The former Tampa Bay Hotel, now the University of Tampa — was erected as a winter retreat for the wealthy by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant.
During the Spanish-American War, however, it housed officers, including Col. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, before they departed for Cuba.
Dade City also served a role during that 1898 military conflict, which is sometimes referred to as “The Forgotten War” or that “Splendid Little War.”
Regiments from across the country made their way to the point of debarkation, in Tampa.
A nearly endless parade of troop trains passed through Dade City, as the soldiers headed to war.
“They made little stops along the way like they did in Dade City,” Joe Blunt said, during a recent presentation at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City.
It was obvious to those troops arriving in Tampa that preparations for war against Spain had overwhelmed the city of 15,000 residents.
Historian Gary R. Mormino, in a story published by The Tampa Tribune, offered this perspective: “It was the equivalent of 10 Super Bowls.”
The city, “had days, not years, to prepare for an avalanche of soldiers, horses, mules, equipment and ships,” according to Mormino’s account.
As the conflict with Spain was looming in 1898, Congress authorized the construction of coastal batteries under the $50 million Harbor Fortification Defense Act.
The U.S. government previously had convened the Endicott Board in 1885 to upgrade old Civil War forts at every major harbor in the United States.
The nation was armed and ready for the Spanish-American War with rapid-fire guns, submarine nets, underwater mines, searchlights, concrete and electricity.
Cavalry units were used, Blunt says, but many horses drowned when swimming to the shores.
No American Navy ships were damaged or sunk during the conflict.
Spain didn’t have any battleships, but the U.S. had four new ones, including the “Iowa.” That ship was described, by the U.S. War Department in 1898, “as nearly invulnerable as scientific naval architecture can make her.”
The Iowa was manned with 36 officers and 450 sailors.
It fired the first shot in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba on July 3, 1898.
Iowa’s firepower — which had never been seen in the world before — destroyed two Spanish cruisers and ran them aground within 20 minutes.
The U.S. landed 15,000 soldiers, southeast of Santiago de Cuba, including the 10th Cavalry from Montana under John J. Pershing.
That calvary, nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers, was an African-American unit.
Pershing expressed his respect and admiration for the Buffalo Soldiers’ bravery and courage. Pershing would later serve as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
During the Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers used smokeless rifles — which unlike the black powder ones used during the Civil War did not give away their positions.
“The Spanish could not easily see where the shooting was coming from,” Blunt said, during his talk. “But they could hear what sounded like someone punching a cardboard box when one of their men was hit and suddenly fell to the ground.”
The German Mauser was a popular bolt-action rifle used by American soldiers during the Spanish-American War. It later was the primary German combat rifle at the outbreak of World War I.
After the fall of the Third Reich at the end of World War II, the Soviet Union captured millions of Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles.
From the beginning of his administration, President William McKinley was concerned about the growing insurrection in Cuba. The national security was at stake, much like it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1962, under President John F. Kennedy.
For Kennedy, it was threat of a nuclear attack from missiles based in Cuba by the Soviet Union.
In 1898, it was the last remnants of a 300-year-old Spanish Empire that remained a threat to the United States.
On Feb. 15, 1898, the U.S.S. Maine was sunk while on an official visit to Havana.
With headlines including “Who Destroyed the Maine? $50,000 Reward,” “Invasion!” and “Spanish Treachery,” America’s two leading newspaper publishers, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, played off the growing tensions between the two countries and drummed up public opinion to go to war with Spain.
“Remember the Maine,” was the battle cry — still widely recognized today, Blunt says.
The cause of the Maine’s destruction, leading to the deaths of 266 officers and sailors, remains a mystery.
The Spanish-American War was waged in the Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Spain couldn’t afford the conflict on three fronts.
Under a peace treaty signed in Paris on Dec. 10, 1889, Spain relinquished title to Cuba, and ceded Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States.
By Doug Sanders
Doug Sanders has a penchant for unearthing interesting stories about local history. His sleuthing skills have been developed through his experiences in newspaper and government work. If you have an idea for a future history column, contact Doug at .
Published September 15, 2021