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Picnic in
Puerto Rico

 

 

With the capitulation of the Spanish forces at Santiago on July 17th, the Spanish-American war was for all practical purposes, over.  There would yet be a brief engagement at Guantanamo and even additional engagements in the Philippine Islands.  There would also be one remaining campaign, the effort to wrest Puerto Rico from Spanish control.  General Nelson Miles had been placed in command of the effort, spearheaded by his own I Corps.  The campaign was almost overlooked next to the conquests in Manila and Santiago, and was accomplished with very little loss of life.  From his sheltered office back in New York, humorist Finley Peter Dunne described the 19-day American effort as:

"A Moonlight Picnic" 

 

 

East of the Dominican Republic and only 1,000 miles from Florida is the tropical island of Puerto Rico.  Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and claimed for Spain, it is the easternmost of the West Indies group of islands known as the Greater Antilles.  To the north is the Atlantic Ocean while the southern shores are caressed by the warm currents of the Caribbean Sea.  To the west, separating the island from the Dominican Republic, is the deep Mona Passage, an important sea lane to Latin and South America (and later to the Panama Canal).

The island itself is rectangular in shape, approximately 100 miles across and 35 miles from north to south.  Puerto Rico's less than 3500 square miles land mass would fit three times inside the small state of Maryland, and three-fourths of the tropical paradise consists of mountains broken only by coastal plains.

Unlike the island of Cuba, that had been in a state of constant upheaval and revolution against Spanish rule for decades, and unlike nearby Haiti and the Dominican Republic which had already achieved independent national status, Puerto Rico had quietly endured the rule of Madrid for 400 years.  More than 8,000 Spanish soldiers were garrisoned across the island, and the port at the capitol city of San Juan was one of the most fortified cities in the Spanish empire. 

In many ways, Puerto Rico had received some degree of preferential treatment from Madrid over the years.  Rule on the island was not as oppressive as elsewhere through the Spanish empire, and the island was viewed in many ways as an extension of the homeland rather than a colony.  The crown had invested considerably in the island, developing more than 150 miles of railway (with almost an equal amount under construction in 1898), and a careful system of wagon roads to link all major cities and ports and connect to the capitol.  Puerto de San Juan, well protected under the shadow of El Moro Castle, boasted one of the largest and best natural harbors in the Caribbean.  In the year prior to the outbreak of the war between the United States and Spain, Madrid had granted the island a limited autonomy.  Puerto Rico had a great degree of self-rule under the authority of the Spanish-appointed Captain General (Governor) Manuel Macas y Casado.

When war was declared on April 25, 1898 General Macas moved quickly to protect his island should the United States attempt to invade.  He suspended individual rights which, on an island where the inhabitants had relished their relative autonomy, it created something of a backlash among a people that had in general been either supportive or passive to Spanish rule.  In the capitol city he held patriotic ceremonies where those who refused to swear allegiance to Spain were arrested or deported.  Despite his heavy-handed response and subtle leanings towards America in some communities, many inhabitants remained loyal to the crown.  Local media tended to be pro-Spain, and blasted the United States imperialism.  Groups of Guerrillas Montadas (Mounted Guerrillas) formed to repel any invasion, nearly ten thousand Puerto Rican volunteers supplementing the Spanish Army to defend the island.  

 

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C. President McKinley was preparing his nation for war.  As Secretary Russell Alger was directing Admiral Dewey to embark for the Philippine Islands, and dispatching Admiral Sampson to blockade Cuba, the General of the Army submitted a report to the War Department.  

Major General Nelson Miles was an impressive leader.  Born in Massachusetts, Miles learned the basics of military tactics from a retired French officer who had lectured him a night after Miles had spent the day working in a Boston crockery shop.  In 1861 the young man earned a commission as a first lieutenant by raising a company of volunteers for the 22nd Massachusetts regiment.  During the four years of civil war that followed, Miles was wounded four times, received the Medal of Honor at Chancellorsville, and achieved the temporary rank of major general by the age of 26.

Following the Civil War, Miles was commissioned a colonel in the regular army in 1861 and spent 21 years on the western frontier.  It was Miles who had driven Sitting Bull into Canada after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Miles who captured Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce, and Miles who had put down the Ghost Dance disturbance that ended with the battle of Wounded Knee in 1890.  Though the massacre at Wounded Knee badly damaged General Miles reputation, he was promoted to Major General and in 1895 became the Commanding General of the Army.

With the outbreak of war, General Miles looked beyond the Philippine Islands and Cuba, sending a report to the War Department recommending an invasion to expel the Spanish from the island of Puerto Rico.  His request was initially denied by military planners while General Shafter's V Corps was being readied for the land invasion of Cuba.  Prior to that invasion, on May 12th, Admiral Sampson had steamed his squadron to Puerto Rico in search of the Spanish flotilla, and shelled the Moro Castle at San Juan.  The following month on June 7th, the same day in which Colonel Leonard Wood and Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt finally received orders in San Antonio to depart for Tampa for the Cuban invasion, the War Department instructed General Miles to begin assembling a force for action in Puerto Rico.

Unlike General Shafter's V Corps that mustered at Tampa in a conflagration that opened the ground war amid confusion and inept logistics, General Miles I Corps began preparations at multiple locations.  Pulled together from a coalition of regular army, regular cavalry, volunteer infantry, and state militias, a force of more than 15,000 soldiers prepared in three ports, to debark for Puerto Rico:

Major General Nelson Miles' I CORPS

Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC 

Newport News, VA

Tampa, Florida 

Provisional Division
BGen. Guy V. Henry
  3,500* men
BGen. Henry Garretson's Bde.

6th Massachusetts Volunteer Inf.
6th Illinois Volunteer Inf.
2d US Cavalry
19th US Infantry (1 Battalion)
Regular Arty Batteries
Provisional Engineers
.

