From ‘Dagoes’ to ‘Nervy Spaniards’
American Soldiers’ Views
of their Opponents

 Albert A. Nofi


At the onset of the Spanish-American War, a deeply rooted Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition of hostility to Catholics in general and Spaniards in particular was hardly likely to predispose American soldiers to a favorable view of their opponents.  Nor did a mercenary press serving as a willing conduit for sensationalistic anti-Spanish Cuban propaganda have much incentive to present a more positive image of the Spanish fighting man.[1]  Indeed, quite the contrary was the case, and Americans were very supportive of the Cuban insurgents.[2]  New York Journal correspondent Dalton Hanna’s report that  “The Spanish cavalry is really pathetic . . . ,” the troopers “ . . . totally indifferent to the comfort or care of their mounts,” while Spanish infantrymen “slouch along, dirty, ragged, with lack luster eyes,”[3] was hardly likely to instill a healthy respect for the enemy’s martial qualities.   The general impression was that Spanish troops, particularly volunteers, were “terrible savages” who perpetrated “great cruelties” on the people of Cuba.[4]   In short, it is probably reasonable to say that most Americans – civilians as well as fighting men -- agreed with Commander Bowman H. McCalla of the U.S.S. Marblehead that the Spaniards were “Dagoes.”[5]

An American Volunteer, in a studio picture (note the painted background).  Like most Volunteers he wears Uncle Sam’s standard blue wool uniform, with slouch hat, little changed from the Civil War, which proved highly unsuitable in a tropic climate.  He’s using a blanket roll and a haversack for his gear, which suggests the picture was taken post-war; on enlistment most Volunteers were issued the Army’s “Merriam Pack,” which proved so clumsy and uncomfortable they promptly discarded it, as did most Regulars  He is armed with a single shot
Model 1873 “Trapdoor” Springfield .45 caliber black powder rifle, which was decidedly obsolete.  In contrast to the Volunteers, most of the the Regulars wore cotton khaki or partially khaki uniforms (often a khaki blouse over blue woolen trousers), and toted the new Springfield .30-40 Krag-Jørgensen rifle, with a five round magazine (which had to be hand loaded), a very smooth mechanism, and smokeless powder, which the Army began issuing in the mid-1890s; the only Volunteer unit to use the Krag was the 1st Volunteer Cavalry, the “Rough Riders.”.


Thus, in a letter from Manila to his wife, First Lieutenant George F. Tefler of the 2nd Oregon Volunteers wrote, “We do not look for much fighting.  In fact, I don’t think the Spanish soldiers will fight.”[6]  Observing some Spanish troops, prisoners of the Filipinos, he wrote that they were “a very insignificant, lifeless lot of men.”[7]  A few days later he termed these same troops  “. . . puny looking little monkeys.  Stoop shouldered, white, and lifeless . . . . We have acquired great contempt for the outfit.”[8]  It does not seem to have occurred to Tefler that the dispirited state of the only Spanish troops he had seen may have be the result of their being prisoners of the Filipino guerrillas.  That same week First Lieutenant Charles H. Hilton, of the 1st Colorado, also camped outside of Manila, wrote to his wife “If  we should attack now it would be a snap.”[9]

Seen here in his uniform as a captain of the Cuban artillery in 1896, Frederick Funston, who rose to lieutenant colonel in the insurgent army by 1898, was one of the few American officers with a positive impression of Spanish fighting prowess.  During the Spanish-American War he served as colonel of the 20th Kansas, but his expertise was apparently not sought by any senior commanders and his regiment did not deploy.  

To be sure, not all American soldiers were so contemptuous of the Spanish.  Frederick Funston, commanding the 20th Kansas Volunteers, had served with the Cuban insurgent artillery for two years, and was perfectly willing to tell tales of the Spanish putting up a “gallant fight.”  Indeed, when he came to write his memoirs he began his description of Battle of Cascorra, 3-9 October 1896 with the phrase “an obscure village that added to the glory of Spanish arms,”, to describe a fight in which 160 Spanish troops held off some 1,500 Cubans for ten days until relieved, going on to say that the Spanish commander proved himself “a man of exceptional resource and courage.”[10]  Such opinions were, however, distinctly in the minority, and do not appear to have been widely circulated.

