When the little fort was broken into, only one Spanish officer and four men were alive out of the entire garrison. The forces on the opposing sides had been about equal.
Continuing The Cuban Campaign,
with a selection from The Rescue of Cuba by Andrew S. Draper published in 1899. This selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Cuban Campaign.
Place: Santiago Area
For most of these soldiers it was their first battle; yet there was no evidence of panic, nor was a single act of cowardice observed. The foreign military attaches who were present were astounded at the steadiness of these soldiers, who were receiving their first baptism of fire.
All the morning and long into the afternoon the creeping advance continued. The smokeless powder of the Spaniards often made their fire bewildering. The storm of bullets came from new directions, and when it was discovered that the bodies of the men were being hit on a different side, the masked batteries and trenches had to be first located and then silenced.
The Spanish sharpshooters penetrated between the American regiments, hid themselves among the trees, and fired upon the wounded as they were staggering to the rear. When this was discovered the comrades of the wounded were beside themselves with rage. But the regulars only moved forward a few feet and aimed their Krag-Jorgensens with more dogged determination.
Thus, until the middle of the afternoon, the slow advance went on; the dark blue shirts writhed forward from bush to bush, and yard by yard shortened the distance; sometimes little dashes were made from one poor protection to another, but every one of these short rushes was a deadly adventure. It was a battle under new conditions.
At half-past three the broken and bushy ground had been crossed and the Americans were facing the trenches. The order was passed down the line for a general rush. With a roaring cheer the regiments leaped to their feet and dashed at the hill. They did not go in ranks — scarcely in companies. It was a race to reach the trenches and to swarm around the fort.
Captain Haskell, of the Twelfth Infantry, was conspicuous in the rush, his long white beard streaming back like the plume of Henry of Navarre. Officers and men dropped in appalling numbers in the gusts of death. But no force was able to check that charge. Prying down the barbed- wire fences, cheering with that thunderous yell which only Americans can give, they closed over the trenches, which were found filled with dead men. In a moment, more the blue uniforms were seen around the fortifications on the hilltop; the barricaded doors were broken in and holes were made in the roofs.
But the Spaniards had finished their fight. The barricaded streets of El Caney offered little resistance. A few shots more, and the town was in the hands of the exhausted but jubilant Americans.
Superb in this charge were the colored soldiers of the Twenty-Fourth Regiment. At Guasimas colored troops had saved the Rough Riders; at El Caney they fought with no less heroism. The officers of the regular army say that no better soldiers ever wore a uniform, and prisoners taken from the fort at El Caney insisted that the colored troops were nine feet tall and could strangle them with their fists.
At half-past four the American troops had possession of the town. They found the Spanish dead lying in lines in the block house behind the loopholes from which they had fired. The dead were in the streets and in the houses. The trenches were open graves. When the little fort was broken into, only one Spanish officer and four men were alive out of the entire garrison. The forces on the opposing sides had been about equal.
One of the surviving Spanish officers has told the story of the battle, and in it he said: “The enemy’s fire was incessant, and we answered with equal rapidity. I never have seen anything to equal the courage and dash of those Americans, who, stripped to the waist, offering their naked breasts to our murderous fire, literally threw themselves on our trenches, on the very muzzles of our guns. Our execution must have been terrible. We had the advantage of our position and mowed them down by hundreds, but they never retreated or fell back an inch. As one man fell, shot through the heart, another would take his place with grim determination and unflinching devotion to duty in every line of his face.”
The number of Spanish dead is unknown. But three hundred seventy-seven American soldiers were killed or wounded.
After taking El Caney the American outposts were at once pushed forward beyond the town and also within rifle-shot of the intrenchments of San Juan. While the Battle of El Caney was going on, the troops there engaged could hear the roar of the guns of El Poso, which had opened on San Juan on their left, about three miles south. El Poso is a hill about a mile and a half from the hill of San Juan.
This hill is just outside of the city of Santiago, directly to the east. Looked at on its eastern side it appears like a sharp bluff. On top was a low farmhouse with broad eaves. This had been turned into a fortification by the Spanish, as had also a long shed nearby. East of this farmhouse, near the edge of the hill, were long rows of Spanish trenches; back of the farmhouse, toward Santiago, was a dip in the ground, and on the rise toward the city were more trenches. Barbed-wire fences were everywhere.
Looking eastward from the bluff of San Juan Hill is a meadow one-third of a mile in width, before one reaches the brush and trees of the forest. This meadow, in the main, is a tangle of high grass, broken by scattered trees and barbed-wire fences. A little to the northeast from San Juan is a shallow duck-pond, and just beyond this water is a low hill which, from its great sugar-kettles on top, the Americans called Kettle Hill. Beyond the rolling meadow are the woods, broken by swift winding streams; through this timber come the irregular, mountainous trails from Siboney, along which the troops had toiled, and on either side of which they had bivouacked for several days.
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