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Collection The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures

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.

The Fleet Steaming up North River. Edison Manufacturing Co. August 20, 1898. Hudson River, New York City. Camera, J. Stuart Blackton and/or Albert E. Smith. Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress.

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.

71st Regiment, Camp Wyckoff. American Mutoscope & Biograph Co. Filmed ca. Sept. 1898. Camp Wikoff at Montauk Point, Long Island, New York. Camera, F.S. Armitage. Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress.

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 and Schley Controversy. Political cartoon in the New York Journal and Advertiser, July 24, 1901.

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

Other Homecomings

Evacuation Day, Cuba

Camp Wikoff

Sampson-Schley Controversy

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