The Spanish American War (1898)

April 21, 1898–August 12, 1898

The Spanish American War was fought between the United States and Spain. The U.S. won the short war, which took place primarily in Cuba. The outcome signaled the emergence of the United States as a global power and the end of Spain’s empire in the Americas.

Spanish American War, Uncle Sam's Picnic, Political Cartoon, LOC

This 1898 print by Louis Dalrymple is called “Uncle Sam’s Picnic.” It depicts Uncle Sam helping four girls labeled Philippines, Ladrones, Porto Rico, and Cuba. On the old man’s hat are the words, “Monroe Doctrine.” Image Source: Library of Congress.

Spanish American War Summary

The Spanish-American War (April–August 1898) was fought between the United States and Spain, primarily on the island of Cuba. American forces were able to capture the port city of Santiago, defeating Spanish land and sea forces. In the aftermath of the victory, Spain ceded Guan, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the U.S., and Cuba became an independent nation. The outcome of the war signaled the emergence of the United States as a global power, the end of Spain’s empire in the Americas, and the rise to prominence of Theodore Roosevelt who became the 26th President of the United States in 1901

Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Riders, Spanish American War, LOC
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. This photo was taken after he returned from Cuba. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Spanish American War Facts

  1. President: William McKinley was President of the United States during the Spanish American War.
  2. Belligerents: The United States of America and Cuban Insurgents fought against Spain during the war.
  3. Start Date: The Spanish American War started on April 21, 1898, when the U.S. Navy blockaded Cuba and Spain severed diplomatic ties with the U.S.
  4. End Date: Fighting ended on August 12, 1898.
  5. Duration: The war lasted for about 4 months.
  6. Location: Major battles were fought in the Philippines and Cuba.
  7. Who Won: The United States won the Spanish American War.
  8. Outcome: Cuba gained independence and the U.S. gained Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
  9. Slogan: The popular slogan was “Remember the Maine!,” which was used as a rallying cry for Americans following the destruction of the USS Maine on February 15, 1898.
  10. Fun Fact: Former Confederates, including Joseph Wheeler and Fitzhugh Lee, served with U.S. forces during the war.
William McKinley, 1897, Portrait, Benziger
President William McKinley. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Spanish American War Dates

Important dates in the Spanish American War.

  • April 25, 1898 — President William McKinley signed the Declaration of War.
  • May 1, 1898 — The Battle of Manila Bay takes place in the Philippines. The U.S. Navy defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay.
  • June 22, 1898 — U.S. ground forces landed at Daiquiri.
  • July 1, 1898 — U.S. forces won the Battle of El Caney and the Battle of San Juan Heights.
  • July 3, 1898 — The U.S. Navy defeated the Spanish Navy at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba.
  • July 17, 1898 — Spanish forces in Cuba surrendered.
  • August 12, 1898 — U.S. and Spanish officials signed the Protocol of Peace, ending hostilities in the Spanish American War.
  • December 10, 1898 — The two nations signed the Treaty of Paris.
  • February 6, 1899 — The U.S. Senate ratified the 1898 Treaty of Paris.

The Shrinking Spanish Empire

By 1895, Spain’s empire had been reduced to Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, some Pacific islands, and African territories. 

Cubans revolted in 1895, which was viewed in the United States as a struggle for freedom from a corrupt monarchy — reminiscent of the American Revolutionary War. Americans also had economic interests in Cuba and wanted to help protect them. In an effort to aid the Cuban revolutionaries, some Americans smuggled weapons to the island.

Spain’s methods were harsh and destructive in dealing with the Cubans, which endangered American investments in railroads and sugar plantations. Cuban markets were also vital to America, as businesses looked to expand into markets in Latin America, South America, and the Pacific. In order to aid that expansion, the United States envisioned a canal in Central America that would help ports along the East Coast to access markets in East Asia.

The Monroe Doctrine and the Spanish American War

The Monroe Doctrine was established by President James Monroe in 1823. Monroe warned European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere. The purpose of the Doctrine was to prevent European colonization and the establishment of puppet regimes in the Americas. 

Although the Doctrine was not well-enforced early on, it became a basic tenet of American foreign policy. Over time, the principles of the Doctrine were invoked in various disputes with European powers and interventions in Latin America in the 19th century, especially in Cuba.

By 1898, several incidents took place that caused the U.S. and Spain to be on the brink of war.

