CHAPTER XI. The Campaign Of Santiago De Cuba

In planning the campaign against Santiago, Admiral Sampson wished the army immediately to assault the defenses at the harbor mouth in order to open the way for the navy. General Shafter, however, after conferring with General Garcia, the commander of the insurgents, decided to march overland against the city. The army did not have sufficient small vessels to effect a landing; but the navy came to its assistance, and on the 22d of June the first American troops began to disembark at Daiquiri, though it was not until the 26th that the entire expedition was on shore. On the second day Siboney, which had a better anchorage and was some six miles closer to Santiago, was made the base. From Siboney there stretched for eight or ten miles a rolling country covered with heavy jungle brush and crossed by mere threads of roads. There was indeed a railroad, but this followed a roundabout route by the coast. Through this novel and extremely uncomfortable country, infected with mosquitoes, the troops pressed, eager to meet the enemy.

The first engagement took place at Las Guasimas, on the 24th of June. Here a force of about a thousand dismounted cavalry, partly regulars and partly Rough Riders, defeated nearly twice their number of Spaniards. This was the only serious resistance which the Americans encountered until they reached the advanced defenses of Santiago. The next week they spent in getting supplies ashore, improving the roads, and reconnoitering. The newspapers considered this interval entirely too long! The 30th of June found the Americans confronting the main body of Spaniards in position, and on the 1st of July, the two armies joined battle.

Between the opposing forces was the little river San Juan and its tributaries. The Spanish left wing was at El Caney, supported by a stone blockhouse, rifle pits, and barbed wire, but with no artillery. About four miles away was San Juan Hill, with more formidable works straddling the main road which led to Santiago. Opposite El Caney, General Lawton was in command of about seven thousand Americans. The fight here began at half-past six in the morning, but the American artillery was placed at too great a distance to be very effective. The result was a long and galling exchange of rifle firing, which is apt to prove trying to raw troops. The infantry, however, advanced with persistency and showed marked personal initiative as they pushed forward under such protection as the brush and grass afforded until they finally rushed a position which gave opportunity to the artillery. After this they speedily captured the blockhouse.

The fight lasted over eight hours instead of two, as had been expected, and thus delayed General Lawton, who was looked for at San Juan by the American left. The losses, too, were heavy, the total casualties amounting to seven per cent of the force engaged. The Americans, however, had gained the position, and after a battle which had been long and serious enough to test thoroughly the quality of the personnel of the army. Whatever deficiencies the Americans may have had in organization, training, and military education, they undoubtedly possessed fighting spirit, courage, and personal ingenuity, and these are, after all, the qualities for which builders of armies look.

The battle of El Caney was perhaps unnecessary, for the position lay outside the main Spanish line anal would probably have been abandoned when San Juan fell. For that more critical movement General Shafter kept about eight thousand troops and the personal command. Both he and General Wheeler, however, were suffering from the climate and were unable to be with the troops. The problem of making a concerted advance through the thick underbrush was a difficult one, and the disposition of the American troops was at once revealed by a battery of artillery which used black powder, and by a captive balloon which was injudiciously towed about.

The right wing here, after assuming an exposed position, was unable to act, as Lawton, by whom it was expecting to be reinforced, was delayed at El Caney. The advance regiments were under the fire of the artillery, the infantry, and the skillful sharpshooters of an invisible enemy and were also exposed to the fierce heat of the sun, to which they were unaccustomed. The wounded were carried back on litters, turned over to the surgeons, who worked manfully with the scantiest of equipment, and were then laid, often naked except for their bandages, upon the damp ground. Regiment blocked regiment in the narrow road, and officers carrying orders were again and again struck, as they emerged from cover, by the sharpshooters' fire. The want of means of communication paralyzed the command, for all the equipment of a modern army was lacking: there were no aeroplanes, no wireless stations, no telephones.

Throughout the morning the situation grew worse, but the nerve of the men did not give way, and American individual initiative rose to the boiling point. Realizing that safety lay only in advance, the officers on the spot began to take control. General Hawkins, with the Sixth and Sixteenth Regulars, advanced against the main blockhouse, which crested a slope of two hundred feet, and the men of the Seventy-first New York Volunteers joined promiscuously in the charge.

To the right rose Kettle Hill, jutting out and Banking the approach to the main position. Facing it and dismounted were the First and Ninth Regular Cavalry, the latter a negro regiment, and the Rough Riders under Colonel Roosevelt. The Tenth Infantry was between the two wings, and divided in the support of both. A battery of Gatling guns was placed in position. The Americans steadily advanced in an irregular line, though kept in some sort of formation by their officers. Breaking down brush and barbed wire and sheltering themselves in the high grass, the men on the right wing worked their way up Kettle Hill, but before they reached the rifle pits of the enemy, they saw the Spaniards retreating on the run. The audacity of the Americans at the critical moment had insured the ultimate success of their attack and they found the final capture of the hill easy.

