CHAPTER XII. The Close Of The War
While the American people were concentrating their attention upon the blockade of Santiago near their own shores, the situation in the distant islands of the Pacific was rapidly becoming acute. All through June, Dewey had been maintaining himself, with superb nerve, in Manila Harbor, in the midst of uncertain neutrals. A couple of unwieldy United States monitors were moving slowly to his assistance from the one side, while a superior Spanish fleet was approaching from the other. On the 26th of June, the Spanish Admiral Camara had reached Port Said, but he was not entirely happy. Several of his vessels proved to be in that ineffective condition which was characteristic of the Spanish Navy. The Egyptian authorities refused him permission to refit his ships or to coal, and the American consul had with foresight bought up much of the coal which the Spanish Admiral had hoped to secure and take aboard later from colliers. Nevertheless the fleet passed through the Suez Canal and entered the Red Sea.
Fully alive to the danger of the situation, the Naval War Board gave orders on the 29th of June for a squadron under Commodore Watson to start for the Spanish coast in hope of drawing Camara back.
The alarm which had previously been created on the American coast by the shrouded approach of Cervera naturally suggested that the Americans themselves might win one of those psychological victories now recognized as such an important factor in modern warfare. The chief purpose of future operations was to convince the Spanish people that they were defeated, and nothing would more conduce to this result than to bring war to their doors. This was, moreover, an operation particularly suited to the conditions under which the United States was waging war, for publicity was here a helping factor. Admiral Sampson, more intent on immediate business than on psychological pressure, was not enthusiastically in favor of the plan. Nevertheless preparation proceeded with that deliberation which in this case was part of the game, and presently the shadow of an impending American attack hung heavy over the coasts of Spain. The Spanish Government at first perhaps considered the order a bluff which the United States would not dare to carry out while Cervera's fleet was so near its own shores; but with the destruction of Cervera's ships the plan became plainly possible, and on the 8th of July the Spanish Government ordered Camara back to parade his vessels before the Spanish cities to assure them of protection.
But, before Camara was called home, the public were watching his advance against the little American fleet at Manila, with an anxiety perhaps greater than Dewey's own. Nothing in modern war equals in dramatic tension the deadly, slow, inevitable approach of a fleet from one side of the world against its enemy on the other. Both beyond the reach of friendly help, each all powerful until it meets its foe, their home countries have to watch the seemingly never coming, but nevertheless certain, clash, which under modern conditions means victory or destruction. It is the highest development of that situation which has been so exploited in a myriad forms by the producers of dramas for the moving pictures and which nightly holds audiences silent; but it plays itself out in war, not in minutes but in months. No one who lived through that period can ever forget the progress of Camara against Dewey, or that of Rozhestvensky with the Russian fleet, six years later, against Togo.
Meanwhile another move was made in the Caribbean. General Miles had from the first considered Porto Rico the best immediate objective: it was much nearer Spain than Cuba, was more nearly self-sufficing if left alone, and less defensible if attacked. The War Department, on the 7th of June, had authorized Miles to assemble thirty thousand troops for the invasion of Porto Rico, and preparations for this expedition were in progress throughout the course of the Santiago campaign. Miles at the time of the surrender of Santiago was actually off that city with reinforcements, which thereupon at once became available as a nucleus to be used against Porto Rico. On the 21st of July he left Guantanamo Bay and, taking the Spaniards as well as the War Department completely by surprise as to his point of attack, he effected a landing on the 26th at Guanica, near the southwestern corner of Porto Rico.
The expeditionary force to Porto Rico, however, consisted not of 30,000 men but of only about 15,000; and it was not fully assembled on the island until the 8th of August. The total Spanish forces amounted to only about 10,000, collected on the defensible ground to the north and in the interior, so that they did not disturb the disembarkation. The American Army which had been dispatched from large Atlantic ports, such as Charleston and Newport News, seems to have been better and more systematically equipped than the troops sent to Santiago. The Americans occupied Guanica, Ponce, and Arroyo with little or no opposition, and were soon in possession of the southern shores of the island.