The Spanish-American War was fought in 1898 between the United States and Spain over the Cuban question. According to some scholars, the conflict marked the birth of American imperialism.
After four centuries since the beginning of the colonization of the Western Hemisphere, towards the end of the 19th century, Spain had very few colonial possessions left, scattered in the Pacific, Africa and the Antilles. Most of the possessions of the former Spanish empire had already acquired their independence and many other territories under Spanish control aimed to acquire it. In the Philippines and Cuba operated, since the second half of the nineteenth century, guerrilla groups independence.
The Spanish government had neither the financial nor the military resources to manage these revolts and in Cuba decided to force the population to move away from the countryside and to pour into the cities and special fortified urban areas, trying to isolate the rebels from their sources of logistical support, located among the peasant population. In these areas of “concentration and control” of the population, living conditions were terrible and it is estimated that in a few months many tens of thousands of deaths took place, due to the precarious conditions of hygiene, health and food.
José Martí, in a letter to his friend Gonzalo de Quesada written on December 14, 1889, warned of the possibility of U.S. intervention: “On our land, Gonzalo, there is another, darker plan: the diabolical plan to force the island, to plunge it into war in order to have the pretext to intervene and with the credit of mediator and guarantor, to keep it for himself.
In 1898, in spite of its material superiority, Spain stood on the edge of an abyss, defeated on the battlefield by Cuban independents. In a letter to U.S. President William McKinley, dated March 9, 1898, Ambassador Woodford, serving in Madrid, stated that Spain”s “defeat” was “certain. ” they know that Cuba is lost”. In his opinion, “if the United States wants Cuba, it must obtain it by conquering it.”
In a period of strong diplomatic tensions between the two governments, the explosion of the ship Maine, which cost the lives of 266 sailors, focused the attention of American public opinion on Cuba. The sensationalist press of the time, the so-called yellow press of the magnate William Randolph Hearst, contributed in a decisive way, together with the propaganda of Cuban dissidents settled in the U.S., to orient the opinion of the Americans towards a desire for war against Spain.
The then president McKinley, initially hesitant, was convinced by his cabinet, among whose components there was also the future US president Theodore Roosevelt, to go to war against Spain. In the meantime the tension between the two countries had increased and on April 23, 1898 Spain declared war on the United States, which in turn declared it on April 25.
Spain was in no way prepared for war and Admiral Cervera himself communicated this to the Minister of the Navy on January 30.
The United States aimed to obtain greater political influence, conquest of strategic positions, dominion over the Antilles Sea and future dominion over the Pacific Ocean, all these objectives were sponsored and propagandized by Mahan. The real issue of the war, however, was the control of the Atlantic outlet of the Panama Canal. However, the United States did not have, at least at the beginning of the war, land forces usable for possible landings, but the military maritime characteristics guaranteed them a foreseeable victory over the opponent, even if in a relatively long time. The United States, although still in 1815 had been at war with Great Britain, were approaching the British for an “Anglo-Saxon alliance”, instead Spain considered more profitable to rely solely on the fleet, without taking into account the land forces.
The preparation of the U.S. land army was not particularly developed, since, although it had recruited 120,000 men immediately before the war began, they were sent almost immediately to combat, instead the fleet was much better cared for than the army, leaving only the arsenals to be desired. Spain, on the other hand, developed more its army stationed in Cuba than the fleet, which, instead, had remained conceptually tied to the age of sail; moreover, Spain had no defensible naval bases either at home or in the Philippines, while the bases in Cuba, although providing landing possibilities, had not been reinforced.
As far as the strategic direction of the war was concerned, it was heavily conditioned in the United States by the press which, unleashed on the government, practically forced it to set up “flying squadrons” that took ships away from the fleet and from its main task (that is, to blockade Cuba), but it was even more damaging in Spain where the government was totally disempowered and Cervera”s division was uselessly sent to sacrifice.
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USA: 5 squadrons (I Antilles squadron Admiral Sampson, II Atlantic squadron Commodore Schley, III Blockade division comm. Watson, IV Surveillance Division Commodore Howell, V Coastal Division.
Sampson”s squadron with blockade division: 3 battleships (New York, Iowa, Indiana), 4 protected cruisers (Cincinnati, Marblehead, Detroit, Montgomery), 2 undefended cruisers (Dolphin and Mayflower), 4 coastguards, 6 protected gunboats, 6 torpedo boats.
Atlantic Squadron (Commodore Schley): Three battleships (Brooklyn, Massachusetts, Texas), 3 cruisers (Columbia, New Orleans, Minneapolis).
Surveillance Division: 1 protected cruiser (San Francisco), 4 auxiliary cruisers (Dixie, Yosemite, Yankee, Prairie)
Coastal Division: 10 antiquated monitors and other substandard shipping.
Spain: I Atlantic squadron, (Admiral Cervera), II Antilles squadron (Admiral Monterola), III reserve squadron (Admiral Camara).
Atlantic squadron: 4 battleships (Maria Teresa, Viscaya, Oquendo, Colón), 3 destroyers, 3 torpedo boats, 2 honorary ships, but most of the ships were crippled either as artillery or as speed
Antilles squadron: 5 undefended cruisers (Alfonso XII, Reina Mercedes, Venadito, Infanta Isabel, Isabel II), 5 torpedo cruisers (Ensenada, M. Pinzon, Nueva Espana, Molins, V. Pinzón), 6 gunboats.
Reserve squadron: 3 battleships (Pelayo, Charles V, Numancia), 3 torpedo boats (Audax, Osado, Proserpina), 3 auxiliary cruisers (Rapido, Patriota, Buenosayres), 7 honorary ships, not usable were the cruisers Alfonso XIII and Lepanto.
