Read CHAPTER II - THE PRELIMINARIES of The Boys of 98, free online book, by James Otis, on

War between two nations does not begin suddenly.  The respective governments are exceedingly ceremonious before opening the “game of death,” and it is not to be supposed that the United States commenced hostilities immediately after the disaster to the Maine in the harbour of Havana.

To tell the story of the war which ensued, without first giving in regular order the series of events which marked the preparations for hostilities, would be much like relating an adventure without explaining why the hero was brought into the situation.

It is admitted that, as a rule, details, and especially those of a political nature, are dry reading; but once take into consideration the fact that they all aid in giving a clearer idea of how one nation begins hostilities with another, and much of the tediousness may be forgiven.

Just previous to the disaster to the Maine, during the last days of January or the first of February, Senor Enrique Dupuy de Lomé, the Spanish minister at Washington, wrote a private letter to the editor of the Madrid Herald, Senor Canalejas, who was his intimate friend, in which he made some uncomplimentary remarks regarding the President of the United States, and intimated that Spain was not sincere in certain commercial negotiations which were then being carried on between the two countries.

By some means, not yet fully explained, certain Cubans got possession of this letter, and caused it to be published in the newspapers.  Senor de Lomé did not deny having written the objectionable matter; but claimed that, since it was a private communication, it should not affect him officially.  The Secretary of State instructed General Woodford, our minister at Madrid, to demand that the Spanish government immediately recall Minister de Lomé, and to state that, if he was not relieved from duty within twenty-four hours, the President would issue to him his passports, which is but another way of ordering a foreign minister out of the country.

February 9. Senor de Lomé made all haste to resign, and the resignation was accepted by his government before - so it was claimed by the Spanish authorities - President McKinley’s demand for the recall was received.

February 15. The de Lomé incident was a political matter which caused considerable diplomatic correspondence; but it was overshadowed when the battle-ship Maine was blown up in the harbour of Havana.

As has already been said, the United States government at once ordered a court of inquiry to ascertain the cause of the disaster, and this, together with the search for the bodies of the drowned crew, was prosecuted with utmost vigour.

Very many of the people in the United States believed that Spanish officials were chargeable with the terrible crime, while those who were not disposed to make such exceedingly serious accusation insisted that the Spanish government was responsible for the safety of the vessel, - that she had been destroyed by outside agencies in a friendly harbour.  In the newspapers, on the streets, in all public places, the American people spoke of the possibility of war, and the officials of the government set to work as if, so it would seem, they also were confident there would be an open rupture between the two nations.

February 28. In Congress, Representative Gibson of Tennessee introduced a bill appropriating twenty million dollars “for the maintenance of national honour and defence.”  Representative Bromwell, of Ohio, introduced a similar resolution, appropriating a like amount of money “to place the naval strength of the country upon a proper footing for immediate hostilities with any foreign power.”  On the same day orders were issued to the commandant at Fort Barrancas, Florida, directing him to send men to man the guns at Santa Rosa Island, opposite Pensacola.

February 28. Senor Louis Polo y Bernabe, appointed minister in the place of Senor de Lomé, who resigned, sailed from Gibraltar.

By the end of February the work of preparing the vessels at the different navy yards for sea was being pushed forward with the utmost rapidity, and munitions of war were distributed hurriedly among the forts and fortifications, as if the officials of the War Department believed that hostilities might be begun at any moment.

Nor was it only within the borders of this country that such preparations were making.  A despatch from Shanghai to London reported that the United States squadron, which included the cruisers Olympia, Boston, Raleigh, Concord, and Petrel, were concentrating at Hongkong, with a view of active operations against Manila, in the Philippine Islands, in event of war.

At about the same time came news from Spain telling that the Spanish were making ready for hostilities.  An exceptionally large number of artisans were at work preparing for sea battle-ships, cruisers, and torpedo-boat destroyers.  The cruisers Oquendo and Vizcaya, with the torpedo-boat destroyers Furor and Terror, were already on their way to Cuba, where were stationed the Alphonso XII., the Infanta Isabel, and the Nueva Espana, together with twelve gunboats of about three hundred tons each, and eighteen vessels of two hundred and fifty tons each.

The United States naval authorities decided that heavy batteries should be placed on all the revenue cutters built within the previous twelve months, and large quantities of high explosives were shipped in every direction.

During the early days of March, Senor Gullon, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, intimated to Minister Woodford that the Spanish government desired the recall from Havana of Consul-General Lee.

Spain also intimated that the American war-ships, which had been designated to convey supplies to Cuba for the relief of the sufferers there, should be replaced by merchant vessels, in order to deprive the assistance sent to the reconcentrados of an official character.

Minister Woodford cabled such requests to the government at Washington, to which it replied by refusing to recall General Lee under the present circumstances, or to countermand the orders for the despatch of war-vessels, making the representation that relief vessels are not fighting ships.

