Waitakere Writerss

By Dennis Michael Groves

Nevada Twain is a fictional,former law enforcement officer,who is used to illustrate some historical fact. 

Upon my return to the United States, after successfully enlisting Nikola Tesla to work for the Wardencliffe tower project, I was given several more, rather insignificant, tracking jobs but I was becoming increasingly concerned about the way in which the Cuban people were being treated by the occupying Spanish Government.

In particular, I was most incensed by the reign of terror being waged by the Spanish installed Governor, Valeriano Weyler. In his decree, of October 21, 1896 he demanded that any of the inhabitants who failed to enter, and be contained in the towns and villages occupied by the Spanish army would be treated and tried as guerillas.

This created further inspiration for many of the oppressed population to evacuate into the hills and jungle and increase the force of partisan resistance.

José Martí, a leader of the Cuban rebel invasion in February 1895, was killed by Spanish fire in May. He was thereafter treated by the Cuban rebels as a hero although the Spanish did not know that he had been killed until the body was exhumed. It is fair to say that, after this, the Spanish identified him as a brave hero too, although a little belatedly.

In July ’97  President McKinley conveyed to Spain that the Weyler imposition of martial law must cease or the United States would have no other recourse than to invade Cuba.

In February of ‘98 the USS Maine was sent to Havana as a sabre rattling exercise in an attempt to quell an uprising by supporters of Weyler. It worked well for three weeks until February 15 when the ship was allegedly bombed by terrorist action, and sunk with a vast loss of life.

With outrage among the American people and expatriate Cubans at white-hot fury, the war was declared with Spain on April 25.

In early July volunteers were called for to join the First United States Volunteer Cavalry for service in the Cuban War. There were assembly points in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, which is where I enlisted, having resigned my position as an agent of the Pinkerton Detective Company, which I had joined back in early 1894 after 15 years as a US Marshall. I was then free to become part of the anticipated relief of Cuba.

The men came from all walks of life. There were cowboys, miners, woodsmen, trappers, Native Indians, and black men. I found out later that there were even athletes and university types from out east.

We were sent by train to Tampa, Florida, along with our horses, and as we were not altogether versed in the use of swords as were the army cavalrymen, and that there was only a limited time to prepare, our training was concentrated upon the use of our weapons. Shooting from the saddle while hanging along the sides of our horses was one area that we accomplished rapidly as many of our number had fought in the Indian wars and were familiar with this kind of fighting.

There was a big problem that soon came to light when we were given our uniforms. In Tampa, the conditions were hot and humid, much as was supposed to exist in Cuba. Somewhere along the line of command the material of the shirts was ordered as woolen and therefore there was itching discomfort as soon as the sun got over the horizon.

I was fortunate to find that several of my friends and acquaintances from the Oklahoma Land Rush and my law enforcing days were in camp at the same time as me. There was Joe Burning Tree, a Lakota Sioux who had been a valuable assistant when tracking through the dry interior, and sheriffs Winkell and Jedediah Thomas who I had been partnered with in the Unassigned Lands release of 1889.

The famous names go on: Bucky O’Neill, Captain Llewellyn, Ben Daniels who had been marshal of Dodge City in its wildest days, and several ex-Texas Rangers. All these men had our respect and our army officers would certainly have noticed. With regard to Ben Daniels, it was widely known that he had been imprisoned for the theft of army mules, and there was confusion as to how he had been installed as a marshal, let alone accepted as a cavalryman.

Only eight of the twelve companies were given the order to embark, and even these were short of supplies especially since the horses we had trained on and grown to love were not included.

We sailed for Santiago under the guard of American warships and the journey took around six days as we had to sail some distance from the coastline to avoid being spotted by the Spanish occupiers of the island.

We saw the picketing boats as we sailed westward past Guantanamo Bay, and soon sighted the entrance to Santiago, under blockade by the  warships, with the enemy fleet trapped  in Santiago which was heavily defended by shore artillery.

General Shafter’s plan of landing the troops and encircling Santiago was opposed by Admiral Sampson who wanted the Fifth Corps to land and then attack the fortifications as the navy sailed into the harbour to destroy the mines and then enter the city.

This idea was also rejected resulting in the two commanders going inland and meeting with the rebel Cuban General Calixto Garcia to discuss the least deadly way in which to capture Santiago.

The decision was made to land at Daiquiri, a small coastal village about 20 miles further down the coast.

While the warships bombarded the village, which lay a few miles inland on a hill, General Clavel’s men attacked, but were laboring under the friendly fire from the offshore warships.

We followed the lead of the Fifth Corps’ Second Division after they had secured a safe landing place. There was virtually no opposition as there had been a serious  miscalculation on the number of Spanish troops in the area. At last, the Rough Riders would see some action.

We advanced to Siboney to prepare another area for additional troops to land. There were not very many small boats for the transfer of our men from ship to shore and therefore the landing took most of the afternoon and well into the night.

The officers had been allowed to send their horses on some of the other boats, but ours never arrived at this stage and we became foot soldiers, much to our disgust. Colonel Wood had bought two horses, which arrived safely, but Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt suffered the loss of one of his by drowning and the surviving pony, ‘Texas’, was duly delivered. It was of interest to me that the Lieutenant Colonel's pistol was one that had been salvaged from the wreck of the Maine.

Major General Joe Wheeler, a Civil War veteran, who had come out of retirement to command the First Volunteers would follow General Lawton in a two-headed assault by securing Siboney as a means for advancing easily in the direction of Santiago.

Lawton’s advance guard met with opposition, and a short battle occurred with the Spanish retreating to Las Guasimas where they mounted a much stiffer defence.

