The Campaign in Cuba as Remembered by
Sergeant John J. Turner, USV

Note: This is an article written by Sergeant John J. Turner which appeared in the June 28, 1918 issue of the Beverly Evening Times, Beverly, Massachusetts. It was provided by his Great-Grandson, David A. Emmith. The editors of the Spanish-American War Centennial Website have reworked parts of the selection for style, clarity and punctuation, but have not added or subtracted from the original article.

The following story of the war in Cuba in 1898 is written for the Evening Times by Sergeant J. J. Turner of this city who served with Company D, First Volunteers Cavalry, "Rough Riders".

The chief cause of the Spanish-American War was the explosion of the U.S. Battleship Maine which was anchored in Havana harbor from the early part of January, 1898. On the morning of the 15th of February, 1898, this great ship was shattered to pieces by an explosion, causing the death of two officers and 264 men. This catastrophe not only made the people of the United States and Cuba more indignant towards the Spaniards, but also developed a revenge which afterwards met with crowning glory.

The case which was at the time nothing more than a mystery, was then submitted to investigation by the American authorities which resulted in a verdict of having been blown up by a submarine mine. The report rendered by the Board which investigated the Maine catastrophe was forwarded to the U.S. Congress on March 28th, 1898 and on the 11th of April, 1898, President McKinley requested authority of both houses to put an end to the hostilities of Spanish atrocities in Cuba, and at the same time secure a government which would be able to maintain order and give strict compliance to all international obligations. The morning of the 19th of April, 1898, marked a new epoch in the Histories of the United States and Cuba the joint resolution was approved by Congress and the government of the United States resolved that: First, The Island of Cuba is and by right ought to be free and independent. Second, The Government of Spain will renounce its authority and will withdraw all her land and naval forces from Cuba. Third, The President of the United States will utilize the Army and Navy in order to carry out the articles of this Resolution. Fourth, The United States deny all intentions of keeping Cuba and will therefore leave the Island to be governed by the Cubans. This Joint Resolution was signed on April 20th, 1898, and Mr. Woodford, who was then the United States minister in Spain presented the Ultimatum to the Spanish Government. The United States Congress declared on the 25th of April, 1898 that war between Spain and the United States of America was on a footing from the 21st of same month.

The Blockade of Cuba by Americans

The blockade was established by the American fleet under Admiral Sampson which made its appearance in Havana waters on the 22nd of April, 1898. The Spanish fleet under Admiral Cervera arrived at Santiago de Cuba May 19, 1898, followed by Admiral Schley's fleet on May 29th, and Admiral Sampson's on June 1st, 1898.

Sinking of the Merrimac

One of the most perilous adventures of modern warfare was the sinking of the United States Auxiliary cruiser Merrimac by Lieutenant Richard Pearson Hobson at 3:30 a.m. on June 3rd, 1898, at the entrance of Santiago Harbor. It was the intention of Lieut. Hobson to blockade the entrance so as to impede the evasion of Admiral Pascual Cervera's fleet which was at that time bottled up in Santiago harbor. The bravery of Lieut. Hobson and his men can be better appreciated when it is taken into account that they were within five hundred yards off the guns of Morro Castle, the Batteries of La Socaps and Estrella Fort, and last if not most important the sailing over the submarine mines placed in the canal by Lieut. Francisco Benavente of the Spanish navy. After the sinking of the Merrimac and just before daylight, Lieut. Hobson and seven others were lifted from the water and taken prisoners by Admiral Cervera in person and placed in his launch. They were then taken on board of the "Reina Mercedes," one of Admiral Cervera's warships, to be later on transferred to Morro Castle. The cell in which Lieut. Hobson was placed in Morro Castle can only be compared with the time of the Inquisition. After staying in Morro Castle for a few days, the Spaniards probably thought that the crew of the "Merrimac" was not safe, so Lieut. Hobson, and his faithful subalterns were brought to the city of Santiago and locked up within the walls of the Spanish barracks known as "Cuartel Reina Mercedes" where they could still be seen on June 17, 1898. On being questioned by the Spanish authorities, Lieut. Hobson refused to furnish any information, and his only words to them were: "I did it in strict compliance with orders from my superior officer, Admiral Sampson." About 2:30 p.m. on June 23rd, 1898, a yacht flying a flag of truce was seen to come towards Morro Castle from the American fleet and the Tug "Colon" of the Spanish American Iron Company was sent to meet it having on board Captain Victor M. Concas, commandant of the armed cruiser "Infanta Maria Teresa." The object of this interview was that the United States officials desired to know if Lieut. Hobson was in Morro Castle along with his six subalterns but the Spanish officer only replied: "That Lieut. Hobson and the other six men were in a safe place."

