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The Cutting of the Cables at Cienfuegos

by William Furey and Patrick McSherry 
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Click below to read the following first-hand accounts:

Austin J. Durney (USS NASHVILLE) |||  Hermann W. Kuchmeister (USS MARBLEHEAD)

The cable cutting crew from the USS Marblehead

The cutting of the cables at Cienfuegos was one of the most remarkable events of the Spanish American War. In the face of severe fire, a group of men raised the cables through which communications passed between Cuba and the outside word.


The USS MARBLEHEAD was built by City Works in Boston, Massachusetts, being launched August 11, 1892.  During the Spanish American War, the cruiser steamed from Key West,  Florida., for war patrol duty in Cuba, under the command of Captain McCalla. The vessel arrived off Havana on April 23,1998. Two weeks later, at Cienfuegos,  she shelled enemy vessels and fortifications while her crewmen and that of the NASHVILLE cut the communications cables.

On May 11, 1898, near the lighthouse at the entrance of Cienfuegos, Harbor, the MARBLEHEAD located the telegraph cables leading from the south and west into the cable house, that were used as communication between Cienfuegos, Havana and Spain.

Commanding officer McCalla, of the MARBLEHEAD prepared to cut the cables.  Volunteers were requested to go on a landing party to drag the ocean floor to locate and then raise the cables. Once raised, the cables would be physically cut.

Lt. Cameron McR. Winslow was placed in charge of the steam and sailing launches from the USS NASHVILLE and the MARBLEHEAD with Lt. Anderson, 2nd in command. Ensign Magruder, of the NASHVILLE, commanded a steam launch that dropped the sailing launches opposite the Cable House, took position of 150 to 200 yards off shore and gave covering fire The two main cables were cut but because of intense gunfire from the enemy, an attempt to cut a third smaller cable found on shore, had to be abandoned.

During the fire fight the lighthouse was destroyed as the Spanish troops, hidden in gullies and ravines, rained a hail of bullets onto the cable cutting party, resulting in many casualties, including three deaths. Of the men who took part, forty-nine received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The following men served in the cable-cutting party. Those with an asterisk (*) received the Medal of Honor:


ERNEST KRAUSE, Coxswain. *
AUSTIN J. DURNEY, Blacksmith. *
JOHAN J. JOHANSSON, Ordinary Seaman*.
JOHN P. RILEY, Landsman. *
DAVID D. BARROW, Ordinary Seaman.*
BENJAMIN F. BAKER, Coxswain. *
LAURITZ NELSON, Sailmaker's Mate. *
FRANK HILL, Private, U. S. M. C. *
JOSEPH H. FRANKLIN; Private, U. S. M.  C.*
JOSEPH F. SCOTT, Private, U. S. M. C. *
THOMAS HOBAN, Coxswain.*
ROBERT VOLZ, Seaman. (severely wounded 4 times)*
ALBERT BEYER, Coxswain. *
GEORGE W. BRIGHT, Coal Passer. *
WILLIAM MEYER, Carpenter's Mate, 3d class.*
HARRY H. MILLER, Seaman. *
JOHN EGLIT, Seaman. *
PHILIP GAUGHAN, Sergeant, U. S. M. C.*
POMEROY PARKER ,Private, U. S. M.  C. *
OSCAR W. FIELD, Private, U. S. M. C. *
MICHAEL L. KEARNEY, Private, U. S. M. C. *


JAMES H. BENNETT, Chief Boatswains Mate. *
JOHN J. DORAN, Boatswains Mate, 2d class (shot through right buttock)*
HARRY HENRICKSON,' Seaman (shot through liver, thought to be fatal)*
AXEL SUNDQUIST, Chief Carpenter's Mate *
WILLIAM HART, Machinist, lst class. *
HENRY P. RUSSELL, Landsman. *
HERMAN W. KUCHMEISTER, Private, U. S. M. C. (shot through the jaw bone and neck; thought to be dead). *
WALTER S. WEST, Private, U. S. M. C.*
WILLIAM OAKLEY, G. M., 2d class. *
JULIUS A. R. WILKE, B. M., lst class.
JOSEPH E. CARTER, Boatswain. *
JOHN DAVIS, G. M., 3d class. (wound, right leg)*
WILLIAM, LEVERY, Apprentice, lst class. (wound, left leg, very slight)*
HERBERT L. FOSS, Seaman. *
NICK ERICKSON, Coxswain. *
FREEMAN GILL, Gunners Mate, 1st class. *
JOHN MAXWELL, Fireman, 2d class. *
LEONARD CHADWICK, Apprentice, lst class. *
JAMES MEREDITH, Private, U. S. M. C. *
EDWARD SULLIVAN, Private, U. S. M. C. *
DANIEL CAMPBELL, Private, U. S. M. C. *
PATRICK REGAN, Private, U.S.M.C. (fatally wounded)
E. SUNTZENICH, Apprentice, 1st Class
JULIUS A. R. WILKE, Boatswains mate, 1st Class*

Lt. Winslow was slightly wounded in the hand


Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol.  IV. (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1969).

Duffield, Brig. Gen. H. M., U.S.V., Deeds of Valor. (Detroit: The Perrien-Keydel Company, 1906). 359-362.

Message from the President to Houses of Congress, 3rd Session of the fifty-fifth Congress. Vol. IV. (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1899).

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