March 5. Secretary Long closed a contract for the delivery at Key West, within forty days, of four hundred thousand tons of coal.  Work was begun upon the old monitors, which for years had been lying at League Island navy yard, Philadelphia.  Orders were sent to the Norfolk navy yard to concentrate all the energies and fidelities of the yard on the cruiser Newark, to the end that she might be ready for service within sixty days.

March 6. The President made a public statement that under no circumstances would Consul-General Fitzhugh Lee be recalled at the request of Spain.  He had borne himself, so it was stated from the White House, throughout the crisis with judgment, fidelity, and courage, to the President’s entire satisfaction.  As to supplies for the relief of the Cuban people, all arrangements had been made to carry consignments at once from Key West by one of the naval vessels, whichever might be best adapted and most available for the purpose, to Matanzas and Sagua.

March 6. Chairman Cannon of the House appropriations committee introduced a resolution that fifty millions of dollars be appropriated for the national defence.  It was passed almost immediately, without a single negative vote.

Significant was the news of the day.  The cruiser Montgomery had been ordered to Havana.  Brigadier-General Wilson, chief of the engineers of the army, arrived at Key West from Tampa with his corps of men, who were in charge of locating and firing submarine mines.

March 10. The newly appointed Spanish minister arrived at Washington.

March 11. The House committee on naval affairs authorised the immediate construction of three battle-ships, one to be named the Maine, and provided for an increase of 473 men in the marine force.

The despatch-boat Fern sailed for Matanzas with supplies for the relief of starving Cubans.

News by cable was received from the Philippine Islands to the effect that the rebellion there had broken out once more; the whole of the northern province had revolted; the inhabitants refused to pay taxes, and the insurgents appeared to be well supplied with arms and ammunition.

March 12. Senor Bernabe was presented to President McKinley, and laid great stress upon the love which Spain bore for the United States.

March 14. The Spanish flying squadron, composed of three torpedo-boats, set sail from Cadiz, bound for Porto Rico.  Although this would seem to be good proof that the Spanish government anticipated war with the United States, Senor Bernabe made two demands upon this government on the day following the receipt of such news.  The first was that the United States fleet at Key West and Tortugas be withdrawn, and the second, that an explanation be given as to why two war-ships had been purchased abroad.

March 17. A bill was submitted to both houses of Congress reorganising the army, and placing it on a war footing of one hundred and four thousand men.  Senator Proctor made a significant speech in the Senate, on the condition of affairs in Cuba.  He announced himself as being opposed to annexation, and declared that the Cubans were “suffering under the worst misgovernment in the world.”  The public generally accepted his remarks as having been sanctioned by the President, and understood them as indicating that this country should recognise the independence of Cuba on the ground that the people are capable of self-government, and that under no other conditions could peace or prosperity be restored in the island.

March 17. The more important telegraphic news from Spain was to the effect that the Minister of Marine had cabled the commander of the torpedo flotilla at the Canaries not to proceed to Havana; that the government arsenal was being run night and day in the manufacture of small arms, and that infantry and cavalry rifles were being purchased in Germany.

The United States revenue cutter cruiser McCulloch was ordered to proceed from Aden, in the Red Sea, to Hongkong, in order that she might be attached to the Asiatic squadron, if necessary.

March 18. The cruiser Amazonas, purchased from the Brazilian government, was formally transferred to the United States at Gravesend, England, to be known in the future as the New Orleans.

March 19. The Maine court of inquiry concluded its work.  The general sentiments of the people, as voiced by the newspapers, were that war with Spain was near at hand, and this belief was strengthened March 24th, when authority was given by the Navy Department for unlimited enlistment in all grades of the service, when the revenue service was transferred from the Treasury to the Naval Department, and arrangements made for the quick employment of the National Guards of the States and Territories.

March 24. The report of the Maine court of inquiry arrived at Washington.

March 27. Madrid correspondents of Berlin newspapers declared that war with the United States was next to certain.  The United States cruisers San Francisco and New Orleans sailed from England for New York, and the active work of mining the harbours of the United States coast was begun.

March 28. The President sent to Congress, with a message, the report of the Maine court of inquiry, as has been stated in a previous chapter.

March 29. Resolutions declaring war on Spain, and recognising the independence of Cuba, were introduced in both houses of Congress.

With the beginning of April it was to the public generally as if the war had already begun.

In every city, town, or hamlet throughout the country the newspapers were scanned eagerly for notes of warlike preparation, and from Washington, sent by those who were in position to know what steps were being taken by the government, came information which dashed the hopes of those who had been praying that peace might not be broken.

There had been a conference between the President, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the chairman of the committee on ways and means, regarding the best methods of raising funds for the carrying on of a war.  A joint board of the army and navy had met to formulate plans of defence, and a speedy report was made to Secretary Long.

