Ch 2: Through the Spanish Lines

February of '97 was not an eventful month in western Cuba, and after witnessing several unimportant skirmishes in which the Cubans invariably retreated doggedly, being very short of ammunition and overwhelmed by numbers, I decided to try to reach Gomez in Santa Clara, where Weyler had mobilised his forces for an attempted pacification of that province. I hoped to cross the western Trocha, not a very formidable obstacle, but at that time strongly invested. An arrangement for me to pass it through the swamp at Majana failed, and realising that to go eastward I should also have to cross the strongly fortified railroad passing from Batabano to Havana, I determined rather to secretly enter the Spanish lines.
   When camped near Cayajabos, Jose was wounded in the shoulder, and stayed behind for several days in a field hospital there. The surgeon in charge was a young Havana medical student, killed a few weeks later by the guerillas. With him Senora Valdez, a Cuban lady of repute, was sharing all the hardships of life in the manigua to be near her son, then in Havana Province. Entirely without drugs, and in imminent risk of capture, the hospital was kept up: and many were the inventions prompted by necessity, as remedies for the sick. Josh's arm was treated antiseptically with plain cigar ash, and he rejoined me nearly well.
   Pending arrangements to enter some town on the Western Railroad, we were riding along the highway to Candelaria, keeping a sharp watch for the enemy, when we were suddenly halted from a side road, and discovered a detachment of guardia civil, resting by the way. Their horses were tethered near, and, but for stories of their never-failing machetes, I should not have attempted to escape. We turned and urged our jaded horses back; three of them sent a volley after us, the others mounted and galloped in pursuit. The horses of these men, the elite corps of Spain, are the best animals in the island, and even with our start the race was unequal. Their hoofs thundered on the camino close behind us, the thick bush and prickly wild pine on either side prevented our following the favourite ruse of plunging headlong into the thick vegetation and creeping to a place of shelter. As I spurred my gallant little beast forward, I could feel his sides heaving, and knew he was on his last legs. Shots whistled by: so, dragging out my revolver, I replied, but without effect. Then a bullet crashed through my bridle arm: I reeled in the saddle, and the end seemed near, when loud yells and vivas greeted us. Some of Ducasse's men were camped in the chaparral, and taking in the situation at a glance, they seized their rifles and sent a few shots after the now retreating guards.
   One young officer I met in this camp was Lieut. William Molina, a young American Cuban from Florida, who had recently arrived on an expedition. He was subsequently captured, and when I next saw him he was proudly facing the firing squad, as he died for Cuba Libre.
   General Rius Rivera was then expected in this district; but two days before he arrived, I squirmed through the Spanish lines at sunrise, and boarded a slow freight-train with the connivance of the Cuban engineer. Concealed in a car, I passed into the town of San Cristobal. A few weeks later came the disastrous battle of March 27th at Rio Hondo, between the sadly depleted forces of Rivera and a large column under General Hernandez de Velasco. Hemmed in by the Spaniards, and almost without ammunition, the Cubans were routed. General Rivera and Colonel Baccallo were both captured, seriously wounded, the latter while bravely trying to save his leader. Contrary to usual custom, they were taken alive and sent to Havana. General Weyler upbraided the humane Velasco for not killing these prisoners on the field, to save the complications which ensued. Velasco in his previous campaign in Sagua la Grande, and in every subsequent action, proved himself a brave officer and a gentleman. His duty to Spain made him war on her enemies, but he warred nobly and openly, ever remembering that the people had grievances that should be remedied. With a man of his calibre as Captain-General, the island of Cuba might have retained the sobriquet "Ever faithful" to this day.
