal service under a second call unless their existing units were at full strength. With their position secure, Guardsmen did not oppose an April 26 law establishing a 65,700-man regular Army. New recruits would augment existing units and serve only for the duration of the war. As usual, the regular Army could not compete against volunteer service and remained below authorized strength.

Despite the necessity of mobilizing state volunteer regiments, the Army achieved some success in establishing an Upton-styled federally controlled volunteer force. The April 22 law authorized 3,000 federal volunteers (three cavalry regiments). Subsequent legislation established a 3,500-man brigade of federal Volunteer Engineers, a 10,000-man force of Volunteer Infantry (ten regiments in all) with presumed immunity to tropical diseases and known as the “Immunes,” and a Volunteer Signal Corps. The most famous of these federal volunteer units was the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, popularly known as the Rough Riders. Its commander was Colonel Leonard Wood, and its lieutenant colonel was Roosevelt, who resigned from the Navy Department. Combining the regulars and the state and federal volunteers, the Army contained 11,108 officers and 263,609 men when the war ended. All of the new troops were to be discharged upon the proclamation of peace, leaving just the 28,000-man prewar Army.

Manpower mobilization began before anyone had a clear idea of how many troops would actually be needed, and it was on a far larger scale than the War Department anticipated. Expecting McKinley to call out 60,000 Guardsmen, Army planners were shocked on April 23 when he called for 125,000! The president wanted to avoid Lincoln’s mistake of mobilizing too few troops at the outset and hoped that the spectacle of an arming host might break Spain’s will to resist. More important, the 125,000 figure was close to existing National Guard strength. Calling out fewer troops would alienate those Guardsmen unable to volunteer, dampening martial enthusiasm and courting political disaster. In late May, with most of the initial 125,000 men in the service, McKinley called for another 75,000 volunteers, 40,000 of whom were used to fill existing regiments.

Miles proposed that volunteers remain in state camps for prolonged training, but this was impractical. Too few regulars were available to supervise training at scattered locations, troops and officers needed practice in large-scale management and maneuver, and the War Department was anxious to avoid the “disturbing influences of home locality” that interrupted serious preparations. The War Department had already ordered the regular Army concentrated at Tampa and Camp Thomas at Chickamauga Park, Tennessee; and now as fast as volunteers could be sworn into federal service (as individuals, not as units, to bypass the constitutional uncertainty about overseas service), they moved to large camps. Many joined the regulars’ encampments, while others moved to San Francisco, Key West, New Orleans, Mobile, and Camp Alger near Washington. As the Army concentrated, the War Department completed its command structure, organizing seven corps, each commanded by a major general. In June it created an eighth corps.

As in past wars, manpower mobilization preceded logistical mobilization. Combined with the magnitude of the call-up and the Guard’s lack of readiness, the emphasis on men over material created difficulties for the supply bureaus. Assurances from state and Guard officials led federal authorities to believe Guardsmen would have basic drill and musketry skills and would be equipped by the states. But the states and Guard failed to fulfill their promises. On the average, one-third to one-half of the men in peacetime Guard units refused to enlist or failed their physical examinations. The Guard regiments filling the volunteer army contained many new recruits “who fancied they were soldiers because they could get across a level piece of ground without stepping on their own feet.” Volunteers were also unequipped, streaming into the camps without basic items such as tents and mess kits. What equipment they had was broken or obsolete. Ill-prepared in almost every respect, save for typical volunteer enthusiasm, 125,000 men arrived within six weeks of McKinley’s call.

The National Guard mobilization temporarily overwhelmed the Army’s supply capacity. Confusion should not have been unexpected, since the bureaus were geared to supply only the small peacetime Army. Moreover, line officers and civilian policymakers had not consulted the chiefs regarding mobilization plans. In coping with the crisis, the bureaus encountered fundamental problems, none of them the War Department’s fault. It took time for government arsenals and private industries to retool to manufacture large orders for specialized equipment. The number of regular staff officers was inadequate, and many newly appointed volunteer staff officers did not arrive at the camps until midsummer, requiring additional weeks to learn their jobs. Cumbersome procedures for making contracts and regulating funds, which Congress had designed to prevent peacetime fraud, inhibited the bureaus’ wartime efforts. One crippling procedural difficulty was the bureaus’ reliance on requisitions from unit commanders before forwarding supplies, which precipitated a flood of paperwork and caused interminable delays. Poor transportation facilities hindered distribution. Camps lacked adequate sidings, resulting in railroad traffic jams. A mid-1890s government economy drive had forced the Army to sell its six-mule wagons, which it now needed to move material in the sprawling camps. Finally, the bureaus’ task of simultaneously preparing small expeditions and a large volunteer force was difficult, especially since policymakers gave them no guidance on which had priority.

The War Department struggled rather successfully to overcome the logistical problems. Alger met daily with the bureau chiefs to coordinate activities and pressed for freer spending and the suspension of restricting rules. The bureaus improvised, and when one expedient failed, they tried another. Everyone labored long hours, somehow getting done what needed to get done. Chaos yielded to order, system, and purpose as arsenals and industries geared up, new staff officers learned the ropes, red tape got snipped, and transportation snarls were disentangled. Within three months material mobilization caught up with manpower mobilization. Meanwhile, the War Department also launched expeditions on opposite sides of the globe. Considering the conditions prevailing in April and May, its achievement in equipping a quarter of a million men was remarkable. Unfortunately for Alger, the administration dispatched the expeditionary forces before the mobilization crisis had been resolved and before the improvements became apparent. Thus, to the press and public, which were caught up in the muckraking of the Progressive era, bungling and inefficiency seemed the War Department’s hallmarks.

The Spanish-American War, 1898

George Dewey hoped to attend West Point, but no vacancy was available so he went to Annapolis. Neither Civil War service nor his postwar duties distinguished him from dozens of other officers. Although he idolized Farragut, four decades of naval life gave him no opportunity to emulate his hero. One thing Dewey did was to acquire powerful friends, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Redfield Proctor. His political connections gained him command of the Asiatic Squadron, which was at Hong Kong when Roosevelt’s late-February message warned Dewey to prepare for war. On April 24, when McKinley sanctioned an attack on Manila, Dewey was ready.


