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Marine Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Huntington to Marine Colonel Charles Heywood

Headquarters, First Marine Battalion

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

June 17th, 1898.


     1.   I have the honor to make the following report: The stores of this battalion were sent to the dock at Key West from Camp Sampson,1 on Sunday June 5th. We broke camp at 2 A.M. on June 6th,and went on board the Panther.2

     2.   On June 7th, at 7:10 P. M. we sailed from Key West, and arrived off Santiago de Cuba on the morning of the 10th;3 on the same day,at 1 P. M. we arrived in Guantanamo Bay; at 2 P. M. the battalion landed with stores. Company “C” was landed and deployed up the hill near the beach on the right of the entrance to the harbor; this hill is about 156 feet high and on top was formerly occupied by the Spanish troops; but when the position was vacated the day before our landing,the block house on top of the Hill was burned.

     3.   On landing all houses and huts lately occupied by the Spanish forces were burned.

     4.   The hill occupied by us is a faulty position,but the best to be had at this point; the ridge slopes downward and to the rear from the Bay,the space at the top is very small,and all the surrounding country is covered with thick and almost impenetrable brush; this position is commanded by a mountain,the ridge of which is about 1200 yards to the rear.4

     5. On the afternoon of landing tents were pitched and outposts established.

     6. On the 11th, about 5 P. M. an attack was  made upon one of the outposts and two privates-McColgan and  Dumphy of Company “D” were killed,each receiving more than eight rounds each of which could have caused death;5 these two men were patrols. A detachment was sent out from camp to support the outpost and we found only faint traces of the enemy; after night-fall fire was opened upon our camp by small parties from different directions on five different occasions; the men turned out each time under arms with promptitude and courage; about 1:00 A. M., a more combined attach was made and noisy fire from South,Southeast and Southwest was opened. During this attack Acting Assistant Surgeon John Blair Gibbs,U.S.Navy was killed.6 From the best information attainable about 160 men were engaged in this attack.

     7. On the morning of the 12th,Sergeant C.H. Smith was killed and Corporal Glass,Pvts. McGowan and Dalton, all of Company “D” were wounded,not dangerously.7

     8. On the morning of the 12th,all tents and material were removed from the position and taken on the bay side of the hill and a trench was dug on the South front about 40 yards across and a barricade made around the position,which would enable us to hold it,as I was informed that more troops were being assembled by the enemy in the immediate vicinity.

     9. On the night of the 12th,many persistant and trifling attacks were made,in reply to which we used a good deal of ammunition; about 2 A. M. Sergeant Major Henry Good was killed. On the 12t we were joined by 40 insurgent troops,and they being acquainted with the country and excellent woodsmen and fearless,were of the greatest assistance.

     10. On the 13th,about 2 A. M. fire was opened upon the camp we subdued without loss or difficulty; that night passed quietly. About 5 A. M. of the 14th,a rather smart fire was opened for a few moments on the camp and easily replied. About twenty Cubans came from below the hill at this alarm,but their help was not needed. They opened fire.

     11. At 9 A. M. 14th,a force consisting of Companies “C” and “D” the native troops above mentioned with about 26 more from Guantanamo,all under the direction of Col. Tomas,Cuban Army,8proceeded through the hills about 6 miles and destroyed a well,said to be the only available water supply within 9 miles.

     12. From the best information I can gather,this force was opposed by four regular companies of Spanish Infantry and two companies of guerillas,making a total of a little short of 500 men.

     13. The engagement between these forces lasted from almost 11 A. M. until 3:30 P. M. Our troops drove the enemy at every point,being obliged to make the first advance for about 30 minutes under fire which,owing to the lay of the land, they could not return.

     14. Captain Elliott9 reports that the men in many cases cooly estimated distances,borrowed his field glasses to pick up parties of the enemy,and at a distance of 1000 yards often inflicted damages and caused withdrawal.

