Military Times NOW hosts the HomeOfHeroes  Awards & Citations Database

 

Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado

Cienfuegos

Prior to World War I, most Medal of Honor citations were brief and usually only one or two sentences, as was the case with Franz Itrich.  Ten days after Admiral Dewey defeated Spain's pacific fleet in Manila, near Cienfuegos, Cuba in the Caribbean, 52 sailors and Marines from two separate ships earned Medals of Honor.  Only three other times in the Medal's history has it been awarded so many times for actions in a single incident, on a single day.   Prior to the May 11th, 1898 action at Cienfuegos, only 25 Marines had earned Medals of Honor.  On this day alone, TWELVE would earn their Nation's highest award for valor.  It was a single-day feat that would remain unmatched in Marine Corps history.

The citations for all 52 heroes are almost identical, two sentences.  The first sentence gives the place, date, and the ship on which each hero served.  The second sentence describes the heroism for which it was awarded.  Each citation simply reads:

 

On board the (U.S.S. Nashville or U.S.S. Marblehead) during the cutting of the cable leading from Cienfuegos, Cuba, 11 May 1898.  Facing the heavy fire of the enemy, he set an example of extraordinary bravery and coolness throughout this action.

The simple language of these citations tends to make them pale in comparison to other, contemporary acts of courage, especially in light of the common concept that many early Medals of Honor were given for rather mundane acts.  The simple fact, however, that more Marines earned Medals of Honor on this day than in any other single day of military action in the Corps' history, should give one cause to take a closer look.  

 

While Admiral Dewey was busy destroying the Spanish fleet in Manila, American naval forces in the Caribbean were busy creating a "wall" around the island of Cuba to maintain the blockade the President ordered on April 21st.  Quickly moving out of Key West, the ships assigned to the blockade arrived the following morning, quickly capturing the Spanish merchant steamers Bonaventure and Pedro.  While the New York, the Indiana, and the Iowa remained near Havana, other US warships began patrolling the waters elsewhere around the island.  On April 24th the Spanish merchant steamers Catalina and Miguel Iover were taken, and the following day two more Spanish merchant ships were captured.

On April 26th the Spanish made their first successful breach of the American blockade when the Spanish liner Montserrat successfully entered the harbor at Cienfuegos to unload a detachment of troops and a cargo of supplies.  Ten days later the Montserrat again breached the blockade, successfully departing Cienfuegos to return unmolested to Spain.

Cienfuegos was a busy port town on the southern coast of the Island of Cuba, almost directly opposite Havana.  The US Naval warships U.S.S. Marblehead and U.S.S. Nashville carefully patrolled the waters on the southern coastline, hence the two vessels were operating near the site of the only breach in the American blockade.  Both ships began taking a closer look at Cienfuegos.

In addition to the Spanish Troops garrisoned at Cienfuegos, the harbor entrance was protected by a large lighthouse.  Cienfuegos was a well defended port.  It was also a military target.  On May 10th Captain B.H. McCalla of the Marblehead located the cables that connected the troops at Cienfuegos with the rest of the world.  These were large undersea cables that ran from the Spanish headquarters to transmit communications to and from Havana and Spain.  Realizing the value of isolating the Spanish soldiers in Cienfuegos by cutting off their communications, Captain McCalla designed a daring, and almost disastrous, plan of action.

 

MAY 10, 1898

As evening fell across the Caribbean, Captain McCalla began speaking to his men aboard the U.S.S. Marblehead.  Nearby, on the U.S.S. Nashville, Captain Maynard was giving a similar message to his own sailors and Marines.  Briefly, each of the commanders outlined the daring plot to isolate the enemy soldiers stationed at Cienfuegos.  "Tomorrow morning," Capatin McCalla told his men, "parties from the Marblehead and the Nashville will enter the bay in small boats, to dredge up and cut the communications cables running out of Cienfuegos."  