In 1898 the United States of America only had 20,000 regular soldiers, which was afterwards increased to 50,000 as soon as war was declared between her and Spain, not counting the 125,000 volunteers called to arms by President McKinley. Such a rapid increase of the army was next to miraculous, as properly speaking the United States was not prepared for war. The number went up so high in June, 1898, that the people of the United States once more convinced the civilized world of their patriotism and thereby demonstrated that they are always on the alert to defend the honor of the American Nation. Tampa, Florida, was chosen as the starting point of the United States forces that were going to take part in the Spanish-American war in Cuba. The American troops were supposed to leave for Cuba on June 8th, 1898, under the immediate command of Gen. Shafter, but the difficulties encountered were so numerous that the embarkation was postponed until the 14th. Sailing on June 16th, 1898. The transports used to convey the American troops to Cuba, covered very few knots an hour which was very slow as they took three days to reach the Island, when they should have been able to cover the distance in 24 hours.

As soon as the United States saw that war with Spain was unavoidable, three American officers were sent to Cuba to secure the cooperation of the Cuban Army. These officers carried out their instruction to the letter, on their arrival in Cuba one of them interviewed Gen. Calixto Garcia on the 1st of May, 1898, in Bayamo, which city had been abandoned by the Spaniards. General Calixto Garcia also sent commissioners to the United States, they having reached here on May 18th, and were given a warm reception by the secretary of war and General Miles. The object of these Cuban commissioners was to make all necessary arrangements regarding the manner in which the American and Cuban forces were to operate in Cuba. It was General Calixto Garcia who sent Colonel Hernandez to the Asserradero in order to deliver some documents pertaining to the plan of attack on Santiago to Admiral Sampson, and at the same time to interview the Admiral on board the Flagship New York. It was then agreed upon that Gen. Garcia should have five thousand good fighting Cubans ready to assist the Americans in the siege of Santiago de Cuba, to have enough Cuban soldiers in Manzanillo, Holquin and Guantanamo and that the Cuban headquarters be on the south coast and as near the city of Santiago de Cuba as possible, so as to be able to carry out instructions from the Commander-in-chief of the United States forces as soon as they landed in Cuba. The United States furnished the Cubans with rations and ammunition which were brought to Cuba by Gen. Joaquin Castillo besides receiving a large supply at Asserradero.

When the American forces reached Cuba, General Shafter and Admiral Sampson went ashore at Asserradero to hold an interview with General Calixto Garcia regarding the plan of attack. Admiral Sampson proposed that as Morro Castle was the defense at the entrance of Santiago harbor, he thought it would be best to attack and take that stronghold first, then go right into the harbor and destroy Admiral Cervera's fleet. Admiral Sampson was of the opinion that this would be the easiest way of capturing the city, but fortunately these were not accepted and General Calixto Garcia suggested that the landing of the American forces be at Daiquiri. The suggestion of General Calixto Garcia was closely adhered to and on June 21st, 1898, five hundred Cuban soldiers commanded by General Demetrio Castillo were transported from Asserradero to a village called Cujabo nearly two miles from Daiquiri, their instructions were to keep firing on the Spanish troops thereabout during the landing of the American forces, and according to arrangements made between Admiral Sampson and General Shafter the fleet also bombarded all the Spanish positions along the coast, namely, Daiquiri, Siboney, Aguadores, Morro and Cabanas.