Theodore Roosevelt, Teddy's Rough Riders, Illustration, LOC
This illustration depicts Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Causes of the Spanish American War

The causes of the Spanish American War included:

  1. The Virginius Affair (1873)
  2. The De Lôme Letter (1898)
  3. Destruction of the USS Maine (1898)
  4. Yellow Journalism (1895–1901)

The Virginius Affair

In 1873 the United States was nearly pulled into the Cuban Revolution due to the Virginius Affair. 

The Virginius was a former Confederate blockade runner, owned by Cubans, that was used to smuggle guns, ammunition, and men to the Cuban insurrectionists. These rebels had been in conflict with the Spanish government since 1868. 

On October 31, 1873, the Virginius, which was illegally flying the American flag was spotted near the coast of Cuba by the Spanish warship Tornado. Ironically, the Tornado was also a former Confederate blockade runner. A pursuit ensued, and the Virginius was chased within six miles of Jamaica before being captured and towed to Santiago, Cuba by the Tornado.

General Juan Burriel, the Governor of Santiago, convened a court-martial that promptly convicted the crew of the Virginius of piracy. The court responded by sentencing the crew and passengers to death. On November 4, four of the crewmen were executed, which was celebrated by Spaniards living on the island. 

When Spanish government officials in Madrid were informed of the situation. President Emilio Castelar ordered an immediate halt to the executions, pending a government review. Unfortunately, a disruption in the telegraph lines prevented his instructions from reaching Santiago. As a result, a total of 53 men, including 8 American citizens were executed. 

The executions ended when the British warship Niobe arrived. Although there were questions regarding the right of the Virginius to fly the American flag, Americans were outraged by the executions.

Secretary of State Hamilton Fish instructed the American minister to Spain to demand the return of the ship, the release of the remaining crew and passengers, financial compensation, and punishment for General Burriel. Fish made it clear that if the demands were not met, the American minister was to sever diplomatic relations with Spain and return to the United States, which could lead to war between the two nations.

The Spanish government responded by asking for negotiations, which took place in Washington, D.C. The Spanish ambassador, Admiral Don José Polo met with Fish and the two negotiated an agreement that was acceptable to both nations. Spain agreed to adhere to international law, return the Virgnius, return the surviving crew and passengers, and pay $80,000. Burriel remained in power but died soon after.

De Lôme Letter

In December 1897, Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, the Spanish minister to the United States, composed a letter to an acquaintance in Cuba, which was critical of U.S. President William McKinley.

De Lôme accused the President of being “weak and a bidder for the admiration of the crowd,” portraying him as a political opportunist who tried to please both sides while aligning with the more aggressive factions within his party. The letter was stolen from the Havana post office and published in the New York Journal by William Randolph Hearst on February 9, 1898, with a headline that read, “WORST INSULT TO THE UNITED STATES IN ITS HISTORY.”

The relationship between the United States and Spain was already strained due to Spain’s handling of affairs in Cuba and the ongoing military support from Americans to Cuban revolutionaries.

Americans were outraged by the letter, but McKinley decided to ignore the letter, refusing to dignify it with a response. De Lôme, realizing his mistake, offered his resignation on February 10.

Despite de Lôme’s resignation, Congress was not easily appeased, and there was talk of officially recognizing the Cuban rebels and even declaring war against Spain. The American press also called for McKinley and Congress to take action against Spain 

In order to appease the U.S., Spain issued a formal apology on November 14.

Remember the Maine

Just before the uproar over the de Lôme Letter, the U.S. battleship Maine arrived in Cuba at 11:00 a.m. on January 25, 1898. 

Spanish American War, USS Maine, Photo, v2
USS Maine. Image Source: The Great American-Spanish War Scenes by Edgar Johnston, 1898.

American battleships had avoided visiting Maine since 1895 due to Spain’s ongoing conflict with the Cuban rebels. However, as American sympathy for the Cuban rebels grew, so did anti-American sentiments among Spanish loyalists in Havana. 

A riot took place in Havana on January 12, 1898, prompting the American consul, Fitzhugh Lee, to send a telegraph that warned “ships may be necessary later but not now.” McKinley ordered the Maine to Havana on January 24, under the command of Captain Charles D. Sigsbee.

