Collection The Spanish-American War in Motion PicturesShow Featured Items
"Remember the Maine": The Beginnings of War
Soon after their invention, motion pictures became a popular attraction in vaudeville and variety stage venues. Events such as the Spanish-American War increased the movies' popularity, since films of the war sparked great interest and patriotism in theater-goers. Their interest was certainly strengthened by the press which exploited the events occurring in Cuba in order to attract a larger circulation. Sensationalist stories of Spanish atrocities abounded in the newspapers and encouraged motion picture producers to take advantage of a potentially lucrative situation.
The films of the Spanish-American War in the Library of Congress' collections are from two companies, the Edison Manufacturing Company and the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, both of which played a prominent role in filming subjects related to the war.
After riots broke out in Havana, Cuba, in January 1898, the battleship U.S.S. Maine was sent there to safeguard American interests, although the Secretary of the Navy, John D. Long, insisted that it was only making a friendly call. A mysterious explosion destroyed the Maine on February 15, 1898, while in the Havana Harbor. Although the cause of the explosion was unknown, the American public soon became consumed with "war fever," blaming the Spanish in Cuba for the attack.
The Biograph Co. reacted quickly to this event by taking the film Battleships "Iowa" and "Massachusetts" and retitling it as Battleships "Maine" and "Iowa" to capitalize on popular interest. Biograph also took advantage of a visit to New York by the Spanish battleship Vizcaya on February 28 to film it.
Cameramen Billy Bitzer and Arthur Marvin were sent almost immediately by Biograph to Cuba to film events related to the increasing tensions. There they filmed the wreckage of the Maine and other motion pictures in Havana. Other Biograph film crews were sent to Washington, D.C., to film ships, cavalry, and Theodore Roosevelt. The resulting motion pictures proved very popular to vaudeville audiences who were eager to see views of the situation.
The Edison Manufacturing Co. was determined not to let Biograph dominate the market for films of this fast-approaching war and hired William Paley, an independent cameraman, as a licensee to cover the Cuban crisis. Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst supplied transportation for Paley and a reporter from the New York Journal, Karl Decker, on the Journal's dispatch yacht Buccaneer. Paley first went to Key West, Florida, where he filmed Burial of the "Maine" Victims. Other films he shot in the Key West area include War Correspondents, which featured a staged race between reporters to the cable office to telegraph war news, and the U.S. Battleship "Indiana", part of Admiral Sampson's North Atlantic Squadron that would see action in a blockade of Cuba and the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. Paley then traveled down to Havana Harbor where he filmed Wreck of the Battleship "Maine" and Morro Castle, Havana Harbor. Afterwards, he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he filmed Secretary of the Navy Long and Captain Sigsbee of the Maine on the steps of the Navy Department.
On April 19, 1898, Congress passed a joint resolution recognizing Cuban independence and demanding Spanish withdrawal from Cuba, which was signed by President William McKinley the following day. The President was also granted the power to use military might to enforce the resolution. Spain officially broke off relations with the United States on April 21, enabling Congress to declare on April 25 that a state of war had existed between the two countries since April 21.
Paley was sent back to Florida in May to film preparations for the war. Tampa, Florida, was one of the main assembly points for troops to be trained and acclimatized to tropical conditions. The Expeditionary Force that was to invade Cuba was assembled at Tampa consisting mostly of the Fifth and Seventh Corps. The Fifth Corps was made up of regular soldiers, rather than volunteers. The Army in Tampa was unprepared to deal with such a large influx of troops. A shortage of supplies, food, and proper accommodations resulted. Boredom also became rampant as the army waited for orders to leave Tampa. Paley filmed the troops performing various duties in Tampa before they shipped out to Cuba, those shipping out included the Rough Riders and the 2nd Battalion of Colored Infantry. Paley also filmed escaped Cuban reconcentrados--Cubans who had been forcibly relocated into concentration camps in Cuba by the Spanish authorities. Approximately 100,000 Cubans had died in these camps as a result of poor living conditions, which caused many in the U.S. to decry their use. Paley filmed the first ship to leave with troops to the front, the transport Whitney which carried a battalion of the 5th Infantry.