During the landing five hundred more Cuban soldiers under General Jesus Rabi, also assisted in keeping the Spaniards busy. As soon as all the American forces landed, the rest of General Garcia's insurgents continued to Daiquiri and the Americans started their march by Daiquiri and Siboney road. The landing was carried out in the following manner. General Lawton with the first and second division, and the Battery of Gattlings. General Bates, Brigade as a reserve of the Second Division. General Wheeler with his dismounted Cavalry Division. General Kent with the First Division of Infantry. Our mounted troop of the Second Cavalry. The Artillery was held back for some time waiting to see if the Spaniards were going to offer any resistance. The Americans came on shore with campaign rations for three days and one hundred rounds of ammunition each. The rest of the ammunition and equipment remained on the transports along with the forces not mentioned here. The Ordnance officers landed an extra supply of Ammunition which gave the men a reserve of one hundred rounds each. Admiral Sampson placed fifty motor boats from his fleet at the disposal of General Shafter, these were under the immediate supervision of a Naval Officer. The landing places were defended thus: Daiquiri, the Detroit, Castino, Wasp and New Orleans. Siboney by the Comet, Helena and Bancroft. Aguadores by the Eagle and Gloucester. Cabanos by the Scorpion, Vixen and Texas. This little blockade was at the same time guarded by the powerful Oregon, Indiana, Massachusetts, Iowa, Brooklyn and New York. The lighterage was performed by the Swan, Osceola and Wamnatuck.

As soon as the landing of the troops commenced, the fleet started its bombardment of the positions already referred to, which were occupied by a Spanish column commanded by Brigadier General Antero Rubin, Sub-Military, Governor of Santiago de Cuba. Three Spanish forces consisted of the following outfits: One Battalion of Talovera No. 4. One Battalion of Porto Rico Provisional No. 1. One Battalion of San Fernando No. 11. Two Companies of Volunteers. One Battery of Artillery. Owing to the great amount of shot and shell, the Spaniards were compelled to retreat and the five hundred Cuban soldiers under General Demetrio Castillo took possession of the town. It was about 9:45 a.m. when the first boat reached the shore with American troops, and immediately the United States battleships opened fire which lasted for quite a while. After the first half hour, the landing of the American troops continued uninterrupted and the spectacle presented to the casual observer by the assembly of so great a number of men in such a small space was wonderful. In the manner described the United States landed fifteen thousand men who were as full of spirit as if they were going to a ball game.

The Spaniards made great preparations in Santiago to impede the progress of the United States forces towards the city. They landed 970 sailors from Admiral Cervera's fleet and placed them on the road to El Cobre Mines on the Northwestern side of Santiago, under command of Captain Burtamanti, chief of staff of Admiral Pascual Cevera, two troops of the King's regiment of Cavalry No. 1, Mounted Guerillas of the 2nd Battalion of Cuba Regiment No. 65 and Porto Rico Provisional No. 1, one Company of Constitutional No. 29 and one Company of San Fernando No. 11, which made a total of 600 men under Major Jeronimo Alfonso of the King's Cavalry No. guarded the railroad, which at that time was not over forty miles long. They also fortified San Luis, La Maya, Juragua Iron Co.'s track, Palma Soriano, Forts of Firmeza Vinen, El Caney, El Cobre, Ermitano, Coralillo, Bayamo, Loma de la Cruz, Boniato Summit, Monte Real Bartolon, San Miguel de las Lajas, Mazamorra and San Miguel de Paradas, distributing nearly two thousand soldiers among these positions, not counting those of Guantanamo, which were Guantanamo, Jamaica de Guantanamo, Carmanera and railroad consisting of the following outfits: First and Second Battalion of Simanea regiment of Infantry No. 64, one Battalion of the Princes regiment, one Battalion of Toledo regiment, one battalion of Santa Catalina, one company of Engineers, a detachment of Light Artillery with rapid firing guns, a detachment of Guardia Civil (mounted police), one troop of the King's Regiment of Cavalry No. 1, Volunteers and Fire Brigade, making a total of five thousand men.