With orders to destroy the Spanish fleet, Dewey entered Manila Bay before dawn on May 1. His squadron had far greater firepower than Montojo’s ships, which lay at anchor off the Cavite naval base. Just as light was breaking, Dewey gave the order to fire, and in the next few hours the Asiatic Squadron demolished Spanish sea power in the Pacific with naval-review efficiency. The next day the Cavite garrison surrendered, but Spanish forces still held Manila and the rest of the Philippines. Naval power, said Dewey, could “reach no further ashore. For tenure of the land you must have the man with a rifle.” Alerted to Dewey’s predicament, the McKinley administration devised plans to send 5,000 volunteers to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, as a virtual hysteria of Dewey hero worship swept the country, strategic attention shifted from the Far East to the Caribbean, where, as in the Philippines, naval action prepared the way for Army operations. Gloomily expecting total destruction, on April 29 Cervera left the Cape Verde Islands, heading west. Thinking that Cervera would steam to San Juan, Sampson proceeded there with the bulk of his squadron. But the Spanish admiral, learning of Sampson’s movements, went to Martinique and Curaçao before steaming to Santiago Bay. By June 1 Sampson’s squadron, united with the Flying Squadron, had clamped a blockade on Santiago harbor. Although bottled up, Cervera’s ships constituted a fleet-in-being that restrained other American land and sea operations for fear they might escape. With orders not to risk his armored vessels against land batteries, Sampson could not go in and attack Cervera: Spanish forts guarded the harbor mouth, and two lines of electrical mines blocked the channel, which was so tortuous that ships could enter it only in single file. Another option was to sink a ship in the channel so that the Spaniards could not come out. Sampson tried, but the effort failed. A third course of action was to rely on Army assistance, which the Navy requested. If troops captured the forts, the Navy could sweep up the mines and venture into the harbor. While awaiting the Army’s arrival, the Navy maintained a tight blockade. To establish a nearby coaling base, Sampson sent a battalion of Marines to seize Guantanamo Bay. Aided by eighty Cuban insurgents, they captured it after four days of sporadic combat in mid-June, the first fighting by Americans on Cuban soil.

Before it received the Navy’s request, the Army’s strategic planning evolved through two stages. Initial strategy was to supply the Cubans and annoy the Spanish with small incursions. On April 29 the War Department ordered Major General William R. Shafter to Tampa, where he assumed command of the nearly all-regular 5th Corps. He was to organize a brief reconnaissance in force to the south side of Cuba, designed to carry arms and supplies to Gomez. This strategy avoided a large commitment during the rainy yellow fever season and did not make undue demands on the volunteer army. But Cervera’s departure from the Cape Verdes forced cancellation of the reconnaissance, and in its second stage Army strategy focused on Cuba’s north coast. With McKinley anxious to exert pressure on Spain, a White House conference on May 2 recommended attacking Havana with 50,000 men no later than mid-June, without regard for the rainy season. Shafter continued preparations for this new task. However, reacting to the Navy’s need for assistance, another war council again modified Army strategy, deciding on May 26 to send the 5th Corps to Santiago.

The decision set off feverish activity at Tampa. Shafter assured Washington that “I will not delay a minute longer than absolutely necessary to get my command in condition,” but readying the command was difficult. The obese Shafter, who looked like “a floating tent,” had no experience in organizing a large force. The expedition’s size depended on the number and capacity of transports, but the quartermaster general could not find many. The Navy had acquired most available auxiliary cruisers, shallow Cuban waters precluded use of deep-draft ships, and international law forbade the transfer of foreign vessels to American registry. The Army had to rely on small, run-down coastal steamers. Tampa had only two rail connections to the north and lacked storage facilities. Railroad cars were backed up as far as Columbia, South Carolina. Boxcars reaching Tampa arrived before the bills of lading, so no one knew what they contained, and the 5th Corps had too few staff officers to sort out the mess. Only one rail line ran from Tampa to the embarkation point at Port Tampa, creating an even narrower bottleneck.

His patience worn thin by the delays, on June 7 McKinley ordered Shafter “to sail at once with what force you have ready.” The next day, after a disorganized scramble to get aboard ships, the expedition was nearly out to sea when an urgent War Department message stopped it. An erroneous report of two Spanish warships near Cuba caused the halt. For a week the Navy searched for the ghost ships while the soldiers remained on the transports, living in compartments “unpleasantly suggestive of the Black Hole of Calcutta.” The convoy finally sailed on June 14. Although expected to number 25,000 men, the expedition contained just under 17,000 soldiers, dangerously overcrowded aboard the miserable transports. The troops consisted primarily of regulars, plus the Rough Riders and two volunteer regiments.

The disembarkation might have been a disaster without assistance from the Cubans and the Navy. After conferring with Sampson and Calixto Garcia, the insurgent commander in the area, on June 22–23 Shafter landed at Daiquiri and Siboney. Although still in reasonably good health, the Americans had spent nineteen days on the transports, sweltering in blue woolen uniforms and eating unappetizing travel rations. They were not in the best condition to fight their way ashore. Fortunately, the Navy provided small boats for the landings and naval gunfire support. Moreover, Miles had initiated contact with Garcia in early April, and by mid-June cooperation between Americans and Cubans was routine. Now Garcia’s men and the Navy’s guns drove the few and scattered defenders away from the landing beaches. The Cubans also besieged every major Spanish garrison in eastern Cuba, preventing the Spanish commander, Arsenio Linares, from reinforcing Santiago.

Shafter and Sampson held divergent views of the expedition’s purpose. The naval commander saw it as a limited operation to capture the batteries at the harbor entrance. But Shafter’s orders were discretionary, authorizing him to move against the forts or toward Santiago. The orders also specified two tasks for his command: capturing the Spanish garrison and assisting the Navy against Cervera, listed in that order. Reading between the lines, Shafter realized that the War Department expected a major land campaign, and he made Santiago his objective. Once ashore, he virtually ignored the Navy, striking obliquely inland along the road from Siboney to Santiago.

Three miles northwest of Siboney, 1,500 Spaniards occupied Las Guásimas, a strategic gap on the Santiago road. On June 24, Major General Joseph Wheeler, a former Confederate general now commanding Shafter’s dismounted cavalry division, attacked the position with 1,000 men. After a sharp fight the Spanish “retreated”; unbeknownst to the Americans, Linares had previously ordered his men to withdraw. The skirmish had several important effects. The Americans assumed they had routed the foe, and their morale soared. Control of Las Guásimas allowed the Army to reach Sevilla, the only good camp site near Santiago. Finally, the skirmish opened the way to the main enemy position just east of the city.

