Church History
Spanish-American War
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“Spanish-American War,” Church History Topics

“Spanish-American War”

Spanish-American War

Revolutionaries in Cuba mounted an insurgency in 1895 against Spain, which triggered a conflict that, although intended to achieve national independence, eventually escalated into a larger war. 1 Opinions in the United States and Europe had remained divided until the American naval ship USS Maine sank suddenly in Havana Harbor in 1898. 2 Various diplomatic overtures failed to secure Cuban independence, and on April 25 the United States declared war against Spain. For a little over three months, the United States and Spain fought a mostly naval war in two hemispheres near territories claimed by Spain: Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific. The Spanish government agreed to a protocol in August that led to a formal treaty ending the war the following year. 3

The United States initially deployed a regular army of around 28,000 soldiers but eventually enlisted a significant volunteer force that included hundreds of Latter-day Saint servicemen. 4 The territory of Utah had gained statehood just two years prior, and many citizens appeared eager to demonstrate their patriotism. Out of the hundreds from Utah who embarked, very few died in the brief war. 5

The Spanish-American War created new opportunities for the Church. Elias S. Kimball, who was serving as president of the Southern States Mission, was invited by the First Presidency to be commissioned as the first Latter-day Saint chaplain in the armed forces of the United States. Kimball served as a chaplain in Cuba in 1898, the first of many subsequent Latter-day Saint chaplains. 6 The United States claimed the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico as territories in the aftermath of the war, bringing North American Latter-day Saints into greater missionary contact with new areas. 7 Notably, the popular debate over American intervention in Cuba and the Philippines elicited responses from some prominent members of the Church that celebrated military service and the growing national status of the United States. Whereas early Latter-day Saints throughout the 19th century had resisted cooperating with the United States military, their descendants saw the Spanish-American War as a visible chance to show patriotism and support the national government. 8

Notes

  1. David F. Trask, The War with Spain in 1898 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), 1–3.

  2. The cause of the Maine’s sinking remained politically controversial and debated by historians into the 21st century. Over 260 crew members were killed after an explosion rocked the forward section of the ship near the living quarters. See Trask, The War with Spain, xii.

  3. Trask, The War with Spain, 444.

  4. Return of the Volunteers,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1899, 870–71. The exact number of Latter-day Saints who participated in the war is unknown. The Improvement Era mentioned 354 servicemen, likely omitting others who did not serve in Batteries A, B, or C of the Utah Light Artillery. Utah veterans later honored for their service in the Spanish-American War exceeded 700, still a lower figure than what likely included Latter-day Saints serving in the United States military from outside of Utah.

  5. James I. Mangum, “The Spanish-American and Philippine Wars,” in Robert C. Freeman, ed., Nineteenth-Century Saints at War (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2007), 188; “Return of the Volunteers,” 871; see also Topics: Mormon Battalion, Mexican-American War.

  6. Mangum, “The Spanish-American and Philippine Wars,” 168.

  7. Philippines,” Country Profile, newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

  8. Robert H. Hellebrand, “General Conference Addresses during Times of War,” in Patrick Q. Mason, J. David Pulsipher, Richard L. Bushman, eds., War and Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 132.