The Splendid Little War

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The Spanish-American War was one of the first conflicts in which the military documented combat with still and motion pictures. In this image, six soldiers load artillery at the front lines with empty shells littered at their feet. Courtesy of Jacob Edwards Library via Digital Commonwealth.

After weeks of public outcry and political debate, the US declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898. Troops set out for Cuba intent on freeing the island from Spanish rule. The US also sought to liberate Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines in order to targetand eventually destroySpain's global empire. African Americans enlisted, seeing the war as an opportunity to secure greater rights and freedoms in the US by proving their strength and loyalty overseas. Cuban and Filipino soldiers eager for independence also fought alongside American soldiers.

Back home, the war captivated the public. Hundreds took part in battle re-enactments and watched war films. In Omaha, Nebraska, more than one million people gathered to watch a replica of the USS Maine explode at the city’s world’s fair. Continuing the trend of the "yellow press," newspapers entertained readers daily with stories and images from the front lines.

Secretary of State John Hay described the Spanish-American War as the "splendid little war." It was brief, lasting only a few months, and relatively bloodless, as the US lost more men to disease than in combat. With aggressive campaigns over land and sea, the US defeated Spanish forces in Cuba and cornered them in Puerto Rico and the Philippines. By July, Spain sued for peace.