The operation would have to be performed close to shore, directly under the guns of the enemy soldiers garrisoned at Cienfuegos.  It was not typical Naval duty.  In fact, to the Captain's knowledge, such a mission had never been attempted before and may in fact, not even be successful.  

Herman Kuchmeister

The men of the Marblehead listened eagerly to the Captain's plan.  When McCalla finished laying it out, he asked for volunteers.  Despite the danger, he was met with an eager response from several of his seamen and Marines.  Twenty-one year old Marine Private Herman Kuchneister was one of those to offer his services.  At first, according to later accounts by Kuchneister, Captain McCalla refused to include the young German immigrant in the group.  Because of the great danger the mission posed, McCalla felt Kuchneister was too young.  The Marines of the two ships would accompany the small boats to draw enemy fire away from, and to provide cover fire for, the sailors who would dredge up and cut the cables.  The eager private reminded his captain that he was among the best riflemen aboard ship, "having won a sharpshooters medal for the best score in target practice."  Captain McCalla took note of Kuchneister's argument and finally consented to add him to the group of volunteers.  

All the men were excited.  After weeks at sea with little to do, the prospect of action was well received.  At the same time, few if any of the sailors and Marines in the volunteer group had ever heard a shot fired in anger or tasted the fear of confrontation with the enemy.   "That night as I spread my hammock out,"  Private Kuchneister later said, "I thought, 'Would I be on board the following night or would I be resting at the bottom of the sea'."

Austin Durney

 

The crews of both ships were up before dawn the following day, the men of the cable cutting crews anxiously finishing their breakfast of coffee and hardtack, then quickly assembling their weapons and gear for the unusual mission.  "Cable cutting was something new to all of us and I did not know just how to manage it," Blacksmith Austin Durney of the U.S.S. Nashville later said.  "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."  

 

At 5:00 A.M. the parties launched from both warships.  Ensign Magruder of the Nashville commanded a steam launch to drop the smaller sailing boats inside the harbor, then pulled his launch back to a position 150-200 yards off shore to give covering fire if needed.  Overall command of the operation was under the leadership of Lieutenant Camberon Winslow and his second in command, Lieutenant Anderson.  The Marine sharpshooters and guards were under the leadership of Sergeant Philip Gaughan of the Nashville, and each of the cable cutting boats carried a blacksmith, Durney from the Nashville and Joseph Carter from the Marblehead.  It was these two men who would carry primary responsibility for finding a way to hack or cut through the communications cables.

The waters of the harbor were rough as the small boats began moving towards the shoreline.  Near the lighthouse, large rocks could be seen protruding dangerously close to the area where the boats would have to work.  To add to the dangerous task, the men could see mines floating in the water beneath them, mines that could be detonated by the enemy on shore from a small switch house.  As the cable cutting crews moved closer to the shoreline, the big guns of the Marblehead and Nashville began pounding the enemy positions.

At first the Spanish soldiers held their fire, assuming according to Austin Durney's later reports, that the Americans were bent on landing on the beach.  Then the men of the Spanish garrison noticed the sailors in the cable cutting boats dropping grappling hooks to dredge up the cables, and realized what was happening.   From the heights of the cliffs overlooking the harbor, the enemy began to fire with great ferocity.

In his boat, Kuchneister and the other Marines saw a group of 9 enemy soldiers sprinting for the switch house.  If they reached it, they could begin detonating the mines throughout the harbor.  The Marines laid down a deadly fire, dropping all 9 enemy soldiers.  Then they turned their two machineguns and their 1-pound gun on the small shack itself, leveling it.

Shells from the large guns of the Spanish fortifications began to rain over the harbor, raising geysers of water and adding tumult to the already rough seas.  In Durney's boat the men struggled to lift the first cable over the bow, and the blacksmith began trying to cut through it.  "As soon as I got hold of the cable," he said, "I discovered that the only practical tool was a hack-saw."  Durney's small boat was less than 15 yards from shore as he set to his task.  Enemy fire rained over his head, some small arms fire striking the boat.  Additional and accurate fire began striking the boat from the lighthouse.  While the warships and the Marines turned their fire on it, Durney continued his work.  Nearby, Seaman Robert Volz was wounded four different times.  

