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The Death Of Cuban General Antonio Maceo

Contributed by Larry Daley

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This account of the death of Cuban General Antonio Maceo was sent to the U. S. Consul to Cuba, Fitzhugh Lee, in 1897 by Colonel Charles Gordon, who was present at the time of the General's death. The letter tells of the death of the general. Antonio Maceo was one of the greatest cavalry generals who ever lived. Famous for his strength and courage he is known as the "Bronze Titan". He was a fastidious dresser, well mannered, surprisingly gentle towards others except in battle and almost always forgiving (For instance Maceo is recorded as having difficulty ordering the execution of a female spy, and was almost ready to let her go when his brother Jose undertook the sad but necessary task.  He was always well bathed and scrupulously clean as if for burial after a death in battle that he believed necessary for Cuban freedom.

Maceo fought in all Cuban wars of Independence from 1868 on. His most famous campaign was the series of cavalry and light infantry battles that are known as "La Invasion (1896)" fought over more than a thousand miles of trails and roads.  Maceo was one of about ten siblings who, with their father, died in the Cuban wars of Independence.  He was born in Majaguabo, San Luis, Oriente Province Cuba, on June 14, 1845; and died at San Pedro, Punta Brava, Havana Province on September 7, 1896.  He had survived being wounded perhaps twenty times before this last encounter. He was 51.

The Letter:

Friday Jan. 1st 1897

Dear Sir,

Some time ago, about Dec. 20th I wrote a letter to a friend of mind, Dr. Guitierez at Key West, in which I described our passage of the Trocha and Maceo's death, which I requested him, after reading, to forward to the "World", for publication, but I am afraid, the Spaniards have the letter, as I intrusted it to Lieut. Col. Pacio to forward, and his fate just now is unknown.  I will therefore write about it once more.

On December. 4th at 2 p.m. Gen. A. Maceo, accompanied by about 30 persons on his staff, assistants and a few cavalrymen commanded by Comandante Varios, left San Felipe at the foot of the Gobernador (a large conspicuous hill); and as my clothes had not come, although I had dispatched 2 messengers, the General told me to come without them.  About 6 p.m. we got to the beach, between Cabanas and Mariel, where the boat was hidden in the woods; but there was a very strong northerly wind and very heavy sea, so as to make it very dangerous, if not impossible to launch the boat.

We therefore picked the boat up on our shoulders, even the General taking hold several times, and carried it about a mile and a half across a neck of land, launching it inside the harbor of Mariel, not more than 2 miles outside the town, about 10 p.m. Gen. A. Maceo, Gen. Pedro Diaz, Panchito Gomez [son of major General Maximo Gomez (Daley)] and I were the first 4 to cross, with one guide and two boatmen.

We landed after a passage of about 20-25 minutes at a little wharf near what I took to be some bathhouses, and all of us picking up a load, started a march of about 2 miles, when we stopped at a deserted house.   The guide went back, and shortly returned with the 2nd group, namely Brigadier General Miro, Col. Nordarse, Dr. Zertoucha, Com. Justis and Ramon Umaha.

By 2 a.m. the rest, namely, Com. Piedra and Beaberes [don't know the correct spelling (Daley)], one captain and 5 assistants had joined us and we went about mile further, to a safer point, where we waited for daylight.  About 6 a.m. on the 5th we started on the march and about 7 a.m near La Merced, met Lieut. Vazquez and some of his men, who took us to a house, where we camped all day.  Next day Dec. 6th we left about noon, mounted on the horses of Vazquez's men, as our horses had not come yet; met Lieut. Col. Baldomero Acosta with men and horses 2 p.m. and camped at Gara 4 p.m.-9 p.m.  Then resumed the march and camped at Baracoa [Havana province (Daley)] at midnight.  At 4 a.m. Dec. 7th resumed the march and met

Brigadier Silverio Sanchez, encamped with about 300 men, at 8 a.m. at San Pedro.  As we had not had much sleep and there was nothing to eat, most of us (the Grl. Staff) went to sleep and the General had his hammock put up as well.  We naturally had all confidence in Brig. Sanchez, but he did not have any exploradores and when suddenly about 2 p.m. without any warning, heavy firing commenced at our advance guard, all was for a moment confusion.  Not enough, to be without exploration, but the advance guard was so near the camp, that when the fire opened, the bullets entered and passed beyond the camp.