The war would change the largely negative view that American fighting men held of their opponents, at least among those who actually faced Spanish troops in combat.  This trend can be seen in letters, memoirs, diaries, regimental histories, anecdotes, reminiscences, and interviews by combat veterans during and after the war.  Many of these materials can be found in archival form, and some of them have also been published.[11]  But there is another source of often unique materials, what might be termed “souvenir books” published in the aftermath of the war.  The “instant books” of their day, these works bore patriotic titles such as Behind the Guns with American Heroes,[12] The Story of Our Wonderful Victories,[13] and Reminiscences and Thrilling Stories of the War.[14]  They included letters from soldiers, excerpts from official reports, articles on various events by participants, short descriptions of the geography, history, and culture of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, and even patriotic poetry, most of it bad.  A great variety of opinion can be found in these works, including anti-imperialist essays by persons such as William Jennings Bryan.[15]  In a number of cases the same materials can be found in more than one of these works.[16]  It has also proven possible to identify the original sources of many of the items found in these volumes, which draw heavily upon the official reports of many officers that are available elsewhere, thus lending credibility to less well documented citations.  This sort of validation is of particular importance with regard to Behind the Guns with American Heroes, edited by the infamous J. W. Buel Apparently working on the premise “Si non e vero, e buon trovato,” Buel often inserted fabricated, if inspiring materials in many of his works.  So notorious was Buel in this regard that Samuel Eliot Morison, in the preface to his own John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography, observes that Buel’s Life of John Paul Jones is so unreliable it should be catalogued as fiction.  

In other instances the actual existence of the soldiers and sailors credited with particular letters, reports, or statements was verifiable, though it was not possible to ascertain whether they actually spoke or wrote the words attributed to them.  For example, in one place The Story of Our Wonderful Victories cites a “Sergeant Kline,” of Company L, the “Rough Riders,” noting that he had been wounded at Las Guasimas.  Checking  the “Rough Riders” regimental roster, it turns out that there was indeed a Joseph L. Kline in that company who was wounded at Las Guasimas, though he was only a private.[17]  So it seems reasonable to assume that the statements are more or less reliable, particularly given to the great variety of opinions to be found attributed to these men, for we find selections that are both very pro- and very anti-Spanish comments in the same work.[18]  It seems likely that many of these materials would have perished but for their survival in the pages of these souvenir books.  This paper is based on materials from both traditional sources and several of these souvenir books.


A highly inaccurate artist’s depiction of the Battle of Las Guasimas (June 24, 1898), although the Spanish conducted a successful rear-guard action, most Americans believed they had retired because they lacked the will to stand. Note that the Spanish uniforms are inaccurate, while the Americans, "Buffalo Soldiers" or the 9th and 10th Cavalry and their white officers, are all very neatly uniformed and are even carrying sabers, while except for the wounded, they all have their hats on, despite having tramped through the jungle for a couple of hours.

Theodore Roosevelt certainly seems to have shared the general low opinion of the fighting qualities of Spanish troops.  The first important skirmish of the war, at Las Guasimas, near Siboney, Cuba, on June 24th, did little to alter his views.  Surprised by the fire discipline of the Spanish troops, he later wrote “The Spaniards shot well,” but nevertheless went on to say that they “did not stand when we rushed.”[19]  Colonel Leonard Wood, commander of the “Rough Riders” at Las Guasimas, concurred, saying the Spanish “seemed completely disheartened and dispirited.”[20]  The aforementioned Private Kline of their regiment went so far as to report that Spanish troops “had been primed with liquor in order to make them fight harder,” and that “in many of the trenches we captured quantities of rum and brandy in bottles and flasks, and even barrels of wine,” almost certainly a tale inspired by the standard wine ration enjoyed by Spanish soldiers.[21]  Interestingly, a veteran black enlisted man of the Regular 10th Cavalry seems to have had a better understanding of the fight at Las Guasimas.  Corporal Miller Reed wrote that the Spanish “were pretty good fighters, but had to run that time.[22]  In fact, of course, as David F. Trask observed, “None of the American commanders seem to have realized at the time that the Spanish force had conducted a planned retreat.”[23] 

The heaviest fighting of the war, around Santiago de Cuba, on July 1, 1898, elicited a number of testimonials as to the courage, devotion, and skill of the Spanish soldier.  After his “crowded hour” leading the “Rough Riders” under fire up Kettle Hill then across a 500 yard wide valley to take the northern end of San Juan Hill, Roosevelt wrote “The Spaniards fight very hard.”[24]  An old Regular from the 1st Cavalry, which was brigaded with the “Rough Riders,” was even more generous in his praise.  Commenting on the behavior of the Spanish troops during the skirmishing that followed the storming of the Heights of San Juan, one Sergeant Ousler wrote that there were “. . . some very brave and chesty ducks on the other side, who stood right out in the open and blazed away at men in our line that they picked out deliberately.  These nervy Spaniards got plenty of credit from our men for gameness too.  One of them, a small-looking fellow, stood on a little plateau, within dead easy range, letting us have it as fast as he could. . . . about as game a kid as they make ‘em.”[25]  But if the Spanish troops defending the Heights of San Juan elicited positive comments from their American foes, those holding El Caney gained their enthusiastic admiration.