1st Division
MGen. James Harrison Wilson
  3,571* men
BGen. Oswald Ernst's 1st Bde.

16th Pennsylvania Volunteers
2d & 3d Wisconsin Volunteers
1st Kentucky
6th Illinois Volunteer Inf.
3d US Light Artillery (Batt. F)
5th US Light Artillery (Batt. B)
NY Volunteer Cavalry (Troop C)


MGen. John R. Brooke
   5,444* men
BGen. Peter Hains' Bde

3d Illinois
4th Ohio & 4th Pennsylvania
H Squad, 6th Regular Cavalry
A & C Troop, NY Vol. Cav
Light Arty:  PA, IN, IL and MO
Signal Corps Battalion
Dynamite Gun Detachment

Independent Brigade
BGen. Theodore Schwan
  2,896* men
 

11th US Infantry
19th US Infantry (1 Battalion)
1st Kentucky Volunteer Inf.
Troop A, 5th Regular Cavalry
3d US Light Artillery (Batt. C)
5th US Light Artillery (Batt. D)
.

*Estimates

 On June 26th, four days after General Shafter's V Corps began landing at Daiquiri in Cuba, General Miles departed Washington, DC to join the Provisional Division under Brigadier General Guy V. Henry in Charleston, South Carolina.  The transports carrying the division's 3,500-man force sailed out on  July 7th, four days after the Spanish fleet had been destroyed at Santiago Harbor.  General Miles was well aware of the Spanish defeats at El Caney, San Juan Hill, and in the well publicized naval battle of July 3rd.  He was also aware that General Toral was still stubbornly refusing to surrender, despite General Shafter's repeated demands.  Before steaming for Puerto Rico, General Miles steamed south to Cuba, arriving to meet with General Shafter on July 11th.  

General Henry was prepared to land his Provisional Division to reinforce General Shafter, but it was quickly apparent that this would not be necessary.  After going ashore to meet with General Shafter, Miles dispatched his troop transports to Guantanamo Bay to await developments.  On July 14th General Miles joined Shafter in his meeting with General Toral to negotiate the capitulation of Santiago.  General Toral was overwhelmed by the arrival of Miles forces, not realizing that they were bound for Puerto Rico, and this new threat may have contributed to his ultimate capitulation on July 17th.

With the situation in Cuba resolved, General Miles was anxious to continue his voyage to Puerto Rico.  Admiral Sampson delayed the campaign when he refused to dispatch armored cruisers and battleships to escort the troop transports until July 21st.  It was a difficult period for the soldiers that filled the troop transports, confined for ten days to their cramped quarters as their ships lay at anchor in the tropical climate, so news of the departure from Guantanamo for the 4-day journey to Puerto Rico was quickly welcomed.  The convoy was escorted by the USS Massachusetts, USS Dixie, and the USS Gloucester.

The Plan

The plan for the invasion of Puerto Rico approved by President McKinley, Secretary Alger and the War Department called for General Miles to steam eastward with General Henry's Provisional Division to the far side of the island, then north.  While en route, transports carrying the other three elements of I Corps were departing Tampa, Charleston, and Newport News to join Henry's Division at the Cape of San Juan on the northeast side of the island, where they would land and make the short march on the capitol city.  The actual landing would take place near the lighthouse at Fajardo.

The movement of I Corps drew a lot of attention state-side, and was quickly picked up by the news media.  Even as the troop ships moved eastward from Guantanamo Bay, American newspapers were broadcasting the planned invasion of Puerto Rico, including the fact that the Americans would land at Cape San Juan.  The Spanish were alerted to the plan and began preparations to repulse this invasion.

As the convoy entered the Mona Channel, General Miles made the first in a series of daring but tactically brilliant command decisions.  Without notifying the War Department or Secretary Alger, he ordered his transports to head instead for the south-western port city of Guanica.  Miles dispatched gunboats to Fajardo to patrol the waters and watch for the arrival of the other convoys, to inform them of his decision and direct them to join him at the opposite end of the island.

 

The Landing - July 25

Had General Miles sought prior approval upon changing his Puerto Rican landing site, he would have probably met great skepticism.  Captain Francis Higginson, Commander of the USS Massachusetts took issue with the change in plans because the harbor at Guanica was too shallow to accommodate the larger transports and battleships of the US Navy.  General Miles troops would land without adequate naval bombardment.  Naval Captain Alfred T. Mahan was blunt in his criticism of the decision:

"The Porto (sic) Rico landing...at Guanica, and the initiation of operations there, appears to me a military stupidity so great, that I can account for these acts only by a kind of obsession or vanity, to do a singular and unexpected thing."

In General Miles favor was the element of surprise, and the fact that the northeastern cities and towns of Puerto Rico tended to be the most loyal to Spain, while the southern and western towns and villages tended to be more sympathetic to the American cause.

At 5:45 A.M. on the morning of July 25th, the invasion of Puerto Rico began.  The smaller armed yacht Gloucester, which had given such a good account of itself in the naval battle of Santiago and which was still under the command of  Captain Richard Wainwright, entered the harbor first.  In the pre-dawn darkness its incursion went unnoticed.

At 8:45 a landing party of bluejackets and Marines went ashore to land at a pier on the east side of the harbor, utterly surprising the small force of 11 Spanish soldiers at a blockhouse on the beach.  At a distance of 300 yards the two sides opened fire, the Americans supported by gunfire from the Gloucester.  The Spanish force sustained four casualties, including their commander Lieutenant Enrique Mendez Lopez, and quickly withdrew.  By 9 A.M. the Marines raised the Stars and Stripes from the blockhouse, before moving further north to set up a defensive position they named Camp Wainwright.