     15. 2nd. Lieutenant Magill10with 50 men and 10 Cubans,joined Captain Elliott,climbing the mountain through cactus and brush; this advance was intended to cut off the retreat of the Spaniards, which unfortunately failed of its principal objective,owing to the fact that his advance was stopped by the fire of the U.S.S. Dolphin.11

     16. Being apprehensive for the success of the movement,I ordered 1st. Lieut. Mahoney to be joined by 1st. Lieut. Ingate—these officers each having 50 men with them on picket;12 this combined force to proceed to Captain Elliotts assistance. Lieut. Ingate failed unaccountably to find his way to Lieut. Mahoney,and Lieut. Mahoney advanced alone,arriving too late to take an active part in the affair.

     17. Our losses were two Cubans killed and two wounded, and three privates wounded - not dangerously; after the affair while descending the mountain Lieut. Neville wrenched his hip and will probably be unfit for service for a month;13 about 10 or 12 of our men and two Cubans were overcome by the heat.

     18. From information received from prisoners,which I believe to be reliable,about 60 of the Spanish force were killed and something more than 150 wounded,and 1 Lieut. and 17 privates were captured[.] The forces returned to camp at 3 P. M. exhausted by the long hard march through this mountainous and tropical country.

     19. This affair was planned by the Cubans but too much praise cannot be awarded to the coolness,skill and bravery of our officers and men,by which alone its success was achieved.

     20. Captain Elliott’s cool advance up a rocky,steep mountain patch,under fire,for 20 minutes,without being able to return it,and the gallantry and skill displayed by him through out this affair were essential to the great success attained by the expedition and are worthy of and I earnestly recommend that he be advanced in rank one grade. Captain Elliott mentions,in terms of high praise,the conduct of 1st. Lieuts Lucas and Neville,and 2nd Lieuts. Magill and Bannon.14 Your attention is called to a report made by Captain Elliott attached hereto.15

Very respectfully,               

R.W. Huntington             

Lieut. Col. U.S.M.C.   

Comdg. First Battalion.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

1st. Endorsement

U.S.S.Marblehead, 3rd. Rate/

June 18th, 1898.

Respectfully referred to the Commander-in-Chief.16

This report requires several corrections.

     The block-house referred to on page 2 was burned by the gun fire from the Yankee on the 6[th?] instant.

     The position referred to on the same page was not occupied again,after a small Spanish force had been driven away when the Marblehead took permanent possession of the Bay on the 8th. instant.

     Early on the morning of the 10th instant Captain Goodrell17 with forty marines from the Oregon,and twenty marines from the Marblehead examined the locality occupied by the marines who arrived shortly after he had completed this duty. On the arrival of the “Panther”, Captain Goodrell was sent on board to give Colonel Huntington the benefit of his observations.

     Referring to parragraph  4,page 2,the position occupied by the Marines,had been pronounced by Major General Perez18 of the Cuban Army on the 17th,instant,to be the only tenable position on the bay which could be successfully held by a small force. He also stated that five thousand Spaniards could not take it.

     If the Marine position is commanded by a mountain ridge,that mountain ridge is commanded in turn by the ten five inch rapid fire guns of the Marblehead,and of such other ships as may be here.

     The mistake of locating the camp between the main position and the outpost,was corrected on the 11th,instant at my suggestion.

     The expedition was suggested by Colonel Laborda,and the Dolphin was sent to cover the sea front of our forces.19

     Twenty-three marines were overcome by the heat were brought back by the Dolphin.

     This exhaustion was due I believe mainly to the fact that the campaign hats of the Marines were on the Resolute,and not in the Marine Camp.

     The behavior of the Officers and men of the Marine Battalion generally has been most gallant,and is generally worthy of all praise.

Very respectfully,          

B. H. McCalla,         

Commander, U.S.Navy,


Source Note: TD, DNA, RG 313, Entry 45. Addressed below close: “Colonel Commandant,/Charles Heywood, U.S.M.C./Washington,D.C.”

Footnote 1: Camp Sampson was at Key West, FL, some two miles from the docks., Access on 21 October 2014.

Footnote 2: Navy transport Panther, Cmdr. George C. Reiter, commanding. Panther was newly-purchased; it had formerly been the steamship Venezuela.

