The book lay in the shop like some ancient shipwreck, beached amid rows of rattan bookcases, Art Deco clocks and threadbare rugs and left to the ravages of time. There was nothing especially appealing about its cover. Indeed, a prior owner had resorted to silver duct tape in a half-baked attempt to secure its crumbling binding, and the title had long since worn down into ghost lettering. It was the ghosts behind those few words that arrested one’s attention:
THE STORY OF THE WAR OF 1898
Peruse any present-day compendium of military history, and you’ll find no such conflict—ah, but there was one. And no one knew that better than the book’s author: U.S. Navy Lieutenant W. Nephew King. Long before it became known as the Spanish-American War, King and his fellow sailors and soldiers shipped off to confront imperial Spanish forces in the Caribbean and Pacific in a 109-day conflict that changed the destiny of all participant nations.
There in the first few pages is a full-color plate of the battleship Maine anchored in Havana Harbor, Old Glory flying from its masthead, its gleaming white hull reflecting the Cuban sun. Flip the page to a stark black ink rendering of Maine blowing sky-high in a blast whose cause remains hazy but whose occasion prompted cries for “War!” from William Randolph Hearst and others with dubious agendas. Today the mast towers over Arlington National Cemetery, proudly flying the colors for the dead of many wars.
Representing the Philippines is an emotive panorama of the Manila Bay battle between ships of the American Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey and the outmatched Spanish Pacific Squadron under Rear Adm. Patricio Montojo y Pasarón. The May 1 clash was the first major engagement of the war, and it was over before noon.
The decisive moment in the fight for Cuba came during the July 1 storming of San Juan Heights—famously by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, though Buffalo Soldiers shared in the victory if not the glory. King credits the latter for having “aided no little in the repulse of the Spaniards,” yet the black troops are absent from period photos and the painting in the book.
Hostilities ceased on August 12, and eight days later U.S. warships took a victory lap up New York’s Hudson River past the tomb of President Ulysses S. Grant—hero of a prior war—who had been reinterred there only a year before. King’s book reminds us of that not-long-past history. MH
A frontispiece depicts officers of the U.S. Navy and Army posed heroically before the American flag, the wreck of the USS Maine projecting from the waters of Havana Bay behind them. (All images from: W. Nephew King. The Story of the War of 1898. New York: P.F. Collier, 1898)
Though the cause of the February 15 sinking of the battleship Maine remains in dispute, a U.S. Naval board of inquiry at the time blamed it on a mine, a finding that plunged the nation into war with Spain.
Spanish King Alfonso XIII was just 11 years old when the Spanish-American War broke out. Here he poses with his mother, Maria Christina of Austria, who ruled Spain as queen regent during the war.
Troopers of the 10th U.S. Cavalry exercise their horses in the surf near their training camp in Tampa, Fla. The “Buffalo Soldiers” played a key role in the storming of San Juan Heights in Cuba.
A U.S. Army regimental bicycle corps conducts a reconnaissance drill. The Army experimented with the relatively new invention during the war but never fully adopted the bicycle for field use.
Sailors gather for Sunday service aboard the battleship Texas off Key West in mid-May. Over the next month Texas served blockade duty off Cuba and took part in the Battle of Guantánamo Bay.
Commodore George Dewey famously led the American Asiatic Squadron against the outmatched Spanish Pacific Squadron under Rear. Adm. Patricio Montojo y Pasarón at Manila Bay, Philippines.
On Dewey’s oft-quoted order, “You may fire when ready, Gridley,” USS Olympia, at far right, opened up on the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay on May 1. Olympia remains afloat as a museum ship.
Among the striking illustrations, many based on photographs taken during the war, is this painting of the fire room crew (aka “black gang”) shoveling coal into boiler fireboxes aboard a U.S. warship.
During the Cuban War of Independence, a precursor to the Spanish-American War, Cuban rebels burn a sugar plantation in a bid to disrupt the economy of the Spanish colonial government.
U.S. Marines under Lt. Col. Robert W. Huntington engage Spanish troops soon after landing at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on June 10. After several days of fighting the Spanish withdrew from the area.
The war brought Theodore Roosevelt fame and, ultimately, the presidency. The United States gained control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, while Spain lost its global empire.
In the most iconic and enduring image from the war, U.S. troops—including Theodore Roosevelt’s 1st Volunteer Cavalry (aka “Rough Riders”)—charge up Cuba’s San Juan Heights on July 1.
On August 20 warships of the North Atlantic Fleet under Rear Adm. William Sampson and Commodore William Schley paraded victoriously up the Hudson River past Grant’s Tomb, at far left.
Among the patriotic images in this book compiled within weeks of the war is a painting entitled “He Died That Cuba Might Be Free,” depicting Cubans at the grave of a U.S. soldier near Santiago.