There’s little argument that the Spanish-American War marked the debut of the United States as a world power and the U.S. Navy as a modern world-class force. Indelible images of the watershed conflict include the explosion of the battleship Maine, Commodore George Dewey’s Manila Bay victory, and the San Juan heights heroics of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. For most people, the naval Battle of Santiago is farther down the list.
Lopsided though it was, however, the U.S. victory at the underappreciated 3 July 1898 battle sealed the fate of the Spanish in the naval-centric war. In this issue’s cover story, “‘We . . . Must Expect a Disaster,’” Navy Ensign Carlos Rosende examines the important fight by focusing on the Spanish commander, Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera. While the U.S. Navy had undergone a renaissance during the 1880s and ’90s (see “New Navy, New Power,” February, pp. 56–62), the Spanish navy was so unprepared for war in 1898 that Cervera did virtually everything he could to avoid battle.