Upon arrival, Sigsbee was treated cordially by Spanish officials, but he refused to allow his crewmen to go ashore, fearing their presence could lead to violence. Security on the ship was tight. The ship’s watch was expanded, and sentries were armed. Both boilers were kept operational, which deviated from the usual practice of running only one, in case the ship needed to be swiftly mobilized. Shells were also positioned in proximity to all of the Maine’s guns.

At 9:40 on the evening of February 15, a massive explosion rocked the Maine, causing it to sink to the depths of Havana harbor. The explosion obliterated the entire forward section of the ship, resulting in the loss of 260 lives from a crew of 355.

Spanish American War, Maine After Explosion, Photo
Wreckage of the Maine the day after the explosion. Image Source: The Great American-Spanish War Scenes by Edgar Johnston, 1898.

A commission was formed to investigate the incident. On March 20, it was determined an underwater mine was responsible for the explosion, but the commission was unable to determine who placed the mine. American newspapers blamed the explosion on Spain and called for war. 

In an attempt to resolve the issue, Spain offered to submit the matter to arbitration, aiming to settle the cost of the damage. They even agreed to an armistice for the ongoing conflict with the Cuban rebels, to be determined by the judgment of the commanding general in Cuba. 

Although President McKinley, a veteran of the Civil War, hoped for a peaceful resolution to the incident, public sentiment leaned toward war. The media also published stories of atrocities committed by Spain in Cuba — both real and sensationalized — which increased public support for the Cuban rebels.

On April 11, 1898, President McKinley asked Congress to declare war on Spain, for the purpose of ending the fighting in Cuba, establishing a stable government, and maintaining order for citizens of the U.S. and Cuba.

Congress deliberated for a week before reaching an agreement on April 19 through a joint resolution. President McKinley signed it on April 25, officially starting the Spanish American War.

Spanish American War, Maine Wreckage, Photo
Workers going through the wreckage of the Maine. Image Source: The Great American-Spanish War Scenes by Edgar Johnston, 1898.

Yellow Journalism

Yellow Journalism was a style of reporting that emphasized sensationalism over facts. Newspaper publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer used the tactic to influence the public into favoring war in Cuba and the Philippines, along with the acquisition of overseas territories.

Overview of the Spanish American War

The most significant fighting of the Spanish-American War took place in the Philippines and Cuba. The most famous battle of the war is the Battle of San Juan Heights, which is also known as the Battle of San Juan Hill and the Battle of Kettle Hill. It was during that battle that Theodore Roosevelt, the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future President, helped lead American forces in a bold uphill charge to attack Spanish defenses.

Spanish American War in the Philippines — the Battle of Manila Bay

Shortly after war was declared, Commodore George Dewey led the American Asiatic Squadron to the Philippines. Dewey’s mission was to prevent a deteriorating Spanish fleet from making a lengthy journey to reinforce Spanish naval forces in Cuba.

On the morning of May 1, just off Cavite in Manila Bay, the American fleet engaged the Spanish fleet. The Americans won the battle and forced the surrender of Spanish ground forces and artillery batteries on the shore.

While Dewey awaited the arrival of troops, the Filipinos revolted against the Spanish government, seeking their independence. They coordinated with the American army when it arrived to lay siege to Manila. Spanish officials surrendered Manila to American forces on August 14, 1898, pushing the Filipino rebels to the side.

When the Filipino rebels realized the U.S. intended to retain control of the Philippines and annex it as a territory they revolted against the Americans, starting the Philippine-American War.

Spanish American War, 1898, Battle of Manila Bay, LOC
This illustration depicts the Battle of Manila Bay. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Spanish American War in Cuba

At first, Havana was the main target for American forces. However, on May 19, 1898, Spanish Rea Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete evaded American warships and went to Santiago Harbor. 

American officials decided to shift their focus to capturing Santiago and destroying the Spanish warships there. 

Rear Admiral William T. Sampson set up a naval blockade but hesitated to enter the harbor due to Spanish mines and coastal defenses. 

Instead, he awaited U.S. ground forces, hoping they could capture Santiago and engage the Spanish ships from the land, either destroying Cervera’s squadron or forcing it to leave.

Ultimately, the U.S. strategy for Cuba included the naval blockade of the island to disrupt Spanish supply lines while the army launched a ground assault on the port of Santiago de Cuba.

Engagements at Cienfuegos — April 29 and May 11

U.S. ships under the command of Commodore Bowman H. McCalla were deployed to enforce the blockade at Cienfuegos, Cuba. He was also tasked with cutting the communication cables at Cienfuegos that linked Cuba to Spain.