USA: (Admiral Dewey) 4 protected cruisers (Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh, Boston) for 17 900 t, 2 gunboats and 2 honorary ships for 2 500 t, all with speeds from 10 to 21 knots.
Spain: 2 protected cruisers (Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon) for 20 400 t and 14 knots of speed and 5 undefended cruisers (Reina Cristina,Castilla, Don Juan of Austria, Don Antonio Ulloa, Velasco) for 7 000 t and 12 knots of speed, however 2 ships (Castilla and Ulloa) were unable to move offshore.
The squadron that Spain sent to the West Indies was not the best that the Spanish Navy could have organized, and although it had been warned about it for about a month before the declaration of war, it was not able to put the most powerful and fastest ships at its disposal into a single squadron. For their part, the United States divided the fleet into two squadrons, potentially inferior to what Spain could have had at its disposal.
After an unsuccessful attempt to supply the Cuban rebels with arms and ammunition, on April 29, Sampson”s squadron imposed the blockade on Cuba, abandoning it however on May 9 to move on Puerto Rico, where it arrived on the 12th of the same month, while Schley”s squadron remained at Hampton Roads to cover the U.S. coast. In the meantime, Cervera”s Spanish squadron was being formed in the Cape Verde Islands (in Portuguese territory), so, leaving the islands on April 29, it went to Martinique, arriving there on May 10. Admiral Cervera from Martinique could have attempted an attack on the Oregon, which left from Bahia (Brazil) on May 9 to reach Sampson”s squadron, but he decidedly avoided such an engagement for the lack of coal. So Cervera aimed on Curaçao (Dutch colony), since Puerto Rico was blocked by Sampson, arriving there on May 14, in Curaçao the day May 15 Cervera left for Cuba, but instead of aiming on Cienfuegos (which would have been the most suitable base for his team), he aimed on Santiago, probably for the shorter distance from Curaçao, where he arrived on May 19. At this point, noting the position of Cervera, Sampson”s team was taken to Cuba, while Schley”s team could move to Charleston. On 23 May the admirals were ordered to concentrate on Santiago, leaving only 4 monitors and a few gunboats and torpedo boats at Havana. Until May 26 it would be possible for Cervera”s squadron to attempt to force the blockade of Santiago, until Schley”s squadron also arrived, and in a council of war it was decided by a majority vote to remain inside the port of Santiago. In the course of May and June there were few naval battles and bombardments in Cuba. At the request of Admiral Sampson, after a chaotic organization of the transport of the V Corps from Tampa, General Shafter disembarked at Daiquiri (near Santiago) a force of about 16,000 men; the landing, which began on June 20, was concluded only on June 26.
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Fought near Cárdenas, between the American torpedo boat USS Foote under Lieutenant William Ledyard Rodgers and the Spanish gunboat Ligera under Lieutenant Antonio Pérez Rendón. After a fierce firefight, the badly damaged Foote was forced to retreat. It was the first battle of the war, as well as the first Spanish naval success.
At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Navy detached a force of two protected cruisers, 16 auxiliary cruisers, 12 torpedo boats, and many other units including armed tugs, yachts, and coal ships to blockade the Cuban coast with the goal of cutting off the Spanish army”s supplies. It proved to be a difficult task because of the large number of inlets and natural harbors on those coasts that allowed the much inferior Spanish ships to break the blockade many times. One of those ports was Cárdenas. The naval units based there were the gunboats Alerta, Ligera and Antonio López, the last of which was a former tugboat of the Spanish Line that had ceded it to the Navy and armed it with a Nordenfelt machine gun. Alerta and Ligera mounted a 42 mm cannon and a 37 mm Maxim. The harbor was supposedly defended by two coastal batteries, but the Spanish accounts did not mention their presence prior to their installation on May 12. The entrances to the bay were covered by 20 Bustamante mines, most of them defective, and a company of marines of 70 men had been detached to guard the town. The gunboats belonged to the Spanish Caribbean Squadron under Admiral Vicente Manterola, and most of its units were described as “useless even to the coastal police.” Antonio López , however, had captured the privateer ship Genoveva and the schooner William Todd a few years earlier. The Spanish gunboat squadron, consisting of two steam lances and an armed tug, remained unscathed until the end of the war, when all units were sold by the Spanish government.
On April 25, the Ligera was on patrol at the entrance to the port of Cárdenas. Her commander was Lieutenant Antonio Pérez Rendón y Sánchez, an experienced Cadiz-born officer who had witnessed action against Cuban insurgents many times during the war. The American torpedo boat Foote, a 142-ton warship armed with three 1-pound guns and three 457-mm torpedo tubes, was sighted off Cayo Diana. Both ships soon opened fire on each other. The American fired faster, but with less accuracy, about 70 shots, of which only one hit the Ligera, while the latter fired only 10. Damage and casualties on board the Spanish ship were minimal. The Foote, on the contrary, suffered several hits that caused serious damage, leaving the combatant enveloped in smoke and with her boilers severely damaged. At the time the Spanish believed that the US torpedo boat was the USS Cushing.
Antonio Rendón was awarded the Naval Cross of Maria Cristina for his success, which was acclaimed by the public.
The Spanish naval successes of the war were mainly due to the actions of their small coast guard ships. In addition to actions off Cárdenas, they confronted the American Mosquito Squadron with some success in Manzanillo, Cienfuegos, and even in Philippine waters. There, the gunboat Elcano captured the American boat Saranac on April 26, 1898. Saranac , under the command of Captain Bartaby, was carrying 1,640 tons of coal from Newcastle, New South Wales, to Iloilo, for Admiral Dewey”s fleet.
