Contributed by Patrick McSherry
Following is the report of Capt. George F. Elliott of the battle of Cuzco Well. Elliott was in charge of the expedition and also in command of Company C of the First Marine Battalion (Reinforced).
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, June 15, 1898
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report:
In accordance with your verbal directions, I left camp at 9 a.m. yesterday with two companies of the battalion, C and D, commanded respectively by First Lieut. L. C. Lucas and Capt. William F. Spicer, with an aggregate of 160 men, and 50 Cubans under command of Lieut. Col. E. Eugene Tomas. Colonel LaBorde, Cuban army, was also present, but without command.
My orders were to destroy the well at Cuzco, about 6 miles from this camp, which was the only water supply of the enemy within 12 miles of this place, and the existence of which made possible the continuance of the annoying attacks upon our force in camp here.
Two miles and a half from Cuzco half the Cubans and the first platoon of C Company, under Lieutenant Lucasí command, passed over a mountain on our left, hoping to cut off the enemyís picket. In this we failed, and our force was discovered by the Spanish outpost which retreated immediately and gave the alarm to the main body, whose headquarters were in a house at Cuzco.
A high mountain separated the forces at this point, and each attempted to gain its crest as a point of advantage. In this we were successful, but were fired on heavily by the enemy from the valley, at a distance of 800 yards. The fire was replied to by the Cubans of the main body. Lieutenant Lucas, with 32 men of his platoon and the remaining Cubans, came into the fight at 11.15. The other nine men of his platoon, becoming exhausted, were applied to return to Camp McCalla. Lieutenant Bannon conducted the second platoon of C Company jus below the crest of the hill, out of fire from he enemy, leaving the narrow path, which was the only road, and making their way through the cacti. Just in rear this platoon and following in single file was D Company. The crest of the hill was in the shape of a horseshoe, two thirds encircling Cuzco Valley and the well. The Cubans, and C and D Companies occupied one-half of this horseshoe ridge, while Second Lieut. L. J. Magill, with one platoon (50 men) of A Company , came up from the valley on the opposite side, where he had been stationed as an outpost from Camp McCalla, having been attracted by the heavy fire, and believing his force necessary to our assistance , and occupied the left center of this horseshoe ridge. As soon as he saw our position, he sent one of his men around the ridge to report to me. For fifteen minutes we were marching under a heavy fire, to which no reply was made, to gain this position. By the use of glasses and careful search by the men, individuals were discovered here and there, and, fire opened upon them, they would break from cover to cover, and we were thus enabled to gain targets at which to fire, which had been heretofore impossible owing to the dense chapparal in which the enemy sought successful cover.
Many of the men fired as coolly as at target practices, consulting with each other and their officers as to the range. Among these were privates Carter, Faulkner, and Boniface, all of whom did noticeable execution. This movement of the enemy gave Lieutenant Magill an opportunity to get in a cross fire, which was well taken advantage of.
Having reduced the enemyís fire to straggling shots, the U.S.S. DOLPHIN, Commander H. W. Lyon, U.S.N., which had been sent along the coast to cooperate with us if possible, was signaled to shell the house used as the enemyís headquarters and also the valley, but she was so far to the front, having mistaken the valley intended, that her fire was in Lieutenant Magillís direction, driving him to the reverse side of the ridge.
However, this shell fire started the enemy from his hiding places, which gave the other companies the opportunity to fire on them on the move.
Signal was made to the DOLPHIN to cease firing, and Lieutenant Magill was directed to form skirmish line and move down the valley in front of him toward the sea. This was defeated by renewed shell fire from the DOLPHIN.
The fight, which began at 11 a.m., was now drawings to a close, being over at 3 p.m. The enemy began a straggling retreat at 2 p.m., getting out of the valley as best they could.
The fire of the force under my command was at all times deliberate and aimed, sights being adjusted, and volleys were fired when sufficiently large bodies of the enemy could be seen to justify it. The two platoons of Company C under First Lieut. Lucas and Second Lieut, P. M. Bannon, were handled with the best judgment. D Company overcrowded on the firing line and men needlessly exposed themselves by standing in groups. First Lieut. W. C. Neville, commanding the first platoon did his best with the men in front of him. Captain Spicer, commanding D Company, was overcome by the sun on top of the hill, and had to be sent on board the DOLPHIN. Lieutenant Neville injured his hip and ankle in catching his foot and falling down the maintain after the fight was over. These accidents left Second Lieut. M. J. Shaw in command of D Company, which he handled with entire satisfaction. Forty men left the crest of the hill at 3.15 p.m. under Lieutenant Lucas and destroyed the well and burned the house lately occupied by the enemy. Canteens were taken from the men still holding the crest and filled with water required by signal from the DOLPHIN.
The marines fired on an average about 60 shots each, the Cubansí belts being filled during the action from the belts of the marines, each having to furnish 6 clips, or 30 cartridges.
The loss to our force was 1 private of D Company slightly wounded, and 10 or 12 overcome by heat. These latter were kindly taken on board the DOLPHIN and cared for. This ship rendered every possible assistance to the expedition. Two Cubans were wounded during the fight on the hill, one being accidentally shot by Colonel Laborde by a pistol.
While destroying the well the Cubans were placed up the valley from which the enemy retreated and began a noisy and hot fight with guerillas who had not been dislodged .In this fight the Cubans lost 2 killed and 2 wounded, but killed 5 of the enemy.
The march home began at 5.30 p.m., camp being reached at 8 p.m.
From the best information since obtained, which is believed to be reliable, 60 of the enemy, among whom were 2 officers, were killed. The wounded were numerous, but the wounds were probably light , owing to the range of 600 or 1,000 yards at which distance all explosive effect of the bullets are lost. Eighteen prisoners, including 1 lieutenant, were captured; about 30 Mauser rifles and a quantity of ammunition.
Lieutenant Magill also captured a complete heliograph outfit and destroyed the signal station. This had been used since our arrival here and could be seen at all times. Before closing I desire to commend Lieutenant Magillís good judgment in coming up and the excellent manner in which he handled his men.
Sergt. John H. Quick was obliged to stand on the open ridge under fire to signal the DOLPHIN, which he did with utmost coolness, using his rifle with equal judgment while not thus engaged. My only regret is that E Company, under the command of First Lieutenant James E. Mahoney, which had been sent to us from an outpost near Camp McCalla when the heavy firing as heard there, was unable to report to me until 4 p.m. Had he been an hour ad a half sooner, I am satisfied that the entire force of the enemy, which was about 500 men, would have been captured. This delay was not due to any lack of zeal on his part.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. F. Elliott,
Captain, United States Marine Corps, Commanding C Company
Lieut. Col. R. W. Huntington
Commanding First Battalion of Marines
Camp McCalla, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Clerk of Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899) Vol. 2, 1337-1339.