Almost immediately the men of General Henry's division began unloading.  An ample supply of small landing craft were found in Guanica harbor to expedite the process.  Private Carl Sandburg of Company C, 6th Illinois Volunteer Infantry described the events in his diary.  "July 25 - Sighted Porto (sic) Rico early in the morning (Exciting stuff) while Gloucester entered harbor at Guanica and thre shells around the vicinity.  We could see regulars advance across field, cut down wire fence with machetes."

By 11 A.M. General Miles completed his landing, unopposed save for the brief skirmish by the landing party from the Gloucester earlier.  General Henry directed his division to set up camp in two areas, one on the eastern shore of the bay, the second mid-way between the bay and the town of Guanica.

As darkness fell, and with it a drizzling tropical rain, the keeper of the Guanica lighthouse passed word to the mayor of the nearby town of Yauco that the Americans had arrived.  Promptly the message was telegraphed to Governor General Macias at San Juan.  

In Washington D.C. General Miles civilian superior, Secretary of War Alger, did not learn of the landing at Guanica until the following day...when it was reported by the Associate Press in the American newspapers.  He reacted in both surprise and chagrin.  In fact, General Miles didn't formally advise the War Department of his change in landing sites until three days AFTER the landing, when he cabled Secretary Alger from Ponce to say:

"Spanish troops are retreating from southern part of Puerto Rico.
"This is a prosperous and beautiful country.
"The Army will soon be in mountain region.
"Weather delightful; troops in the best of health and spirit.
"Anticipate no insurmountable obstacles in future results.
"Results thus far have been accomplished without loss of a single life."

General Miles breach of military protocol might well have been a career-ending incident, had not the following two weeks quickly demonstrated its wisdom, if not outright brilliance.  The Commanding General of the United States Army totally surprised the Spanish forces waiting to repulse the invasion at the Cape of San Juan.  In fact, he had landed on the island almost totally opposite the proposed invasion site, where the enemy was vastly unprepared.  The cities and towns in the region were garrisoned primarily by small contingents of Spanish soldiers, and populated by a people not altogether  unhappy to see the arrival of the American troops.  These factors allowed not only General Henry's division, but the three subsequent forces that landed over the following week, to make their incursion without the loss of a single life.

 

 

The Invasion - July 26 to August 5

Brigadier General Guy Vernor Henry was an old soldier with much experience.  Born on a military fort in the Indian Territory, he rose to the rank of colonel during the Civil War, where he was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading his brigade of the 40th Massachusetts in two assaults on the Confederate works at Cold Harbor, Virginia.  During that action he had braved enemy fire, despite having two horses shot out from under him, to lead and encourage his soldiers.

In Puerto Rico, despite the relative ease with which his division landed, General Henry was not going to take anything for granted.  While elements of his division bedded down in their two camps, he ordered Brigadier General Garretson to assemble seven companies of the 6th Massachusetts and one company of the 6th Illinois for a move northward to the railroad terminus at Yauco, five miles north of Guanica.

The push to Yauco was the first steps in General Miles' developing NEW plan to topple San Juan and the Spanish rule over the island.  Miles was privy to great intelligence regarding the Spanish positions, the terrain, and the loyalties of the general populace, thanks to Captain Henry F. Whitney.  Whitney had arrived to join the force in Cuba, after a solid reconnaissance and espionage mission to the Island of Puerto Rico.  Traveling with the Division from Guantanamo to Guanica, Whitney was able to thoroughly brief General Nelson on what he could expect to find on the island.  It was no doubt, this information which included observations that the force could land easily and almost unopposed to the welcome arms of the civilian populace, that caused General Miles to select Guanica as the initial landing site.  

Miles was also aware that just five miles north of Guanica was the railroad terminus at Yauco, with track running west and north along the island and also extending eastward through the city of Ponce, only six miles further.  The Port of Ponce was a deeper harbor than the one at Guanica, and with three more elements expected to arrive soon from the United States, if Miles could secure Ponce it would make the invasion much easier.

Governor General Macias recovered quickly from the surprising news of the American landing at Guanica, and took steps on the evening of Miles' arrival to protect Yauco.  Late that night he ordered his forces in the area to take up positions along the road from Guanica to Yauco, and dispatched Captain Salvador Meca and his company to occupy Hacienda Desideria just two miles north of Guanica.  

Two additional companies under Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Puig  joined Captain Meca in the effort to reinforce the road, struggling against the darkness to take up positions.  They were still trying to plot their fortifications as Brigadier General Garretson moved out of Guanica shortly after midnight with seven companies of the 6th Massachusetts and Company G of the 6th Illinois. 

At 2 A.M. on the morning of July 26th, General Garretson was deploying his soldiers in the Seboruco Hills near the hacienda, unaware that Lieutenant Colonel Puig  had forces deployed along the nearby hills as well.   When the Spaniards opened fire, Garretson sent five companies to make a direct assault on the enemy forces in the hills as well as the hacienda.  Now there was little else to do but await dawn.

With the first rays of daylight, the American invasion continued, General Garretson's brigade pushing the Spanish forces backward.  Lieutenant Colonel Puig called for his reserves, only to learn that most had deserted in the darkness.  Before pulling back towards Yauco, the remaining Spanish forces launched a flanking attack against the Seboruco Hills.  Though brief and futile, it was the first major battle of the war in Puerto Rico.  The battle of Yauco resulted in the first American casualties as well, four men wounded but none killed.  The Spanish suffered 16 men killed or wounded.

Lieutenant Colonel Puig pulled back to Yauco in an attempt to destroy the rail terminal.  The quick advance of Garretson's brigade,  forced him to withdraw before the task could be accomplished.  In the three days that followed, Puig withdrew all the way to Arecibo on the north coast of the island, leaving most of southwestern Puerto Rico open to the American advance.