In early May 1898, the small 142-ton torpedo boat USS Winslow, under Lieutenant John Bernadou, and the gunboat of the same name USS Winslow, around 1898, blockaded Cardenas. On May 8, the USS Machias left the blockade for a patrol, leaving the Winslow as the only American ship at Cardenas. This prompted the Spanish gunboats to attempt to break the blockade. The USS Winslow was armed with 1-pound rapid fire mouths and three 18-inch (457 mm) torpedo tubes with a crew of twenty men. Machias was a much larger gunboat armed with eight 4-inch, four 6-pounder, and four 1-pounder guns. The Machias had a crew of about 150 men and officers but only participated in the last few minutes of combat.
The Spanish forces again consisted of the Antonio Lopez, the Alerta, and the Ligeria. All were armed with 6-pound rapid fire mouths each and had an average crew of twenty men. The Spanish garrison at Cardenas manned two coastal batteries, one a battery occupied by a few guns and artillerymen, the other filled with at least three field pieces and about 100 infantrymen with long-range guns, but neither of these forces was able to engage as the battle was being fought outside their range. American forces also suspected that the Spanish had laid a marine minefield around the harbor with only one way in or out of the harbor. A buoy was placed beyond the minefield marking the extent to which Spanish gunboats could fire. The Spanish naval forces were under the command of Lieutenant Antonio Pérez Rendón .
When the Machias sailed east on her patrol, a few hours later the Winslow spotted a lot of activity in Spanish harbor, so Bardanou directed his ship toward Cardenas. Seeing the Winslow all alone, the three Spanish gunboats made a sortie and headed for the American ship. Lieutenant Rendon signaled to his men that they opened fire with their three guns combined as the Winslow passed the buoy from a distance of about a mile. Instead of fleeing as suspected by the Spanish, Lieutenant John Bernadou turned his ship to the right in the direction of the attacking squadron and opened fire. These rapid-fire 1-pound guns worked very well according to reports, hitting the Spanish ships that were positioned close together. The duel continued for several minutes until Winslow approached at a closer range, Lieutenant Bernadou was able to maneuver his ship so that his two bow cannons fired and hit all three Spanish ships simultaneously. After about forty minutes of fighting, the three gunboats dispersed and headed for port.
The American gunners continued to fire and during the retreat the gunboat Antonio Lopez was hit just as they approached their safety zone under the batteries. The shot entered the aft section of the hull and exploded inside the ship. The Antonio Lopez stopped by being disabled, but continued firing her 6-pounder. One of the other gunboats came to her rescue and attached a towline to the Antonio Lopez and began to pull her to safety. Having heard the sound of gunfire, the Machias turned around, aiming at Cardenas and arriving just as the fight was drawing to a close. Two miles away the Machias opened fire with her 4-inch guns. Two shots were fired but neither hit, however the Spanish stopped firing and focused on their escape. Entering the safe avenue through the supposed minefield, the Americans could not follow the three gunboats. It was later discovered on May 11 that there were no sea mines at Cardenas or that U.S. Navy forces simply could not locate them.
The coastal batteries never engaged as the Americans did not come within their range. The USS Winslow was not hit at all during the battle due to her commander constantly keeping the ship at a high speed, in addition, the sea was rough that day. Spanish casualties are unknown although the three gunboats sustained damage, one of which was apparently crippled. Over seventy-five shells were fired by American forces in a fight that lasted only about fifty minutes. In accounts of the battle, Lieutenant Bernadou is credited for his bravery in attacking a superior enemy force, although his victory was overshadowed a few days later, on May 11, 1898, when the more important Second Battle of Cardenas was fought.
In May 1898, a small squadron of the United States Navy, consisting of the torpedo boats USS Foote and USS Winslow, the gunboats USS Wilmington and USS Machias , and the USS Hudson, operated off the northern coast of Cuba. On May 11, 1898, this fleet entered Cárdenas Bay to destroy the three small Spanish gunboats moored in the harbor. After sweeping the area for mines, Captain Todd ordered the Winslow to approach the shore and investigate a steamer moored along the pier to determine if the vessel was an enemy warship.
The Spanish squadron was always composed of the same three ships: Ligera , Alerta and Antonio López, under the command this time of Mariano Mateu.
At 1:35 p.m., Winslow reached a point about 1,500 yards from his prey when a puff of white smoke from the Antonio López”s gun marked the beginning of an artillery duel that lasted an hour and 20 minutes. Winslow responded with his 1-pounder. The Spaniards focused their efforts on Winslow who soon received several direct hits. The first direct hit on the torpedo boat destroyed both her steam system and manual steering. The crew attempted to rig an auxiliary steering system, but exposing their flank to the enemy, a shot pierced the hull near the engine room knocking out the port main engine. Trying to maneuver with her remaining engine to evade enemy fire she maintained a steady response fire with her 1 lb. Wilmington and Hudson aimed their guns at the ship and the Spanish coast, and the combined fire of the three American warships knocked out the Spanish tug while several waterfront buildings caught fire.
The Winslow then asked the Hudson to tow her out of action. As the Hudson began to tow the Winslow out to sea, one of the last Spanish shells to hit the torpedo boat struck her near the starboard gun and killed Ensign Worth Bagley, who had helped direct the warship”s maneuvers by carrying instructions from the bridge to the base of the engine room stairs. Ensign Bagley became known as the first U.S. Navy officer killed in the Spanish-American War, killed along with four other sailors, John Barberes, John Daniels, George B. Meek and EB Tunnell.
