War with Spain - Charles Morris

Spain and Her Colonies

On Sunday, October 28, 1492, Christopher Columbus, sailing southward through the placid Western seas, gazed with eyes of delight upon the shores of a rich and charming island, "the most beautiful land," he said, "that the sun ever shone upon or that the eyes of man ever beheld." Cubanacan, the land "where gold is found," the natives called it The Spanish were liberal with names, calling it successively Juana, Fernandina, Santiago, and Ave Maria. None of these titles, however, took hold. Cuba, half the native name, prevailed,—about the only relic of the natives that survived a half-century of Spanish rule. It has been poetically designated the "Pearl of the Antilles," though it is a pearl whose lustre has been sadly dimmed.

It is not without warrant that we begin our history four centuries back,' for the causes of the nineteenth-century war of which we propose to treat began with the advent of the Spaniards to this continent, and have grown with the growth of their dominion in the New World. Cruelty and oppression marked their coming to America, and to cruelty and oppression was due their final departure from its shores. The whole record of Spain on this continent, in fact, has been one of inhumanity and tyranny, with the result that her colonies have, one after another, been driven into rebellion and won independence. At the opening of the nineteenth century much more than half the Western Hemisphere was held by the strong hand of Spain. At its close the final remnants of this splendid colonial dominion were falling from her enfeebled grasp, while hardly a throb of pity beat for her in the heart of the world, for her misfortunes were felt to be the inevitable consequences of her faults. We are constrained, therefore, to place Spain in witness against herself by a brief review of her policy in America, seeking to show that the war of 1898 was the culmination of a chain of related events due to her persistently oppressive colonial policy.

It was a brief respite from suffering for the natives of Cuba that the Spaniards made their first settlement in the neighboring island named by them Hispaniola, but now known as Hayti. This island was peopled by a race of innocent and happy natives, who welcomed the white strangers as deities, though they were soon to regard them as demons. Under the cruel rule of the new-comers their happy lot suddenly ended. Their liberty was quickly exchanged for slavery, and so ruthlessly were they driven to severe and unaccustomed toil that within a generation they had all disappeared. The entire population of the island was sacrificed to the cruelty and greed of its new lords.

In the year 1502, ten years after the discovery of America, Nicolas de Ovanda became governor of Hispaniola. He was a small, fair-haired man, mild of speech and courteous in demeanor; yet the seven years of rule of this cultured Spaniard were so filled with horrors that one shudders at his very name. To invite independent chiefs to an entertainment, then seize, bind, and bum them to death, was a mild proceeding under the rule of the soft-voiced Ovanda. Such a crew of wretches surely never came together as those that desolated that fair island while under his control. The life of an Indian slave was of no value. The natives were plentiful and could easily be replaced. It was cheaper to work one to death and get another than to treat the first with humanity; and the whip of the taskmaster rapidly did its work. At times the natives rose in rebellion, but their revolts were subdued with frightful savagery. Some were burned alive at the stake, others were tom to pieces by fierce bloodhounds. The murder of a Spaniard was revenged by chopping off the hands of fifty or sixty Indians. The masters of the isle made a sport of cruelty. On one occasion thirteen natives were hanged so that their toes just touched the ground, and then were slowly pricked to death by the sword-points of the Spaniards. Other tales of almost unmentionable cruelty might be given, but it must suffice to say that, fortunately for the natives, they soon disappeared under this rigorous discipline, and the Spaniards were obliged to replace them with negro slaves, who, as they had to be paid for, were treated with more humanity.

West Indies


This, and much more of the kind, we may read in the pages of Las Casas, the gentlest and most humane of his race, whose pen fairly trembles with indignation as he writes. This apostle of humanity spent his life in vain attempts to alleviate the condition of the natives of New Spain, and died after a life of earnest but largely useless appeal. It was not the cruelties shown in Hispaniola alone of which he had to speak, for the progress of Spain in the New World was everywhere marked by a trail of blood. The courage of Cortes and Pizarro was sadly vitiated with treachery and cruelty, and two flourishing empires were overthrown, hosts of their people slain, and the remainder reduced to slavery, that a handful of adventurers might rise to power upon their misery. De Soto, in our own southern territory, with his bloodhounds and chains, was as faithless and cruel; and the whole story of the conquest of New Spain is one that it is best not to dwell upon too minutely. In the history of Mexico we are told that the rapacious laws depopulated towns, and that it mattered little whether a tribe was an ally or an enemy, since the work of the scourge and the sword led to the same end. Revolt only intensified cruelty. Death in the mines or inhumanity worse than death in the fields, we are told, was the lot of the natives under the rule of Spain.

