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Spanish-American War Memorial


Section 22

The Spanish-American War (April 25 to August 12, 1898)

Arlington National Cemetery has more Spanish-American War memorials and gravesites than any other site in the United States. The nation's first major military conflict after the Civil War, the Spanish-American War played a key role in reuniting North and South, strengthening American nationalism and projecting U.S. power globally.

In 1898, rebels in Cuba, then a colony of Spain, were fighting for independence from Spanish rule. During the conflict, President William McKinley ordered warships to Cuba to protect U.S. political and economic interests on the nearby island. On February 15, 1898, an explosion in Havana Harbor blasted through the USS Maine, killing more than 260 sailors on board. Historians are still unsure what caused the explosion, but popular sentiment at the time, encouraged by sensational journalism, blamed the disaster on the Spanish. Fueled by public outrage over the Maine's destruction, as well as concern for the Cuban rebels and opposition to European colonization of the Americas, on April 25, 1898, the United States declared war against Spain. 

The war did not last long. Within months, the U.S. Army had seized control of strategic Cuban territory such as the San Juan Heights, where the Rough Riders made their famous cavalry charge; the U.S. Navy blockaded Cuba and destroyed Spanish squadrons in the Pacific. On August 12, 1898, Spain effectively surrendered, and the U.S. and Spain signed a peace treaty on December 10, 1898. The treaty ended Spanish rule in Cuba, but made the island, while nominally independent, a U.S. protectorate. Spain also ceded Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the United States. In the Philippines, however, U.S. forces would fight to suppress a nationalist insurgency until July 1902. 

The Memorial: History and Significance

In April 1900, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America undertook the responsibility of constructing a memorial to those who had died during the Spanish-American War. Founded in 1891, this civic organization consisted of women who could claim a family lineage dating to the original thirteen colonies. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America was one of several such heritage groups established in the late 19th century, as white Americans sought to create and sustain notions of national identity in the wake of the Civil War. The Society also exemplified how women, before winning the right to vote, could participate in politics and public life through voluntary civic organizations. In the era of the Spanish-American War, the public work of commemorating the dead became one important way for women to have influence in society. 

The Society raised funds and created an Executive Committee for the Spanish War Memorial and Marker, electing Winifred Lee Brent Lyster as chair. In March 1901, the committee's design received approval from the Army's quartermaster general and Secretary of War Elihu Root. Just over a year later, on May 21, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the memorial. Approximately 50 feet tall, the Corinthian column is constructed of Barre granite. At its top, a bronze eagle perches on a sphere. Black granite spheres stand at each corner of the base, and 44 bronze stars line the border of the upper base. Behind the monument stand four Spanish naval guns captured during the war. The two inner guns are from the Spanish-American War era; the outer two, from destroyed Spanish vessels, date to 1857 and 1831.

At the time of the memorial's dedication, the National Society of Colonial Dames also presented to Arlington National Cemetery a bound volume, entitled "Book of Patriots," containing the names of all U.S. service members who died during the war with Spain, regardless of their place of burial. The book initially resided at Arlington House. In October 1964, the National Society of Colonial Dames placed a bronze tablet at the rear of the memorial, which reads: "To the glory of God and in grateful remembrance of the men and women of the armed forces who in this century gave their lives for our country that freedom might live." A second tablet, also placed in 1964, simply states, "In honor of all who serve our country." 

Other Spanish-American War Memorials at Arlington