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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
Effect of the Victory
by Bancroft, Hubert H.

The impression made upon the United States and upon Europe by the battle of Manila was in an unexpected degree momentous. The extraordinary nature of the victory won by Commodore Dewey's squadron,--in which the enemy had 1,600 men killed and wounded, lost fourteen ships, valued at millions of dollars, vast stores of coal, supplies, guns, and equipments, together with a great colonial possession of enormous wealth and resources, without the loss of one man or one ship by the victors,--filled the world with amazement and admiration, and caused the United States to ring with enthusiasm for the cool and intrepid commander and his brave sailors. The first news received was through distorted sources at Madrid, where reports came from Manila speaking of glorious action by the Spaniards and confessing by piecemeal Spanish losses. Accustomed to the mendacity of Spanish reports and the duplicity of the officials discharging the function of supervising all information concerning the war, the English-written press of the world eked out from an involved mass of incoherent exultation and evasion the central fact of a sweeping American victory. The moment this was recognized all possibility of obtaining details was destroyed by the cutting of the cable. For a week there was suspense, during which the fact of American victory was confirmed by desperate rioting in Madrid caused by the Spanish people discovering that their losses were greater than Senor Sagasta and his advisers had admitted.

On May 8 the despatch-boat McCulloch arrived at Hong-Kong from Manila with the first official reports from Commodore Dewey. They consisted of two brief messages, but no commander every conveyed to his country in fewer words so much information in detail of such a wonderful achievement. The first message, dated Manila, May 1, but sent only when the second was forwarded, was as follows:--

Squadron arrived at Manila at daybreak this morning. Immediately engaged the enemy and destroyed the following Spanish vessels: Reina Cristina, Castilla, Don Antonio, Isla de Ulloa, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba, General Lezo, Marquis del Duero, Correo, Velasco, Isla de Mindanao, a transport and a water battery at Cavite. The squadron is uninjured and only a few men are slightly wounded. Only means of telegraphing is the American consul at Hong-Kong. I shall communicate with him.

The second, dated at Cavite, May 4, completed his record of the action:--

I have taken possession of the naval station at Cavite and destroyed its fortifications. Have destroyed fortifications at the bay entrance, paroling the garrison. I control the bay completely, and can take the city at any time. The squadron is in excellent health and spirits. The Spanish loss is not fully known, but very heavy; 1,500 killed, including the captain of the Reina Cristina. I am assisting in protecting the Spanish sick and wounded; 250 sick and wounded in hospital within our lines. Much excitement at Manila. Will protect foreign residents.

With these came columns of press reports of the victory. The suspense of a week to Americans accustomed to the procurement and immediate publication of all news at every hazard and at any cost, found relief in a national outburst of praise of the victorious commander and the officers and men of his squadron. In every city and hamlet the news fired the popular imagination. "Dewey day" was set apart in many cities and towns, and school children rehearsed patriotic speeches and songs. Naval authorities of the world testified to the completeness of the demonstration of American fighting ability and to the unprecedented annihilation of an adversary in his own fastness without the slightest loss in return. It was conceded that the name of Dewey should be enrolled among the names of immortal heroes. The Secretary of the Navy, upon the receipt of Commodore Dewey's reports, cabled to him and his men, in the President's name, the thanks of the American people for the "splendid achievement and overwhelming victory," in recognition of which the President appointed Commodore Dewey an acting admiral. On the following Monday the President sent a message to Congress recommending the adoption of a vote of thanks. "The magnitude of this victory," said the President in his message, "can hardly be measured by the ordinary standards of naval warfare. Outweighing any material advantage is the moral effect of this initial success. With this unsurpassed achievement, the great heart of our nation throbs, not with boasting or with greed of conquest, but with deep gratitude that this triumph has come in a just cause, and that by the grace of God an effective step has thus been taken towards the attainment of the wished- for peace. To those whose skill, courage, and devotion have won the fight, the gallant commander and the brave officers and men who aided him, our country owes an incalculable debt."

To the American people the victory at Manila was indisputable proof of the superiority of American training, discipline, intelligence, mechanical skill, and courage, to the ignorant and undisciplined bravery of the Spaniard. The capacity of the free volunteer in the regular branches of armed science as against the forced conscription of the continental systems was again emphasized, and the people now looked confidently to see the same spirit exhibited in the army organizing to occupy Cuba, Porto Rico, and the Philippines. To those countries that believed the American navy to be manned by foreigners and mercenaries disinclined to stand up at the critical moment, the lesson was startling.

