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The Spanish Mariners: From the Discovery of America to Trafalgar. 1492-1805. Observations and Reflections
by Paul V. Murray(1)
Since I am not a specialist in Spanish history, much less a specialist in Spanish naval history, one could ask why choose the topic I have announced as the subject of tonight's talk to you, the members of the Navy League. My answer is two-fold: More than forty-five years ago, when I first began graduate studies in Latin American affairs, I came upon the Spaniards fullface, so to speak, and little by little my admiration for their bold deeds, their thrilling accomplishments, even though marred so often by acts of unspeakable cruelty, grew with the passing years and my broadening experiences in the classroom and long living in the Hispanic American Country par excellence that is Mexico. The second reason for my choice is that I realize (as do many of you, I am sure) that our image of the Spaniard has been shaped by Hollywood far more than by study, travel or objective examination of other criteria that would give us a more complete vision of the Spaniard and his life through the ages. If we add to these consideration the simple fact that most of us here tonight have been raised in the Anglo-American cultural tradition, which nurtures distrust, suspicion and even hatred of much in Spanish life and culture, we can see how salutary it might be to take a closer look at the ancient enemy of England which is also, by coincidence, the European motherland of the Latin Americans with whom we Americans have been in conflict, off and on, for upwards of one hundred and fifty years.
But why the mariners, you may ask? Simply because I knew so little about them until tonight and because, although I can name a couple of dozen conquistadores without pausing for breath, I have to go to the reference books for the names of those who carried the Conquerors across the Atlantic and the Pacific. I can give the names of few obscure commanders of common seamen, of those who manned the galleys against the Turks; but in looking at what conqueror and general and pilot and common seaman did at various points in history, we can come to grasp the importance of those unknown sailors and then perhaps, on our own, read more about what they did in the days when men and women needed for more courage to venture to sea than we do today when we embark on a long journey aboard a jet airliner.
In the brief time at my disposal I have chosen to set out, in broad strokes and avoiding tiresome details, the following topics which I hope to treat in such a way that you will want to know more about each of them and that, as your alumni secretaries are always reminding you in their begging letters for old alma mater, you will make such pleasant study part of that "continuing education" we are always absorbing, consciously or not. The topics are 1. Early explorations and discoveries; 2. The battle of Lepanto, 1572; 3. The defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588; 4. The Manila Galleon, 1565-1815; 5. The battle of Trafalgar, 1805; 6. Epilogue, The Spanish Empire dies, the American Empire is, born, 1898.
1. Early Explorations and Discoveries. Too many American history courses used to make the Spaniards disappear once the discovery of the West Indian islands and the central and northern coasts of the mainland were noted. In less than seventy-five years, however, pilots and navigators, sailing what we would today call ridiculous cockle-shell ships, had gone up the Atlantic coast to the St. Lawrence river, had delivered Cortes and Narváez to the Mexican coast for the conquest of Anáhuac, had carried Balboa to the isthmian strait from which he saw the "South Sea"--our Pacific; had ferried Pizarro and his band to a shore from which they were to March to the plunder of the Incan Empire; had made exploratory trips up the west coast, seeking the fabled Northwest Passage, not to be found until today's Bering Strait was sighted much later on. In 1521, Spaniards and other sailors under a great Portuguese captain, Fernando Magellan, made the fearsome journey through the straits that still bear his name, set between Tierra del Fuego and that monstrous devourer of ships that came to be known as Cape Horn. Out onto the broad Pacific went the tiny fleet; and even though the great captain was killed in the Philippines, his successor, Sebastián Eleano, brought the ragged and sickly survivors back to Sevilla some three years after they had set sail. Vasco de Gama had gotten to the east by doubling the Cape of Good Hope in 1498. Magellan and his crew steered their craft from west to east and back home and ever since then the world has continued to shrink.
Since our concern is not with the land conquerors but with those who moved them about and carried supplies from the homeland, the Canaries and Cape Verdes, and the settled islands of the Caribbean, let us reflect for a moment on what such efforts involved. Navigational charts had to be drawn up, soundings made, harbors mapped, pilots trained. Little by little, the cockle-shells of the early years were replaced by huge galleons, sometimes armed, more often escorted by men-of-war designed to beat off pirates, privateers and the marauding ships of Spain's declared and undeclared enemies--the English, the Dutch and the French. Perhaps most of us have forgotten that the Western Hemisphere had few domesticated animals (the llamas and alpacas excepted) and that horses, cattle of all kinds, chickens, mules and many plants, including wheat had to be brought out from Spain and her island possessions to the new colonies that spread north, south and west from the Caribbean. While no great industries developed in the American colonies, they did ship back home great quantities of silver and some gold, along with lumber, dyewoods and mountains of hide, the chief product of the great plains of New Spain and the llanos and pampas of South America, where enormous herds of cattle produced a whole way of life that is still preserved in the life styles of the Mexican vaquero, the American cowboy and the Argentinian gaucho.