On May 20, 1898, the Edison Manufacturing Company released a special supplement to its catalog entitled War Extra, which included the Paley films. This bulletin offered "pictures of stirring camp life, transportation of troops and general bustle of military preparations." It further promised that the motion pictures would be "sure to satisfy the craving of the general public for absolutely true and accurate details regarding the movements of the United States Army getting ready for the invasion of Cuba."
Films of the Beginnings of War
- Burial of the "Maine" Victims
- War Correspondents
- N.Y. Journal Despatch Yacht "Buccaneer"
- Wreck of the Battleship "Maine"
- Morro Castle, Havana Harbor
- U.S. Battleship "Indiana"
- Secretary Long and Captain Sigsbee
- "Vizcaya" Under Full Headway
Films of Military Preparations
- 10th U.S. Infantry, 2nd Battalion Leaving Cars
- U.S. Cavalry Supplies Unloading at Tampa, Florida
- Colored Troops Disembarking
- 9th Infantry Boys' Morning Wash
- Military Camp at Tampa, Taken from Train
- Transport "Whitney" Leaving Dock
- Cuban Refugees Waiting for Rations
- Troop Ships for the Philippines
- Blanket-Tossing a New Recruit
- Soldiers Washing Dishes
- Trained Cavalry Horses
- Roosevelt's Rough Riders Embarking for Santiago
- Cuban Volunteers Embarking
- Roosevelt's Rough Riders
The War in Cuba
On June 14, American army troops left Tampa to begin their invasion of Cuba. Edison photographer Paley made his way down to Cuba with other reporters and filmed what was said to be the first U.S. troops to land on Cuban soil (U.S. Troops Landing at Daiquirí, Cuba). Although other U.S. troops had landed at Cuba in May to bring supplies to Cuban insurgents, the landing at Daiquirí was the first by the Expeditionary Force. Paley filmed the troops as they made their way from Daiquirí to Santiago, and filmed Major-General William Rufus Shafter, the commander of the U.S. Expeditionary Force. En route from Siboney to El Caney, Paley's cart broke down. After a rainy night in the open air, Paley became quite ill and his camera no longer worked, forcing him to return to the United States.
Biograph had photographers in Cuba and the Philippines as well, expending considerable resources to obtain war films. Two of the Cuban Biograph films presented here are Wreck of the "Vizcaya", filmed after the defeat of the Spanish Squadron in Santiago Harbor on July 3, showing the destroyed Spanish armoured cruiser, and Wounded Soldiers Embarking in Row Boats, filmed in Siboney after the battle of Las Guaymas. The latter shows wounded soldiers embarking in a rowboat for the hospital ship Olivette. Like Edison cameraman Paley, Biograph photographer Billy Bitzer became ill while in Cuba with typhoid malaria and had to return home.
The limitations of film equipment prevented the filming of actual battles, so Edison offered reenactments of the fighting made for the most part in New Jersey using National Guard troops. Film reenactments such as Shooting Captured Insurgents showed Spanish soldiers killing Cuban prisoners, while U.S. Infantry Supported by Rough Riders at El Caney and Skirmish of Rough Riders offered patriotic glimpses of the popular Rough Riders fighting.
Actualities of the War in Cuba
- U.S. Troops Landing at Daiquirí, Cuba
- Packing Ammunition on Mules, Cuba
- Major General Shafter
- Pack Mules with Ammunition on the Santiago Trail, Cuba
- Troops Making Military Road in Front of Santiago
- Wounded Soldiers Embarking in Row Boats
- Wreck of the "Vizcaya"
Reenactments of Events in Cuba
The War Ends: Parades and Controversies
After fighting ended with the signing of a Peace Protocol between the United States and Spain in August 1898, the film companies were eager to get footage of the returning war heroes. Both Edison and Biograph filmed the Sampson homecoming parade on August 20, 1898, in New York City. Several views of the ships involved in the war were shown heading up the Hudson River. In particular, the Library of Congress has footage of the Brooklyn, the Texas, and the Oregon. The Brooklyn, Commodore Schley's flagship in his Flying Squadron, was an armoured cruiser weighing more than 8,000 tons. The Texas, also part of Schley's Flying Squadron, was one of the first American battleships and weighed over 6,000 tons. The Oregon, one of the navy's newest battleships at the time, was classified as a first-class battleship, weighing over 10,000 tons, with guns on six revolving turrets. Under the command of Captain Charles Clark, the Oregon had made history with a record-breaking, high-speed journey from San Francisco around South America to Key West in order to join up with Sampson's fleet for the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. The Fleet Steaming Up North River also shows the Brooklyn along with a view of the bow of the first-class battleship Indiana near the end. Crowds of onlookers can be seen watching the parade from the tops of freight trains on the tracks between the river and Riverside Park.