The officers of the Spanish 3rd Provisional Battalion of Puerto Rico, a temporary organization raised to garrison Puerto Rico that ended up serving against the insurgents in Cuba.  Note the Austrian-style uniforms, a tribute to Queen-Regent Maria Christina of Austria.  The battalion was one of the primary units holding San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898, where about a third of its 600 men became casualties, almost all killed or wounded; only 38 prisoners were taken by the American troops.


Underestimating his foes, a consequence of preconceived notions of the mettle of Spanish troops, Major General H. W. Lawton, commanding the attack on El Caney, believed the place would fall in about two hours.  And indeed, the odds were long, with only some 520 Spanish troops to defend against more than 6,500 American infantrymen with artillery, supported by about a thousand Cuban insurgents.  Nevertheless, the fight turned into an eight hour slugging match from which only about 180 of the defenders escaped, while American losses numbered over 80 dead and more than 350 wounded.   First Lieutenant W. H. Wassell, of the 22nd Infantry, who was wounded at El Caney, later wrote “We were told . . . that we would have no opposition,” before going on to favorably compare Spanish martial skills with those of the fiercest of the western Indians.[26]  Frederick E. Pierce, who commanded a company of the 2nd Massachusetts, wrote that the “Spaniards were not slow in returning our fire,” adding “we received such a shower of bullets that it seemed at one time as if the company must be wiped out of existence,”[27] while Lieutenant Colonel Aaron S. Daggett, commanding the 25th Infantry, reported that “the fire from the village was . . . severe.”[28]  But Spanish firepower wasn’t the only thing that impressed American troops.  “The courage of the Spaniards was magnificent,” wrote Captain Herbert H. Sargent in his history of the campaign.[29]  Brigadier General Joaquin Vara del Rey, killed in action while commanding the beleaguered garrison, was singled out for particular praise.  The Americans were “filled with admiration for this brave man,” an “incomparable hero” possessed of an “heroic soul.”[30] 

An artist’s rendition of the Battle of El Caney (July 1, 1898), a day-long fight that saw about 520 Spanish troops under Brig. Gen. Joaquin Vara del Rey hold off 6,500 American troops for nine hours, with a high butcher’s bill; the Spanish suffered some 40 dead, including five officers, among them Vara del Rey and two of his sons, and at least 138 men wounded, among them the general’s brother and nine other officers, as well as about 160 men captured, while American losses were 81 killed and about 360 wounded.  The picture correctly depicts the uniforms worn by the American troops, many of whom did fight shirtless in the heat, though it omits the black regulars who were prominent in the fighting.  The Spanish, however, are shown in their “continental” uniforms, which would not have been worn in the tropics.


And thereby hangs a tale.

In November 1898 Spanish troops were preparing to leave Cuba forever.  A request was made of the American military authorities that they allow the Spanish Army to take Vara del Rey’s remains home.  Replying that “General Vara del Rey was a brave man and we honor his memory,” Leonard Wood, by then a major general and the Military Governor of the city of Santiago, assigned his aide, First Lieutenant M. E. Hanna to make the necessary arrangements.  This should have been an easy task.  After the fall of El Caney American troops had buried the Spanish dead nearby.  The ordinary soldiers have been buried together in a common grave, but Vara del Rey and the other officers had been interred individually, in clearly marked graves, with full military honors.[31]  When Hanna and a detail of troops arrived at the

Brigadier General Joaquín Vara de Rey y Rubio (1840-1898), who perished defending El Caney on July 1, 1898, an  “incomparable hero” in the words of one American officer


