Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Brigadier General Felix Pareja Mesa to Lieutenant General Arsenio Linares y Pomba

[Extract]

Excellent Sir:

     The seventh day, at dawn brought seven ships before the port of Caimanera. They fired grape shot and all kinds of projectiles on the Playa del Este and Cayo Toro until they set fire to the fort on the Playa Este and burning the houses of the pilots which the detachment occupied. This lasted cannonading with more or less intensity, until five o’clock in the afternoon.

     At the Playa del Este had only two muzzle-loading guns and sand intrenchments, the detachment could do nothing before the six ships, firing on them from all sides. They retired into Manigua and to the Cuzco Hill, where they remain to-day making sallies on the beach.1

     From that day 150 men occupy Punta Caracolas, observing the movement of ships which occupy the outer port, with a transport of war and a variable number of armed ships and other vessels of war and armed merchant ships; total never less than four. . . . I have not been able to antagonize the American ships with rifle fire, no known ground being at hand. Yesterday the Captain of Engineers ordered to make safe protections that would impede and to make them low.

     The ground of Playa Este is better for this purpose. I refer solely to disembarkation. Dia F. Sandoval and Cayo Toro fired with their artillery, being impeded with short range, when the ships retired to the centre of the Channel and took position in the middle of the Bay, or they would have stopped answering the fire which the enemy’s ships were keeping up with impunity. Sandoval has not over seven discharges of piercing projectiles, and Caimanera battery did not fire, reserving fire until the ships entered the Channel, which is where their guns reached. . . .

     The American squadron in possession of the outer bay has taken it as if for a harbor of rest, they having anchored as if one of their own ports, since the seventh, the day they cut the cables. In the entrance and center of the harbor, I not being able to reach them, they have not again molested me except with two cannon shots on the eight. It appears from the work that is being done that they are preparing to plant the harbor with mines, or place their ships for disembarkation ay [at?] Playa del Este, their favorite place. If it is the first, I call your attention to it, in case that some time our Squadron should come here.

     The forces of the Brigade are in good spirits. I continue serving out half rations of everything, and in that way I expect to reach only the end of the month, above all in bread, as I have no flour of any kind, as I said and no way of getting any on account of there having been no corn for some time. Quinine for the hospitals the same. . . .2

     To-day, there is in the harbor a large armored vessel and seven more vessels with a large transport that appears to be a store ship. They patrol Playo del Este with armed launches, I have just been informed. . . .

     Enanto, 10 June 1898.

(Signed) Felix Pareja)

Source Note: Contemporary Translation, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 231. Addressed below close: “To His Excellency/General Commanding Division of Cuba.” At the top of the document is the following notation: “The following letter was capture by the Cubans enroute to Santiago.” Reportedly, the courier carrying it was hung as a spy by the Cuban revolutionaries. Squadron Bulletins, 10

Footnote 1: An American account of this operation can be found in the San Francisco Call of 9 June under the headline: CAIMANERA'S FORTIFICATIONS SHELLED BY THE AMERICANS SPANIARDS DRIVEN FROM THEIR WORKS: Splendid Marksmanship Again Displayed by the Gunners of Our Vessels.

CAPE HAYTIEN, Hayti, June 8. — Five American warships at half-past 5 o'clock yesterday morning began to shell the fortifications at Caimanera, on the bay of Guantanamo, which cuts into the southern coast of Santiago de Cuba east of the city of Santiago.

Many Spaniards are reported to have been killed. The Americans' fire was most effective, driving the Spanish gunners in consternation from the defense of their works and then from the town of Caimanera, in which they took refuge. The inhabitants of this place joined in the rout.

The vessels which took part in the bombardment were the cruiser Marblehead, the auxiliary cruisers St. Louis and Yankee and the two gunboats. The latter, however, paid little attention to the Spanish forts, directing their efforts to cutting the cables which run out of Caimanera. Three cables were cut under the protection of the larger vessels of the fleet. One of the cables severed was that connecting Caimanera with the city of Santiago de Cuba.

The American fleet appeared off the entrance to the Bay of Guantanamo just as the rising sun began to redden the horizon. With the Marblehead in the lead, the little squadron sailed into the bay and proceeded toward the cable house under the guns of the Spanish fortifications. While the Marblehead, St. Louis and Yankee formed in battle order before the forts and opened fire, the little gunboats darted out from the line and began to grapple for the cable.

The fire from the cruisers was rapid and well directed, and was replied to with vigor by the Spanish. All the men on board the warships worked with enthusiasm, the New York naval reserves on board the Yankee earning their share of the laurels at the guns. 

The bombardment was continued until the gunboats cutting the cables had concluded their labors. This was at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The fleet then sailed out of the bay and took up a position about three miles from shore.

A cablegram from Caimanera received here to-day stated that the fleet was still cruising before the entrance to the bay.

The shells from the warships early began to tell on the fortifications, the fire of which became weaker and weaker. One battery after another was silenced, until finally not a shaft of fire or a balloon of smoke issued from the face of- the forts to tell of resistance. As the walls of the fortifications began to tumble upon them, the Spanish gunners deserted their positions of duty and ran to the town, which was in a state of high excitement.

With the silencing of the forts a still greater panic fell upon the residents of Caimanera, who feared the Americans would complete their work by destroying the town, and there was a general movement to places of safety.

Many shells from the American guns exploded in close proximity to the houses on the outskirts of Caimanera.

A report reached here that several houses were struck by the projectiles, but I could not confirm it. So far as I have been able to learn no damage was done the fleet.

It is believed in Caimanera that the forts were bombarded with a view to opening the way to the landing of American troops near that point. With the withdrawal from the bay of the American ships, those who had fled from the town ventured to return and the excitement was succeeded by calmness.

The Spaniards there are apparently determined to offer a desperate resistance to the American"; in any attempt to land troops and will make the best fight possible under these circumstances. They are resolved at any cost to prevent the town and forts of Caimanera from falling into the hands of the enemy. The military commander has issued an order to burn the town, if necessary, to prevent the Americans from profiting by its occupation. Similar measures, it is understood, are being taken at Santiago.

After the cessation of the firing from the forts, the fleet concentrated its fire upon the blockhouse at which the cables of the French Cable and Telegraph Company land, and speedily demolished them.

The cables which connect the blockhouse with Caimanera were cut. On account of the cutting of the cable to Santiago telegraphic communication with that place is suspended.

Also, see: Capt. Bowman H. McCalla to Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, 9 June 1898.

Footnote 2: This portion of the intercepted letter was extracted and reported to the American blockading fleet in Squadron Bulletin number 4, dated 16 June. Squadron Bulletins, 10.

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