Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Documentary Histories
Spanish-American War

Editorial Methods

     The Spanish-American War was, in the words of American Secretary of State John Hay, “a splendid little war.” It was a particularly “good” war for the United States Navy, featuring, as it did, two major naval battles, both of which the United States Navy won handily. At Manila Bay and again at Santiago de Cuba, American fleets destroyed separate squadrons of the Royal Spanish Navy, suffered virtually no casualties and lost none of their vessels. During and in the immediate aftermath of the war, the Navy was widely celebrated and its officers lionized. However, those accolades and the war itself were quickly forgotten.

Today when people think of the Spanish-American War--if they think of it at all--they most often remember the charge of future President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” at the battle of San Juan Heights, a decidedly secondary operation in the course and outcome of the war. Few recall that Roosevelt, before he was a Colonel of Volunteers, was Assistant Secretary of Navy, where his leadership and influence played a far more important role in the subsequent American naval victories.

The purpose of this edition, therefore, is to re-acquaint Americans with this little-remembered but highly significant war. In winning this war, the United States, and in particular, the United States Navy, established itself as world-class and demonstrated that it could dominate the Caribbean Sea and the approaches to the proposed pan-Isthmian canal, thus making the Monroe Doctrine a reality. Moreover, the United States naval victories led to the acquisition of colonies and interests in Asia and in the Pacific.  

This edition, through the words of participants, will shine light on the actions, activities, feelings and views of the leaders of the United States Navy, who played key roles in the war. It is not, however, an uncritical celebration of the United States, the Navy, or its leaders. The documents printed here highlight mistakes and miscalculations as well as the triumphs and successes.  

The editors have decided, given the nature of the documents printed here, which come from a variety of sources, report overlapping operations, and cover irregular periods of time, that a chronological arrangement for the edition did not make sense. For this reason, the editors have created topics and have accordingly grouped the documents included in this edition. Because some documents have material relevant to multiple topics, there is some document repetition in separate topics, but the value to the narrative will be clear. There are thirty-two topics. Chronologically they extend from Pre-War Planning, which includes documents that pre-date the war by four years, through Demobilization, which includes documents extending months beyond the end of hostilities. In addition to topics highlighting engagements, operations, and campaigns, there are more “specialized” topics such as: Naval Medicine, Telegraphy and Cable Cutting, Naval Militia, Coal, Naval War Board, Naval Intelligence, and Coastal Defense.

These “specialized” topics include documents for the entire span of the war, while some of the other topics, tied directly to military operations, are more chronological. For example, to track Navy operations in the Philippines, the reader should first look at Battle of Manila Bay and then proceed to the Blockade and Siege of Manila. For operations against Puerto Rico, the reader should look first at the Bombardment of San Juan, followed by Blockade of Puerto Rico, and finally, Joint Operations Puerto Rico. The operations in Cuba are less easy to follow chronologically. A reader could get something of an overview by looking at Command Diaries and Squadron Bulletins. For operations off Santiago de Cuba, the reader might start with Naval Operations in the Caribbean, followed by The Flying Squadron and the Search for the Spanish Fleet, Scuttling of the Merrimac, Naval Operations at Santiago de Cuba, Joint Operations Santiago de Cuba, and The Battle of Santiago Bay. Again, there is overlap and some topics, such as Joint Operations Santiago de Cuba, actually sandwich The Battle of Santiago Bay, because they detail the operations up to the battle and then take up documents that concern the surrender of the city, which came after the battle, and probably as a result of it. Each topic has an introductory essay that provides context.

The documents are presented as they appeared originally with few, if any, changes introduced by the editors, and those are spelled out in the Editorial Methods. This can be found in a column on the right side of the edition homepage.

Most of the documents are annotated, which means the editors have provided information designed to help the reader understand what is being referred to, correct misstatements of facts, and provide additional information when necessary.

As noted earlier, each topic is introduced by a short essay providing an overview of the issue or event that the topic covers, and mentioning, in summary fashion, the key documents that are included. Each section also includes illustrations chosen by the editors to help the reader better understand the topic and to provide “visual context” for the Spanish-American War. Other resources associated with each topic include: a list of U.S. Navy ships and their commanders; a list of Spanish Navy ships and their commanders; and a biographical directory.