Edison also filmed the Parade of Marines, U.S. Cruiser, "Brooklyn" on October 1, 1898, in Brooklyn. In this film, the Marine Band of the Brooklyn was shown followed by the ship's 300 Marines. Another New York homecoming, Astor Battery on Parade, featured John Jacob Astor's privately-financed military unit that fought in the Philippines during the war.
In Havana, Edison photographers recorded events of Evacuation Day on January 1, 1899, when the Spanish armies officially left the island. Two of the Library's films show the procession on the Prado, a main boulevard.
Back home, Biograph sent its camera crews to film the soldiers at Camp Wikoff on Montauk Point, Long Island, after their return from the Cuban campaign. Many of the servicemen in Cuba had contracted tropical fevers, which had prompted the U.S. government to establish Camp Wikoff as a place where these soldiers could be quarantined until they recuperated. The evacuation of the Fifth Corps to Montauk was made before the camp was ready, resulting in inadequate provisions of housing, food and medical facilities. Secretary of War Russell Alger was blamed in popular opinion for the condition of the camp as well as for poor care of the troops while in Cuba, prompting President McKinley to create a special commission to investigate the conduct of the War Department during the war. By September, the situation at Camp Wikoff had improved measurably, and President McKinley visited the camp to show his approval, which the Biograph cameras recorded. Over 20,000 soldiers were evacuated to Camp Wikoff before it closed on October 28; 257 died while there.
Another controversy arose after the war in Cuba ended between Admiral Sampson and Admiral Schley. Director Edwin S. Porter filmed for Edison a series of motion pictures based on a cartoon in the New York Journal and Advertiser that depicted then Commodore Winfield Scott Schley bravely fighting on the bridge of the Brooklyn, while Admiral Sampson amused himself at a tea party with "old maids." The cartoon referred to a series of events leading up to the naval Battle of Santiago de Cuba in which it appeared that Schley defied orders from Sampson.
On May 18, 1898, Schley's Flying Squadron had been sent by Sampson to Cienfuegos to pursue the Spanish Squadron under the command of Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete. When Sampson received news that Cervera was in Santiago de Cuba, not Cienfuegos, he initially vacillated, at first informing Schley of the rumor, yet requesting him to stay at Cienfuegos, then later changing his orders to have Schley investigate the situation at Santiago. Although Schley was subordinate to Sampson, he was accustomed to exercising independent command of his ship. Schley decided to stay at Cienfuegos, feeling that all signs indicated that Cervera was there in the harbor. After hearing from Cuban insurgents that Cervera was definitely not at Cienfuegos, Schley decided to obey Sampson's orders three days after receiving them and go to Santiago. When the crew of three American cruisers he encountered denied knowledge of Cervera's whereabouts, Schley decided to return to Key West to get coal for his ship. The Navy Department sent a despatch to Schley asking him to stay at Santiago, but he replied that he was unable to obey these orders. Inexplicably, Schley decided mid-voyage to return to Santiago on May 28, where the following day it was confirmed that the Spanish Squadron was there.
Sampson arrived on June 1 and assumed command. The American ships formed a blockade across the harbor to trap the Spanish ships.
On July 3, while Sampson was en route to meet General Shafter onshore, Cervera attempted to squeeze his squadron through the blockade. Schley had assumed control in Sampson's absence. When the Maria Teresa of the Spanish Squadron tried to ram the Brooklyn, Schley's flagship, he ordered the ship to steer away from the Maria Teresa, causing a near collision with the Texas. This gave the Spanish ships added time to escape, but the American fleet, including the Brooklyn, pursued the Spanish Squadron and succeeded in destroying it completely. Only one American seaman was killed, Chief Yeoman George W. Ellis of the Brooklyn, who is portrayed as bravely fighting on deck in the film Sampson-Schley Controversy.