On the morning of April 29, 1898, McCalla, commanding the Marblehead, arrived off Cienfuegos along with the gunboats Nashville and Eagle to enforce the blockade and a short battle ensued: 

  • The Nashville intercepted and captured the Argonauto, which was carrying mail, military supplies, and some Spanish troops.
  • The Galicia, accompanied by two small gunboats and protected by batteries on the shore, engaged in a firefight with the Eagle
  • When the Marblehead arrived, the Galicia retreated further into the harbor, ending the brief naval battle.

On May 11, 1898, McCalla returned for the cable-cutting operation, this time with additional support from the ships Windom and Saturn.

The Nashville and the Marblehead moved close to the shore to provide protective fire. A group of around 50 men, led by Lieutenant Cameron M. Winslow, loaded onto boats and sailed to shore.

The ships bombarded the shore while Winslow and his men located two large cables and one small cable. They managed to cut the two large cables. However, they were under heavy fire from Spanish forces and were unable to completely sever the third cable. The third cable was the communication line between Cuba and Jamaica and remained in operation throughout the course of the short war.

Battle of Guantánamo Bay — June 9–17

Guantánamo is on the southeast coast, 45 miles east of Santiago. At the start of the war, there was a garrison of nearly 6,000 Spanish troops at Guantánamo, under the command of General Félix Pareja Mesa. The Spaniards expected the Americans to attempt a landing at Guantánamo, so Mesa had his men build extensive defensive works around the town.

On May 28, Secretary of the Navy John Davis Long decided to send an expedition to take control of Guantánamo. He wanted to control Guantánamo for several reasons:

  1. A Spanish fleet under the command of Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete was at Santiago.
  2. He wanted to have a safe harbor that would protect U.S. ships from hurricanes.
  3. He wanted a port that had access to coal for U.S. ships.

Long instructed Commodore Winfield Scott Schley to take control of Guantánamo, and American forces were deployed and moved into position, taking action on June 7:

  • The 1st Marine Battalion departed from Key West, Florida, bound for Guantánamo. 
  • The Marblehead and Yankee, led by Commander McCalla, entered Guantánamo Bay on June 7. They forced the Spanish to evacuate fortifications at the bay’s entrance, pushing the Sandoval further into the bay, and disembarked a small group of marines. The Marines successfully destroyed the cable station before returning to their ships.

On June 9, McCalla returned to Guantánamo in preparation for the arrival of the 1st Marine Battalion. The following day, his ships bombarded Spanish positions guarding the harbor. 

Soon after, Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Huntington and the 1st Marine Battalion landed on the east side of the outer harbor, accompanied by the battleship Oregon. The Marines established Camp McCalla.

The battle started on June 11 when the Spanish fired upon the camp. On June 12, the Americans were joined by roughly 60 Cuban insurgents. 

A smaller battle took place at Cuzco Hill on June 14. American forces, assisted by U.S. naval gunfire, forced the Spanish to retreat from the eastern coast of the lower bay on June 15. 

Following Cuzco Hill, Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Huntington sent an expedition that included Americans and Cuban insurgents to attack a well that supplied Spanish troops with water. With support from the Dolphin, Huntington’s men successfully destroyed the well and captured around 20 Spanish soldiers.

On June 15, Rear Admiral William T. Sampson ordered the Texas, Marblehead, and Suwanee to bombard Spanish positions along the shore and eliminate a small fort. The fort was destroyed in about 30 minutes. The ships also cleared a minefield that had been laid by the Sandoval.

The main hostilities ended on June 17. General Mesa, concerned about a potential U.S. land offensive from Guantánamo Bay, proceeded to reinforce the interior defenses of the island.

Guantánamo Bay became a crucial base for fuelling and resupply activities and played an important role as a launching point for the invasion of Puerto Rico. 

Major General Nelson A. Miles departed from Guantánamo Bay for Puerto Rico on July 21. On July 25, Guantánamo officially surrendered. The Marines occupied Guantánamo until August 5.

  • The Battle of Guantánamo Bay was documented by journalist Stephen Crane for McClure’s Magazine.
  • The Battle of Guantánamo Bay was the first significant land battle of the war. 

Landing at Daiquiri — June 22

The first U.S. ground troops landed in Cuba at Daiquirí, a village on the southeast coast, 16 miles east of Santiago, on June 22.

