14 Feb 20

The subject of this book, the Spanish-American War of 1898, is not one this reviewer is particularly familiar with, so the opportunity to develop one’s knowledge was eagerly grasped. A cursory glance through the contents suggested that Disputed Victory would address this reviewer’s knowledge deficit. Moreover, having read The War in the North Sea: The Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy 1914-1918, also by Quintin Barry, and providing a most informative and detailed read, one expected Disputed Victory to be a fascinating and detailed account. Quintin Barry is ably qualified to fulfil this. A solicitor and a retired Employment Judge with a life-long interest in military and naval history, Barry has authored a number of books, including on the Franco-Prussian War, the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and a study of the blockade of Brest during the Napoleonic Wars, plus the aforementioned The War in the North Sea.

Disputed Victory sets out to provide an account of the Spanish-American War of 1898, focusing particularly on the US campaign against Spanish Cuba, and its naval component. This is especially concerned with the Board of Inquiry established to investigate the conduct of Commodore Winfield Schley and whether credit for the US naval victory against the Spanish squadron in Cuban waters belonged to Admiral William Sampson or to Commodore Schley. The book is divided into 24 chapters encompassing subjects including the state of the US Navy in the latter nineteenth century, relations between the US and Spain, key figures in the US, and the Cuban campaign, plus a prologue, epilogue and features detailed endnotes and a bibliography, covering some 253 pages.

The author provides more than a narrative of the Spanish-American War itself; Barry ably sets out the wider context within which US naval, and national power was developing in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Key figures including Alfred Thayer Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt, the development of the US as a global power, and how a rising power successfully challenges a declining former great power are discussed. Interestingly and relevant to President Trump’s stated interested in purchasing Greenland in the summer of 2019, the book refers to US nineteenth century debates toward Cuba, including whether annexation or purchase were desirable options. The book also addresses themes such as leadership, the impact of conflicting personalities on command, and the challenge of intra-service tensions.

Disputed Victory provides a detailed and fascinating account of particularly the naval aspects of the Spanish-American War of 1898. It will appeal to those with an interest in the naval histories of the US and Spain, and wider histories of those respective countries and their former possessions. It should also appeal to those with a general interest in naval history. The book is, for the most part, well-written; there are occasional typos. The final chapter, ‘The Court of Inquiry’, is especially well-written, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the author’s professional background. At £29.95, the book is also reasonable value for money. Having at the start of this review, professed to possessing only a limited knowledge of the Spanish-American War, having read Disputed Victory, one is now much more enlightened. If looking for something different, this book is worth picking up.