Hidden in the pages of the recently digitized Elizabethville Echo come these excerpts from the early months of 1898.
As the sun set on the evening of February 15, 1898, the USS Maine sat in the harbor at Havana, Cuba. Sent on a peace-keeping mission by the United States Navy, the Maine was anchored just off shore. Without warning, at 9:40 PM, the vessel lifted out of the water and blew itself apart killing 260 officers and men on board.
Suspicions immediately fell on the Spanish, whose activity in putting down a revolution by Cubans had irked many Americans. The “Yellow Press,” journalists like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, fanned the flames of discord by publishing incendiary half-truths about Spanish atrocities on the island of Cuba. While their influence over the situation has been lessened by recent historians, their impact in New York played at least a small role in the coming of the conflict.
Politicians and business leaders lined up behind the cause, supporting war against the Spanish on humanitarian or a “good for business” rationale. The destruction of the Maine began the march to war.
The Elizabethville Echo, a small newspaper in Central Pennsylvania which focused mainly on the comings-and-goings in a town of 800 residents, published a series of small articles detailing the patriotic sentiments that gripped the community in the wake of the Maine disaster.
Seamen Go Down With Their Ship
253 men lost.
Battleship Maine Demolished by an Explosion in Cuban Waters.
The United States battleship Maine, anchored in Cuban waters off Havana, was blown up last Tuesday evening. A telegram from Capt. Sigabee of the Maine reports 253 members of the crew lost. No reason as to the cause of the explosion has been given.
Members of Congress, high officials and foreign diplomats at Washington have no opinions to give, but a terrible suspicion prevails that the Spaniards are responsible for the awful disaster…
An inquest into the explosion of the USS Maine was ordered by President William McKinley and found that the battleship had been destroyed by an undersea mine. A rival inquest by the Spanish found that the vessel had blown itself up when coal dust in its bunker exploded spontaneously. The actual cause of the explosion remains open to debate and theories abound as to why the Maine blew up.
Hard-line politicians, including Theodore Roosevelt and others inside and outside the McKinley administration, used the Maine incident to encourage a declaration of war on Spain. That roiling debate is captured in the pages of the Echo.
War or no war, that is the question.
The situation at present seems quite critical, but as yet there has been no official report made public by the investigating committee, and we can therefore but patiently await results. Even though the committee should conclude that the Maine was blown up by design, yet that does not prove that it was done at the instance of the Spanish government, and all the United States could do consistently, would be to demand an indemnity from Spain. Should she refuse to make amends then would be the time to talk war.
By April, the hardliners were rapidly achieving what they wanted: war with Spain. Despite opposition by those accusing the McKinley administration and the “jingos” who supported war of seeking American imperialism. Across the country, it became obvious that the yellow-press campaigns of Hearst and Pulitzer paired with calls to patriotic ardor by Roosevelt and others had succeeded in revving Americans to war.
The Echo demonstrates this perfectly. Below are a series of articles published shortly before the Spanish-American War was inaugurated.
Some journals assert that the suspension, or the discontinuation of the payment of pensions would furnish almost enough revenue to conduct a war against Spain. They have however not considered the untold misery and suffering which would result in consequence of such an act on the part of congress, as thousands of families are entirely dependent upon the pittance they receive in this way from Uncle Sam.
Let none of our Elizabethville patriots who want “war at any price” do as did the Steelton band boys, when the call came for volunteers. Let them march out boldly and show the world that they are willing to act as well a[s] talk. Let no the recruiting officer be met with all sorts of excuses as was the master when he made the feast. But no, such a thing will not happen; we can at least furnish one hundred volunteers. We should be pleased to publish the names of all who are willing to volunteer, in our next issue.
Last week the Steelton band rushed through a resolution offering the services of the band in the event of war with Spain. On Monday a U.S. recruiting officer came to Steelton, and ere he left, half the members of the organization were eager to resign.
It is expected that a call will be issued for 60,000 or 70,000 volunteers during next week, and which may possibly be followed by another call later on for about 100,000.
The president will probably not attempt to occupy Cuba with less than 50,000 troops. There are now about 60,000 Spanish troops stationed upon the island.
The regular army consists of about 24,000 troops.
April as a War Month
It may not be generally known that April is the war month of our country. During other months of the year we have had war and rumors of war, but, strange as it may seem they generally found their beginning and ofttimes [sic] their ending, during the month of April.
The war for American independence had its beginning on the battlefields of Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775 and General Washington announced to his troops the suspension of hostilities April 17, 1783.
The first bloodshed in the Mexican War was on April 26, 1846.
The first gun in the late Civil War was the shot that was heard around the world on April 12, 1861, and just four years later, on April 12, 1865, the war ended in the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox. [Note: Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865]
President Lincoln was assassinated April 14, and died on the 15th, four years from the time he issued the call for troops.
On April 23, Spain declared war on the United States after a series of tit-for-tat diplomatic maneuvering. Congress passed a joint-resolution declaring war on Spain on April 25, 1898. Back in the agricultural and railroad community of Elizabethville, the hometown newspaper declared on April 28 that it was time to “let the eagle scream.”
Now, let the eagle scream.
Old glory is quite conspicuous about town.
The P.O.S. of A. flung their large flag to the breeze down at Uhler’s hall, on Tuesday evening. During the evening the band of the order appeared and played several national airs.
It looks as though the government had made a contract for Lykens Valley coal. Seventy car-loads went down the Summit Branch last Wednesday, consigned to South Amboy. [South Amboy, New Jersey]
The Spanish Queen Regent has asked for and received the blessing of the Pope in her conflict with the Yankees. Dear Pope have you ever witnessed the little Yankee trick of placing the thumb to the nose.
Step by step our country has once more been nearing one of the most critical periods of its history. War is now actually before us, although we can scarcely realize the truth. It seems but as a dream; but nay, the cannon has already belched forth in thunderous tones! The guns of Morra Castle have already lit up the horizon. They have sent their wordless challenge, and the boys in blue will wade through scarlet mire in the streets of Havana rather than suffer a single inch of old glory to be bedimmed by even temporary defeat. The God of Hosts is with us and victory must be ours.
No one who pauses even for a moment to look upon the serious side of the momentous question now before us could help but breathe an inspiration of patriotism as Attorney M.E. Stroup galloped away into the darkness, on Monday evening, astride the pony which he had selected for this all-important mission. “Mike” is member of the Governor’s Troop, a body of Cavalrymen and he wore a full government uniform, which made the scene all the more impressive.
He was the first volunteer from our town.
In the end, the Spanish-American War was a smashing American victory that saw the United States enter the global stage as serious imperial power. The United States picked up ceded Spanish territory across the globe including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and numerous smaller territories.
Gaining the support of small towns like Elizabethville, Pennsylvania was key for those seeking to take America to war against the Spanish empire. They succeeded and the war came.
For more information about this fascinating time period in American history, I highly recommend listening to The American Peril by Hardcore History. It clocks in at 4:05:00, but demonstrates why we should study this conflict and how it shaped American foreign policy in the 20th and 21st centuries.
I also recommend listening to journalist Stephen Kinzer’s interview with Fresh Air host Terry Gross, or picking up Kinzer’s book True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire.
Photo at top: “Remember the Maine” from the collections of the NYPL.