The Spanish used submarine cables as a means of communicating not only with the rest of Cuba, but also with the Spanish command. These cables had many key junctions such as near Cienfuegos. The cables would connect to Havana, the port of Santiago, and then branch out to other Caribbean islands such as Jamaica. The cables exited an easily identifiable structure that contained a critical hub for the undersea communications system. It could be easily destroyed, but inflicted only largely superficial damage that could be easily repaired in a short period of time. Therefore, the command decided to cut the three cables from the sea in several places, disrupting much of the communication between the Spanish and their operations in Cuba. This damage would be much more difficult to repair, as the cables approached two inches in diameter, which made cutting and, by extension, repairing them, a difficult task. Sent for this mission were, the cruiser USS Marblehead, the gunboat USS Nashville and the cutter USS Windom under the command of Captain Bowman H. McCalla.
The Marblehead and Nashville opened fire at the structure on land at 6:45 a.m. on May 11, 1898. Rather quickly, it collapsed under fire from the two warships. Ten minutes later, at 6:55 a.m., the warships dispatched their workboats, each with a minimum crew of sixteen on board, in order to minimize the risk of accidents. The element of surprise was quickly lost, however.
While the first cable was out of the line of fire, the second cable was not as easy to cut. Because of the coral formation, the cable was very difficult to trap in order to bring it to the surface and cut it. The Spanish forces were also much closer to the second cable, so the crew had to deal with both of these problems. In order to suppress the increased fire from the Spanish forces, both warships increased their bombardment. When the raid crew eventually managed to lift the second cable to cut it, they discovered the existence of a third, smaller cable. After the second had been cut, they moved on to search for this third and final cable, which they were unable to find, however, as a large contingent of Spanish forces arrived in Cienfuegos to repel what they thought at the time was a full-scale invasion. By 11:15 a.m. the raid was over.
After an hour-long firefight, two cables were cut but a third cable near the shore remained intact, making the raid only a partial success and resulting in the loss of two dead and 15 wounded on the US side.
Fought from June 6 to June 10, 1898, when American and Cuban forces took the strategically and commercially important port of Guantanamo. The capture of the bay by Spanish forces was instrumental in the subsequent Battle of Santiago de Cuba and the subsequent invasion of Puerto Rico. Although overshadowed by the land and sea battles at Santiago, the establishment of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay and the route of defense of Spanish troops by American and Cuban forces were important in the final Spanish defeat.
Despite the insurgents” nominal offensive position in the vicinity of Guantanamo Bay, Spanish regulars and guerrillas occupied the city of Guantanamo, the port of Caimanera and the railroad that connected the two cities, large sugar mills, and other outlying strong points. The garrison of Guantanamo consisted of about 5,000 men under the command of General Felix Pareja. A Spanish blockhouse stood on the hill overlooking the village of Fisherman”s Point near the entrance to the bay, and a fort on Cayo del Toro commanded the relatively narrow channel leading from the outer bay to the inner bay. The Spanish gunboat Sandoval was based at Caimanera in the inner bay, and a series of forts defended the railroad to the town of Guantanamo, 23 km inland. Cuban insurgents maintained coastal outposts from the mouth of the Yateras River, east of the bay, to a point 15 miles (24 km) west of Santiago, and were in undisputed possession of the western tip at the entrance to the bay.
The first successful U.S. incursion against the bay occurred on June 6, with the arrival of the unprotected cruiser USS Marblehead, commanded by Commander Bowman H. McCalla, and the auxiliary cruisers USS St. Louis and Yankee , commanded by Willard H. Brownson. Commander McCalla had been detached by Admiral Sampson from the blockading fleet at Santiago and ordered to scout the bay for a naval base. The St. Louis captain was to cut cables that had their terminus at a small station at Fisherman”s Point and connected Cuba with Haiti and the outside world.
On a previous occasion, St. Louis, on a similar mission, had been driven out of the bay by the Spanish gunboat Sandoval. This time, when the three warships entered the bay at dawn, the Spanish soldiers gathered around the blockhouse on the hill known today as McCalla Hill. The blockhouse and the village were quickly obliterated by fire from the Marblehead. The Spanish gunboats Alvarado and Sandoval came down the channel from Caimanera to meet the attack, but they retreated hastily upon discovering the caliber of cannons used against them. The fort”s only cannon on Cayo del Toro opened fire on the Marblehead to no effect until it was silenced.
The telegraph cables leading east to Cap-Haïtien , west to Santiago, and the small cable in the bay connecting Caimanera and Guantanamo City with Cap-Haïtien were all successfully cut, and from June 7 to July 5 Guantanamo City had no communication with the outside world.
Upon returning to the blockading fleet from reconnaissance, Marblehead carried two Cuban officers who had been brought to the ship from Leeward Point (western side) of Guantanamo Bay. They had been sent to Admiral Sampson by General Calixto García (the same man who appeared with U.S. Lieutenant Rowan in the famous “Message to Garcia”) to report that the Cuban forces, whose outposts occupied positions on the coast from the mouth of the Yateras River to a point 15 miles (24 km) west of Santiago were at the disposal of the U.S. commander in chief. Commander McCalla from then on maintained close contact with General Pedro Pérez, commanding the Cuban rebel forces around the city of Guantanamo, through the latter”s chief of staff, Colonel Vieta, thus receiving valuable advice and assistance.