For more than an hour the small boats with their crews of brave young sailors and Marines endured the dangerous waters, the ever present mines, the crash of large rounds, and small arms fire, to continue their task.  Seaman Harry Hendrickson was shot in the liver and given up for dead.  Lieutenant Winslow was wounded in the hand.  John Davis took a round to his right leg, and Marine Private Patrick Regan appeared to have been fatally wounded.  

In Kuchneiser's boat, small arms fire began poking holes in the thin wood sides below the waterline.  As quickly as a hole sprouted, the Marines would plug it with one of their bullets, then continue to return fire.   Kuchneister noted what appeared to be "the whole Santa Clara Regiment advanced in company, as on parade."  The enemy force was far too great to continue, but the Marines stayed their position to render cover fire for the sailors cutting through the cables.  "Large shells dropped around us, nearly lifting us out of the water.  Shells from our own ship and the Spanish batteries passed over head."  On the U.S.S. Nashville, sailors who had not been selected for the mission continued to man the ship's big guns to cover their comrades.  Aboard the Nashville, Captain Maynard was wounded and First Lieutenant Albert C. Dillingham took command.  

Finally, one of the cables was cut through.  The shore end was dropped in place and one of the boats from the Marblehead towed the other end out to sea where it was dropped after another large section of cable was removed to make it harder to repair.  The enemy fire continued to intensify.  A flurry of small arms fire began striking Kuchneiser's boat anew.  One round struck the left side of Private Kuchneiser's face, followed by a second round that shattered his jaw and teeth and cut away a section of his tongue.   The second round exited behind his ear, within a sixteenth of an inch of the jugular vein.  Kuchneister was among those given up for dead.

Finally, the second cable was cut.  A remaining smaller cable on the shore would have to be ignored.  The badly battered sailors and Marines, in small boats barely able to remain afloat, turned to return to their warships.  As they fought the seas, the enemy began finding their range.  Large shells dropped closer and closer to the small sailing ships.  For a few minutes, it looked as if all of the volunteers would be lost.

In the distance Lieutenant Dillingham turned the Nashville towards the shore, steaming ahead and then turning again to place his warship between the enemy on the shore and the retreating smaller boats of the cable cutting crews and their Marine guards.  It was a bold act, exposing his ship to intense enemy fire, but for the badly battered volunteers, it meant the difference between life and death.

The wounded were quickly taken aboard the warships for medical care.  Many of the men had suffered wounds, several of them repeated wounds, and at least three were critical or fatal.  Kuchneister later said, "The only thing I remembered after being brought aboard ship is that I insisted that I was able to walk to the operating table.  As I lain in the Captains cabin, it came to me if I died it was for my country and a glorious cause."  Kuchneister would survive after two years in Naval hospitals and 5 operations.  

All 52 men, 26 from each of the Marblehead and the Nashville, were subseuently awarded Medals of Honor.  

Cable Cutting Volunteers
Who received Medals Of Honor

Benjamin Baker

Austin Durney

Hermann Kuchneister

William Meyer

Gustav Sundquist

U.S.S. Marblehead

 

U.S.S. Nashville

Navy

Bennett, James (US Navy)
Carter, Joseph (US Navy)
Chadwick, Leonard (US Navy)
Davis, John (US Navy)
Doran, John (US Navy)
Erickson, Nicholas (US Navy)
Foss, Herbert (US Navy)
Gill, Freeman (US Navy)
Hart, William (US Navy)
Hendrickson, Henry (US Navy)
Johanson, John (US Navy)
Kramer, Franz (US Navy)
Levery, William (US Navy)
Mager, George (US Navy)
Maxwell, John (US Navy)
Oakley, William (US Navy)
Olsen, Anton (US Navy)
Russell, Henry (US Navy)
Vadas, Albert (US Navy)
Wilke, Julius (US Navy)
Williams, Frank (US Navy)