Within 48 hours of the landing at Guanica, the city of Yauco was solidly under American control.  The soldiers of Garretson's Brigade were welcomed into the city amid great joy, enthusiasm, celebration-- albeit some reservation.  Mayor Francisco Megia, the same man who had telegraphed warning of the American arrival at Guanica to Governor General Macias a day and a half earlier, now welcomed the Americans as virtual saviors.  Gathering the civilian populace together, he pronounced:

"CITIZENS:  Today the citizens of Puerto Rico assist in one of her most beautiful festivals.  The sun of America shines upon our mountains and valleys this day of July, 1898.  It is a day of glorious remembrance for each son of this beloved isle, because for the first time there waves over it the flag of the Stars, planted in the name of the government of the United States of America by the Major-General of the American army, General Miles.

"Puerto Ricans, we are, by the miraculous intervention of the God of the just, given back to the bosom of our mother America, in whose waters nature placed us as people of America.  To her we are given back, in the name of her government, by General Miles, and we must send her our most expressive salutation of generous affection through our conduct towards the valiant troops represented by distinguished officers and commanded by the illustrious General Miles.

"Citizens:  Long live the government of the United States of America!  Hail to her valiant troops!  Hail Puerto Rico, always American!"

Yauco, Puerto Rico, United States of America

 

Even as mayor Megia was welcoming the American troops to Yauco, six miles south General Miles was welcoming other American soldiers.  On the afternoon of July 27th the transport ships from Charleston, South Carolina arrived off the coast of Guanica with the 3,500 men of Major General Henry Wilson's 1st Division (under the field command of Brigadier General Oswald Ernst).  General Miles instructed the transports not to unload at Guanica, but instructed them to turn east to the Port of Ponce, preceded by the warships Massachusetts, Dixie, Annapolis, Wasp and Gloucester.  

Ponce, Puerto Rico
July 28, 1898
 

Rodolfo Figeroa watched the Spanish soldiers approaching the prison cell where he was being held and rose slowly to his feet.  The young Puerto Rican man had been apprehended the previous night, and charged by the Spanish with cutting the telegraph wire that connected Ponce with San Juan.  He was well aware of the fate that awaited him.  With the dawn on the morning of July 28th the Spanish soldiers would come for him, then escort him to the place of their choosing, and administer their punishment for his deeds.  Now the moment had arrived, and Rodolfo stood to be led away to his execution.

As he shuffled along, encircled by the Spanish soldiers, he noted a sudden change in the atmosphere.  For some reason the attention of his captors had been drawn elsewhere.  Looking off towards the harbor, Rodolfo Figeroa noted the reason.  Entering Port au Ponce were several large ships, the war ships of the United States of America.

In their surprise, the Spanish soldiers panicked and began a hasty withdrawal.  Rodolfo Figeroa whispered a prayer of thanks and slipped away in the confusion.

 

As the American warships entered the harbor, a column of United States infantry was making the 10-mile march to Ponce from Guanica, accompanied by General Nelson Miles himself.  Just beyond the warships sat the transports with the men of General Wilson's 1st Division, which would virtually double the American presence on the island.

As the Spanish soldiers fled into the mountains to the north, inside the city a delegation was assembled and sent to the USS Massachusetts to greet Commander Higginson.  They assured him that the American occupation would be welcomed in Ponce.  When General Miles arrived by land and was joined by General Wilson, the local delegation met them and provided a carriage to transport them into the city proper to Casa del Rey, the Port of Ponce Customs House.  Along the route, and throughout the city, they could see the decorations for a large, patriotic celebration.  The flags of virtually every nation adorned houses and buildings throughout the city...flags of every nation that is, except for Spain.

At Casa del Rey the two American generals were met by Civil Governor Toro and Mayor Ulpiano Colon.  The arrival of the Americans was every bit as enthusiastic as had been the reception at Yauco the previous day, and Casa del Rey itself would become General Miles headquarters for the duration of the Puerto Rican campaign.

In the joyous celebration that swept through the southern port city, political prisoners were released and the hand of friendship was quickly extended to the invading force.  General Miles was quick to grasp the proffered hand, and even turn it quickly to his advantage.  He announced to the people that the invasion of Puerto Rico by US troops was meant to bring those people a "BANNER OF FREEDOM".  

To insure stability in Ponce, General Wilson declared a limited but not oppressive martial law throughout the city.  To insure that no improper incident on the part of the American troops would turn the local populace towards a negative bent, General Miles issued strict orders for behavior among the visiting American forces.  Through these and other steps to gain the loyalty of the people of southwestern Puerto Rico, General Miles was able to enlist the enthusiastic support of some 3,500  young men to act as interpreters and guides for his campaign in Puerto Rico, and gain the confidence and loyalty of nearby cities that had not yet seen the arrival of the American soldiers.

The landing of General Wilson's Division went smoothly, many of the residents of Ponce volunteering to act as stevedores to expedite the  process.  By evening the Americans were setting up camps and preparing for the next phase of the invasion.  For General Miles, the Port of Ponce provided an excellent harbor for the continuation of his campaign.  With an underwater telegraph cable running from Ponce to Jamaica and Cuba, his new headquarters was now connected to the outside world.  It was this new means of communication that enabled him now, three days after the initial landing, to telegraph Washington, DC and advise Secretary Alger of his landing (already reported in the news media) and his progress.

 

Two more elements of General Miles I Corps were still en route on July 29th, and the Americans used it and the following day to rest and prepare for the coming sweep across the island.  On August 30th, back in Washington, D.C., French ambassador Jules Cambon approached President McKinley on behalf of Spain, to inquire about his terms for peace.  The president responded the following day, the last day of July 1898.  It was the same day on which the last two elements of General Miles invasion force arrived at Guanica.

