The year of 1998 marks the centennial of the Spanish-American War and in commemoration of this historical event, a series of activities will be taking place throughout our community, the state and the nation.
Tampa was placed in a unique position of importance in the summer of 1898 as thirty thousand U.S. Army troops converged on our area on their way to aid Cuba in its fight for independence from Spain. As a result, the Spanish-American War put Tampa on the map for the first time in history. In addition to its geographical location and its deep water port, the choice of our city as a point of embarkation was directly related to Henry B. Plant - his railroad line, his ships, his luxurious Tampa Bay Hotel, and his lobbying.
Listed herein are some of the events that will highlight this significant period in our history. I hope that your participation in these events is an educational and enjoyable experience.
The Spanish-American War - A Tampa Perspective
In the days before the destruction of the USS Maine in Habana harbor, Tampa was a small sleepy town in Hillsborough County, Florida. There were only twenty churches, three banks, eight private schools, seven public schools, one brewery, and one hundred and fifty factories producing close to ninety million cigars per year for export. There were approximately eighty miles of streets and twenty miles of street car lines that serviced Tampa, West Tampa, Ybor City, and Ballast Point. Nearly thirty five thousand tourists visited Tampa, a number that would triple in the years following that "Splendid Little War" of 1898.
Tampa had been involved with Cuba's struggle for freedom from Spain almost from its beginning. During the Ten-Year War (1868-1878), a Tampa native, Captain Joseph Fry, nearly brought the United States and Spain to war. Fry, a former Confederate naval officer, was captain of the S.S. Virginius, a blockade runner. Carrying guns and 300 Cuban rebels, Captain Fry sailed to Cuba. The Virginius was captured by the Spaniards resulting in Captain Fry and fifty three freedom fighters being executed before a firing squad at Santiago de Cuba on November 7, 1873. This incident severely strained relations between the United States and Spain.
During Cuba's third and final war for independence that began in 1895, many Cuban insurrectionist leaders solicited support from the Cuban communities that sprang up in Florida during the 1880's. These were Key West, Ocala, Jacksonville, Fernandina, West Tampa, and Ybor City. Cuban patriot, Jose Marti, was one of the leaders of the Cuban insurrection of 1895. During his first visit to Tampa in November of 1891, Marti began to garner support from the Cuban Community in the Tampa area and became a frequent visitor to Ybor City and West Tampa. At "El Liceo Cubano," Jose Marti delivered two of his most famous speeches and drafted "Las Resoluciones" which became the basis of the United Cuban Revolutionary Party.
With the destruction of the United States Battleship Maine in Habana harbor on February 15, 1898 and with President McKinley's declaration of war on April 24, 1898, Tampa became a port of embarkation for U.S. troops on their way to Cuba. Seven camps were set up in the Tampa area: DeSoto Park, Fort Brooke, Palmetto Beach, Port Tampa, Tampa Heights, Ybor City and West Tampa. Some 30,000 troops arrived in Tampa and the Tampa Bay Hotel became headquarters for the expedition's leaders including Generals Miles, Shafter, and Wheeler; Lieutenant Colonel Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt; and Colonel Leonard Wood. The hotel also was the gathering place for various foreign military observers, newspapermen, mercenaries, and socialites. Among them were such notables as Clara Barton, Richard Harding Davis, Lt. Col. John Astor, Frederic Remington and Stephen Crane.
After boarding the ships on June 7, 1898, in anticipation of the journey to Cuba, the troops sweltered under the Florida sun in Tampa Bay for nearly a week due to a rumor that the Spanish fleet had broken through the naval blockade at Santiago. Roosevelt penned his relief by stating, "At last, on the evening of June 13, we received the welcome order to start. Ship after ship weighed anchor and went slowly ahead under half steam for the distant mouth of the harbor, the bands playing, the flags flying, the rigging black with the clustered soldiers, cheering and shouting to those left behind on the quay and to their fellows on the other ships." They were off to glory and to make their mark on history.
In 1898, Cuba finally secured its independence from Spain. By the end of the Spanish-American War, 66,000 troops had passed through Tampa's ports, and nearly 13,000 railroad freight cars had delivered food, ammunition, and medical supplies for the expedition to Cuba. The United States government spent six million dollars on the war, four million of which was spent in Florida. Tampa's "Splendid Little War" placed this "pine covered sand flats at the end of a one track railroad," as Colonel Roosevelt had once stated, on the map. One hundred years later, we are commemorating these events that shaped Tampa's history.
A.M. de Quesada, Jr.
1998 Calendar of Events
January - December
Centennial exhibit: Power, Politics, Personalities: Agendas of the Spanish-American War
January 31 - May 30
From Field to Factory: Tampa's Cigar Heritage
February - October
Spanish-American War Military Exhibit
The U.S. Army Field Band of Washington D.C. and Soldiers' Chorus Concert
March 14 - September 14
"Splendid Little War."
Book signing by Stan Cohen, author of Images of the Spanish-American War
Annual Oaklawn Cemetery Ramble
Open House and Spanish American War reenactment
"Victorian High Tea,"
Dinner/Dance to benefit the restoration project of a vintage streetcar and promote the
streetcar project linking Ybor City, Garrison Seaport and Downtown.
May 26 - December 4
Tampa 1898: The Homefront and the Spanish American War
May 28 - 31
Florida Historical Society 96th Annual Meeting: "The Spanish American War - A
Rough Riders Military Ball
Living History Encampment of the Volunteers of the Cuban Liberation Army circa 1898.
"You Are There - The Road to Cuban Independence"
Italian Club Open House
Ybor City Tours of cigar factories, immigrant statue, and museums.
Rough Riders Historical Parade
Spanish-American War Centennial Dinner & Fancy Ball
June 6 - 7
Spanish-American War Living History Encampment
June 20 - 21 and November 7 - 8
Spanish-American War Living History Encampment
The Centennial Commission