War with Spain - Charles Morris

The Invasion of Porto Rico

The movements of the Spanish navy proved the dominating influences in the war with Spain. Had military considerations alone ruled, Havana would have been the main point of attack in Cuba, but the fact that Cervera's fleet took refuge in the bay of Santiago centred the movement of invasion about the city of that name. The city of Manila, through the presence of a Spanish fleet in its harbor, became a second central point in the war. And, thirdly, the movement of Camara's fleet from Cadiz to Port Said gave rise to a projected naval expedition against Spain. This was deferred on account of Camara's hasty return, but the purpose was not abandoned, and almost at the last days of the war a powerful fleet under Admiral Sampson was held ready to proceed against the Spanish coast. The only event in the war not dominated by naval exigencies was the invasion of Porto Rico. At an early date in the war the conquest of this valuable island became a settled purpose of the administration. The invasion was deferred from time to time for reasons connected with the Santiago campaign, yet the occupation of this island before the conclusion of the war was held to be indispensable.

As it was proposed to send an army to Porto Rico large enough to effect a rapid conquest of the island, its departure was delayed until after the surrender of Santiago, in order that a part of the experienced regiments at that place might be employed. Those under Major-General Miles, commander-in-chief of the expedition, were ready to sail on July 18, but a detention for several days took place, due to delay on the part of Admiral Sampson in furnishing the requisite naval escort; a remissness which, whatever its cause, brought him severe blame. To complete the expedition, a large body of troops were to be sent from the United States under the command of Major-General John R. Brooke, sailing from Charleston, Tampa, and Newport News.

[Illustration] from The War with Spain by Charles Morris


For several days Miles's troops sweltered in the crowded transports under a tropical sun while waiting the promised escort. It was not until the 21st that they finally set sail, some four thousand in number. The expedition from Charleston, numbering about three thousand men, was already under way, and fears were entertained that it might reach the point of rendezvous in advance of the naval support. A similar force set sail from Tampa, while General Brooke, with five thousand three hundred men, left Newport News a week later. It was proposed that these should be followed by others, making a total force of about thirty-five thousand men. Supplies in abundance were forwarded with the troops, and a strong corps of engineers accompanied the army, with a large store of engineering machinery and equipment for road- and bridge-building. The authorities did not intend to repeat the mistakes which had so seriously imperilled the success of the Santiago expedition.

It was not publicly known to what port the expedition was directed, but general surprise was felt on learning that on Monday, the 25th, four days after sailing, Miles's transports had entered the harbor of Guanica, in the southwestern section of the island, and at almost the farthest possible remove from the port of San Juan. This was not the point originally determined upon, but the commander-in-chief, for satisfactory reasons, decided during the voyage to change its destination. In the lead of the escort was the Gloucester, the little converted yacht which had made so noble a record in sinking the Spanish torpedo-boat destroyers at Santiago. After her came the Massachusetts, the Yale, and the Columbia, escorting the transports, whose tardiness had kept the expedition so long upon the sea.

The harbor of Guanica is a picturesque place, a broad level of meadow land extending from the shore-line of its placid bay to a background of high mountains. The village consisted of about a score of prettily painted houses, with a sugar-mill on the right and a block-house some two miles distant on the left. The Spanish flag floated on a small log house upon the beach.

Sounding constantly as she went, the Gloucester  pushed boldly into the harbor, from which there soon came back to the fleet the sound of her 6-pounder guns. On reaching the village, she had sent her launch ashore, with about thirty sailors and a Colt rapid-fire gun. Rushing to the house that flew the flag of Spain, in a minute the active tars had it down and the stars and stripes floating in its place, while a hearty cheer greeted the first display of this emblem on Porto Rican soil. In a few minutes more there came a sharp patter of bullets from a squad of soldiers hid among the houses of the town. The rifles of the Americans answered, and the guns of the Gloucester  quickly joined in, following the fugitives with 6-pounder shot as they broke and fled towards the hills. The result of the skirmish was four Spaniards killed and not one American wounded.

