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Abstract

The early months of 1898 witnessed the explosion of Maine and additional inducements for war. The Naval War Board, which first made its appearance in late March was summoned to arrange strategy for the impending hostilities. After some personnel shuffling it was finally composed of Montgomery Sicard, Arent. S. Crowninshield, and Alfred T. Mahan.

The Appendix to the Bureau of Navigation of 1898 insists that the Naval War Board “throughout the war acted as an advisory board” and so do all scholars of the period. David Trask, for instance, in his benchmark work The War with Spain, also asserts that it “served simply as an advisory body to the Secretary of the Navy. It had no executive authority, although it undertook certain administrative duties … it did not decide the movements of any force at sea.”

Recent scholarship refutes these views. After careful analysis of primary sources I suggest that the Naval War Board was the primary mover of the Spanish-American War. Under its aegis it amassed an amazing degree of power and for the most part directed naval, military, diplomatic, and domestic efforts. In almost constant session, both day and night, it was regularly in communication with President William McKinley.

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