The longer charge against the center of the enemy was in the meantime being pressed home, under the gallant leadership of General Hawkins, who at times was far in advance of his line. The men of the right wing who looked down from their new position on Kettle Hill, a quarter of a mile distant, saw the Spaniards give way and the American center dash forward. In order to support this advance movement, the Gatlings were brought to Kettle Hill, and General S.S. Sumner and Colonel Roosevelt led their men down Kettle and up San Juan Hill, where they swept over the northern jut only a moment after Hawkins had carried the main blockhouse.

The San Juan position now in the hands of the Americans was the key of Santiago, but that entrenched city lay a mile and a quarter distant and had still to be unlocked - a task which presented no little difficulty. The Americans, it is true, had an advantageous position on a hilltop, but the enemy had retired only a quarter of a mile and were supported by the complete system of fortifications which protected Santiago. The American losses totaled fifteen hundred, a number just about made good at this moment by the arrival of General Duffield's brigade, which had followed the main expedition. The number of the Spanish force, which was unknown to the Americans, was increased on the 3d of July by the arrival of a relief expedition under Colonel Escario, with about four thousand men whom the insurgent forces had failed to meet and block, as had been planned.

On the 2d of July there was desultory fighting, and on the 3d, General Shafter telegraphed to the Secretary of War that he was considering the withdrawal of his troops to a strong position, about five miles in the rear. The Secretary immediately replied: "Of course you can judge the situation better than we can at this end of the line. If, however, you could hold your present position, especially San Juan Heights, the effect upon the country would be much better than falling back."

The Spanish commanders, however, did not share General Shafter's view as to the danger involving the Americans. Both Admiral Cervera and General Blanco considered that the joint operations of the American Army and Navy had rendered the reduction of Santiago only a question of time, but they differed as to the course to be pursued. In the end, General Blanco, who was in supreme command, decided, after an exchange of views with the Spanish Government and a consultation with the Captain of the German cruiser Geier, then at Havana, to order the Spanish squadron to attempt an escape from Santiago harbor. Cervera's sailors had hitherto been employed in the defense of the city, but with the arrival of the reinforcements under Escario he found it possible to reman his fleet. An attempt to escape in the dark seemed impossible because of the unremitting glare of the searchlights of the American vessels. Cervera determined upon the desperate expedient of steaming out in broad daylight and making for Cienfuegos.

The blockade systematically planned by Admiral Sampson was conducted with a high degree of efficiency. Each American ship had its definite place and its particular duty. When vessels were obliged to coal at Guantanamo, forty miles distant, the next in line covered the cruising interval. The American combined squadron was about double Cervera's in strength; his ships, however, were supposed to have the advantage in speed, and it was conceivable that, by turning sharply to the one side or the other, they might elude the blockading force. On the very day that Cervera made his desperate dash out of the harbor, as it happened, the New York, Admiral Sampson's flagship, was out of line, taking the Admiral to a conference with General Shafter at Siboney, a few miles to the eastward. The absence of the flagship, however, in no way weakened the blockade, for, if Cervera turned westward he would find the squadron of Schley and the other vessels designated to prevent his escape in that direction, while if he turned eastward he would almost at once be engaged with the New York, which would then be in an advantageous position ahead of the chase.

At half-past nine on the morning of the 3d of July, the first vessel of the Spanish fleet emerged from Santiago Harbor. By 10:10 A.M. all the Spanish ships were outside of the harbor mouth. Commodore Schley, on the Brooklyn, hoisted the signal to "close up," apparently on the understanding that Sampson's signal on leaving for Siboney to "Disregard motions of the commander-in-chief" had delegated the command to him. Though this question of command later involved a bitter dispute, it was at the time of little moment, for clouds of smoke obscured the signals so frequently that no complicated maneuver could have been guided by them, and, as far as concerted action was concerned, the whole squadron was under exactly similar contingent orders from Admiral Sampson. As a matter of fact, the thing to do was so obvious that the subsequent dispute really raged on the point of who actually gave an order, the sense of which every one of the commanders would have executed without order. If, therefore, the layman feels some annoyance at such a controversy over naval red tape, he may have the consolation of knowing that all concerned, admirals and captains, did the right and sensible thing at the time. If there be an exception, it was the curious maneuver of Schley, the commander of the Brooklyn, who turned a complete circle away from the enemy after the battle had begun. This action of his was certainly not due to a desire to escape, for the Brooklyn quickly turned again into the fight. A controversy, too, has raged over this maneuver. Was it undertaken because the Brooklyn was about to be rammed by the Vizcaya, or because Schley thought that his position blocked the fire of the other American vessels? It is not unlikely that the commander of the Spanish ship hoped to ram the Brooklyn, which was, because of her speed, a most redoubtable foe. But unless this maneuver saved the Brooklyn, it had little result except to scare the Texas, upon whom she suddenly bore down out of a dense cloud of smoke.

