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The American Army Moves on Puerto-Rico

Part 2

by Mark R. Barnes, Ph.D., Senior Archeologist, National Park Service, Southeast Regional Office

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The Landing and Skirmish at Guánica and the Battle of Yauco

The Spanish forces on Puerto Rico were approximately 18,000 and about equally divided between local volunteers (10,000) and Spanish regulars (8,000).  However, the Spanish forces were spread over the 3,700 square miles of Puerto Rico (Herrmann 1907:14).  By the end of the Puerto Rico campaign, the Spanish casualties would number 450 dead, wounded, and captured while the American forces lost 4 dead and 39 wounded (Herrmann 1907:14).

The speed with which American troops were moved once landing on the island was of strategic importance to the success of the American's campaign.  In their first land engagement with Spanish forces, the Americans would land, defeat the small Guánica garrison, and occupy the town all within six hours, with no losses.

According to Albert Nofi the Guánica landing met only minor resistance,

The convoy arrived off Guánica at about 0520 hours on 25 July.  The invasion began at 0845 hours . . .  Within a short time a detachment of marines and sailors was put ashore, [from the GLOUCESTER] the customs house seized, and the stars and stripes run up the flagpole.  A small contingent of Spanish troops -- probably the local militiamen from the 8th Volunteer Battalion -- opened fire [on the Americans from the north shore of the harbor].  The marines set up a Colt machine gun and the bluejackets opened up with rifle fire, while GLOUCESTER contributed a few 6-pounder rounds.  The action lasted only a few minutes before the volunteers fled [northward out of the town to Hacienda Santa Rita where they regrouped with other Spanish forces for an attack on the Americans on the next day], leaving four of their number behind dead.  There were no American causalities.  Additional marines and sailors soon landed, and by 1000 hours the port area [of Guánica] was secured [Nofi 1996:238].
Of this first skirmish between American and Spanish land forces, Angel Rivero in his book Cronica de la Guerra Hispanoamericana en Puerto Rico (1972) provides specific details of the first fight.  According to Rivero, the GLOUCESTER was able to quietly enter the harbor in the early morning hours before the sun was up and dispatched a launch with thirty armed seamen, with a six-millimeter Colt automatic rifle, under the command of Lt. H. P. Huse.  They were able to land on the east side of the bay of Guánica at a pier.  They proceeded to fan out and removed the Spanish flag over the small customs house on the beach and replace it with the American flag, at 9:00 AM.

Landing forces from the USS GLOUCESTER who served at Guanica
Landing forces from the USS GLOUCESTER who served at Guanica

This activity finally alerted a small contingent of about eleven local militia soldiers, under the command of Lt. Enrique Méndez López, in the town of Guánica, on the north side of the bay, that they were under attack.  A fire fight between the two groups, separated by some 300 yards broke out, with the GLOUCESTER opening fire with its three and six pounders against the militiamen, as additional American forces of combat engineers were landed.  Lt. Lopez and two of his men were wounded, and the remainder retreated through the town (1972:181-223).  The crewmen of the GLOUCESTER established a defensive position just north of their landing site, calling it Camp Wainwright, after the commander of the GLOUCESTER (Pabon & Regis 1996:MS).

Naval personnel were able to seize a number of wooden lighters, which General Miles used to land his troops at Guánica.  Combat engineers soon constructed a pontoon pier to facilitate the unloading of troops.  The first troops ashore were the volunteers from 6th Massachusetts and 6th Illinois Regiments, who had now spent seventeen days on board their transports (Bunzey 1901:241; Herrmann 1907:13).  Two camp sites were set up on July 25th, one on the eastern end of the bay and another between the port area and the main town of Guánica.

The landing at Guánica was also described by the American writer and poet Carl Sandburg as a volunteer with Company C, of the 6th Illinois Volunteer Regiment.  His diary entries reflect the experiences of the non-military volunteers of the Spanish-American War.

July 25 - Sighted Porto Rico early in morning (Exciting stuff) while GLOUCESTER entered harbor at Guanica and threw shells around vicinity.  We could see regulars advance across field, cut down wire fence with machetes [Carl Sandburg Diary 1898:1].
Writing as a private citizen after the war, Sandburg's memories are not of the military strategy of landing at Guánica but rather of the material discomforts that the volunteers endured in camp on the first night in enemy country.
We had set our pup tents [on July 25th], laid our ponchos and blankets on the ground, and gone to sleep in a slow drizzle of rain.  About three o'clock in the morning [on July 26th] a heavy downpour of rain kept coming.  We were on a slope and the downhill water soaked our blankets.  We got out of our tents, wrung our blankets as dry as we could and threw them with ponchos over our shoulders.  Then a thousand men stood around waiting for daylight hoping the rain would let down [Picó 1987:42].
While the 6th Illinois endured a wet night, the equally green 6th Massachusetts troops on picket duty north of Guánica opened fire on wandering cattle they mistook for a Spanish attack.  Widespread shooting continued until General Garretson and his staff officers "got the troops in order" (Nofi 1996:239).

