Contributed by Patrick McSherry
Following is am account of the battle of Cuzco Well as recorded by
Private Frank Keeler of the First Marine
Battalion (Reinforced), Company
The account is given as it was originally transcribed, with no attempt to alter the spelling, text or grammar.
“…reville sounded at 5 A.M. Roll call followed at 6. Breckfast was hastely served and at 7 we were ready to march. The attacking party was made up of a company of Cubans and Companys B. D. and C.
We left camp at 7.30 A.M., the Cubans leading followed by C and D companies, all in single file which made it look as if there was thousands in the line. It was a good way to make a bluff. Company B took another road with the intention of flanking the enemy on the left. This wise precaution give us a firing line on both the Spaniards right and left., but we had no easy task to reach the Spaniards. We had to cross several mountains. When almost at the end of our journey, having crossed two mountains and descending into the last valley a Spanish sentinel on top soon gave the alarm. An advance Cuban had seen the sentinals act and gave us the tip. The Spanish tried to reach the top of the mountain before we did but only a few of them succeeded. They were not enough of them to keep us back. Up the hill we charged in the face of the fire, but we drove them back in dismay and now had the drop on them. It had been no childs play to reach the top of the hill. The Captains of Companies C. and D. were almost suffocated with heat. They had fell behind to read but joined us fifteen minutes later, again taking command. Then came the order to cease firing.
We could see nothing of the enemy. The Captain in command had a request signaled to the DOLPHIN – which followed us along the coast from camp for the purpose of shelling any blockhouse we might come to or village we might run across – to throw a few shells in the bushes and also at the blockhouse ahead. We were all lived up ready to fire a volley into the enemy should they appear. The first shell went wide of its mark, but the second struck the block-house and it flew a part like a fire-cracker. There was no one in the house at the time. That shot was greeted by a shout that nearly made the mountain tremble and was heard on board the vessel. As shells from the DOLPHIN dropped into the bush; the enemy thought it was getting to warm for good health. They broke a fled. The vessel, getting the range, now sent a few shells in among them and we could see the enemy retreating in two or three different directions.
Up the gulley of the mountain on the opposite side of the valley they went. We set our sights on the rifles at 1,200 years and fired volley after volley…They made an attempt to return fire but it went too high or too low…Company B on the left flank and the Cubans on the right advances upon them firing as they went. When the Cubans got to close to the enemy we had to stop firing so as not to hit them. The Spanish then concentrated their fire on the Cubans and gave them a warm reception but were driven back and finally broke in disorder.
After the firing was over a company of us were sent down into the valley where their camp had been. We destroyed their well of fresh water. Although we were nearly dying for a drink our officers would not allow us to touch a drop of it. We had towait until they could send some from the U.S.S.OLPHIN. Our men were nearly played out for the want of it, so great was their suffering from the heat. After destroying the well we went down to the beach where two of our company and five Cubans who had been wounded were brought and were transfered to the DOLPHIN. Two Cubans had been killed. These were buried where they fell. After a wait of two hours the water arrived from the ship. Nothing ever seemed better than that. Then we went over to where the enemy were captured eighteen of them and counted about one hundred and sixty killed. Those that [had] been wounded had been carried from the field. Some of their wounded we learned died shorly afterwards. A guard was placed over the Prisoners. The Cubans gathered up the guns and ammunition and we started on our march back to camp which took two hours, arriving there ar seven o’clock. Tired to be sure, but we all felt we a nights rest before us.
Word was signaled to Capt. McCalla of the MARBLEHEAD to send over a cutter for the prisoners. Fifteen minutes later they were transfered to the vessel and we saw them no more then. They were later sent to Portsmouth N.H. on the HARVARD.
After a hearty supper, the picket line was formed about the camp and the rest of us with belts on and rifles by our side lie down to sleep…”
Tyson, Carolyn A. “The Journal of Frank Keeler, 1898,” Marine Corps Letter Series, No.1. Marine Corps Museum, Quantico, VA, p. 17-18.