After Las Guásimas, Shafter planned a delay to make preparations for a final assault, but an immediate attack became essential. On June 28 he learned that Spanish reinforcements had broken through a Cuban covering force and would soon reach Santiago. Shafter had to race not only against the arrival of enemy reinforcements but also against a collapse of his logistical “system.” The entire 5th Corps relied on one lighter to move supplies from the transports to the beaches. Although food had priority, Shafter had difficulty stockpiling more than one day’s supply. Many vital items, such as medical stores, remained aboard ship. If supply from the transports to the beaches was bad, supply from the beaches to the soldiers was worse. The road to Santiago was little more than a rutted trail. Hemmed in by the jungle, the path was barely wide enough for a single wagon and passed through deep ravines and across several unbridged streams. Streams flooded and the soil turned to mud when it rained, which it did often. Wagons got stuck and broke down, pack trains could not ford the swollen streams, and tropical diseases incapacitated teamsters and packers. Gaining access to Santiago’s wharves to ease the logistical crisis reinforced Shafter’s primary concern over enemy reinforcements, prompting him to attack sooner than he had planned.

The campaign’s one hard day of fighting came on July 1, when Shafter’s troops attacked El Caney, a hamlet to the northeast of Santiago, and the San Juan Heights, which rise along the Santiago road east of the city. Flanking the road were Kettle Hill to the north and San Juan Hill to the south. Although the enemy positions were within range of Sampson’s naval guns, Shafter did not ask the admiral for fire support.

Shafter’s attack plan unraveled from the start. Troops were slow getting into position, and some high-ranking commanders, including Shafter, were too ill to participate. El Caney’s 500 defenders tied down more than 5,000 Americans for the entire day instead of the two hours Shafter expected. Planned to commence when El Caney fell, the attack on the heights began late and took place without assistance from the division engaged at El Caney. While deploying in the jungle terrain, the two divisions assigned to storm the heights endured a galling fire that caused many casualties and demoralized the troops. The movement up Kettle and San Juan Hills was no romantic charge, with streaming flags and cheering men. A few brave soldiers led the advance into the hailstorm of Mauser bullets, which went “chug” when they found flesh. Behind these stalwarts came two single lines of men, spreading out like a fan, who drove the badly outnumbered defenders from the heights.

“Another such victory as that of July 1,” wrote correspondent Richard H. Davis, “and our troops must retreat.” Davis expressed the belief of many officers and men that the Battles of El Caney and San Juan Heights had brought the 5th Corps to the edge of disaster. After the unopposed landings and success at Las Guásimas, Americans assumed the Spanish would not fight well. The battles of July 1 proved otherwise, as enemy troops, outnumbered more than ten to one, held back the Army’s best corps for the better part of a day, inflicting 1,385 casualties. Among many others, the normally irrepressible Roosevelt, who led the Rough Riders up Kettle Hill, felt discouraged. “We have won so far at a heavy cost, but the Spaniards fight very hard and charging these entrenchments against modern rifles is terrible,” he wrote. “We must have help—thousands of men, batteries, and food and ammunition.” Even more dismaying, El Caney and San Juan Heights were mere outposts in advance of the main defensive position.

Believing the situation was desperate, Shafter telegraphed Washington that he was considering a withdrawal to a position where he could be supplied by railroad. Preoccupied with his difficulties, the 5th Corps commander overlooked his adversary’s even worse condition. Coming on top of three years of warfare against the insurgents, the 600 Spanish casualties were a severe loss. Short of ammunition, food, and water, the Santiago garrison was near collapse. Shafter also failed to understand the implications of a retreat. Depending on a strong show of force, McKinley’s peripheral strategy could not stand such a setback. Thus Shafter’s retreat message created consternation in Washington. Although leaving the final decision to Shafter, his civilian superiors tried to stiffen the general’s resolve, urging him to hold his position, promising reinforcements, and ordering Miles to Cuba should a change in command be necessary.

On July 3, the day Shafter sent his alarming telegram, the situation changed dramatically. First, convinced that Santiago was about to capitulate, the Cuban governor general ordered Cervera to make a sortie rather than surrender. Cervera’s escape attempt surprised the blockading squadron, which was below full strength and under Schley’s immediate command. One cruiser had taken Sampson to Siboney to confer with Shafter, and other ships were refueling at Guantanamo. Still, Schley’s broadside was triple the weight of Cervera’s, and the Americans easily destroyed the enemy squadron. The victory produced no hero comparable to Dewey. An acrimonious debate soon developed over whether Sampson, who commanded the squadron, or Schley, who was in tactical control during the battle, deserved paramount credit. The squabble tainted both their reputations.

One important result of Cervera’s defeat was the Spanish government’s recall of Admiral Manuel de la Camara’s squadron. Spain had sent Camara toward the Philippines after Dewey’s victory, creating a strategic dilemma of whether to save Dewey or maintain unchallenged superiority in the main theater of war. Including a battleship and an armored cruiser, Camara’s force would be a stern challenge for the Asiatic Squadron. With all its battleships and armored cruisers committed in the Caribbean, the Navy Department ordered two powerfully armored monitors from the west coast to Manila, but strategists worried whether they could beat Camara to the Philippines. The department also organized the Eastern Squadron from Sampson’s fleet to pursue Camara or, by attacking the Spanish coast, force his recall. However, dispatching the Eastern Squadron would weaken Sampson, perhaps allowing Cervera to escape. Fortunately, Cervera’s defeat resolved the knotty problem. Recognizing that the Battle of Santiago Bay freed the Eastern Squadron to sail without endangering Sampson, Spain recalled Camara. The Navy Department never sent the Eastern Squadron to European waters but held it in readiness, exerting pressure on Spain to come to an agreement.

July 3 was also important because even as Shafter contemplated retreat, he boldly demanded Santiago’s surrender. General Jose Toral, who replaced the wounded Linares, refused but indicated an interest in further discussions. Buoyed by Cervera’s defeat and the prospect of negotiations, Shafter wired Washington that he would not retreat. During the talks between Shafter and Toral, which went on for two weeks, the rivalry between Sampson and Shafter sank to the nadir. Shafter urged the Navy to attack the harbor entrance forts and steam into the bay, taking the Spanish garrison in the rear. Sampson would gladly oblige, if only the Army would capture the forts. Claiming he needed all his men for the siege, Shafter refused. Although the stalemate with Sampson continued, Shafter achieved a breakthrough with Toral, who formally capitulated on July 17. Since he surrendered all the troops under his command, not just those inside Santiago, Spanish resistance in eastern Cuba ended.