While it is true that Spain was not able to retain naval supremacy for long-largely due to weakened monarchical power and involvement in dynastic struggles which left both her population and her territory exhausted--it is also true that she retained her American possessions long after France had been all but eliminated and England had lost the choicest part of her colonies in the years of the War for Independence, whose bicentennial anniversary we are celebrating this year. By one means or another, the Hispanic maritime life lines were kept open to hemisphere ports until the last of the colonial entities declared their independence in 1823 and the American part of the empire shrank to the two large islands in the Caribbean, Cuba and Puerto Rico from which so many adventurers had departed in the distant past. We shall return to these islands again in our Epilogue.
2. The Battle of Lepanto, 1572. Who speaks of Lepanto today? In Hispanic lands many cultivated people would remember it as a sea battle in which Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V and half-brother of the immensely powerful Philip II of Spain, defeated a large Turkish fleet, and thus contained in the eastern Mediterranean the much-feared Moslem power that had captured the seemingly impregnable Constantinople in 1453 and extended its military and governmental emissaries northward into the Balkan Peninsula. Perhaps more of such folk will remember that the greatest figure in Spanish literature ,Miguel Cervantes Saavedra, creator of the immortal Don Quijote de la Mancha, took part in the battle that day and later lost an arm from a wound received there so that he has ever since been referred to as "El Manco de Lepanto" ("The One-Armed Man of Lepanto"). Some--perhaps very few--in the English-speaking world have thrilled to the irresistible drum beat of the verses in G.K. Chesterton's inspiring "Lepanto," perhaps the best poetic tribute ever dedicated to Don Juan, Cervantes and Don Quijote, and the great Christian victory.
But what was the true importance of the battle? Today we are concerned with Arab power because it can manipulate so-called petrodollars and thus raise or lower the energy sources of a great part of the world. The Turks at Lepanto were not Arabs but they were Moslem, converted to the gospel of Mohammed centuries before they invaded the Holy Land, captured Jerusalem, and called forth the variegated Christian crusades through the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries which had little lasting success in stopping the Turkish advance that eventually led them in 1453, as we have seen, to capture Constantinople, converted thereafter into Istanbul, their capital. No European nation, except Portugal, knew better than Spain what it was like to live under Moslem rule for the followers of the Prophet, less than one hundred years after his death, invaded the Iberian peninsula and though beaten by the Franks at Tours in 732, they remained in Iberia until finally driven out over seven centuries later ,when Granada, the last Moorish stronghold, fell to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
The battle of Lepanto itself, fought in the straits near the gulf of Corinth, pitted a strong Turkish fleet of some 300 vessels against a combined armada of about 250 Spanish, Venetian and Papal ships, of varied shapes and sizes, sailing under the banner of the Holy Alliance, created in response to the appeal of Pope Pius V. Both sides used numerous galleys which, in the case of the Turks, were largely manned by upwards of 15,000 Christian slaves. The Turks moved out of their sheltering gulf position on October 7 and pressed hard against the Christian center where Dot Juan commanded a strong allied force featuring solid contingents of Spanish infantry, then considered the best foot soldiers in all Europe. Among other distinguished commanders who led about 20,000 Spaniards, 8,000 Venetians and 2,000 Papal soldiers, were Juan Andrea Doria, Alexander Farnese and Marco Antonio Colona. Losses during the five-hour fight were heavy on both sides, with the Holy Alliance reporting about 8,000 killed and 14,000 wounded (of which 4,000 died shortly thereafter).
The Turkish casualties included some 15,000 killed while 10,000 were made prisoners. One chronicler gravely reported that a woman harquebusier distinguished herself so much in the thick of the fighting that she was awarded with a place in the ranks of an infantry company!
Even though largely forgotten, Lepanto is one of those battles that form turning points in history, as the Turks never again posed the same kind of threat to Western Christendom. Today they are regarded as strong allies of the NATO countries although they remain in open dispute with their Greek neighbors on the isle of Crete, not too far southeast of the site of their defeat in 1572.
3. The Defeat of the Spanish Armada., 1588. Better known if still remembered somewhat dimly as to details, is the saga of the Spanish Armada's attack on England in the summer of 1588 , its repulse and the return of the battered fleet to its homeland in the fall of the same year. Probably no other event in the long series of wars between England and Spain has given rise to more distorted history, more outlandish tales more folklore concerning the brave "sea dogs" who drove off the cruel and cowardly Spaniards and thus saved England from the racks and dungeons of the Inquisition. To an American scholar, Garret Mattingly, we owe an immense debt of gratitude for his exhaustive study of the evidence from English Spanish and other European archives and books. He has put in proper perspective the forces that came into play during that fateful summer, tracing them backwards to their sources and forwards to the results of the epic combats between the rival-forces. To him I have turned to summarize as briefly and as clearly as possible, the main facts in the first great naval battle of modern times fought by the skillfully handled English ships and the mightiest Spanish flotilla ever assembled up to that time.
