Last winter my wife and self visited Cuba and having read and heard so much of the campaigning on the Island of the American troops during the Spanish-American war of 1898, we were greatly interested in learning all we could of the exact facts, by gathering such statistics as we could and personally looking over their battle-fields, together with a considerable portion of the adjacent country. And while much could be said of this beautiful Island, space will permit us to speak only of the military operations there, which, though brief, were of the most vital importance to the Cubans, whose only hope of self-rule and relief from Spanish oppression lay in intervention by the United States.
We saw the sun rise over the sea, just before passing Moro Castle, at the entrance of Havana Harbor.
Here lies “The Wreck of the Maine,” which blackened and twisted, marks the place where that battleship was blown up February 15th, 1898, and where more than 250 of our sailor boys were unfortunately exterminated.
It is an unsightly object now, is in the way in the harbor, and brings feelings of sadness to all Americans who sail into or out of the harbor.
We were informed that the U. S. administration would not allow it to be disturbed or removed. Just why, we do not know.
We visited “The Moro” and “Cabanas Castles;” wonderful piles of masonry, with their dungeons, moats, draw bridges, instruments of torture, and chambers of horror.
They are said to have cost more than $17,000,000, which was wrung from the poor Cubans.
From Havana we went 540 miles by rail down the Island to Santiago de Cuba, staying over night on the way, in order to make the whole trip by daylight. At Matanza occurred the first engagement between our forces and those of Spain. Several of our war-ships sailed into this harbor and proceeded to shell the city for some hours.
There were no “casualties on our side, but the Spanish forces suffered the loss of one mule.”
At Ciego de Avila, we saw one of those Trochas, or lines of defense or offense, which the Spaniards built across the Island from Jucaro, on the Carribean Sea, to San Fernando, on the Atlantic Ocean. They consisted of a ditch and embankment on one side, with posts and barb wire entanglements on the top, there were block houses, or stockades, along this line, about one-fourth of a mile apart, in which small detachments of soldiers were stationed, and it was expected that these lines would divide the Cuban forces and thus make it easier to destroy them in detail. They were of little use, however, as the Cubans easily went through or around them.
Evidences of Spanish cruelty are still seen, one especially; was that of a woman with both arms chopped off above the elbows, and we were told that this was done because she would not divulge the hiding place of her husband to the Spanish soldiers.
Santiago de Cuba is a neat little city of about 25,000 inhabit-ants. It is surrounded by low mountains and fertile valleys. Tropical fruits and vegetables are here in great abundance. There are but few Americans here now.
We were fortunate in becoming acquainted with the Rev. Jean B. Mancebo, a native of this place, and his accomplished American wife, who have a church and school there. Both are very pleasant and educated people. They accompanied us, and pointed out the many places of interest. The first being “San Juan Hill,” where some severe fighting was done. The grounds are now leveled off, cleared of the barb wire entanglements, and made into a very pretty and peaceful looking little park. There are two or three monuments on the crest with the names of the troops engaged, and the officers in command. A little to the right of the entrance to this park, on the side towards the city, stands the “Ceiba Tree,” or “Tree of Peace,” under which was arranged the surrender of the city and the Spanish troops, on that end of the Island.
This tree is now surrounded by a high iron fence capped with old bayonets, to prevent its being injured by souvenir hunters.