The Death of General Vara Del Rey

by Gerardo Castellanos Garcia

Translated by Larry Daley

Introduction:

General Spanish Brigadier General Joaquin Vara del Rey was the officer in charge of the Spanish defense of a major advanced position at El Caney.  El Caney was taken July 1, 1898 the same day the successful attack on the San Juan Hills was carried out.  El Viso was the strongest, highest, position at El Caney.  Brackets indicated annotations, some sentences and paragraphs have been divided to facilitate translation.

The Account:

“This defense of El Viso was the most heroic if all; however, Vara del Rey was not there.”

“The Brigadier General Vara del Rey was walking down a passageway of a house on Real street from which one could clearly see El Viso, when a bullet went through both of his legs.  When he was asked (what it felt like) he replied ‘like a mosquito bite.’  He was treated in the hospital; but (when) told by the doctor that he should not stand, he handed over his command to Lieutenant Colonel Juan Puñet.”

At five in the afternoon El Caney surrendered, one hour later General Lawton with his Cuban allies entered (the town).

“Instead of the two hours that Lawton thought it would take the assault took nearly twelve and cost more than 400 casualties.  These casualty figures are not reliable because each Yanqui officer gives a different number. Similarly, the Spanish losses are listed at 444 by Wheeler, while the Swedish Military Attache reports 191 What is certain is that the Spanish suffered at least 444 losses between killed, wounded and captured.  The Cuban losses were also numerous.”

“Many of those in El Caney and part of the Garrison fled towards Santiago with Lieutenant Colonel Puñet.  The Brigadier General Vara del Rey was taken on a stretcher by the San Miguel vereda or as other state by the vereda de las Lajas which starts at the present (1927) post office.  It is said he  was trying to reach San Vincente or Cuabitas.”

“Although, the jungle path was well hidden by manigua it could be seen from the heights to the right.   Suddenly the escort of wounded (Vara del Rey) was under so severe direct and accurate fire that not only were the staff and officers killed, but the stretcher bearers fell (so fast) there was no time to replace them.  The brigadier's  exhortations only were able to drive the stretcher-bearers a little further.  A bullet hit Vara del Rey in the head, killing him.  With no one to order them the stretcher-bearers, left the body there.”

“Next day he (Vara del Rey) was identified, for there could be no mistake with the insignias of rank and the enormous beard.   In addition, on General Garcia’s orders some high ranking officers, including Colonel Pedro Hechevarria, Vicente Mestre Amabile and others came verify the identification.  And it is known, these officers for reason of duty and honor, ordered that he be buried. This was done in a very shallow grave.  It is definitely known that burial was done by a gigantic tree known as the Marañon de Vara del Rey. This is where the body was found by the Spanish Commission which, after five months, came to exhume his body.”

“The Commission was accompanied by Cuban Captain Alberto Plochet and a sergeant.  He was buried.  He was recognized by his insignia, his beard and a enormous Remington bullet hole in his skull.”

“When I visited the area in 1927, Captain Plochet was showing me the road and talking about that blooded day.  A few of us Cubans were marching along the heights.  We saw moving in the distance, a platoon of soldiers carrying some object that was covered, and from which a head emerged.   We began to lay down heavy fire.  (Cuban) Captain Jose Vargas, who was a magnificent shot, sighted on them with his Remington and fired, and soon we saw the few survivors fleeing leaving what they were carrying.  The object turned out to be the litter which held the dead Brigadier General.”

“In that short war, where there are few glorious Spanish deeds, a hero to save their honor.  Thus what Vara del Rey did, hold out for a few hours in a fortified position, being wounded as he walked along a porch, and being (killed as he escaped) along a jungle trail, is not the stuff of legends.  However, one cannot argue, that compared to the rest of the Spanish, he was the most varonil Spaniard of those days.”

“I will cite a stain on the military life of Vara del Rey.  Mrs Irene Rodriguez viuda (widow) of Quintana (here Castellanos cites Emilio Bacardi, Cronicas de Santiago de Cuba, the ninth volume), left Caney on the 29th (of June) with her retarded son Rafael.  Rafael had two cigars in his pocket.  Although their documents were in order, they were arrested and taken to a blockhouse see Brigadier Vara del Rey.  Despite the sickness of the mother (Irene Rodriguez) and the very evident retardation of the boy, the Brigadier became very angry and said surely those cigars are for his (Rafael’s) two Mambi (Cuban insurgent) brothers in the manigua.  He ordered Irene Rodriguez expelled from the fort, but arrested the retarded boy.  The next day he (Vara del Rey) handed the boy to Guerrilla Lieutenant Casadeval y Muller who murdered him on the Bonete vereda.”

“Divine Justice condemned the two participants in this horrible crime not to outlive their action.  The next day Vara del Rey and Casadeval died by avenging bullets.  Among the attackers on El Caney was Jose Quintana a brother of (Rafael) the Cuban victim.”


Bibliography:

Castellanos Garcia, Gerardo. Tierras y Glorias de Oriente, Editorial Hermes Havana. 1927 pp. 334-337.


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