Captured Guam for US

Captain Henry Glass (1844–1908), a rear admiral in the United States Navy, is remembered in Guam for his role in the bloodless capture of the island in the Spanish-American War. He was also a veteran of the American Civil War.

Glass was born in Kentucky and entered the US Naval Academy in 1860. During the Spanish-American War, Glass was assigned to the Pacific and commanded the cruiser USS Charleston.

The four-month Spanish-American War of 1898 matched the desperately fading Spanish empire against the aggressive, ambitious and powerful United States. In reaction to the mysterious explosion of the battleship USS Maine, in Cuba’s Havana Harbor and rumors of Spanish involvement, the US Congress declared war against Spain in late April 1898. On 1 May, Commodore George Dewey destroyed the Spanish squadron in Manila Bay and suddenly became a hero.

However, Dewey was short of ground troops and worried about opportunistic ventures by German and Japanese naval forces in the area. He requested ground forces from the Navy Department and in response, Captain Henry Glass was dispatched from Manila aboard the steam-powered cruiser, USS Charleston, with three troop transports carrying US Army units.

Glass was ordered to capture the port of Guam and take necessary steps regarding its population and then proceed to Manila. Glass remained on Guam for only two days (all the time the Navy had allotted) to complete his mission.

Leaving his troop transports safely outside Guam’s Apra Harbor, Glass entered the harbor on 20 June, firing some 10 shots at Fort Santa Cruz. There was no response from the fort. Not only had the small installation been abandoned some years earlier but Governor Juan Marina, only a year in office, had no idea his country was at war with the US. Glass informed the astonished Spanish officials who came out to the Charleston that a state of war existed and all the Spanish military then on Guam were prisoners of war. Glass ordered two of the Spanish officials to carry a letter to Governor Marina demanding that he report to Glass and surrender the island.

The next day, Marina appeared at the port to meet two of Glass’ officers who carried a white flag of truce but were backed by 30 marines from the Charleston and two army companies. As a show of respect for the surrendering governor, these men remained in their boats off shore. Following orders, Glass had the entire contingent of Spanish troops, two officers, and 50-some CHamoru militiamen surrender their arms and flags. Only the Spaniards were taken aboard one of the transports.

Then Captain Glass inspected Fort Santa Cruz and raised the American flag accompanied by a 21-gun salute and a playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” This gave the clear appearance that Glass was claiming not just the port of Guam but the entire island of Guam for the US.

Returning to the Charleston, Glass met with one of the few American citizens then living on Guam, Francisco “Frank” Portusach. In conversation, Glass allegedly turned over governing authority for Guam to Portusach. This claim would soon become a bone of contention during the next few months as a power struggle erupted.

On 22 June 1898, Captain Glass and his convoy sailed out of Apra Harbor bound for Manila. His visit began a new chapter in Guam’s history.

By Donald R. Shuster, EdD

For further reading

Rogers, Robert. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1995.

Sanchez, Pedro C. Guahan Guam: The History of Our Island. Hagåtña: Sanchez Publishing House, 1987.

Walker, Leslie W. “Guam’s Seizure by the United States in 1898.” Pacific Historical Review 14, no. 1 (1945): 1-12.