Lepanto, as we have seen, was a clash of Catholic Christians with Turkish Moslems; but the Anglo-Spanish battles of 1588 were hard combats between Spain and England that had separated from Roman Catholicism forty years before in the time of Henry VIII. The doughty Tudor had not only organized his own Anglican Church, with himself as head, but had continued to build on the naval tradition which his father, Henry VII, had established and which was strengthened and expanded under his daughter, Elizabeth.
She had succeeded to the throne on the death of Mary, her half-sister (briefly and unhappily married to Philip II of Spain) under whom a Catholic reaction had taken place but which had lost its force under Elizabeth. There is no space here to detail the dynastic quarrels which kept Philip involved in Portugal, the Low Countries, France, Italy, and the Germanies but from all this tangled story we can emphasize the enmity which existed between Philip's Spain as the Catholic champion arrayed against a partially Protestantized Europe (mostly of Calvinistic and Lutheran persuasions), and Elizabeth's England, presented as the defender of the Anglican and any other anti-Roman forces that would rally to the queen's standard. There was at stake also not only the comparatively small and scattered territories of a badly-divided Europe but, also the expansive possessions of Spain and Portugal in the Americas. and in the Far East.
The day finally came when Philip decided to attempt what no one had done since William the Conqueror led his Normans across the Channel in 1066 and laid the foundations that helped to make England what it was in the sixteenth century, identifiably English in language culture and traditions overweeningly proud of its prowess at sea. Francis Drake had become a hated name in Spain and so had Hawkins and Frobisher, who had attacked ships and cities not only on the Spanish and Portuguese coasts--they called it "singeing the beard of the king of Spain"--but also in the West Indies, the American coasts and the island settlements in the Pacific. To accomplish the feat, Philip and his advisers assembled in Lisbon an immense concentration of naval strength--galleons, galleys, pinnaces, supply hulks--most of them armed with a variety of guns of large and small bore, manned mostly by land gunners, since the art of firing cannon from ships was still in its infancy. Under the command of a splendid soldier, Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán. Duke of Medina Sidonia, who. reluctantly accepted the honor after the original leader, a naval officer had died, the conglomeration of vessels set sail on May 9, loaded with the flower of Spanish chivalry, thousands of Europe's best infantry and mariners and rowers who confided in God and the saints to give them the victory they sought.
Contrary to popular English tradition and folklore, those who were to oppose the Armada had great respect for the fighting qualities of the Spaniards and the sailing skills which had carried them back and forth across the Atlantic and the Pacific for almost a hundred years. Feared also were the veteran troops of the Duke of Parma, waiting in the Netherlands to join the majestic fleet as it would cruise up the Channel, presumably to destroy the English flat and then aid Parma to embark his men in barges for the short crossing from Calais to-Dover under the protection of the Armada's guns. To add to the English anxieties, there was the need to concentrate naval stores, cannon, powder, food. and fresh water at strategic spots for distribution to the main fleet and to the many volunteer small craft which crowded about the harbors in their eagerness to do some "beard-singeing" on their own. Drake, unquestionably the man most feared by the Spaniards, was not given the command of the Grand Fleet by Elizabeth, that honor going to Lord Howard of Effingham. Hawkins and his son,, as well as Frobisher, were present and set to fight as never before but brave and experienced as they were we know that they were awe-struck as the Spanish fleet of 130 vessels moved out of the Bay of Biscay and made for the northeast coast of England on July 29. Reliable estimates put the English forces at around 90 ships at that moment, most of them well armed, magnificently handled and totally familiar with the winds, tides and currents which made navigation so treacherous in the Channel. Before the first phase of the five-day battle was over--July 29 to August 4--the Spaniards had taken a hard battering from the longer range English guns, had lost a number of ships but had managed to keep the main body of the fleet together in an effort to reach Calais, and there form, which they did on August 6-7, a juncture with Parma's forces. The Duke had not been able to build or requisition enough barges and the constant harassing by Dutch sea fighters in their small and swift "fly-boots" rendered impossible the proposed embarkation of the infantry that was supposed to invade England. The English fleet blocked the narrow passage to the North Sea, sent fire ships careening into the massed vessels, and off Gravelines caused further losses to the badly battered Spaniards those shorter range guns and inability to come into close grappling range with their tormentors kept them in frustrated check despite their desire to try their steel against the elusive sailors and soldiers who blocked their way to victory.