Captain General MaciasBy the evening of July 25th the Spanish military command of Puerto Rico had been alerted to the landings at Guánica, by the keeper of the Guánica lighthouse who from his post at the eastern side of the entrance to Guánica harbor must of had a panoramic view of the thirteen warships and transports of the American invasion fleet.  He promptly notified the mayor of Yauco, a town a six miles north of Guánica, who in turn telegraphed Governor Macías.  Macías ordered Captain Salvador Meca and his infantry company to proceed from Yauco to Guánica.  Captain Salvador Meca led the 3rd company of the 25th Patria Battalion from Yauco to Hacienda Desideria (today known as Hacienda Santa Rita) just two miles outside Guánica with his company, some Puerto Rican volunteers, a few civil guards, and a mounted guerrilla.  By 11:00 PM on July 25th Captain Meca was joined by two companies (Cazador Patria Battalion), additional mounted guerrillas under Lieut. Col. Francisco Puig, who assumed command of the Spanish forces, and some volunteers from the towns of Yauco and Sabana Grande (Bunzey 1901:222; Rivero 1972:191-192).

Colonel Puig ordered his soldiers to take up positions on both sides of the road that ran from Guánica to Hacienda Desideria and beyond to Yauco.  He also positioned an infantry company under Captain San Pedro on a hill south of the hacienda.

In the early morning hours of July 26th, as Colonel Puig was arranging his troops, Brigadier G. A. Garretson moved out of Guánica along the Spanish Royal road heading northeast toward Yauco, about six miles away, with the intention of capturing the Yauco rail terminus that connected the largest town on the island, Ponce.  With seven companies (companies A, C, E, G, K, L, and M) of the 6th Massachusetts and Company G of the 6th Illinois.

Garretson precipitated the Battle of Yauco when he ordered Company G of the 6th Illinois to occupy a small hill (Seboruco Hills) on his right that overlooked the hacienda.  The Illinois company dug in and sent scouting parties toward the road that passed by the hacienda.  Later, two companies (companies L and M) of the 6th Massachusetts arrived to reinforce the Illinois troops (Bunzey 1901:220).

Detecting the movement to his front of the Illinois and Massachusetts troops Captain San Pedro from his positions on a nearby hill opened fire about 2:00 AM on July 26th.  General Garretson committed five companies (A, C, E, G, and K) of the 6th Massachusetts to approach Seboruco Hills for a direct assault on the Spanish in the hacienda at about 4:30 AM.  With the coming of daylight the vanguard of Companies A, G, and L, of the 6th Massachusetts moved north along the Royal road (Bunzey 1901:220).

The Yauco battlefield, Puerto Rico
The battlefield of Yauco, north of Guanica

In this advance the 6th Massachusetts swept the Spanish before them, suffered four wounded (Captain Gihon of C Company A, Corporal W.S. Carpenter and Private B. Bostic of Company L and Private J. Drumond of Company K).  Colonel Puig sent for his reserves, but they had run away leaving their backpacks, and he shortly thereafter received word from the Governor to disengage and retreat.  Before retreating, the right wing of the Spanish force initiated a flanking attack against the Seboruco Hills and Casa de Quiñones occupied by the Illinois and Massachusetts companies, but was driven off (Bunzey 1901:220-221).  At 10:00AM the Spanish had withdrawn ending the conflict known as the "Battle of Yauco" leaving Spanish 2 officers and 3 soldiers wounded and 2 soldiers dead (Rivero 1972:203).

During this fight the unexpected strength of the Spanish force caused some of the 6th Massachusetts troops to momentarily panic. Despite this, Garretson's troops entered Yauco to an enthusiastic reception, later in the afternoon of July 26th.  Meanwhile Colonel Puig's force retreated towards Yauco, and after failing to destroy the rail terminus in that town marched on to a hacienda outside the town of Penuelas owned by a Corsican named Franceschi, in Pasto Ward.  Next day (July 27th) they continued on to Adjuntas eventually passing through the central highlands town of Utuado on the 28th and arriving at Arecibo on the northern coast of the island on July 29th.  His men were able to make a forced march because they left behind their heavy military equipment that was slowing them down in a torrential rainstorm (Rivero 1972:210-212).