burial ground, however, all of the markers had been destroyed by vengeful Cubans.  When asked, a local Cuban pointed out what he claimed was the general’s grave.  Upon digging, Hanna found only the bones of a mule.  In fact, the Cubans were unwilling to give up the remains of the general, whom they blamed for the deaths of revolutionary hero Antonio Maceo and Francisco Gomez Toro, the young son of Cuban military commander Maximo Gomez, in a skirmish at Loma del Gato, near the village of San Pedro de Hernandes, on the night of December 7, 1896.[32]  Angered by the Cuban action, Hanna immediately descended on the alcalde of El Caney.  Observing that the alcalde held his post by the grace of General Wood, Hanna threatened him with replacement and even more dire consequences “If we do not find the body within three hours.”  This frightened the alcalde sufficiently that he summoned one of the townspeople, whom he claimed would be able to guide Hanna to the general’s grave.   However, when Hanna demanded that the Cuban lead him to the grave, the man proved uncooperative, denying that he had any knowledge of the location of Vara del Rey’s remains.  Incensed by this reply, Hanna made the Cuban an offer he couldn’t refuse.  Drawing his revolver, Hanna pointed it at the man and quietly said “Lead us there or I’ll blow your head from your shoulders.”  Instantly grasping the essential logic of Hanna’s statement, the Cuban become quite cooperative.  Within a short time Hanna had been led to a site that did indeed prove to be the general’s resting place.  Later that day Vara del Rey’s body was delivered to the Spanish Army in a formal military parade.[33]


The 25˚ Cazadores de la Patria [25th Rifles] and the 9˚ Voluntarios de Puerto Rico, at a field mass in the main square of Ponce, the largest city in Puerto Rico. When American troops approached, on July 27th, the Cazadores evacuated the town. After two days of complex negotiations, the Voluntarios dispersed.





Major Rafael Martínez-Illescas (1854-1898) of the Cazadores de la Patria, who on August 9th commanded the about 300 Spanish regulars and Puerto Rican volunteers in “a very determined stand,” at Coamo in Puerto Rico, during which he was killed. His heroism so impressed the American troops that Maj.-Gen. James H. Wilson's arranged for his reamains to be returned to his family and paid a personal visit to his widow and children.

Similar accolades were forthcoming from many American soldiers after virtually every encounter with Spanish troops.  This was true even of relatively small actions.  For example, after the hot little combat at Coamo, in Puerto Rico on August 9, Private Anthony Fiala, of Brooklyn’s own Troop C, New York Volunteer Cavalry, wrote “The Spanish proved themselves to be courageous.”[34]  Captain Harry Hall, of the 16th Pennsylvania, agreed, writing that “the Spaniards made a very determined stand.”[35]  Hall went on to add that “the officers must have been very brave fellows.  They exposed themselves to  our fire repeatedly and unhesitatingly,” despite the fact that three of them were killed.[36]  One of those who fell was Major Raphael Martinez-Illecas, of the 25th Cazadores, and we once again find particular admiration a Spanish commander who had “exposed himself with reckless heroism,”[37] a man who “. . . was wonderfully brave.  Three times he rode in front of his men, giving them orders and cheering them on.”[38]  

Even after the armistice of August 13th American opinions of the Spanish soldier continued to improve.  Thus, George F. Tefler, who in July had written of his “great contempt” for the Spanish, would by September write “We get along nicely with the Spaniards,”[39] while a staff officer who was helping to supervise the terms of the armistice in Puerto Rico was moved to write a rather glowing description of Spanish troops:[40]






[In the photo above: A Spanish regular infantryman in another studio shot.  He wears the standard tropical cotton uniform, which was actually white with faint blue pinstripes; the black shoes and the tie indicate he’s rather formally dressed; in the field many troop wore espadrilles, traditional rope-soled sandals, and would have eschewed the tie.  Note his kit on the floor to his right, and the 7mm Model 1893 Spanish Mauser, one of the first “modern” infantry magazine rifles, using smokeless powder and with a clip-fed five round magazine, which was so effective it encouraged the U.S. Army to adopt the famed Springfield Model 1903 .30-06, which used a similar mechanism.  Spanish volunteer troops often were equipped similarly, though some units had distinctive uniforms, and many volunteers toted older rifles.]


"The Spanish troops impressed me much more favorably than I expected.

They look small beside our men, but they are generally well set up, bright and alert, and look ready for business.  They wear a uniform—blouse and  trousers—of a bright homespun material, without any facings, but with brass buttons and collar ornaments.  For the head they wear a straw hat, wide brim and a cockade on the left side.  They are armed with the Mauser and short knife-bayonet.

The cartridges are carried in a clip in bunches of five, and these are carried in small leather pouches attached to the belt, several in a pouch.  The leather trimmings are all of fair or tan leather, and far superior in appearance to our black leather trimmings.  For the feet the men wear sandals with rope soles.  Many, however, had on black leather shoes, and some of them wore moccasins.  Each man had a blanket slung over the left shoulder, and carried a fair-leather bag or haversack.  I saw no tents and no wagon train. 

