The Spanish American War: A Short Military Critique

Michael G. Stroud

A Confluence of Events Led to the Spanish-American War.

The Spanish-American War (April 21-August 13, 1898) was a war that had embers burning some years before it began. A combination of American sentiments toward the oppressed Cuban people, expansionist imperialist sentiments by some, and an unfortunate naval incident would all fan those embers into a full-scale war that the U.S. military was collectively ill-prepared for. There were three main faults with the U.S. military’s performance in the war, which is best described as the ‘hasty mobilization of too many men, primitive medical knowledge, and the country’s long neglect of the Army.’ The pre-war Army, after the mass-demobilizations of the Civil War some forty plus years before, was a shell of its former shelf and so much so, that the total Army, officers and enlisted, only numbered around 28,000 at the time war with Spain was declared on April 21, 1898. The necessity for boots-on-the-ground and across a wide geographic spectrum from the Philippines to Cuba as part of President McKinley’s overall strategic plan, required an immediate increase in the size of the Army that the existing infrastructure was unprepared for.
The Spanish American War: A Short Military Critique
Newspaper headline from The Evening Times newspaper reporting the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine and the deaths of hundreds of American sailors that helped to fan the flames of war.

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The Spanish American War: A Short Military Critique
Nursing nuns that were attached to the U.S. Army 3rd Division Hospital, 7th Army Corps during the war. The U.S. was medically unprepared for the illness and disease that inflicted more casualties than the fighting did.

Complications in speedily increasing the size of the Army and subsequently deploying it, arose immediately and would haunt its performance throughout the war.

Beginning with having been underfunded for years, a hasty appropriation of congressional funds did little initially to solve this. The underlying rot was that of the lack of appropriate logistical support and infrastructure to support the deployment of a war-time Army abroad, so critical components such as medical care, munitions, transportation, and the like were greatly hampered. The bright spot for the Army at the time was in recruitment as war fever had gripped the country with the slogan’s ‘Remember the Maine!’ and ‘To hell with Spain!’ being printed by newspapers everywhere, which flooded recruiting officers with more men than what was needed. The Medical Department was grossly unprepared for war as well. Seen by many officers as a sidenote department, it was severely underfunded while lacking adequately trained personnel to treat soldiers and especially its most tenacious enemy, disease. Ignorance and neglect by both the Medical Department and medical science would see more U.S. servicemen sidelined or killed through diseases such as typhoid and yellow fever than Spanish fire. An example of this was the ineptitude and lack of understanding by the Medical Department to recognize the importance of cleanliness and sterilization of facilities to fight disease, when the main Army hospital in the Cuban town of Siboney was burned to the ground by the Americans to fight the diseases that were running rampart there.
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The overwhelming bright spot for the entire Spanish-American War would be that of the U.S. Navy.

Spearheaded by four of the most powerful battleships of the era (which far outclassed and outgunned the outdated Spanish ships) of the day, Indiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Iowa, the American navy would decimate its outmatched opponent, turning those such as Admiral Dewey into national heroes, while making the U.S. a first-rate and colonial power. The entire war strategy centered around the Navy destroying the Spanish fleet from the Philippines to Puerto Rico and Cuba, thus allowing the U.S. uncontested control of the seas and a platform from which to dictate terms to Spain. The Army was relegated to a secondary, near afterthought role in the planning and initial actions, but one which was quickly realized was required to occupy and hold America’s new territories. Divided and contentious branch commands, convoluted political and military procedures and a general lack of logistical preparedness would hamper the U.S. war machine in the Spanish-American War while the U.S. Navy and the elan of the soldier on the ground, would win the battles, hold the ground, and win what some would call an American Empire.
The Spanish American War: A Short Military Critique
The U.S. Navy, seen here in the Naval Battle of Santiago, 3 July 1898, garnered much of the attention and resources in the war. It would however take the Army and boots on the ground to take and hold territory from Spain.
The Spanish American War: A Short Military Critique

Michael G. Stroud

Michael G. Stroud is a U.S. based Military Historian that has published many military history articles in various mediums from print magazines to academic journals, and military history websites in both the UK and the U.S. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from American Military University with a bachelor’s degree in Military History and is currently finishing up a master’s degree in Military History with a concentration on the American Civil War with the same university. Michael has been an invited guest on many history themed podcasts from the UK and the US and maintains a strong presence on LinkedIn where he can be followed at www.linkedin.com/in/michaelgstroud as well as on X (formerly Twitter) @StroudMichaelG.
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