   I found that I could move through the small cities of western Cuba with a greater degree of freedom than I had anticipated. Spies dogged one's footsteps on every side, and the advent of a stranger aroused the suspicion of the petty police inspectors, shabby, down at the heel men, of sneaking appearance; but their attention amounted to little. To photograph a fort meant certain imprisonment; but if I wished to take a portion of the Trocha, or any military position, two words to the commandante sufficed. The Spanish heart is susceptible to flattery. One had but to request the pleasure of photographing the brave officer and his men; out they would all tumble. Line them as you pleased. You not only took the coveted position in face of the smiling sleuth, but you had life in the picture, and had won the friendship of the military. Through my camera alone, I obtained introduction to most of the garrisons, and was a frequent guest at various Casinos Espanoles, the exclusive Spanish clubs that exist in most towns. Courteous, hospitable, and good fellows in their way, were most of the officers, and ready to heap attentions on the stranger; but beneath the polished veneer they were mostly brutes at heart, though I remember many exceptions - fine young subalterns who had come to Cuba as patriots to fight for Spain, and were horrified with the policy they were forced to uphold. The state of the reconcentrados was pitiful in the extreme. In every town from one to six thousand were herded indiscriminately. They built crazy bohios, or huts of stakes and palm-leaf on any waste ground available: frequently several families crowded into one shelter. Stone walls and barbed fences compassed the town completely, and forts were intersected at intervals, from which sentries watched to see that no one attempted to pass the barrier. Within this pen the town existed in isolation, save for the advent of the few heavily guarded trains that passed between Havana and Pinar del Rio. The condition of these people was hopeless from the first, and in March of '97 the unavoidable horrors of India's famine were being enforced upon a civilised people, with worse effect, and without effort to alleviate the suffering.
   The pen fails to describe the scenes in any one of these reconcentration settlements; some thousands of women and children, and a few old men, hedged in by barbed wire, beyond which none may pass on pain of death. Huddled on the bare ground, or at the best with a heap of rags for a bed, the delicate wives and children of once wealthy farmers and planters were herded with Negroes who once were slaves on their now ruined estates.
   There was an absolute silence in the camps - a silence bred of cruel despair, and broken occasionally by the pitiful wails of children, the frenzied shrieks of crazed victims, raving in delirium, or the heartbroken sobs of grief-stricken groups mourning over the body of some dear one whom kind death had released from suffering. Skin-clothed skeletons crouched helpless on the bare ground; babies, hideous mockeries of childhood, lay dying on the breast from which all sustenance had dried, their tiny bodies covered with the loathsome skin eruption that attacked all alike. Girls, still retaining traces of beauty, moaning with the pangs of hunger and without the clothing demanded by decency, begged piteously for relief from the passing stranger, or struggled and fought around the swill tubs for refuse that pigs would have rejected. They had the alternative of another fate; for an abominable traffic was carried on openly in mere children, who were taken, some through misrepresentation, others accepting the fate as inevitable, into houses of ill fame in the large cities, many passing on from Havana to Mexico and points in South America. Abductions by Spanish officers were not unknown, while in Artemisa, but a few days before my arrival, several orphan girls aged from thirteen to fifteen were sold by public auction to the highest bidders.
   All these settlements were in a terrible sanitary condition. Absolutely no hygienic measures were enforced by the authorities, the starving people lived in a horrible state of defilement, and even the bodies were frequently left in the sun for days before the dead-cart arrived on its rounds to dump the corpses in a common grave. Under such conditions disease naturally appeared, yellow fever and smallpox adding to the frightful horrors of starvation. If Epaminondas today would fail to recognise Thebes, and Cicero have little sympathy with modern Rome, we can imagine the feelings of Columbus, could he have viewed the ruins of his glorious discovery.
   By May, Weyler had extended his "pacification" to the great Trocha. The provinces of Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and a portion of Puerto Principe were completely devastated, and considerably over half a million people rendered homeless and starving.
