It was the awakening of a sleeping giant. Since the end of the civil war, the United States had been ready to assert its authority internationally. A revolution in Havana gave it an opportunity in 1898. Then came USS Maine incident, and a vast yellow journalism fallout. Newspapers that accused the Spanish of oppression in their colonies, agitating American public opinion. The Spaniards, lording over an empire that is anything but, responded lackadaisically to the U.S. invasion of the Philippines and Cuba. The war is over in four months, and resulted in America’s first colonies–Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam in exchange for the lives of 460 soldiers, an infinitesimal amount compared to the Civil War, in which tens of thousands were often killed in a single day.
As assistant secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt encouraged intervention in Cubaa. He raised an all-volunteer regiment known as the “Rough Riders”. Their finest hour came on July 1st, 1898, during the Battle for San Juan Hill, the bloodiest campaign of the war. Although it resulted in 205 dead and 1,180 wounded Americans and the Spanish suffered very little lost, it was a major strategic and media victory. The above picture was taken by William Dinwiddie shortly after the hill was captured became the iconic photo not only of the war but also of the rising American determination and colonial power.
“It’s been a splendid little war,” wrote John Hay, the U.S. Ambassador to England wrote to his friend, Teddy Roosevelt–the hero of the Spanish-American War. However, to Roosevelt and his rough riders, it had been as bloody as any other war. Famous names like Stephan Crane, Clara Barton and William Jennings Bryan were forever entwined with this ‘little war’ but the biggest star was, of course, Teddy Roosevelt. Forever a proponent of a large navy, Roosevelt managed to prove not only its importance but also his leadership skills. Within a year, he was the governor of New York, then Vice President and eventually President on McKinley’s assassination.