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The Spanish-American War Part 2: The Philippine Campaign
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Part 2: The Philippine Campaign

The first major conflict between U.S. and Spain took place not in Cuba, but 9,750 miles away in the archipelago of The Philippines. The Battle of Manila Bay would make the American Commander, George Dewey, a national hero, and would announce to the world the arrival of the United States as a major player in the world. The Battle of Manila Bay was one of two decisive American naval victories in the Spanish-American War. It occurred only days after the declaration of war, on May 1, 1898.

Years before the actual battle, the American military had been preparing for a war scenario with Spain. George Dewey's Asiatic Fleet consisted of only four ships. His

Map: Dewey sails to the Philippines
Map: Dewey sails to the Philippines
Map: Dewey in Manila Bay
Map: Dewey in Manila Bay
flagship was the cruiser USS Olympia. The other ships was the USS Boston, a small cruiser; USS Petrel, a gunboat; and the USS Monocacy, a paddle wheel steamer. The Olympia was fairly new, but wasn't comparable in firepower to newer U.S. battleships. At the last minute Dewey added the USS Raleigh, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Huch McCulloch, the Baltimore, and merchant vessels Nanshan and the Zafiro as support vessels. With the declaration of war, Dewey moved his ships out of neutral Hong Kong to Mirs Bay, about 30 miles
Admiral George Dewey
Admiral George Dewey
away. Dewey knew that the Spanish fleet could be found at its major Pacific colony, the Philippine Islands, about 710 miles away. No U.S. navy vessel had visited the island in twenty-two years, and there was limited intelligence available. Some information on Spanish strength and fortifications was gathered through earlier commerce, and from the U.S. Consul Oscar Williams, who remained in Manila until the last minute. In Hong Kong, Dewey had Ensign F.B. Upham of the Olympia spy on Spanish forces arriving from the Philippines, and even pump some Spanish crew members for information. Finally, Dewey gathered important intelligence from an American businessman acquaintance who visited the Philippines.Additionally, Commander Dewey did not even have an adequate peacetime allotment of ammunition. Dewey was able to contrive a plan for obtaining additional supplies, some of which arrived the night before the squadron sailed from Mirs Bay. Despite this feat of logistics, Dewey still went into battle on May 1 with only sixty percent of his magazines filled.

Meanwhile, the Spanish were preparing for the arrival of the Americans by making various modifications to their fortifications, and by mining Subic Bay. The Spanish commander Admiral Montojo initially wanted to fight at Subic, but with the Americans on their way and little time to mount an adequate defense of Subic, Montojo took his squadron back to Manila Bay. Montojo opted for the shallow waters off Cavite's Sangley Point rather than the comparative safety of Manila Bay to avoid the likely bombardment of the city. The shallow waters meant that the men could more easily get ashore if their ships sunk.

Dewey falsely believed that the Boca Grande entrance to Manila Bay had not been mined. He was likely correct in his reasoning that if the entrance had been mined, the mines would likely deteriorate rapidly in the tropical waters. Dewey's squadron entered Boca Grande at about 11:00 P.M. After passing the El Fraile battery with little trouble, they continued on across Manila Bay. Dewey expected to find the Spanish squadron at Manila, and adjusted the fleet's speed to arrive at dawn.

Upon arriving, they saw nothing but merchant vessels at anchor, and so turned toward Cavite. At 5:05 A.M., some of the Spanish guns of the Manila batteries opened fire. Only the Boston and Concord replied in order to save ammunition. Montojo ordered the Reina Cristina to begin to move. To clear his path, he had to detonate several mines. These explosions were spotted by the American crewmen. The Americans finally discovered the Spanish vessels. At 5:15 a.m. the guns of the Cavite fortifications and the Spanish fleet opened fire. Dewey held his fire until 5:40 A.M. Then, standing on the vessel's open bridge, he quietly uttered one of the war's most enduring quotes, telling the Olympia's captain, "You may fire when ready, Gridley."

Though it was not immediately obvious in the dark and smoke, the Spanish fleet suffered severe damage in the early moments of the battle. The American fleet engaged as they thought the depth of the water would allow, first passing the Spanish position from west to east, and then countermarching east to west; a total of five passes along the two and a half mile course. At around 7:30 A.M., Commodore Dewey received an erroneous report that the ships were nearly out of ammunition. He decided to withdraw to assess the situation. To avoid having the Spanish realize his precarious position, Dewey signaled to the fleet that they were to break off the attack to allow the crew time for breakfast. Later, the American press would report this as an example of Dewey's calmness and confidence under fire. Soon it became clear that the report had been in error.

Then the battle assessments began to be reported back to the Olympia. Surprisingly, no Americans had been killed by the Spanish shells. By 11:16 A.M.Dewey's fleet resumed the attack. It was clear to the Americans that the Spanish fleet was severely damaged, and they wasted little time in finishing it off. Only nine sailors were injured in the battle. The terminally ill Captain Gridley of the Olympia died about a month later, his death probably hastened by the physical and mental stress of the battle. Admiral Montojo reported a loss of 381 men killed and wounded as a result of the battle.