In 1511, Don Diego Columbus, son of the discoverer, determined to take possession of Cuba, Hispaniola having become nearly exhausted of laborers within less than twenty years. No opposition was made to the invasion except by a chief named Hatuey, a fugitive who had lived under the amenities of Spanish rule in Hispaniola. His opposition was useless and he was soon in the hands of the invaders, who, instead of treating him as an honorable captive, condemned him to be burned alive as a fugitive slave. While the fagots were being heaped around him, a Franciscan friar stood by the pile and, cross in hand, besought him to accept Christianity, in order that the flames which consumed his body might waft his soul to realms of endless bliss.

"Are there any Spaniards in those happy realms?" asked the chief.

"Yes," was the reply.

"Then I will have nothing to do with your religion. I will not go to a place where I may meet one of that accursed race."

No long period passed before all the native Cubans followed their intrepid chief. At the time of settlement they are said to have numbered more than three hundred thousand. Forty years afterwards it is doubtful if one of them survived. The wars they waged with the Spaniards ended in blood and torture. Their lot in peace was worse than in war. The sword and the lash soon did the work, and the natives vanished from the land. The methods by which a whole population can be exterminated in a generation need not be commented upon; they may be left to the imagination of the reader.

The subsequent history of Cuba, up to the early years of the nineteenth century, may be epitomized in a few words. Negro slaves succeeded the natives as laborers, and grew numerous after 1580, at which time the cultivation of tobacco and sugar-cane began. For a century and a half after 1600 almost perpetual fear "brooded over the island. The French, English, and Dutch, and the pirates who infested the waters of the West Indies, invaded it at will. Even before that date Havana had been twice taken and burned by the French. In 1762 it was besieged by the English, and taken after an obstinate resistance of more than two months. Cuba was restored to Spain in the following year, and then first began to be prosperous. At its first census, in 1773, its population, black and white, numbered only 171,620. At its latest census it had a population of over 1,600,000.

The history of Cuba as a colony is at one with that of the Spanish colonies as a whole. Much as the inhabitants of the British colonies in America objected to the methods of the home country, they enjoyed a high state of freedom as compared with the people of New Spain. The latter were destitute of even the shadow of liberty, being deprived of all privileges, civil, political, and religious. While the British colonists made their own laws, and in several colonies chose their own governors, the Spanish colonists were under the absolute dominion of governors appointed by the crown, and were as destitute of actual liberty as the slaves in their fields. Spanish officials filled every place of power or profit, monopoly and restriction were the principles of administration, and the people were kept in submission by a powerful army and navy, which they were heavily taxed to maintain. The "taxation without representation" which led to the revolt of the British colonists was but a mild measure of oppression as compared with that under which the people of Spanish America groaned.

A more detailed account of the character of this tyranny may be given, in view of the fact that it continued in Cuba and the Philippine Islands until the year 1898. It was of the most crushing character. The viceroys and captain-generals who were appointed by the king of Spain to rule over his dominions in America were invested with despotic power, their word having the force of absolute law. How they governed may be deduced from the fact that each of them went back to Spain immensely rich.

Spain looked upon her colonies as sources of revenue only, and rivaled the rapacious policy of her captain generals and other colonial officials. Heavy duties were laid alike on imports and exports, and trade with any other nation than Spain was forbidden under the severest penalties. Any merchant captain not hailing from a Spanish port, and even Spanish merchants who sought to trade without official permission, were punished with death if they dared to enter a colonial harbor of Spain. The sole right of trading with his colonies was sold, near the end of the eighteenth century, by the king to the Philippine Company, an association of merchants trading with the West and the East alike, and privileged to fix the rates at which all goods might be sold. To trade without license from these merchants was a crime whose penalty was death. The colonists were forced to sell and buy their goods at prices fixed for them by this company, whose net profits were usually three hundred per cent.