Medina Sidonia counted his losses, checked the low supplies of shot, food and water remaining in his ships, held a council of his surviving captains and decided to try to get his fleet back home by entering the North Sea, sailing up the west coast of England and around Scotland, then descending past the west Irish coast and making for La Coruña on the Bay of Biscay. Torrential rains and tempestuous winds wracked his battle-torn ships-and many of them sank or were dashed to pieces on the barren shores and treacherous reefs. Men who managed to make it ashore were usually murdered by the English while only a few hundred Spaniards were hidden by Irish peasants and later smuggled from the country. On September 28, Medina Sidonia, half-dead himself from fever and exhaustion, brought his limping flag ship, the San Martin, into Coruña and as soon as possible sent off despatches to Philip, giving as many details of the disaster as he himself knew at that time. At least 44 of the 130 ships of the Great Armada had disappeared or been captured, and Medina Sidonia, not a sailor but a soldier, seemingly unreasonably, forever after blamed himself for the failure of the Great Enterprise, as it had been called.
In England there was great rejoicing and Queen Elizabeth probably reached the pinnacle of her popularity as she praised the navy and reviewed her hastily-called up army. Her people saw God's will in the defeat of the Armada whereas back in the cold majesty of the Escorial palace, Philip, a year or so later, was reported to have said to a religious brother working in his garden: "It is impiety, and almost blasphemy to presume to know the will of God. It comes from the sin of pride, Even kings, Brother Nicholas, must submit to being used by God's will without knowing what it is. They must never seek to use it." Ten years after the Armada, Philip was dead. One way and another, despite the defeat in the Channel, Spain continued to control her overseas possessions almost in their entirety until the third decade of the nineteenth century. England ruled the seas for another hundred years beyond that time.
4. The Manila Galleon,1565-1815. What Garret Mattingly did for the history of the Spanish Armada another American scholar, William Lytle Schurz, did for the history of the Manila Galleon, better known in Mexican history as the Nao de China. For those of us who live in Mexico and have visited Acapulco, it may be hard to realize that today's glittering mirror of the jet set, was once a straggly little village which came to life only once a year in colonial times when the Manila Galleon put into port--we are told that in the early days it could come close enough to shore to tie up to a tree--and thousands of buyers flocked down from Mexico City and other centers of New Spain while rich merchants and purchasing agents sailed up from Peru, anchored at Puerto Marqués, and avidly competed with the Novohispanos for the choicest items that had come packed in the hold of the Galleon. This was the Alcapulco Fair, and unless the Galleon had been lost in a storm or sunk or captured by pirates or enemy ships the occasion vias an annual one that turned the mud-hut port, dominated by the guns of fortress San Diego, into a hustling and bustling bazaar which boiled with activity until the last item was sold and the Peruvians had sailed away to the south and the buyers from Nevi Spain had returned from whence they came,
We know that Magellan had been killed in the Philippines during his attempt to return across the Pacific; and that the Portuguese had gotten into the rich spice trade in the Moluccas, Borneo, Ceylon and other islands of the South Seas where their priority was soon disputed by enterprising Dutch seamen and traders The Spaniards, however did not attempt the conquest of the Philippines until Miguel López de Legaspi set sail with five ships from the Pacific port of La Navidad (now in Jalisco) in November, 1564. His first pilot was the veteran Andrés de Urdaneta, who had accompanied an earlier exploring expedition some twenty-two years before and thereafter entered the Augustinian order in Mexico, from which he emerged reluctantly at the viceroy's invitation. López de Legaspi not only arrived safely in the archipelago but by 1572 had carried out the conquest of the most important centers of population and fixed the colony's capital at Manila. For his part Urdaneta had made the difficult return trip to New Spain in February 1565, and with his arrival it can be said that the voyages of the Manila Galleon came into existence.
The Spaniards turned Manila into a stronghold that only a vast band of Chinese pirates and later, in 1762, an English fleet, was able to capture while the empire endured. The bay was considered to be one of the best in the world, certainly the finest in the Far East. On its shores rose a city controlled by its Spanish masters, few in number but resolute in command and always ready to fight off intruders or put down revolts in the area, something that happened more than once as the new trading center attracted thousands of Chinese and colonies of Japanese, Tagalogs, Mores and other islanders who clustered around the commercial centers that grown up through the years. Manila then had only one reason for being: It was to act as the center for the spice trade from the south and the silk trade from the west and north. By extension the Manileños lived by, for and through the voyages of the Galleon to New Spain. An intricate system, too complicated to be detailed here, allotted space in the ship to those who held the special tickets necessary before their cargo was accepted. Since there was little industry in the islands and only a primitive agriculture, it behooved everyone--government and church officials, merchants, store keeper, traders, the mariners themselves, women and children and the great charitable institutions which cared for widows, orphans, the sick and the aged--to get their share of boletas, as the special tickets were called. Naturally, corrupt practices were common in the obtainment of and traffic with the boletas and since every departure and arrival was stoutly bound round with that special brand of red tape which the Spaniards employed so diligently, bribery, smuggling and chicanery were ever present at both ends of the Manila-Acapulco voyages.
