The impression made upon the United States and upon Europe by the battle of Manila was in an unexpected degree momentous. The extraordinary nature of the victory won by Commodore Dewey's squadron,--in which the enemy had 1,600 men killed and wounded, lost fourteen ships, valued at millions of dollars, vast stores of coal, supplies, guns, and equipments, together with a great colonial possession of enormous wealth and resources, without the loss of one man or one ship by the victors,--filled the world with amazement and admiration, and caused the United States to ring with enthusiasm for the cool and intrepid commander and his brave sailors.
The first news received was through distorted sources at Madrid, where reports came from Manila speaking of glorious action by the Spaniards and confessing by piecemeal Spanish losses. Accustomed to the mendacity of Spanish reports and the duplicity of the officials discharging the function of supervising all information concerning the war, the English-written press of the world eked out from an involved mass of incoherent exultation and evasion the central fact of a sweeping American victory. The moment this was recognized all possibility of obtaining details was destroyed by the cutting of the cable. For a week there was suspense, during which the fact of American victory was confirmed by desperate rioting in Madrid caused by the Spanish people discovering that their losses were greater than Senor Sagasta and his advisers had admitted.
On May 8 the despatch-boat McCulloch arrived at Hong-Kong from Manila with the first official reports from Commodore Dewey. They consisted of two brief messages, but no commander every conveyed to his country in fewer words so much information in detail of such a wonderful achievement. The first message, dated Manila, May 1, but sent only when the second was forwarded, was as follows:--
Squadron arrived at Manila at daybreak this morning. Immediately engaged the enemy and destroyed the following Spanish vessels: Reina Cristina, Castilla, Don Antonio, Isla de Ulloa, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Cuba, General Lezo, Marquis del Duero, Correo, Velasco, Isla de Mindanao, a transport and a water battery at Cavite. The squadron is uninjured and only a few men are slightly wounded. Only means of telegraphing is the American consul at Hong-Kong. I shall communicate with him.
The second, dated at Cavite, May 4, completed his record of the action:--
I have taken possession of the naval station at Cavite and destroyed its fortifications. Have destroyed fortifications at the bay entrance, paroling the garrison. I control the bay completely, and can take the city at any time. The squadron is in excellent health and spirits. The Spanish loss is not fully known, but very heavy; 1,500 killed, including the captain of the Reina Cristina. I am assisting in protecting the Spanish sick and wounded; 250 sick and wounded in hospital within our lines. Much excitement at Manila. Will protect foreign residents.
With these came columns of press reports of the victory. The suspense of a week to Americans accustomed to the procurement and immediate publication of all news at every hazard and at any cost, found relief in a national outburst of praise of the victorious commander and the officers and men of his squadron. In every city and hamlet the news fired the popular imagination. "Dewey day" was set apart in many cities and towns, and school children rehearsed patriotic speeches and songs. Naval authorities of the world testified to the completeness of the demonstration of American fighting ability and to the unprecedented annihilation of an adversary in his own fastness without the slightest loss in return. It was conceded that the name of Dewey should be enrolled among the names of immortal heroes. The Secretary of the Navy, upon the receipt of Commodore Dewey's reports, cabled to him and his men, in the President's name, the thanks of the American people for the "splendid achievement and overwhelming victory," in recognition of which the President appointed Commodore Dewey an acting admiral. On the following Monday the President sent a message to Congress recommending the adoption of a vote of thanks. "The magnitude of this victory," said the President in his message, "can hardly be measured by the ordinary standards of naval warfare. Outweighing any material advantage is the moral effect of this initial success. With this unsurpassed achievement, the great heart of our nation throbs, not with boasting or with greed of conquest, but with deep gratitude that this triumph has come in a just cause, and that by the grace of God an effective step has thus been taken towards the attainment of the wished-for peace. To those whose skill, courage, and devotion have won the fight, the gallant commander and the brave officers and men who aided him, our country owes an incalculable debt."
To the American people the victory at Manila was indisputable proof of the superiority of American training, discipline, intelligence, mechanical skill, and courage, to the ignorant and undisciplined bravery of the Spaniard. The capacity of the free volunteer in the regular branches of armed science as against the forced conscription of the continental systems was again emphasized, and the people now looked confidently to see the same spirit exhibited in the army organizing to occupy Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. To those countries that believed the American navy to be manned by foreigners and mercenaries disinclined to stand up at the critical moment, the lesson was startling.
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