- Historic Sites
Under Fire In Cuba
A Volunteer’s Eyewitness Account of the War With Spain
December 1977 | Volume 29, Issue 1
The companies ahead of us keep falling out at different places along the road, to do gaurd duty. We meet and pass a regiment of regulars whose place we are about to take. Climbing innumerable hills and strength nearly spent we come to a cleared space on a high hill where four of our feild guns are stationed. There is brush piled up before the guns. We do not want them to know where we are. Passing on we are compelled to go in single file for this path twists and turns up and down and around the side of the mountain like a snake. We go slow to keep from tripping over stones and as we dodge the branch of a poison oak, we frighten enormous mountain crabs who go crawling away; their hard shell making a scraping noise as they hit the stones. At last we come to a level space at the end of the range of hills. Here we lay and rest while we wait for orders. Major Hodgekins and Sergeant came along and together they went down the hill to see where they might best place gaurds. Before long they came back and ordered twelve men with a sergeant to camp near the battery the remainder of the company staid here. Two of the boys were stationed on a large stone near the top of the hill and three of us were sent to the foot of the hill and stationed on a road along which the Spaniards might come if they broke through our lines. We kneeled down in the grass to be clear of sharpshooters and with watches out we waited for the time when the fireing was to commence and as we waited we thought of the comparative strength of the two armies. Spains army numbers twenty-five thousand, ours ten. They can keep us out perhaps a month but they’ve no way of getting supplies so they must either break our lines which nearly surround the city, or starve. The batteries, composed of thirty six field guns, are located on the hills back of the lines, and have the city and their lines in direct range. Of course taking the city is only a question of time; but during that time many lives may have to be sacrificed.
The fireing is begun by a huge gun located on the hills back of us. The shell goes shreiking into the city. A few rifles crack out along the line: Thirty six big guns clear their throats and bark while they belch forth fire and iron destruction and death into Spanish territory: The cracking of twenty thousand rifles adds a little to the noise: Rapid fire guns pop out two-hundred bullets a minute at Spanish heads just showing above the intrenchments: Listen-Sampson, twelve miles away, is letting us know the he is there. As our shells shreik into their city and our bullets whistle gayley around their ears, dont feel sorry for them. Ours are not the only shells that shreik and their bullets are aimed very nicely. The earth trembles from this throbbing pounding load of sound.
Darkness comes on and the fireing slacks somewhat. Three miles north of us we see a mortar gun spit fire and some seconds after, the report comes to us. As the fireing stops, we keep sharp watch along the road. Hark! there is a noise in the bushes at our right. As a sergeant and six men come from the bushes, they run into the muzzles of three rifles and halt. They take our places and we climb the hill. Not so very fast though for the path was a hard one to come down when there was plenty of light and so we get off the trail and stumble around in the cactus vines for an hour before reaching the top. Here several of the boys have spread there blankets while the rest of the company sleep on the side of the hill. We lay down and are soon sleeping soundly.
The fireing starts at day-break and we are ordered to cook breakfast on the side of the hill so they cannot locate us by our fires. San Juan after a rain is very hard to climb; but the only way to get up or down this hill is by hanging on the limb of a tree until a safe resting place for your feet is found.
Those of us who wished to see the fight were ordered to keep well out of sight. At the northwest corner of our hill was a little flat space and here behind the bushes we watched the battle. We might have considered ourselves out of the fight entirely if their shells had not frequently disturbed the quiet atmosphere of our location with a noise that only to well declared its right of way. Little white puffs of smoke from the rifle barrels tolds us when our fellows were working. Shells were bursting both in front and to the rear of our lines. Some of the shots at our batteries were pretty well aimed but most of them speed wide of the mark. What we best enjoyed was watching the shots from our own artillery; especially when one of the shells would go crashing into the roof of a block house; sending splinters flying in the air while the Spaniard would come tumbling out and straightway make for their intrenchments. After cs/ok ing our dinner we came back and watched the fight. It had a fascination for us that could not be withstood. We could see now how the romans could sit calmly in their scats at the Arena while scenes of bloodshed and cruelty were enacted for amusement.