With the decision to establish a base at Guantanamo Bay, the First Battalion of Marines , consisting of six companies of approximately 650 men (four infantry and one artillery), was ordered to proceed in the converted transport USS Panther , and join the fleet off Santiago. The first battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Huntington USMC, had been undergoing battalion exercises while awaiting orders at Key West . The Panther reached Santiago on June 9, 1898. That same day, prior to the battalion”s landing, Navy Commander Bowman H. McCalla of the USS Marblehead, the officer in command of the landings, approved a campsite selected for the Marines by Lieutenant Colonel Huntington. The site selected was a flat ridge atop a hill, above the village of Fisherman”s Point, and designated Camp McCalla. In addition to an artillery company equipped with a battery of four 3-inch rapid-fire artillery pieces and a Colt-Browning Model 1895 machine gun , each Marine was equipped with the Navy”s new rapid-fire loader rifle, the Model 1895 Lee Navy . Both the Colt machine gun and Lee rifles used a new high velocity smokeless powder cartridge, the Lee Navy 6mm .
The Marine battalion landed unopposed on June 10 with five of its six companies, leaving the artillery company aboard to unload the ship, as Commander Reiter, the captain of the Panther , had refused to authorize the use of the ship”s personnel for unloading . Reiter also refused to allow the unloading of the remainder of the Marines” small arms ammunition, arguing that it was needed as ballast for the ship. lieutenant colonel Huntington asked for help from commander McCalla, who ordered Reiter to release the Marines” ammunition immediately. “Sir, escape immediately and land with the crew of the Panther, 50,000 rounds of 6 mm. ammunition,” McCalla ordered. “In the future, do not require Colonel Huntington to break out or land his escorts with members of his command. Use your officers and men for that purpose, and promptly furnish the Commandant of the Marines with all he may desire.”
The marines burned crude village huts and the remains of the blockhouse with all their contents to avoid the possibility of yellow fever . The Spaniards had fled so quickly that clothing, money, jewelry, and weapons were left behind. The battalion hoisted the American flag, the first U.S. military unit to do so on Cuban soil, and sent out detachments for outpost duties.
Lieutenant Colonel Huntington ordered C Company to occupy a 150-foot high hill located some distance from the main Marine position, and which could not be supported by the main body at Camp McCalla. Two forward outposts were established, one at a road junction located several hundred yards in front of the camp and known as “Crossroads,” and one called “The Bridge” located in front of a road a mile and a half from the American camp, where the Spanish were expected to bring forces bearing artillery from Caimanera. With the sea behind them, the lack of mutual support between the outposts and the thorny scrub and cacti of the arid hills stretching out in a dense tangle in front of them, the Marines had a less than ideal tactical position. Commander McCalla pointed out to Lieutenant Colonel Huntington that his outposts were too far forward and could not be seen or supported in the dense underbrush between the outposts and the main camp. Three of the companies stacked their weapons and returned to the ship to help with unloading. Shortly after dark, the Marines consumed their first meal of coffee and galettes . Shortly thereafter, the first alarm went off. Voices were heard and lights were seen in the grove, but there was no attack that night. The Spanish forces defending the area were desperately short of food and delayed the attack until the Marines had completed unloading their supplies in hopes of seizing American supplies.
By dawn, the marines had completed unloading their supplies and equipment, although the artillery pieces and their ammunition were left aboard ship. The remaining companies of the battalion came ashore and C Company was withdrawn from its isolated hillside outpost. The only sound in the groves was the cooing of mourning doves , a sound the Marines would later learn was a preferred call sign used by Spanish Loyalist guerrilla forces.
Lieutenant Colonel Huntington was joined in the afternoon by Colonel Laborde of the Cuban Army, who for several days had been with Commander McCalla as a pilot on Marblehead , and now had been sent ashore to assist the marines and provide intelligence on the enemy.
Laborde reported that the largest Spanish force in the area had its headquarters at the “Cuzco Well,” 2 miles (3.2 km) southeast of Fisherman”s Point. The well provided the only fresh water in the area. This occupying force of about 500 soldiers and guerrillas, combined with troops driven from the blockhouse on the bay, posed the greatest threat to the U.S. base of operations. Laborde noted that seizing Cuzco Well and destroying it would inevitably force Spanish forces to retreat to Ciudad Guantanamo (Guantanamo City).
As they talked, fire began in the grove in front of their position. Lieutenant Colonel Huntington led most of his command forward. However, the thorny tangle of trees, underbrush, and cactus forced him to proceed with one company.
Although naval fire support was now assured at Huntington, Camp McCalla was tactically inadequate. No attacks had been planned, so no trenches were dug. Marine artillery had not even been landed. Located on the sands of the open beach, the Marine camp proved an ideal target for snipers hiding in the brush.
At dawn (05:00) on Saturday, June 11, Spanish guerrillas opened fire on marines at Camp McCalla from the surrounding brush. Firing a volley from their rapid-fire Mauser rifles , the guerrillas advanced toward the camp. After heavy fighting, and supported by the reserve company (Company C), the Marines drove the enemy back into the bush, pursuing until the pursuit was abandoned in darkness. Two pickets on outpost duty, Soldiers William Dumphy and James McColgan, who had been sent out as an alert patrol 100 yards from the forward “Crossroads” outpost, were later found dead, shot and cut numerous times in the face and body . their weapons, shoes, belts, and part of their clothing had been taken.
This was the beginning of what Huntington”s executive officer, Major Henry Clay Cochrane, later called “his 100 hours of combat.” At Camp McCalla, the Marines dug in and began firing at the hidden Spaniards, aided by three 3-inch field pieces and two additional 6mm Colt-Browning machine guns that had been landed on June 12 from the USS Texas . Marblehead gunfire passed over our heads and hit the nearby hills. Wearing large palm leaves tied to their uniforms for camouflage and firing smokeless powder cartridges, the Spanish forces were difficult to spot as they moved from bush to bush in the dense undergrowth.
