The Campaign in Cuba as Remembered by
Sergeant John J. Turner, USV (Part Three)


In order to give the reader a good idea of what obstacles presented themselves to the Spanish army in Cuba. I am going to relate the difficulties encountered by General Escario's forces when they were ordered to Santiago to take part in the defense of the city. These forces came by land, as there was no means of transportation, which was fortunate for them, for had they attempted to go by sea, the American fleet around these waters would have had no trouble in taking them prisoners. General Arsenio Linares Pombo, commander-in-chief of the 1st Division of Spanish forces of the 4th Army corps, and Military governor of Santiago de Cuba, in instructions dated June 20th, 1898, ordered the 2nd Division, stationed, at Manzanillo under Colonel Federico Escario, (acting General) to go to Santiago without delay to take part in the defense against the Americans. General Escario's column of 3,572 men consisted of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Isabel la Catolica regiment of Infantry No. 75, 1st Battalion of the Andalucia regiment No. 52, one battalion of Alcantara Peninsular No. 3, one Battalion of Cazadores of Porto Rico No. 19, detachment of the 5th Light Artillery, detachment of the 8th company of Zapadores, mounted Guerillas of Calixto, Bayamo and Manzanillo, five army doctors and thirty hospital corps men. There was also No. 10 pack train with ammunition, 18,000 rations of biscuits on 148 mules and fifty private pack trains.

This great column which the Governor thought would be a wonderful help to Santiago, left Manzanillo at 5 p.m., June 22nd, reaching Palmas Altas where they camped for the night. It rained so heavily that sleep was impossible. At 5 a.m. of the 23rd they continued through a heavy jungle to the left bank of the river Jara where the Cubans fired upon them killing one Spaniard and wounding three. After the Cubans retired, General Escario camped at the latter place for the night. He started at 6 a.m. of the 24th for Arroyo Pavon, Ana Lopez and Sabana la Loma where in a slight skirmish with the Cuban soldiers he had one killed and one wounded. Camping on the banks of the Canabacoa river until the morning of the 25th the column started under heavy showers of rain through Los Pelados, Palmarita, Rio Buey, and Rio Yao, making a stop over at Babatuaba where they lost one man by the Cubans. Starting on the 26th for Bayamo an attack was prepared as follows: Colonel Manuel Ruiz divided the Cavalry and 600 infantry soldiers into two columns. Colonel Ruiz commanded part of the Infantry, Lieutenant Colonel Baldomero Barbon of the Alcantara Battalion, commanded the other part and the mounted outfits were under Maj. Luis Torrecilia of the Isabel la Catolica Regiment. They advanced thus as if trying to take the world by storm. They entered Bayamo, and the few Cuban soldiers thereabout retired under a heavy volley of shots leaving behind ten men killed, several packages of documents and the telegraph line between Jiguani and Santa Rita, which the Spaniards immediately destroyed. On the 27th the Spaniards continued their march through Guanabano plain, Chapala and Cantillo River, also destroying the telegraph line between Bayamo and Santa Rita.

After stopping for the night at this latter place the Spanish column started on the 28th for Baire by way of Jiquam River. The Cuban soldiers were waiting for them there and in the skirmish that took place the Cuban soldiers wounded Colonel Manuel Ruiz, killed his horse and four Spanish soldiers and wounded five. At Baire the difficulties encountered were so numerous, the grass was so tall that the men could scarcely see to go through it, the heat was almost suffocating, the great number of sick men, thus with pains they marched single file so weather beaten and exhausted that the 29th was made a day of rest. They had three men wounded on this day. On the 30th they marched to Palma Soriano in order to leave the sick and wounded there. The column experienced some shooting at La Ratonera but with no fatal results. When they reached La Mantonia the Spaniards were greatly impressed with the number of small huts and trails, characteristic of an insurgent camp. There was no mistake in this as the insurgents were on a hill close by and opened fire on the Spaniards, but being attacked on the left flank Maj. Francisco Gonzalez of the Alcantara Battalion were compelled to retreat leaving behind some Remington ammunition. The Spanish loss in this encounter were five killed and Captain Genaro Ramiro and nine soldiers wounded.

