Cuban War of Independence Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After it became clear that Cuba’s Ten Years’ War against Spain had failed to achieve lasting reforms, new hostilities broke out and achieved great success in Cuba’s Oriente province. The savage fighting of the new revolt would combine with Spain’s repressive reaction to bring the United States into the conflict and lead to the Spanish-American War.

Summary of Event

The Treaty of Zanjón Zanjón, Treaty of (1878) ended the Cuban insurrection known as the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878). It provided for a cease-fire between Cuban rebels and the Spanish colonial administration in Havana. Both sides agreed on the implementation of significant reforms. The Spanish regimes that followed in the wake of the Zanjón agreement, however, dragged their feet; only the abolition of slavery was carried out, and only then at a comparatively late date (1886). Furthermore, Spanish colonial policies enacted during the late 1880’s and early 1890’s were damaging the Cuban economy: Heavier taxation of Cuban exports and the abrogation of trade terms with the United States resulted in a 40 percent decline in trade revenue. Cuba;War of Independence Spain;and Cuba[Cuba] Cuba;and Spain[Spain] Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and Cuba[Cuba] Weyler y Nicolau, Valeriano Martí, José Íñiguez, Calixto García Maceo, Antonio Palma, Tomás Estrada [kw]Cuban War of Independence (Feb. 24, 1895-1898) [kw]War of Independence, Cuban (Feb. 24, 1895-1898) [kw]Independence, Cuban War of (Feb. 24, 1895-1898) Cuba;War of Independence Spain;and Cuba[Cuba] Cuba;and Spain[Spain] Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and Cuba[Cuba] Weyler y Nicolau, Valeriano Martí, José Íñiguez, Calixto García Maceo, Antonio Palma, Tomás Estrada [g]Cuba;Feb. 24, 1895-1898: Cuban War of Independence[6020] [g]Central America and the Caribbean;Feb. 24, 1895-1898: Cuban War of Independence[6020] [g]Spain;Feb. 24, 1895-1898: Cuban War of Independence[6020] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Feb. 24, 1895-1898: Cuban War of Independence[6020] [c]Government and politics;Feb. 24, 1895-1898: Cuban War of Independence[6020] Gómez y Báez, Máximo Martínez de Campos, Arsenio Cánovas del Castillo, Antonio Sagasta, Práxedes Mateo

Lithograph sold in the United States in support of the Cuban nationalist movement.

(Library of Congress)

Cuban Cuba;government in exile exiles in the United States established a rebel government in New York City to organize and coordinate efforts aimed at securing independence. It was led by journalist and poet José Martí and former insurgent general Tomás Estrada Palma. Both would assume prominent positions in the provisional government that was to be proclaimed: Estrada Palma as president, and Martí as secretary-general. They were assisted by, among others, certain veteran generals of the Ten Years’ War: Máximo Gómez y Báez, Gómez y Báez, Máximo Antonio Maceo, and Calixto García Íñiguez.

On February 24, 1895, revolts broke out in the countryside of at least three provinces. The first clash occurred between Cuban and Spanish forces at Los Negros on March 10. The Spanish defeat there resulted in the dispatching of some thirty thousand reinforcements from Spain and Puerto Rico Puerto Rico;and Cuba[Cuba] . On March 31, Maceo, who had sailed from Central America, made a landing at Baracoa and proclaimed the provisional government, while Martí and Gómez, using Haiti as their base, landed on April 13. Battles at Sabana de Jaibo, Jobito, Arroyo Hondo, Ramon de las Juagas, and Cristo resulted in further Spanish setbacks.

Cuban president Tomás Estrada Palma with his cabinet in 1902.

(Library of Congress)

Martí, who in many ways was the voice and inspiration of the revolution, was surprised and killed at Dos Rios on May 19, and his men were slaughtered. As more recruits joined the rebellion and volunteers kept trickling into Cuba, Spanish captain-general Arsenio Martínez Martínez de Campos, Arsenio de Campos launched a determined but failed attack on Maceo at Peralejo on July 13, 1895. He nearly lost his life and was forced to retreat. Thereafter, lapsing into depression and becoming increasingly ineffectual, Martínez de Campos was replaced by General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau on February 10, 1896.

Weyler y Nicolau set about with the ruthless resolve that earned him the sobriquet of “butcher” in the American press. Maceo and Gómez Gómez y Báez, Máximo had been freely ranging across the island—sometimes independently, and sometimes in concert—raiding and destroying government facilities and supplies and breaching the trochas (entrenchment ditches across the width of Cuba) that had been in place since the Ten Years’ War. Maceo and Gómez were joined by General Calixto García Íñiguez, who disembarked in Cuba on March 25, 1896.

