Las Guasimas, Cuba
Contributed by John E. LaBarre
The following account of the skirmish at Las
Quasimas, Cuba appeared in Tarrytown New York's Tarrytown Argus
on Saturday, July 2, 1898. The account refers to the trail crossroads
at which the skirmish occurred "La Quasina."
THE FIGHT AT LA QUASINA
MORE DETAILS OF THE VICTORY OF ROUGH RIDERS
That the initial skirmish of Colonel [Leonard] Wood's Rough Riders and the troopers of the 1st and 10th Regular Cavalry, which will be known in history as the fight of La Quasina, did not end in the slaughter of the American was not due to any miscalculation in the plans of the Spaniards, for as perfect an ambuscadeas was ever formed in the brain of the Apache Indian was prepared, and Colonel Wood and Lieutenant-colonel [Theodore] Roosevelt and their men walked squarely into it.
For an hour and a half they held their ground under a perfect storm of bullets from the front and the sides, and then Colonel Wood, to the right, and Lieutenant-colonel Roosevelt to the left, led a charge which turned the tide of battle and sent the enemy flying over the hills toward Santiago.
It is now definitely known that sixteen men on the American side were killed, while sixty were wounded or are reported to be missing. It is impossible to calculate the Spanish losses, but it is known that they were far heavier than those of the Americans.
Already thirty-seven dead Spanish soldiers have been found and buried, while many others are undoubtedly lying in the thick underbrush on the side of the gully and on the slope of the hill, where the main body of the enemy was located. The wounded were all removed.
THE ENEMY THOROUGHLY POSTED
That the Spaniards were thoroughly posted as to the route to be taken by the Americans in their movement towards Sevilla was evident, as shown by the careful preparations they had made. The main body of the Spaniards was posted on a hill, on the heavily wooded slopes of which had been erected two blockhouses flanked by irregular intrenchments of stone and fallen trees.
At the bottom of these hills run two roads along which Lieutenant-colonel Roosevelt's men and eight troops of the 1st and 10th Regular Cavalry, with a battery of four howitzers advanced. These roads are but little more than gullies, rough and narrow, and at places almost impassable. In these trails the fight occurred.
Nearly a mile separated Roosevelt's men from the Regulars, and between them and on both sides of the road in the thick underbrush was concealed a force of Spaniards that must have been large, judging from the terrific and constant fire they poured in on the Americans.
The fight was opened by the 1st and 10th Cavalry under General Young. A force of Spaniards was known to be in the vicinity of La Quasina, and early in the morning, Lieutenant-colonel Roosevelt's men started off up the precipitous bluff back of Siboney to attack the Spaniards on their right flank, General Young at that time taking the road at the foot of the hill.
About two and a half miles out from Siboney some Cubans, breathless and excited, rushed up with the announcement that the Spaniards were but a little way in front, and were strongly intrenched. Quickly the Hotchkiss guns out in front were brought to the rear, while a strong scouting line was thrown out. Then cautiously and in silence the troops moved forward until a bend in the road disclosed a hill were the Spaniards were located. The guns were again brought to the front and placed in position, while the men crouched down in the road, waiting impatiently to give Roosevelt's [man] who were toiling over the little trail along the crest of the ridge, time to get up.
At 7:30 A.M. General Young gave the command to the men at the Hotchkiss gun to open fire. That command was the signal for a fight that for stubbornness has seldom been equaled. The instant the Hotchkiss guns were fired, from the hillside commanding the road came volley after volley from the Mausers of the Spaniards.
"Don't shoot until you see something to shoot at!" yelled General Young. And the men, with set jaws and gleaming eyes, obeyed the order. Crawling along the edge of the road, and protecting themselves as much as possible from the fearful fire of the Spaniards, the troopers, some of them stripped to the waist, watched the base of the hill, and when part of a Spaniard became visible they fired. Never for an instant did they falter.
WOUNDED BUT KEPT ON FIGHTING
One dusky warrior of the 10th Cavalry, with a ragged wound in his thigh, coolly knelt behind a rock, loading and firing, and when told by one of his comrades that he was wounded, said:
"Oh, thats all right. That's been there for some time!"
In the mean time, away off to the left could be heard the crack of the rifles of Wood and Roosevelt's men, and the regular, deeper-toned volley firing of the Spaniards.
Over there the American losses were the greatest. Colonel Wood's men, with the advance guard well in front and two Cuban guides before them, but apparently with no flankers, went squarely into the trap set for them by the Spaniards; and only the unfaltering courage of the men in the face of a fire that would make even a veteran quail prevented what might easily have been a disaster.
As is was, Troop L, the advance guard under the unfortunate Captain Capron, was almost surrounded, and but fir the reinforcement hurriedly sent forward every man would probably have been killed or wounded. "There must have been nearly fifteen hundred Spaniards in front of us,: said Lieutenant-colonel Roosevelt afterward. "They held the ridge with rifles pits and machine guns, and hid a body of men in the thick jungle at the sides of the road over which we were advancing, Our advance guard struck the men in ambush and drove them out. But they lost Captain Capron and about fifteen men killed or wounded.