On the next day, June 23, we reached Siboney and set up camp, but a fierce storm arrived and we were washed out. No fires meant no cooking and our meagre food supply was partially ruined. We had been issued with only sufficient food for three days, but being horsemen we were unaccustomed to marching and were required to struggle along the ridges and jungle while the cavalry got the best roll of the dice and the roadway.

Some of our men fell through heat exhaustion, and with one detachment remaining back at Daiquiri guarding our supplies, we were sorely in need of reinforcement. We had been reduced to about five hundred that were still capable of fighting.

When the fight began, our eagerness for battle soon took a step backward. There was difficulty in seeing the enemy positions as they were using smokeless ammunition that prevented us from getting a bead on them. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt was very lucky to survive as the tree that he had used to look around while assessing the lay of the land, was pierced right through by a bullet that, if he had been standing erect, would have surely killed him. The rest of us soon learned to keep our heads down or risk having them blow off.

A Yankee news correspondent who had accompanied us was able to locate the position of the enemy and acted as our observer by pointing out the Spanish troops from a safe spot behind a thick tree and we were soon able to carry out a return fire.

When Major Brodie took a bullet in the arm he continued his command for a time, but Colonel Wood intervened and handed the leadership of Brodie’s three troops of us Rough Riders to Roosevelt.

Thanks to the war correspondent’s guidance the upper hand was gained and we captured the hilly Las Guasimas ridges. We had driven the Spanish away but as there was a fear that they might return, Roosevelt,who had been at the forefront of the battle ordered that we should increase our defensive positions.

Colonel Wood, who had walked up and down the front line during the battle, shouting orders and encouragement to his men, was incorrectly reported as one of the casualties and this brought Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt to the command of the Rough Riders.

Once the ranch buildings and the surrounding area had been secured, and we had resupplied with food and ammunition, Acting Colonel Roosevelt returned to the rearguard and learned to his great joy that Colonel Wood had not been killed, and was in fact hale and hearty. Roosevelt immediately handed his brief command back to Colonel Wood.

Personally, I would have preferred to have Teddy Roosevelt as my commander, as I had actually met him some years earlier when he had been a successful rancher and before he had been called upon to become the Secretary of the Navy. It came to pass a few days later, that General Young would become feverish and unable to carry out his assignment. Colonel Wood then became Brigadier General and, in turn, Teddy Roosevelt became Colonel and inherited the Rough Riders.

During this time we of the Rough Riders recovered our dead and wounded, of which there were eight dead and thirty-four injured, then moved a few miles inland to a valley that had a fresh stream running through it. We rested here for five days to prepare for the assault on Santiago,in partnership with General Shafter’s army.

The break did us all good and we spent our spare time playing cards although any gambling was out of the question because discipline was very tight. It was explained that disagreements over a gambling debt could become noisy and draw attention to our position. As if the Spanish were unaware of it.

At last, we were given the order to proceed to Kettle Hill which is opposite to  San Juan Hill. We joined up with the Sixth Infantry Division and the Tenth Cavalry.

The Tenth Cavalry were the famous Buffalo Soldiers of the Indian Wars. They were called this name because the Indians thought that the coarse hair of these African men was similar to the hair of the Buffalo. Added to this was the fact that the soldiers used Buffalo hide to keep themselves warm in the winter.

The attack began with our long-range Hotchkiss Mountain guns that fired a bullet of an inch and a half bore and were accurate to a distance of 2000 yards.The Hotchkiss guns were of a light construction and were easily transported on the mules.

Colonel Roosevelt dismounted at the foot of the hill and told those of us in the forefront that he would accompany us as we battled our way to the stronghold at the top. It seemed a very short stay, for he changed his mind and remounted ‘Texas’, and urged us forward.

It was easier for him to climb while on a horse, and he soon got so far ahead of us that we feared he would be cut down by enemy fire. His greatest obstacle was the lines of barbed wire that cut his horse quite badly.

As he reached the last barbed wire barrier ‘Texas’ was sent back to the rear with his groom and the Colonel waited till the rest of us converged and were ready to advance.

The vanguard of our troops quickly followed the colonel as he charged off, within the hour, toward the blockhouse. It was quite plain to see the Spanish troops withdrawing down the hill and racing to defend Santiago, while we advanced.

There must have been good planning in their departure as the Spanish artillery, stationed down the valley, commenced to bombard the blockhouse. We took cover behind whatever shelter we could find. Several of my fellow troopers found a haven behind a huge sugar refining kettle and we took it upon ourselves to name the place Kettle Hill, rather than San Juan as there were, in fact, two hills in the San Juan Heights.

The other regiments on San Juan Hill were supported by our men supplying Gatling gunfire as they advanced to the high ground. and advancing toward them whilst avoiding being caught in the friendly crossfire.

All told there were 124 killed and 817 wounded in the assault on San Juan.

Colonel Roosevelt was the sole senior officer still alive, as the senior officers of all six regiments had been killed or injured during the charge or by the shellfire on Kettle Hill.

Thanks be to the Buffalo Soldiers, the ex-slaves, who disregarded the flying bullets and eventually cleared the Spanish trenches of the enemy allowing the attack on El Carney to begin with General Lawton’s Third, Twentieth and Twenty-fifth regiments charging, in an eruption of bravery.

Strangely enough, it was discovered during the skirmishing that the Spanish defensive trenches on the hill had been placed at a position quite a distance down from the crest, and this allowed our troops to approach them from above and knock them out in short order.

Within an hour this section of the battle was over but the whole operation was ill-planned as a two-hour skirmish, that became a full day of fighting.  

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