   As I went by rail through these districts, stepping off at various places en route for Santa Clara, where I was again to join the insurgents, the shocking reality of the situation was revealed. The feeling of powerlessness in face of such human suffering which could not be alleviated, made one's heart ache, and I shuddered for the future. But as a ray of hope to gladden the souls of the perishing innocents, came the stories of growing sympathy in the United States. It dawned on the stricken people that the great country from which they had drawn their ideals of liberty might now prove their saviour. In the darkest hour of their distress they looked to America. Dr. Shaw, realizing the imperative necessity of action if these people were to be saved, opened his columns in setting forth their case. Mr. Bonsai, having personally visited the scenes of horror, returned to use his gifted pen in their behalf. The whole Country was aroused.
   The Administration was just changing, but after the avowals upon the Cuban question made by the Republican platform, some expected the President, upon assuming office, to take instant measures to combat the stupendous evil that was only threatening when his party pledges were made toward Cuba. After the inauguration, however, the tariff question had to be settled first. Cuba was shelved, and the people starved on, close to the land of plenty. We may exclaim that we are not our brother's keeper, but had the people of the United States realised one half of the horrors of starvation in Cuba, I am assured that they would have enforced their ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity at any cost in the unhappy island. During the official procrastination at Washington the Cuban rural population was being exterminated, and the last residue disappeared as the late peace negotiations were being enacted. As I stood amid the appalling scenes of suffering, I must admit there seemed no excuse for the doubts of Cuba's need that existed in the United States. It was hard to understand why the Administration could not ignore both the clamouring jingoes and the selfish financiers, and after investigating the conditions, make a dignified demand of Spain to war only against the rebels and cease the extermination of the innocent. It was not a question of favouring either Cuban or Spaniard, but of the relief of starving women and children, whose condition was a disgrace to the boasted civilization of the era. An appeal to England, and possibly other powers, to co-operate in mitigating the horrors of Cuba, might have achieved more at the outset than the subsequent armed intervention.
   Certain elements of the American people became convulsed over the condition of the Cretans, whom St. Paul characterised doubtfully. The half civilised Christians of Crete were oppressed by semi civilised Mohammedans. The powers of Europe stood by to see that they had a semblance of justice. Press and pulpit in the United States raved at the impotence of those powers, but within seventy-eight miles of America's coasts half a million Christian Cubans were being starved through the policy of Christian and most Catholic Spain. Truly, it is easier to see the mote in a brother's eye than the beam in our own.
   I arrived in Santa Clara soon after Weyler had started to pacify that province. By columns of smoke by day and of fire by night, the constant coming and going of soldiers, the desultory firing, and the numbers of pinioned prisoners dragged in, I could tell that pacification, so called, was in progress, with its incumbent horrors. I crossed the Spanish lines safely by night under the nose of the forts at Isabella de Sagua, and swimming the Sagua River, struck out southeast through one of the worst districts in Cuba.
   Until a few weeks previous, the district east of the fortified railroad running from Sagua to Cienfuegos had been practically free Cuba, the people living on their farms as in times of peace. Now all was changed, and the Imperial columns could be traced by the trail of smouldering homesteads, rotting carcasses of cattle, and frequently the bodies of pacificos shot down when trying to escape.
   In this district the famous Olayita massacre had taken place some months before. Banderas had camped on the Olayita sugar-estate, and was driven out by two Spanish columns. The Spaniards then accused the planter, a Frenchman, Monsieur Duarte, of assisting the rebels, and by order of Colonel Arc he was cut to pieces by machetes. The cavalry slaughtered the inhabitants of the estate; men, women, and children. The young daughter of the overseer threw herself on the prostrate body of her father to protect him from the cruel blades, and was cut to pieces with him, thus escaping a worse fate. Then all the bodies were placed in the engine-house, and the factory was set on fire. Being built partly of stone; the bodies were thus baked and preserved, and though the Spaniards have probably now destroyed the traces of their handiwork, the remains were intact a few months ago - a speaking tribute to Spanish rule.
