It's roots lay in the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain and the United States' desire to remove Spain from America's sphere of influence. There had been calls to annex Cuba in the early 1800's that were quashed because of the slavery question. (At the time, northern and southern Senators in Congress were trying to maintain a balance of power between "Slave" States and "Free" States, which the admission of Cuba into the Union would upset.)
In 1895, a small uprising occurred in Cuba against the Spanish Authority. The Spanish governor attempted to crush the rebellion, ultimately imprisoning about 300,000 people in concentration camps. Cuban émigrés in the U.S. waged a propaganda war attacking the colonial government of Cuba for its cruel treatment, and gained support from many Americans, including William Randolf Hearst, who put his massive newspaper empire into service clamoring for U.S. intervention. According to a popular story, Hearst sent illustrator Frederick Remington to Cuba to draw pictures of the war for his paper. When Remington protested that war had not been declared, Hearst supposedly answered, "You furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war!"
In January of 1898, the U.S. sent the battleship Maine to Havana, in response to rioting and reprisals that, it was feared, could threaten U.S. citizens living in Cuba. Less than a month later, the Maine sank in the harbor, following an explosion which claimed the lives of 266 men. The Spanish Government claimed that an internal explosion had sunk the Maine, but in America it was widely believed that a Spanish mine had caused the disaster. "Remember the Maine!" became a rallying cry of Americans outraged by the sinking and whipped into a fury by newspaper accounts of Spanish atrocities.
Hearst's war came quickly. Swayed by public sentiment, Congress voted to send U.S. troops to Cuba to help the Cubans gain independence. Spain then declared war on the United States.
The first major battle of the war occurred on May 1, when Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish squadron at Manila Bay in the Philippines and seized control of the harbor. At first, America recruited the native Filipinos to fight against their Spanish overlords, but once American forces seized the city of Manila, they prevented the Filipino forces from entering. Many Filipinos had hoped that they would get independence too, and America's refusal to grant it caused great resentment for decades.
One of the war's biggest boosters in President William McKinley's cabinet, was Theodore Roosevelt, then Secretary of the Navy. He resigned his cabinet post in order to serve in an all-volunteer regiment of the Army which he helped to form. The regiment was nicknamed the "Rough Riders", because many of the volunteers were cowboys Roosevelt had known during his time out West. Unfortunately, the ship that their horses were on was still stuck in Miami when the volunteers landed, and so Roosevelt had to lead his famous charge up San Juan Hill on foot.
American soldiers in the Cuban campaign suffered terribly from Yellow Fever, which killed thousands. Army surgeon Walter Reed, working with a Cuban doctor named Carlos Finlay, discovered that the disease was transmitted by mosquito bites, which led to improved treatment and measures to prevent the disease.
On December 10, the Spanish signed the Treaty of Paris, giving the U.S. control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Cuba was granted it's independence, but the other territories became U.S. territories, making the United States an imperial power.
The war helped heal some of the divide from the American Civil War, as soldiers from North and South fought together for the first time in over a generation against a common foe. The war also was supported by America's Black community who supported the Cuban drive for independence, and proved an opportunity for Blacks to gain a bit of prestige as American citizens fighting for an American cause.
Game and Story Use
- Wars have potential for numerous stories.
- In a time travel campaign, the PCs could be trying to determine who or what really sunk the Maine.
- In a historical campaign, PCs could be volunteers in Teddy's Rough Riders.
- Not all the Rough Riders were cowboys; many of the volunteers were Ivy League sons of privilage
- The ever-present threat of disease, particularly Yellow Fever, would be an important concern.
- The Spanish-American War also highlights the changing nature of war.
- It was one of the last wars to employ cavalry.
- One reason why the Battle of San Juan Hill was so bloody was that the American forces were using a Civil War style charge against an enemy that had become practiced at fighting against guerillas.