On the 1st of July, the Spaniards continued their march to Rio Guarinao where the Cubans held positions in the adjacent hills. No sooner did the Cubans see the Spaniards than the firing commenced. The situation got somewhat alarming and General Escario had to make good use of his artillery. In this battle the Spaniards lost seven killed and one Lieutenant and 42 men wounded. The Cubans left on the field when they retired seventeen killed and some ammunition of different makes. Having reached Arroyd Blanco, the Spanish column camped for the night, starting next morning for Palma Soriano. On their way experienced some shooting from the Cubans, but without any casualties. Reaching Palma Soriano on July 2nd, General Escario ordered that the troops be properly rationed and at the same time rest up until 2 a.m. of the next day when he sent an advance guard to Santiago composed of the first Battalion of Isabel la Catolica Regiment under Major Torrecilla and thirty men of each company, all the cavalry and two pieces of artillery under Colonel Baldomero Barbon of the Alcantara Regiment. This advance guard was followed by the rest of the column under General Escario. The advance guard reached Santiago de Cuba about 4:15 p.m. and the rest of the column under General Escario at 9:40 p.m. of the 3rd of July, 1898 with a total loss of 27 killed, two officers and 68 men wounded, not counting 28,670 Mauser cartridges used during the march and 38 rounds of artillery. Although its arrival was late and useless very few men of this column would have reached Santiago, had General Shafter taken General Calixto Garcia's advice.

As soon as the men reached the Cuban Headquarters, General Garcia sent General Demetrio Castillo and Carlos Garcia Velez of the Cuban Army on board of the S.S. Seguarance on June 27th to interview General Shafter, and at the same time informed him that General Calixto Garcia had ordered General Jesus Rabi to start with Cuban forces for Aguacate, a place where all the roads to and from Manzanillo unite. The object of the Cuban column was to cut off the march of General Escario's forces. General Francisco Estrada was also to leave with Cuban troops for the crossing of Contramaestre river and perform the same operation, General Shafter was informed that the Cuban forces would reach Aguacate on the 29th if they sailed for Aserradiro that same day. In the meantime General Rabi had 2,000 well equipped Cubans rationed for four days in Siboney ready to start. They only awaited superior orders from General Shafter, but when Generals Castillo and Garcia Velez returned from on board the Seguarance they stated that General Shafter refused to authorize such a march. The Cuban forces then returned to their barracks and General Escario thus allowed to come by land from Manzanillo to Santiago de Cuba, when his forces could have been completely annihilated by Cuban soldiers. The skirmishes the Spaniards had on their way were held with Cuban soldiers sent previously by Gen. Calixto Garcia, for he foresaw that if this column reached Santiago before the 1st of July, the Americans and Cubans would have had to fight very hard. General Escario does not seem to have had any great desire of taking part in the defense of Santiago against the Americans, as he could have arrived long before. He took ten and a half days in the march, visiting towns that he could have avoided. The reader will agree with me when he takes into account that a train leaving Santiago de Cuba at 2:20 p.m. each day and reaches Manzanillo at 7:20 p.m. the same day, only traveling at the rate of 25 or 30 miles an hour.

Bombardment of Santiago.

General Shafter tried his very best to obtain the surrender of Santiago on July 3rd, 1898, but the Spanish Military Governor, General Toral, refused. On the 5th General Shafter again approached him on the subject by means of an official letter, threatening him thus:

Unless you surrender, the American fleet will bombard the city on the 10th. Our large guns are within range of Santiago, some can fire five and one half miles and others a longer distance. In fact we can cause a great deal of damage within four miles of Santiago.