Steering westward, the Spanish ships attempted to pass the battle line, but the American vessels kept pace with them. For a short time the engagement was very severe, for practically all vessels of both fleets took part, and the Spanish harbor batteries added their fire. At 10:15 A.M. the Maria Teresa, Admiral Cervera's flagship, on fire and badly shattered by heavy shells, turned toward the beach. Five minutes later the Oquendo, after something of a duel with the Texas, also turned inshore. The Brooklyn was in the lead of the Americans, closely followed by the Oregon, which developed a wonderful burst of speed in excess of that called for in her contract. These two ships kept up the chase of the Vizcaya and the Cristobal Colon, while the slower vessels of the fleet attended to the two Spanish destroyers, Furor and Pluton. At 11:15 A.M. the Vizcaya, riddled by fire from the Brooklyn and Oregon, gave up the fight.

By this time, Sampson in the New York was rapidly approaching the fight, and now ordered the majority of the vessels back to their stations. The Colon, fleeing westward and far ahead of the American ships, was pursued by the Brooklyn, the Oregon, the Texas, the New York, and the armed yacht Vixen. It was a stern chase, although the American vessels had some advantage by cutting across a slight concave indentation of the coast, while the Colon steamed close inshore. At 1:15 P.M. a shot from the Oregon struck ahead of the Colon, and it was evident that she was covered by the American guns. At 1:30 P.M. she gave over her flight and made for shore some forty-five miles west of Santiago. The victory was won. It has often been the good fortune of Americans to secure their greatest victories on patriotic anniversaries and thereby to enhance the psychological effect. Admiral Sampson was able to announce to the American people, as a Fourth of July present, the destruction of the Spanish fleet with the loss of but one of his men and but slight damage to his ships.

On the hills above Santiago the American Army had now only the land forces of the Spaniards to contend with. Shafter's demand for unconditional surrender met with a refusal, and there ensued a week of military quiet. During this time General Shafter conducted a correspondence with the War Department, in judging which it is charitable to remember that the American commander weighed three hundred pounds, that he was sweltering under a hot sun, and that he was sixty-three years old, and sick. Too humane to bombard Santiago while Hobson and his men were still in Spanish hands, he could not forgive Sampson for not having forced the narrow and well-mined channel at the risk of his fleet. The War Department, sharing Shafter's indignation, prepared to attempt the entrance with one of its own transports protected by baled hay, as had been done on the Mississippi during the Civil War. Shafter continued to be alarmed at the situation. Without reenforcements he could not attack, and he proposed to allow the Spaniards to evacuate. The War Department forbade this alternative and, on the 10th of July, he began the bombardment of Santiago.

The Secretary of War then hit upon the really happy though quite unmilitary device of offering, in return for unconditional surrender, to transport the Spanish troops, at once and without parole, back to their own country. Secretary Alger was no unskillful politician, and he was right in believing that this device, though unconventional, would make a strong appeal to an army three years away from home and with dwindling hopes of ever seeing Spain again. On the 15th of July a capitulation was agreed upon, and the terms of surrender included not only the troops in Santiago but all those in that military district - about twenty-four thousand men, with cannon, rifles, ammunition, rations, and other military supplies. Shafter's recommendation that the troops be allowed to carry their arms back to Spain with them was properly refused by the War Department. Arrangements were made for Spanish ships paid by the United States to take the men immediately to Spain. This extraordinary operation was begun on the 8th of August, while the war was still in progress, and was accomplished before peace was established.

The Santiago campaign, like the Mexican War, was fought chiefly by regulars. The Rough Riders and the Seventy-first New York Regiment were the only volunteer units to take a heavy share. Yet the absence of effective staff management was so marked that, as compared with the professional accuracy shown by the navy, the whole campaign on land appears as an amateur undertaking. But the individual character of both volunteers and regulars was high. The American victory was fundamentally due to the fighting spirit of the men and to the individual initiative of the line and field officers.