On the evening of June 12, enemy forces came within fifty yards of Camp McCalla and a desperate firefight began. marines responded with their Lee straight-pull rifles , along with machine gun and artillery fire from the Marines” 3-inch field pieces. Perhaps deterred by the intense artillery and machine gun fire, the Spaniards did not attempt to invade the field. assistant surgeon John Blair Gibbs and Sergeant Charles H. Smith were both killed in this firefight. Marines later found several traces of blood, but no bodies, as the guerrillas removed their wounded and dead to hide the figures of the victims.
The next day, the marines were reinforced by about 60 Cubans under Lieutenant Colonel Enrique Thomas. The Cubans had been outfitted with rifles and white duck sailor uniforms by Commander McCalla of the USS Marblehead . Being familiar with guerrilla tactics, the Cuban insurgents deployed in pairs in front of the camp, burning bushes and brush as they advanced, thus denying the enemy cover. The Marblehead , which had provided ground bombardment on several occasions, steamed down the coast and projected the shaft at Cuzco. However, the Spanish attack resumed at dusk and two more marines, Staff Sergeant Henry Good and Private Goode Taurman, were killed.
By nightfall on June 13, the Marines were exhausted. They had not slept or rested for 100 hours. Relief or reinforcements were impossible, as U.S. Army troops had yet to leave the United States. The fighting continued for two more days.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas of the Cuban rebel forces advised Colonel Huntington to attack the Spanish garrison at Cuzco Well, consisting of four companies of Spanish infantry and two companies of loyalist guerrillas totaling about 500 men. By capturing and destroying the only nearby fresh water source, it was hoped that the defending Spanish forces would be forced to leave the area. Commander McCalla approved the plans and the attack was scheduled for 08:00 the next day.
Marine Companies C and D, about 160 men, under the command of Captain George F. Elliott , future commander of the Marine Corps , flanked by the fifty Cubans under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas, would approach Cuzco along the cliffs by the sea. A smaller Marine force would advance from an inland valley, holding a picket line for the main force, with reserve men to assist if necessary. The gunboat USS Dolphin was assigned to support the attack from the sea.
The day was already warm when the combined U.S.-Cuban force began its march on June 14. Colonel Laborde led the main force, and a Cuban scout named Polycarpio led a smaller force led by Second Lieutenant Magill. The march was slowed by the rugged terrain, fierce underbrush, and increasing heat; at one point, the captains of Companies C and D of the main column had fallen behind due to heat exhaustion. It was nearly 11:00 a.m. when the main force reached the steep horseshoe-shaped hill around the Cuzco Valley; the commanders of Companies C and D joined their units fifteen minutes later.
At about the same time, the Cubans, who were marching ahead of the Marine companies, were spotted by the enemy. A race began for the crest of the hill. The Marines and Cubans reached the summit first, under heavy Spanish and guerrilla fire. The smaller Marine force approached at the double, using their 6mm (0.236 inch) Lee rifles to pour a deadly crossfire on the enemy flank . Three of the four Colt-Browning M1895 machine guns accompanying the Marines were used by Company C in the fighting. According to Pvt. John Clifford of Company D, the machine guns were instrumental in supporting the Marine assault. This was the first known tactical use of machine gun fire for mobile fire support in offensive combat.
The light weight of the Marines” new Lee 6mm cartridge proved to be of considerable benefit, allowing each Marine and machine gun crew to carry large amounts of ammunition over the mountainous and endless terrain. halfway through the battle, the Cuban rebel forces ran out of 6mm cartridges and were supplied with six more magazines (30 cartridges) from the belts of individual Marines, but none of the Americans ran out of ammunition , despite firing about sixty rounds each in the battle.
During this part of the fight, Captain Elliott had requested that the Dolphin provide fire support to the Marines by bombarding the Spanish blockhouse and nearby positions with her naval guns. However, due to miscommunication of signals, the gunboat unknowingly began firing shells into the direct path of a small force of fifty Marines and ten Cuban irregulars led by Second Lieutenant Magill, who were attempting to flank the Spanish position and potentially cut off any avenue of retreat. Attaching his handkerchief to a long stick and braving the Spanish fire, Sergeant John H. Quick took an exposed position on the ridge to immediately throw a flag signal to Dolphin to adjust his fire. War Correspondent.
The Dolphin shifted fire to the enemy camp and the blockhouse, and by 2:00 p.m. the Spanish had broken and fled the blockhouse. Unfortunately, 2nd Lieutenant Magill”s men were delayed long enough to prevent them from breaking off a Spanish retreat, although his men did manage to capture the Spanish signal station and its heliograph equipment . As the Spanish forces retreated through a ravine on the other side of the valley, the Marines opened fire at a range of 1,200 yards, firing volley after volley. The Spanish were unable to accurately return fire, allowing Marine Company B and the Cuban rebels to close the distance, firing as they advanced. The Spaniards first attempted to concentrate their fire on the Cubans and managed to kill two of them, but were once again repulsed by the Marines” rifle fire, at which point the remaining enemy, who up to that point had retreated in good order, broke and dispersed.
By 3:30 p.m., the enemy had left the battlefield and all firing had ceased. Most of the Spaniards had fled, but one lieutenant and 17 soldiers were captured and the enemy suffered 60 dead and 150 wounded. They had left behind 30 modern 7mm Mauser rifles and ammunition. Two marines and two Cuban rebels had been wounded, and two Cuban rebels killed, who were buried where they fell. The most serious casualties suffered by the marines were due to heat stroke , which disabled one officer and 22 men. Gunboat Dolphin took these aboard after the fighting was over for the return trip to Camp McCalla. The Spanish headquarters building (blockhouse) was burned and the fresh water well at Cuzco was destroyed, thus ending its immediate usefulness, even to the marines, whose officers would not allow them to drink from it before its destruction. water was finally brought from the USS Dolphin after a two-hour wait.