They evidently do not depend on mules and wagons to help them conduct a campaign.  I saw a company marching along the street, and noticed that they move with a quick, springy step, that enables them to cover ground quickly."


It was not only Spanish soldiers who came in for high marks from their American counterparts.  Spanish seamen also shared in this praise.  Common sailors and naval officers alike expressed considerable regard for their opponents on several occasions.  This began early.  On the night of June 1st a small band of American sailors had made a daring attempt to sink a blockship in the narrow entrance to Santiago Harbor.[41]   They failed, and had been captured, oddly enough by the commander of the Spanish squadron himself, Vice Admiral Pasual Cervera, who happened to be passing by in a small boat.  So impressed by their courage was Cervera, that early on June 2nd he formally communicated to the American squadron that all the members of the party were safe, a gesture widely viewed among the American naval officers as a “most graceful one, and one of the most chivalrous courtesy.”[42]  After the naval battle of July 3rd American praise for the Spanish sailors was virtually boundless.



A somewhat fanciful artists’ depiction of the Naval Battle of Santiago on July 3, 1898.  The armored cruiser Brooklyn leads the American squadron, on the right, followed by the battleships Oregon, Illinois, and Iowa, while from the left can be seen the Spanish armored cruisers Cristobal Colon, Infanta Maria Teresa (afire behind the Colon), Almirante Quendo, and Vicaya, as the torpedo boat Pluton engages the armed yacht Gloucester, in the background between the two fleets.  Commodore Winfield Scott Schley, effective commander of the American squadron during the battle, wrote that the Spanish “fought nobly and desperately.”

Commodore Winfield Scott Schley, effective commander of the American squadron during the battle, wrote that the Spanish sortie “was a grand charge” in which the enemy “fought nobly and desperately.”[43]  Captain Robley D. Evans of the battleship Iowa reported that his ship had been the object of  “a perfect torrent of shells from the enemy,” whose “heroism . . . [and] . . . devotion to discipline and duty could never be surpassed.”[44]  Later, in his memoirs Evans said of the fight with the armored cruiser Almirante Quendo “ . . . I could see shot holes come in her sides and our shells exploding inside of her, but she pluckily held her course and fairly smothered us with a shower of shells and machine gun  shots,”[45] before going on to tell of the “gallant dash for liberty” made by the destroyers Pluton and Furor.[46]  He concluded his account of the battle by saying that “for courage and dash there is no parallel in history to the action of the Spanish Admiral” in undertaking the sortie, and that “nearly six hundred gallant officers and men had fought their last fight.”[47]  So highly did the American sailors regard their opponents, that when Admiral Cervera was brought aboard Iowa he was greeted by cheers from the ship’s company, and his officers and men were given quarters surrendered by their captors.[48]


Vice Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete (1839-1909) commanded the Spanish squadron blockaded in Santiago Harbor.  He earned the admiration and respect of his American opponents by his chivalrous treatment of American sailors captured during an unsuccessful effort to sink a block ship in Santiago Channel on June 2nd, and then by his “grand charge” on July 3rd that resulted in the destruction of his squadron.


“On May 12th, the American armored cruiser New York, on top in an artist’s rendering, led the battleships Iowa and Indiana, and the monitors Amphitrite and Terror in a bombardment of the defenses of San Juan, in Puerto Rico. The defenders opened an impressive fire from the harbor forts. Depicted below is Fuerte de San Cristobal, shown in a composite picture; foreground is a photograph of the fort, and the American ships have been painted on to the negative (A colorized version of the original photo may be found at The action resulted in two Americans being men killed and seven wounded, as well as six dead and about 50 wounded on among the defenders and citizens of the city.

After the war, American opinion of their erstwhile Spanish opponents would continue to rise.  Frederick Funston, who had seen no combat service during the war with Spain, but went on to win great distinction against the Filipinos in 1899-1902, termed the 336 day defense of Baler by 57 Spanish infantrymen against some 1,500 Filipino troops “an epic of heroism” and expressed pride in having met the surviving Spanish officer, Second Lieutenant Saturnino Martin Cerezo.[49]  So highly regarded was the Spanish defense of  Baler that Martin Cerezo’s account of the battle was eventually translated and published for the benefit of American soldiers.[50]

Second Lieutenant Saturnino Martin Cerezo and the other 32 survivors of a company of 57 troops from the 2˚ Cazadores, who defended Baler, in the Philippines, against some 800-1,500 insurgents for 336 days, which American Brigadier General Frederick Funston called “an epic of heroism, in an image taken on September 1, 1899, upon their return to Spain.