After proclaiming martial law and bolstering the number of troops patroling the trochas, Weyler y Nicolau sought to destroy the rebel power base by ordering the entire populations of certain target regions into concentration camps. This reconcentrado policy was initially successful in hampering rebel operations, though Maceo’s forces remained very active. In the long term the brutality of Weyler y Nicolau’s policy drew sharp attack from William Randolph Hearst’s Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and newspapers[Newspapers] New York Morning Journal and New York Evening Journal, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World New York World , and other publications. Reports of atrocities of greater and lesser veracity poured out of Cuba and began inflaming American public opinion against Spain. Disease, starvation, and executions resulting from the reconcentrados killed a conservatively estimated 480,000 people. On December 7, 1896, Maceo was ambushed and killed at Punta Brava while riding to Gómez’s Gómez y Báez, Máximo assistance.

Weyler y Nicolau’s heavy-handed methods slowly ground down or impeded rebel resistance in the western and central regions, and a relentless campaign of maneuver, terror, and retaliation raged in the rebellion’s Oriente province stronghold between Weyler y Nicolau and García Íñiguez. Known now as “the fox,” García Íñiguez proved an elusive and resourceful opponent, slipping away from royalist forces to capture Jiguani (March 13, 1897) and Victoria de las Tunas (August 30).

The inauguration of William McKinley McKinley, William [p]McKinley, William[MacKinley, William];and Cuba[Cuba] as president of the United States on March 4, 1897, brought into power an administration that was much more favorable toward the Cuban rebel cause than was that of the outgoing Grover Cleveland administration. Estrada Palma skillfully exploited American sympathy to successfully lobby Washington for interventionist legislation. On August 8, 1897, Spanish prime minister Antonio Cánovas Cánovas del Castillo, Antonio del Castillo, leader of the Conservative Party and a supporter of Weyler y Nicolau’s policy, was assassinated and his successor, Liberal Party leader Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, dismissed Weyler y Nicolau (October 31). By the end of the year, the Sagasta regime had drawn up a plan for partial Cuban autonomy. It was too late, and too little.

García Íñiguez’s army resumed its aggressive campaigning. On November 28, 1897, the rebels had forced the surrender of the Spanish garrison at Guisa, and 1898 saw the capitulation of the fortresses at Bayamo, Holguin (García Íñiguez’s birthplace), and Gibara. García Íñiguez’s troops had triumphed in a pitched battle at Rejondon de Baguanos (February 1, 1898) as well. The Cuban War of Independence was then absorbed in (some might even assert, overshadowed by) the U.S. declaration of war against Spain on April 22, 1898, and the swift, decisive conflict known as the Spanish-American War.


Although the United States made short work of the underequipped and demoralized Spanish forces, the Cuban War of Independence, in which the guerrillas had more than held their own against vastly superior numbers, had given the Cubans such a sense of pride and independence that any prior inclinations favoring annexation by the United States had been cast aside.

Recognizing the reality posed by Cuban nationalist sentiment, the Congress of the United States had passed the Teller Amendment (1898) disclaiming any intentions by the United States to make Cuba a colonial possession. After an interim period of U.S. military governance, Cuba became an independent republic in 1902, with Tomás Estrada Palma as its first president.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Belnap, Jeffrey, and Raul Fernandez. Jose Marti’s “Our America”: From National to Hemispheric Cultural Studies. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998. A collection of essays that attempt to shed light on the mercurial and dynamic genius who was the visionary behind the Cuban rebellion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ferrer, Ada. Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868-1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. Focuses on the multicultural factors involved in the Cuban revolt, which is depicted as running against the conventional late nineteenth century attitudes on race.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Foner, Philip S. Antonio Maceo: The Bronze Titan of Cuba’s Struggle for Independence. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977. An engrossing biography of one of the pivotal guerrilla chieftains, arguably the most formidable rebel leader, during the early phases of the Cuban War for Independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rubens, Horatio S. Liberty: The Story of Cuba. 1932. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1970. Extols the virtues and strengths of the Cuban guerrilla fighters to legendary proportions. However, the work is still useful.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher. Empire and Antislavery: Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, 1833-1874. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999. Traces the development of revolutionary ideology in nineteenth century Cuba within the broader context of Spanish (and Puerto Rican) abolitionism and politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Hugh. Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. As in all works by the prolific historian Thomas, this work is meticulously written, and presents facts with great detail. A definitive chronicle of the Cuban ordeal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Turton, Peter. Jose Marti: Architect of Cuba’s Freedom. London: Zed Books, 1986. A definitive and complimentary portrayal of Martí as a near-mystical figure.

Cuba’s Ten Years’ War

Rise of Yellow Journalism

Spanish-American War

Philippine Insurrection

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla; Isabella II; William McKinley; José Martí; Joseph Pulitzer. Cuba;War of Independence Spain;and Cuba[Cuba] Cuba;and Spain[Spain] Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and Cuba[Cuba] Weyler y Nicolau, Valeriano Martí, José Íñiguez, Calixto García Maceo, Antonio Palma, Tomás Estrada

Categories: History