Spanish American War, 1898, Landing at Daiquiri, Illustration
This illustration depicts American troops landing at Daiquirí. Image Source: The War with Spain by Henry Cabot Lodge, 1899.

Major General William R. Shafter, commander of the 5th Corps, intended to land his expedition at Daiquiri, march seven miles to Siboney, and then head northwest toward El Caney and Santiago. 

At 9:40 a.m. on June 22, five American battleships, under the command of Captain Caspar F. Goodrich, started to bombard Spanish defenses. However, the Spanish had evacuated and there was no return fire.

30 minutes later, the division of Brigadier General Henry W. Lawton started their landing. By nightfall, there were 6,000 American troops on the beach. 

However, many of the captains of the transport ships refused to pull closer than a half mile to the beach, believing the beach was still defended and the Spanish were waiting to launch an attack. The troops were forced to wade to shore, which led to the loss of equipment and supplies. 

The Americans also discovered the Spanish had destroyed the railroad to Santiago, meaning they would have to move the entire expedition over a road that ran along the coast. Shafter instructed Lawton to advance along this road and seize Siboney. 

Unfortunately, by the time Lawton’s division left the beachhead, it was too late to make the trip to Siboney. That night, the troops set up camp on the road. They expected a Spanish counterattack, but it did not happen.

The next morning, Lawton’s division advanced to Siboney, which was also deserted. General Shafter promptly designated Sibony as the primary headquarters for the assault on the city.

Battle of Las Guásimas — June 24

Las Guásimas, approximately three miles from Siboney, sat at the intersection of a narrow footpath and the El Camino Real Road leading to Santiago. Las Guásimas had been deserted by its inhabitants by June 1898, but it had an elevated ridge that provided the Spanish with a strong defensive position.

Spanish American War, 1898, Battle of Las Guásimas, Hotchkiss Battery
This illustration depicts American troops at the Battle of Las Guásimas. Image Source: The War with Spain by Henry Cabot Lodge, 1899.

The 5th Corps started its primary march towards Santiago, departing from the Daiquirí landing site. Simultaneously, on the same day, General Lawton’s division started its advance toward Siboney with instructions to stop any potential Spanish assault along El Camino Real Road.

Lawton found Siboney abandoned and informed Shafter, who responded with an order for the Americans to proceed to Santiago. However, Shafter addressed the orders to the senior office on-site, instead of directly to Lawton.

The senior officer in Lawton’s force was Major General Joseph Wheeler, a former Confederate who had been appointed by President McKinley to lead the only cavalry division in the expedition. The orders were delivered to Wheeler, while Lawton was reporting to Shafter.

Wheeler was eager to engage the Spanish and was happy to take advantage of the fact the orders were addressed to the senior officer. He decided to take a small contingent that included U.S. troops and Cuban insurgents and move toward the Spanish forces that were on the ridge at Las Guásimas, under the command of Brigadier General Antero Rubín Homet.

Frustrated, Lawton tried to communicate with Shafter and stop Wheeler’s attack, but he was unable to and Wheeler moved out on the 24th. As Wheeler moved toward Las Guásimas, Homet received an order from General Arsenio Linares, the Spanish commander in Santiago, to withdraw to Santiago.

Wheeler might have known about the Spanish withdrawal, likely obtained through intelligence provided by Cuban revolutionaries under the command of General Demetrio Castillo. Wheeler’s force included the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, famously known as the Rough Riders.

American forces arrived at Las Guásimas and artillery batteries opened fire but were quickly silenced by heavy fire from the Spanish, forcing the attack to proceed without artillery support. 

Brigadier General Samuel B. M. Young divided his brigade into two columns, with the 1st and 10th Regular Cavalry Regiments under his direct command on the right flank, and the Rough Riders, led by Colonel Leonard Wood and Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, on the left.

Wood ordered Roosevelt to execute a flanking maneuver behind the Spanish defenses. Supported by covering fire from Young’s brigade, the Rough Riders moved forward. Roosevelt led from the left, Wood assumed command in the center, and Wheeler commanded the right. In the midst of the intense battle, Wheeler is said to have shouted, “Advance — our adversaries appear to be in retreat.”

After two hours of fighting, General Rubín decided to follow his instructions and ordered his men to withdraw to Santiago, allowing the Americans to occupy the town and heights. Although it was a victory for the Americans, it did slow the advance toward Santiago.

