- Historic Sites
Under Fire In Cuba
A Volunteer’s Eyewitness Account of the War With Spain
December 1977 | Volume 29, Issue 1
Now our attention was called to the 33d [another Michigan regiment, which had arrived in Cuba earlier]. They were on shore and we could just see them as they lined up and boarded, apparently, a work train which soon pulled out and was lost to our view behind some trees and a slight raise in the ground.
On hearing that a march inland was to be taken as soon as shore was reached, our packs were rolled with the utmost care. Our guns were then given us and we stood on deck packs, guns and all waiting impatiently to land.
Siboney is not a large town. On one side of its only street is a row of houses and on the other an old mill which has been used for something sometime. The whole reminded me of pictures I had seen in the bible. The houses are plaster with thatched roofs while the trees and plants are principally palms and cactus. It is situated fifteen miles east of Santiago between cliffs seventy-five feet high and the ocean. The tropical birds that were circling around above the cliffs were vultures. What we didn’t like about those birds was that our future relations with them were undecided. We didnt know whether we would be compelled to eat them or whether they might have the chance of eating us. Neither of the prospects being very pleasant to think about very long at a time.
This morning we were divided into groups of six men each and the groups were called mess-gangs. The division was made to enable us to carry our grub to more advantage. One man was supposed to carry a can of beans, another beef and so on. You see we expected we were to have something to eat.…
The unloading had been going on now for a couple of hours and it was now nearly time for our company to start.… Some of our company were getting into the smaller boats. Steps were let down the side of the Harvard to the water line and as a wave would raise the smaller boat near to the steps one of us would jump and by careful aim would land inside. These boats held about twenty men beside the crew. As we got into the life boats, the fellows who had been made sick by the slow rise and fall of the Harvard seemed to get new life from the sharp and jerky motion of the small boat and those who had not been sick seemed to be anxious to get to shore. These fellows amused themselves by feeding the fish. While getting out Art Scott had his finger smashed between the boat and dock. A couple of days later he was sent on board a hospital ship for treatment. Cuban soldiers were gaurding supplies on shore and American soldiers were gaurding the Cubans.
We formed company; crossed a small Creek and marched through Siboney. Naked children were playing everywhere. Women, whose skin was the color of axel grease, stood around in crowds. A Cuban Cavalary man was bidding his friends good bye. He sat proudly on a horse four feet high, the same in length and a foot wide. This horses front legs were knock-kneed and he was bowlegged in the rear.
On the other side of the town, we lined up and threw our rolls. As soon as this was done some of us hurried back to a stand we had seen. Afterwards we found out that these fellows were selling supplies that were to be given the sick. To make things appear right they would sell you nothing unless you had a written order from your captain. Some of the boys bought lime juice. By pouring a teaspoonf ul into a canteen of water you had a drink like lemonade without sugar. On our return we saw the first Michigan boy killed in battle. He was a 33d man killed by a shell at Aquadores. In the joy of being on land again and of being able to get a little something good to eat, we had forgotten for the moment that our mission here was to take and sacrifice life. We followed the body in respectfull silience until it was laid in the hospital.
The shore west of the landing is coral rock. This, as to fineness of grain and color resembles slate-stone, differing from it in its hardness. The surface resembled a great sponge and as some of the holes were filled with water, a number of us used them for bathtubs. Sitting on a stone sponge in a condition fit for taking a bath is in its most pleasureable moments not comfortable; but by taking our clothes off before our shoes and then sitting on the clothes to take off our shoes we mastered the difficulty. Some of the boys went in at the landing where there was a good beach but the force of the breakers made it to tiresome to be called amusement. After putting up tents we had supper. Some of our mess gang had bought canned peaches and salmon and you can imagine that we relished them after having no dinner and considerable exercise.
Just before supper the 33d came rolling in on oar cars from their fight at Aquadores. They seemed very glad to get back and told “scarey” stories of how it felt to be under fire. They had got as far as the bridge over San Juan River and as the Spaniards had their guns trained on it, Brigadier General Duffeild ordered a hault and there they had been all day: not being able to shoot for the rail-road before the bridge ran through a deep cut and not daring to go ahead for the orders to that effect were not forthcomming. This was the story of a man who was brave enough to say he would rather be at home than under fire.