The Spanish forces retreated in small groups of stragglers to Guantanamo, via Cayo del Toro and Caimanera. Apparently expecting U.S. forces to follow the victory, they fortified Dos Caminos , a small settlement at the intersection of two roads, and added several blockhouses to the number already erected on the rail line. The Spanish soldiers were apparently impressed with the Marines” firepower; upon arrival in Ciudad Guantanamo (Guantanamo City), the surviving members of the Cuzco Well garrison informed General Pareja that they had been attacked by 10,000 Americans.
Camp McCalla saw no further attacks by Spanish or guerrilla forces, and was disbanded on August 5, 1898.
Meanwhile, attention soon turned to other areas of the bay. The Spaniards were expanding their earthworks on Cayo del Toro, where they had three 160-mm bronze cannons and a modern 89-mm Krupp cannon . At Caimanera, on the bluff south of the village, three more 6.4-inch (160 mm) cannons were mounted, and the small gunboat Sandoval had a battery of a six-pounder and a one-pounder Maxim automatic cannon .
Admiral Sampson decided to bombard the fort at Cayo del Toro and on June 16 sent the USS Texas and Yankee to join the USS Marblehead in this plan. The fire from the three ships temporarily dismantled two of the enemy”s large guns, destroyed buildings on the Cay, and drove troops from all guns and trenches. Their combined firepower had reduced the Spanish fort to impotence within 15 minutes of the initial attack. An enemy shell landed near the bow of the Marblehead, sinking less than ten yards from the ship, but no hits were recorded.
As the Americans proceeded slowly, a lookout on Marblehead reported that the starboard propeller was fouled by a buoy. The engine was shut down and the propeller was freed from the “buoy,” which turned out to be a contact mine . The mine was successfully disarmed. It was later learned that the ships had passed through a field of 18 such mines, or torpedoes, on the voyage to the bay and through the same field on the return voyage, without damage of any kind. A few days after the attack on Cayo del Toro, the minefield was thoroughly explored and 14 mines were recovered. Their failure to explode on contact was attributed to mechanical failure, as well as healthy barnacle growth on the contact levers.
The dredging operation, carried out without specialized equipment, involved two steam lances and two whalers from Marblehead and Dolphin . One lance and one whaler side by side, connected to the other lance and whaler by a rope with a drag chain in the middle, swept the channel. When the drag encountered an obstacle, the boats joined together and crossed the ends of the drag. The boats were then carefully hoisted up to the mine, which was brought to the surface and disarmed. Twice the resistance brought up two mines together.
While searching for mines, boats had been struck from Hicacal Beach , where 250 Spanish infantrymen had been stationed to guard the minefield. He was determined to rout the last remaining enemy force in the vicinity of the bay, and on June 25, Lieutenant Colonel Huntington led two companies of marines and 40 Cubans in an amphibious assault on Hicacal Beach. It proved to be a bloodless encounter, since the Spaniards had left a day or two earlier.
With Guantanamo Bay successfully occupied, U.S. interest focused on operations in Santiago. A U.S. expeditionary force of 17,000 officers and men under the command of Major General William R. Shafter was landed east of the city in the small ports of Daiquirí and Siboney between June 22 and 25, unopposed. A week later, on July 1, the historic battles of El Caney and San Juan Hill ended in victory for U.S. forces, opening the door to Santiago itself. On the morning of July 3, a request was sent to the Spanish commander, General Arsenio Linares , to surrender or suffer a bombardment of the city as an alternative. That same morning, the Spanish fleet under Admiral Pascual Cervera sailed from Santiago Bay, only to meet complete destruction at the hands of the U.S. fleet. The great Spanish resistance in Santiago was at an end, although a preliminary agreement was not signed until July 15. U.S. forces occupied the city on July 17.
The 7,000 Spanish troops in the city of Guantanamo – only 64 km away – did not march to the aid of the besieged army of Linares, because before his communications were cut, General Pareja had been ordered by his superiors to hold the city of Guantanamoat all costs. This was ordered because the Spanish feared that the Guantanamo valley could be used as an invasion route by U.S. forces, since the British had once used it to advance on Santiago. After the Navy cut the cables and established a base in Guantanamo Bay, General Pareja remained in complete ignorance of the course of the war because the Cuban insurgents maintained such a tight ring around the city that no messenger could get through their lines. Fifteen were captured and executed as spies. None of General Linares” frantic pleas for help reached Pareja.
The threat posed by U.S. naval forces and a battalion of marines at Guantanamo Bay, in addition to the clampdown on land communications by 1,000 Cuban rebels, effectively shut down a 7,000-man army that could have changed the outcome of the fighting in Santiago. Less than a week after Santiago”s surrender, the base at Guantanamo Bay was used to launch the invasion of Puerto Rico, 500 miles (800 km) to the east. Three thousand five hundred troops under General Miles sailed from the bay on July 21. This was the last major event in the Spanish-American War phase of Guantanamo Bay; on August 12, the war ended with the signing of the peace protocol and armistice. The new U.S. naval base was not formalized by the lease between the U.S. and Cuba until five years later, when in 1903 it was acquired as a “coal and naval station,” but its value was already proven.
Lieutenant Colonel Huntington”s First Marine Battalion, which had returned aboard the USS Resolute during the siege and surrender of Santiago, sailed for the United States and, after a stop in New York, arrived at Portsmouth Harbor , disembarking its marines on the evening of August 24, 1898.
