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On This Day: Spanish-American War Ends

Written By Denis Cummings
Last updated: February 13, 2023

On Aug. 12, 1898, Spain and the United States signed a peace protocol ending hostilities in the Spanish-American War, which had begun less than four months earlier over a dispute in Cuba. Under the protocol, which served as the basis for the Treaty of Paris, Spain agreed to cede control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

The Start of the Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War began over a conflict in Cuba, which was ruled by Spain. Cubans agitated for independence in the latter half of the 19th century, fighting three wars of independence.

The third began in 1895, when revolutionary Jose Marti returned from the United States to launch an uprising. Under Gen. Valeriano Weyler, the Spanish used harsh methods to put down the uprising, placing the majority of the native populations into military camps.

The U.S. had economic interests in Cuba and considered intervening to protect these interests. The American public had long been sympathetic to the Cuban rebels and sensationalist reports in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World stoked anti-Spanish sentiment.

Under pressure from President William McKinley, Spain agreed to grant limited autonomy to Cuba effective Jan. 1, 1898, but the fighting continued. In January 1898, there were riots in Havana, and the U.S. responded by sending the battleship USS Maine to Havana Harbor to protect Americans in the area. On Feb. 15, the ship mysteriously exploded, killing 260 men on board.

The Spanish claimed that the explosion was caused by an internal force on the ship, and indeed later investigations lean toward this conclusion. However, a month-long U.S. Navy investigation concluded that the Maine was destroyed by a mine. The American yellow press proclaimed that the Spanish had destroyed the Maine, whipping up pro-war fervor by declaring, “Remember the Maine!”

On April 11, McKinley asked Congress for permission to send troops Cuba. Congress consented and added an amendment stipulating that the U.S. would not seek to annex Cuba.

On April 21, McKinley ordered a blockade of Cuba. Spain declared war three days later and the U.S. did the same the following day.

Fighting in the Spanish-American War

Sources in this Story

  • Library of Congress: World of 1898: The Spanish-American War
  • U.S. Navy: Naval History and Heritage Command: The Destruction of USS Maine
  • George Mason University: History Matters: Better Late Than Never?: Rickover Clears Spain of the Maine Explosion
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: Spanish-American War
  • HistoryNet (Military History): Spanish-American War: Battle of Manila Bay—Commodore Dewey’s Victory
  • The Spanish-American War Centennial Website: Battle of Santiago
  • The New York Times: War Suspended, Peace Assured
  • National Endowment for the Humanities: EDSITEment: The Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War was a short war fought in the Caribbean and Pacific. “The ensuing war was pathetically one-sided,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica, “since Spain had readied neither its army nor its navy for a distant war with the formidable power of the United States.”

The first significant battle of the war occurred not in Cuba, but in the Philippines, where the U.S. decided to aid the Philippine Revolution against Spain. On May 1, U.S. Naval forces under Commodore George Dewey destroyed the entire Spanish fleet at Manila Bay in a matter of hours without a single American death. By August, the U.S. Navy seized Manila.

Fighting in Cuba was centered in the Spanish stronghold of Santiago de Cuba on the island’s southeast coast. In May, American Naval forces launched a blockade of the city’s harbor, where the Spanish fleet of Adm. Pascual Cervera was positioned. The two sides remained in a standoff for two months.

U.S. Army troops landed in Cuba in late June and marched toward Santiago. On July 1, U.S. forces, including Theodore Roosevelt’s famed Rough Riders, defeated the badly outnumbered Spanish forces at San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill outside Santiago. The U.S. then began a siege of the city.

The U.S. victory forced Cervera to attempt an escape from the harbor on July 3. His fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. On July 16, just over two weeks into the siege, the city of Santiago agreed to surrender to U.S. forces, effectively ending the war.

The U.S. and Spain agreed to a ceasefire, signing the Protocol of Peace between the United States and Spain in Washington on Aug. 12. It called for Spain to grant Cuba its independence and to hand over the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States.

The protocol also established the conditions for the negotiation of a formal peace treaty in Paris. The Treaty of Paris was signed on Dec. 10, 1898, formally ending the war.

“With its victory in the Spanish-American War the United States claimed status as a global political-military power,” writes the National Endowment for the Humanities’ EDSITEment. “Secretary of State John Hay, in a mixture of pride and irony, termed it ‘a splendid little war.’”

Charles Eames

Denis Cummings is a history enthusiast and author, with a passion for uncovering the stories of the past. Through his writing, he seeks to share his love of history with others and provide a unique perspective on the events that have shaped our world.

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