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Documentary Histories
Spanish-American War

Introductory Essay

The Blockade and Siege of Manila Bay

     The defeat of the Spanish squadron in the Philippines on 1 May 1898, was a total victory for RAdm. George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron. Spain’s naval forces in the Philippines were destroyed and the Spanish military forces in Manila were cut off from communication and resupply. The antiquated shore defenses of Manila could not repulse Dewey’s squadron without the city suffering catastrophic bombardment.1 Governor-General BasilioAugustín y Dávila agreed to a ceasefire with Dewey to preserve Manila from further attack and temporarily caused a cessation in American operations, but the war was still in its early stages, and Dewey’s situation, while secure for the moment, was still tenuous.

     After Dewey’s victory at Manila, Spain dispatched a squadron under Adm. Manuel de la Cámara y Libermoore via the Suez Canal to attack Dewey and retake the Philippines. To counter the Spanish, President William McKinley ordered the War Department to send a substantial force of troops to capture and hold Manila and the Navy to reinforce Dewey with the armed monitor Monterey, and later Monadnock.2 If the Spanish relief squadron was too strong for Dewey to overcome, he was to seek a strong defensive position in the Philippines or the Caroline Islands while the Army held Manila. McKinley planned to relieve Spanish pressure, and force Spain from the war, by quickly capturing Cuba and then attacking Spanish coastal cities with ships detached from Caribbean operations.3

     Reinforcing Dewey was no simple task. The nearest American military forces were in San Francisco, and were ill prepared. Long in mid-April ordered that three merchant ships be retrofitted and armed to serve as troop transports and the Navy Department on 5 May ordered that the recently-retired cruiser Charleston be immediately re-commissioned and armed. Despite the urgency, neither Charleston nor the convoy was ready to depart until 21 May, and even then, it was still a month’s steaming time to the Philippines.4 Readying the two monitors was even more of a challenge. The slow moving coastal monitors were not designed for transoceanic travel, and were delayed by mechanical issues and the weather. The Monterey did not leave until 8 June, and Monadnock until 23 June and neither vessel reached Dewey in time to be of service.5

      In Manila, Dewey’s isolation made communication with the Navy Department difficult. The nearest functioning telegraph station was in Hong Kong. It took weeks for messages between Dewey and Secretary of the Navy John D. Long to be sent, read, and responded to. Dewey also received Long’s infrequent intelligence reports, but was forced to fill in gaps with intelligence gathered by his officers after trips to Hong Kong and in meetings with neutral warships at Manila.6 As a result, far more command responsibility fell on Dewey, and both Long and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles H. Allen understood Dewey’s need for autonomy in managing the American war effort in the Philippines.7

     The most important of Dewey’s independent actions, for the history of both the United States and Philippines, was his encouragement of the Philippine insurgency. Dewey had been informed of the popular uprising at Manila by Consul Oscar F. Williams as early as March 1898. Knowing that it would be months before the arrival of American troops, Williams believed Dewey might form a working relationship with the insurgents, similar to that which had been arranged in Cuba.8

     In Singapore, the United States Consul E. Spencer Pratt had a similar idea after he was introduced to Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy, a former insurgent leader in exile. Months before, Aguinaldo accepted a bribe from the Spanish government to leave Manila, but the prospect of working with the United States to cast off Spanish rule intrigued him. Pratt proposed sending Aguinaldo to assist the Asiatic Squadron in making contact with Philippine insurgents and Dewey agreed.9

     It is clear from Dewey’s later testimony before the Senate Committee on the Philippines, his correspondence, and his actions, that he initially respected the insurgents and saw them as a tool to be used against the Spanish. He ordered the distribution of guns from the Cavite Arsenal to insurgent force on 7 May and actively encouraged Aguinaldo to take command of Filipino insurgent forces when the latter arrived in Manila.10 Dewey wrote to Secretary of the Navy Long on 20 May:

Aguinaldo, rebel commander-in-chief, was brought down by the McCulloch, organizing forces near Cavite and may render assistance that will be very valuable.11

With the help of the insurgents Dewey was able to completely isolate Manila. Unfortunately, he had set in motion forces that he could not control. The Spanish were surrounded, but refused to surrender unless the Americans could guarantee the safety of Manila from the very insurgents Dewey had recently recruited as allies.12

     To further complicate matter, on 24 May, Aguinaldo declared Filipino independence and named himself general and dictator of the islands.13 Aguinaldo later claimed that both Pratt and Dewey had agreed that in exchange for an alliance with the insurgents they would support Philippine independence under an American protectorate. There is, however, no evidence that Dewey ever agreed to such terms and he denied making any such arrangement in congressional testimony after the war. However, Dewey did provide Aguinaldo arms, intelligence, and supplies.