This threatening proposition was also refused and owing to the foreign consuls, the bombardment of the city of Santiago was fixed for July 9th. The news spread like wild fire and the inhabitants of Santiago began to make preparations to abandon their homes and seek refuge in the suburbs, probably at El Caney or Cuabitas. The Civil Governor Leonardo Ros, then made public that all who desired to leave the city could do so on the morning of the 5th between the hours of 5 and 9 a.m. but on condition that no vehicle whatever be taken. This part of the order gave rise to a little argument between the Chief of Staff of General Toral and the French consul who requested authority to use a cart for the purpose of taking his sick subjects away from the city. The permit was afterwards granted both to him and to the British consul, Frederick W. Ramsden by General Toral. On the morning of the 5th the rush for safety commenced, men, women and children left their homes in the form of an enormous procession bound for El Caney. Every stage of life was there represented, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick; all marched hand in hand to seek refuge and thereby escape from the effects of the large American guns that they knew had destroyed the Spanish fleet but two days before. Many of the people could scarcely walk on account of sickness, some were too old. The dying were taken on cots and litters, the sick wrapped in blankets, gave the observer an idea of an oriental city. The cry of children who had lost track of their parents, friends and relatives was heart rendering. Only soldiers remained in the city. The houses were all closed and the streets without any lights at night, thus presenting an aspect of sadness and desolation. The total number of persons leaving was estimated at 30,000. This enormous multitude practically squeezed their way through the entrances of the paths that led to El Caney. Some of them declared that they could almost see the smoky ruins of their homes left behind.

The lead was taken by the foreign consuls and their families followed by their subjects and citizens. The consuls carried a white flag of truce and the flag of the nation they represented. Among the consuls could be seen Frederick W. Ramsden of Great Britain, German Michaelsen Schroeder of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Belgium, Jacobo Bravo Fernandez de Castro of Columbia, Jose Jeaquin Hernandes of Argentine Republic, Joaquin Miranda Cotilla of Venezuela, Juan Rey Areosa of Hayti, and Modesto Ros Rodriguez of Portugal. The consul of France abandoned Santiago two days before with his subjects. At first there were guards of the Spanish Guardia Civil at the entrances of the paths, to search the people before granting them permission to pass, but so great was the multitude that such a manner of procedure was ordered to cease. Shortly after, the Spanish line was reached, where you could see the sickly and the hungry looking soldiers in their trenches. Further on were the American trenches, full of happy, well fed soldiers smiling as if they came to Cuba for a picnic. When the crowd saw the Americans they were so struck with patriotism that for the first time in four hundred years they publicly and safely cried out, Viva Cuba Libre, uttering at the same time words of gratitude to the American nation. The same joy was experienced when the Cuban forces were seen. Sadness temporarily disappeared, but unfortunately hunger and starvation presented themselves among this great multitude, and sickness and death prevailed. Life got to be a burden. Wealthy families with their purses laden with gold could find no kind of food to purchase. The green unwholesome wild tropical fruits became the sole consolation of the rich, poor, sick and weary. A plague stricken city could not have been worse.

In the meantime the United States warships were pouring enormous shells into and over Santiago. Some fell in the bay, others on the opposite side of the harbor and on the water front, and at such conspicuous places that one could see at a glance that the only intention of the fleet was to scare the Spaniards and hasten the surrender. On July 10th, 1898, General Shafter notified the Spanish General that at 4 p.m. of that day he was going to bombard Santiago de Cuba. This was carried out to the letter as that same afternoon the village of Dos Caminos was set on fire. The fleet distributed its death dealing shells in and over the city. Rifle was at its best and the land batteries of artillery joined in the firing. Every known position that was occupied by Americans made free use of rifle and cannon. Owing to the heavy firing on the part of the Americans and the wonderful movement of Cuban soldiers under General Calixto Garcia, the Spaniards were compelled to abandon their few remaining positions, including Dos Caminos del Cobre. The fleet at the same time was shelling fast. Though the Americans lost two positions in this new skirmish, the victory was in favor of the United States forces. Seven Spaniards were killed and forty-seven seriously wounded. The 80,000 rations that were sent by the Governor of the Island for the Spanish forces in Oriente Province were kept from landing by the American fleet.