Let us look quickly at some of the highlights of those passages across the fearsome stretches of the vast Pacific. Over the years, the cargoes varied from the early ones when Chinese raw silk and their pottery and porcelain ware were offered for sale. Silk always remained important--we are told that one Galleon unloaded more than 50,000 pairs of silk stockings!--but then we should remember that men vied with women for that fine hosiery in years gone by. At various times the ships brought cotton goods from India, Persian rugs and carpets, gold in bullion form and in manufactured articles such as rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, crucifixes, rosaries and the like. Women's combs were always a popular item and nearly 80,000 arrived on the San Carlos in 1763. There were fans with ivory or sandalwood sticks, ivory castanets, copper cuspidors, little brass bells (cascabeles), bric-a-brac of ivory, jade and jasper, brass toothpicks, fruit dishes of gold and silver, eyeglasses, bronze thimbles, paper balloons finely carved and inlaid boxes and escritoires, huge earthen jars called tibores and a great variety of porcelain ware. There were spices and so-called "drugs" from the Orient--musk, borax, red lead and camphor. In later years tea and Manila cigars and slaves (although the traffic was forbidden) were added to the cargoes. No wonder the Limeños and the Novohispanos vied for the right to buy such varied and exotic articles and bear them off, the former in their ships down the Pacific shores, the latter on mule back to Mexico City and Jalapa, where buyers were plentiful and profits were huge. Although the return voyages to Manila were likely to carry chocolate and a few other items, the chief cargoes were made up of silver bullion, most of it coming from the Acapulco fair (the total sales of which often reached two million pesos)t but some of it was consigned for the payment of royal officials in Manila. (One chronicler points out that not all those who accompanied the Galleon to Acapulco made the kind of mistake attributed to a Chinese trader who managed to sell a wooden nose to an unfortunate who had lost his in a duel. The next time out the Chinese brought in several hundred noses, only to find himself stuck with the lot! As the chronicler notes rather dryly: "The only way he could have sold them would have been to go around cutting off the noses of everyone he saw!").
The voyage from Manila to Acapulco was the longest and most dangerous of those centuries and many Galleons sank before they could get out of the treacherous waters of the islands, beaten to pieces by typhoons. Those that got out the southern passage had to turn north to 35o to 40o of latitude in order to make landfall off the California coast. In later times the ships
could stop at Jesuit missions in Lower California, leave their sick and dying take on fresh fruit, water and other supplies and then move down the shore to Acapulco where their arrival had already been made known by signal fires lighted at stated places all along the northern coast so that a despatch rider had galloped off with the news to the viceroy before the Galleon cast anchor The outward voyage was more cruel to the Galleon than the attacks of Pirates or declared enemies in war, At least thirty of the treasure-laden ships were lost on voyages that lasted from five to eight months; and with them perished thousands of passengers and crewmen, while it is estimated that at least sixty million pesos in cargoes went down with them, However only four times in almost two and a half centuries were Galleons captured, all by Englishmen: in 1589 by Cavendish--the Santa Anna--off Lower. California; in 1709 by Woods Rogers-- La Encarnación--also off Lower California; in 1743 by Commodore Anson--the Covadonga-- in the Philippines; and in 1762 when Admiral Cornish took Manila and the Santísima Trinidad as well (it was sailed to England and exhibited as the wondrous prize it truly was). In other engagements with the English, the Rosario in 1704 and the Begonia in 1709 were able to beat off their attackers and make it safely into Measures. The Dutch, the most implacable enemies the Spaniards faced, especially in the first half of the seventeenth century, never managed to capture a Galleon (though they attacked many) and never ever reached the walls of Manila. It should be noted that the return voyage to the islands, when undertaken in the proper season, was usually a comparatively peaceful one as pilots kept down around 20o latitude, rising slowly to the islands in usually three months' time. Perhaps it is only appropriate to touch on this year's bicentennial theme by mentioning an incident which helps prove the unusual smoothness of the westward passage. It is recorded that as small a vessel as a yawl fulfilled the mission of carrying from Acapulco to Manila the news that Spain had joined France in support of the rebel American colonists in 1779.
The romantic and rich and danger-filled story of the Manila Galleon ends on a rather sad and subdued note. In 1811, the Mexican insurgents took from a Galleon that was ready to sail the silver cargo bound for Manila. The fortunes of war in those years changed again; and with the Spanish in firm control of the viceregal government, the same ship cast off for Manila in 1815, the last of the great line ever to make the passage again. We are assured on good authority that the name she bore on her prow was the Magellan.