The practical results of the combat at Manila were thus stated in a letter by Mr. Beach, an engineer officer on the Baltimore during the battle:

We feel that we have had a great victory here, which we ascribe to several causes. First, the Spaniard is always behind the times. He knew that an American fleet was expected and was so sure of his tremendous superiority that he took absolutely no precautions. The night we ran by the forts (in the early morning of the engagement) the Spanish officers were all at a grand ball. The entrance to the harbor was planted with torpedoes; he thought that was enough, and had no patrol, picket-boats or torpedo-boats on watch. The result is that we ran by their magnificent guns guarding the entrance to Manila Bay, and were out of range inside before the Spaniards knew it.

Another reason for our success was due to Commodore Dewey's orders. Not one of the ships had any intimation that we would run by the forts as we did until thirty miles away. We were by the Spanish forts and at the fleet by 5:30 a. m. on Sunday, May 1. They were ten fighting ships strong, carrying 116 modern guns, to which we opposed a superior fleet of six ships carrying 135 guns. Two of their ships were over 3,200 tons displacement, and the rest were modern gunboats. This fleet was assisted by batteries on shore armed with modern guns, which made their guns superior in number to ours. In number of men engaged they were undoubtedly far superior to us. The Spaniards were absolutely confident of victory. No other outcome was anticipated by them; no preparation was made for a different result. I think that their ships, combined with their forts, made them equal to us, so far as powers of offence and defence were concerned. They had as many modern guns approximating to the same size as we had, and more men to fire them. They should have been able to fire as much weight of shot in a specified time as we did.

The whole result, in other words, lay in the fact that it was the American against the Spaniard. Every shot fired from our fleet was most deliberately, coolly and pitilessly aimed. The Spaniards fired an enormous number of times, but with apparently the most impracticable aim. Shells dropped all around our ship; we were in action for over four hours; hundreds of shot and shell fell close to us. Only five or six pierced us, and they did no damage.

The damage done by our ships was frightful. I have visited all of the sunken Spanish ships, and had I not seen the effects of American marksmanship I would hardly give credit to reports of it. One smokestack of the Castilla, a 3,300-ton Spanish ship, was struck eight times, and the shells through the hull were so many and so close that it is impossible that a Spaniard could have lived on her deck. The other large ship, the Reina Cristina, was perforated in the same way. We disregarded tactics because there was little use therefor. There were our opponents and we went for them bullheadedly and made them exceedingly sick.

The lesson I draw from the fight is the great utility of target practice. The Spaniard has none; we have it every three months. Strengths of navies are compared generally ship for ship; the personnel is just as important. I am confident that had we manned the Spanish ships and had the Spaniards manned our fleet, the American side would have been as victorious as it was. The Spaniard certainly was brave, for he stuck to his guns to the last.

The effect of such a crushing defeat upon Spain was correspondingly disheartening. The riots that ensued in her principal cities compelled the government to proclaim martial law in several provinces. In the Cortes the opposition taunted the government with incapacity and supineness, and recrimination became both bitter and loud. The government had not counted upon nor made plans in the event of defeat any more than had its officials in the Philippines. Yet, with the usual methods of influencing the Spanish people through its power of suppressing or manipulating information in the press, the Cabinet turned to Admiral Cervera's squadron, yet lingering at the Cape Verde Islands, and made ostensible preparations for reprisal.

The threat of sending to the Philippines a new Spanish fleet, much stronger in fighting power than Commodore Dewey's, awoke the Americans to immediate action. The President assigned General Wesley A. Merritt to the command of an army corps of occupation to proceed at once to the support of our fleet at Manila. The forces were to consist of 4,000 regulars and 16,000 volunteer troops, to be accompanied by the cruiser Charleston, and the monitors Monterey and Monadnock. Upon General Merritt was conferred also the supreme power of Military Governor of the Philippines, and an establishment of aides was created to seize and administer the government of those islands under the military laws of the United States as applied to conquered territory. The preparations were carried forward with utmost speed and in a few weeks the first division of the new army was upon the Pacific, preceded by the Charleston with supplies of ammunition and stores in convoy.

Henry Watterson


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