At 7 p.m. the firing ceased and the only artillery the Spaniards had left for their defense were two guns of 18 centimetres and three of 8 centimetres, two Plascencia system of 8 centimetres and two Krupp rapid firing. In this last struggle, the Spanish pieces fired the following number of times: Krupp rapid firing 16 times; 8 centimetre guns 29 times; 8 centimetre Plascencia system 33 times; 8 centimetre short canon 63 times; 12 centimetre guns 10 times. The firing commenced again at 6 a.m. of July 11th, 1898, and lasted until 2:30 p.m. of the same day when hostilities were suspended. The Spaniards then prepared new positions and set up their last guns, the Americans mounted the batteries that had just landed, on some of the most important positions and the Cubans under General Calixto Garcia finished some trenches they were making and mounted a 12-pounder on the heights of Dos Caminos, the casualties of the 10th and 11th of July, 1898, were 59 private houses wrecked in the city of Santiago by the shells from the fleet. A house in San Basilio street received a shell which parted the building in two pieces and exploded cutting in two as with an axe, one of the large columns of a grocery store near by and forcing its way through a wall continued its journey over 300 yards to a house in the centre of the city. Another shell struck the house of Colonel Manuel Barrueco Diez of the 2nd Battalion of Spanish volunteers. Two fell in the wholesale store of Branett & Co., near the water front, and fell on Mr. Marcanes house in St. Thomas street and completely wrecked it. On the Alameda (Alameda water front) which was about 700 yards long, 23 shells fell, many of which did not explode, two fell in the ice plant, three in the railroad station and a great many near the wharves. No. 31 San Bartolome street was struck, caught fire and reduced to ashes.

The Spanish General whether with the intention of laying a trap for General Shafter or desirous of making a display of his stubbornness made one of the most absurd propositions as the basis of the Spanish evacuation of Santiago. He proposed that the Spanish forces occupying Santiago be permitted to occupy Holguin, but General Calixto Garcia suggested to General Shafter not to accept such terms, for it would prove very detrimental to the allied forces. General Garcia also stated that he had received bona fide information from Holguin to the effect that a Spanish column of 7,000 men under General Nario was making preparations to come to the assistance of Santiago and that he "General Garcia" had strongly fortified all the roads with all the Cuban forces that had come from Camaguey and two divisions from Holguin to keep the Spaniards from carrying out this plan.

In the mean time let us return to the conditions of the people of Santiago, El Caney and Cuabitas. Mr. Ramsden, the British consul, received a hundred pounds of flour from General Shafter which was made into bread and distributed among his on the 8th of July. This bread was turned over to Mr. Ramsden at 12 o'clock that night in his tent. The Spanish General requested the services of a few operators of the English Cable Co. for the purpose of telegraphing to Spain some facts about the campaign. Mr. Ramsden recommended Michael Cavannaugh, Henry A. Froom and John Banney. As proof that one has to adopt himself to circumstances I must here state that the rich Cuban ladies were touched with the sharp edge of civilization during their emigration to El Caney and Cuabitas. They had to wash their own clothes in the river, dry them and wear them in this state without any further operation, money could buy neither services nor necessaries of life. There were cases where five dollars were paid for a biscuit and seven dollars for a stray chicken weighing two pounds for the purpose of making a little broth for a sick relative. Both rich and poor were many times contented with a few sour mamoncillos, a little green fruit the size of a nut that takes about a ton to satisfy an adult. Mangos, well, they were so scarce though they were in season, that a few hustlers tried to sell some that were green at the rate of three for 25 cents which money could have bought a sack full in other circumstances. One of the most beautiful sights to behold in the village of Cuabitas was the burning of the railroad bridge. It could only be compared with the Aurora Borealis of the Artic regions.

Go to Part Four

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