The tyranny exercised was not restricted to trade, but covered every detail of life. Literature was under a strict censorship, and no book could be imported without the permission of the priests. In 1810, when the revolution in Chili and Peru began, these two colonies owned between them a single printing-press. Every effort was made to prevent intercourse with other countries, and even a native of Spain could not visit the colonies unless the king chose to grant him a passport. The colonists were under a similar restriction. They could not visit Europe, they could not even enter a neighboring colony, without special permission from the captain-general of their province. At home they were discriminated against in favor of Spanish-born immigrants, who occupied all the official positions and held them with the sole purpose of filling their pockets. Robbery, under the disguise of fees and charges, was the prevalent practice, from the captain-general down to the pettiest official. "Robamos todos"  ("we are all thieves") a functionary of high rank is said to have openly remarked; and it may well be questioned if any other colonies in the history of the world have been so shamefully misgoverned as those of Spain. This state of affairs yielded its natural result. In the year 1800 Spain was the unquestioned owner of all South America except Brazil and Guiana and of all North America except the United States east of the Mississippi and the British possessions of the north. In 1825 her sole p0ssessions consisted of Cuba and Porto Rico, two islands whose combined area is about equal to that of the State of Pennsylvania. Tyranny had driven the colonists into general revolt and they had won their liberties by the sword. Such of them as remained alive after Spain had worked her will.

The effort of Spain to subdue her insurgent colonists was marked by a savage cruelty unknown in any other wars of the century. The Spanish official records admit that eighty thousand persons were executed, many of them being put to death with the refinements of cruelty. The records of the insurgents claim that fully a quarter of a million were thus dealt with, in addition to the multitude slaughtered in cold blood by the Spanish soldiers. who destroyed every city and town the people of which were suspected of sympathy with the rebels. We have a striking example of the Spanish method of suppressing insurrection in an official despatch of General Morillo, in which he refers to his dealings with the inhabitants of the city of Santa Fé de Bogota.

"Every person of either sex," he writes. "who was capable of reading or writing was put to death. By thus cutting off all who are in any way educated I hope effectually to check the spirit of the revolution."

Fortunately for the people of this city, the Spanish restrictions on education and literature had prevented the arts of reading and writing from being widely disseminated. We are further told that all who had held official positions in the local administration, who were related to insurgents, or were distinguished for their talents and attainments, were thrown into prison from which they were taken only to be hanged or shot,—husbands being thus put to death in the presence of their wives, and children in the presence of their parents. All this might be difficult to believe but for the fact that we have had similar examples in our own day in General Weyler's methods of suppressing insurrection. The spirit that finds enjoyment in the bull-fight seems to have infected the whole nature of the Spanish race.

The loss of all her colonies upon the mainland might have taught Spain that her colonial policy was a false one. Great Britain learned this lesson well. But Spain seemed past profiting by experience, and maintained in her few remaining possessions the mediaeval methods that had cost her a continent. In 1808 Cuba gained the title of "The Ever-faithful Isle." in consequence of the members of its provincial council taking an oath to preserve the island for their sovereign, who had been deposed by Napoleon. This sovereign rewarded them in the true Spanish manner, by making the powers of the captain-general more autocratic, if possible, than before, giving him an authority equal to that of the Sultan of Turkey or the Russian Czar.

In 1825, the Spanish king issued a decree which put Cuba practically under martial law. Incensed by the loss of all his dominions upon the mainland and even of Hispaniola, the earliest possession of Spain in the New World, he took a step for the prevention of rebellion in the "Ever-faithful Isle" that seemed studiously designed to drive the colonists into revolt. We may quote from this astonishing decree:

"His Majesty, the King, our Lord, desiring to obviate the inconveniences that might, in extraordinary cases, result from a division of command, and from the interferences and prerogatives of the respective officers, for the important end of preserving in that precious island his legitimate sovereign authority and the public tranquillity through proper means, has resolved, in accordance with the opinion of his council of ministers, to give to your Excellency the fullest authority, bestowing on you all the powers which by the royal ordinances are granted to the governors of besieged cities.

"In consequence of this, His Majesty gives to your Excellency the most ample and unbounded power, not only to send away from the island any persons in office, whatever their occupation, rank, class, or condition, whose continuance therein your Excellency may deem injurious, or whose conduct, public or private, may alarm you, replacing them with persons faithful to His Majesty and deserving of all the confidence of your Excellency; but also to suspend the execution of any order whatsoever, or any general provision made concerning any branch of the administration, as your Excellency may think most suitable to the royal service."