In the meantime the health of the American Army was causing grave concern to its more observant leaders. Six weeks of Cuban climate had taken out of the army all that exuberant energy which it had brought with it from the north. The army had accomplished its purpose only at the complete sacrifice of its fighting strength. Had the Spanish commander possessed more nerve and held out a little longer, he might well have seen his victorious enemies wither before his eyes, as the British had before Cartagena in 1741. On the 3d of August a large number of the officers of the Santiago army, including Generals Wheeler, Sumner, and Lawton, and Colonel Roosevelt, addressed a round robin to General Shafter on the alarming condition of the army. Its substance is indicated in the following sentences: "This army must be moved at once or it will perish. As an army it can be safely moved now. Persons responsible for preventing such a move will be responsible for the unnecessary loss of many thousands of lives." Already on the 1st of August, General Shafter had reported 4255 sick, of whom 3164 were cases of yellow fever, that deadly curse of Cuba, which the lack of proper quarantine had so often allowed to invade the shores of the United States. On the 3d of August, even before General Shafter had received the round robin, the Secretary of War authorized the withdrawal of at least a portion of the army, which was to be replaced by supposedly immune regiments. By the middle of August, the soldiers began to arrive at Camp Wikoff at Montauk Point, on the eastern end of Long Island. Through this camp, which had been hastily put into condition to receive them, there passed about thirty-five thousand soldiers, of whom twenty thousand were sick. When the public saw those who a few weeks before had been healthy and rollicking American boys, now mere skeletons, borne helpless in stretchers and looking old and shriveled, a wave of righteous indignation against Secretary Alger swept over the country, and eventually accomplished enough to prevent such catastrophes in the future.

The distressing experience of the army was too real not to have its constructive effect. Men like William Crawford Gorgas were inspired to study the sanitation and the diseases of the tropics and have now made it possible for white men to live there safely. Men of affairs like Elihu Root were stimulated to give their talents to army administration. Fortunately the boys were brought north just in time to save their lives, and the majority, after a recuperation of two or three years, regained their normal health.

The primary responsibility for this gamble with death rested with those who sent an expedition from the United States to the tropics in midsummer when the measures necessary to safeguard its health were not yet known. This responsibility rested immediately upon the American people themselves, all too eager for a war for which they were not prepared and for a speedy victory at all costs. For this national impatience they had to pay dearly. The striking contrast, however, between the efficiency of the navy and the lack of preparation on the part of the army shows that the people as a whole would have supported a more thorough preparation of the army, had the responsible officials possessed sufficient courage and intelligence to have demanded it; nor would the people have been unwilling to defer victory until autumn, had they been honestly informed of the danger of tropical disease into which they were sending the flower of their youth. Such a postponement would not only have meant better weather but it would have given time to teach the new officers their duty in safeguarding the health of their men as far as possible, and this precaution alone would have saved many lives. Owing to the greater practical experience of the officers in the regular regiments, the death rate among the men in their ranks fell far below that among the volunteers, even though many of the men with the regulars had enlisted after the declaration of war. On the other hand, speed as well as sanitation was an element in the war, and the soldier who was sacrificed to lack of preparation may be said to have served his country no less than he who died in battle. Strategy and diplomacy in this instance were enormously facilitated by the immediate invasion of Cuba, and perhaps the outcome justified the cost. The question of relative values is a difficult one.

No such equation of values, however, can hold the judgment in suspense in the case of the host of secondary errors that grew out of the indolence of Secretary Alger and his worship of politics. Probably General Miles was mistaken in his charges concerning embalmed beef, and possibly the canned beef was not so bad as it tasted; but there can be no excuse for a Secretary of War who did not consider it his business to investigate the question of proper rations for an army in the tropics simply because Congress had, years before, fixed a ration for use within the United States. There was no excuse for sending many of the men clad in heavy army woolens. There was no excuse for not providing a sufficient number of surgeons and abundant hospital service. There was little excuse for the appointment of General Shafter, which was made in part for political reasons. There was no excuse for keeping at the head of the army administration General Nelson A. Miles, with whom, whatever his abilities, the Secretary of War was unable to work.

The navy did not escape controversy. In fact, a war fought under the eyes of hundreds of uncensored newspaper correspondents unskilled in military affairs could not fail to supply a daily grist of scandal to an appreciative public. The controversy between Sampson and Schley, however, grew out of incompatible personalities stirred to rivalry by indiscreet friends and a quarrelsome public. Captain Sampson was chosen to command, and properly so, because of his recognized abilities. Commodore Schley, a genial and open-hearted man, too much given to impulse, though he outranked Sampson, was put under his command. Sampson was not gracious in his treatment of the Commodore, and ill feeling resulted. When the time came to promote both officers for their good conduct, Secretary Long by recommending that Sampson be raised eight numbers and Schley six, reversed their relative positions as they had been before the war. This recommendation, in itself proper, was sustained by the Senate, and all the vitality the controversy ever had then disappeared, though it remains a bone of contention to be gnawed by biographers and historians.