Instructions were sent by the State Department to all United States consuls in Cuba to be prepared to leave the island at any moment, and to hold themselves in readiness to proceed to Havana in order to embark for the United States.

April 2. A gentleman in touch with public affairs wrote from Washington as follows: 

“To-day’s developments show that there is only the very faintest hope of peace.  Unless Spain yields war must come.  The administration realises that as fully as do members of Congress.

“The orders sent by the State Department to all our consuls in Cuba, especially those in the interior, to hold themselves in readiness to leave their positions and proceed to Havana, show that the department looks upon war as a certainty, and has taken all proper precautions for the safety of its agents.

“Such an order, it is unnecessary to say, would not have been issued unless a crisis was imminent, and the State Department, as well as other branches of the government, has now become convinced that peace cannot much longer be maintained, and that the safety of the consular agents is a first consideration.

“General Lee has also been advised that he should be ready to leave as soon as notified, and that the American newspaper correspondents now in Havana must prepare themselves to receive the notification of instant departure.

“The Secretary of the Navy has instructed the Boston Towboat Company, which corporation had charge of the wrecking operations on the U. S. S. Maine, to suspend work at once.  The Secretary of War has authorised an allotment of one million dollars from the emergency fund for the office of the chief of engineers, and this amount will be expended in purchasing material for the torpedo defences connected with the seacoast fortifications.  The United States naval attache at London has purchased a cruiser of eighteen hundred tons displacement, capable of a speed of sixteen knots, and the vessel will put to sea immediately.  The Spanish torpedo flotilla is reported as having arrived at the Cape Verde Islands.”

April 4. Senators Perkins, Mantle, and Rawlins spoke in the Senate, charging Spain with the murder of the sailors of the Maine, claiming that it was properly an act of war, and insisting that the United States should declare for the independence of Cuba and armed intervention.

April 5. Senator Chandler announced as his belief that the United States was justified in beginning hostilities, and Senators Kenny, Turpie, and Turner made powerful speeches in the same line, fiercely denouncing Spain.  General Woodford was instructed by cable to be prepared to ask of the Madrid government his passports at any moment.

Marine underwriters, believing that war was inevitable, doubled their rates.  The merchants and manufacturers’ board of trade of New York notified Congress and the President that it believed Spain was responsible for the blowing up of the Maine; that the independence of Cuba should be recognised, and that it should be brought about by force of arms, if necessary.

April 7. The representatives of six great powers met at the White House in the hope of being able to influence the President for peace.  In closing his address to the diplomats, Mr. McKinley said: 

“The government of the United States appreciates the humanitarian and disinterested character of the communication now made in behalf of the powers named, and for its part is confident that equal appreciation will be shown for its own earnest and unselfish endeavours to fulfil a duty to humanity by ending a situation, the indefinite prolongation of which has become insufferable.”

Americans made haste to leave Cuba, after learning that Consul-General Lee had received orders to set sail from Havana on or before the ninth.  The American consul at Santiago de Cuba closed the consulate in that city.

Solomon Berlin, appointed consul at the Canary Islands, was, by the State Department, ordered not to proceed to his post, and he remained at New York.

The Spanish consul at Tampa, Florida, left that town for Washington, by order of his government.

The following cablegram gives a good idea of the temper of the Spanish people: 

“London, April 7. - A special dispatch from Madrid says that the ambassadors of France, Germany, Russia, and Italy waited together this evening upon Senor Gullon, the Foreign Minister, and presented a joint note in the interests of peace.

“Senor Gullon, replying, declared that the members of the Spanish Cabinet were unanimous in considering that Spain had reached the limit of international policy in the direction of conceding the demands and allowing the pretensions of the United States.”

April 9. Guards about the United States legation in Madrid were trebled.  General Blanco, captain-general of Cuba, issued a draft order calling on every able-bodied man, between the ages of nineteen and forty, to register for immediate military duty.  At ten o’clock in the morning, Consul-General Lee, accompanied by British Consul Gollan, called on General Blanco to bid him good-bye.  The captain-general was too busy to receive visitors.  General Lee left the island at six o’clock in the evening.

April 11. The President sent a message, together with Consul Lee’s report, to the Congress, and Senator Chandler thus analysed it: 

First:  A graphic and powerful description of the horrible condition of affairs in Cuba.

Second:  An assertion that the independence of the revolutionists should not be recognised until Cuba has achieved its own independence beyond the possibility of overthrow.

Third:  An argument against the recognition of the Cuban republic.

Fourth:  As to intervention in the interest of humanity, that is well enough, and also on account of the injury to commerce and peril to our citizens, and the generally uncomfortable conditions all around.

