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The American Army Moves on Puerto-Rico

Part 4

by Mark R. Barnes, Ph.D., Senior Archeologist, National Park Service, Southeast Regional Office

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General Schwan's Yauco to Las Marias Movement

General SchwanGeneral Schwan's command left camp at Yauco and began the march northwest to San Germán on the morning of August 9th, making a straight 12-mile march and stopping at the outskirts of the town of Sabana Grande.  Schwan had hoped to begin his movement on August 7th, but was delayed by "having to send all but two companies of the 19th Regular Infantry to undertake garrison duties or bolster other columns, which reduced his effectives to only about 1,500 men, but he did have eight pieces of artillery (Battery D, 5th Artillery) and four Gatling guns (Battery C, 3rd Artillery)" (Nofi 1996:252).  In addition, Troop A, 5th Cavalry joined his force at Sabana Grande.

Facing Schwan on his sweep through the western part of the island were the Spanish Regulars of the 24th Rifle Battalion, 6 companies of the Alfonso XIII Battalion, and the 6th Volunteer Battalion, 60 mounted guerrillas, 50 auxiliaries, 2 field pieces, 28 civil guards, 30 guards of public order, and some volunteers of the 7th Battalion, located in towns southeast of Mayagüez through which Schwan would march (Rivero 1972:305).  Meanwhile, Troop B and Puerto Rican Scouts entered San Germán about noon on August 10th.  With the help of the Puerto Rican Scout, General Schwan's command was able to move into San Germán without resistance (Picó 1987:63-64).  Upon arrival at San Germán, it was learned that the entire Mayagüez garrison, cited as between 1,362 and 1,515 troops, were marching in General Schwan's direction (Herrmann 1907:40).  Although Angel Rivero reported that the Spanish force was only consisted of Captain José Torrecillas and 145 men of the 6th company of the Alfonso XIII Battalion (1972:305).

The information concerning the Spanish movements was brought to Schwan by the Puerto Rican Scouts led by Lugo Vina, a man held in high regard by the General (Herrmann 1907:40).  Throughout all of the American campaigns on Puerto Rico, numbers of Puerto Ricans served in important capacities to aid the Americans (Picó 1987:64).  Schwan learned from the Scouts, the 7th Volunteers had been ordered to congregate on Mayagüez, and one company of the Alfonso XIII Battalion with Mounted Guerrillas (reportedly 1,200 men) were concentrating at Hormigueros.  Schwan ordered an immediate march on the Spanish position (Nofi 1996:251-252).

Overall command of the Spanish forces at the district headquarters in Mayagüez was under Colonel Julio Soto Villanueva, with the 24th Rifle Battalion (Cazadores de alfonso Battalion), under Lt. Col. Antonio Oses Mozos, plus some Puerto Rican volunteers.  The Spanish occupied the Height of Silva, a ridge dominating the broad valley through which the road from San German to Mayagüez ran.  The Spanish troops also occupied several hundred yards of front of the ridge more or less parallel to the road.  A key position on the battlefield was the Silva Bridge, a cast-iron bridge that spanned the Río Grande (Nofi 1996:252-253).

The first Americans on the scene were A Troop, 5th Cavalry, a Regular unit that immediately dismounted and attacked on foot with their carbines.  This unit scattered the attacking guerrilla units in their front and pursued them into the town of Hormigueros, crossing over a small iron bridge (Torrens Bridge) and right of the road.  The dismounted cavalry took up position behind a railroad embankment below the Height of Silva, opened fire on the Spanish positions until joined by two companies of the 19th and the entire 11th Infantry to catch up, along with the artillery (Nofi 1996:253; Oliver 1902).