Arriving from Tampa were the 2,896 men of Brigadier General Theodore Schwan's Independent Brigade, and more than 5,000 soldiers under the command of Major General John R. Brooke.  General Miles sent Schwan's brigade ashore at Guanica with orders to move north to Yauco, from which they would later launch a westward sweep of the island.  The six transports carrying General Brooke's force were held at Ponce for two days, whereupon Miles dispatched them eastward 60 miles, with orders to land at Arroyo.  General Miles was about to make another daring, impractical military decision in his bid to free Puerto Rico of Spanish rule.  In the meantime, his counterparts in the US Navy had some daring ideas of their own...on the far side of the island!

The Fajardo Lighthouse

When General Miles unexpectedly changed the invasion site for the Puerto Rican campaign while crossing the Mona Channel, the USS New Orleans was patrolling the northeast coast of the island awaiting the arrival of the Army's I Corps.  As the convoy from Cuba turned into Guanica, the USS Dixie was dispatched to advise the New Orleans of the change in plans.  Over the week that followed, the New Orleans mission became one of awaiting the troop transports from the United States, to advise them to proceed to Guanica.  That mission accomplished with the passing of General Schwan and General Brooke, the New Orleans departed for re-coaling at Tampa. She was replaced on July 31st by the USS Puritan under the command of Captain Frederic W. Rodgers.

As the Puritan steamed along the coastline the following day, Captain Rodgers could not ignore the presence of the lighthouse outside the city of Fajardo.  It was the landmark that should have been the landing site for the US Army in Puerto Rico.  That afternoon he ordered a contingent of sailors, marines, and Puerto Rican volunteers to go ashore.  When the USS Amphitrite, USS Leyden, and the USS Hannibal arrived off Fajardo on August 2nd, they were greeted by the sight of the Stars and Stripes flying from the lighthouse.

On the morning of August 3rd, the 25-man Spanish garrison at Fajardo became aware of the American presence and notified San Juan.  They were ordered to withdraw, leaving the city almost at the mercy of the invading Americans.  For two days a frantic Dr. Santiago Veve Calzada implored the Spanish authorities to dispatch troops to defend his city.  When that failed, he turned instead to the invaders.  On August 5th the doctor went to the lighthouse himself, to seek protection for the city from the Americans.  After being rowed to the Amphitrite, the doctor convinced Captain Barclay and Captain Rogers of the Leyden to enter his city and occupy it.

Entering the city with Dr. Veve and a contingent of Marines, that day the United States flag was hoisted over the Fajardo Customs House and its City Hall.  Captain Barclay organized a local militia to keep order and protect the town of some 700 residents.  Inside the city there was jubilation at the arrival of the American forces, until the populace learned the following day that 200 Spanish soldiers under Colonel Pedro del Pino had been dispatched by Governor General Macias to recapture the city.  In the face of this new threat, the residents fled to the Fajardo lighthouse to seek protection from the landing party there.

On August 7th the forces under Colonel Pino entered Fajardo to find it nearly deserted.   As darkness fell, Pino directed his forces in an attack on the Fajardo lighthouse.  In the opening engagement, the Marines extinguished the lights, signaling the ships offshore that they were under attack.  Almost immediately, the big guns roared, dropping large shells in a protective pattern around the tenuous position.  Before dawn, the Spanish retreated into the city.

With daylight the commander of the USS Cincinnati sent a party of Marines ashore under the command of Lieutenant John A. LeJeune, who would one day rise to the position of Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Together with a similar Marine detachment from the Amphitrite, LeJeune evacuated the civilians for transport to Ponce, and the lighthouse was abandoned.

Inside the city Colonel Pino's men tore down the United States flags that flew over the Customs House and City Hall.  When the Americans abandoned the nearby lighthouse, he returned to San Juan to display them as his trophies of war.  While the action at the Fajardo lighthouse was NOT a defeat in strict military terms, it was the only time that American forces were forced to withdraw from any position during the campaign in Puerto Rico.

 

 

On the same day that the shore party from the Puritan was landing at the Fajardo lighthouse, Captain Wainwright of the Gloucester was landing a party of bluejackets and marines at Arroyo.  They were met on the beach by a curious crowd of local citizens, including the alcade (mayor).  The enemy was no where to be found, and Lieutenant Wood quickly detailed his terms for surrender of the city before moving over to the nearby blockhouse.  As the Stars and Stripes were hoisted, the assembled crowd cheered, welcoming the army of occupation.  That evening a Spanish guerrilla force under Captain Salvador Acha probed the American position.  A few rounds were exchanged with little effect on either side.  In the darkness, Captain Acha quickly withdrew towards the larger inland city of Guayama.

On the following day (August 2nd), General Brooke landed with his staff and a contingent of the 3d Illinois Volunteer Infantry to set up camp in and around Arroyo.  On August 3rd Brigadier General Peter C. Hains, the ground commander for General Brooke, went ashore with the men of the 4th Ohio and the 4th Pennsylvania.  In the two days that followed, entire body of the last division of General Miles' I Corps departed their sea-going transports, bring the ground forces to more than 15,000 men.

As the last of General Brooke's artillery and cavalry units came ashore on August 5th, General Hains directed his soldiers of the 3rd Illinois and 4th Ohio northeast towards the larger town of Guayama.  Less than a mile from Arroyo, the Americans came under fire.  In only the second engagement of the Army's campaign in Puerto Rico, two members of the 4th Ohio were wounded.  The skirmish lasted less than half-an-hour, and then the advance resumed almost unopposed (though one additional American was wounded).  By noon the Spanish forces inside the city could observe the approach of the 4th Ohio from the tower of the cathedral.  Overwhelmed by the sheer size of the American force approaching the city, the Spaniards fled and abandoned the city.  A short time later the 4th Ohio entered the city to the cheers of the local citizens, and the Stars and Stripes were unfurled over yet another Puerto Rican city.