In his moment of glory, Shafter was petty. He allowed no naval officer to sign the capitulation document. In callous disregard of the Cubans’ contribution, he did not permit them to participate in the surrender negotiations or ceremonies. Shafter’s ungracious behavior marked the final stage in the deterioration of Cuban-American relations that began immediately after the landings. The Americans’ prewar image of the Cuban army was that it fought in conventional style and contained many whites. But black men filled the ranks, kindling race prejudice, and without their rifles and cartridge belts the rebels “would have looked like a horde of dirty Cuban beggars and ragamuffins on the tramp.” Forgetting the privation Cuban soldiers had endured, American soldiers considered them “human vultures” when they begged or stole food and other items. Yet without the Cubans, Shafter probably could not have taken Santiago. Not only were they valuable allies in an immediate sense—helping at Guantanamo, covering the landings, preventing or delaying the arrival of reinforcements, digging trenches, and acting as scouts and guides—but they had also severely weakened Spain before America entered the war.

The day after Toral’s surrender, the War Department authorized Miles to launch his long-contemplated invasion of Puerto Rico. Departing on July 21, he landed at Guánica four days later and on August 9 launched a four-column offensive toward San Juan. Unlike Shafter’s hastily dispatched expedition, Miles’s had excellent logistical support and encountered little resistance. Events at Santiago sapped the enemy’s will to resist, the Puerto Rican militia deserted in droves, and civilians cheerfully cooperated with Miles. In six minor engagements the Americans suffered forty-one casualties before Miles received an August 12 telegram informing him that the U.S. and Spain had signed a peace protocol.

The peace message did not reach the Philippines in time to prevent a “battle” after the war was over. McKinley selected Major General Wesley Merritt to command the 5,000 volunteers that the administration planned to send to Manila. Merritt insisted that the expedition be enlarged and include regulars, and the War Department agreed, assigning him 20,000 men, including regulars. Designated the 8th Corps, the expedition assembled at San Francisco and deployed to Manila with little confusion. A more skilled administrator than Shafter, Merritt also had the advantage of time to prepare methodically and benefited from a more complete logistical mobilization. The general’s first contingent departed on May 25, captured Guam in the Spanish-held Marianas on the way, and arrived at Cavite on June 30. Another contingent left on June 15, a third later that month, and two more in July.

Merritt departed without a clear understanding of his purpose and entered into a confused political and military situation created by the presence of a Filipino army. “I do not yet know whether it is your desire,” Merritt wrote to McKinley, “to subdue and hold all of the Spanish territory in the islands, or merely seize and hold the capital.” The president’s formal instructions did not clarify the matter, although they implied an extensive campaign. The Filipino army resulted from a revolution against Spain, similar to the Cuban insurrection, that began in 1896. The Spanish had forced the revolutionary leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, into exile, but with the encouragement of Dewey and American consuls at Hong Kong and Singapore, he returned. Reorganizing his army, he soon controlled most of the Philippines, besieged Manila, issued a declaration of independence, and established an American-style Philippine Republic—all before American troops arrived. Dewey and Merritt had instructions to avoid entangling alliances with the insurgents “that would incur our liability to maintain their cause in the future.” Aguinaldo initially viewed the Americans as friends, but he became suspicious that the U.S. might annex the islands when soldiers arrived and officials refused to recognize his government.

The “Battle” of Manila exacerbated tensions between Americans and Filipinos. Knowing the futility of resistance, Governor General Don Fermin Jáudenes negotiated with Dewey and Merritt to surrender Manila after a mock battle that would save Jáudenes’s reputation and Spain’s honor. His troops would defend only the outer line of trenches and blockhouses, not the inner citadel, and would not use their heavy guns. In return the Americans agreed not to blast Manila with naval gunfire and to keep the Filipinos out of the city, for Jáudenes feared they might retaliate for past Spanish atrocities. After this collusion with an enemy against a presumed friend, the play unfolded pretty much according to the script. Some fighting occurred along the outer defenses, but the Spanish caused less trouble than the betrayed insurgents. Serious conflict threatened when Filipinos spontaneously joined in the attack and occupied several suburbs. However, both sides wanted to avoid an open break, and at the end of the day Americans controlled most of the city. But they faced outward, surrounded by angry Filipinos demanding joint occupation. Hostile Americans and Filipinos still glared at each other on August 16 when word arrived that the war had ended four days earlier.

Aftermath of the “Splendid Little War”

As prewar strategists predicted, the war at sea was decisive. When Spain signed the August 12 protocol its main garrisons at San Juan, Havana, and Manila were intact, but with the losses at Manila Bay and Santiago Bay they could no longer be maintained. Under the protocol’s terms, hostilities ended, Spain granted Cuban independence and ceded Puerto Rico and Guam, and the combatants agreed to decide the Philippines’ fate at a postwar peace conference, which began at Paris on October 1. The United States had many options regarding the islands: Grant independence, return them to Spain, acquire only a naval base, annex only Luzon, establish some form of protectorate, or annex the entire archipelago. For moral, economic, political, and military reasons, McKinley decided on complete annexation, and by the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines.

The decision to annex the Philippines touched off a wave of protest, spearheaded by the Anti-Imperialist League. Most anti-imperialists were not against expansion, favoring acquisitions within the Western Hemisphere and the retention of naval bases elsewhere. But the annexation of a distant, sprawling archipelago inhabited by diverse and alien peoples aroused their opposition, for it represented a clear break with past policies. The U.S. had never acquired territory that could not be eventually admitted as states, and if it meddled in the Far East, it could not reasonably forbid others from meddling in the Americas. Defending the colony would be difficult and costly, creating a large military establishment and leading to militarism abroad and despotism at home. A huge land grab tarnished the crusade to liberate Cuba. Despite these arguments, on February 6, 1899, the Senate consented to the treaty. Spain and the U.S. exchanged ratifications on April 11, 1899.

“No war in history,” exalted one American, “has accomplished so much in so short a time with so little loss.” The United States acquired a colonial empire, annexing Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines and establishing a limited protectorate over Cuba. During the imperial outburst, it also annexed Hawaii, Samoa, and Wake Island. A nation born more than a century earlier in a reaction to imperial domination had become an imperial power, joining the maelstrom of international politics. During the 1880s, Europeans spoke of six great powers (France, Germany, England, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy). They now added a seventh, computing the United States into balance-of-power combinations. A German cartoon expressed the new sentiment, showing Uncle Sam reaching out to encircle the globe, saying, “I can’t quite reach around—but that may come later.”