Schwan's advanced guard -- the two companies of the 19th, supported by two field pieces and Gatlings -- to the Río Grande River, formed the American left.  While Troop A on the far American right with the 11th Infantry (with artillery and Gatling guns) in between these units facing the Spanish on the Heights of Silva.  The advance guard seized the cast iron Silva Bridge and pressed the Spanish right flank.  Meanwhile, Troop A remounted and turned the Spanish left flank.  The entire 11th then moved forward to the Río Grande and the Silva Bridge.  The water of the Rio Grande was too deep for the infantry to wade so they crossed on the Silva Bridge.  Under the combined weight of the infantry and cavalry attack and the artillery and Gatling fire, the Spanish - already low on ammunition - were soon in full retreat.  The Americans lost 2 killed and 15 wounded, while the Spanish sustained 3 dead, 6 wounded and 136 captured (Nofi 1996:254-255).

Silva Bridge, Hormigueros, Puerto Rico
Silva Bridge, which the 11th and 19th Regulars crossed to charge the Heights of Silva

Schwan occupied and rested his men on the Heights of Silva the night of August 10th and set out in pursuit of the Spanish early on August 11th, taking the road to Mayagüez.  US forces occupied the town of Mayagüez at about 0800 in the morning, only to find the Spanish had abandoned Mayagüez, and were headed northeast on the road to Lares.  Colonel Soto considered his situation as hopeless and not expecting reinforcements had left Mayagüez, marching northeast through the mountains intending to reach Arecibo on the north coast.  Schwan rested his infantry (that had marched 45 miles and fought a battle in three days), but sent A Troop and the Puerto Rican Scouts, to maintain contact with the Spanish throughout the night of August 11th.  The following morning five companies of the 1st Kentucky Regiment landed at Mayagüez, to bolster the Regulars.  One company of the 1st Kentucky, 6 companies the 11th Infantry, and some artillery left at 1030 hours to catch up with Troop A and the retreating Spanish (Nofi 1996:255).

In constant rain and over muddy roads, the American troops only made ten miles on the 12th.  They encamped by the road and rose early to continue the march on August 13th, at 0530 hours, when at 0730 hours the Puerto Rican Scouts reported the Spanish infantry was just ahead, attempting to ford the swollen Río Prieto, near the town of Las Marias.

Like the Americans, the Spanish had been having a rough march over the mountain roads.  They were also hampered by a freak accident which incapacitated Colonel Soto at the Nieva coffee hacienda, and they could not safely ford the Río Prieto, because the heavy rains of the previous day had turned the river into a torrent.  The Americans found the Spanish backed up against the river and quickly advanced on the remnants of the 24th Infantry -- 3 Spaniards were killed, 27 wounded, and 56 prisoners captured, including Colonel Soto and Lt. Col. Oses -- without incurring any losses among the Americans.  Encamping on the battlefield, the Americans learned a Protocol was already in effect when they fought the action at Las Marias (Schwarz and Milligan 1915:28; Nofi 1996:256).

General Brooke's Movement Out of Guayama

From Guayama, captured on August 5th, the forces under General Brooke intended to advance towards Cayey on the Guayama-San Juan road and effect a juncture with General Wilson's troops (O'Toole 1984:356).  However, Brooke lacked the transport he needed to move his 20 pieces of artillery and baggage for his 5,590 men.  As a result, Brooke was not able to begin his advance until August 12th, when he had finally acquired adequate transport (Nofi 1996:256).

General BrookeBrooke felt he faced only about 500 men of the 6th Provisional Battalion and the 1st Guerrilla Flying Column, under Commander Julio Cervera.  The Spanish troops were deployed along the forward edge of the rather steep Heights of Guanami, northwest of Guayama.  Brooke's troops had fought Captain Salvador Acha's troops on August 5th during the taking of Guayama (see above).  Three days later (August 8th), a skirmish occurred above the Guamaní River Bridge, a cast iron bridge north of Guayama, at Barrio de Las Palmas, when two companies of the 4th Ohio (A and C) on a reconnaissance of the Spanish position were fired on and suffered four wounded.  The Spanish incurred 2 dead and 15 wounded, from American rifle and artillery fire (Creager 1899: 168-177; Rivero 1972:275; Nofi 1996:257).