Naval Blockade

While American and Cuban forces pushed across the island to Santiago, the navy trapped the Spanish fleet in Santiago Bay, while the army crossed through the dense jungle terrain from the coast to San Juan Heights, overlooking the city of Santiago.

American Forces Advance on Santiago

Following the victory at Las Guásimas, General Shafter intended to capture Santiago by taking control of the high ground east of the city, specifically San Juan Heights, which included San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill.

On July 1, American forces attacked Spanish forces at El Caney and San Juan Hill. The American forces included Cuban allies, regiments from the Buffalo Soldiers, and Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. First Lieutenant John J. Pershing led the 10th Cavalry Unit.

Battle of El Caney — July 1

General Henry W. Lawton led the 5th US Division, comprised of nearly 7,000 men, in an attack on 600 Spanish troops at El Caney. 

Battle of El Carney, 1898, Spanish American War, Illustration
This illustration depicts the Battle of El Carney. Image Source: Pictorial History of Our War with Spain by Trumbull White, 1898.

At El Caney, the Spanish had constructed six blockhouses made of earth and wood to the north and west of the village. To the southeast, on a hill, stood the old stone Spanish fort, El Viso, which had a commanding view of the entire area. Brigadier General Joaquín Vara del Rey y Rubio led 520 troops defending El Caney.

Before dawn on July 1, Lawton’s division positioned itself for the attack, with the expectation that once El Caney was secured, they would then join the main American offensive on San Juan Heights, located six miles to the southwest.

The battle started when artillery batteries under the command of Captain Allyn Capron opened fire on the Spanish. However, the bombardment had little impact on the Spanish defenses. Meanwhile, Lawton’s three brigades formed the American Line and prepared to attack: 

  • Brigadier General William Ludlow and his brigade held the left flank.
  • Brigadier General Adna R. Chaffee and his brigade were in the center.
  • Colonel Evan Miles commanded the brigade on the right. 

Unfortunately, there was confusion along the line, and none of them were prepared to move forward at the scheduled time, leading to a disorganized, uncoordinated advance. The American advance stalled about a half mile from the Spanish line.

Around noon, the fighting started to subside. After Lawton called up reinforcements from the brigade of Brigadier General John C. Bates, the Americans resumed the attack. 

Although General Rubio was killed in the attack, the Spanish forces continued to fight and maintain their positions. Lawton responded by ordering artillery to fire on the El Viso, which allowed the Americans to breach the walls and overwhelm the garrison.

When the Spanish ran out of ammunition, they were forced to retreat to Santiago. Around 8:00 that night, Lawton moved out and marched toward Santiago.

Spanish American War, Cuban Insurgents, Illustration
This illustration depicts Cuban Insurgents firing on Spanish troops from behind barrels of sugar. Image Source: America’s Battle for Cuba’s Freedom, 1898.

San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill — July 1

To protect Santiago, General Arsenio Linares, the Spanish commander, created a defensive line. The most formidable part of this line was positioned on San Juan Heights. Approximately 500 troops, backed by two artillery pieces, were positioned between Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill, which were about 400 yards apart.

At San Juan Heights, Shafter’s strategy called for:

  1. Brigadier General Jacob Ford Kent and his division to attack San Juan Hill
  2. Major General Joseph Wheeler and his cavalry division to attack Kettle Hill. When Wheeler fell ill, Brigadier General Samuel S. Sumner replaced him.

The original plan called for Lawton to quickly capture El Caney, in two hours or less, and then join the assault on San Juan Heights. Kent and Sumner took their positions at El Pozo and waited for Lawton. While waiting, they received heavy fire from Spanish forces on the heights.

The Americans attacked San Juan Hill first, starting at 8:00 a.m. with an artillery bombardment from batteries under the command of Captain George Grimes. However, the bombardment was ineffective and was forced to stop due to heavy fire from Spanish batteries.

At 9:00, three brigades of Kent’s troops moved forward, under the command of Brigadier General Hamilton S. Hawkins, Colonel E. P. Pearson, and Colonel Charles A. Wikoff. The remaining units moved into position.

The Spanish batteries continued to fire on the Americans, even as they advanced. Some of the Americans panicked and fled due to the intense fire, which was partially directed by an observation balloon hovering over the battlefield. The well-coordinated Spanish defenses led to a delay in orders to attack San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill.