"The Spanish firing was accurate, so accurate, indeed, that it surprised me, and their firing was fearfully heavy.
"I want to say a word for our own men," continued Lieutenant-colonel Roosevelt, "Every officer and man did his duty up to the handle. Not a man flinching.
STORY OF ONE OF THE FIGHTERS
From another officer who took a prominent part in the fighting more details were obtained.
"When the firing began," said he, "Colonel Roosevelt took the right wing with Troops G and K, under Captains Llewelyn and Jenkins, and moved to the support of Captain Capron, who was getting it hard. At the same time Colonel Wood and Major Brodie took the left wing and advanced in open order on the Spanish right wing.
"Major Brodie was wounded before the troops had advanced one hundred yards. Colonel Wood then took the right wing and shifted Colonel Roosevelt to the left.
"In the meantime the fire of the Spaniards had increased in volume, but not withstanding this an order for a general charged was given, and with a yell the men sprang forward. Colonel Roosevelt, in front of his men, snatched a rifle and ammunition belt from a wounded soldier, and cheering and yelling with his men, led the advance. For a moment the bullets were singing like a swarm of bees all around them, and every instant some poor fellow went down.
"On th right wing Captain McClintock had his leg broken by a machine gun, while four of his men went down. At the same time Captain Luna, of Troop F, lost nine of his men. Then the reserves, Troops K and E, were ordered up.
"There was no more hesitation. Colonel Wood, with the right wing, charged straight at a blockhouse eight hundred yards away, and Colonel Roosevelt, on the left, charged at the same time. Up the men went, yelling like fiends, and never stopping to return the fire of the Spaniards, but keeping on with a grim determination to capture the blockhouse.
"The charge was the end. When within five hundred yards of the coveted point the Spaniards broke and ran, and for the first time we had the pleasure which the Spaniards had been experiencing all through the engagement of shooting with the enemy in sight."
MANY DEEDS OF HEROISM
In the two hours' fighting during which the volunteers battled against their concealed enemy enough deeds of heroism were done to fill a volume. One of the men of Troop E, desperately wounded, was lying squarely between the line of fire. Surgeon Church hurried to his side, and, with bullets pelting all around him, calmly dressed the man's wound, bandaged it, and walked unconcernedly back, soon returning with two men and a litter.
The wounded man was placed on the litter and brought to our lines. Another soldier, of Troop L, concealing himself as best as he could behind a tree, gave up his place to a wounded companion, and a moment or two later was himself wounded.
Sergeant Bell stood by the side of Captain Capron when the latter was mortally hit. He had seen that he was fighting against terrible odds, but he never flinched. "Give me your gin a minute," he said to the sergeant, and kneeling down, he deliberately aimed and fired two shots in quick succession. At each a Spaniard was seen to fall. Bell in the meantime had seized a dead comrade's gun, and knelt beside his captain and fired steadily.
When Captain Capron fell he gave the sergeant parting messages to his wife and father, and bade the sergeant good-by in a cheerful voice, and was borne away dying.
Sergeant Hamilton Fish Jr., was the first man killed by the Spanish fire. He was near the head of the column, as it turned from the wood road into the range of the Spanish ambuscade. He shot on Spaniard who was firing from the cover of a dense patch of underbrush. When a bullet struck his breast he sank at the foot of a tree with his back against it. Captain Capron stood over him shooting, and others rallied around him, covering the wounded one.
The ground was thick with empty shells where Fish lay. He lived twenty minutes. He gave a woman's small hunting case watch from his belt to a messmate as a souvenir.
BURIAL OF THE DEAD
With the exception of Captain Capron, all the Rough Riders were buried on the field of action. Their bodies were laid in one long trench, each wrapped in a blanket. Palm leaves lined the trench and were heaped in profusion over the dead bodies.
Captain Brown read the Episcopal burial service for the dead, and as he knelt in prayer every trooper, with bared head, knelt around the trench. When the chaplain announced the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee," the deep bass voices of the men gave a most impressive rendering of the music.
The dead Rough Riders rest right on the summit of the hill where they fell. The sight is most beautiful. A growth of rich, luxuriant grass and flowers covers the slopes, and from the top a far-reaching view is had over the tropical forest.
Chaplain Brown has marked each grave, and has complete records for the benefit of friends of the dead soldiers.
Captain Capron's [body] was brought into Jaragua this afternoon, but it was deemed inadvisable to send the body North at this season, and the burial took place on a hill side near the seashore, back of the provisional hospital.
After a brief service a parting volley was fired over the grave of the dead captain, and a bugle sounded "taps" as the sun sank over the mountain tops beyond Santiago.
Tarrytown Argus (Tarrytown New York), Saturday, July 2, 1898