It is the hope of the editors, that after perusing the documents printed in this edition, the reader will have a thorough understanding of the war, in a way that will be both entertaining as well as informative, and will understand a pivotal point in the history of this country and the world.

Dennis M. Conrad

Daniel P. Roberts

What is a Documentary Edition:

Documentary editions locate, transcribe, annotate, and publish important historical documents and other “primary” sources produced by authors, politicians, government agencies, institutions, and regular people. The goal of documentary editing is to make the vital raw material of scholarship—primary sources written by the people at the time and place—available, understandable, and usable for the general reader. In this edition we have reviewed a number of “official” and “personal” papers to give the user an understanding of how the United States Navy approached, fought, and won the Spanish-American War. It was a short war, but it had a lasting influence on the future of the United States Navy, its personnel, and the nation itself. An understanding of the war is also a key window into how the United States Navy was defined and defined itself in the first part of the twentieth century.

The Process of Documentary Editing:

The initial step for a documentary edition is collection: finding the documents that will be included in the edition. Whether a documentary edition finds material at one repository or dozens, the editors need to amass basic information about the breadth of documents with which they will be working. How many are there? What types of documents are there? How complete is the record? How did these materials end up at this archive? Answering these questions allows the editors to outline what they might learn from these documents and how those documents might be organized in the final, digital edition.

Documentary editing is a lengthy process, taking months and years to produce an edition. It is, therefore, impractical for both editors and archivists—not to mention potentially dangerous for fragile manuscripts—to do that work using the original documents at the archive. Editors instead make copies from which to work. For the Spanish-American War project, this means creating high-resolution digital master images. After the images are captured, copies are stored digitally. Later, the project electronically manipulates that image to enhance legibility.

The next step is selection: the act of deciding which documents to include in the edition. There are thousands of documents that might be included, but the editors chose only a fraction of those documents for publication. Nonetheless the documents in this edition have a wide range of dates associated with them and some come from agencies outside of the Navy, but they all relate to how the Navy planned for, fought, and won the Spanish-American War. We have included only a limited number of documents that give the ordinary sailor’s or junior officer’s view of the war because the focus of the edition is on those making key strategic decisions and those in command who executed those directives.

The third step is transcription: the act of rendering the words of the source document into a standardized and useable text while keeping all elements of the original is a difficult balance to strike. We try to remain as true as possible to the original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and paragraphing unless we deem it to be confusing to the reader. In that case, we minimally alter the transcript to make the text more understandable. When we do, we inform the readers of any alterations we have made in the editorial method or in the footnote and source note attached to each document. The physical condition of the original document can also make transcribing difficult; faded ink, bleed through, and damage to the manuscript can make rendering the original text a painstaking process. If we cannot decipher a word or words, we will indicate that by putting the questionable text in square brackets with a question mark. If the author of the document inadvertently left out a word or words that we believe are necessary to understand the material, we will provide it, again, within square brackets. Finally, decisions must be made about how to understand and represent crossed out text, notes written on the backs and margins of pages, and symbols or unusual wording—all requiring editorial experience and an understanding of each document’s context. Those decisions are explained in the source note or in footnotes.

A fourth step is collation: comparing and proofreading the manuscript to render as accurate a text as possible. Sometimes there are multiple drafts or copies of letters. We prefer to print the document that was received by the recipient, but when that text is unavailable, we utilize the next best version and compare any subsequent versions against the authoritative copy text and note any significant differences.

A fifth step is annotation: providing historical context to aid modern understanding of the documents, which makes a documentary edition superior to a simple facsimile rendering of the documents. In annotating documents the editors identify people, places, and events that the reader might not know. We also add information that we believe will help the reader understand the document and put it into context without interpreting. This process requires conducting research and writing short, concise summaries. We use citation for that research to let the reader know where the information came from. Annotations can also contain information about where the original document is located, what textual problems the editors may have found in the manuscript, and any alternative versions of the document that may exist.