5. The Battle of Trafalgar, 1805. Surely the nineteenth century proved to be the most disastrous in Spanish history since the end of the Reconquista and the American discovery in 1492. Only towards the middle of the eighteenth century, when the most active of the Bourbons, Charles III, occupied the throne, was there any clear indication of a reversal of the decline which had been so painfully obvious after the Golden Age of Charles V and Philip II. The French Revolution, destroying the monarchy headed by another Bourbon, Louis XVI, opened the way for the audacious Corsican adventurer whom the world came to know simply as Napoleon. In less than ten years he rose from obscurity toppled thrones, dictated truces, transformed his brothers and sisters and leading generals into the new royalty that soon swept away most of the old ruling families and changed the face of Europe forever. Supreme on land, the greatest captain of his age and certainly one of the master strategists in all history, Napoleon had only one enemy he could not bring to her knees--England. Her powerful navy, commanded by inspired and inspiring officers, harassed the French and their allies at every turn and almost brought the Little Corporal complete disaster at Aboukir Bay or the Battle of the Nile (August 1, 1798) when Horatio Nelson led a squadron that destroyed the French fleet and so many transport barges that Napoleon's Egyptian campaign had to be abandoned.
Although Spain and France had stood together once the Bourbons came to rule in Paris in 1701, neither Charles IV nor his son, Ferdinand, were enthusiastic over costly alliances with the French revolutionaries nor with Napoleon, who always seemed to get and keep the advantage in his dealings with Spain (e.g. the acquisition of Louisiana, which he promptly sold to the United States). Since England was always the common enemy, the Spaniards could hardly escape being enmeshed in Napoleon's maneuvers to defeat her. By March of 1805, he began to mass upwards of 350,000 men along the French coast of the Channel and ordered Admiral Pierre Villenave to execute a series of diversions, accompanied by a Spanish squadron under Admiral Federico Gravina. Lord Nelson, who had been blinded in one eye and had lost an arm in combat, was instructed to keep watch on the combined fleets and prevent them from supporting Napoleon's invasions.
Finally, on October 20 1805, Admiral Villeneuve led the allied ships out of Cádiz and the next day met the English fleet off Cape Trafalgar. Villeneuve commanded 18 men-of-war while Gravina led 15 for Spain against the enemy's 40 ships of various types. Nelson's famous signal from the Victory, his flagship, still resounds in Anglo-American history: "England expects that every man will do his duty." After many hours of hard fighting, the English had scored a crushing victory. Villeneuve was captured and Gravina was wounded so seriously that he died the following March. At least 15 allied ships were captured, 3 of them being Spanish. Of the remainder, Gravina lost 3 by sinking, 4 by beaching and only 5 made it back safely to Cádiz. However, England's rejoicing was overshadowed by grief when the news arrived that Nelson was dead, having survived by only a fell hours chest and shoulder wounds inflicted on him by a French sharpshooter.
Trafalgar was only one tragic stop in the downward path that Spain was to follow for the next eighteen years. In 1808, Napoleon invaded the peninsula after holding the abdicated Charles IV and his son, Ferdinand VII, prisoners at Bayonne. All over the country, the people rose in arms against the French and the now king Joseph, Napoleon's brother, fighting their "guerrillas" and eventually uniting forces with an English army under the Duke of Wellington. After 1810, all the mainland American colonies revolted and by 1823 it was evident that Spain would never regain control of the vast viceroyalties which broke up into independent republics and tried to develop governments formed on the patterns of American and French revolutionary teaching. Now all that remained of the great empire of Philip II were the Philippines in the Pacific and Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, The Spanish sun had act and was to plunge into the sea quite literally, before the and of the century.
The Spanish Empire Dies the American Empire is born. Many Americans dislike the word "imperialism" when it is applied to their overseas possessions; or even more so is it resented today when the term is used by the Soviet Union its satellites and its followers. However, our history shows two phases in which expansionism played a large part in the development of the republic. The first of these appeared in the 1840's and came to be identified as "Manifest Destiny"--that it was quite evident (for some people foreordained by God) that some day the United States would extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the North Pole to the Isthmus of Panama. Westward and southwestward expansion did take place, as we know, and in 1848 the acquisition of more than half of Mexican territory by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 rounded out the continental United States as we know it today.
Alaska's acquisition in 1867 was by purchase, not by conquest. Yet with the development of the American industrial plant and railroad, commercial and agricultural enterprises after the Civil War, there it was a small but influential minority that looked southward into the Caribbean and westward into the Pacific, declaring that in the new age of steam power for ships, trade would need protection supplied by a navy which, in turn, would have to depend on convenient coaling stations and supply depots. The Hawaiian Islands, largely through the intrigues of American sugar planters, were turned into a political football in the eighties and nineties but it was not until April 30, 1900 that Congress granted territorial status to Hawaii Without much regard to native groups who disagreed with the move.