Fifth:  Illustrative of these uncomfortable conditions is the destruction of the Maine.  It helps make the existing situation intolerable.  But Spain proposes an arbitration, to which proposition the President has no reply.

Sixth:  On the whole, as the war goes on and Spain cannot end it, mediation or intervention must take place.  President Cleveland said “intervention would finally be necessary.”  The enforced pacification of Cuba must come.  The war must stop.  Therefore, the President should be authorised to terminate hostilities, secure peace, and establish a stable government, and to use the military and naval forces of the United States to accomplish these results, and food supplies should also be furnished by the United States.

April 12. Consul-General Lee was summoned before the Senate committee on foreign relations.  It was announced that the Republican members of the ways and means committee had agreed upon a plan for raising revenue in case of need to carry on war with Spain.  The plan was intended to raise more than $100,000,000 additional revenue annually, and was thus distributed: 

An additional tax on beer of one dollar per barrel, estimated to yield $35,000,000; a bank stamp tax on the lines of the law of 1866, estimated to yield $30,000,000; a duty of three cents per pound on coffee, and ten cents per pound on tea on hand in the United States, estimated to yield $28,000,000; additional tax on tobacco, expected to yield $15,000,000.

The committee also agreed to authorise the issuing of $500,000,000 bonds.  These bonds to be offered for sale at all post-offices in the United States in amounts of fifty dollars each, making a great popular loan to be absorbed by the people.

To tide over emergencies, the Secretary of the Treasury to be authorised to issue treasury certificates.

These certificates or debentures to be used to pay running expenses when the revenues do not meet the expenditures.

These preparations were distinctly war measures, and would be put in operation only should war occur.

April 13. The House of Representatives passed the following resolutions: 

Whereas, the government of Spain for three years past has been waging war on the island of Cuba against a revolution by the inhabitants thereof, without making any substantial progress toward the suppression of said revolution, and has conducted the warfare in a manner contrary to the laws of nations by methods inhuman and uncivilised, causing the death by starvation of more than two hundred thousand innocent non-combatants, the victims being for the most part helpless women and children, inflicting intolerable injury to the commercial interests of the United States, involving the destruction of the lives and property of many of our citizens, entailing the expenditure of millions of money in patrolling our coasts and policing the high seas in order to maintain our neutrality; and,

Whereas, this long series of losses, injuries, and burdens for which Spain is responsible has culminated in the destruction of the United States battle-ship Maine in the harbour of Havana, and the death of two hundred and sixty-six of our seamen, -

Resolved, That the President is hereby authorised and directed to intervene at once to stop the war in Cuba, to the end and with the purpose of securing permanent peace and order there, and establishing by the free action of the people there of a stable and independent government of their own in the island of Cuba; and the President is hereby authorised and empowered to use the land and naval forces of the United States to execute the purpose of this resolution.

In the Senate the majority resolution reported: 

Whereas, the abhorrent conditions which have existed for more than three years in the island of Cuba, so near our own borders, have been a disgrace to Christian civilisation, culminating as they have in the destruction of a United States battle-ship with two hundred and sixty-six of its officers and crew, while on a friendly visit in the harbour of Havana, and cannot longer be endured, as has been set forth by the President of the United States in his message to Congress on April 11, 1898, upon which the action of Congress was invited; therefore,

Resolved, First, that the people of the island of Cuba are, and of right ought to be, free and independent.

Second, That it is the duty of the United States to demand, and the government of the United States does hereby demand, that the government of Spain at once relinquish its authority and government in the island of Cuba, and withdraw its land and naval forces from Cuba and Cuban waters.

Third, That the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, directed and empowered to use the entire land and naval forces of the United States, and to call into the actual service of the United States the militia of the several States to such extent as may be necessary, to carry these resolutions into effect.

April 14. The Spanish minister at Washington sealed his archives and placed them in the charge of the French ambassador, M. Cambon.  The queen regent of Spain, at a Cabinet meeting, signed a call for the Cortes to meet on the twentieth of the month, and a decree opening a national subscription for increasing the navy and other war services.

April 15. The United States consulate at Malaga, Spain, was attacked by a mob, and the shield torn down and trampled upon.

April 17. The Spanish committee of inquiry into the destruction of the Maine reported that the explosion could not have been caused by a torpedo or a mine of any kind, because no trace of anything was found to justify such a conclusion.  It gave the testimony of two eye-witnesses to the catastrophe, who swore that there was absolutely no disturbance on the surface of the harbour around the Maine.  The committee gave great stress to the fact that the explosion did no damage to the quays, and none to the vessels moored close to the Maine, whose officers and crews noticed nothing that could lead them to suppose that the disaster was caused otherwise than by an accident inside the American vessel.

April 18. Congress passed the Senate resolution, as given above, with an additional clause as follows: 

Fourth, That the United States hereby disclaim any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over said island, except for the pacification thereof; and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.