   Camped near Sito Grande, I took to the trees one morning to hide from some approaching cavalry who proved to be guerillas. Trembling with fear and horror, I managed to secure first a distant photograph of the two mutilated bodies bound on horseback, and later of a young woman, and two boys tied between mounted cutthroats. As they passed in the brilliant sunlight, they were silhouetted through a break in the trees, and the sharp Zeiss lens of my binocular magazine camera snapped two excellent pictures subsequently seized by the Spaniards. The chief at Sagua, Colonel Benito Carrera, was a Spanish officer of bloodiest repute and it was his practice to intimidate the Cubans by exposing the mutilated remains of pacificos, frequently those living by permission on outlying sugar-estates. These bodies were exhibited to colour lying stories of fierce battles with the insurgents. Colonel Barker, late United States Consul at Sagua, has undeniable proofs of these atrocities. I found in the district terrorised by Carrera's cruel raids, that murders were committed daily, while the Spanish commandante of the city allowed him full sway in running Cuban sympathisers to earth. In my final capture I lost my notes, papers, and pictures, from this and other parts of Cuba; but as I write, two of my photographs of this colonel's crimes are before me. One of these, the body of a Negro shockingly mutilated, is unfit for publication; the other, a young Cuban chained to a tree and used as a target until shot in a vital spot, was reproduced in the London "Graphic."
   Carrera one day accused a woman of being the wife of a rebel. Her son, a bright boy of twelve, a cripple, answered him sharply, and was cut nearly in two by the Spaniard, who shouted "You rebel whelp, like father, like son!" Later, to force confession, he tore off with pliers the nails from seven fingers of an aged Cuban, charged with corresponding with rebels. Consul Barker reported these cases to the State Department.
   Gomez was in the neighbourhood of Sancti Spiritus. Weyler with immense columns had hemmed him in, and daily sent confident reports of the impending capture of the old chief. It was easy now to understand the necessity for the insurgent tactics. Gomez had split his army into small commands. Robau, the Cuban-born son of a wealthy Spaniard, commanded the Sagua district, Miguel Gomez had a brigade in Las Villas; Carrillo led the forces near Santa Clara City, and in the Cienfuegos zone several small bands eked out a perilous existence. Maximo Gomez, with only his staff and escort of picked troops, about three hundred in all, constantly eluded Weyler, though always camping near him, while sympathisers in the cities carefully spread stories of his mobilisation of an immense Cuban army, in preparation for a rush west to Havana. The reports misled Weyler, whose columns were fired upon night and day by invisible bands of rebels, frequently only five or six men, who would ride through the woods, marching and countermarching until the Spaniards greatly overestimated the force that they could neither locate nor engage in open battle. The Cubans often had but two cartridges apiece, and despite the bushwhacking character of such tactics, Gomez must be credited with out-generalling Weyler at every move.
   I was amazed at the stoical endurance of the Cubans, who carried on the war without food or resting-place and at such odds. Sneer who may at Gomez for not fighting pitched battles, but his was positively the only warfare possible under the circumstances; and Weyler returned to Havana with an army decimated by disease and bullets, having accomplished nothing save the devastation of the province, and the starvation of the homeless pacificos rather than the insurgents. Outnumbered twenty to one, the rebel tactics inflicted a maximum amount of loss upon the enemy with a minimum expenditure of force. Even brilliant victories would in the end have proved disastrous to the rebels; the ability to endure until Spain's vast resources were exhausted could alone prove the factor for lasting success.
   Gomez has the qualities and the failings of a great man, not least of which is a quick temper. He was the terror of evil-doers, and tolerated no laxity of discipline. Toward those who served Cuba well and faithfully, he was rather a brother than commander. The loss of his son Frank, who was killed with Maceo, was a terrible blow to the old chief, and his younger son told me that since the first-born's death, his father, like the English king of old, had never been seen to smile.
