John Hay, the diplomat and writer, described the Spanish-American War as that “splendid little war." For some it was just that. The war lasted less than 4 months, only a few hundred men were killed in battle and a generation grown weary of their elders’ Civil War tales had its own conflict to embellish. No American conflict ever enjoyed greater popular support and exacted a lower cost.
On paper, Spain appeared to be a formidable power. Upwards of 200,000 regular soldiers were stationed in Cuba and thousands of Cubans remained loyal to the Spanish government. By contrast, the U.S. army numbered only about 25,000 in 1898 and most of those soldiers had been confined to supervision of the Indians in the West.
The major difference would be made by the navies. The Spanish fleet boasted impressive numbers, but was in poor repair and badly out of date. Beginning in the 1880s, the American navy had instituted expansion programs, heeding the calls of such figures as Alfred Thayer Mahan.
The war was contested in two divergent theaters, the Far East and the Caribbean, attesting to the fact that the conflict had become more about imperialism and less about Cuban independence.