The men of the Gloucester  were warmly cheered for their useful service as the other ships came up the bay, and the landing of the troops was quickly under way, the men forming into companies and occupying points of vantage in the vicinity on reaching shore. A strong detachment was sent out to reconnoitre Yauco, a small place about five miles inland, which formed the terminus of the railroad from Ponce, fifteen miles due east. A high-road, whose condition was the reverse of promising, led to the latter place, but from Ponce to San Juan extended a military road, eighty-five miles long, in admirable condition, and thoroughly adapted for the passage of artillery and army wagons.

On the 27th, two days after Guanica was reached, Commander Davis set out with the Dixie, Gloucester, Annapolis, and Wasp to blockade the port of Ponce and capture lighters for the use of the army. Here no resistance was encountered, the Spanish having evacuated the place, which surrendered to Commander Davis on demand, the American flag being raised in the early morning of the 28th. Sixty lighters and twenty sailing-vessels were captured, and the people received the American troops with wild enthusiasm. Soon after General Miles reached the place, with transports conveying General Ernst's brigade, of Wilson's division, which was at once landed, and was received with an ovation by the citizens.

The scene, indeed, was among the most remarkable of the war. As the ships entered the harbor, they were surrounded by boats filled with citizens shouting "Viva Americanos." The flags of all nations but Spain floated from the houses, and the streets, balconies, and roofs were filled with joyous people, of every class of society, loudly cheering General Miles and the American flag. There did not seem to be a Spanish sympathizer in the town, and the people fraternized with the soldiers as if they were overjoyed at the idea of becoming citizens of the United States.

General Ernst's brigade at once started for the town of Ponce, three miles inland, which capitulated as readily as its port, the Spaniards retreating towards the mountains, and the people welcoming the troops with the warmest enthusiasm. Generals Miles and Wilson were cheered to the echo when they entered the town, in which they were received by the mayor and the British consul, who acted in behalf of the Spaniards in delivering the city into their hands. Stepping on to the balcony after the ceremony, they were received with such a roar of cheers that the modest conquerors hastily withdrew. "The island," said Mayor Colon, "would now enjoy peace and prosperity, and the best citizens were glad the Americans had come."

General Miles then issued the following proclamation: "In the prosecution of the war against the kingdom of Spain by the people of the United States, in the cause of liberty, justice, and humanity, its military forces have come to occupy the island of Porto Rico. They come bearing the banners of freedom, inspired by a noble purpose, to seek the enemies of our government and of yours, and to destroy or capture all in armed resistance. They bring you the fostering arms of a free people whose greatest power is justice and humanity to aU living within their fold. Hence they release you from your former political relations, and it is hoped this will be followed by your cheerful acceptance of the government of the United States.

"The chief object of the American military forces will be to overthrow the armed authority of Spain and give the people of your beautiful island the largest measure of liberty consistent with this military occupation. They have not come to make war on the people of the country, who for centuries have been oppressed, but, on the contrary, they bring protection, not only to yourselves, but to your property; promote your prosperity and bestow the immunities and blessings of our enlightenment and liberal institutions and government.

"It is not their purpose to interfere with the existing laws and customs which are wholesome and beneficial to the people, so long as they conform to the rules of the military administration, order, and justice. This is not a war of devastation and desolation, but one to give all within the control of the military and naval forces the advantages and blessings of enlightened civilization."

The capture of Ponce was an important step towards the subjugation of the island. It is the second city of the island, with a population of twenty-two thousand, and a jurisdiction numbering forty-seven thousand. Playa, the port, has about five thousand population, and has a spacious harbor, into which vessels of twenty-five feet draught can enter. Ponce was founded in 1600 by Ponce de Leon, whose name it bears. It possesses a number of handsome edifices, and occupies one of the healthiest and most agreeable situations on the island.

The first opposition to our troops, beyond that of the skirmish at Guanica, occurred on the succeeding day at Yauco, near which the Spaniards ambushed eight companies of Massachusetts and Illinois regiments. The enemy was repulsed and driven to a ridge a mile away, from which a body of cavalry charged the advancing infantry. They in turn were driven back and retreated to Yauco, leaving four dead on the field No Americans were killed and only three were slightly wounded. On the following day Yauco was occupied, and the troops from Guanica began an overland march upon Ponce. So far not a man had been killed on the American side.

