The Spanish garrison numbered thirteen thousand men, amply supplied with ammunition, behind trenches and barbed-wire fences which were so well arranged as to excite the admiration of our engineers.
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
After two hours of this fighting, under the unfaltering advance and accurate fire of the Americans, the Spanish volleys became fewer and less effective. Then the Spaniards broke and ran. When the battle was over, the American soldiers had lost sixteen killed and fifty-two wounded, but they were two miles nearer Santiago than when they met their first fire.
It had been a strange battle, appealing peculiarly to the patriotic pride of the American people. On that day, college men and the bronzed cowboys of the plains, millionaires and negroes, all were standing upon the common level of American citizenship, true brothers in devotion to duty; and there were no differences in courage or manliness.
The Spaniards appeared to have a curious notion of the Americans as fighters; they thought that after a sharp resistance they would draw back, and that on the next morning they would be gone. Instead, the Americans were nearer to Santiago on each succeeding day of their exhausting climbing. Slowly and surely the lines drew up around the city. The Spanish garrison numbered thirteen thousand men, amply supplied with ammunition, behind trenches and barbed-wire fences which were so well arranged as to excite the admiration of our engineers.
The country was filled with Spanish soldiers. Everyone knew that the heaviest work was yet to be done. Around and above Santiago was an open plateau. Here the dense and tangled thickets and the mountain trails ended. The problem before General Shafter was to close around Santiago and capture it before General Linares with his thirteen thousand soldiers could escape, and before General Pando, marching from the north, could throw in his reinforcement of eight thousand men.
The city of Santiago is so located, at the head of its long harbor, that a complete line of investiture would stretch from the sea- coast on the east to a point near the head of the harbor on the west of the city — a line resembling a huge fishhook. At the northern end of this line, where the shank of the hook begins to turn into the curve, and about four miles northeast from Santiago is the suburb of El Caney; one mile east of El Caney is San Juan.
The hills of El Caney and San Juan each slope rather sharply to the eastward, the direction from which our troops were coming. Between the foot of these ridges and the woods is open country. To march across this open is difficult because of gulleys; winding streams, thick grass, and low bushes.
The suburb of El Caney nestles on the hillsides, and here the rich Santiagoans had built country residences. On the top of San Juan were farmhouses. The Spanish engineers had perceived how formidable these bluffs might be made to an invading army, and had transformed the farmhouses and country-seats into forts, with ramparts of broken stone and bags of sand, and with loopholes. Each hill was crowned also by a blockhouse fort. Indeed, a score of these little forts, which had previously proved so effectual against the Indian-like attacks of the Cubans, stretched along the commanding ridges outside of Santiago. In addition, on the face of the eastern ridge were admirably con structed lines of rifle-pits, and below these were interminable barbed- wire fences. In the lines on lines of trenches and inside the little forts were desperate defenders, with terrible rapid-firing Mauser rifles, which, if used scientifically, might sweep from the earth anybody of troops advancing across the mile of clear country. In view of this kind of advantage, common military prudence seemed to dictate that no charge should be made against these defenses until they had been destroyed by artillery.
But, on the other hand, because of the impossible roads General Shafter could not bring up his siege-guns; indeed, these powerful pieces never were landed from the transports. It had taken days to get even the light batteries of Captains Capron and Grimes over the few miles from the landing-place to a position in front of the bluffs of El Caney and San Juan.
A general advance along the whole length of the American line was begun in the afternoon of June 30th. General Lawton’s division was to attack El Caney. General Kent’s division, with General Wheeler’s division of dismounted cavalry, was to move against San Juan. General Duffield’s brigade was to proceed against Aguadores, which was on the seacoast south of San Juan and a little east of Morro Castle.
With General Lawton, for the attack on El Caney, was Captain Capron’ s battery; and for the attack on San Juan, Captain Grimes’s battery had been assigned. On the morning of July 1st General Lawton’s division was in the shape of a half-circle around El Caney. At five o’clock in the morning the advance on the town was begun.
At sunrise, the Spanish flag was run up its staff, and immediately the American guns opened fire. At first the shells brought no answer, but soon the enemy’s artillery began to drop shells into the American lines with unexpected accuracy, while from the trenches and the loopholes of the stone fort and of the fortified houses the infantry poured at the American position a sweeping and effective fire.
But from the American lines the incessant stream of Krag-Jorgensen bullets, as well as the artillery, was working terrible destruction. The Spaniards had the better position and stronger defenses; but the Americans had coolness and a vastly superior accuracy of aim. Their soldiers fired as deliberately as at a marksmanship contest; wherever a Spanish straw hat was seen above the trenches, or an officer exposed himself, there was a target for a dozen rifles; before that scientific aiming each loophole in the blockhouse became a point of fatal exposure.
The battle lasted all day. Men were dying on every side. One journalist who was with the command counted twenty-five dead in an hour. The officers advised and steadied the men, who were no less heroic than themselves; yet many officers disdained to crouch as they compelled their men to do, and, as conspicuous targets, they were dropping in large numbers.
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