Private Hermann W Kuchmeister's account of the Cienfuegos Cable Cutting Expedition

Courtesy of William D. Furey
Click here for an account of the ceremony commemorating Kuchmeister's sacrifice, May 9, 1998


Biographical notes:

Hermann KuchmeisterHerman Kuchmeister was bom in Ottendorf, Germany on October. 15, 1877, and enlisted in the Marines August 17, 1897.  Following his recuperation in the hospital for wounds received during the action at Cienfuegos, he married and settled in the town of Winthrop, Massachusetts. He and his wife had two daughters.

Kuchmeister became a US Customs inspector, and met an untimely death Feb. 1, 1923, as result of the wounds he had suffered during the war. He was a past commander Worth Bagley Camp # 6, Spanish War Veterans, Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Kuchmeister is buried in the old cemetery of Winthrop, Mass., and his grave is marked by a Monument dedicated by the Town ol Oct. 5, 1924, and also by a Veterans Administration Bronze Medal of Honor Plaque.

The Account:

"How we cut the Cable at Cienfuegos, Cuba
by Hermann W. Kuchmeister, MOH
May 11,1898

"Captain McCalla of the MARBLEHEAD, on which I was serving, called Assembly on the deck, and advised the crew about the cutting of the cables and the great danger involved and his call for volunteers was met with a ready response.

I asked permission to go, but was at first refused, Capt. McCalla thinking me too young, but he granted his permission after I reminded him of my record with the rifle, having won a sharpshooters medal for the best score in target practice.

That night as I spread my hammock out, I thought " Would I be on board the following night or would I be resting at the bottom of the sea?"

The cutting crew was composed mostly of mechanics to cut the largest cables, while the protecting crew of which I was a member were to draw the fire from the enemy so cutting crew would not be molested.  After morning coffee & hardtack, I went to a secluded place to offer a prayer to God, The bugle called assembly and 22 of us readied for action as the captain advised us again of the dangerous undertaking he bid us safe return.  We went to our boats among cheers of the ship crew.

When we were about 75 yards from shore the cable cutters dropped the grappling hooks as we moved towards the shore.  Our object now was to destroy the switch house so the enemy could not blow us up, for we were passing over the mines we could see clearly in the water.

We were now 50 feet from shore and we could see the MARBLEHEAD bombarding the batteries and along the rifle pits where the enemy in full force could be seen pointing their Mauser rifles directly at us.  We turned our 1 pound gun on the switch house and with our 2 machine guns firing 402 shots a minute, and about 6 men firing rifles on the rifle pits, brought firing at once from the enemy.

Nine of the enemy made a charge for the switch house, and in less time then it takes to tell, they laydead and soon after we destroyed the house.

The lifting of the cable was a very perilous and laborious task but the cutting crew went about their job coolly, Bullets were piercing the boat and the water was coming in.  But coolly as ever we put a bullet in the hole and it helped keep the water out.  Large shells dropped around us nearly lifting us out of the water.  Shells from our own ship and the Spanish batteries passed over head.

Up to this time only a few in the boat suffered slight wounds to the arm or hand, such we did not mind.  Our main thought was to aim good and keep cool.  But at this time the whole Santa Clara Regiment advanced in a company, as on parade.  This was very dangerous to us, but we determined to try our last hope.  I grasped our ensign floating on the stern and signaled "The coming of the enemy " to the MARBLEHEAD, who in a few minutes began to shell the lines demoralizing the Spanish regiment.

We received fire from another direction, that began to take its toll on our members. We seemed lost; our wounded was growing fast in number - one killed in our boat and seven in the cutting boat.  Then with relief, the last cable was hoisted and cut.

A shower of bullets came again and one glanced along the left side of my face, and a second hit in the same spot, taking part of the jaw bone and teeth, and a piece off the tongue in the back part of the mouth.  It came out behind the ear within a sixteenth of an inch of the jugular vein.

One of my teeth was driven into my neck where it remained until Sept. 13th, when it was removed at the Brooklyn, Naval Hospital.

The only thing I remembered after being brought aboard ship is that I insisted that I was able to walk to the operating table.

As I lay in the Captains cabin, it came to me if I died it was for my country and a glorious cause.

I was at Brooklyn Naval Hospital on June 5th where I remained for a few months before being transferred to Chelsea Naval Hospital where I remained until March 26th, 1900.  Having Been nearly 2 years confined to hospitals and having five operations.

In general order #521, dated July, 7 1899, Navy Department, I was awarded a "Congressional Medal of Honor", for Heroism and Gallantry under fire of enemy.  Lt. Anderson's report stated "After being severely wounded, I continued to work until ordered to stop."


Bibliography:

The above is shortened, edited version of a lecture written by Mr. Hermann Kuchmeister, MOH and To the best of my ability I have remained within the true content of his lecture paper. William D. Furey, PC, Adj.  American Legion Post 146, Winthrop, Mass.


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