When the expansionists looked to the Caribbean area, their gaze lingered longest on Cuba and Puerto Rico, obviously the most likely spots to establish coaling stations as long before the end of the century it was certain that a canal through Panama or Nicaragua would soon unite the Atlantic and the Pacific. The French had failed on the isthmus but many Americans preferred that their country be in control of the strategic waterway and the main approaches to it. Spain's hold on Cuba had grown weaker because of political strife at home and numerous revolutionary movements in the island, which counted with the tacit sympathy of the American government and openly admitted aid from individuals who supported the revolutionaries. Out beyond Hawaii, the Philippines had moved into the future plans of the expansionists, not only because they would serve as a protective barrier against Asiatic attacks on Hawaii but because they would supply those indispensable coaling stations that all the modern navies, including the now Japanese and German fleets, had come to depend on.
As so often happens to us in our dim memory of long-forgotten history courses, perhaps most of us can faintly recall the battle cry of the Spanish-American War: "Remember the Maine!" She was a battleship ordered into Havana harbor after an anti-American demonstration in the city on January 12 1898. A little over a month later, on the night of February 15, the Maine blow up
at her anchorage with the loss of 260 officers and men. With the expansionists and the yellow press agitating for war, the two countries gradually drifted into a conflict that neither seemed to want very much and for which they were very poorly prepared, Between April 21 and 25, the Spanish broke off diplomatic relations with the United States, which, in its turn, blockaded all Cuban ports and followed Spain's declaration of war with one of her own. Here was a chance the "big navy" men and the expansionists had been waiting for and the new steel ships of the white fleet swung into action. Assistant Secretary of State Theodore Roosevelt had sent secret orders in February to Commodore George Dewey, who commanded the Asiatic squadron based at Hong Kong, made up of the cruisers Olympia, Boston, Baltimore and Raleigh and the gunboats Petrel and Concord, to be prepared for war. With instructions to attack the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay Dewey left his China station on April 27 and sailed into the bay three days later. Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo commanded ten obsolete cruisers and gunboats; and early on the morning of
May 1 Dewey's gleaming ships, methodically raked the enemy's flotilla from end to end. The Spanish suffered the loss of 381 men killed while all their craft were destroyed, silenced or captured. Although Dewey, who reported only eight wounded, had to sit idle until General Wesley Merritt arrived with troop transports over two months later, the two officers combined forces and Manila was taken by assault on August 13 and officially surrendered the following day. Filipino insurrectionists under General Emilio Aguinaldo aided in the operation.
The army's Cuban campaign is a sad tale of disorganization and bumbling, so bad that it was subject to an extensive investigation after the war. As was the case at Manila it was the new steel navy that captured the headlines. After General William Shafter's bungled landing near Santiago harbor and the costly storming of El Caney and San Jan Hill on July 1, the American blockading fleet under Rear Admiral William T. Sampson and Commodore Winfield S. Schley, got the opportunity it was waiting for. A Spanish force of four cruisers--the Oquendo, the María Teresa, the Vizcaya, and the Colón, had arrived at Santiago from the Cape Verde Islands on May 19. Their commander was Rear Admiral Patricio Cervera, a distinguished officer who had once served as Secretary of the Navy and know that he had little chance to defeat the Americans. On the morning of July 3 he decided to try to run through the blockade set up by the battleships Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Texas along with the cruisers New York and Brooklyn. The result was almost a repetition of the battle of Manila as in about four hours the Spanish fleet was pounded to bits, with a loss of 474 killed and wounded and 1750 taken prisoner. The American casualties amounted to 1 killed and 1 wounded.
The Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898 ended the uneven struggle, Spain agreed to an independent Cuba, ceded Puerto Rico outright, gave up the Philippines for a payment of twenty million dollars and added a tiny island called Guam. The United States through the Platt Amendment of November, 1900, secured the right to a naval base in Cuba (Guantánamo) and through other provisions managed to exercise a quasi-protectorate over the island until the Amendment was formally abrogated by a Cuban-American treaty of May 29, 1934. It was the first important step taken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's government on the road to establishing the Good Neighbor Policy.
The Spanish Empire vanished forever in that fateful year of 1898. The American Empire, whether a majority of the people wanted it or not, was born the same year. Very often in my teaching career--and especially weighing the ghastly loss of life and the staggering cost of treasure in World War II and Korea and Vietnam--I have put this question to myself and to my students: Did we gain from that imperial Caribbean-Pacific adventure, individually and as a nation, something really worth while? Or did we lose materially and spiritually, something that belonged to the American dream and that today, like the lost glory of Spain, has gone forever?
For the Navy League, April 6, 1976 Paul V. Murray
Mexico D. F.
Although I accepted the kind invitation to give an informal talk to the Navy League, on any topic of my choice, I feel that those who came to hear may wish to do some reading as a result of what I have to say. The works listed in these notes are simply some I had at hand in my even library and that served me for guidance and reference. New material is constantly being published in all fields touched upon in the talk.