Yet for the Army it had been far from “a splendid little war,” as Secretary of State John Hay called it. A storm of controversy caused by medical disasters in the 5th Corps and in the volunteer camps engulfed the War Department as the war ended. The death toll explained the calamity’s magnitude: Out of 5,462 deaths in the armed services in 1898, only 379 resulted from combat. The 5th Corps’ ordeal was severe. During the siege men lay in their tents, which were steaming mudholes during downpours and ovens when the sun blazed down, without adequate food. Exhausted and filthy, they were susceptible to disease even as the opening of Santiago Bay remedied their material deficiencies. Malaria, dysentery, and typhoid began their death march through the ranks. The Americans also greatly feared an outbreak of yellow fever, although doubts remain as to whether it actually afflicted any of the troops.

By late July almost a quarter of the men were sick, and so many died that Shafter suspended rifle volleys and bugle calls at burials for fear of undermining morale. On August 3, with the concurrence of his general officers and medical staff, Shafter finally alerted the War Department, writing that he commanded “an army of convalescents.” The corps must be immediately transferred home, or it would perish. When the news leaked to the press, it further discredited the War Department, already under mounting criticism for its seeming ineptitude in preparing for war, threatened to undermine the peace negotiations then underway, and hastened the corps’ withdrawal to Camp Wikoff at Montauk Point, New York. By August 25 the veterans had departed, replaced by volunteer regiments and “Immunes” who, as it turned out, were not immune.

The survivors arrived at Montauk “mere shadows of their former selves,” with pale faces, sunken eyes, staggering gaits, and emaciated forms, many of them candidates for premature graves. They wobbled ashore into a welter of confusion. Alger had planned a reception camp before he received Shafter’s August 3 report, and given enough time a fine facility would have awaited the troops. But the sudden emergency caught the camp with inadequate transportation and shortages of equipment, medical supplies, and laborers. As during the mobilization in April and May, the War Department’s heroic efforts, plus the goodwill of private relief agencies, resulted in rapid improvements. However, the press and private citizens had flooded into the camp in its early weeks and spread tales of suffering, convincing citizens that the government had neglected the victors of Santiago.

Events in the volunteer camps reinforced the belief that the War Department had ill-used its soldiers. Most volunteers remained in camp for the duration, bored and homesick, engaging in endless military routine, enduring shortages of all types since overseas expeditions had supply priority, and wallowing in pervasive filth caused by their own carelessness and indiscipline. Under these conditions epidemic diseases swept the camps. In combating them, the Medical Department labored under crippling handicaps. It had little prestige or authority, low priority in terms of men and money, too few trained personnel, no power to enforce its recommendations (which were often excellent but ignored by the volunteers), and, like medical science as a whole, it did not know how the killer diseases were transmitted. Only when the crisis was at hand did the Army react, rushing doctors and supplies to the camps and ordering a massive redeployment that placed the men in healthful new camps where officers enforced strict cleanliness. The improvements, plus the onset of winter, rapidly dropped the disease mortality rate, but the public did not easily forget the sight of hundreds of men dying on home soil.

Demobilization and an investigation of the War Department’s alleged mismanagement began almost simultaneously. In October Shafter formally disbanded the 5th Corps, and in May 1899 the last of the original seven corps was demobilized. Spurred by the outcry caused by the Army’s chaotic mobilization and the tragedies in the 5th Corps and the volunteer camps, on September 26 McKinley appointed a commission, chaired by Grenville M. Dodge, to investigate Army administration. The commission questioned numerous witnesses, including Alger, the bureau chiefs, officers of every grade, enlisted men, nurses, and concerned citizens. Miles was the most spectacular witness, charging that troops had been fed beef injected with harmful chemicals, causing much of the sickness. The commission thoroughly studied the “embalmed beef” issue and, when it reported on February 9, 1899, correctly pronounced Miles’s accusations as false. When Miles persisted in his charges, McKinley appointed a military board of inquiry that came to the same conclusion.

The Dodge report also exonerated the War Department of charges of stupidity, deliberate negligence, and major corruption, drawing a picture of conscientious officers struggling “with earnestness and energy” to overcome problems primarily not of their own making. However, it did indict the department for excess paperwork and declared, in a tactful criticism of Alger, that “there was lacking in the general administration of the War Department . . . that complete grasp of the situation which was essential to the highest efficiency and discipline of the Army.” Although Alger was not a strong secretary, and inefficiency and poor coordination dogged the war effort, the real causes of the War Department’s difficulties were the hasty mobilization of too many men, primitive medical knowledge, and the country’s long neglect of the Army.

Most citizens found the Dodge report’s detailed analysis of staff organization and Army administration boring and did not want the facts to interfere with their perceptions. They were sure something was rotten in the War Department, and Alger became the scapegoat; “Algerism” became synonymous with government corruption and incompetence. Despite the public’s lack of confidence in the secretary, McKinley owed Alger a moral debt, knowing that he had loyally followed orders and was taking the blame for decisions imposed upon him. McKinley also worried that firing Alger would be an admission of military mismanagement, which would reflect badly on his presidency. Not until Alger sided with an anti-administration senatorial candidate did McKinley ask for his resignation; on August 1, 1899, Elihu Root replaced him. The widespread sentiment that the war had been conducted unscientifically, the lack of interservice cooperation, and the new international responsibilities allowed Root to institute Army reforms.

Most of the overseas acquisitions posed few problems. The Navy Department governed Samoa, Guam, and Wake without difficulty. Puerto Rico remained under military government only until May 1900, when the first American civil governor assumed his duties, and Hawaii was quickly placed on the road to eventual statehood. But Cuba was different. The United States had never recognized the Cuban Republic. Now the question was whether it should grant independence, establish a protectorate, or annex the island despite the Teller Amendment, which imperialists argued had been a great mistake. While the nation wrestled with this problem, Cuba remained under military government, headed by Major General John R. Brooke until December 1899, when Wood succeeded him. Wood tried to Americanize the island, hoping to pave the way for eventual annexation. A man of great administrative talent and imbued with Progressive ideals, he did much to rebuild the devastated island and restore its economy, and he promoted reforms in education, municipal government, the legal system, and sanitation and health care. Although his emphasis on centralization and urban development ran counter to the Cubans’ desire for more local autonomy and rural traditions, many of Wood’s programs were of lasting value.