   The story of Maceo's betrayal was false. It was evoked by Dr. Zertucha's conflicting stories after his ignominious surrender. The insurgents in the field told me but a few days after the occurrence, that he was killed in a regular ambush by the San Quintin battalion under Major Cirujeda. Maceo, Frank Gomez, and others were shot down trying to cut through the line; Maceo fell dead, young Gomez was badly wounded. Unable to move, he wrote to his father, "I die, but I did not abandon my general." Then the soldiers swarmed over the field, despatching the wounded and stripping the bodies. A machete blow clave young Gomez's head in two. Hearing the firing, Pedrico Diaz hurried forward with his force, and the enemy retired, the Cubans securing the bodies. Not until the Spaniards divided their loot that night, did they discover the identity of two of the dead; Maceo from papers in his clothing, Gomez from the F. G. on his linen, and the scrawled note to his father found by his side. This account does not differ materially from the Spanish official story. They admitted that they stripped the bodies, they even produced the farewell note of young Gomez, but never attempted to explain how or why they despatched him after he had written it.
   Captain, now Colonel, Perez Staple, who carried the tidings to General Gomez, told me that it broke the old soldier's heart. Staple rode over to the general upon Miro's arrival, and at first could not control himself to speak. But Gomez' eagle eye divined bad news. "Why do you wait? Am I a woman that you fear to tell me ill-tidings?" he demanded. The captain in a faltering voice then told all he knew.
   "Dios mio! My first-born and my dearest friend both! Oh, my poor boy! What will your mother say?" exclaimed the old man. He buried his face in his hands, his body was convulsed with sobs, and he turned in his hammock crying like a child. That night he paraded his men, and in broken tones said: "My grief is unmanly. I thought I was strong, but I am weak as a child. General Antonio and my dear boy have only died as any of us may die, doing their duty to Cuba: and before you all I thank God that they died bravely. My loss is doubly severe, but it is mitigated by that knowledge." Then the tears welled from under the gold-rimmed spectacles, and ran down the furrowed, weather-beaten cheeks, and he turned to his tent, heartbroken. Did space permit, I could add many stories that show the soft heart that beats under the rugged exterior of the old warrior.
   Food rapidly grew scarce in Santa Clara, especially in the North. When the reconcentration was enforced, much stock was driven to the rebels, and with care might have been sustained by breeding. But reason gave way to hunger, cows and calves were slaughtered indiscriminately, and meat soon became scarce. Numbers of women and children had elected rather to be near husbands and brothers than to obey Weyler's fiat. Their homes were burnt, and they existed miserably in huts in the woods, in mortal terror of guerillas.
   One prefect's family I knew in Santa Clara, once owners of a large estate, lost two daughters. They were pretty girls of thirteen and sixteen, and ventured early one morning in search of vegetables. Prolonged absence caused anxiety, and finally their dead bodies were discovered. I saw the remains before they were touched. They lay in a field on the outskirts of a wood, not a hundred yards from the highroad, their basket of vegetables beside them. Evidently they were surprised by a passing band, and were shot down from the road when trying to escape to the woods. This would justify their murder from a Spanish point of view. The stricken parents and the few neighbours who eked out an existence in the manigua divined a worse outrage, however, and as such it was reported to General Robau.
   Prefecturas in Las Villas were not always available, and guides were scarce. My visit there afforded me enough adventure to fill a book, and sufficient privations and fever to reduce me to a skeleton and make it even chance if I escaped alive. There was little real fighting, but constant skirmishing, though fierce battles were daily reported by the Spaniards which misled credulous correspondents in Havana as to true conditions. During February, March, and April the insurgent army was greatly disintegrated in western and central Cuba, and so continued to the end. The eastern veterans of Maceo's invasion had been decimated in the severe campaign of '96, but hundreds of recruits flocked to the cause in each district. Rivera's capture, as he was reorganizing his shattered brigades, proved the futility of attempting organised aggression. There were less than two thousand armed Cubans in the Pinar del Rio division, about the same number in Havana Province.