This is, with few alleviations, the supreme law in Cuba to-day, whose governor has the absolute power of the commander of a besieged city. We need hardly ask what effect such a decree would have had upon the people of any Anglo-Saxon colony. In Cuba its result has been to produce a bitter spirit of revolt and an incurable hatred of Spanish rule. One writer tells us that "there is no hatred in the world to be compared to that of the Cuban for Spain and everything Spanish." The Creole detests the Spaniard, whom he looks upon as an alien thief, coming to rob him of the revenues of his island and to oppress and annoy him by petty and illegal exactions for which he has no redress. The Spaniard, on the other hand, treats the Creole with disdain, taunts him with cowardice and thriftlessness, and looks upon him as a degenerate being, born but to fill the coffers of Spain and swell with gold the purses of her officials. Feelings and acts like these are the seeds of rebellion, and we cannot be surprised that Cuba has made successive efforts to gain her liberty.

As early as 1823 an insurrection was attempted by a secret political society known as the "Soles de Bolivar." But the plot was discovered, and its leaders—such of them as did not escape by flight—were taught how Spain deals with rebels. In 1826, a plan to invade Cuba was laid by Cuban refugees in Mexico and Colombia, Simon Bolivar, the South American liberator, being asked to lead it; but, for reasons to be given in the next chapter, nothing came of it. In 1827-29, a secret society known as the "Black Eagle" was organized by the refugees in Mexico, who sought to gain recruits in the United States. This also failed, and its supporters in Cuba fell into the tender hands of Spain.

The next attempt at insurrection took place in 1844. This was a movement of the slaves on the sugar plantations around Matanzas, or rather the suspicion of a movement, for nothing was known about it except such evidence as could be obtained from witnesses under torture. It is well known what evidence of this kind is worth, yet it led to the conviction of more than thirteen hundred people, of whom seventy-eight were shot and the rest otherwise punished. Only a few of these were slaves.

A few years afterwards the celebrated Lopez invasion took place. Narciso Lopez was a Venezuelan by birth who had risen to a high rank in the Spanish army and had lived long in Cuba, for whose freedom he gained an ardent desire. He organized an insurrection in the island, but was obliged to flee for his life. Seeking New York, he made that city a centre for sympathetic appeals, and in 1849 sought to return with a small party to Cuba. He was prevented by the United States authorities, but in the following year he succeeded in reaching the island with a force of six hundred volunteers. He landed at Cardenas, but no aid and support came to him from the Cubans, and he was driven back to his ship, which a Spanish man-of-war chased to Key West.

In 1851, Lopez started again, now with four hundred and fifty men, sailing in the steamer Pampero  from New Orleans. He landed at Playitas, thirty miles from Havana. It was his hope to find support from Cuban rebels, some of whom had taken to the field, but he quickly found himself confronted by a superior force of Spanish troops. With the main body of invaders Lopez sought the interior, leaving his second in command, a Kentuckian named. Crittenden, to bring up the supplies with the rear-guard. Both parties were in a short time vigorously attacked.. Crittenden's party, reduced by the fire of the foe to fifty. men, were captured and shot. Lopez and his followers succeeded in reaching the interior, where, no longer. able to fight, they wandered miserably in the thick woods without food or shelter, suffering severely from the pursuit of the foe and finding no Cuban aid. One by one the fugitives fell into Spanish hands, Lopez among the last. He was executed, but his American followers, after a term of imprisonment, were set free.

A second invasion was planned in 1854, General Quitman, of Mississippi, being its leader. This was organized in connection with a revolutionary movement in Cuba, but, like all previous movements of the kind, it came to grief. The leaders in the island were betrayed into the hands of their enemies, seized, and incontinently put to death, and the would-be invaders deemed it wise to stay at home. And thus affairs went on until 1868, when the long-repressed rebellious sentiment in the island finally broke out in open insurrection.

For the inciting cause of this revolt we must go to Spain. For years that country had presented a dismal picture of faction and intrigue, while its queen, Isabella II., had won the abhorrence of the people by the unblushing dissoluteness of her life. A strong party of reform grew under these conditions, and at length, not able to put an end to the disorders by quiet means, overturned the government by a successful revolt. The queen, on September 30, 1868 fled to France, from which she was never to return to the throne and several years passed before a settled government was established in the Spanish realm. This state of affairs offered an opportunity to the revolutionists in Cuba of which they were quick to take advantage. On October 10, ten days after the flight of the queen, they issued a declaration of independence, and took to the field prepared to fight for their freedom.

