Ch 14: The Capitulation

A commission consisting of General Wheeler, General Lawton, and Lieutenant Miley, met General Escario, Colonel Fontan, and Mr. Mason, British Vice-Consul, to arrange the terms of capitulation. The Spaniards finally agreed to surrender the whole division of Santiago; i.e. the portion of Cuba east of a line drawn through Aserradero, Dos Palmas, Cauto, Tanamo, and Aguilera; the United States to transport all troops in the command to Spain; officers to retain their side arms; the forces to march from the city with honours of war, laying down their arms at a given point, it being understood that the commissioners would recommend that the Spanish soldier return to Spain with the arms he so bravely defended.
   Sunday July 17th, the day assigned for the closing scene of the campaign, dawned auspiciously. At ten o'clock church call rang out. The chaplains led their regiments in divine worship and thanksgiving for the cessation of hostilities. It was a memorable service, and as the strain "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" rose through the trees from voices softened by the gratitude and emotion of men brought by the scenes of war to a nearer realisation of mortality, many a sick American boy sobbed aloud, as his thoughts reverted to the distant home where prayers were rising for the loved one in the field. General Shafter, the generals of divisions and brigades, and their staffs, and an escort of cavalry rode beyond the lines at ten o'clock, to receive the capitulation of Santiago.
   The relationship between Shafter, his staff and the body of war correspondents had been strained and tense from the early days of preparation in Tampa. His opinions were widely known and he had often described members of the press as; "an intolerable nuisance, liars, mischief makers, a reproach to civilisation, and a blemish upon the profession they pretend to follow." Thus, it was of little surprise when, in language coarse if emphatic, he announced that reporters would not be allowed to witness the surrender, though the reason for this suppression of one of the great chapters in American history seemed inexplicable. In striking unfairness, a favoured few, myself included, received permission to be present at the ceremony.
   In the Canosa valley, below San Juan, the American officers halted. A few moments later, General Toral and his staff, and an infantry brigade marched out from the city. Victor and vanquished shook hands. The duty of surrendering is only worse than receiving surrender, and the American officers by every courtesy strove to lessen the humiliation of the defeated foe. The Spanish bugles played a pitiful "retreat." Our cavalry carried sabres; the Spaniards presented arms, and then marched in column, depositing their rifles in a heap. Several of the Spaniards were weeping bitter tears of mortification, and though for months I had joyously anticipated the end of their brutal sway in Cuba, now one could but feel pity for Toral and his staff, who at least had fought bravely for their country and had won respect.
   The generals rode into the city as the midday chimes from the cathedral wafted across the valley. The regiments sprang to attention; every eye fixed on the flagstaff of the Governor's palace. A brief but unseemly episode marred the otherwise well-conducted ceremony when Scovel, angry at being excluded by Shafter’s ban on the press, scaled the roof of the Palace in order to appear in photographs of the flag-raising. He was ordered down but refused and Shafter barked an ominous order to "Throw him off!" Scovel than came down and, infuriated, approached Shafter, yelling a tirade of obscenities at him. He soon realised that he had crossed a line, and tried to apologise when, astonishingly, Shafter hit him. Scovel promptly punched back and was immediately seized. Shafter favoured a firing squad to end this sorry debacle, but wiser heads, of which there were plenty, prevailed and order was soon restored.
   A flutter of colour on the pole and a thrill of exultation dominated each heart, as "Old Glory" was unfurled over the city. Unmanly? Perhaps! But those who had endured the campaign are the better judges. At the sight of the flag great lumps rose in our throats. We strove to speak, but choked. Santiago suddenly seemed enveloped in mist, and strong men turned away and wept as children. Capron's battery was booming in salute, every band burst into the "Star-Spangled Banner;" and as the fourth gun reverberated in the hills, voices were regained, and from five miles of throats rose the beautiful refrain:

The Star-Spangled Banner - Oh, long may it wave, o'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