By 1:00, the officers were tired of waiting and ordered their men to advance on both hills, under a heavy covering fire that was provided by a battery of Gatling Guns commanded by Lieutenant John D. Parker.

Spanish American War, Gatling Gun, Photo
Photograph of a Gatling Gun. Image Source: Pictorial History of Our War with Spain by Trumbull White, 1898.

As the American forces advanced, they were exposed to heavy Spanish rifle fire in an area known as “Hell’s Pocket,” with little cover except for the tall jungle grass. The Americans split into two groups and rushed up both hills.

Theodore Roosevelt, riding his horse, led the way as his Rough Riders and the Buffalo Soldiers charged up Kettle Hill and assaulted the Spanish line. The Spanish fled from the hill and took refuge in blockhouses, which were also captured by the Americans. 

With the hill under their control, the Americans on Kettle Hill joined the Gatling guns in firing at the Spanish positions on San Juan Hill. By the time the Americans reached the top of the hill, the Spanish forces were retreating. The Americans dug in and established defensive positions, anticipating a Spanish counterattack.

Battle of Santiago de Cuba — July 3

Realizing U.S. forces were on the verge of capturing Santiago, the Spanish fleet tried to break out of the harbor on July 3. Led by Admiral Pascual Cervera’s flagship, the Infanta Maria Theresa, the fleet moved out of the harbor. The American fleet attacked and destroyed the Spanish fleet. The battle lasted for four hours and all six Spanish ships were either lost or scuttled.

Capitulation of Santiago — July 16–17

Cuba’s Governor, General Ramón Blanco y Erenas agreed to terms of surrender on July 16, and it went into effect on July 17. The provisions of the capitulation surrendered the garrison at Santiago to the U.S., along with Guantánamo and six more military outposts in eastern Cuba.

Spanish American War, 1898, Spanish Surrender, LOC
This illustration by William J. Glackens depicts Spanish forces surrendering to General Shafter. Image Source: Library of Congress.

American Forces Withdraw

In the aftermath of the capitulation, more than 1,600 Spanish troops were taken captive and held at Camp Long. They stayed there until mid-September. According to most accounts, they were treated well by the Americans before they were returned to Spain.

Soon after, Yellow Fever spread through the American ranks, rendering an estimated 75% of the men unfit for service.

American troops started leaving Cuba on August 7. Some of the Buffalo Soldiers remained on the island to provide support for the Cuban insurgents.

Hostilities officially ended on August 12.

Fitzhugh Lee, the former Confederate General, was part of the occupation force that remained in Cuba, and he served as the military Governor of Havana and Pinar del Río until April 1899.

Buffalo Soldiers in Camp, Spanish American War, 1898, Photo
Buffalo Soldiers in camp. Image Source: Pictorial History of Our War with Spain by Trumbull White, 1898.

The Spanish American War Ends with the 1898 Treaty of Paris

Spain sued for peace, and negotiations led to an agreement that was signed in Paris on December 10, 1898. The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 6, 1899.

In the agreement, Spain ceded the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the U.S. Prior to the war, Congress had agreed to the Teller Amendment, which prohibited the U.S. from annexing Cuba. As a result, Cuba was granted its independence, however, the U.S. continued to be involved in the formation of the government and the subsequent Platt Amendment authorized the U.S. to intervene in Cuban affairs.

Spanish American War Significance

The Spanish American War is important to United States history for the role it played in helping the United States free Cuba and other territories from Spain. This is despite criticism from William Jennings Bryan and Mark Twain, who opposed the war and the acquisition of overseas territories, which was viewed as American imperialism and an expansion of Manifest Destiny. The war helped Theodore Roosevelt rise to prominence, and the performance of the Buffalos Soldiers proved they were as capable as their white counterparts.

Spanish American War APUSH

Use the following links and videos to study the Spanish American War, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Monroe Doctrine for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Spanish American War Definition APUSH

The Spanish American War for APUSH is defined as a conflict fought between Spain and the United States in 1898. The war was sparked by the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor and the desire of the U.S. to expand its influence in the Caribbean and Pacific. The U.S. quickly defeated Spain and as a result, Spain lost control of Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

Spanish American War Video for APUSH Notes

This video from Heimler’s History covers the Spanish American War, which is part of APUSH Unit 7.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The Spanish American War (1898)
  • Date April 21, 1898–August 12, 1898
  • Author
  • Keywords Spanish American War, Spanish American War APUSH
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 28, 2024