Now Brooke proceeded to carefully plan his attack on the Heights of Guanamí,

On 12 August the 4th Ohio was sent on a flank march around some ridges and hills to the west, while the bulk of his command - the 3rd Illinois and 4th Pennsylvania, plus four batteries - pinned the Spanish attention to their front.  The intention was for the artillery to open the fight on the morning of the 13th, with the 4th Ohio falling on the Spanish flank after they had become heavily engaged to their front.  The attack never took place.  In one of the more dramatic moments in the war, a courier handed word that an armistice had been concluded to Brooke literally seconds before the artillery was to open fire.  Realizing that if he attempted to shout an order to stand down, the gunners, already on edge, might fire anyway, Brooke stepped in front of the guns.  Having gotten the men's attention, he announced that an armistice was in force [Nofi 1996:257].
General Henry's Adjuntas to Utuado Movement

Major General Guy V. Henry's column, comprised of the 6th Illinois and 6th Massachusetts, reinforced with regulars of the 19th Infantry jumped off from Adjuntas on August 7th.  In six days of marching and road building, to improve Capt. Whitney's trail, this column had advanced ten miles across the most mountainous part of Puerto Rico building a road for their wagons as they advanced.  By August 10th, the advanced units the American column arrived at Utuado, with the majority of troops and ox cart baggage train arriving on August 13th, as the Protocol was announced (Nofi 1996:257-258).

General Henry approached Utuado carefully, using detachments of Regular Cavalry, Troop B, 2nd Cavalry, as a screening force to detect possible Spanish ambushes.  Captain C. B. Hoppin reported that a detachment of Corporal Jetmore, of Troop B, actually penetrated as far north as the town of Arecibo on the north coast, where Henry was supposed to link up Schwan.  Jetmore's detachment was fired on by Spanish troops stationed at Arecibo, and the cavalrymen returned to Utuado on August 14th (Hoppin 1904:309-310).

The End of the Puerto Rico Campaign

By the 13th of August, the Americans held about one-half of the island, and had easily defeated all of the forces they had encountered.  However, the majority of the 8,000 regular Spanish troops had not been committed to battle and the Americans would likely had encountered some difficulty in dislodging the entrenched enemy in the mountainous regions of Puerto Rico, had the Protocol not been announced.  In addition, the taking of the fortified city of San Juan would have required a difficult siege.  Although the outcome of the defeat of the Spanish forces was not in doubt, American losses could easily have equaled that suffered in Cuba.  Total naval and army casualities incurred by the Americans in the taking of the island were nine men killed or mortally wounded and 46 men less seriously wounded (Nofi 1996:258-259).

Between the beginning of the Armistice on August 13th and the departure of the last Spanish forces from the island on October 18, 1898, there was "a high degree of cooperation and courtesy . . . between the Spanish and American officers and troops" (Nofi 1996:259).  The departing Spanish forces, the American troops, and the local Puerto Rican citizenry usually all cooperated in suppressing disturbances by demobilized volunteers who attempted to go into business as bandits (Nofi 1996:260).

The U.S. flagraising ceremony in Puerto Rico, 1898
Official transfer ceremony on October 18th, 1898 at the Governor's residence

On December 10, 1898 the peace treaty ending the war had been signed between the United States and Spain, at Versailles, outside of Paris, France.  As per the provisions of the treaty, Cuba would be independent -- after a short period of American occupation -- Puerto Rico and Guam were annexed, as well as the Philippine Islands -- the latter in lieu of a twenty million dollar indemnity paid by the United States to Spain.  Even before the peace treaty was signed most of the state militia volunteer units that were sent to Puerto Rico were replaced with regular army units, and returned to their home states for mustering out.  However, the dying did not end with their return to the United States.  Among members of the 6th Massachusetts there were no combat deaths, but when the unit history was written in 1899, 24 members of the 6th had already died -- mostly from sickness caused by unsanitary conditions at Camp Alger, Virginia, prior to embarkation, or from illness during service in Puerto Rico (Edwards 1899:335-359; Harrison 1988:53-63).