Marines

Campbell, Daniel (USMC)
Kuchneister, Hermann (USMC)
Meredith, James (USMC)
Sullivan, Edward (USMC)
West, Walter (USMC)

Navy

Baker, Benjamin (US Navy)
Barrow, David (US Navy)
Beyer, Albert (US Navy)
Blume, Robert (US Navy)
Bright, George (US Navy)
Durney, Austin (US Navy)
Eglit, John (US Navy)
Gibbons, Michael (US Navy)
Hoban, Thomas (US Navy)
Johansson, Johan (US Navy)
Krause, Ernest (US Navy)
Meyer, William (US Navy)
Miller, Harry (US Navy)
Miller, Willard (US Navy)
Nelson, Lauritz (US Navy)
Riley, John (US Navy)
Sundquist, Gustav (US Navy)
Van Etten, Hudson (US Navy)
Volz , Robert (US Navy)

Marines

Field, Oscar (USMC)
Franklin, Joseph (USMC)
Gaughan, Philip (USMC)
Hill, Frank (USMC)
Kearney, Michael (USMC)
Parker, Pomeroy (USMC)
Scott, Joseph (USMC)

As Naval officers, Ensign Magruder and Lieutenants Winslow and Anderson were not eligible for award of the Medal of Honor.  Some Naval records list the name Marine Private Patrick Regan as participating in the cable cutting party and being fatally wounded.  The name of Mr. Regan does not appear in the list of 52 Medals of Honor subsequently awarded, however Herman Kuchneister's account of the actions that day indicate that that one man in his boat was killed.  Amid sometimes conflicting accounts of the casualties, one fact remained...in the heroic actions at Cienfuegos on May 11, 1898 the United States suffered it first major casualties of the Spanish-American war, while young sailors and Marines performed their duties with dedication and honor in the face of incredible resistance.

Further north, on that same fateful day, other sailors and Marines would face a similar test.

 

 

Torpedo boats were among the smaller and more popular of the U.S. Navy's assets as warfare at sea prepared for the 20th century.  Only lightly armored, they could move with speed and daring, often entering waters too shallow for larger war ships.  One of the torpedo boats operating on the northern coast of Cuba was the U.S.S. Winslow.  With a crew of 25 under the command of Lieutenant J.B. Bernadou, the Winslow was ordered to the harbor at Cardenas and arrived about 9 A.M.

At Cardenas the Winslow joined a small fleet led by the U.S.S. Wilmington under the command of Captain Todd.  In addition to these, the flotilla also included  the cruiser Machias, the revenue cutter Hudson, and the Winslow's sister ship, the torpedo boat Foote.

Captain Todd knew that three small Spanish gunboats were stationed in Cardenas Harbor, and elected to enter the harbor to capture them on May 11th.  The narrow channel into the harbor would not permit the passage of the Machias, so the cruiser was assigned the task of attacking the nearby signal station at Caya Diana.  It was a quick and highly successful engagement, the guards at the station abandoning their position and an armed boat from the Machias hoisting the American flag from the station's mast.

Meanwhile the Wilmington prepared to enter the harbor.  Captain Todd placed a Cuban pilot aboard the Winslow as the torpedo boat and the Hudson began a sweep of the channel for mines.  The Hudson struggled in the shallow waters, at one point becoming temporarily grounded.  Lieutenant Bernadou continued about his tasks, completing the sweep shortly before noon.  The worst was about to come. 