The increasing favor with which Americans viewed their Spanish foes was in stark contrast to the simultaneous precipitous decline in American regard for the Cuban insurgents.  A steady stream of pro-Cuban propaganda had fostered a very favorable opinion of the Cubans among Americans.[51]  However, the sight of Cuban troops—even senior officers—fleeing to the rear at Las Guasimas[52] weakened this initially favorable opinion.  Nor did the failure of the Cubans to prevent—or substantially impede—Colonel Federico Escario’s relief column from reaching Santiago on July 3rd enhance American regard for their military prowess.[53]  In retrospect, Major General William R. Shafter, commanding the American expedition to Cuba, observed that the insurgents “did little or no hard fighting” during the campaign, adding that they had been “a hindrance, rather than an aid on the battlefield.”  Most of his troops would probably have concurred with his conclusion.[54]  In fairness to the Cubans, of course, essentially guerrillas, neither their training, their equipment, nor their experience suited them to a conventional fight, a matter which few professional soldiers would have understood at the time.  Nevertheless, other actions by Cuban troops were even more heinous.  Cuban troops proved to be inveterate thieves, even stealing from wounded Americans.[55]  And there was worse.  A number of the Spanish sailors who struggled ashore after the destruction of Cervera’s squadron on July 3rd were murdered by Cuban troops, an act that incensed several American naval officers.  So angry was “Fighting Bob” Evans of the battleship Iowa that he not only sent a detail of Marines ashore to protect the helpless men, but also informed the local Cuban commander that unless his men “ceased their infamous work” he would turn the ship’s guns on them.[56] 

To be sure, even after the fighting was over some Americans continued to harbor negative opinions of Spanish troops.  Thus, in  the aftermath of  the storming of the Heights of San Juan, Private James L. McMahon, of the 1st Artillery, said “The Spaniards are treacherous men and we had treachery to combat,” amazingly citing the Spanish use of subdued uniforms, entrenchments, and smokeless powder as evidence supporting his statement.[57]  Of course, as an artilleryman, McMahon had not actually been directly engaged against the Spanish.  Those even further removed from the fighting generally retained their prejudices.  Captain George A. Knerr, Protestant chaplain of the 4th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a regiment that served in Puerto Rico but did not see combat, described the “haughty Spanish” in traditionally anti-Latin, anti-Catholic terms, even suggesting that the islanders needed to be “Christianized.”[58]

Nevertheless, for the most part, American veterans of the war developed considerable sympathy for their opponents.  Indeed, the esteem with which many American soldiers regarded their erstwhile foes tended to grow in the years following the war.[59]  Thus, by 1907 an American officer would write of the courage of the Spanish troops in the war,[60]

The pity of it all was that such brave men as the Spanish soldiers showed themselves to be, should have been required to sacrifice themselves under such incompetent leadership.


The phrase “as the Spanish soldiers showed themselves to be,” is the operative one here.  It demonstrates the contrast between the “very insignificant, lifeless lot of men”[61] that American troops expected to encounter and those whom they actually met under fire, and represents a dramatic change of opinion on the part of American fighting men regarding their opponents.


On June 18th, as an American squadron imposed a blockade on San Juan, Spanish ships in the harbor attempted a sortie.  American fire proving superior, the larger Spanish ships soon retired.  To cover their retreat, the torpedo boat Terror made a run on the cruiser St. Paul, but was taken under fire at a range of about three miles; struck repeatedly by light artillery rounds, the Terror retired with two men dead, in an action widely praised by the attacking Americans.”


In the end, the image that American soldiers and sailors held of their Spanish opponents, an image shaped by centuries of historical conditioning and years of Cuban-inspired propaganda, could not survive the experience of combat.  “Instead of the ‘cowardly Spaniards’ of myth, who were easily triumphed over,” the personal reminiscences of American soldiers and sailors “reveal the Spaniards to have been a courageous, resourceful foe.”[62]   Under fire, American regard for the Spanish rose, so that as the war ended there was much less talk of “Dagoes” and much more of “these nervy Spaniards.”

American troops entering Ponce, Puerto Rico, on July 29th.  Although the Ponceños offered a very warm welcome, racial and religious bigotry by many Americans tended to sour relations with the local people.




