The actual reason, or at least a major contributor, for the American victory
in the Spanish-American War may be the country’s state of health. The Spanish
had been fighting insurgents in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippine Islands
for quite a while by the time of American involvement. Since these are tropical
locales, and the state of medicine being what it was, the Spanish Army was ravaged
by disease to put it mildly. There are no solid numbers known to exist anymore,
but one study estimates that of the approximately 60,000 Spanish deaths from
1895 to 1898, 90% were from malaria, dysentery and other associated maladies.
Indeed, with American deaths, of which there are solid numbers, 332 occurred
on or near the battlefield and 2,957 were due to disease.
The German-made Mauser Model 98, which was proved to be a better weapon
than the Krag
That said, this might go a long way to explain why the United States won the
war, because its Army was severely outgunned. The performance of the Krag-Jorgensen
on the battlefield, as opposed to tests and estimates at the Springfield Armory,
proved the rifle an utter failure in the face of the Spanish army’s Mauser – a
German-designed rifle and the weapon of choice for the armies of several European
and South American countries. The Mauser had a faster method of reloading, fired
a more powerful bullet, and had a far longer range than did the Norwegian designed
Krag. Future US President Theodore Roosevelt, whose unit, the Rough Riders, carried
Krags into Cuba, later wrote that on at least one occasion “the Mauser
bullets were singing through the trees over our heads, making a noise like the
humming of telephone wires.”
The soldiers on the field gave blistering criticisms of the Krag and glowing
praise for the Mauser. This was not lost on the Ordnance Department. A replacement
was clearly needed. If the adolescent United States was going to compete on the
world stage, its armies would need a worthy weapon. Almost immediately, the Experimental
Department began to reverse-engineer the Mauser. The result was two-fold. On
the one hand, the US Army would ultimately get one of the best rifles ever made.
On the other, Uncle Sam was the recipient of an enormous lawsuit from Mauser
for patent infringement.