In May 1902 the United States recognized Cuban independence. Expansionists could not overcome the idealism expressed in the Teller Amendment or the fear that Cubans might rebel against annexation. However, the U.S. established a semiprotectorate and maintained de facto dominance through the Platt Amendment and the Reciprocal Trade Treaty of 1902. Incorporated into the Cuban constitution, the amendment was a compromise between altruism and annexation, allowing Cuban internal self-government while protecting America’s special interests. It forbade Cuba to sign treaties that might infringe its independence, limited its capacity to get into debt, preserved America’s right to intervene to maintain stability, and forced Cuba to sell or lease naval stations to the U.S. The trade treaty tied Cuba’s principal export, sugar, to the American market, thus giving the United States considerable economic influence.

Cuba, however, was not the most troublesome of the overseas possessions, for in annexing the Philippines the United States annexed a war.

War in the Philippines, 1899–1902

“Is Government willing to use all means to make the natives submit to the authority of the United States?” Merritt and Dewey asked Washington as the Filipinos pressed for the joint occupation of Manila. McKinley replied that there must be no joint occupation, that the insurgents must recognize U.S. authority, and that Merritt could “use whatever means in your judgment are necessary to this end.” The president realized that war was possible, although he sincerely wanted to avoid fighting the Filipinos. While awaiting the outcome of the Paris peace conference, the Filipinos also prepared for war. Merritt’s successor, Elwell S. Otis, convinced the Filipinos to withdraw from the suburbs they had occupied, but Aguinaldo’s men strengthened their besieging positions and their sandatahan (militia) inside Manila. In this festering situation the American troops began referring to Filipinos with derogatory terms, such as “niggers” and “gugus,” and the number of violent incidents increased.

Since the United States was determined to exercise sovereignty and the Filipinos were equally determined to be independent, the Treaty of Paris created an impasse solvable only through war. Fighting began on the night of February 4–5, 1899, along the Manila perimeter. Aided by gunfire from Dewey’s squadron and gunboats on the Pasig River, the next morning the Army attacked, driving the Filipinos from their trenches after several days of combat. Later in the month the Manila sandatahan rose in rebellion, but the Americans quashed it. In March and April, Otis launched attacks north and east from Manila, continually defeating the Filipinos. Aguinaldo favored guerrilla warfare but one of his generals, the European-educated Antonio Luna, persuaded him to fight in conventional style; this ill-suited the Filipinos, who lacked artillery and sufficient modern rifles. However, Otis’s spring offensive achieved few permanent results before the rainy season began in May, halting large-scale campaigning.

As Otis waited for better weather he confronted severe problems. The Eighth Corps had an unprecedented task, for Americans had never before engaged in a colonial war of conquest. The Indian wars were not analogous: Indian resistance was always on a smaller scale, and the Army had the assistance of railroads, settlers, and buffalo hunters. Once defeated, Indians could be confined to reservations, but no Philippine reservation system was feasible. For pacification to succeed, the Army had not only to defeat Aguinaldo’s army but also to make Filipinos want American rule or at least tolerate it peacefully. But the proper mix between coercion and benevolence was not easily discovered.

Another difficulty was that Otis underestimated Aguinaldo’s support, the fierce resentment against Americans, and the Filipinos’ fighting skills. Consequently, he sent Washington optimistic assessments that slowed the necessary troop buildup. After ratification of the Treaty of Paris most of his soldiers were eligible for discharge, and McKinley insisted they be returned home as soon as possible. Foreseeing this demobilization, the administration introduced a bill calling for a 100,000-man regular Army. On March 2, 1899, Congress passed a bill keeping the regular Army at 65,000 but authorizing the president to enlist 35,000 volunteers, organized into twenty-five regiments and recruited from the country at large, for the Philippine emergency. The volunteer enlistments expired July 1, 1901; on the same date the regular Army would shrink to 28,000.

In contrast to his actions during the war with Spain, McKinley wanted the force sent to the Philippines kept “within actual military needs.” For immediate reinforcements he dispatched regular regiments. But since Otis claimed he needed only 30,000 men, which could be drawn entirely from regulars, the president delayed organizing the volunteers. Responding to an upward revision by Otis, in late June McKinley authorized the creation of twelve volunteer regiments, and another increased estimate from Otis soon prompted organization of the remainder. Largely due to his own misjudgment, Otis endured what Washington and Scott had experienced: exchanging one army for another in the face of the enemy. Fortunately, War Department procedures perfected during the war with Spain permitted the expeditious shipment of well-equipped volunteers; by February 1900 all of them were in the Philippines.

In November 1899, as the first volunteer regiments arrived, Otis attacked Aguinaldo’s main army on the Luzon plains, shattered it, and drove Aguinaldo into northern Luzon’s mountainous wilderness. Otis then sent a secondary thrust into Cavite Province and the Laguna de Bay region, which fragmented the Filipino forces there. As soldiers marched over Luzon from one end to the other and then occupied virtually every other island of consequence in the archipelago, Otis reported to Washington that “we no longer deal with organized insurrection, but brigandage.”

While smashing the Filipinos’ conventional forces the Army also instituted civic action programs similar to Wood’s in Cuba. Wanting Filipinos to “bless the American republic,” McKinley ordered the Army to prove “to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation, substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.” Recognizing the value of benevolence as a pacification technique, officers undertook the task with enthusiasm. Beginning in Manila and then fanning outward, they inaugurated reforms, especially in transportation, education, and public health, to convince the Filipinos that the Americans would raise their standard of living. New railroads, bridges, highways, and telegraph and telephone lines strengthened the economy and forged a new interdependence among the islands. Convinced that education “can be more beneficial than troops in preventing future revolutions,” the Army created a school system, which reduced illiteracy. The military’s public-health assault on disease virtually eliminated smallpox and the plague and reduced the infant mortality rate. Although conducted with an arrogant ethnocentrism and often interfering with local customs, these (and other) programs gained an increasing number of Filipino collaborators, reinforcing Otis’s perception that the war was over.

But instead of being over, the war entered a new phase. With their army shattered, the Filipinos turned to guerrilla warfare to counter America’s conventional firepower. Although they had used guerrilla tactics before, these now became the primary means of resistance. What Otis thought was the enemy’s collapse was simply a reorganization into small units at the local level. Instead of a single nationalist struggle directed by one commander, Aguinaldo, the conflict became decentralized, a collection of local conflicts that varied from region to region depending on ethnic and religious differences, the terrain, and the revolutionary leadership’s caliber. During this phase local guerrilla officers were much like Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812, acting like regional warlords who obeyed higher authorities only when it suited their region’s needs. Most leaders came from the economic and political elite rather than the masses; many of the latter loathed Americans but also had scant enthusiasm for a war directed by the prewar Filipino upper class, which had demonstrated little interest in social justice or land redistribution.