 Cardenas Harbor
May 11, 1898

At 12:30 the high tide was running, and the Wilmington began its entrance at Cardenas, the Hudson on the starboard side, and the Winslow to port.   As the ships entered, the torpedo boat and the revenue cutter scanned the respective western and eastern sides of the harbor for any effort by the enemy gunboats to escape.  None of the three ships saw any sign of the enemy.

Captain Todd's warships pulled closer together as they neared the city of Cardenas.  From a distance of 1,500 yards Todd had seen a small enemy gunboat moored at the wharf near the city.  With shouted commands across the waters, Lieutenant Bernadou was ordered to take his small torpedo boat closer to investigate.

As the Winslow approached the wharf, a gun roared from the enemy gunboat.  The round flew high over the Winslow and the sailors aboard released a sigh of relief.  Suddenly, the water around the torpedo boat was peppered with incoming rounds and the sounds of explosions ripped through the afternoon air.  The first shot from the enemy gunboat had been a signal.  All along the beach the enemy began firing on the Winslow from concealed positions.  The fusillade was devastating, Lieutenant Bernadou taking a hit in the left thigh to become one of the first to be wounded.

The Winslow itself was taking heavy damage as well.  The first round that pierced her side destroyed her steam and hand-steering gear.  Chief Machinist Hans Johnsen took note of the rapidly escaping steam and, despite the very real danger of a horrible death by its intense heat, struggled to shut off and contain the escaping steam.  On deck the 25 men of the Winslow did their best to return fire and also to control their now floundering torpedo boat.  Chief Gunner's Mate George Brady alternated between keeping his guns firing, and risking his life to try and repair the steering gear, all the while under continued enemy fire.  Below, Chief Machinist Thomas Cooney braved the menace wrought by the enemy gunfire to extinguish the fires near the boiler, and thus keep the tubes from burning out.

 

George Brady
Thomas Cooney
Hans Johnsen

For their courage under fire, and their strict adherence to the tasks at hand, all three men would be subsequently awarded Medals Of Honor.  

 

Another enemy round tore through the side of the Winslow, destroying one of the engines.  The remaining engine continued to operate, causing the small vessel to turn broadside the the enemy fire.  The Winslow was almost totally helpless.  Lieutenant Bernadou ignored his own wound to encourage his 1-pound guns to maintain resistance, and then signal the Hudson.  Under fire from the nearby Wilmington, the enemy fire began to abate and the Hudson bravely approached the stricken Winslow.  Bernadou  began employing his single, functioning engine to alternately back up and then steam ahead rapidly to begin moving his stricken ship.  To facilitate the necessary actions and to monitor the ships forward progress, Bernadou turned to Ensign Bagley.

Bagley's important role required him to make repeated short trips from the deck to the engine room hatch, where he could alternately observe, then shout orders to those below.  Only a skeleton crew worked below, many of the men being sent to the deck.  A group of them were standing near the starboard gun as Ensign Bagley moved past to continue his coordination of the ships movement.  Suddenly an enemy shell struck nearby, peppering all with deadly shrapnel.   Two sailors were instantly killed, two more would later die of their wounds.  There was a fifth casualty, Ensign Bagley becoming the ONLY naval OFFICER to be killed in action during the entirety of the Spanish-American war.

Somehow, the crew of the Winslow managed to get a rope to the Hudson, which then began towing the battered torpedo boat to safety.  The wounded Lieutenant Bernadou turned command of his ship over to Gunner's Mate G. P. Brady, and transferred his dead and wounded to the Wilmington.  Though later repaired at Mobile, Alabama, the damage was so extensive that the Winslow would not again be in fighting shape before the Spanish-American war came to an end.  

 

As night finally fell over the Caribbean on May 11th, the Navy's young sailors in the Caribbean had tasted first blood...most of it their own.  The splendid little war was beginning to take its toll in American lives, a sad chapter in that war's brief history that could not be overshadowed even by the great courage of FIFTY-FIVE sailors and Marines who earned Medals of Honor on this single day.