There are many authorities who omit entirely the part played by the Cuban forces in the landing of the Americans and capture of the most important positions around Santiago. These Generals with their forces left Asserradero in the following manner for Daiquiri Siboney: General Francisco Sanchez on board the Leone, General Jose M. Capote on the Seneca, General Agustin Cebreco on the Drijaba, and General Garcia with Generals Jesus Rabi, Saturnino Lora, Rafael Portuondo with their staff on the Alamo with General William Ludlow. The above mentioned were men of great prestige the majority of them having fought in the war between Spaniards and Cubans from 1868 to 1878 or in other words the ten years war. Daiquiri is an Iron Mining Company, situated fourteen miles from San Juan Hill, and possesses a first class water front which affords splendid facilities for landing a large number of men.

The United States forces landed at Daiquiri consisted of the First and Second Division of the United States Army as follows:

First Division

Cavalry Division 5th Corps Brigade, Third United States Cavalry, Sixth United States Cavalry, Ninth United States Cavalry. 2nd Brigade Cavalry Division

First United States Cavalry, Tenth United States Cavalry "colored", First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry "Rough Riders." Infantry Division

1st Division, 5th Corps

1st Brigade: 6th United States Infantry, 16th United States Infantry, 71st New York Infantry.

2nd Brigade: 2nd United States Infantry, 10th United States Infantry, 21st United States Infantry.

3rd Brigade: 9th United States Infantry, 13th United States Infantry, 24th United States Infantry. 2nd Division, 5th Corps, Infantry Division.

2nd Division

1st Brigade, 2nd Division: 8th United States Infantry, 22nd United States Infantry, 2nd Massachusetts Infantry.

2nd Brigade: 1st United States Infantry, 25th United States Infantry, 4th United States Infantry.

3rd Brigade: 7th United States Infantry, 17th United States Infantry, 1st United States Artillery, 2nd United States Artillery, 4th United States Artillery, 5th United States Artillery.

Medical Department

Engineer Battalion

Signal Corps

The town of Siboney is seven miles from San Juan Hill, and it was chosen to land the reinforcement and supplies on account of better facilities for transporting them to San Juan territory. The landing of the reinforcements was not effected until the 24th of June, 1898, same date as the Battle of Las Guasimas and was composed of the following: 3rd Division, 5th Army Corps. 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 1st Illinois Infantry, 1st District of Columbia Infantry, 8th Ohio Infantry. 5th Brigade. 33rd Michigan Infantry, 24th Michigan Infantry, 9th Massachusetts Infantry. Independent Brigade. 3rd United States Infantry, 20th United States Infantry.

Battle of Las Guasimas, June 14, 1898

When General Wheeler reached Siboney he agreed with General Demetrio Castillo to advance towards San Juan Hill by way of the road to Santiago de Cuba, thereby flanking all the positions held by the Spaniards. The American forces continued their march triumphantly until a village called Las Guasimas was reached on June 24th, 1898, there they met the Spaniards commanded by General Arsenio Linares Pombo, who tried to prepare a scientific battle in order to keep the American and Cuban forces from coming into Santiago. He prepared his defenses with one thousand five hundred men which comprised the following outfits and distributed them thus: Three companies of Porto Rico Provisional Regiment and one of Volunteers on the Siboney Road; two companies on an adjacent hill; three companies of San Fernando regiment; two companies of Engineers. Detachment of volunteers and Battery of Artillery with two guns on another hill and five companies commanded by Colonel Bory in a ranch near by.

