While Sampson was returning from his hunt for Cervera at Porto Rico, the Spaniard was sailing due northwest for Santiago de Cuba, which he reached on May 19th.
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
When the war broke out, this fleet was at the Cape Verdi Islands. These islands belong to Portugal. Our Government protested against the fleet being harbored in a neutral port, in violation of international law. After much delay Portugal in formed the Government at Washington, April 26th, that forty- eight hours would be given to the Spanish ships in which to leave the Cape Verdi Islands. On April 28th, however, they were still there. But Portugal now definitely declared her neutrality, and Cervera, having had ample time to lay in provision and coal his fleet, steamed leisurely away. Where he had gone was a mystery. He was reported to be at the Canary Islands. He was reported to have arrived in Spain. He was said to have been seen crossing the Atlantic. His fleet, though not large, was powerful because of its homogeneity. It had no slow transports to retard its progress. It consisted of the five armored cruisers — the Cristobal Colon, the Infanta Maria Teresa, the Almirante Oquendo, the Vizcaya, the Reina Mercedes — and three swift torpedo-boat destroyers.
Finally, the uncertainty uplifted. About May 11nth the Spanish flotilla was definitely reported at the French island of Martinique, and shortly afterward at the island of Curacao, just north of Venezuela.
While Sampson was returning from his hunt for Cervera at Porto Rico, the Spaniard was sailing due northwest for Santiago de Cuba, which he reached on May 19th. His arrival at Santiago was not known by the Americans with certainty for several days. While Sampson kept guard near Key West, Commodore Schley with the “flying squadron” was watching the harbor of Cienfuegos on the southern coast of Cuba, where Cervera was reported to be hidden. At last his hiding-place at Santiago was discovered, and on May 28th, Schley, with his flagship the Brooklyn, accompanied by the Massachusetts, the Texas, the Iowa, the Marblehead, the Minneapolis, the Castine, the torpedo-boat Dupont, and the auxiliary cruiser St. Paul, the coaling ship Merrimac, and others, arrived off Santiago; and the next day they were able to look through the narrow neck of the bottle-shaped harbor and to see the enemy’s ships lying safely at anchor behind the frowning fortifications and the network of submarine torpedoes.
To verify fully the assurance that all the Spanish vessels were there, Lieutenant Victor Blue, of the navy, made a daring and famous reconnaissance. He landed and, at the greatest risk, climbed the hills, counted the enemy’s ships, and returned with the report that the five cruisers and two torpedo-boats were actually imprisoned in the bay.
In a few days, Rear-Admiral Sampson, with the flagship New York and the battleship Oregon, the cruiser New Orleans, and several auxiliary vessels and torpedo-boats, reinforced Commodore Schley and took command of the fleet that was keeping Cervera “bottled” in Santiago.
Lieutenant Hobson took the coaling-ship Merrimac by night beneath the guns of the forts, and while under the most terrible fire from both shores, endeavored to anchor his ship in the narrow channel, to sink her by his own hand, in order to leave her wreck to block the Spanish ships if they should attempt to escape. That the Merrimac was not sunk at the precise spot intended was due to the rudder being shot away. When morning came he and his six companions who had volunteered for the enterprise were, as by a miracle, alive and unhurt, clinging to a raft. The fact that the attempt to close the harbor was not fully successful does not detract from the sublime heroism of the men.
The situation now was this: The Spanish fleet was indeed besieged; it might dash for liberty, but, in the face of such a superior and vigilant force, it would have but little chance. On the other hand, the besiegers were unable to reach it so long as it chose to remain in its haven; the narrow channel was a network of submarine mines which would sink the first vessel that entered; and the lofty forts on the cliffs above could at such close range pour down an annihilating torrent of shells upon the thin decks of the attacking ships, which, at that nearness, could not lift their guns sufficiently to silence the batteries. Their elevation was so great that successive bombardments, though they damaged, did not destroy, the batteries.
Nevertheless, until they were destroyed or captured it was evident that the ships could not advance into the channel to clear it of its sunken torpedoes. The aid of the army was therefore necessary. A force by land was required to capture the harbor forts, so that the battleships might steam in and engage the Spanish fleet. Accordingly, General Shafter was ordered to take his troops, land near Santiago, and capture the forts.
Before he started, however, the navy, on June 10th, made a landing. It was the first permanent foothold gained by Americans on Cuba. Under the protection of the guns of the Oregon, the Marblehead, and the Yosemite, six hundred marines landed at Guantanamo Bay, in command of Lieutenant- Colonel R. W. Huntington. Their landing was stoutly resisted by the Spaniards. All day and all night the fighting continued, as the little band desperately defended their camp from the continuous and encircling volleys. Here were the first American lives lost on Cuban soil. But, in spite of their severe losses, the marines held the flag where they had planted it.
General Shafter’s expedition started on June 14th. Thirty- five transports carried sixteen thousand men. They went under the protection of fourteen armed vessels of the navy. The battle ship Indiana led the way. Six days later they came in sight of Morro Castle at the entrance to the bay of Santiago, and soon they heard the cheers from the battleships on duty there.
On the second morning thereafter, the battleships shelled the shore at four different points along the forty miles of coast in order to mislead the Spaniards; and then at nine o’clock the signal was given for all the troops to go ashore as quickly as possible at Daiquiri, sixteen miles east of the entrance to Santiago harbor and twenty-four miles west of Guantanamo, where the marines were still maintaining the flag they had planted.
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