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As a result of the battle, Admiral George Dewey became an instant hero to Americans. For the first time since before the Civil War, the country had a war hero that all Americans could admire and respect, free from the sectionalism of that era. Evidence of Dewey's popularity (and to a lesser extent, Captain Gridley's), can be found in the wide variety of popular culture items:
Dewey Glass Plate
Dewey Glass Plate (3 images)
1898 Children's literature, Under Dewey at Manila
Children's literature: Under Dewey at Manila (1898), by Edward Stratemeyer, From the "Old Glory" series
Puck magazine cover with Dewey
Puck magazine cover with Dewey
Dewey Cigar Box
Dewey Cigar Box (3 views)
Dewey tapestry with "Remember The Maine" slogan
Dewey tapestry with "Remember The Maine" slogan
"Remember The Maine" mirror with naval heroes
"Remember The Maine" mirror with naval heroes
Sheet Music: "What Did Dewey Do To Them?" (1898)
Sheet Music: "What Did Dewey Do To Them?" (1898)

Sheet Music: "Battle of Manila" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Commodore Dewey's Victory March" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Commodore Dewey's Victory March" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Dewey's Victory" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Dewey's Victory" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Old Glory Triumphs on The Sea" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Old Glory Triumphs on The Sea" (1898)
Sheet Music: Shot and Shell (1898)
Sheet Music: Shot and Shell (1898)
Sheet Music: "We'll Stand By The Flag" (1898)
Sheet Music: "We'll Stand By The Flag" (1898)
Old Glory Holds The Bay
Sheet Music: "Old Glory Holds The Bay" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Dewey's Victory" (1899)
Sheet Music: "Dewey's Victory" (1899)
Sheet Music: "Brave Dewey and His Men" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Brave Dewey and His Men" (1898)
Captain Charles Gridley Souvenir Pitcher
Admiral Dewey/Captain Charles Gridley Souvenir Pitcher (5 views)
1898 Cover: "Keep off The Grass, It's Dewey"
Postal Cover: "Keep off The Grass, It's Dewey", 5/98
Stereoview: Battle of Manila
Stereoview: Battle of Manila (2 views)
Souvenir Spoon: Dewey and the Battle of Manila
Souvenir Spoon: Dewey and the Battle of Manila (3 views)
Alfonso Sanz Print: "Battle of Manila Bay" (1898)
Alfonso Sanz Print: "Battle of Manila Bay" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Marching Through Cuba" (1898)
Sheet Music: "Marching Through Cuba" (1898)
Sheet Music: "The Hero of Manila Bay" (1898)
Sheet Music: "The Hero of Manila Bay" (1898)
Stereoview of Admiral Dewey, "The Hero of Manila"
Stereoview of Admiral Dewey, "The Hero of Manila"
Stereoview: Columbia Admiring Her Navy
Stereoview: Columbia Admiring Her Navy (2 views)
Admiral Dewey Pinback
Admiral Dewey Pinback
Admiral Dewey Poster
Admiral Dewey Poster
Dewey Musical Cabinet, c.1898
Dewey Musical Cabinet, c.1898
   
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Following Dewey's victory, Manila Bay was filled with the warships of Britain, Germany, France, and Japan. The German fleet of eight ships, ostensibly in Philippine waters to protect German interests (a single import firm), acted provocatively--cutting in front of United States ships, refusing to salute the United States flag (according to naval courtesy), taking soundings of the harbor, and landing supplies for the besieged Spanish. Germany, hungry for the ultimate status symbol, a colonial empire, was eager to take advantage of whatever opportunities the conflict in the islands might afford. Dewey called the bluff of the German admiral, threatening a fight if his aggressive activities continued, and the Germans backed down. On August 13, with American commanders unaware that a peace protocol had been signed between Spain and the United States on the previous day, American forces captured Manila from the Spanish. Commodore Dewey had transported Emilio Aguinaldo to the Philippines from exile in Hong Kong in the hope he would rally Filipinos against the Spanish colonial government. By the time U.S. land forces had arrived, the Filipinos had taken control of the entire island of Luzon, except for the walled city of Intramuros. On June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo declared the independence of the Philippines. This battle marked an end of Filipino-American collaboration, as Filipino forces were prevented from entering the city, an action the Filipino people deeply resented. On August 14,
June 22, 1898 Puck magazine
"A Puzzle For The Populists," Puck, June 22, 1898, by Joseph Keppler
1898, 11,000 ground troops were sent to occupy the Philippines. When U.S. troops began to take the place of the Spanish in control of the country, warfare broke out between U.S. forces and the Filipinos. This conflict is described in more detail in the Early 1900s section.
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Last modified July 21, 2012