 

The Campaign - August 6 to 13

Eleven days into the Puerto Rico invasion, General Miles had all his forces in place.  On August 6th he ordered General Schwan and his Independent Brigade to muster at Yauco.  General Henry's Provisional Division was spread between Guanica, Yauco and Ponce.  General Wilson's Ernst Brigade was poised at Ponce, and General Brooke was ashore at Arroyo and Guayama.  The American forces controlled the entire southern coast of Puerto Rico, and the Spaniards were fleeing quickly northwards.

The trans-Puerto Rico highway ran from Ponce to San Juan, and the Spanish war planners fully expected Miles to assemble his army for a massive invasion via that route.  As Governor General Macias' troops retreated towards San Juan, they did their best to destroy bridges, damage the roadways, and fortify positions in the central mountains.  The ground campaign, the march on San Juan, began in earnest on August 6th...and once again General Miles elected to prosecute his war in a most surprising manner...dividing his forces in a four-pronged attack.

Under the ground command of Brigadier General Hains, Booke's Division moved northwest towards Cayey, where they were to join the northeasterly march of General Wilson's Division under Brigadier General Ernst.  Then the combined units would proceed north through the mountains to march on San Juan.  General Henry's Garretson Brigade would travel due north, following a mountain trail discovered by Captain Whitney and thought to be impassible by the Spaniards.  Garretson's Brigade would pass through Utuado to take up a position at Arecibo.  Brigadier General Schwan's Independent Brigade was the wild card in the plan, tasked with moving northwest to drive out the Spanish forces, and then turn eastward to meet up with Garretson at Arecibo to march on San Juan from the west.

The ground campaign was unconventional, dividing the force in the face of the enemy, and posing the threat of a "divide and conquer" tactic by the Spaniards.  General Miles recognition of this danger is apparent in the orders issued to General Schwan:

"You will drive out or capture all Spanish troops in the western portion of Puerto Rico.  You will take all necessary precautions and exercise great care against being surprised or ambushed by the enemy, and will make the movement as rapidly as possible, at the same time exercising your best judgment in the care of your command, to accomplish the object of your expedition."

Indeed General Schwan would accomplish his mission, crossing 92 miles of Puerto Rican soil in 8 days to capture 9 towns and 326 enemy soldiers.  The drive by Schwan's brigade, as well as the efforts of the other American units, would not be without opposition (with the exception of General Garretson's Brigade that managed to make their trip to Arecibo without incident).  But the campaign was in no small part, successful because of the eagerness with which the local citizenry welcomed the arriving Americans.  It was not uncommon for advance scouts to enter a town preparatory to the entrance of their main force, only to have the city surrender to one or two soldiers.  During the brief period from August 4 - 9 while the American forces were mobilizing for the march to San Juan, in fact, correspondent Stephen Crane ventured alone into the countryside beyond Ponce.  The Spanish forces in the nearby town of Juana Diaz had already fled in the face of the American landings nearby, and as the lone newspaper reporter walked into the city he was mistaken by the civilian population as the advance guard for the American army.  The town quickly surrendered to him and, for the next three days, the bored correspondent ruled the city while its dignitaries entertained him.  Fellow New York Journal correspondent Richard Harding Davis later reported the event under the title "How Stephen Crane Took Juana Diaz".

The reign of Stephen Crane ended on August 7th, when General Wilson's troops entered Juana Diaz, and the Red Badge of Courage author returned to his role as a reporter, covering the advance of the American Army towards Coamo.  On August 8th General Henry's division departed Ponce to traverse the mountain trail to Utuado and then on to Arecibo.  The same day General Brooke's soldiers moved out towards Cayey.  Meanwhile, the Ernst Brigade was facing a formidable opposition at Coamo.  For these men the day was spent probing the enemy defenses and scouting for tactical advantages.  Late in the afternoon a small trail was found, and two battalions of the 16th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered on a night march to the far side of the city to take up positions.

Guamani

August 9th was to be one of the most critical days of the San Juan campaign.  General Schwan departed Yauco early in the morning, even as some 60 miles away the soldiers of Hains' Brigade moved into the mountains below the heights of Guanami just northwest of Guayama.  Companies A and C of the 4th Ohio were operating as a forward reconnaissance element for the Hains Brigade when they came under fire from soldiers of Spain's 6th Provisional Battalion.  Taking up positions near the Guamani River Bridge, a brief but bitter skirmish followed.  The third battle for the Americans since their landing at Guanica, it resulted in seven wounded.  The Spanish forces suffered 2 dead and 15 wounded.  It was the costliest battle yet, and the stakes were about to go even higher.

 

Coamo

As morning dawned across the mountains of Puerto Rico, the 3d Wisconsin was poised just beyond the city of Coamo.  During the night the 16th Pennsylvania had marched, or perhaps more appropriately crawled, across a small but passable trail to position themselves on the far side of the city and cut off any attempt by the enemy to retreat towards San Juan, 35 miles north.

 

At 7 A.M. General Wilson ordered his artillery to open fire on a Spanish blockhouse before the city and the battle for Coamo began.  In less than an hour, the main force had moved within 2 miles of the main entrance on the road from Ponce, and suddenly the advancing Americans could hear the sounds of combat on the far side of the town.  The 16th Pennsylvania engaged the enemy in a deadly crossfire, as the 2nd and 3rd Wisconsin assaulted from the front under the leadership of General Ernst.

The battle for Coamo was brief...but deadly.  Six Spanish soldiers were killed including two  ranking officers, and thirty-five Spanish soldiers were wounded in the action.  Ten American soldiers were wounded, and for the first time, one of the American soldiers was killed.  When the city surrendered to General Wilson, the battle yielded 167 Spanish prisoners of war.  Those soldiers that managed to escape before the first Americans entered the city were pursued for 5 miles by the horsemen of Brooklyn's Troop C, New York Cavalry before the Americans were turned back by heavy fire from the Abonito Pass.