The business of Ponce, momentarily checked, was soon in full tide again, those citizens who had fled to the woods and hills with their valuables quickly returning, and banks and stores being opened for trade. The competition of the merchants for the American dollar was matched by the competition of the people for the American flag, the stock of flags on hand being soon so reduced that General Miles felt it necessary to cable home, "Please send any national colors that can be spared, to be given to the different municipalities. On the 31st he telegraphed as follows:

"Volunteers are surrendering themselves with arms and ammunition. Four-fifths of the people are overjoyed at the arrival of the army. Two thousand from one place have volunteered to serve with it. They are bringing in transportation, beef, cattle, and other needed supplies. The custom-house has already yielded fourteen thousand dollars. As soon as all the troops are disembarked, they will be in readiness to move."

On the same day the town of Juan Diaz, eight miles from Ponce on the road to San Juan, was occupied, the people greeting the American flag with the same enthusiasm as at Ponce. A similar feeling was manifested at Yauco, whose mayor issued a grandiloquent proclamation, saying,—

"This is a day of glorious remembrance for each son of this beloved isle, because for the first time there waves over it the flag of stars, planted in the name of the United States of America by the major-general of the American army, Senor Miles."

He concluded with,—

"Citizens, long live the government of the United States of America. Hail to its valiant troops! Hail, Porto Rico, always American!


Thus far the Spaniards had shown no disposition to make a stand against the Americans, though they might have attacked with effect some of the small American garrisons. Colonel Hulings held Juan Diaz with but two companies, who might have been flanked and cut off by the Spaniards; yet they were not molested, nor were any of the little detachments which he sent out for reconnoitring purposes, though the fields of tall sugarcane bordering the roads offered abundant opportunities for ambushes.

There was reason to believe, however, that the Spaniards were preparing to give the Americans a warm reception at Aibonito, where the military road to San Juan crosses the mountains, a point which presents excellent opportunities for defence. General Miles received information that this road had been mined by the enemy, who had also hidden explosives in the wayside bushes. These defences lay between Juan Diaz and Aibonito, at which town was a considerable body of troops prepared to offer a stout resistance. Miles, therefore, determined to foil them by a change of plan, and to approach San Juan by a different route.

Map of the island of Porto Rico.


In pursuance of this new plan, movements were made in various directions, troops being advanced on lines east and west of the imperilled situation. Their outposts in a few days were twenty "miles to the north of Ponce, the several movements being so co-ordinated that the Spaniards at Aibonito were likely to find themselves beset on every side, and in danger of capture unless they should make a hasty retreat upon San Juan.

General Brooke, with a force of twelve hundred men, proceeded on transports to Arroyo, whence his advance, on August 5, reached the town of Guayama, on the eastern side of the island, due south from San Juan. They found here a Spanish force of about five hundred men, but a mere skirmish sufficed to drive them out, the sole loss being one Spaniard killed and two or three on each side wounded. From there the line of march lay to Cayey, farther inland, a position from which the military road to San Juan could be seized beyond the points where mines had been placed.

This movement to the east was paralleled by one to the west, General Roy Stone occupying Adjuntas, to the north of Ponce, and reaching, by the 4th, the town of Utado, fifteen miles farther inland and near the centre of the island. The road between these places was not adapted to the transportation of wagons and artillery; but General Stone soon had a force of five hundred natives at work, making the way passable. His route lay towards Arecibo, on the northern coast, where transports could meet him with the guns and wagons, and whence a railroad and a good dirt road extended to San Juan.

The important town of Coama, midway between Ponce and Guayama, remained unoccupied, but the advance was rapidly approaching it, a reconnoitring party of about twenty men advancing to the suburbs on the evening of August 1. Here they opened fire on the volunteer picked, who immediately fled. The town was not taken, however, until the 9th, when General Ernst's brigade advanced upon it, while the Sixteenth Pennsylvania, under Colonel Hulings, made a flank movement through the mountains and struck the Aibonito road half a mile beyond the town, thus cutting off the retreat of the garrison. The Spanish force, one hundred and fifty in number, was captured.

