26 Jun The Spanish-American War arrives in Cuba
June 25, 2018
Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.
The decisive naval victory by Commodore George Dewey of the sinking of the entire Pacific fleet of Spain gave rise to the excitement of Americans, regardless of background, wanting to join the military and destroy the Spanish in Cuba.
If the industrialists of the era did not want their heirs to go off to war, then they provided supplies and equipment, including guns, ammunition, tents, food, horses and even large items likes ships and boats.
The newspapers of the time led by William Randolph Hearst incited the masses with their headlines of “Remember the Maine” and provided details about the atrocities against the natives by the Spanish authorities from their imbedded reporters in Cuba.
President William McKinley spent most evenings during June 1898 in the “war room” near his office learning of the progress of the preparations and the actions of the war with a switchboard with more than 15 telegraph lines.
A new invention called the telephone was wired from the Executive Mansion to connect to cabinet officials and to the leadership of both the House and Senate. McKinley would kiss his wife, Ida, good night and stay in the room until 1 a.m. most nights once the war started, talking with his telegraph operators, smoking cigars and reviewing maps of Cuba, Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico hung on the walls. Each map would have pins showing the forces with red for Spanish and white for the U.S.
The first white pin McKinley would attach to the map of Cuba was at Guantanamo Bay on June 10, 1898. Five hundred U.S. Marines had taken the harbor there and secured the southeastern coast of Cuba. The highest concentration of red pins was around Santiago. This is where the Spanish fleet was trapped by a U.S. Navy blockade. The Spanish were well protected, anchored in the harbor, yet they were running out of supplies, especially coal, which would be needed if they were to try to escape the port.
Rear Adm. William Sampson telegraphed McKinley that a ground attack off the hills behind the harbor would capture the fleet or force them to try to run the blockade.
The president, who served in the Civil War as a Union officer in charge of supplies, was concerned with the preparedness of the troops assembling in Tampa, Florida.
Communication from the departure point indicated the troops were unready, and there was no way to take a large amount of horses and mules on the ships. McKinley was concerned with reports from the island that announced the Spanish were fortifying their positions around Santiago.
He ordered Gen. William Shafter to head to Cuba to mount an invasion. Some 40 ships and naval escorts left Tampa with 800 officers, 15,000 enlisted men, clerks and newspaper reporters. The flotilla would arrive some 20 miles West of Santiago and land on the beach on June 22, 1898, with no Spanish forces to intercept or attack them. What the Americans thought would be a major battle to take the beach with heavy losses turned out to be safe.
The Americans had finally landed in Cuba and would meet up with Cuban rebels to begin their assaults and battles together to free the island nation.
Mike Wilson is the director of SCOPE Senior Services of Trumbull County and has traveled around the nation performing as William McKinley for the past 25 years.