Al Nofi was a teacher and administrator in experimental programs in the New York City public school system, until he retired in 1995, to continue his long-term avocation, as an independent scholar and game designer. The author or editor of over 30 volumes in military history, plus scores of articles, and over a dozen wargames. A former assistant editor of Strategy & Tactics magazine, he was also an associate editor of the 40-volume series War and Society in East Central Europe, 1740-1920, from Atlantic Research/Columbia University Press, and is currently an editor of the series Great Campaigns of Military History. He contributes regular columns in military history to North & South and StrategyPage, and is an Associate Fellow of the U.S. Civil War Center, at Louisiana State University, a Director of the New York Military Affairs Symposium, an occasional contributor to the History Channel, and a former sea cook. Al holds a B.A. (1965) and M.A. (1967) in history from Fordham University, and an M. Phil (1985) and Ph.D. (1991) in military history from the City University of New York. He has a website under construction at



[1] Marcus M. Wilkerson, Public Opinion and the Spanish-American War: A Study in War Propaganda (New York: 1932), pp.  34-35, notes nine major anti-Spanish atrocity stories in The New York World in June of 1896 alone.  For a sampling, see The New York World,  March  2, 1896, p. 6; May 17, 1896, p. 1; May 26, 1896, p. 7; June 3, 1896, p. 7; and The New York Journal, January 17, 1897, p. 33; January 31, 1897, p. 3; and February 3, 1897, p. 1.  Interestingly, the traditional interpretation of the influence of the press in moving American public opinion toward war largely ignores the Cuban dimension.  As Thomas Fleming has observed, “We are still blaming William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, without looking at who was feeding their reporters many of the doctored stories,”  Foreword to A. B. Feuer, The Santiago Campaign of 1898 (Westport, Ct.: 1995), p. xi. 


[2] See John J. Leffler, “From the Shadows into the Sun: America in the Spanish-American War” (Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University Texas: 1991), particularly pp. 24-45.


[3]  Dalton Hanna, The New York Journal, January 24, 1897 and January 31, 1897.


[4] Frederic Remington in The New York Journal, January 24, 1897. 


[5]  McCalla’s full statement was “Nonsense, those are our fellows, not Dagoes,” when a lookout mistakenly identified some U.S. Marines on the beach as Spaniards.  See “The Fight at Guantanamo” in J. W. Buel, Behind the Guns with American Heroes (Chicago: 1899), p. 52.


[6] George F. Tefler, Manila Envelopes: Oregon Volunteer Lieutenant George F. Tefler’s Spanish-American War Letters, edited by Sara Bunnett (Portland, OR: 1987), July 18, 1898 (p. 31); emphasis in the original.


[7] Tefler, July 8, 1898 (p. 25). 


[8] Tefler, July 18, 1898 (P. 31).


[9] Hilton to Wife, July 16, 1898, in Frank Harper, editor, Just Outside Manila: Letters from Members of  the First Colorado Regiment in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, Colorado Historical Society Monograph No. 7 (Denver: 1992), p. 15.


[10]  Frederick Funston, Memories of Two Wars: Cuban and Philippine Experiences (New York: 1911), pp. 37-52.


[11]  Such as the Tefler and Hilton letters, cited above.


[12] J. W. Buel, Behind the Guns with American Heroes (Chicago: 1899)


[13] J. R. Jones, editor, The Story of Our Wonderful Victories (Philadelphia: 1899).


[14] James Rankin Young and J. Hampton Moore, editors, Reminiscences and Thrilling Stories of the War (Philadelphia: 1899).


[15] William Jennings Bryan, “Shall We Keep the Philippines,” in Buel, pp. 111-114.  Bryan himself served as lieutenant colonel of the 1st Nebraska, which did not go overseas.


[16] Indeed, several of the works appear to have been issued by the same publishers, with large portions of the contents shared between them.  Cf., the Jones and Young-Moore volumes.


[17]  Jones, pp. 194-195.  Kline may, of course, have later attained the rank of sergeant, but that cannot be ascertained


[18] Compare, for example, the very pro-Spanish comments of  Corporal Miller Reed of the 10th Cavalry, cited in Jones, p. 438, with the very hostile views of the Reverend George A. Knerr of the 4th Pennsylvania, cited in the same work on pp. 312-313.


[19] Roosevelt to Carina Roosevelt Robinson, June 25, 1898, in The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, edited by Elting R. Morison (Cambridge, MA: 1951), Vol. II, p. 844.  Contrast Roosevelt’s “The Spaniards shot well,” with First Lieutenant Hilton’s “They say the Spaniards . . . take aim without putting the gun to their shoulder”: Hilton to Wife, July 16, 1898, in Harper, p. 15; emphasis added.


