United States History: Late 1898 & the Rough Riders

About the history of the United States in 1898, the U.S. battleship Maine sinks prompting war with Spain regarding Cuba.


June 19 The U.S.S. Charleston moved in on the Spanish island of Guam in the Pacific and unloaded a cannon shot. The Spanish commander replied with a message apologizing for not returning the salute, explaining he had no ammunition. It turned out he had not been informed of the Spanish-American War. The next day, informed, he surrendered Guam. June 22 U.S. general William Rufus Shafter, the 63-year-old walrus-moustached, 310-lb. veteran who had been wounded in the Civil War, led the 24th Infantry (the Army's best black regiment in the Indian wars) in the landing at Daiquiri, east of Santiago, with 20,000 men to begin the ground war.

Shafter had 2 problems. One was his army, the other his press relations. As strong as the U.S. Navy was, so was the Army weak. President McKinley called for 200,000 volunteers to supplement the regular Army. In truth, there was almost no regular Army. In truth, there was almost no regular Army. There were only 67,000 rifles, many with obsolete percussion locks, to go against Spain's modern German Mausers. Boxcars of Army food were lost somewhere between Washington, D.C., and Florida. "And, of course," wrote Holbrook, "the usual scandals over government contracts rose high, higher than the stench of rotten beef which had laid a thousand American soldiers low to every one hit by a Spanish bullet." Then there was the press corps. Richard Harding Davis, dean of correspondents, asked for special treatment for the press, and Shafter refused. "From that moment," Davis wrote later, "pencils began to be sharpened for General Shafter."

While the high command in Washington fouled things up, the Yellow Press, led by Hearst and Pulitzer, blamed Shafter for every blunder, and screamed for his removal. Day after day, in the U.S. press, Shafter was described "as a profane, cowardly, and incompetent soldier, a monstrosity of flabby flesh" who was stalling the ground war, despite the success of "those brilliant and magnificent officers, Fighting Joe Wheeler and Rough-Riding Teddy Roosevelt." What was the truth?

June 24 Against orders, Gen. Joe Wheeler jumped into the 1st land battle against the Spanish. He impulsively attacked Las Guasimas. His men were slaughtered, he was driven back, until Gen. Henry W. Lawton and his foot cavalry came to the rescue and saved the day. It was in this battle that General Wheeler, who had gained fame as a Confederate leader in the Civil War, forgot he was fighting the Spaniards and, in a moment of nostalgia, shouted to his men, "Come on, boys! We've got the damn Yankees on the run!"

July 1 Lieut. Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders (former cowboys, college men, sons of the prominent, armed with the latest carbines), who rarely followed orders, charged up Kettle Hill toward San Juan Hill. Since the Rough Riders had no horses to ride, they ran and climbed up the Hill. Dominating the scene were Roosevelt's big hat, big grin, and big press following. Roosevelt took the Hill-and his 1st big step toward the Presidency.

July 17 The truth was that despite the foul-ups of Wheeler and Roosevelt, General Shafter took Santiago this day. Reported Holbrook: "Shafter moved an army of 20,000 men a distance of 1,500 mi. by water, landed on an enemy shore in open boats-after making a feint at landing elsewhere; in 10 days drove the enemy back to his last line of entrenchment in front of Santiago, and in 15 days more, compelled surrender of the city and an army of 24,000, an army larger than his own." Aug. 12 Manila fell to U.S. troops, as Spain signed an armistice, and gave up rule of the Philippines.

Nov. 10 Following a Democratic party election victory, white supremacists in Wilmington, N.C., invaded the Negro district, burned down the houses, killed and injured many people, and chased the remaining Negroes out of town.

Dec. 10 The Spanish-American War formally ended with the signing of a treaty in Paris. Spain gave Cuba freedom, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the U.S., and turned over the Philippines and 2 outlying islands to the U.S. in return for $20,100,000 to cover damages to Spanish property.

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