When the victory message from Sampson was reported, it contained no reference to any officer other than himself, even though he was not involved in the actual fighting. Sampson was certainly loath to praise Schley's role in the fighting given Schley's earlier behavior. Sampson was of the opinion that were it not for the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, Schley would have been court-martialed. The public, however, encouraged by the popular press, viewed Schley as the hero of the war, and Sampson as indecorous for not acknowledging Schley's role. Controversy over Schley's conduct prompted Schley to demand a court of inquiry which lasted for 40 days and ultimately criticized Schley for vacillation and "lack of enterprise." His role in the sinking of the Spanish Squadron, however, was praised by the court. The Edison films of this controversy are pro-Schley in that they depict him as the hero of the battle while Sampson was off enjoying tea.
Although fighting between the United States and Spain had ceased by August 1898, the war was not officially over until April 11, 1899, when the United States and Spain formally exchanged ratifications for the Treaty of Paris.
Sampson Homecoming Parade
- The Fleet Steaming Up North River
- Reviewing the "Texas" at Grant's Tomb
- U.S. Battleship "Oregon"
- Observation Train Following Parade
- Close View of the "Brooklyn," Naval Parade
Evacuation Day, Cuba
- 71st Regiment, Camp Wyckoff
- General Wheeler and Secretary Alger
- McKinley and Party
- President Roosevelt and the Rough Riders
The Philippine Revolution
Although the fighting with Spain in the Philippines had ended in August 1898, American troops found themselves with more battles to fight there in order to assert U.S. dominance over the region. The fighting with Filipino rebels began as a result of the U.S. refusal to include the Filipino nationalists in negotiations over the future of the Philippines. The Philippines were ceded to the United States by Spain for $20 million by the Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10, 1898. On December 21, 1898, President McKinley issued the Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation, which outlined his colonizing policies in the Philippines. In response, the Philippine Republic was declared on January 1 with Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy as its president, but the United States refused to recognize it as the legitimate government. In reaction to this non-recognition, the Filipino government proclaimed its constitution on January 27, 1899. By February 4, the Philippine Republic had declared war on the United States after three Filipino soldiers were killed by U.S. troops. The fighting eventually came to be known by a variety of names: the Philippine Insurrection, the Philippine-American War, the Filipino-American War, the Philippine War, and the Philippine Revolution, to name a few.
Aguinaldo was eventually captured by American troops led by Colonel Frederick Funston on March 23, 1901. Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the hostilities in the Philippines over on July 4, 1902, although guerrilla resistance continued.
Biograph sent two expeditions to cover the Philippine Campaign, as it was called in the company catalog. Three films in this presentation were shot in 1900 during the Philippine Revolution: Aguinaldo's Navy, filmed on the Pasig River near Manila; 25th Infantry; and An Historic Feat.
The film 25th Infantry featured an African-American regiment, which had won an impressive victory at El Caney, Cuba. The regiment had been sent to the Philippines in August 1899, and engaged frequently with the enemy in many skirmishes, winning particular recognition for their successful raid on the town of O'Donnell.
An Historic Feat featured General J. Franklin Bell's mule pack train swimming the Agno River in Northern Luzon. General Bell arrived in the Philippines as a major in a volunteer regiment. Often performing dangerous reconnaissance missions, he rose quickly through the ranks to become colonel in command of the 36th Infantry. He eventually attained the rank of Chief of Staff of the Army. Bell's contribution to the fighting included strengthening the intelligence services of the army and taking hard measures against rebels and their supporters, even to the extremes of harassment and punishment. His most controversial measure was ordering the concentration of the populace into protected zones to fight counterinsurgency. Although efforts were made to prevent the suffering of these people, poor conditions in the camps may have led to the deaths of as many as 11,000 Filipinos, according to some estimates.
Rather than send a camera crew abroad, the Edison Manufacturing Company made reenactments of events in the Philippines under the supervision of James White, Kinetograph Department Manager for Edison. In Advance of Kansas Volunteers at Caloocan, Colonel Frederick Funston's men are depicted fighting in a battle that lasted less than two hours, resulting in the victory of his 20th Kansas Infantry. In that battle, Funston relied on using a constant line of assault firing to back the rebels away from their defenses; the Filipinos can be seen retreating from their trenches in U.S. Troops and Red Cross in the Trenches before Caloocan.