Footnote 3: In the battalion’s journal, Huntington added that upon arrival at Santiago, he “reported To” Radm. William T. Sampson before proceeding to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Journal of the First Marine Battalion, DNA, RG 126, Entry 153.

Footnote 4: As seen in his endorsement at the end of this documents, Cmdr. Bowman W. McCalla disputed Huntington’s contention that the position was flawed. In an excerpt of his autobiography, McCalla explained why the location was chosen. See: The Autobiography of Admiral B.H. McCalla relating to the capture of Guantánamo.

Footnote 5: Pvts. William Dumphy and James McColgan. The damage done by these rounds was so severe that initially it was thought that Dumphy and McClogan had been mutilated by the Spanish. Bowman H. McCalla to Sampson, 12 June 1898, DNA RG 313, Entry 48. However, Cmdr. McCalla, the Navy officer commanding the Guantanamo operation conducted a “most careful investigation” of the incident and concluded that the “mutilation was due to the small calibre bullets at very short ranges.” As a result, McCalla withdrew the charge that the Spanish had committed willful mutilation. McCalla to RAdm. William T. Sampson, 19 June 1898, DNA, RG 313, Entry 48, Box 3.

Footnote 6: In a report to Sampson on 12 June, McCalla suggested that Gibbs may have been the victim of “friendly fire.” DNA, RG 313, Entry 48. In his memoirs, Chaplain Harry W. Jones, who was at Guantánamo aboard the Texas at the time, wrote that Gibbs, hearing the firefight, stepped outside the medical tent to see what was going on despite being advised not to do so by a marine he was treating. Backlit by a “bright light” he became a “magnificent target” and was shot through the head by a sniper using a Mauser rifle. Harry W. Jones, A Chaplain’s Experience Ashore and Afloat: The “Texas” Under Fire (New York: A. G. Sherwood & Co., 1901), 201.

Footnote 8: Lt. Col. Enrique Tomas.

Footnote 9: Marine Capt. George F. Elliott.

Footnote 10: Lt. Lewis Clarke Lucas.

Footnote 11: According to journalist Stephen Crane, who accompanied Elliott’s force in its attack, Elliott requested that Dolphin, Cmdr. Henry W. Lyon, commanding, to fire on Spanish positions in a heavily-vegetated valley at the well and to also to shell a blockhouse that was the Spanish headquarters. Dolphin did as requested but it was quickly discovered that a force of marines commanded by Louis J. Magill that had been advancing along Elliott’s flank had crested a ridge near the well and into a position that created a deadly crossfire for the Spanish but also moved it into the line of fire of Dolphin, who, according to Crane, did not know that Magill’s troops were there. As soon as Dolphin received word of the marine’s situation, it ceased fire and the Spanish, who had been forced from hiding, retreated while the Cubans and American marines fired steadily at the fleeing troops. R.W. Stallman and E.R. Hagemann, eds., The War Dispatches of Stephen Crane (New York: New York University Press, 1964) See, also: Henry W. Lyon to John D. Long, 15 August 1898.

Footnote 12: Lts. James E. Mahoney and Clarence L. A. Ingate.

Footnote 13: Lt. Wendell C. Neville fell after the fighting was over and injured his leg and hip.

Footnote 14: Lt. Phillip M. Bannon.

Footnote 15: Elliott’s report is printed in Marines in the Spanish-American War, 122-24. On 18 June, Elliott submitted a supplementary report that is printed in ibid., 124-25. For McCalla’s supplementary report concerning this engagement on 19 June, see: Bowman H. McCalla to William T. Sampson, 19 June 1898.

Footnote 16: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 17: Mancil C. Goodrell.

Footnote 18: Maj. Gen. Pedro Augustín Pérez.

Footnote 19: New Orleans-born Cuban pilot Col. Alfredo Laborde. David C. Carlson, “In the Fists of Earlier Revolutions: Postemancipation Social Control and State Formation in Guantanamo, Cuba, 1868-1902,” PhD diss., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 2007, 264.

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