The War for Cuban Independence
The War for Cuban Independence, 1895-1898: Spain, Cuba, and the United States
"Anyone who had not seen the war coming must have been blind."
Severo Nufiez G6mez, Captain of Artillery, 1899
Text and Image Selection by James Cusick
The second war for Cuban independence began on February 24, 1895, with an uprising in
Baire, and ended on December 10, 1898, with the Treaty of Paris between the United
States and Spain (officially promulgated April 11, 1899). Most of the conflict was a long
guerilla campaign waged by Cuban insurrectos against Spanish troops and garrisons
between 1895 and 1897. Throughout those years, an island colony of 1.6 million people
successfully carried out a war against a mother country with almost ten times its
population. However, the entrance of the United States into the war in 1898 dramatically
changed the situation.
Although the American government initially supported Spanish sovereignty on Cuba,
Spain's inability to restore order worried the administrations of Grover Cleveland and
William McKinley. Throughout 1897, American newspapers advocated supplanting
Spain and suppressing the Cuban Revolution directly. The "Spanish-American War"
commenced when an explosion destroyed the U.SS. Maine in Havana's harbor on
February 15, 1898. The cause of the explosion remains unknown even to the present day.
However, it resulted in an American declaration of war against Spain, and a quick naval
war against the Spanish possessions of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Cuba. The first
two were soon American territories, while Cuba achieved its independence only at the
cost of having the United States impose its version of a republic on the island.
The leaders of the Cuban war for independence
La Illustraci6n Espaiola y Americana, Madrid, 8 marzo
1895, No. IX,
Jos6 Marti was the spirit of the revolution. Though he died in the opening days of the
war, it was his work and his voice in the United States and Cuba that laid the groundwork
for the concept of a Cuban republic.
General Miximo G6mez, veteran of the first war for independence, was the military
tactician. He adopted a scorched earth policy, arguing that the guerilla war in Cuba
could only succeed by making conditions too chaotic and too expensive for Spain to
afford. "Blessed be the torch" was his motto.
Antonio Maceo, the "Bronze Titan," was the insurgents' major field commander,
known for his lightning strikes and ambushes against Spanish forces. Spanish attempts
to isolate the insurgents by dividing Cuba into sections defended by trochas, or
defensive lines, utterly failed to stop Maceo's forces. He broke through one line after
another, hitting weak points, and using woods and swamps to cover his troops until they
were ready to strike. Maceo died late in 1896, shot down near Havana.
Blockhouses like the one shown here occurred throughout Cuba. They were part of the
trochas, or defensive lines, that the Spanish military tried to maintain to impede the
movement of insurgents between provinces. From the photographic collections of the
P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History.
Destruction of railway lines in Cuba.
La Illustraci6n Espahola y Americana, Madrid, 15 enero 1896, No. II, p. 36.
Part of Mdximo G6mez's strategy to win independence was to destroy the infrastructure
of Cuba's wealth. He targeted sugar plantations and lines of communication (telegraphs
and railways). By this means, he argued, Spain would lose revenue and wealthy Cubans
would lose their prosperity. Ultimately, he felt this would force them into negotiations for
peace on the insurgents' terms.
The U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor prior to the explosion.
La Illustracidn Espaola y Americana, 30 enero 1898, No. IV, p. 56.
The fortress of El Morro looms above the entrance to the harbor of Santiago de Cuba.
From the photographic collections of the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History.
Seen here from its sister fortification of Socapa, El Morro occupied the eastern bluff over
the harbor entrance, about 65 meters above water level. The crucial naval conflict
between Spain and the United States took place for possession of this strategic point. A
Spanish fleet reached Santiago on May 18, 1898. Many of the ships arrived poorly
provisioned and nearly out of fuel. By June, an opposing U.S. squadron had blockaded
the harbor bottling up Spanish naval forces inside (see diagram of harbor). Some 10,000
soldiers and 30,000 inhabitants were trapped at Santiago with few sources of food.
Insurrectos cut off the town by land, although cooperation between Cubans and
Americans diminished as American military officers tried to brush the insurgents aside.
When Admiral Pascual Cervera tried to break free of the harbor on July 3, 1898, his
squadron was destroyed. Shortly afterward, Spanish troops throughout the island
surrendered. Part of the surrender agreement was that the United States would provide
Spain's troops with safe passage back to Europe. The loss of the fleet at Santiago meant
Spain had no means to defend Cuba and Puerto Rico against American naval power. It
also aided American war aims in the Philippines by forcing a redeployment of Spain's
Diagram of the layout of the harbor of Santiago.
Showing its narrow entrance channel, guarded by El Morro (No. 12) and Socapa (No.
14), and the location of the Spanish squadron inside (No. 3). From La Illustraci6n
Espaholay Americana, Madrid, 30 mayo 1898, No. XV, p. 312.
Bueno Carrera, Jose Maria. El Ejercito Espaiol en Cuba (1895-98), Uniformes
Militares Espaholes. Grunoel Ediciones, Malaga, Espafia, 2002.
Foner, Philip S. The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth ofAmerican
Imperialism, 1895-1902. Volume 1: 18951902. Monthly Review Press, New York and
G6mez, Severo Nufiez (Capt. Of Artillery). The Spanish-American War, Blockades
and Coast Defense.
Translated from the Spanish. (Office of Naval Intelligence, War Notes No. VI,
Information from Abroad; Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.), 1899.
Trask, David F. The War with Spain in 1898. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York,
Wilson, H.W. The Downfall ofSpain, Naval History of the Spanish-American War. Little
Brown, and Co., Boston. 1900.