The surrender of Coamo provided one of the interesting footnotes to the Spanish-American War.  Though the victory and surrender were officially credited General Wilson, war correspondent William Harding Davis was the first to accept the enemy flag...entirely unexpectedly.

Davis and his fellow correspondents had been observing the attack on Coamo from the ranks of the artillery, when he noticed General Ernst rapidly moving towards the bridge leading into the city.  Breaking away from the group, Davis and six other unarmed men (most were fellow correspondents), raced at a gallop to witness the surrender of the 5,000 Coamo residents to a single man.  To conserve time, they crossed the river at a ford rather than wasting extra time riding to the bridge.  As the approached the city, Davis later recounted the conversation:

"It (Coamo) must have surrendered by now," I shouted.  "It's been half an hour since Ernst crossed the bridge."

At these innocent words, all my companions tugged violently at their bridles and shouted "Whoa!"

"Crossed the bridge?" they yelled.  "There is no bridge!  The bridge is blown up!  If he hasn't crossed by the ford, he isn't in the town."

But by now the Porto Rican ponies had decided that this was the race of their lives, and each had made up his mind that, Mexican bit or no Mexican bit, until he had carried his rider first into the town of Coamo, he would not be halted.  As I tugged helplessly at my Mexican bit, I saw how I had made my mistake.  The volunteers, on finding the bridge destroyed, instead of marching upon Coamo had turned to the ford, the same ford which we had crossed half an hour before they reached it.  They now were behind us.  Instead of a town which had surrendered to a thousand American soldiers, we , seven unarmed men and Jimmy (a young boy who ran copy for one of the correspondents), were being swept into a hostile city as fast as the enemy's ponies could take us there.

Breckenridge and Titus (two young officers from the commissary department) hastily put the blame upon me.

"If we get into trouble with the General for this," they shouted, "it will be your fault.  You told us Ernst was in the town with a thousand men."

I shouted back that no one regretted the fact that he was not, more keenly than I did myself.  Titus and Breckenridge each glanced at a new, full-dress sword.  "We might as well go in," they shouted, "and take it anyway!"  I decided that Titus and Breckenridge were wasted in the Commissariat Department.  The three correspondents looked more comfortable.

"If you officers go in," they cried, "the General can't blame us," and they dug their spurs into the ponies.

"Wait!"  shouted Her Majesty's representative (Captain Paget of the British military attache who had been invited to witness the battle for Coamo as a guest of General Wilson).  "That's all very well for you chaps, but what protects me if the Admiralty finds out I have led a charge on a Spanish garrison?'

Upon entering the town to find the Spanish had departed, the unarmed group with Davis was met by the mayor, who "begged to surrender into my hands the town of Coamo."  

I bade him conduct me to his official residence.  He did so, and gave me the key to the cartel, a staff of office of gold and ebony, and the flag of the town....Then I appointed a hotel-keeper, who spoke a little English, as my official interpreter and told the Alcalde (mayor) that I was now Military Governor, Mayor, and Chief of Police, and that I wanted the seals of the town.  He gave me a rubber stamp with a coat of arms cut in it, and I wrote myself three letters, which, to insure their safe arrival, I addressed to three different places, and stamped them with the rubber seals.  In time all three reached me, and I now have them as documentary proof of the fact that for twenty minutes I was Military Governor and Mayor of Coamo.

My administration came to an end in twenty minutes, when General Wilson rode into Coamo at the head of his staff and three thousand men.  He wore a white helmet, and he looked the part of the conquering hero so satisfactorily that I forgot I was Mayor and ran out into the street to snap a picture of him.  He looked greatly surprised and asked me what I was doing in his town.  The tone in which he spoke caused me to decide that, after all, I would not keep the flag of Coamo.  I pulled it off my saddle and said: "General, it's too long a story to tell you now, but here is the flag of the town.  It's the first Spanish flag," - and it was - "that has been captured in Porto Rico.

From "The Taking of Coamo
By Richard Harding Davis

 

 

The Campaign on the Western Coast

The mission delegated to General Theodore Schwan was a daunting one as well.  Departing Yauco even as Richard Harding Davis was accepting the surrender of Coamo, the Civil War veteran who had earned the Medal of Honor for his heroism in rescuing a wounded officer at Peebles Farm, Virginia was faced with a great responsibility.  Facing his Independent Brigade would be the Spanish Regulars of the 24th Rifle Battalion, 6 companies of the Alfonso XIII auxiliaries, as well as other scattered Spanish and Puerto Rican guerilla forces.  On the first day of his move westward, he forced his soldiers on a 12-mile march to San German, only to learn that a force of some 1,500 Spanish soldiers from the garrison at Mayaguez had been dispatched to meet and defeat him.

On August 10th elements of Schwan's brigade continued their march along the road from San German to Mayaguez.  Near Hormigueros the road wound through a valley bordered by a high ridge called the Silva Heights.  From their position thereon, the Spanish forces engaged Troop A of Schwan's 5th Cavalry.  The American's dismounted to take up positions below, and struggled to return fire on the enemy while two companies of the 19th Infantry, supported by artillery and Gatling guns, entered the battle.  From the Silva Bridge the reinforcements brought the Spanish under intense fire, enabling the horsemen of the cavalry to remount and attack the right flank.  With the arrival of the 11th Infantry add further to the American fusillade, the Spanish soldiers were left with no option but to retreat, leaving behind 3 dead, 6 wounded, and 136 prisoners.  Schwan's brigade suffered 15 wounded and 2 killed in action.

