|The Growth of the British Empire|
|by M. B. Synge|
|Book V of the Story of the World Series. Treats the revolutions in South America and Mexico, the Boer War in South Africa, and the exploration of Central Africa, the Greek and Italian wars for independence, the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the opening of trade with Japan and China, and the rebellion in India. Ages 13-18 |
FREEDOM FOR CUBA
"With Freedom's soil beneath our feet
And Freedom's banner floating o'er us."
THE story of this conflict between Spain and America is one of the most pathetic in the world's modern history, for
it shows how utterly fallen from her high estate was the once glorious Spanish nation.
The discovery of America by Columbus had given Spain a territory, which might well have made her the richest
empire in the world. Her soldiers were the bravest, her fleets the largest, her treasury the richest; but her
lack of human sympathy had wrought her destruction. The Spanish Inquisition destroyed the very manhood of her
people, and stopped the wheels of progress.
How Holland rose and drove her Spanish oppressors from the Netherlands,
how England defeated the Invincible Armada,
and how gradually Spain lost her vast American Empire,
— these stories have been already told.
 Now she was to lose her last colonies in the East and West Indies. Of these, Cuba, off the southern shores of
the United States, was one. The islanders had suffered acutely from the mismanagement and cruelty of her
Spanish governors. Again and again the unhappy Cubans rose against their tyrants: they were only treated more
rigorously than before.
While the island was but divided from America by 100 miles of water, 3000 miles divided it from the mother
country. Once the United States had proposed buying the island from Spain.
"The sale of Cuba will be the sale of Spanish honour itself," was the firm reply.
So the years rolled on, and the States, faithful to their policy of non-intervention, looked on sadly and
patiently. But the state of Cuba grew from bad to worse. Its horrors were worthy the days of Cortes and
Pizarro. Thousands died within Spanish prison walls in a few months; little children died in the streets from
starvation; homes were in ruins; the beautiful island was laid desolate.
On the evening of February 15, 1898, matters reached a crisis. For some weeks past, the American ship, the
Maine, had been lying in the harbour of Havana at the north end of the island. Suddenly, as evening wore to
night, a terrific explosion occurred, and the Maine sank, carrying down with her 266 of her crew. A great wave
of anger swept over the States, and soon the whole nation was
 clamouring for war. It was no war of aggression, no war of revenge. Never did a people willingly shed their
blood in a more disinterested cause or with more lofty aims. It was a war for humanity—to make an
oppressed people free and independent.
Within a fortnight of the declaration of war between the United States and Spain, the first blow was struck in
the far East Indies, where an attack was made on the Philippine Islands by Admiral Dewey, of the United States
navy. Six ships of the American fleet were cruising in the Pacific Ocean, when war was declared. The Spanish
fleet lay at Manila, the capital of the Spanish possessions in the East. How Admiral Dewey courageously led his
ships at dead of night, in single file, through the unknown and perilous passage leading to the harbour of
Manila, is now a well-known story. The harbour was protected by submarine mines; the shore bristled with
Spanish batteries; the Spanish fleet outnumbered that of the United States; and, behind all, was a city of
300,000 people. It was an adventure which savoured of the olden times. On through the darkness crept the
American ships. Just before the break of dawn, the moon broke through the clouds. The advancing ships were
close to Manila. It was Sunday morning, May 1, when the Spanish ships, flying their battle-flags of red and
gold, opened fire on the Americans.
"When you are ready, you may fire," said
Ad-  miral Dewey to his Captain, as the flag-ship Olympia came within range of the Spanish guns.
Soon the air was full of smoke and shells as, amid the roar of guns, the new nation and the old fought for
freedom. The Spaniards were brave to the death, but American skill and science was too much for them. By
midday, the destruction of the Spanish fleet was complete. Admiral Dewey had lost neither ship nor man. It was
the most wonderful triumph of the American fleet in American history. It showed Europe, that the United States
as a naval power was formidable; it showed England, that the Viking spirit was yet alive in her sons across the
So the Philippine Islands passed from the hands of Spain to the United States, under whose free government they
Meanwhile another Spanish fleet, under Admiral Cervera, had secretly made its way to Cuba. It was lying quietly
in the harbour of Santiago, protected by frowning batteries, while a network of submarine torpedoes lined the
bottle-shaped harbour, and a narrow neck hid its presence.
And now followed an exploit which awoke the admiration of the whole world, and showed forth the daring heroism
of America's sailors, when Lieutenant Hobson, a young naval officer, with a volunteer crew, sank the
coaling-ship Merrimac, in the harbour mouth of Santiago, to bottle up the Spanish fleet. Just before dawn on
the morning of June 2,
 1898, Hobson and his crew, in the old collier, approached the mouth of the harbour. Instantly sheets of fire
were poured on to them, by the Spanish batteries on the shore. It seemed impossible for man or ship to live
through such deadly fire, but not a man was shot. Having steered the Merrimac to the appointed spot, Hobson
endeavoured to swing her across the narrow channel and sink her. But already her rudder had been shot away, and
she drifted rudderless with the tide, far past the narrow neck. She was sinking fast now, and as she plunged
beneath the waves, her crew clung to a raft, prepared for the purpose. Only their faces were out of water. The
minutes passed slowly on, till with daylight, a Spanish launch approached and took the men prisoners.
"Daring like this makes the bitterest enemy proud that his fellow-men can be such heroes," said the Spanish
Admiral, shaking hands with Hobson and each of his men.
Many a brave deed was done by land and sea, before Santiago fell into the hands of the United States, and it
was July 17, before the flag of the Stars and Stripes flew over Cuba, which island is independent to-day.
The war had lasted three months. It left Spain with a "few ruined hulks of what had once been a navy." It took
from her the last of the colonies for which she had "sinned and suffered and struggled."
 The new nation came out triumphant. Important results followed.
Enthusiasm for the United States was aroused across the seas in England. America had risen to the full sense of
her manhood: she had stretched out her arms to the oppressed at her doors. And the old mother country rejoiced
in her victories, and triumphed in the part she had been led to play in the world's affairs—in the cause
of freedom and justice.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics