Tampa during 1898…. "The Rocking-chair War"

Views of Tampa in the New York Press

_After obtaining the world recognition as a hand made cigar manufacturer,Tampa once again was in the news and the center of attention. This time as the stage location for the preparation for the Spanish-American War. During early 1898, the political environment in the island of Cuba was very volatile. The Spanish control island was agitated by the insurrection that claim their independence. In late January the USS Maine arrived to Havana harbor to observe and possible evacuation of United States citizens. On February 15, 1898, the battleship USS Maine was sunk (under very questionable circumstances) in Havana harbor, and with the American's newspaper howling for Spanish blood, it wasn't hard to determine the results. War was declare on April 24, and Tampa had already been picked as a major staging area.

Like today, the media was paying closed attention, especially of the daily events in Washington so as in Tampa via the telegraph. Reports to the newspapers such as the New York Times and the New York Post which send reporters and photographers to cover the scene. As follow you can read some of those almost daily reports that created a time-line of the daily life in the spring and summer of 1898, in what was called "the rocking-chair war".

During those months, the routine in Cigar City changed month to month as the stage for the war preparations was developed. Once Tampa became the operations base for the war in Cuba , it was the source of many stories for the New York newspapers which in detail described more than the military events, also the daily living. Tampa then was not much a city as it was a raw and distastefully sandy bit of geography, which lacked the infrastructure to provide for over 50,000 troops in their way to the island of Cuba. Unprepared military authorities were responsible for much of the confusion, which resulted in part from repeated postponement of the schedule embarkation of the troops to the island. That's why Richard Harding Davis, a correspondent for the New York Herald, refer in one of his many articles to “the rocking-chair period of the war”. Emphasizing how officers passed their time on the veranda of the Tampa Bay Hotel rocking chairs.

Most of the New York press disdainfully described Tampa 's primitive conditions. For the other hand reporters admired the Tampa Bay Hotel, (now the University of Tampa ) with its intricately grand construction and Moorish minarets, depicted the surrounding town as sparse and inadequate. This are some of the stories and photos..






- Headline: “ Tampa Prepares for Troop”

Tampa is preparing for the arrival of the Seven Regiments of U.S. troops ordered to report here. Since it became positively known that they had been ordered to Tampa and that they might remain here for an indefinite period. The matter is finding suitable camping grounds has been agitating the military authorities of this place, who it is expected, to assist in procuring a suitable and convenience site for the camp ground. Three available places within close proximity to the city proper, to railways depot, and to water communications have been selected. One is a high point on Hillsborough Bay know as Ballast Point. The second one is Fort Brooke , which until the last few months was the property of the Government and which has been used during all previous emergencies for the accommodation of soldiers stationed there. It's also very close to the railroad lines of Central and Peninsula Railroad chief transportation lines reaching Tampa from the North.

The third available site is De Soto Park , to the north of the city about a mile and possessing both water and rail facilities. The arrival of the advance Quartermaster is expected hourly, and when the selection is made it will be prepared immediately for occupancy by the soldiers. Photographers representing several newspapers are busy taking views. (Top photo: Gen. Wade & Gen. Shefter and Staff at Tampa Bay Hotel barcony. Lower photo: New York Troops arriving by train to Tampa)

New York Times, April 17, 1898.




- Headline: “ Tampa Turned into a camp”

Tampa has been changed from a quiet town of civilians to a veritable Military post. Everywhere uniforms and brass buttons are conspicuous. The streets, hotel, clubs and cafes are filled with soldiers. The Spanish speaking community has been inundated by English speaking customers. All last night and today trains have been arriving, filled with troop from West, North and East, so that to-night more than 3,000 of the men are in camp. Gen. Wade and his staff have established permanent headquarter at The Tampa Bay Hotel, and thus far they have visited the camp but once… In the mean time soldiers have penetrated every corner of Tampa and are the apparent owners of the town. It is very doubtful if General Wade himself knows anything definite about how long the troops will be here. (Photo: Men of "E" Company, 9th. Infantry reading the news)

New York Times, April 23, 1898.



- Headline: "With the troops in Tampa"

The officers who are on close to the sources of information say that there is no longer any doubt that from to twenty to thirty thousand more troops, regular and volunteers, will be encamped in Tampa within the next two weeks. Gen. Wade has effectually established a press censorship here, so far as news of an official nature is concern. (Photo: One of the many military camps on the outskirts of Tampa)

New York Times, April 28, 1898.




-Headline: "Clara Barton in Tampa"

Miss Clara Barton of the Red Cross Society arrived here to-night from Washington, and she with the entire Red Cross force, will leave Tampa tomorrow for Key West. (Photo: Ms. Clara Barton, head of the Red Cross.

New York Times, April 28, 1898.


Gen. Wade and his staff made an official call today on Miss Clara Barton and they had an important conference of half hour. The exact nature of it is not known, but Miss Barton admitted that her future movements were concerned in it. Tonight Miss Barton and those of the society who were with her left on the steamship Mascotte for Key West.

New York Times, April 29, 1898.




-Headline: "Action expected in Tampa"

The army of invasion will leave Tampa for Cuba, it is believed here, on Wednesday next. Such is the programmed as unofficially announced at the headquarters and in the camp. The steamers of Plant Steamship Company, which are to assist in the transportation of troops are all now here and have up steam..

The arrival of troops has been the order of today.. The total number of troops now here will exceed 7,000, most of them comprising infantry commands.. Sunday has been unusually quiet in the three camps where the men's are located. The strictest discipline is enforced, and the men are no allowed far from their camps. About twenty thousand of the people of this and adjoining cities visited the camps today.(Photo: A medical unit encamped near Tampa)

New York Times, May 2, 1898.



Headline: "Troops moving on Tampa"

To night all of the mules, wagon, and heavy equipage of the camp in this city has been ordered to Port Tampa ready and convenient for shipment to Cuba. This fact is not known outside of the camp. The railroad authorities who are transport them are under the strictest orders to give out no information. Thousands of troops, artillery, and infantry, have arrived in the past twenty-four hours, and the city is one great military post swarming with from every part of the Union, all eager for and expecting an early invasion of Cuba. Well known is that 200 hundred natives Cubans who have been quietly enlisted in New York City by Gen. Julio Sanguily arrived in Tampa to-night. They will formed into a cavalry regiment and under the leadership of the famous Cuban who enlisted them will probably embark for Cuba with the American troops. (Photo: Transports at Port Tampa awaiting the loading of troops for Cuba)

New York Times, May 3, 1898.



Headline: "Troops Held at Tampa"

The movement of troops here is check by orders from Washington. Everything rest in doubt except that the President does not favor any hurried movement for the land forces against Cuba...

Seven transport boats are now at Port Tampa, and soon will be in readiness for the loading of the troops.."The time of sailing will be made known to everybody", said Gen. Shafter today. "This is to big an expedition to get away in a hurry", he added. Many visitors are pouring into town to see the military pageantry. (Photo: Cuban Volunteers, including many cigar makers, prepared to embark for Cuba)

New York Times, May 7, 1898.




Headline: "Enlistment of Cubans in Tampa"

The enlistment of Cubans soldiers this week has made quite stir in the cigar factories. About 300 unmarried men enlisted, and 600 to 700 more have arrived from Key West, Jacksonville, New York and other cities. They are encamped in West Tampa awaiting orders. Most of those who enlisted here are cigar makers, and their places in the factories are being filled rapidly by others, who are glad to step in. (Photo: Cubans volunteers)

Tobacco Leaf, May 12, 1898.

Headline: "Two Companies Leave Tampa"

The first invasion force of American troops left for Cuba at 2 this afternoon on the Steamer Gussie. It consisted of Companies E and G of the First Infantry, and the twenty Cubans who go with them.

New York Post, May 12,1898.



Headline: "Impatience at Tampa"

The movement to Cuba does not seem as near today as it did yesterday. Whenever a movement seems to be made an order comes from Washington checking it, and so day after day the pendulum swing between enthusiasm and discouragement.

Camp life here is not a recreation by any means. The soldiers for the most part are stationed on barren sand wastes where the heat and glare are almost unendurable. Cubans declare that the discomforts are no greater than they would be Cuba. There is no shade at the artillery and cavalry camps near Tampa. There is not a regiment that would not preferred going to Cuba at once to waiting here in the heat and sand glare and monotonous inaction. Neither officers nor men can understand the cause of de lay..

The transport Orizaba came into Port Tampa today. This makes nine vessels ready for the embarkation of the troops. The Florida has been set aside for use of the 800 Cubans under Gen. Lacret. This is one of the Plant Lines boats chartered by the Government. It has taken on a large cargo of Springfield rifles and ammunition, and may leave with a command of Cuban volunteers at any hour.

New York Times, May 12, 1898.


