On April 21, 1898, the United States declared war against Spain. The causes of the conflict were many, but the immediate ones were America's support of Cuba's ongoing struggle against Spanish rule and the mysterious explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor. It would be the first overseas war fought by the United States, involving campaigns in both Cuba and the Philippine Islands.
The Spanish fleet guarding the Philippines was defeated by the U.S. Navy under the command of Commodore George Dewey on May 1, 1898. Ignorant of Dewey’s success, President McKinley authorized the assembling of troops in order to mount a campaign against the capital of Manila. The military base best suited as the staging point for troops bound for the Philippines was the Presidio of San Francisco. The majority of these soldiers were volunteers, originating from all over the United States, gathering and training at the Presidio before the long sea voyage to the Philippines and their part in, as Secretary of State John Hay put it, the "splendid little war."
The Presidio's Role
The Presidio was a natural staging point because of its proximity to the finest harbor on the west coast, and possessed enough land to house and train large numbers of troops for service in the Philippines. The first soldiers left the Presidio in May 1898, and consisted of the 1st California Infantry and the 2nd Oregon Infantry Regiments. Soon soldiers from Washington, Montana, Iowa, Wyoming, Kansas, Tennessee, and Utah would be stationed at the Presidio in addition to the regular garrison. From the beginning of the war to 1900, some 80,000 men passed through the post on their way to the Philippines. At the turn of the century, San Francisco offered many attractions, but army life at the Presidio was cramped, and sickness often flared up in the temporary tent camps. This situation prompted the military to improve troop facilities and helped change the face of the Presidio over the ensuing years.
Most Presidio troops got to the islands too late to fight the Spanish in the brief war. However Philippine rebels had been waging guerrilla warfare against Spanish colonialism long before the U.S. became involved. Their exiled leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, quickly made contact with the attacking force already on its way to the Philippines, in the belief that the United States would help the "Insurrectos" gain independence from Spain. But expansionists in the U.S. government had other plans. After the signing of the Treaty of Paris, on December 10, 1898, which ended the war against Spain, the United States opted to give Cuba its independence but keep the Philippines, to the dismay of the Philippine nationalists.
The Philippine Fight for Independence
The United States’ drive to extend influence across the Pacific instigated a Philippine American War. Fighting broke out on Feb. 4, 1899, and eventually far exceeded that against Spain. At the outbreak, the U.S. had only a small amount of troops in the Philippines compared to Aguinaldo’s 40,000 fighters. American troop strength increased until 1901 when it numbered 75,000. Nearly all of the troops sent to fight in the Philippines spent time at the Presidio.
The United States' Role in World Politics
The Spanish-American War and its aftermath delayed Philippine independence until after World War II, but established a relationship that fostered a substantial Filipino population within U.S. borders. The United States emerged as an influential world power with its new overseas possessions, and started on a path that would affect its role in international affairs for the future century.
Last updated: March 10, 2023