Before speaking of the incidents of the war that followed, a fuller review of the influences leading to it seems in place. These were of two kinds,—financial and political. Cuba had been under the despotic decree of 1825 for nearly half a century, in a state of siege. Spain in Cuba was like an army encamped in the midst of a conquered people. All the soldiers were Spanish except the members of the body known as Cuban Volunteers, the National Guard of the island, and these were carefully recruited from Spanish sympathizers. The people of Cuba became divided into two parties, —the Insulares and the Peninsulares, —the Islanders and the Spaniards, or those in sympathy with them. Out of the latter grew the Volunteers, nearly all of them active politicians and of great power and influence in the affairs of the island. Even the captain-general stood in some awe of this powerful body; and in 1870 the Volunteers went so far as to arrest and send back to Spain Captain-General Dulce, of whose actions they did not approve.

As for the people of Cuba, they were completely disfranchised. After 1825 no legislative assembly, either provincial or municipal, existed in the island. At an earlier date the officials of the cities held some control over taxes and expenditures, but these powers were now all lost. No vestige remained of a popular assembly, trial by jury, independent tribunals, the right to vote, or the right to bear arms; in fact, no right of any kind was left; the will or the whim of the captain-general was the absolute law. And the Cubans were not alone disfranchised; they were rarely permitted to hold any office of honor, trust, or emolument in the island. Some Cubans did hold office, but they gained their positions through utter servility to the ruling powers.

This preference given to Spaniards over Cubans was a bitter pill for the natives of the island to swallow. All the power was wielded by the people of one country over those of another, the sole interest of the ruling class being that of the highwayman in his victim. The officials went to Cuba with the one purpose of filling their purses and returning to Spain to enjoy their gains. Some small offices in remote districts might be filled by natives of the island, but those of higher emolument were wanted for the sons of Spain. It was in this way that the statesman or politician at the head of affairs in the home government paid his political debts. Spain did not provide offices enough for these worthies, and Cuba was filled with them. Doubtless it was deemed presumptuous on the part of the natives to expect positions which cabinet officers at home needed for their useful friends.

The financial causes of the insurrection were immediately connected with the political. The office-holders sought only to retrieve their broken fortunes, and in this they usually succeeded-by fair means or foul. They had given important services to the leaders in Spain, and could demand large salaries. The captain-general was paid $50,000 a year, double the salary, at that time, of the President of the United States. The governor of each province had $12,000, twice the sum paid to the prime minister of Spain. The archbishops of Havana and Santiago each received an annual stipend of $18,000. And so downward in the same extravagant ratio ranged the salaries.

But the officials were not so easily satisfied. The "perquisites" often more than doubled the salaries. Wholesale robbery, in the form of illegal fees and charges, everywhere prevailed. All this was no secret, but no captain-general ever sought to prevent it. He was either the leader of the robbers himself or was powerless to overcome the deeply intrenched system. These official brigands went to Cuba for booty, and were not to be balked in their design.

It was openly known that at least forty percent were added to the custom-house charges at Havana by illegal fees. The officials at Santiago were less scrupulous; they exacted fully seventy per cent. These officials were changed with discouraging frequency. At every ministerial crisis in Spain-which came at times semi-annually a new batch of hungry political servitors was sent to make their fortunes in Cuba by rapacity and corruption of every kind. The custom-house was but one of their fields of industry. Fees were everywhere to be picked up. We may instance one of the methods employed. A planter might make his return for the income-tax at ten thousand dollars. The tax-collector would blandly give him to understand that this was too Iowa rating, and that he proposed to assess him at fifteen thousand dollars. The planter, afraid to protest too strongly against this arbitrary assessment, might suggest a compromise at twelve thousand five hundred dollars. The result of the operation would be a rating on the books at ten thousand dollars and a fee for the astute collector of the tax on the extra two thousand five hundred dollars. Possibly the assessment of fifteen thousand dollars might not have been too much. Under such a system the government is sure to be one of the chief sufferers, for its interest is the last thing considered.