Naturally we all mounted as quick as possible, and the General, Miro, Diaz, Nodarse, I and 3-4 more were riding in a group, when immediately outside the little wood, in which was the camp, we met our retreating and, at no great distance, saw the enemy advancing and firing en guerilla.  The General gave his horse the spurs and drawing his machete, shouted to the retreating men "Atras!  al machete!". The men and others who were all the time coming from the camp to the front, seemed electrified, and with enthusiastic shouts wheeled their horses and charged, while the enemy precipitately retreated about 200 yards where he took position behind a strong stonewall about 4 feet high and, even dismounting his cavalry, opened a terrific fire by volleys.

The General at this moment told me to collect what men I could, and charge the enemy's right flank (on our left) while he himself charged on the left.  I collected about 35-40 men, and seeing the stonewall not extended very far, also knowing it to be impossible for a small cavalry to take a wall like that from infantry by a direct charge, I went about 500 yards further to our left and then charged around the end of the wall.

I broke their first line of fire, but was losing men fast, and when I fell wounded with 3 bullets, my men put me on another horse and retreated.  As I went back, I saw the General [Antonio Maceo (Daley)], with small group, not more than 6-8, charging, away on our right, and it seemed but a moment, when all but 2 or 3 where on the ground.

Commander Manuel Sanchez, was charging at the General's side, when a bullet entered the chin of Maceo, coming out at the back of the neck.   The General fell forward on his horse's neck and Sanchez catching his arm exclaimed:  "General, no soy cobarde!"  Maceo could not speak, but gave him a terrible look and at this moment Sanchez received a bullet through his right leg which after traversing his horse also entered the stomach of the General.

Maceo fell but a short distance from the stonewall and it seems it was impossible for our people to advance and get his body.  Some of the Spaniards advanced and robbed both him and Panchito Gomez, but they never got their bodies as the fire of our men drove then back.  Near dark about 5 p.m. the enemy retreated and our people then got the bodies.  And I here wish to protest against the horrible custom of the Spanish to kill the wounded.

They say Panchito Gomez committed suicide and I saw a picture in one of the Spanish papers, where he puts the revolver to his brain.  But that are all lies.  First and foremost he had no revolver; on Dec. 2nd before we crossed, we have a nice little fight near San Felipe, and Panchito was wounded in the left shoulder and also lost his revolver.  Second he had no bullet wound in the head.  He had besides his old wound in the shoulder, only one bullet wound in the left side of the stomach; but they found him alive with that by the side of the General and gave him a pinch (thrust) with the point of a sword in the right breast, a cut in the hollow of the left arm, and a horrible machetazo, that laid open the whole back of his head and left side of the neck.

All of us who crossed with the General were wounded except Gen. Diaz and Zertucha and Com. Justis who was killed.  I received a bullet in the right knee, one through the right arm and another in the left side, but the last 2 light wounds that are about well.  The bullet in the knee is one of those confounded copper bullets that make a hole size of your thumb, and besides it hurts the bone.

I believe you want to know also about some of the atrocities of the soldiers towards Pacificos, and I could write lots, that I have personally witnessed, but I refer you to Mr. George Bronson Rhea, who has a host of well authenticated instances at your disposal.

 Still if you wish for some more, let me know, and I will supply them.  As for the talk of the papers and Grl. Weyler about his speedy pacification of the island do no believe a word of it.  In Pinar del Rio are at least 6000 armed Cubans, besides 4-6000 more with machetes.  They have a splendid General (Rius Rivera) there and at present plenty to eat.  I was there sometime and never went hungry, besides had the satisfaction there, to see Weyler with 25,000 men unable to force our position for 5 days, when we had not more that 80 men.

Of course everyone deplores the loss of Maceo, but I find nobody discouraged; on the contrary everybody, soldiers as well as leaders are strong in the determination, to fight till their island is free.  They all have still great hopes of American intervention, but even without that, they will fight on, trusting to tire out Spain, and especially Spaniard finances.  Let me know if you wish to know more.


El Coronel Carlos Gordon

Click here for the website bibliography

Sources for info. on Maceo:

Argenter, Jose Miro (1981 edition of the book first published in 1909) Cronicas de la Guerrra. Editorial Leteras Cubanas, La Habana, 1891 in two volumes).

Souza, B. 1950. La Maniobra Clave de La Invasion del 95.  La Bohemia 42(9) February 26, 1950, pp. 46-50 and 224-225.

Thomas, Hugh. 1998. Cuba or The Pursuit of Freedom (updated Edition), Da Capo Press, New York

Source for letter:

Courtesy of Marcos Hechevarra.  Washington DC; Also published in HERENCIA Volume 6 No. 1 Spring, May, 2000. The letter is from the collection of Fitzhgh Lee.

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