Headline: " Gen. Wade Looking for a camp"

Gen. Wade and part of his staff left here this afternoon for Jacksonville. It is given out here that his purpose is to select a site for a large encampment, as the water supply here has proved insufficient for the troops. A site has already been established at Lakeland, thirty miles northeast of Tampa, where there is abundance of water. The 14,000 soldiers here are taxing the water supply, it is said, to its limit. (Photo: Massachusetts Volunteers encamped at Lakeland)

New York Times, May 16, 1898.


Headline: "Press Censor more rigid"

Capt. J.E. Brady of the Signal Service at Washington, who has been appointed censor for the State of Florida, with the exception of Key West, arrived in Tampa today and at once assumed his new duties. Capt. Brady will make his headquarters at Tampa. The censorship hereafter will be extremely rigid, and any news a pertaining to the movements of the troops to or from Tampa or information of any kind that might be of service to the Spanish Government will not be permitted to be send out. The censorship has been extended to private telegrams.

New York Times, May 31, 1898.


Headline: "Rainy Season"

The troops in the various camps today had a taste of Cuban weather. This is the rainy season in Florida, just as it is across the Gulf, and it rains here quite as frequently when the season begin as it does there. For seven months not a drop of water has fallen in Tampa. But today the floodgates were opened and the rain came down in torrents. It rained steadily for three hours, drenching men to the skin, soaking tents and, giving the soldiers a taste of what they will experience later. (Photo: Troops arriving to Tampa by railroad)

New York Times, June 2, 1898.


Headline: "Mr. Roosevelt at Tampa"

Theodore Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders" reached Tampa today. They came from Lakeland, and the regiment is mounted splendidly, and full spirit. Col. Wood and Lieut. Col. Roosevelt, as well as the officers and men are very anxious to go to Cuba with the first expedition. The arrival of the "Rough Riders" created a decided sensation in Tampa today, and as much so among men as among citizens. (Photo: Lt.Col. Theodore Roosevelt in Tampa - 1898)

New York Times, June 3, 1898.


Headline: "The Rough Riders Camp"

The camp of the "Rough Riders" lies directly west of the town of Tampa, in an open sand flat, where the sun beats down all day with the heat of a furnace. Any regiment of volunteers camped there, without shade, and without tents, would die off like sheep. But these hardy fellows inured to heat, cold, and exposure in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, never think of making a complaint about their camping places.

New York Times Illustrated Magazine, June 10, 1898.



Headline: "The Embarking of the troops"

The army of invasion finally is now embarked on a large fleet of swift transports. The first official notification that the time for a movement had arrived came in form of a general order posted on May 31. The embarkation definite shape on Monday afternoon, June 6, when the honor of embarking first was given to the First United States Infantry, Major Gen. Shafter's old command, a regiment famous in the history army. As the regiment marched down the long pier at Port Tampa with their band playing they caused the most intense enthusiasm.

During the balance of the afternoon and until daylight next morning the movement was resumed with the utmost vigor. All during Tuesday the wharves were moving mass of excited humanity. (Photo: Officers tent camp at Tampa Height)

New York Times, June 12, 1898.




On Board the Olivette, Port Tampa, and after nearly two months of somewhat theatric bustle and noise, and the movement of troops hither and thither, and after a dozen of orders from Washington and elsewhere to be ready to start at once, which orders were countermanded as rapidly as they were made. The army of invasion has got itself into a fleet of transports (Castine, Florida, Mascotee and Olivette), and has moved a few feet out into the bay finally. The drums of war are playing..

(Photo: "S.S. Mascotte" leaving Havana, Cuba in 1898.)

New York Times, June 14, 1898.

Headline: "Hostilities have ceased and a new future... "

Hostilities have ceased and the war has come to end... Spain will relinquish all claims of sovereignty over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippines and Hawaii. The Cubans of Tampa are pleased at the end of the war". At the same time this has transformed the meaning of exile. The emigre community, so long occupied with the cause of independence, faced an uncertain future. The era of self-imposed exile had come to an end. Yet the opportunity to return to Cuba opened painful choices. Many had come to look upon Tampa as home, the birthplace of their children's and the place where they owned homes. Also the was affected the cigar manufacturers and for then our economy. The old style cigar manufacturer, usually Spanish or Cuban, is about to be eclipsed by the northern corporations and tobacco conglomerates merges.

Tampa Morning Tribune, August 14, 1898.


Photographs courtesy of Florida State Archives, Tobacco Leaf, New York Times & Tampa Tribune

"The Rocking Chair War": Views of Tampa in the New York Press during 1898 by William A. Lorenzen IV



Trademark & copyrights reserved@GHC-2006 - 2018