   General Rodriguez, who commanded the Sixth Army Corps, extended his forces, making small mobilisations when necessary. Alejandro Rodriguez, Diaz, the Ducasse brothers, Lorente, Torres, Delgado, Comacho, Varona, Perez, Vidal, Lopez, Campbell, Castillo, Acosta, Aranguren, and Arango operated with varying forces throughout the divisions of Pinar del Rio and Havana. Given food, arms, and ammunition, a force of ten thousand men could have been mobilised in the West within a week, but the armed strength of these brigades has been greatly exaggerated. The above leaders usually had a mere handful of men in their immediate commands. With these they skirmished or conducted daring raids, as the capture of the Regla train by Aranguren, and frequent incursions to the fortified suburbs of Havana.
   Matanzas being flat and narrow, Weyler had swept the province with an unbroken line. The Cubans there suffered terrible privations from fire and sword, numbers were killed: and after Lacret went east, the revolution almost died out. Dr. Betencourt, a prominent physician, now civil Governor of the province, assumed command during the height of Weyler's devastation. By supreme effort he reorganised the depleted forces, and to the end sustained a small but effective division in the most difficult district in Cuba. In Santa Clara the commands in the cultivated sections were precariously maintained, larger forces operating in Sancti Spiritus. There were about 2500 armados in all and in each province there were hundreds of men existing in the field, collecting food for the army, or supporting their families in the woods. Armed, this impedimenta would have increased the effective strength of the rebels threefold. Unarmed, they were still virtually part of the revolution. For actual fighting strength, though, a certain percentage must be deducted from the rolls of any army, as detailed for duties created by the exigencies of the situation.
   Those writers who have so greatly overestimated the armed strength of the Cubans by counting as insurgents all men made rebels officially under Weyler's decree by remaining in the field, have not fallen into unqualified error. The assertion that fifty thousand armed Cubans were in the field is ridiculous. I estimate that less than sixteen thousand true fighting men were opposing Weyler's hordes in '97; of these less than seven thousand were in the four western provinces. Only fourteen thousand rifles were safely landed in Cuba by filibusters before '98. But all the men, armed or unarmed, were equally opposed to Spain. The greatest honour to the unarmed asistente was promotion to soldier when death provided a spare gun: reversion from soldier to servant was the severest punishment in the army. Ere the cause of Cuba Libre would have been relinquished every asistente and pacifico would have passed into armed rank and to death; all were inspired by an equal patriotism.
   The western half of Santa Clara was covered with small towns and centrals, joined by a network of fortified railroads, and proved a dangerous zone of operations. Each town boasted its local guerilla. Armed with Remington carbines, they used brass-capped bullets that inflicted wounds which invariably proved fatal, gangrene supervening through lack of antiseptics in the field. The use of this bullet was a distinct violation of the rules of the Geneva Congress, to which Spain subscribed: but since the Cubans were not recognised belligerents, the laws of war did not apply, she argued. The guerilla and heavy columns of soldiers marched from place to place continuously, and we frequently found the enemy simultaneously passing in four directions. In case of a skirmish they would all advance toward the firing, making our retreat difficult when our ammunition was gone.
   The province contained many sugar estates. The factories owned by obstinate planters were blackened ruins; other ingenios were surrounded by forts, but had their cane destroyed by Cubans. Flaming houses and huts, ashes of homesteads, rotting bodies of pacificos, and carcasses of cattle, marked the sweep of Weyler's columns southward. The rebels preserved the estates of planters who neither attempted to grind, nor paid Spanish garrisons for protection, and they levied taxes on wealthy property owners. Any planter, however, who attempted to obey rebel orders was soon marked by the Spaniards, and his estate burned secretly. I know of one instance in Sagua where two young Scottish planters rather favoured the Cubans. Again and again their cane or other property was destroyed, ostensibly by the insurgents, and they complained bitterly of this ingratitude to General Robau. He soon convinced them that the Spaniards alone were responsible, as his orders prohibiting cane burning had been strictly enforced, and on an adjoining estate owned by a notorious Spaniard the cane was left intact.
   A few nights later the rebels equalised matters by giving the Spaniard a candela, and his crop went up in smoke.

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