The press coverage of the Puerto Rico Campaign was not as extensive as during the Cuba campaign.  This can be attributed in part to General Miles. General Miles' strategy for the Puerto Rico campaign did not appeal to the press, depending as it did on overpowering the Spanish forces on the island by strategy rather than frontal assaults.  It should also be noted that Miles did not arrange for the transport of correspondents, as did General Shafter or Admiral Sampson (Brown 1967:409).  The Puerto Rico campaign was one that emphasized the under-training of the Spanish volunteers (Jacobsen 1899:19).

The overall strategy, rather than favorable conditions led to the victory on Puerto Rico.  The ease of the Puerto Rico Campaign led some reporters to refer to it as "General Miles Puerto Rican Picnic."  Richard Harding Davis who reported on the military leadership that made the Puerto Rico campaign effective in an article for Scribners, had a different view,

Puerto Rico was a picnic because the commanding generals would not permit the enemy to make it otherwise . . . By taking all the towns en route and picking up every Spaniard it met on the way, the army would surround San Juan with the island already won.  Then with the navy in the harbor and the army camped about the city, San Juan would, as a matter of common sense, surrender. . . its inception and start was most brilliant and successful [Brown 1967:412].
Each generation redefines their history according to their own tastes.  For America, the Spanish-American War was initially viewed as a short, glorious, and not very costly war, or in Theodore Roosevelt's word "A bully fight" (Nofi 1996:305).  In retrospect, it was a war conducted to gain colonial possessions, similar to other wars of colonization being conducted by European nations during the nineteenth century.  More importantly, it was the beginning of America's emergence as an international power (Nofi 1996:303).

The results of this change in foreign policy was evident even during the course of the Spanish-American War, when representatives of Great Britain's military and foreign service would assist the Americans (Millis 1931:32-33; 37-39).  Prior to the Battle of Manila Bay, the British provided ample support facilities to the American fleet of Admiral George Dewey, in Hong Kong.  When war broke out, and Dewey departed for the Philippines they were shadowed by a British fleet, which interposed itself between a Germany fleet anchored in Manila Bay, while Dewey engaged the Spanish (Reuter 1924:124-132).  British consuls in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba and Ponce, Puerto Rico, were key to negotiating the surrender of Spanish forces and towns to the Americans.

The British would encourage the Americans to retain the Philippines as a means of preventing a German or Japanese presence in these islands.  Two years later the Americans would return these British favors by participating in the China Relief Expedition of 1900, also called the Boxer Rebellion.  During the China Expedition, General Wilson, who so admirably defeated the Spanish at Coamo with an enfilading movement by the 16th Pennsylvania, would use the same tactics on a group of Boxers substituting Nepalese Gurkhas for Pennsylvania volunteers.  The territory the United States gained in the Pacific would set the stage her for involvement in World War II.  The "Special Relationship" or alliance between the United States and Great Britain, first begun in 1898, has continued up to the recent conflict in the Persian Gulf.

The Spanish lost much more territory and vastly more valuable colonies in the 1820s to armies of liberation that ousted Spain from all of the Western Hemisphere, with the exception of the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico.  However, the Spanish-American War has always been called "the Disaster" by the Spanish.  The lost of their last island colonies shattered Spain's self image as a great power.  Efforts to recoup their colonial prestige in Northwest Africa resulted in a long and bloody war that saw the emergence of an Army colonel by the name of Francisco Franco (Nofi 1996:302 -303).  For the Puerto Rican people, the war has meant more cultural, political, and economic change in the last one hundred years, than the previous four hundred years of Spanish rule, and the effects of the war on the island and her people will continue into the future.



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