After setting up temporary camp on the Silva heights for the night, the following morning Schwan's Independent Brigade continued their drive to Mayaguez, arriving by 8 A.M. to find that the Spanish had abandoned the city to retreat east towards Lares.  In three days the brigade had marched through 45 miles, engaged in a major battle, and taken several cities.  General Schwan rested his weary soldiers throughout the day and night of August 11th, but did send his cavalry troop along with some Puerto Rican scouts to follow the retreat of the Spanish under Colonel Julio Soto Villanueva.

 

Abonito Pass 

Meanwhile in the east, General Brooke's division was continuing to try and force their way northeast through the rugged mountains north of Guamani to link up with General Wilson at Cayey.  The Ernst Brigade had found the highway out of Coamo well defended by Spanish forces, holed up in the mountains.  Following the battle to take the city on August 10th, Troop C and members of the 2nd Wisconsin had attempted to push their way towards the high Abonito Pass.  Numerous small skirmishes were engaged in throughout the day of August 10th, and the following day General Wilson ordered small elements of his force to probe enemy positions in the mountains around the pass to determine both enemy positions and strength.  Reports indicated that more than 1,200 Spanish soldiers had fortified their positions in the high central mountains.

On August 12th the American artillery opened fire on the pass to provide cover fire for the 2nd and 3rd Wisconsin to move off the Spanish flank and take up positions near Barranquitas at the enemy's rear.  Six big guns from Battery F, 3rd Artillery moved forward with troops from the 3rd Illinois and the 4th Ohio, when heavy fighting broke out.  From his position with the American forces, War Correspondent Richard Harding Davis observed the action and wrote that the Americans were met with "a terrific fire of shrapnel, cannon shell, and Mauser bullets (that) did much damage to our infantry."  Two soldiers of the 3rd Wisconsin were killed, and 4 Americans were wounded. 

As night fell on August 12th, the ground campaign in Puerto Rico was shaping up for what might well be its most critical day of battle.  

 

August 13, 1898 

Las Marias 

General Schwan's troops rose early on the morning of August 13th to pursue the enemy.  At 7:30 A.M. their Puerto Rican Scouts reported that Colonel Soto's retreating forces were within striking distance, attempting to ford the rain-swollen Rio Prieto River near the town of Las Marias.  Backed up against the flood waters of the Rio Prieto, the Spanish had no where to run when the Americans attacked.  The men of Schwan's cavalry, 1st Kentucky and 11th Infantry made short work of the embattled Spaniards, killing 3, wounding 27, and capturing 56.  There were no American casualties, it had been an unqualified victory to smash the last large enemy force in the west.  After clearing the battlefield, the Americans rounded up their prisoners and set up camp where minutes before they had traded shots with Colonel Soto's men.

Miles to east, an unusual drama was unfolding near the heights of Guanami.  As the sun rose over the mountains, General Brooke's forces were preparing for a major battle.  The 4th Ohio was poised in position to fall on the enemy's flank after the initial frontal assault by their comrades of the 3rd Illinois and 4th Pennsylvania.  The attack would commence with the artillery bombardment  The big guns were already lined up, awaiting the order from General Brooke himself to "open fire".  Only moments before the order was to be given, a courier approached the American commander to hand him a written dispatch.  In the early morning light, General Brooke read the telegraph, notifying him that Spain had signed the Peace Protocol, and that an Armistice was now in force.

So close was the moment of the assault, and so nervous and tense were the men, General Brooke feared that if he shouted an order to "Stand Down", it would be mistaken for the order to "Commence Firing".  In a dramatic gesture, he stepped in front of the big guns to announce that the war in Puerto Rico was over.

In a similar, but less dramatic fashion, General Wilson received word of the Armistice at Abonito Pass, and recalled his men, already poised for their own assault.

 

 

 

With the Armistice came a cessation of hostilities in both the Caribbean and the Pacific, and the opening of the peace talks that would ultimately end the Spanish American War.  As a result of those negotiations, the island of Puerto Rico was ceeded to the Untied States by Spain.  On October 18th the Stars and strips were hoisted over the capitol city at San Juan, and on January 1, 1898 the Caribbean Island officially became a part of the United States of America.  

General Miles summed up the action when he said:

"The island of Puerto Rico was fairly won by the right of conquest, and became a part of the United States.  The sentiment of the people was in no sense outraged by the invaders, but, on the contrary, was successfully propitiated.  A people who have endured the severity of Spanish rule for four centuries hail with joy the protection of the Great Republic.  One of the richest sections of country over which our flag now floats has been added and will be of lasting value to our nation, politically, commercially, and from a military or strategic point of view.  The possession of that island also rendered any further resistance of the Spanish forces in Cuba hopeless.

The military campaign in Puerto Rico (July 25 - August 13, 1898) did indeed come to be known as a "Moonlight Picnic" or as "General Miles Picnic".  No Medals of Honor were awarded during the brief action, but in 19 days the 16,253 Americans fought six engagements, seized control of half the island (capturing 23 of the island's 70 towns), accounted for nearly 500 enemy casualties and prisoners, with the loss of only 7 American lives.

President McKinley said, "This campaign was prosecuted with great vigor...generous commendation is due to those who participated in it."

General Miles credited his soldiers stating:  "The troops have maintained the fortitude of the American character and the honor of their arms."

War Correspondent Richard Harding Davis answered Humorist Finley Peter Dunne's comments by stating:  "It's hardly fair to send the Puerto Rican campaign down in history as a picnic.

"Puerto Rico was a picnic because the commanding generals would not permit the enemy to make it otherwise...By taking all the towns en route and picking up every Spaniard it met on the way, the army would surround San Juan with the island already won.  Then with the navy in the harbor and the army camped about the city, San Juan would, as a matter of common sense, surrender...its inception and start was most brilliant and successful."

 


A Splendid Little War

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