Finally, there is publication. Though these documents are not published in a traditional printed volume, we face many of the same concerns as letter-press editions in presenting them via a digital edition. While some concerns are alleviated—such as weighing the scope of the documents and the length of annotation against the economic realities of printing costs—we must, like all documentary projects, take care to ensure that each document has been consistently edited, annotated, and formatted for publication. While we need not worry about fitting our documents onto a printed page, we still must ensure that our online interface is accurately rendering each document, note, and resource entry to users.

Organization of this Edition:

This digital edition concerns the activities of the United States Navy in the war with Spain in 1898. The war began on 21 April 1898 when the United States instituted a naval blockade of Cuba and ended on 12 August 1898 with the signing of the Protocol of Peace. The documents presented in this edition begin before the war with the planning done by the Navy for a possible war with Spain and continue after the war with documents that concern lessons learned during the war and the possible reformation of Navy tactics, technology, regulations, and policy based on the experience of the war. The edition is divided into topics or sections. These topics concern major military operations, engagements, or themes of the war. While there is some discussion of land operations, they are presented in the context of joint operations involving the United States Army and the United States Navy. Likewise, there are some Spanish documents printed to provide understanding and context for U.S. Navy decision-making and operations.

Document Elements:

All documents have been formatted for digital publication. Each individual document includes a Title, Transcript, Source Note, and Footnotes. On either side of the document are the Left and Right Navigation Columns. These Navigation Columns feature tools for user comprehension, reference, and navigation, including, Reference Materials and an Advanced Search.


At the top of the document is the Title. The Title provides the name of the Author and Recipient of the document or describes the nature of the document, such as a newspaper article or squadron order, etc.


The Transcript of the document is below the Title. Transcriptions adhere as closely as possible to the original documents in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, abbreviation, and formatting, including the retention of dashes and underlining found in the original text. Exceptions to the general rule are as follows:

- The names of ships are always italicized.

- If a typist erred and did not leave a space between words or between a mark of punctuation and the next word, it is silently corrected unless the editors see a pattern such as the typist consistently omitting the space between a comma and the word following it. In that case, the editors reproduce the original just as the typist did it.

- If an author erred and inadvertently repeated a word, the second instance is silently omitted. Also, if the spelling of a word is so unusual as to be misleading or confusing, the correct spelling immediately follows the misspelled word in square brackets and set off by “i.e.” (id est).

Source Note:

Each document includes a Source Note. In the Source Note, the user will find an abbreviation used to describe the nature of the document, the Library of Congress designation for the repository which holds the original document, and information to help researchers locate that document in the repository including: collection titles, microfilm roll numbers, volume numbers, page numbers, etc.

     For example: TLS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 319.

“TLS” is an “Abbreviations Used to Describe Manuscript,” and indicates this document was a “Typed Letter that was Signed.” A complete list of all abbreviations and their corresponding meanings is to be found in the right navigation column under:  Abbreviations Used to Describe Manuscripts. That list is alphabetized.

“DNA” is the Repository Symbol for the National Archives in Washington, DC. When possible, Repository Symbols created by the Library of Congress have been used. An alphabetized list of all Repository Symbols used in the edition, and the corresponding repositories and their locations is found in the right navigation column under: Repository Symbols.

“AFNRC, M625, roll 319,” in this case is additional information to assist the user in finding the document at the repository listed. AFNRC is an example of a Short Title for a collection and in this case stands for the “Area File of the Naval Records Collection and Library.” “M625, roll 319,” indicates the document is found in Microfilm Section 625 on Roll 319. Short Titles and shortened Collection names are used instead of full source notation to conserve space. A list of short titles and their corresponding meaning can be found in the right navigation column under: Short Titles.

Some documents were found in bound volumes that include page numbers.

Additionally, certain documents were transcribed from published materials and not from archival collections. The source note for these documents will list the published source where the document was found as either a Short Title entry or in accordance with the citation style to be found in The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. Short Title information can again be found in the right navigation column under: Short Titles.

Source Notes also include descriptions of other relevant data concerning the document, including:

     - To whom the document was addressed and where on the document this information can be found.

     - If the document was done on stationary and whose stationary it was.

     - If stamps, docketing and/or a reference number was added to the document and information concerning those additions.