   Then three prolonged cheers of triumph ran down the lines, followed by a crashing rifle salute, mingled with a thunderous shout from the Cubans, "Viva los Americanos!"
   Knowing Santiago well, I was asked to go in with the Signal Corps. I finally received a joint permit with Armstrong, and we rode in at midday. We were politely received by the Spaniards, who were greatly relieved by the termination of the war, and whose condition was pitiable. A death-like stillness reigned throughout the city; the streets were deserted, and the houses closed, save where residences of Cubans had been sacked by the guerilla, or the walls smashed in by our shells. We rode along the outer edge of the city, where the streets were barricaded like Paris in Commune, the walls loop-holed, trenches cut across the highways, and so formidable a line of defence formed that an assault on the city would have proved costly. Nine succeeding rows of trenches must first have been captured on the slope leading from San Juan, the terrible barricade of barbed wire, protected by the forts and blockhouses, surmounted, before the stormers could reach the city and its immediate defences. The place was practically impregnable from infantry attack.
   Close behind the trenches the Spanish dead had been hurriedly covered with earth, and the road to the city was strewn with dead horses, marking the cavalry retreat of the First. Above all rose an intolerable stench which seemed heightened by the vultures and wild curs we disturbed from gruesome feasting. Two field-guns were mounted directly before the hospital, covered by the Red Cross flag, and one gun had been run out and fired from an annex which gave excellent shelter for loading. The hospital itself was in a deplorable condition: the lawn beyond, covered with old dressings, excrement, and refuse of all kinds, must necessarily have proved a terrible plague spot. The cots were chiefly filled with sick, and by verified reports the Spanish loss in killed and wounded was very much less than ours, though much greater if the number of Americans needlessly sacrificed before San Juan be deducted from those lost in actual battle.
   The entire Spanish loss at San Juan, Caney, and the succeeding fighting before Santiago was: General Vara del Rey, one colonel, three commandantes, twelve subalterns, and ninety-eight men killed; General Linares, two colonels, six commandantes, thirty-nine subalterns, and three hundred and ninety-two men wounded; seven officers and one hundred and sixteen men missing or prisoners.
   Late in the afternoon a long line of emaciated non-combatants commenced to stream back to the city. Before they were settled in their homes the "State of Texas" had entered the harbour, and tons of supplies were soon being distributed by Miss Barton and her staff. But the exposures and privations at Caney had left their mark. For three weeks the death rate in Santiago averaged over a hundred per day, among less than thirty thousand people; and for three months the deaths were abnormally high. It is estimated that over three thousand people lost their lives through the humanity that allowed non-combatants to escape the puny bombardment which destroyed but a dozen houses.
   General McKibben was appointed Military Governor. The 9th Infantry garrisoned the city. During a trying period the officers of this regiment showed great tact in dealing with the various factions. Colonel Ewers was afterwards promoted, and assumed charge at Guantanamo. He and his aide, Lieutenant Frazer, arranged for the passing of Spain, and won the gratitude of Cuban and Spaniard.
   After the city had fallen, our sick list increased enormously. Nostalgia, assured by tedious inaction following strenuous exertion, is invariably augmented by fever. Despite the exodus of invalids, shipped North on dirty transports supplied with hardtack, canned meat, and foul water, to become an object lesson to the American people of the effect of Cuban climate and official negligence, 4122 soldiers were on the sick list in Cuba on July 24th. The generals held a conference, and signed a petition to the Secretary of War, urging that it was imperative that the army be moved North at once. General Shafter concurred in this; his army had not even cooking utensils; and since no intelligent attempt was apparent from Washington to ship either suitable food or shelter to the stricken army, the officers plainly saw approaching extermination. The President promptly decided to move the army North, and during the first two weeks in August, the regiments were moved to Montauk, Santiago being garrisoned by immune troops mobilised through the South.
   The army that had landed but seven weeks before, in the flush of health and strength, crawled back to the transports in regiments of gaunt spectres, to return to the country whose readiness and anxiety to do everything possible for its defenders had been negated by the unfortunate officialdom and chaos in Washington. The horror and sadness of it; that Americans should have died for lack of medicine and food in a land adjoining their coasts, and within reach of a generous people willing for any sacrifice that the troops should have need of nothing!
   A glorious campaign, that attained stupendous results? Yes. But inward history will prove that those results might, in fact, have been attained with practically no sacrifice.

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