Colonel Funstan Swimming the Baglag River [sic] shows Funston heroically taking his fellow soldiers by raft to shore under enemy fire. The film refers to an incident that occurred when his regiment was faced with the daunting task of swimming the Bagbag River. Not knowing whether Filipino soldiers were awaiting them on the far shore, Funston led four other soldiers in swimming to the other side where they fell into the nearest Filipino trench, which was abandoned. Since Funston encountered no opposition the rest of the brigade soon crossed the river without incident. Funston later was awarded a commendation for "most distinguished gallantry in action."
According to the Edison catalog, Filipinos Retreat from Trenches is the depiction of an incident from the Battle of the Trenches at Candaba.
Actualities of Events in the Philippines
Reenactments of Events in the Philippines
- U.S. Troops and Red Cross in the Trenches Before Caloocan
- Advance of Kansas Volunteers at Caloocan
- Colonel Funstan Swimming the Baglag River
- Filipinos Retreat from Trenches
- Capture of Trenches at Candaba
The return of war heroes from the Philippines caused another flurry of homecoming events. The U.S. cruiser Raleigh was the first boat of the Pacific Squadron to visit the U.S. after the war and was filmed by the Edison Company on the Hudson River in April 1899. The Raleigh was famous for having fired the first gun at Manila on August 13.
War hero Admiral George Dewey, famous for his victory at Manila Bay early in the Spanish-American War, was met with great acclaim upon his return. He was first filmed on his trip back to the United States at Gibraltar in early September 1899. The Edison Manufacturing Co. was granted permission to film Dewey meeting with the Committee of Arrangements on board the U.S. cruiser Olympia in New York Harbor on September 28. A naval parade was conducted on September 29, followed by a New York City land parade the next day. The popularity of the admiral was such that an arch was also constructed in his honor.
Return of the "Raleigh"
- Admiral Dewey Landing at Gibraltar
- Admiral Dewey Receiving the Washington and New York Committees
- Admiral Dewey Taking Leave of Washington Committee on the U.S. Cruiser "Olympia"
- U.S. Cruiser "Olympia" Leading Naval Parade
- Governor Roosevelt and Staff
- Admiral Dewey Leading Land Parade
- The Dewey Arch
- The Dandy Fifth
A Drama of the Spanish-American War
Love and War was created to be projected while an accompanying song of the same title was sung. Sheet music was supplied by Edison. This early drama of the war depicted a soldier going to war, fighting bravely, falling in love with a Red Cross nurse, and then returning home victoriously. The print in the Library of Congress is most likely incomplete. The Edison Manufacturing Company catalog described the film as follows:
We have at last succeeded in perfectly synchronizing music and moving pictures. The following scenes are very carefully chosen to fit the words and the songs, which have been especially composed for these pictures.
Love and War
An illustrated song telling the story of a hero who leaves for the war as a private, is promoted to the rank of captain for bravery in service, meets the girl of his choice, who is a Red Cross nurse on the field, and finally returns home triumphantly as an officer to the father and mother to whom he bade good-by as a private. The film presents this beautiful song picture in six scenes, each of which has a separate song, making the entire series a complete and effective novelty.
- "Our hero boy to the war has gone." Words and music.
- "What! A letter from home." Words and music.
- The battle prayer. "Father, on Thee I Call." Words and music.
- "Weeping, Sad and Lonely." Words and music.
- The mother's lament. "Come back, my dear boy, to me." Words and music.
- When our hero boy comes back again. Hurrah! Hurrah! "Star Spangled Banner." Words and music.
The above scene can be illustrated either by a soloist, quartette or with an orchestra, and with or without stereopticon slides. This series of animated pictures, when properly illustrated or announced by stereoptican reading matter, should make a great success. Length 200 feet, complete with words of song and music. Class A $45.00.
A variety of sources was consulted for the writing of all materials accompanying these films. They are listed below, divided into motion picture sources, Spanish-American War sources, and Philippine Revolution sources.