There are many histories of Spain in English, among them being: Atkinson W.C., A History of Spain and Portugal (Penguin Harmondworth, England, 1960); Bertrand, L.B. and Petrie C., The History of Spain (2nd revised edition, Macmillan, New York, 1952); Livermore, H. L., History of Spain (Allen & Unwin Ltd, London 1958); Smith, R.M. Spain: A Modern History (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1965). A most useful work for consultation on a wide variety of topics is Diccionario de Historia de España, 2 tomos (Revista do Historia de Occidente, Madrid 1952). The bulky volumes comprise some 2876 pages of double-columned text and the scholars who wrote the articles and the authorities they consulted make the Diccionario one of our most convenient reference tools.
Probably the best biography of Columbus in English is Admiral of the Ocean Seas: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Little, Brown & Co., 1942) by Samuel Eliot Morison, whose teaching at Harvard and writings on various aspects of American history have made him internationally famous. He has produced a multi-volumed history of American naval engagements during World
War II. There is a paperback condensation of the Columbus biography. One of the best recent studies of the Caribbean area from the Columbian discoveries until about 1520 is The Early Spanish Main (University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1966) by Carl Ortwin Sauer. It is printed in substantial paperback form. An exceptionally fine survey of Spain's overseas possessions is J.H. Parry's The Spanish Seaborne Empire (Hutchinson & Co.2 London 1966). The English author covers in succinct but well-written form the chief events in the rise and decline of Spain's holdings in the Americas and the Far East. It compares most favorably with the studies by Mattingly and Schurz mentioned in these notes.
The traditional assertion that Spanish sea power suffered a deadly blow from which it never recovered as a result of the English defeat of the Great Armada in 1588 was examined in detail and tellingly refuted by Garrett Mattingly in his The Defeat of the Spanish Armada (Jonathan Cape, London, 1959). The history of the period is brought to life in splendid prose that indicates also a mastery of the best sources. There is now a paperback edition. Two specialized studies which bear on exploration, discovery and privateering are M.G. Holmes, From New Spain by Sea to the Californias, 1519-1668 (Clark, Glendale, California, 1963) and K. R, Andrews, Elizabethan Privateering: English Privateering During the Spanish War, 1585-1601 (Cambridge University Press, London, 1964). Both are solidly documented and are important contributions to the field of naval history. Many American scholars have made outstanding contributions to our knowledge of Spanish history and culture but W. L. Schurz in The Manila Galleon (E. P. , Dutton Co., Inc., New York, 1939) brings not only narrative skill and broad research to the subject but shows a grasp of world history that keeps the importance of the Manila Galleon in proper perspective as a factor in the rise and fall of Spanish influence in the Philippines and the Americas. There is a paperback edition.
An up-to-date sketch of the life of Lord Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) is presented in The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition (Chicago, etc., 1974), Vol. XII, pp. 947-950. The victory at 'Trafalgar against the combined French and Spanish fleets was the last in his succession of brilliant victories as he died of wounds received in the battle. He was not only a great commander but also one of the most innovative naval strategists of modern times. There is a good short summary of the battle of Trafalgar in K. Feiling, A History of England (Macmillan, London, 1950). [The biography of Nelson by Robert Southey is available on this site.]
One of the most influential works ever written about naval impact on human events grew out of a series of lectures delivered by Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S.N., at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., in 1886. The lectures formed the basis The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, published in 1890. It was read all over the world and I understand that it--and others of Mahan's later books--are studied to this day by naval strategists everywhere. Dr. Louis M. Hacker, who wrote the Introduction to the 1957 Sagamore Press, Inc. paperback edition, declared that "in its way and place (it) was to have as profound an effect on the world as had Darwin's Origin of Species, Mahan was a member of the board of experts who advised President McKinley during the Spanish-American War of 1898. There are excellent detailed accounts of the American victories at Manila Bay and just outside of Santiago Harbor, Cuba, in Margaret Leech's In the Days of McKinley (Harper & Bros. New York, 1959), a remarkably well organized and attractively written account of a period in American history when a "consciousness of empire" was being born, largely as a result of the war with Spain.
Short accounts of other aspects of the period are in the Encyclopedia of American History, edited by B. Morse and H. Commager (Harper & Bros Now York, 1961). A well-documented recent view of a topic in the Epilogue is Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: a Reinterpretation (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1963) by F. Merk, with the
collaboration of L. B. Merk. It concludes that there were clearly marked differences between those who favored earlier Manifest Destiny ideas and those who worked for expansionist plans abroad; the importance of racist feelings in both groups is emphasized.
1. The late Paul V. Murray was a founder of Mexico City College which is now La
Universidad de las Americas.