Other events of passing interest took place elsewhere. An advance guard, reconnoitring northwest of Guanica, came upon a strong Spanish force in the hills near Hormigueros, north of Mayaguez. A sharp encounter took place, the enemy being dislodged with considerable loss. The American loss was two killed and fourteen wounded. From that point a march on Mayaguez, a place of some importance on the western border of the island, was contemplated. At Cape San Juan, the northeastern point of land on the island, a landing had been effected, and the light-house was held by forty American sailors, who were attacked by a force of eight hundred Spaniards before daybreak on August 9. They were driven back by shells from the Amphitrite, the Cincinnati, and the tug Leyden, suffering severely for their temerity.

Thus on the south, the west, and the east the American forces were pushing forward into the island, meeting with scarcely any resistance, and received by the natives with a flattering greeting at all points.

The Spanish leaders seemed to have based their sole hopes of a successful resistance on the garrison of Aibonito, on which mountain stronghold General Miles was moving his troops from several directions. By the 11th a cavalry advance reached a point within three miles of the town, where it was fired upon by the Spanish outpost, strongly posted with artillery on a high hill that commanded the military road. A sharp skirmish took place, none of the Americans being injured. By the 13th the invading army had gained favorable positions in all quarters. General Schwan had reached Mayaguez, General Henry was within fifteen miles of Arecibo, General Brooke had advanced beyond Guayama, and was on the point of attacking a strong Spanish position on the road to Cayey. An artillery duel had just taken place with a strongly posted Spanish force near Coamo. At Aibonito the enemy's batteries on the heights had been shelled on the 12th. General Wilson was moving to turn the right flank of the Spanish, whose rear was threatened by General Brooke. All was ready for what might have proved a severe and sanguinary battle, when news reached the island and spread to the camps that put an end to all hostilities. "Cease action!" shouted Lieutenant McLaughlin, riding up to a battery that was about to fire on the Spanish works before Guayama.

Ox-train disabled in the Rough mud Road


"Why?" came the wondering question.

"The war is over," was the reply. A peace protocol was signed at Washington yesterday, and all is at an end."

It came in time to save the Spaniards from inevitable defeat. In a week more the whole of Porto Rico- would probably have been in American hands.

The tidings of the treaty of peace put a stop to sevefa1 active movements of hostility elsewhere. At Manzanillo, in Cuba, a severe bombardment was in progress, which continued through the afternoon and evening of the 12th, and was resumed on the morning of the 13th. The town was summoned to surrender, the authorities being given three hours in which to capitulate. When a flag of truce appeared on the Spanish side, the natural implication was that they were ready to treat. But when it reached the American ships, their commander was handed a cable message from General Shafter to the effect that peace had been declared and that hostilities must cease. The guns had fired their last shots.

Another engagement was in progress at the port of Caibarien, on the north coast of Santa Clara, whither the Mangrove  had gone to protect the landing of a Cuban expedition. She found here the Spanish gunboat Hernan Cortes  and a smaller gunboat, which were anchored near the shore in shoal water. The Mangrove  had only two 6-pounders, while the gunboats were much better armed, and there were several pieces of artillery mounted on shore. Yet, in despite of this superiority of force, the little tug made an attack on the Spanish boats, reply being made from ship and shore with artillery and Mauser rifles. The Heman Cortes  carried two 4.7-inch guns, whose shells exploded all about the Mangrove.

Suddenly there appeared flags of truce, one on the small gunboat and two on shore, and a boat put off with a Spanish officer on board. On reaching the Mangrove, he announced, "Peace is proclaimed, and I have instructions for your commanding officer from the military commander of this district." This commander had been telegraphed information of the fight and had at once sent word that peace was restored and the fight must cease.

The final and the most successful shots from Morro Castle, Havana, were fired on the morning of August 12 at Commodore Howell's flag-ship, the San Francisco, the monitor Miantonomoh, and the yacht Sylvia, then on blockade duty. The ships had orders not to attack the batteries and turned to get out of range. As they did so, a 10- or 12-inch shell struck the stem of the San Francisco, tearing a hole about a foot in diameter, and making a complete wreck of the commodore's quarters. His bookcase was smashed to fragments. No one was injured. Before the day closed, the peace protocol was signed and the long blockade was at an end.