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Sunday Favorites: The Only Man Fighting

Matthew Hance Wyatt was the only person in Manatee County to fight in the Spanish American War

During the Spanish American War, many Manatee natives enlisted to help their neighbors and business partners, located less than 100 miles south, rebel from Spain. However, only a few would find themselves on the Cuban battlefield. Matthew Hance Wyatt was one of those few soldiers; he reportedly died in the line of battle, but then returned home to Bradenton.

European colonialism was finished in the states by the end of the 19th Century. Spain, which had claimed Florida as a territory from 1513-1763, then reclaimed the present-day state from the British from 1783-1821, was declining in power. The United States, however, had been growing since the culmination of the Civil War (1861-1865).

Tensions increased in the 1890s as rebellion broke out against Spain in Cuba. 

Cuba had decided to follow in the footsteps of the United States, revolting against Spain, which still presided over Cuban policies. Florida’s close relationship with Cuba at the time put residents in an awkward position. 

For one thing, selling beef to Cuba had become the primary export of Manatee County and the business for much of the livelihood of residents. 

As war with Spain seemed imminent.  Citizens feared that the Spanish would arrive in Tampa Bay at any time. Young men of Bradenton enlisted in the military with hopes of defeating “Old Butcher,” which was the name given to General Valeriano Weyler who was enlisted to pacify the Cuban Rebellion. 

Weyler's experience in controlling rebels in the Philippines made him the logical choice. Weyler was made a governor of Cuba with full powers to suppress the insurgency and to restore political stability to facilitate greater sugar production.

The men of Manatee suited up to defeat Weyler, who had put thousands of Cuban civilians into concentration camps. But most of the disposed U.S. troops never left American soil; they were instead sent north for training. 

Fort Dade was erected on Egmont Key with temporary gun batteries and facilities – only the Spanish Fleet never arrived. The Manatee County boys returned home without experiencing any of the realities of war. 

There was one exception; Wyatt had joined Capt. Burns’ Tampa Rifles, or the “Fighting Six,” which became part of the historical 5th Army Corp. They were involved in the battle of San Juan Hill (July 1, 1898) and Wyatt was erroneously reported dead.

The three-day battle was a major turning point in the war and considered its bloodiest fight. It was also the location of the greatest victory for the Rough Riders, as claimed by the press and its new commander, the future Vice-President and later President, Theodore Roosevelt, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2001 for his actions in Cuba. 

However, the American press at the time overlooked the fact that the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th and 24th Infantry Regiments had actually done much of the heaviest fighting.


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