In some cases guerrilla warfare merged with the traditional banditry that Filipino ladrones had perpetrated since time immemorial, the political “cause” of independence merely providing a cover for age-old practices. Indeed, many U.S. Army officers initially underestimated the guerrilla threat because they blamed the endemic violence wholly on ladrones and other social outcasts. Yet leading Filipinos such as Aguinaldo and Miguel Malvar, a high-ranking officer in Batangas Province, understood guerrilla-warfare techniques and strategy. They believed that a protracted war might result in two possible favorable outcomes. It might undermine the morale of the American Army and populace, leading to victory for the anti-imperialist Democratic Party in the presidential election of 1900. Filipino propagandists attached great importance to this eventuality. As one American officer noted, the insurgents watched American politics closely, and “every disloyal sentiment uttered by a man of prominence in the United States is repeatedly broadcast through the islands and greatly magnified.” Or the Filipinos might receive foreign aid, perhaps from a European nation but more likely from Chinese republicans or Japanese pan-Asianists.

Guerrillas increasingly fought only when victory was certain, usually ambushing small patrols. When confronted by a superior force they hid their weapons and dispersed to their homes, where they greeted Americans with a friendly smile and a hearty “Amigo!”They also engaged in sniping and sabotage, inflicted hideous tortures on prisoners, and set trail-way traps, such as pits filled with sharpened stakes. Soldiers learned that a “pacified” area extended no further than the range of a Krag-Jorgensen.

While their guerrilla operations nullified America’s earlier military success, the insurgents employed terrorism to defeat what they called the enemy’s “policy of attraction.” Directed primarily against Filipinos holding positions in American-sponsored municipal governments, terrorism (the guerrillas called it “exemplary punishment on traitors to prevent the people of the towns from unworthily selling themselves for the gold of the invader”) took many forms. Lucky “traitors” were fined or had their property destroyed; unlucky ones were hacked to death with bolos or buried alive. To mete out punishment and control the villagers, the insurgents established shadow governments in the barrios. Many officials who worked openly with the Americans for civic improvements also worked secretly for the insurgents, spying on their townsmen, collecting taxes, recruiting men, and supplying information. The system of terror and invisible governments was successful in many locales, where fewer and fewer people cooperated with the Americans.

The deteriorating situation provoked an ugly reaction among some American soldiers, who committed atrocities such as torturing prisoners. Official policy forbade these cruelties. But authorities argued, with some plausibility, that the very nature of guerrilla warfare led to excesses, and imperialists insisted that anti-imperialists exaggerated troop misconduct for political purposes; indeed, the number of verifiable atrocities was only fifty-seven. However, since soldiers do not publicize their illegal acts, the actual number of misdeeds was certainly higher.

By May 1900, when Arthur MacArthur succeeded Otis, the military situation had become frustrating. Although the Americans were not in immediate danger of losing the war, the guerrillas were holding their own and Filipino terror sapped much of the civic action program’s appeal. Furthermore, although MacArthur needed more troops, he was obliged to send men to China to help suppress the anti-Christian and antiforeign Boxer Rebellion. When the Boxers besieged the Legation Quarter in Peking, McKinley ordered U.S. forces to participate, for the first time, in an international relief expedition. He wanted to save the beleaguered Americans in the Legation Quarter and to protect national interests as expressed in the “Open Door” policy, which called for equal trade privileges in China for the major European powers, Japan, and the United States, as well as the maintenance of Chinese sovereignty. A small naval squadron assembled and the U.S. committed 10,000 men commanded by Adna R. Chaffee to the relief force, which included troops from several European nations, Russia, and Japan. Prior to the legations’ mid-August relief, Secretary of War Root got 5,000 troops to China, and more were on the way. Some went directly from the U.S. and others from Cuba, but many came from MacArthur’s command. When the crisis ended Root ordered those soldiers en route to China to proceed to Manila instead, and most of the men already in China eventually followed them.

Meanwhile the American position in the islands had deteriorated. Making matters ever more difficult, at least from MacArthur’s perspective, was the arrival of the Taft Commission, headed by William Howard Taft. McKinley ordered the commission to establish civil government in the Philippines, and in September 1900 it began exercising legislative authority, while MacArthur exercised executive power. Since the president had failed to define the division of authority between MacArthur and Taft, jurisdictional squabbles soon arose.

Unlike Otis, MacArthur realistically assessed the war and devised an appropriate strategy that combined “a more rigid policy” toward guerrillas, greater efforts to protect the civilian population from insurgent terrorism, and continuing benevolence. In December 1900 he invoked General Orders No. 100. Issued during the Civil War, the orders had gained international acceptance as an ethical code for the conduct of warfare. War should be fought in conventional style between uniformed armies; guerrillas deserved little mercy, being subject to imprisonment, deportation, or execution. Although an army should respect the rights of civilians, two loopholes—“military necessity” and “retaliation”—allowed commanders to employ harsh measures against those who continued to resist. MacArthur also insisted on vigorous offensive action, and to carry it out his troop strength approached 70,000 by early 1901. Before the 1899 enlistments expired, Congress passed a bill in February 1901 increasing the regular Army to 100,000 men. For the second time a veteran volunteer force departed while a new force, this one of regulars, arrived. But close coordination between MacArthur and the War Department allowed the drawdown and buildup to occur simultaneously without hindering the war effort.

MacArthur also pursued an old Indian-fighting tactic by recruiting pro-American Filipinos, emphasized military intelligence, and called on the Navy for greater assistance. Otis had recruited a few Philippine scout companies but MacArthur expanded the program to compensate for the Americans’ inadequate knowledge of local languages, customs, and terrain. As had many officers in the American west who had worked with Indian scouts, MacArthur turned to indigenous soldiers reluctantly. By June 1901 he had organized 5,400 scouts (plus 6,000 Filipino police who performed semimilitary duties), but the February 1901 Army Act had authorized more than double that number. The Army organized a Division of Military Information in Manila to collect and disseminate timely intelligence data. MacArthur asked the Navy to intensify its patrolling to sever the insurgents’ interisland communications and the flow of arms from abroad.