Spain was as rapacious as her officials. Cuba had long served her as a money-bag. In the effort to suppress the revolutions on the mainland, the "ever-faithful isle" has been obliged to supply a lion's share of the funds. The tariff, alike on imports and exports, was kept high enough to yield the largest revenue of which the island was capable, if not increased to an extent that threatened to put an end to commerce altogether. Spain could no longer keep the trade of Cuba for her own merchants and manufacturers by the old method of putting to death any foreign navigator who dared to enter a port of her colonies, but she sought to achieve the same result by a system of differential duties which discriminated severely against foreign goods.

As for the revenue produced, we have seen where much of it went. The sovereign of Spain would have preferred to keep a large share of it for himself, but he was powerless in the hands of the officials, with their strong political "pull," and had to content himself with what they left unappropriated. Yet, whatever these harpies might absorb, it was felt necessary that the crown should have a fairly liberal share, and this could best be secured by more sharply tightening the screws on the island. In 1857 the revenue yielded by Cuba was $17,960,000. By 1867 it had been largely forced up, and it was proposed to increase it to over $40,000,000. This was more than the islanders could possibly pay, and only a portion of it was collected. Yet every effort was made to squeeze the last drop of life-blood from the suffering colony.

Some further statistics may be of service. The people of Cuba were forced to pay the interest on the public debt of Spain at the rate of $6.39 per capita, while the rate paid by the home people was only $3.23. The cost of living was so increased by the high duties that, while four hundred pounds of bread per capita were annually consumed in Spain, fifty-four pounds were all that a Cuban could afford to buy. A letter from Europe, even if prepaid, had to pay twenty-five cents at the Cuban post-office, and if delivered, twelve and a half cents more were exacted.

One necessary result of the methods of administration pursued was that the home interests of the island had to be sadly neglected. The cities were overloaded with debt and unable to meet the most essential expenses. The streets remained uncleaned, garbage was not collected, a dozen important functions were left undone. No money could be diverted to pay teachers, and the schools were closed. Havana had the only asylum for the insane on the island, and elsewhere this class of unfortunates had to be kept in the cells of the common jails. In every way the revenues of Cuba were employed for the benefit of Spain and her needy SODS, and the interests of the islanders were left out of the account.

It was this state of affairs in Cuba which gave rise to the revolution of 1868. A revolt had been secretly planned months before the revolution in Spain, but the outbreak in that country and the flight of the queen precipitated it. On October 10, 1868, Carlos M. de Cespedes, a lawyer of Bayamo, issued a declaration of independence from Spain, and took to the field at the head of an army amounting to one hundred and twenty-eight half-armed men. But he had the country at his back. His appeal to the people that "we are in danger of losing our property, our lives, and our honor under further Spanish dominion" struck home to the Cuban heart, and at the end of a few weeks Cespedes headed a force of fifteen thousand men, ill supplied with arms and equipments, it is true, but stout of heart and earnest in purpose. A constitution was drawn up and promulgated on April 10, 186g. This provided for a republican government and the immediate abolition of slavery. A legislature was chosen, which met and elected Cespedes president.

The war that followed was one that cannot be dealt with in the ordinary manner. We can give no picturesque description of marches, battles, and campaigns. It was a war of irregulars, not of regulars; of bush fighting, not of contests in the open field; of guerrilla skirmishes, not of set battles. "The pomp and circumstance of glorious war" were sadly wanting, and forest ambushes, sudden attacks and retreats, and sharp affrays that led to nothing formed the staple of the affair. The Cubans were bold and daring, and for the first two years proved successful in nearly every engagement. But they had no expectation, with their lack of arms and dearth of supplies, of triumphing over Spain, whose power of furnishing fresh troops, armed with the best modern weapons, gave her the ascendency in the open country and kept the patriots confined to the bush. Their one hope was to wear out their enemy, and make the war so costly for Spain that sheer lack of means would in the end force her to retire from the contest in despair.

That we may better understand the character of this war, something must be said of the country in which it was fought. Despite the fact that Cuba has been settled for nearly four centuries, two-thirds of it remain uncultivated, and half its area is covered with forest and thicket. The lowlands of the coast in the wet season are turned into swamps of tenacious black mud, impassable to the traveller. Underbrush everywhere fills the forest, so thick and dense that it can be traversed only' with the aid of the machete. High bushes and thick grasses cover much of the dry plains, forming a close jungle that also calls for the sharp edge of the machete, that tool of the Cuban farmer and weapon of the Cuban warrior.