On July 1, at dawn, the U.S. troops attacked the Spaniards stationed in El Caney and in Fort El Viso with 6653 men against 520 Spaniards, supported by an unknown number of Cuban loyalist guerrillas. The battle lasted until five o”clock in the afternoon with heavy losses both from the U.S. and the Spanish, among other things the Spaniards also lost the commander of their forces (Gen. Vara de Rey).
While fighting at El Caney, about 8:20 a.m. the Americans also attacked the San Juan hills so that the commander of the area (Gen. Linares) could not send reinforcements to the nearby position of El Caney. A fortuitous discovery of a new path to ford the Aguadores River allowed the Americans to relieve the traffic jam that was forming at the foot of the San Juan Hill, but the leading regiment was forced to retreat in disorder by Spanish fire, However, the reserve brigade managed to approach the Spaniards up to about 500 m, where the commander of the brigade (Colonel Wikoff) was killed and his deputies (Lieutenant Colonel Worth and Lieutenant Colonel Liscum) were seriously wounded. Col. Ewers. The battle continued with alternating fortunes until the exhausted Spaniards abandoned the San Juan hill at 1.30 in the afternoon. At that point began the assault on Kettle Hill, carried out by the 1st Cavalry, 9th Cavalry, Rough Riders, and part of the 3rd Cavalry led by future President Theodore Roosevelt, and Lieutenant Colonel Sumner, which ended more or less at the same time. The battle continued until sunset, but the Spaniards were unable to regain their lost positions, losing among other things their commander (Gen. Linares), wounded in the arm. The total losses of the Americans at El Caney and on the hills of San Juan were more than 1000 between dead and wounded.
After these facts of arms the Americans remained stationary in front of Santiago, waiting for the garrison to surrender by starvation, an event that happened on July 16, the garrison of the city still obtained the honor of arms. However, after the surrender of Santiago, the Americans, who remained in place until the conclusion of the war, were decimated by malarial fever, yellow fever and typhoid fever.
On July 3 Cervera”s squadron attempted to force the blockade, but was destroyed in about two hours by Commodore Schley (Sampson was ashore talking with General Shafter), Spain lost 4 cruisers and two destroyers.
In the meantime Camara”s squadron (reserve squadron) had left Cadiz on June 16, leaving however the Alfonso XIII and the Numancia, passing on June 20 in front of Pantelleria and on July 6 had entered Suez, having passed the channel of the same name, presumably to make the Americans believe that it was directed to the Philippines, returning then to Cadiz on July 29
On July 25, 3000 Americans commanded by General Miles landed in Puerto Rico occupying the port of Ponce, in early August, after being joined by another 10 000 men launched an attack on San Juan, which was occupied almost immediately with the loss of less than 50 men.
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The Philippines had been discovered by the Spanish on March 17, 1521, and had quickly become one of the key colonies of the Spanish Empire. However, all subsequent Spanish governments had been uninterested in fortifying key points and in particular Manila, which, properly reinforced could have become a first class naval base. On the other hand, the U.S. squadron necessarily had to occupy Manila as soon as possible in order to obtain (at least local) domination of the sea.
In spite of the German conquest of the naval base of Qingdao, the Asiatic Squadron, although with great logistic problems, especially for fuel and ammunition, managed not only to decimate the Spanish fleet, but also to conquer Manila Bay itself, which was occupied by the fleet on May 2.
In August the VIII American Corps of 13000 regulars and 2000 volunteers, commanded by Gen. Wesley Merritt, landed in Manila, opposed by the 13000 Spaniards of the Manila garrison and the 13000 men of the revolutionary Aguinaldo. Because of the different intentions of the Americans and the rebels (both however intended to eliminate the Spaniards) at the end of the summer began to appear strong contrasts between the Americans and the rebels. The conclusion was that the Americans occupied Manila on August 13, after a little more than symbolic battle (17 dead and 105 wounded Americans), keeping Aguinaldo away from the capital. However, after the Paris Accords whereby the US acquired the Philippines for $20 million, the Philippine-American War broke out.
On June 20, 1898 the U.S. cruiser USS Charleston appeared in front of the island of Guam, part of the Spanish colony of the Mariana Islands: after a brief negotiation, the following day a Marine landing force went ashore and took possession of the island in a bloodless way, accepting the surrender of the small Spanish garrison.
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The formation of U.S. colonial domains
The Americans won in a very short time and with relatively low losses, so that the war was defined splendid little war. The 12 August was signed the armistice with which the United States obtained from Spain:
These results were then ratified the following December 10 by the Treaty of Paris, which formalized the cession for 20 million dollars to the U.S. of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam in the Pacific.
In the same year, the United States had purchased the Hawaiian Islands. Finally Panama became independent in 1903, with military support from the United States.
In Spain, the destruction of the fleet and the simultaneous loss of the last colonies in the Pacific (the following year Spain ceded to Germany the archipelagos of the Carolines and the Marianas), led to a profound identity crisis in a country that could not fit into the modernity of the new century. The military, in particular, developed a deep sense of resentment towards the ruling class, to which the tightness of the state budget did not allow to provide the army with more modern weapons. The war went down in history as “El Desastre del ”98″.
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The increase in the cost of cereals in Italy
The Spanish-American war also had a certain influence on the Italian social situation, as it indirectly caused the increase in the cost of imported cereals and the consequent increase in the cost of bread that, burdening the already fatigued proletarian families, led to riots, among which the best known was the protest of the stomach (name that identifies the riots in Milan in 1898), bloodily repressed by Bava Beccaris.
In Emilio Salgari”s novel La capitana del Yucatan the whole plot takes place having as background the Spanish-American war in Cuba.