While stressing more vigorous military measures, MacArthur realized that government based on force alone was not sufficient, that permanent pacification required the consent of the governed. Thus he continued the benevolent action program. To nurture pro-American sentiment, officials formed the Filipino Federal Party, which offered a political alternative to Aguinaldo’s independence movement. Working closely with the Taft Commission, the new party organized village committees to combat the influence of the guerrillas’ shadow governments and helped to pave the way for civil rule.

Between the fall of 1900 and the spring of 1901, the guerrillas suffered three stunning blows. In a spirited campaign in which anti-imperialists accused him of conducting an undeclared (and hence unconstitutional) war of “bare-faced, cynical conquest,” McKinley won reelection against anti-imperialist William Jennings Bryan. His victory demoralized the guerrillas, who could no longer hope that America would soon withdraw. With carefully calculated timing, MacArthur then initiated his stiffer policy. Instead of releasing guerrilla leaders, the Americans deported, imprisoned, or executed them. In the field, Army patrols hounded insurgent bands, allowing them no rest or sanctuary and isolating them from their village bases, where larger and better-organized garrisons provided security. Finally, in March 1901 General Frederick Funston, leading a company of Filipino scouts, staged a daring raid that captured Aguinaldo. The next month Aguinaldo issued a proclamation accepting American sovereignty and calling on his compatriots to end resistance. Thousands of guerrillas began surrendering monthly, while others simply gave up the fight and went home. By summer only two sizable guerrilla units remained active, Malvar’s in Batangas and Vicente Lukban’s on Samar.

Capitalizing on the insurgent collapse, on July 1 McKinley transferred executive authority from the military governor to civil authority, designating Taft as the civil governor; legislative power remained with the commission, which now included three Filipinos. Concurrently, Chaffee replaced MacArthur as commanding general and continued to exercise control in the remaining unpacified areas. One of the civil government’s first acts was to establish a Philippine Constabulary, officered by Americans but manned by Filipinos and separate from the Army’s scouts and the municipal police. By January 1902 the constabulary had 3,000 enlisted men, who maintained order in pacified regions and allowed the Army to concentrate where guerrilla bands were still active.

The final pacification campaigns on Samar and in Batangas were brutal. The ghastly massacre of a U.S. infantry company at Balangiga, Samar, in September 1901 whipped Americans into a vengeful fury. Chaffee believed that “false humanitarianism” was responsible for the massacre; now, he said, if the troops followed his instructions “they will start a few cemeteries for hombres in Southern Samar.” The commanding general gave the pacification task to Jacob H. Smith, known for good reason as “Hell Roarin’ Jake.” Smoke from burning villages and crops marked the progress of Smith’s troops on the island. Meanwhile Chaffee ordered J. Franklin Bell to pacify Batangas. Believing that “it is an inevitable consequence of war that the innocent must generally suffer with the guilty,” Bell rigidly enforced General Orders No. 100 and kept up to 4,000 troops scouring the province, fighting Malvar’s men, destroying crops and livestock, and herding more than 300,000 civilians into concentration zones. “General Bell does not propose to starve these people as Weyler did the Cuban reconcentrados,” editorialized a pro-administration newspaper, and imperialists echoed the theme. But one commander called the zones “suburbs of hell,” and widespread suffering occurred in them as people lived without adequate food and shelter and thousands died of disease.

By April 1902, Lukban and Malvar had surrendered and Samar and Batangas had been pacified. These final campaigns were atypical of the pacification effort, which, like the Filipinos’ guerrilla warfare, varied from place to place. While none were pretty, no previous regional pacification efforts rivaled this late-war ugliness.

However, persistent charges throughout the war that American troops had committed atrocities, reinforced by the Samar and Batangas episodes, provoked an anti-imperialist backlash and prompted Senator George F. Hoar to request a special investigating committee. The Republican majority persuaded him that the Senate’s standing committee on the Philippines should undertake the investigation. Chaired by the imperialist Henry Cabot Lodge, who had faint patience with those who criticized American soldiers, the committee held sporadic hearings between January and June 1902. The committee ensured that friendly witnesses predominated, badgered hostile witnesses, barred the public, issued no final report, and allowed only pet reporters access to its findings. The hearings did expose some instances of American misconduct, as even friendly witnesses sometimes made damaging admissions, but Lodge was generally successful in limiting the investigation’s scope in order to prevent a full-scale review of the administration’s war policy, and the antiwar furor quickly subsided. An era of romantic nationalism made sustained criticism of the nation’s “duty” to spread civilization difficult, and most Americans had trouble remaining morally indignant about events seven thousand miles away involving a nonwhite race. People also found it difficult to criticize success, and on July 4, 1902, President Roosevelt proclaimed a successful end to the war.

The United States had crushed Aguinaldo’s dream of an independent republic. The successful conquest resulted from a combination of strong military force and wise political action. As American soldiers soundly defeated the guerrillas, benevolence and the Federal Party won popular support. The Americans swiftly integrated the revolutionary leadership into the civil government, while the constabulary, assisted by the scouts and the greatly reduced American garrisons, maintained peace. But the cost had been high. The financial tab was $400 million, twenty times the price paid to Spain for the islands. More than 125,000 troops saw service, of whom approximately 4,200 died (approximately 1,000 of them in action) and another 2,900 were wounded. Approximately 20,000 Filipino soldiers also died.

Combatants were not the only ones who suffered. Civilians in certain regions, such as Batangas, endured a demographic catastrophe for which the war was only partly responsible. An outbreak of rinderpest (a disease that killed cattle and carabaos) not only reduced the number of agricultural workbeasts but also compelled malaria-carrying mosquitoes that preferred bovine-blood meals to bite humans instead. The workbeast shortage and wartime disruptions reduced rice production, so the people ate imported thiamine-deficient polished rice rather than nutritious home-grown varieties. Malnourishment weakened their immune systems, making the populace unusually susceptible to malaria and other potentially fatal diseases. Bell’s concentration policy fueled the death rate, since microparasites were rapidly transmitted from one host to another in the overcrowded conditions.

Although most officers wholeheartedly embraced the war, a few questioned its justness and wisdom. One general referred to it as an “unholy war” and another believed that the United States had “ruthlessly suppressed in the Philippines an insurrection better justified than was our Revolution of glorious memory.” Others feared that expansion weakened rather than strengthened American security, and the question of how to defend the islands baffled strategists for decades to come. Even Teddy Roosevelt soon perceived that the Philippines were America’s “heel of Achilles.”

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!