     - Other information the editors believe useful for the reader that does not belong in the annotation.

This information will always come after the document type and the repository information.


Annotation (footnotes) can be accessed by clicking on the hyperlinked numbers found throughout the document. Clicking on one of these numbers will bring up a box at the bottom of the browser with the content of the footnote. In addition to these boxes, all footnotes can be found in numerical order below the Source Note.

The editors have included annotation for a number of different reasons, including:

     - To direct users to other documents.

     - To identify individuals mentioned in a document.

     - To correct or expand on misspelled or shortened words, titles, or names.

     - To correct information known to be inaccurate.

     - To indicate when a word or phrase was put into the document under special circumstances. For instance, a handwritten interlineation on a typed document.

     - To provide historical context to better understand the document.

     - To refer users to secondary literature that explores a matter or issue further. 

Footnotes, like the documents themselves, contain information that is taken from both primary and secondary sources. These notes contain citations describing where the information was obtained. Citations for primary archival documents are in the same format as that of the Source Note, except they begin with the Author, Recipient, and Date of the document (unless it is otherwise mentioned in the footnote). Citations from secondary sources, if not in the Short Title list, are given according to The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers.

Using Hyperlinks to Navigate the Edition:

Hyperlinks are found throughout documents. They are attached to: a Person’s Name, a United States Navy Ship Name, a Spanish Ship Name, and to Cross References.

Clicking on the name of a person will direct the user to a Biographical Directory of persons in the edition. This directory can also be accessed by clicking on the Biographical Directory link in the right Navigation Column.

Clicking on an United States Navy Ship Name will direct the user to a list of all American Ships and Commanders featured in this edition. From here the user will be linked to that ship’s entry in the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, also found on the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command. This list can also be accessed by clicking on the American Ships and Commanders link in the Right Navigation Column.

Clicking on an Enemy Ship Name will direct the user to a list of Enemy Ships and Commanders featured in this edition. This list can also be accessed by clicking on the Enemy Ships and Commanders link in the Right Navigation Column.

Cross Reference hyperlinks are found in Footnotes and the Source Notes. These hyperlinks indicate that the document being referenced is available in the online edition and can be instantly accessed by clicking on the link. Indicators of a cross reference include: “See:” followed by the name of an author and recipient, or a short description of the document, including the date.

Left Navigation Column:

The Left Navigation Column is specifically for navigating within the documentary edition. Below the edition name are topic names. Clicking on a topic name will open a short list of documents related to that topic. For more documents from that topic, click more documents at the bottom of that list. To have a full list of the documents under that topic, click: List of Documents.

The Tags at the bottom of the Left Navigation Column are key words and phrases that relate to other aspects of the history of the United States Navy. Clicking on one of these words or phrases will automatically direct the user to an advanced search of the entire website as if said word had been entered in the search function.

Right Navigation Column:

At the top of the right column is a search box that allows users to instantly search each individual document for a word or phrase. Type the word or phrase in the search box and press “enter” or the magnifying glass image to search the document in this way.

Below the search box is a link to the Advanced Search page. The Advanced Search is specifically designed to help users by providing a narrow search function of the Documentary Histories section of the website. Methods of searching include searching by:

     - Edition

     - Topic

     - Document Title

     - Document Type

     - Ships mentioned in the Document

     - Phrases and Keywords mentioned in the Document

     - Repository of the original document

     - Author of the Document, Recipient of the Document, or Neither.

     - Location where the document was written

     - By Date

The Right Navigation Column also provides Additional Resources that can be accessed by clicking on the links. These include:

     - An essay on Editorial Methods

     -  A list of Repository Symbols

     - A list of Short Titles

     - A list of Abbreviations Used to Describe Manuscripts

     - A list of United States Navy ships and their Commanders

     - A list of Spanish ships and their Commanders

     - A Biographical Directory of individuals mentioned in the edition.

     - Illustrations related to the topic

     - Maps related to the topic

Questions, Corrections, or Broken Links:

As with any large project utilizing new and evolving technology, this edition remains a work in progress. The Editors request that any questions, corrections, or discovery of broken links, be directed to the Navy History and Heritage Command Webmaster.


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