 

Ten days later on the other side of the world, the U.S.S. Concord was on station in Manila Bay in the Philippines.  Located just off the Cavite point, in a non-combat action, an accident occurred causing a dangerous explosion to one of the boilers.  As dangerous steam filled the fireroom, Watertender William Crouse, Fireman First Class John Ehle, and Fireman First Class James Hull braved the intense heat and very real danger to put out fires and secure the boiler.  All three subsequently earned Medals of Honor for their courage.

Eight days later on May 28th, a similar explosion occurred on the U.S.S. Vixen.  Two of the ship's First Class Firemen, Peter Johnson and George Mahoney exhibited similar courage to extinguish fires and preserve their ship.  Both were also awarded Medals of Honor.

While these five sailors were recognized for their heroism in saving their ship, an unusual mission was unfolding that would see seven sailors and their commander receive Medals of Honor for DESTROYING their ship.  It would prove to be one of the most incredible stories in the history of our Nation's highest award.

 

A Splendid Little War

This series of stories can be downloaded in printed as either a .pdf or MS WORD  document for easy printing as a full-color book.  We encourage you to take time to download a print a copy for your personal library, or even as a gift for a friend.  (Because of its size, this file may take up to 15 minutes to download)  

CLICK HERE for your FREE BOOK

 
Copyright 1999-2014 by HomeOfHeroes.com
     2115 West 13th Street - Pueblo, CO 81003

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Unless otherwise noted, all materials by C. Douglas Sterner
 

Home Page

Hall Of Heroes

MOH Community 

NEWS

Kidz Page

FEATURE STORIES
  Profiles In Courage | Wings of ValorThe Brotherhood of Soldiers At War | Go For Broke
 Pearl Harbor  | A Splendid Little War | Shinmiyangyo-Korea 1871 | Quick Links to MOH Stories

RECIPIENT WEB SITES
Barney Barnum  |  Jack Lucas  |  Mitch Paige  |  Wesley Fox  |  Sammy Davis
Roger Donlon
Peter Lemon  |  Drew Dix  |  Mike Novosel

Medal Of Honor Calendar  |  Books By MOH RecipientsSteve Ryan MOH Posters

What Does 
A Hero Look Like?

Click on Superman To Find out


FOOTNOTES
In
HISTORY

NEW
Looking for a Hero or trying to verify awards? We have posted the names of more than 120,000 recipients of the highest awards in a BRAND NEW FREE SECTION
DECORATIONS 1862 - Present
.

Military Medals & Awards 

Information and Images of ALL Military Medals
The Purple Heart 
How to Request Records/Medals Earned
  How to Obtain Military Records of a Family Member 

Honor Roll of America's Military Heroes


Brevet Medal


DSC 


Navy Cross 


Air Force Cross 

Distinguished Service Medals

Defense - Army - Navy - Air Force - Coast Guard - Merchant Marine



Silver Star

U.S. History and Information
The History Room | U.S. Flag HistoryHistory of the Flag |
How to Display the Flag
| The National Anthem | The Pledge of Allegiance The American Creed | The Seal of our Nation | Our National Symbol
Arthur MacArthur's Flag | William Carney's Flag | FDR's Flag of Liberation]

FLAG DAY           STATE FLAGS
American Presidents
U.S. Presidents | Inaugural Addresses

God & Country
ROOM

MY HERO Web Page Creator 
(Create a Tribute to the Hero in Your Own Life)

SEARCH
bn_search.jpg (3967 bytes)
OUR SITE

EDUCATIONAL

GAME ARCADE

OR
Quick Quiz

***
Electronic Post Cards
Talking Points 

Remembering 911
The Binch
Citizens Speak Out

BEYOND THE MEDAL

This 5 Disc DVD Education Program has been distributed to over 17,500 Public & Private High Schools and is now available to the public!


 

HomeOfHeroes.com now has more than 25,000 pages of US History for you to view.