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The Spanish American War


May 15, 2015 by Pamela Nowak

This week, in honor of Armed Forces Day (May 16) and my hero Caleb, I am focusing on the Spanish American War.

3rd_WisconsinThe Spanish American War lasted just four months (April 25-August 12, 1898) and was a conflict between Spain and the United States. The issue was Spanish colonization in the western hemisphere and fighting took place in Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. In terms of wars, it was small but still, 345 American soldiers were killed, 1577 wounded, and 2565 returned suffering from disease. Armed forces for the U.S. included 300,000 regular military and volunteers.

This war is one of those conflicts rooted in obscurity. It was largely pub640px-Puck_cover2licized as a fight about Cuban independence but it was, in fact, a global conflict that centered on the U.S. attempting to oust Spain from all of its western hemisphere colonies. The U.S. was flexing its muscles and moving toward its role as a world leader. The prelude to the war centered around Cuba and it’s thirty year effort to free itself from Spanish domination. In 1895, Cuban revolutionaries tried again and the efforts were exploited by American newspapers with coverage slanted to sell newspapers and stir American sentiment. This “yellow journalism” moved the U.S. closer to the conflict and set America on edge as actions escalated.

The crusade for Cuban independence advanced and an autonomous government took over power January 1, 1898. Eleven days later, rioting erupted. AmeriUSS_Olympia_art_NH_91881-KN_croppedcan officials sent the U.S.S. Maine to Havana to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens and interests. At the same time, other navy vessels were deployed to areas of strong Spanish interest. In February, the Maine sank after a heavy explosion. Investigations were immediately launched but disagreed on whether a mine had caused the explosion or whether it was internal. At the same time, American newspapers took up the cause, rallying for war. “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!” became the cry. Congress and the public followed suit and war was declared on April 25, 1898.

The first battle of the Spanish American War was at Manila Bay, the Philippines, on May 1, 1898. After the brief battle, warships from other countries poured into the bay to press their own advantage. Eventually, the most forceful of them, Germany, backed down. Navel battles also took place as the U.S. secured Guam and brief fighting occurred in Puerto Rico during the summer with the bombardment of San Juan and several land battles. The Philippines declared independence on June 12 but fighting continued around Manila. On August 13, the day after the cease-fire was signed, American forces captured Manila from the Spanish (forces had not yet heard about the cease-fire). The refusal of U.S. troops to allow native Filipino forces into the city would later lead to the Philippine-American War.

The Battle of San Juan Hill, the most famous battle of the war, actually occurSan_Juan_Hill_by_Kurz_and_Allisonred at San Juan Heights. This elevated area was located just east of Santiago, Cuba. The Heights were topped by two high areas, christened “San Juan Hill” and “Kettle Hill” by the soldiers. A combined force of 15,000 US troops attacked 1270 entrenched Spaniards on July 1, 1898. Spanish forces had learned the value of cover and concealment while American troops still relied on Civil War linear advancement tactics. As a result, Americans found themselves pinned down on the side of the hills, unable to move, the wounded suffering as rescuers were picked off. Nearly 1200 Americans were wounded and 200 killed in the effort to take the Heights with much of the heaviest fighting done by African-American troops. Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” are credited with taking the Heights.

The Spanish American War made a number of impacts on the U.S. and the world. An immediate result was four-month Philippine-American War which began as Filipinos fought to oust the American troops now occupying their country. Broader outcomes included the emergence of the U.S. as a world power, a shift toward global economic and political growth for America, and the end of the Spanish Empire. Within the U.S., relations between the North and South were further repaired by the united national action and the contributions of African-Americans to the war effort. Cultural impacts included the growth of media coverage and use of photography and an excise tax on telephone service (to help pay for the war effort) which remained in effect until 2006.

For the troops involved, there was a realization that fighting tactics needed to change1024px-BuffaloSoldiers-SpanAmWar and that disease was as deadly as warfare itself. Many were lost to Yellow Fever and battled complications of tropical diseases even upon return home. Of lasting impact were medical advancements to identify causes of the disease, the creation of the Army Nurse Corps, and the involvement of African-American soldiers.

A salute goes out to all those who have served our country…in the past and now.  We don’t say it often enough but we appreciate and honor all you do!


Next week, I return to Elitch Gardens with a focus on the Trocadero Ballroom.

Each Friday, I will blog about some aspect of Elitch Gardens, early Denver, or other topics related to my next novel, Escaping Yesterday. In between, I will post small factoids on my Facebook page. You can join me there and I love new friends (

Due for release in September 2015, Escaping Yesterday is set in Elitch’s Gardens, in 1905, and follows the story of Lottie Chase. Lottie is willing to take any risk to save her daughter from their abusive uncle. Stranded in Denver, Lottie meets Caleb Hudson, manager at Elitch’s Gardens amusement park, who sees her as a manipulative huckster. Caleb, a veteran suffering from PTSD, craves the tranquility of the park’s gardens. Lottie brings anything but peace as she seeks to convince the owners to add thrill rides so she can collect the sales commission and support her daughter. Neither anticipates their growing passion, common demons, or the dangers they will face as they confront their pasts and free their love.

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