[20] Cited in Herman Hagedon, Leonard Wood: A Biography (New York: 1934), Vol. I., p. 170.


[21]Jones, pp. 194-195.  Kline apparently did not actually see the Spanish trenches, since he had been wounded before the regiment reached them.  In this regard it’s worth noting that while the U.S. Army had ceased issuing spirits in 1832 and the Navy in 1862, most European armies and navies still had a daily alcohol ration until well into the twentieth century..


[22]  Jones, p. 438; emphasis added.


[23] David F. Trask, The War with Spain, 1898 (New York: 1981), p. 551, n. 57.   Curiously, Trask puts this important observation in a footnote.


[24] Roosevelt to Henry Cabot Lodge, July 3, 1898, op. cit., p. 846.


[25] Sergeant Ousler, “High Old Jinks at Santiago,” in Buel, op. cit., p. 124. 


[26] Jones, pp. 186 and 188.  Wassel’s regiment suffered seven men killed and 42 wounded.


[27] Frederick E. Pierce, Reminiscences of the Experiences of Company L, Second Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry, U.S.V.  (Greenfield, MA: 1900), pp. 43 and 44.  Pierce’s regiment lost five men killed and 40 wounded.


[28] Report of Lt. Col. Aaron S. Daggett, July 16, 1898, printed in John H. Nankivell, The History of the Twenty-fifth Regiment of United States Infantry, 1869-1926 (Denver: 1927), pp. 75-76.


[29] Herbert H. Sargent, The Campaign of Santiago de Cuba (Chicago: 1904), Vol. II, p. 104.  


[30] Sargent., pp. 108; 104; 144.


[31] Nankivell, p. 82.


[32] On this action, Albert A. Nofi, The Spanish-American War, 1898 (Conshohocken, PA: 1997), pp. 34-35.


[33] See “Honoring a Dead Foe,” in Buel, op. cit., pp. 304-306.


[34] Anthony Fiala, Troop “C” in Service: An Account of the Part Played by Troop “C” of the New York Volunteer Cavalry in the Spanish-American War of 1898 (Brooklyn: 1899), p. 99.  Fiala later commanded New York’s famed 7th Regiment – the 107th Infantry – during World War I and went on to lead a brigade in the 27th Division during the fighting for the St. Quentin Tunnel Complex.


[35] Jones, p. 286.


[36] Jones, p. 287,


[37] Fiala., p. 72.


[38] Jones, p. 287


[39] Tefler, July 31, 1898 (p. 31); September 8, 1898 (p. 48).


[40] Jones., pp. 318-319.  Unfortunately the editor did not identify this officer beyond noting that he was on the staff of Major General John R. Brooke.


[41] Nofi, pp. 156-159.


[42] Jones., p 119.


[43] Jones, pp. 18, 19.


[44] Jones, pp. 25, 27.


[45] Robley D. Evans, A Sailor’s Log: Recollections of Forty Years of Naval Life (New York:  1901), pp. 447-448, emphasis added.


[46] Evans, p. 448.


[47] Evans, p. 450.


[48] Report of  Midshipman Joseph W. Graeme, in Young-Moore, p. 156; Evans, p. 450.


[49] Funston, p. 323.  For a short description of the defense of Baler, see Nofi, p.p. 296-297.


[50] See Saturnino Martin Cerezo, The Siege of Baler (Kansas City, 1909).


[51] See, for example, James Hyde Clark, Cuba and the Fight for Freedom (Philadelphia: 1896), a weighty and highly favorable treatment of the Cuban Revolution.


[52] A.D. Webb, “Arizonans in the Spanish-American War,” Arizona Historical Review, No. 1 (January 1929), p. 62.


[53] Sargent, Vol. II., p. 165-166.


[54] Sargent, Vol. II., p. 43.


[55] For reports of Cubans stealing from Americans, see Pierce, p. 34; John Bigelow, Jr., Reminiscences of the Santiago Campaign (New York: 1899), pp. 92, 108.


[56] Young-Moore, p. 26; Evans, p. 450.


[57] Jones, p. 204.


[58] Jones, pp. 312-313.  See also F. H. Reichard, The American Volunteer: A History of the 4th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Spanish-American War of 1898 (Allentown: 1898).


[59] This can be seen, of course, in the post-war writings by Fiala, Evans, and several others already cited.


[60] Sargent, Vol. II., p. 67. 


[61] Tefler, July 8, 1898 (p. 25).


[62] Thomas Fleming, in Feuer, p. xi.




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