Soon after learning of Dewey’s dealings with Aguinaldo, Secretary Long issued the following stern warning:

It is desirable as far as possible and consistent for your success and safety not to have political alliances with the insurgents or any faction in the islands that would incur liability to maintain their cause in the future.14

McKinley had yet to determine what, if anything, the United States planned to do with the Philippine Islands. It was still possible that the United States might return the Philippines to the Spain as part of peace terms or that Congress might favor annexation, all outcomes that would be far more difficult if the Island were in open revolt. Long’s message, however, was already too late.15

      While problems on shore multiplied, Dewey’s sea blockade presented its own challenges. By order of Kaiser Wilhelm, VAdm. Ernst Otto von Deidrich’s brought a German squadron to Manila to protect German citizens and property, and, more importantly, to investigate the possibility of Germany receiving territorial acquisitions in the region after the war.16 During the blockade the Germans were a frequent annoyance to Dewey, moving in an out of Manila Bay, making contact with Spanish military forces, and looming as a possible threat.17 Tensions were particularly high because, through a quirk of naval logistics, Deidrich’s squadron at Manila had more men available and boasted greater firepower than the Americans for the period of 18 June to 8 July.18 Disagreements over the Americans right to board German men-of-war ended in Dewey angrily informing one of Deidrich’s officers: “Does Admiral von Deidrichs think he commands here or do I? Tell your Admiral if he wants war I am ready.”19 Tensions between the two sides lessened, but Dewey remained resentful and a year later unthinkingly told an amateur correspondent, “Our next war will be with Germany.”20

     Dewey’s position in Manila improved considerably in early July. The North Atlantic squadron destroyed Adm. PascualCervera’s y Topete’s fleet on 3 July at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. As a result, the Navy was free to send a squadron to attack Spanish home ports. At the same time, a detachment of United States Army under Gen. Thomas M. Anderson forces landed at Cavite on 4 July.21 A week later Dewey received word that Camara’s Squadron had been recalled to Spain. Finally, two more convoys bearing troops arrived on 17 July and 26 July. The second of these convoys brought Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt, the Army officer named to take command in the Philippines. Merritt immediately began to work with Dewey to capture Manila, now under threat of being overrun by the insurgents.22

Dewey and Merritt amassed their forces outside the city and demanded that FermínJáudines y Álvarez.  Álvarez replaced Governor-General Augustín after the latter escaped from the city on 7 August aboard a German warship in hopes of stalling negotiations. Dewey correctly predicted that the Spanish feared capture by the insurgents and that Jáudines would not surrender without direct American military pressure. The two sides worked out an arrangement that included a naval bombardment of unoccupied Spanish military structures and an “invasion” of the city by American troops from the south, thus preventing Filipino insurgents north and east of the city from entering.23

On 13 August, Dewey commenced his bombardment and continued firing on an abandoned fort for two hours before a white flag was spotted over Manila’s city center.24 The Navy suffered no casualties, but the Spanish Army had failed to inform some of its troops of the “arrangement” and six Americans soldiers were killed overrunning Spanish positions.25 Manila officially surrendered at 5 p.m. on 13 August, with Dewey and Merritt overseeing the turnover. Unbeknownst to the combatants at Manila, the war had already officially ended.26

Footnote 6:  See: Long to Dewey, 20 May 1898.

Footnote 11:  See: Dewey to Long, 20 May 1898.

Footnote 14: See: Long to Dewey, 26 May 1898.

Footnote 15: Trask, War with Spain, 384-385.

Footnote 16: Holger H. Herwig, ‘Luxury’ Fleet: The Imperial German Navy, 1888-1918 (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: The Ashfield Press, 1987), 99-101.

Footnote 18: Karl-Heinz Wionzek, ed., Thomas Clark, trans., Germany the Philippines and the Spanish-American War: Four Accounts by Officers of the Imperial German Navy (Manila: National Historical Institute, 2000), 66-67.

Footnote 20: Spector, Admiral of the New Empire, 103.

Footnote 21:  See: Dewey to Long, 4 July 1898.

Footnote 25: Trask, War with Spain, 417.

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