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THE BATTLE OF MANILA BAY May 1, 1898

Posted by Editor on July 15th, 2007

At Manila Bay in the Philippines, the U.S. Asiatic Squadron destroys
the Spanish Pacific fleet in the first battle of the Spanish-American
War. Nearly 400 Spanish sailors were killed and 10 Spanish warships
wrecked or captured at the cost of only six Americans wounded.

The Spanish-American War had its origins in the rebellion against
Spanish rule that began in Cuba in 1895. The repressive measures that
Spain took to suppress the guerrilla war, such as herding Cuba’s rural
population into disease-ridden garrison towns, were graphically
portrayed in U.S. newspapers and enflamed public opinion. In January
1898, violence in Havana led U.S. authorities to order the battleship
USS Maine to the city’s port to protect American citizens. On February
15, a massive explosion of unknown origin sank the Maine in the Havana
harbor, killing 260 of the 400 American crewmembers aboard. An
official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled in March, without much
evidence, that the ship was blown up by a mine but did not directly
place the blame on Spain. Much of Congress and a majority of the
American public expressed little doubt that Spain was responsible,
however, and called for a declaration of war.

In April, the U.S. Congress prepared for war, adopting joint
congressional resolutions demanding a Spanish withdrawal from Cuba and
authorizing President William McKinley to use force. On April 23,
President McKinley asked for 125,000 volunteers to fight against
Spain. The next day, Spain issued a declaration of war. The United
States declared war on April 25. U.S. Commodore George Dewey, in
command of the seven-warship U.S. Asiatic Squadron anchored north of
Hong Kong, was ordered to “capture or destroy” the Spanish Pacific
fleet, which was known to be in the coastal waters of the
Spanish-controlled Philippines.

On April 30, Dewey’s lookouts caught sight of Luzon, the main
Philippine island. That night, under cover of darkness and with the
lights aboard the U.S. warships extinguished, the squadron slipped by
the defensive guns of Corregidor Island and into Manila Bay. After
dawn rose, the Americans located the Spanish fleet: 10 out-of-date
warships anchored off the Cavite naval station. The U.S. fleet, in
comparison, was well armed and well staffed, largely due to the
efforts of the energetic assistant secretary of the navy, Theodore
Roosevelt, who had also selected Dewey for the command of the Asiatic
Squadron.

At 5:41 a.m., at a range of 5,400 yards from the enemy, Commodore
Dewey turned to the captain of his flagship, the Olympia, and said,
“You may fire when ready, Gridley.” Two hours later, the Spanish fleet
was decimated, and Dewey ordered a pause in the fighting. He met with
his captains and ordered the crews a second breakfast. The four
surviving Spanish vessels, trapped in the little harbor at Cavite,
refused to surrender, and at 11:15 a.m. fighting resumed. At 12:30
p.m., a signal was sent from the gunboat USS Petrel to Dewey’s
flagship: “The enemy has surrendered.

Dewey’s decisive victory cleared the way for the U.S. occupation of
Manila in August and the eventual transfer of the Philippines from
Spanish to American control. In Cuba, Spanish forces likewise crumbled
in the face of superior U.S. forces, and on August 12 an armistice was
signed between Spain and the United States. In December, the Treaty of
Paris officially ended the brief Spanish-American War. The once-proud
Spanish empire was virtually dissolved, and the United States gained
its first overseas empire. Puerto Rico and Guam were ceded to the
United States, the Philippines were bought for $20 million, and Cuba
became a U.S. protectorate. Philippine insurgents who fought against
Spanish rule during the war immediately turned their guns against the
new occupiers, and 10 times more U.S. troops died suppressing the
Philippines than in defeating Spain.

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