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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
By Matthew Gailani
On April 22, 1898, the USS Nashville fired shots at a Spanish ship. The Nashville was an American gunboat sailing near Cuba at the time. It was commanded by a Tennessean. His name was Washburn Maynard. Maynard’s father was from Knoxville and supported the North during the Civil War. Thirty-Three years later, Maynard found himself at the beginning of a different war. This was the Spanish-American War, and he had just fired some of the first shots. But why was the U.S. at war with Spain? Why were they fighting near Cuba?
Crew of the USS Nashville, Tennessee State Museum Collection
The United States had been interested in Cuba for a long time. President James K. Polk (also from Tennessee) even tried to buy it once for $100 million dollars. Cuba was a colony of Spain. This meant that Spain controlled Cuba. Many Cubans were angry about this. They wanted independence.
The USS Maine, Tennessee State Museum Collection
In the United States, many Americans sympathized with the Cubans. The Spanish used terrible violence to control Cuba. Many Americans also didn’t want Spain to control land so close to the U.S. They wanted America to be more powerful in the Caribbean.
These Americans became even angrier when the USS Maine exploded off the coast of Cuba on February 15, 1898. The USS Maine was also a ship. The explosion killed 266 American sailors. Today, historians believe the explosion was an accident. In 1898, the U.S. blamed the explosion on Spain. Some newspapers wanted the U.S. to go to war with Spain. To get America to fight, they published stories that weren’t always true or were exaggerated. This was called Yellow Journalism. Eventually, the United States declared war on Spain.
Remember the Maine Button, Tennessee State Museum Collection
While we call it the Spanish-American War today, fighting didn’t happen in the U.S. or Spain. Instead, the two countries fought in Spain’s colonies. They fought mostly in Cuba and the Philippines. The Philippines were another Spanish colony in the Pacific Ocean in Asia. Cuba and the Philippines had been fighting for their independence for a long time against Spain.
When war was declared, many Tennesseans volunteered. In fact, about 4,000 soldiers from Tennessee volunteered. Some Tennesseans fought with a group called the Rough Riders. These were soldiers led by future President, Theodore Roosevelt.
Other Tennesseans fought with other famous groups. One such Tennessean was Alfred M. Ray. Alfred was from Jonesborough. He served with the Black Tenth U.S. Cavalry. They were also known as the Buffalo Soldiers. During that time, the U.S. Army was segregated. This meant Black soldiers were not allowed to serve in the same groups as white soldiers. Even while fighting this racism, the Buffalo Soldiers fought bravely. At the Battle of San Juan Hill, Ray and other Black soldiers continued the attack after the white officers had been either killed or wounded. Under fierce gunfire, Ray planted the first American flag on the hill. He was promoted for his bravery.
American Uniform, Tennessee State Museum Collection
Eventually, the United States defeated Spain. As a result, Spain gave control of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the U.S. Puerto Rico and Guam were other Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean. The island of Cuba declared independence. However, the U.S. Military occupied it until 1902. This meant that after the War, these colonies had not really won independence. Instead, they were now under the control of the United States. This war still impacts the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean over 100 years later.
Colony – A country or area that is under the control of another country.
Sympathize – To feel sorry for someone/something. To agree with someone.
Caribbean – An area of the world. It includes the Caribbean ocean, the islands in it, and the coastline surrounding it. It is located just south of the Southeastern U.S.
Exaggerated – To say that something is better or worse than it really is.
Yellow Journalism – Journalism (newspapers) that is based on exaggerating stories or events.
Segregated – To set apart or divide groups of people. In this example, segregating people based on the color of their skin.
Which ship’s explosion in 1898 helped spark the Spanish-American War?
What role did the press (newspapers) play in the Spanish-American War?
Why do you think the Cuban’s wanted independence from Spain?
How do you think African-Americans felt about being forced to serve in segregated regiments?
How do you think the Cubans and Filipinos (someone from the Philippines) felt about having their countries controlled by the U.S. after the war?
Using Google Earth, find the following countries/areas involved in the Spanish – American War: Cuba, Spain, The Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. https://www.google.com/earth/
Click on the link below to look at historic newspapers from 1898! Once you open the page:
Click “Use this Resource.”
Next click “Advanced Search.”
Scroll down to “publication date” and change to “on this date.”
Select the Date February 17, 1898.
Once you have done this, you will be able to read headlines from this day in history! Type in “Maine” to get more specific headlines.
What do the headlines say? Do you think the newspaper was for or against the war? Why?
*If you have any trouble using the link ask your parents or an adult for help! https://tntel.info/resource/tennessean-1812-2002
Matthew Gailani is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum
Tennessee State Social Studies Standards:
5.07 - Analyze the causes, course, and consequences of the Spanish-American War, including: Imperialism, Rough Riders, USS Maine, and Yellow Journalism.
AAH. 28 - Describe the impact of African American regiments on the western campaigns, the Spanish-American War, and World War I.
US. 21 - Describe the causes of the Spanish-American War and the outcomes of American imperialism, including: Annexation of Hawaii, Philippine Insurrection, Roosevelt Corollary, Panama Canal and Access to Cuba.
Baxter, Colin F. “Spanish-American War”. Tennessee Encyclopedia. Tennessee Historical Society. October 18, 2021. https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/spanish-american-war/
“Buffalo Soldiers and the Spanish-American War”. National Park Service. October 18, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/prsf/learn/historyculture/buffalo-soldiers-and-the-spanish-american-war.htm
Palmie, Stephan, and Francisco A. Scarano. The Caribbean: a History of the Region and Its Peoples. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.
“Spanish American War”. Tennessee 4 Me. Tennessee State Museum. October 18, 2021. http://www.tn4me.org/minor_cat.cfm/minor_id/91/major_id/30/era_id/6
“The Spanish-American War, 1898”. Office of the Historian. United States Department of State. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/spanish-american-war
“This Mysterious Event Led to the Spanish-American War”. Smithsonian Channel. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhIFX8xgiM4