The charge was made by the Americans on these positions from the right flank but met with great resistance on the part of the Spaniards. Later on a second attempt was made but proved fruitless like the first, as Major Andre Alcamuz a Spanish officer cut them off with his men and compelled the Americans to make a third effort. This time they were violently attacked by the 7th, 12th and 17th United States Infantry, the 2nd Massachusetts, the 71st New York Infantry, four troops of the 10th Cavalry and eight troops of Roosevelt's Rough Riders. Bloodshed was then at its height and the Spaniards had to escape as best they could with a loss of over 250 killed and seriously wounded. Among these were Captain Jose Lances and 2nd Lieutenant Francisco Las Fortas of the King's Regiment of Cavalry. Las Guasimas was then captured by the Americans and Cubans. Among the American losses was Hamilton Fish, a wealthy New Yorker, who went as a Sergeant in Roosevelt's Rough Riders. He was one of the first men killed. After the battle the Americans camped at Las Guasimas until the 26th of June, 1898, when all the combined forces joined in the march towards San Juan Hill and El Caney, by way of the road to Sevilla.

Battle of El Caney

One of the hardest struggles encountered by the Americans in the siege of Santiago was the capture of El Caney, July 1st, 1898. El Caney is a small village, 3 miles from San Juan Hill and can be seen from the Northeast side of the Spanish blockhouse thereon. The village of El Caney appears to be the only inhabited spot at the foot of these hills, which surround the San Juan territory. There is a fort in El Caney known as El Viso Fort, which occupies a most strategic position at the extreme right of the village. The position of El Viso is like a fortress on the crater of a volcano and is almost impregnable to military assault. This fort was garrisoned by 520 men commanded by General Joaquin Vara del Rey.

The firing opened at El Caney at 6:30 a.m. July 1, 1898, by Battery E, 1st U.S. Artillery, and combined forces commanded by Generals Lawton, Ludlow and Chaffee. In the first attack made by the Americans, the Spaniards defended their positions to perfection, causing the United States forces to fall back with great losses. The Spanish garrison fought like tigers until 12:15 p.m. when General Vara del Rey was shot in both legs in the village and was therefore unable to return to the fort. The firing ceased for a few minutes, but seeing the determination of the Americans, the Spaniards received orders at 2 p.m. to commence retreating from Fort El Viso. When the Spanish forces abandoned the fort they took up positions in the heart of the village where the fire continued under the personal direction of General Vara del Rey, who gave orders from his litter where he lay with his legs broken. With the aid of the artillery under Captain Capron, the fort was shattered to pieces and thus was facilitated to a great extent the capture and surrender of El Caney, which occurred at 3:30 p.m. of the same day, after having been fighting nine hours.

Fort El Viso was garrisoned by some of the bravest soldiers of the Spanish campaign in Cuba, among them Lieut. Col. Juan Punet, Major Rodrigo Aguero, Major Rafael Aragon. Among the dead could be seen the bodies of Major Aguero, Second Lieut. Alfredo Vara del Rey, a nephew of the general and others. I must here state that General Vara del Rey was killed and his body picked up by the Americans was buried with all the honors of his military rank. The Spanish prisoners in this battle were Captain Anton Vara del Rey, brother and adjutant of the general; Captain Isidoro Arias, wounded; Captain Manuel Romero, commandant of El Caney; the civilian telegraph operator, Manuel Romero, wounded, and 23 soldiers. These were returned to the Spanish military governor of Santiago on July 5th, 1898.

American Casualties

8th U.S. Infantry - Killed, 8; died from injuries, 50. 22nd U.S. Infantry - Killed, 13; died from injuries, 20. 2nd Massachusetts Infantry - Killed 9, died from injuries, 85. 1st U.S. Infantry - Died from injuries, 9. 4th U.S. Infantry - Killed, 10; died from injuries, 15. 25th U.S. Infantry - Killed, 8; died from injuries, 13. 3rd Brigade, 7th U.S. Infantry - Killed, 44; died from injuries, 72. 12th U.S. Infantry - Killed, 10; died from injuries, 32. 17th U.S. Infantry - Killed, 13; died from injuries, 19. The Spanish losses were over 450 killed.

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