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Major General Nelson A. Miles, Commander of the Army, to Secretary of War Russell A. Alger

Headquarters of the Army,

Washington, D.C.


CONFIDENTIAL.                                   May 27, 1898.


Referring to my letter of yesterday and to our consultation since, I desire to submit the following:

As we are not about to inaugurate active military operations in conjunction with the Navy, I think it would be advisable to load the transports at Tampa with a strong force of Infantry and Artillery, move them to Key West and thence along the northern coast of Cuba, where they would have the full protection of Admiral Sampson’s fleet, until they reach Admiral Schley’s fleet at Santiago-de-Cuba,1 and then by a combined effort of the Army and Navy, capture the harbor, garrison and, possibly, the Spanish fleet at that point.

If before reaching Admiral Schley’s fleet, it shall be found that he has already accomplished the above object, or that the Spanish fleet shall have escaped, I then urge the importance of a combined attack of the Army and Navy upon Puerto Rico.2 We will be able to land a superior force, and I believe that a combined effort will result in capturing the island, with its garrison, provided it is done before it can be reinforced from Spain. The distance from Key West to Puerto Rico is 1040 miles, and from Cadiz, Spain, to Puerto Rico it is 4000 miles. The possession of Puerto Rico would be a very great advantage to the military, as it would cripple the forces of Spain, giving us several thousand prisoners. It could be well fortified, the harbor mined, and would be a most excellent port for our Navy, which could be speedily relieved from any responsibility in the charge of that port, as we could leave a sufficient garrison to hold it against any force that might be sent against it.

     Then we should commence, in my judgment, a movement toward the west by capturing the ports along the northern coast of Cuba, at the eastern end, supplying the insurgents with abundance of arms and munitions of war, and as speedily as possible land our cavalry and sufficient Light Artillery to enable them to move from the harbor of Pto. de Neuvitas along the line of railroad to Puerto Principe. From that base our Cavalry and Light Artillery, in conjunction with the forces of Lieutenant General Garcia and General Gomez,3 should move west to near Santa Clara. These movements, in my judgment, can all be accomplished during the rainy season, through a country comparatively free from yellow fever, well stocked with cattle and having grass sufficient for our animals. While this is being accomplished our Volunteer Army will be prepared to land in the vicinity of Mariel, Havana and Matanzas in sufficient force to complete the capture or destruction of the Spanish forces upon the island of Cuba. The advantage of this movement will be that the Army and Navy will act in concert and close unison; that it does not divide our Navy, and that it will utilize our most available military force in the best way during the time of year when military operations are most difficult.

     I believe that the entrance to the port of Cienfuegos can be obstructed or blockaded by one or two monitors to better advantage than to send the Army there, where it would have to meet a strong garrison which is already there, and all the forces that can be quickly sent there by rail directly from Havana and Matanzas.

     If the above plan is approved, troops could be ordered to embark on the transports immediately, and the purpose would be the occupation of Spanish territory, first by moving our troops as speedily as possible to Santiago-de-Cuba and Puerto-Rico, and later to the north coast of Cuba, especially our cavalry, this military occupation to continue until hostilities cease.

Very respectfully,                   

(signed) Nelson A. Miles.        

Major General Commanding.

Source Note: TCy, DNA, RG 94, Entry 13. Addressed before opening: “The Honorable/The Secretary of War.”

Footnote 1: At the time of this letter, RAdm. William T. Sampson, commanding the North Atlantic Squadron, was blockading northern Cuba while Commo. Winfield S. Schley, in command of the Flying Squadron, was looking for the Spanish fleet commanded by RAdm. Pascual Cervera y Topete. See: The Flying Squadron and the Search for the Spanish Fleet.

Footnote 2: On 4 June, President William McKinley wrote Miles asking the earliest date that an “expeditionary force. . . large enough to take and hold” Puerto Rico without assistance from Gen. William R. Shafter’s Fifth Corps could be ready to go. Ibid., 263. Miles replied that it could be done immediately and then suggested that the army not initiate operations against Santiago de Cuba but instead, “leave No. 1 [Santiago de Cuba] safely guarded,” and send an expedition to Puerto Rico to capture it. Miles added: “Leaving sufficient force to hold No. 2 [Puerto Rico], the capture of No. 1 can then be easily accomplished and the troops then landed at any point that might be thought advisable.” Miles to Alger, 6 June 1898, Ibid., 264. McKinley immediately rejected this suggestion. However, subsequent correspondence indicated that the Army was still planning to send an expedition of some 29,000 men against Puerto Rico before operations at Santiago de Cuba were concluded. Ibid., 264-67.

Footnote 3: Cuban insurrectionist leaders Maj. Gen. Calixto Ramón García y Iñiguez and General-in-Chief Máximo Gómez y Báez.

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