A fleet of transport-ships conveying an army over hostile waters is at the mercy of even a very inferior enemy. A single well-directed shell or torpedo could sink a ship carrying a thousand defenseless soldiers.
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
The first armed movement toward the expulsion from Cuba of the Spanish army of nearly 200,000 men was to establish a blockade of naval vessels along the coast in order to cut off from that army all information and supplies.
War actually began on April 21st, when the telegraph opera tor at the White House sent out the President’s order to the waiting fleet at Key West to sail instantly to Cuba. For days, these warships under Rear-Admiral Sampson had been awaiting that order, ready, like racers, to spring at the signal. The captains were in the Admiral’s cabin on board the New York late in the evening of the 21st when the dispatch arrived. Within an hour the searchlights had begun feeling their way out of the harbor, and before daylight of the 22d the whole fleet was in the open sea sweeping toward Havana.
There was, as yet, however, no army for invasion. The President had not even called for volunteers when our sailors arrived before Monro Castle. Until an adequate invading force could be gathered and equipped it would have been useless to attempt to batter down the powerful fortifications of Havana. While the new troops were assembling in their various camps, it was the navy’s business only to look out for the enemy’s fleet, and to isolate the enemy’s army from supplies and communication.
Reinforced from day to day with the newly obtained vessels of all sorts, the American Admiral stretched a cordon of blockaders well around the island. The first action of the war was the bombardment of the fortifications of Matanzas, not far eastward from Havana, on April 28th. At Cardenas Bay, on May nth, there was a sharp engagement with Spanish batteries and gun boats, in which Ensign Bagley and four men on the torpedo-boat Winslow were killed. On the same day, several men from the Marblehead were killed while cutting a cable at Cienfuegos. The Spanish Admiral, Cervera, with a formidable fleet, had sailed from Spain, and Sampson cruised eastward to San Juan, Porto Rico, in the hope of meeting him. Failing to find the Spanish fleet, he bombarded the forts of San Juan for a few hours on May 12th, and then returned to Cuba.
But meanwhile our new army of more than 250,000 men was being mobilized as rapidly as possible. To the impatient people, the mustering in, the equipping, and the drilling of these troops seemed very slow, and we were aware for the first time how impossible it would have been to meet on even terms an invading army of a high European Power, like Great Britain, if promptly thrown upon our territory.
From State camps the regiments were transferred to national rendezvous, the most famous of which were Camp Thomas at Chattanooga and Camp Alger near Washington. Thence, as the troops became ready for service, they could be transported to the ports most convenient for embarkation. Tampa, on the west coast of Florida — the same Tampa where, nearly four centuries before, the Spanish cavalier, De Soto, began his adventurous march through the unknown lands that now are part of the United States — was selected as the best point of departure for the expedition to Cuba.
The Fifth Army Corps was encamped here under Major- General William R. Shafter. This body of troops, most of whom were regulars, had the honor of constituting the first expedition of land forces for the rescue of Cuba.
There were several reasons, however, why it seemed wise to delay the expedition. A fleet of transport-ships conveying an army over hostile waters is at the mercy of even a very inferior enemy. A single well-directed shell or torpedo could sink a ship carrying a thousand defenseless soldiers. Although the war ships which would convoy a fleet of transports might quickly annihilate the enemy’s squadron, nevertheless the chance of sinking a number of our crowded transports would warrant any Spanish commander in making the desperate attack. Consequently, it would seem like a tempting of fate for a vast expedition of soldiers to venture out until the sea was reasonably safe from the enemy’s cruisers and torpedo-boats.
Spain proved formidable in her power of sending out misleading rumors. Such contradictory reports were received from various quarters of Europe, as well as from many ports in the neighborhood of the West Indies, that it became impossible to tell where the powerful fleets of Admiral Cervera and Admiral Camara were to be found. They might be in the ports of Spain; they might be at the Canary or Cape Verdi Islands; they might be hovering near the New England coast; they might be dodging among the islands of the Caribbean Sea. Certainly, until they were either located or destroyed, the open sea was no place for 16,000 soldiers gathered on the frail transports.
Consequently, from week to week the impetuous army waited on the burning sand at Tampa while the navy seemed to have all the opportunities for service.
The first attempt of the American army to land on the shore of Cuba was made on May 12th by the officers and men of the First United States Infantry, who had been sent on the steamer Gussie to carry supplies to the Cubans. The Spaniards, however, had intercepted the Cuban party, and appeared in such force and resisted the attempts to land with such spirit that the Americans withdrew without making connection with their Cuban allies. Though our troops suffered no loss, but inflicted considerable damage upon the Spanish, we were obliged to admit that the first advantage rested with the enemy.
During the next fortnight, the fleet of Admiral Cervera arrived on this side of the ocean and was finally discovered in Santiago harbor. The voyage of this hostile force from Cadiz to Santiago was romantic with interest to the world.
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