Blacksmith Austin Durney's account of the cutting of the cables at Cienfuegos

"CUTTING the cables at Cienfuegos marked another of the events of the Spanish-American War which cannot be overlooked, if only for the conditions under which it was carried out.  It occurred on May 11th, in the early stage of the war, and
was one of the most perilous and exciting of the undertakings.  The men were obliged
to do this work in small boats, and were constantly under the fire of the Spaniards.
The men were comparatively easy marks for the bullets, and but for the eventual protection given them by the NASHVILLE and MARBLEHEAD to which the men belonged, there can be little doubt that none of them would have been spared to tell
the tale.

The MARBLEHEAD and NASHVILLE had been sent to do blockade duty on the
south side of Cuba, and since the capture of the BONAVENTURE and the ARAGANANTA there was nothing to occupy the time of the men on board either ship, and listless days hung heavily upon them.  Consequently, when orders were received to cut the Spanish cables, there was delight on board the blockaders particularly among those who were to do the work.

Captain B. H.  McCalla, of the MARBLEHEAD, the senior officer, requested the NASHVILLE to prepare a steam and a sailing launch to guard the men while they were cutting the cables.  The MARBLEHEAD also furnished launches, and marines were put on board armed with rifles, revolvers and cutlasses to act as a guard.

At five o'clock on the morning of the 11th everything was in readiness and the boats were lowered.  Among those who participated in the expedition were a blacksmith and a carpenter's mate from both the MARBLEHEAD and the NASHVILLE.  Lieutenant McR.  Winslow was in command of the expedition.  Austin J. Durney, the blacksmith of the NASHVILLE, who participated in this dangerous expedition and who, with all the others of the boat's crew, was awarded the Medal of Honor for this work, describes the affair entertainingly as follows:

'Cable cutting was something new to all of us and I did not know just how to manage it.  To tell the truth, I didn't have the faintest idea of the work.  To be prepared for all emergencies we equipped ourselves with every possible tool that suggested itself to us, and thus we took along chisels, hammers, axes, saws, etc.  As soon as I got hold of the cable I discovered that the only practical tool was a hack-saw, such as is used in any machine shop.  We went to within about ten or fifteen yards of the shore before we could get hold of the cable. We had to search for it and pull it up with grappling irons.  It was then pulled over one of the small boats and severed by the hack-saw. The task was difficult, as a rough sea was running. When the cable was cut the shore end was dropped overboard, and one of the boats of the MARBLEHEAD took the other end out to sea, where it was again cut and flung overboard, thus preventing its being picked up by the enemy and repaired.  A second cable was raised close to the shore and likewise cut twice.'The Spaniards at first did not bother us, they evidently believing that we intended going ashore.  But as our object became apparent, and we began cutting the cable, the enemy commenced to rain bullets down upon us.  Our marines returned the fire with a will, but the Spaniards had the advantage.  They were posted on a cliff and kept out of sight of our men.  Only now and then we would see one of them.  This was when they were trying to get our range.  Nevertheless, most of their firing went over our men.  A more effective fire, however, was delivered from a lighthouse close to the shore.  We did not expect that the Spaniards would use it as a blind and a fortification, or we would have first destroyed it.  But we were determined to get even, and soon after the expedition the building was leveled to the ground.The enemy's fire began to have a deadly effect after the cable was cut and we were returning to our ships, for the farther away we got from shore the more accurate was their fire.It was then that First Lieutenant Albert C. Dillingham, having taken command of the NASHVILLE, brought her between the returning crews and the shore to save us from destruction; but he undertook no small risk, as the ,shore was full of rocks that projected almost out of the water.  Indeed, had it not been for this the small boats would not have been used for the expedition.  Thus was the perilous task completed.'
While the cable was being cut Captain Maynard of the NASHVILLE was wounded.


Excerpted  from:

Duffield, Brig. Gen. H. M., U.S.V., Deeds of Valor. (Detroit: The Perrien-Keydel Company, 1906). 359-362.

Return to Action Accounts
Return to Cutting the Cables at Cienfuegos Page
Return to Main Page