Island of Cuba


The machete is a formidable instrument in the hands of the countrymen of Cuba. Its handle, usually of horn, fits upon a perfectly straight blade from twenty-four to thirty inches long, as heavy as a cleaver, and with an edge kept almost at razor sharpness. The corn-scythe of the American farmer is not unlike it, but the machete is heavier, and its outer instead of its inner edge is the cutting one. To the Cubans skilled in its use as an implement to hew a way through the jungle and undergrowth it is a weapon that takes the place of the sword in war, and with which they can decapitate an enemy as easily as they can shear through a sapling.

Through the centre of the island passes a mountain range, broken at intervals, but extending from end to end, and in the east turning and following the southern coast past Santiago de Cuba to Cape Cruz. The range is highest in the eastern section, where it presents rugged summits over six thousand five hundred feet in height, though its average elevation is not over two thousand two hundred feet. The wooded heights of the mountains, the recesses of the densely-grown forests, and the depths of the grassy jungle have furnished secure lurking-places for the Cuban insurrectionists in all their outbreaks, to which they could retire at will and from which they could break at unexpected points upon the foe. To retire to the "long grass," to use a common Cuban phrase, was to gain safety from pursuit, and an ambushed host might lie unseen and unheard in these secure retreats while an army passed by not many feet away. In short, Cuba is a paradise for the bush-fighter, and all the contests in that island have taken the form of guerrilla warfare, with its unpremeditated affrays and lack: of definite results.

The war with which we are concerned took, in part. the form of a hunt for the insurgents, in which the Spanish soldiers were, perhaps, none too eager to find them, since they usually learned that they had "caught a Tartar." In this exercise the Cuban Volunteers took little part. They employed themselves in police and garrison duties, leaving the work in the field to the Spanish soldiers, of whom during the ten years of war not less than one hundred and fifty thousand were sent to the island. Of these more than one-half met their death, largely through disease.

While Cuba is very ill adapted by nature toregu1ar warfare, it was rendered more so by the inefficiency of the military authorities. The roads are abominable; even those near Havana itself being mere tracks with deep ruts and holes. For half the year, during the hot and rainy season, campaigning was pursued under frightful difficulties, and from May to November warlike operations in great part ceased. At the opening of a campaign the custom was to convey a force by land or sea to a point near which the insurgents were supposed to lurk; then, drawing up the force in narrow columns, to cut a pathway into the forest. If the insurgents were met, a few shots were apt to end the affray,—the troops finding it judicious to retire or the rebels seeking some new retreat.

Often the enemy could not be found at all, and the troops wandered for days or weeks in vain search for a rebel in arms. Their spies served them poorly, while the sympathy of the people kept the insurgents well advised of every movement of the troops. As for starving out the rebels, that was out of the question. The wild fruits of the earth, the yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, and other productions which they could readily cultivate in forest clearings, kept them well supplied. The soil of Cuba is so prolific that a crop planted to-day may yield food in plenty within two months, while the country-people were ever ready to supply their friends in the field.

The only way to overcome the insurgents would have been to intersect their haunts with a net-work of roads, laying bare their lurking-places, and to pursue them with remorseless energy from lair to lair. But this was not the Spanish idea of campaigning; it was certainly not that of the officers, to whom the allurements of the towns were too enticing to be long deserted; while the leaders doubtless found an inducement to prolong the war in their share of the Cuban spoils.

The Spanish official bulletins during this war were curious affairs. One officer with his battalions had "come up with an insurgent band far away in some spot above Guantanamo, in the district of Santiago de Cuba. To attack the rebels and to completely rout them was for the heroic Spanish troops one and the same thing. They killed many of them, wounded many more, and took fourteen horses and one rifle." Again, an affray yielded the Spaniards "six prisoners and a mule." In another affair the valiant troops captured two prisoners and three fire-arms, while forty women and children were taken. This is neither magnificent nor is it war. Nor were the outrages which were perpetrated on the non-combatants war in any modern sense of the word.

It cannot be said that the insurgents were any more daring than the troops. Only once in four years of war did they make an open attack. Then they swooped down suddenly upon Holguin, an inland town of Santiago de Cuba. But here they contented themselves with plundering the inhabitants, and withdrew without waiting for the troops.

The government adopted methods similar to those with which we have recently become very familiar. The troche,, of which so much has been said of late years, was tried, —a military cordon being drawn across the island from side to side with the hope of hemming in the insurrection. It proved as useless then as it has done since. Reconcentration, General Weyler's later system of warfare, was also attempted, —the whole population of one large district being huddled together under guard in the little town of St. Espiritu. The result was, as it has been since: a dozen diseases assailed the poor captives, and they as well as their guards died in multitudes. Thus the population was murdered, the country was devastated, the cattle were slaughtered, the crops and dwellings were burned, everything was done but to put down the rebellion, which held its own despite these measures of repression.

Outrages were common. The rule on both sides was to kill their prisoners without discrimination. Powder and shot could not be wasted for such purposes; the machete did the work, —unless torture was preferred. Women fared as badly as men; even children were not spared: a carnival of cruelty and bloodshed ravaged the island. In March, 1869, a party of young men, who had foolishly displayed the Cuban flag and sung patriotic songs at a theatre and a cafe in Havana, were set upon by the Volunteers, who poured volleys into both places, heedless of whom they might kill. In 1871 an affair took place which attracted wide attention. The graves of some soldiers at the cemetery had been defaced, and a number of students were seized as the criminals, dragged before a lynch-law tribunal of Volunteers, and ordered to be shot. Fifteen thousand Volunteers turned out and executed the eight boys in defiance of the captain-general. Indignation at this outrage spread through the world; even the Spanish Cortes censured it; but no one was punished. The Volunteers were too powerful to be called to account. There were eighty thousand of them in Cuba.

The insurrection continued active until 1871, in which year a large number of the insurgents in Central Cuba surrendered on condition that their lives should be spared. General Agramonte, their leader, refused to yield, and kept up the war for two years more, when he was killed. President Cespedes was deposed in 1873, and was soon after killed by the Spaniards. He was succeeded by Salvador Cisneros (formerly the Marquis de Santa Lucia), who was elected president again in the revolt of 1895. The war dragged on until 1878. By that time both parties were thoroughly worn out, and neither saw any hope of success. General Martinez de Campos, commander of the Spanish forces, finding hostilities unavailing, now resorted to negotiation. Terms of peace were offered and accepted, and the war came to an end in February, 1878. The treaty is known as that of El Zanjon, from the place near which it was concluded.

The terms of this treaty were the following: Full pardon was granted to all who had been engaged in the war, and freedom to the slaves who had taken part in it. Every one who wished was at liberty to leave the island, the Spanish government agreeing to furnish him with the means. Under this clause, Maximo Gomez, one of the Cuban leaders, sought a new home in San Domingo, there to bide his time until 1895. Many others left their native land, not caring to remain within Spanish reach. The island of Cuba was to be granted the same privileges as were enjoyed by the island of Porto Rico,—namely, the right of representation in the Spanish Cortes.

Radical reforms in the administration of Cuba were promised and expected; the island was divided into its present provinces; provisional assemblies were instituted, and, as has been said, representation in the Cortes was granted. But the captain-general remained an irresponsible despot, and all these so-called reforms were manipulated in the interest of the Spanish party. Everything soon fell back into its old state. The debt continued to grow, taxation was as heavy as ever, the officials were as corrupt, the salaries and perquisites as• high. The debt of Cuba began in 1864 with an issue of $3,000,000. In 1891 it had increased to $175,000,000. Of this great sum hardly a dollar had been spent on the island. The peculations continued. In 1895 it was asserted by a Spanish newspaper that the custom-house frauds in Cuba since 1878 had amounted to $100,000,000.

There has been only one substantial measure of reform in Cuba within the century. A bill was passed in 1870 providing for the gradual abolition of slavery. The work of abolition was completed in 1886 by an act which finally put an end to this long-established institution. This reform was hardly a free-will offering, but a necessary result of the conditions arising from the war; and though the blacks were set free, the whites were as stringently controlled as ever. The decree of 1825, which likened Cuba to a besieged city, was revoked about 1870 j but the captain-general (or the governor-general, as he was now entitled) retained all his old power, and could play the autocrat as much as ever. In 1895 another measure of reform was passed, a council of administration being established, half chosen by the crown, half elected by the provinces. But as the governor was given the power to suspend any member likely to make trouble, or to suspend the whole council if he chose, this was not likely to serve a very useful purpose, except as a handy tool of tyranny.

If it had possessed any element of value, it came too late. The Cubans, incensed at the broken promises of Spain and seeing no hope of redress under Spanish rule, again declared for liberty and once more raised the standard of revolt.