Troops of the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer InfantryAbout a week after the July 26th Battle of Yauco, Miles held an investigation of the 6th Massachusetts' conduct on the first two days of the Puerto Rican campaign, and their lack of discipline on a hard march from Guánica to Ponce, and requested and received the resignations of the regimental commander, the lieutenant colonel, a major, and a captain who had absented themselves from their troops during this action [Nofi 1996:239].  Miles installed Colonel Frank Rice, a regular Army officer, to command the 6th Massachusetts, who brought his wife on the campaign.  After some initial reserve on the part of the 6th Massachusetts, Colonel Rice and his wife who served as a nurse to the regiment were warmly received, according to the regimental history of the 6th Massachusetts published one year later (Edwards 1899).

This account, however, blamed the resignation of the regimental officers on Garretson's dislike of the Black troops that formed Company L of the 6th MassachusettsCompany L was the only black officered and manned unit in the Puerto Rico Campaign and only black volunteer unit to come under fire -- at the Battle of Yauco -- in the Spanish-American War.  The black troops were referred to by the Spanish as "Yanquis Humado" or "Smoked Yankees" (Edwards 1899:124).

Puerto Rican Reaction and the American War Correspondents

The New York Times was one of the first newspapers to report on Miles' movement out from Guánica beachhead and the reaction of native Puerto Rican to the American invasion, with the following piece of July 27th.

The neighborhood of Guanica and Ponce is said to be the section of the island where the opposition to Spanish rule is strongest and where a propaganda campaign in favor of accepting the Americans as deliverers instead of as enemies could be most advantageously begun. Gen. Miles has with him some representatives of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Junta.  It is believed that one of his objects in touching near Ponce is to establish contact with the insurgent and set on foot a movement which may result in making the American occupation of the island much easier than it would be if all the efforts of the invaders were confined to fighting their way along.  General Miles had a number of conferences with representatives of the revolutionists of the island before he left here, and he is known to have counted on doing as much toward winning over the people of the province by friendly overtures as possible, having regard to the ultimate benefits of such a policy on the permanent American rule, which it is proposed to establish here [Picó 1987:56].
From all contemporary accounts the Puerto Rican population were in the main not unwilling to accept the American troops, but Miles knew it was psychologically and strategically prudent to not give them any excuse to initiate local resistance to his forces.  For this reason, American troops were kept under strict control to prevent any outrages against the civilian population and Puerto Rico guides and translators who accompanied all the American unit provided good communication with the islanders.  In addition, the influx of American money to hired Puerto Rican stevedores, oxen cart drivers, laundresses, and a host of other service providers gave a boost to the economy of the southern part of the island.

However, the past conflicts between peninsular Spaniards and locally born Puerto Ricans seems to have also been an important ally of the Americans.

The majority of the inhabitants of Puerto Rico were no longer committed to Spanish rule, despite their newly won autonomy.  Reform had been promised before and by suspending the charter and imposing martial law, Macias was acting in a suspicious fashion.  Moreover, Puerto Rican conscripts were fighting in Cuba against a kindred people and a cause with which many sympathized.  Save for the resident Spaniards, the clergy, and elements of the upper and middle classes, the war was not popular.  The lower classes were largely indifferent; the intellectuals were more or less nationalistic; and much of the middle class largely inclined to independence or American annexation [Nofi 1996:236].
That is not to say that there was not some resistance by Puerto Ricans fighting with the Spanish in some in areas.  However, in the majority of the towns taken before the Armistice of August 12th the American troops were welcomed by the citizens of Puerto Rico.  One of the most striking examples of the Puerto Ricans dealing with the American army can be found in Richard Harding Davis' “How Stephen Crane Took Juana Diaz,” when he worked for William Randolph Hearst's Journal:
At the close of the Spanish-American campaign, the American forces that landed in Porto Rico were supposed to be invading a hostile territory.  Politically, as a colony of the enemy, the inhabitants of the island should have been hostile, but they were not.  They received our troops with one hand open and the other presenting either a bouquet, or a bottle.  Our troops clasped both hands.  There still remained in many of the towns a Spanish garrison, but from the greater number these garrisons had been withdrawn upon San Juan.  As a result, scouts and officers of our army on reconnaissance were constantly being welcomed by the natives as conquering heroes, and at the approach of one of them entire villages would capitulate as readily as though the man had come leading an army corps.  Once a town surrendered to an officer who had lost his way and stumbled into it by mistake, another fell to the boss of a pack train, whose only object in approaching it had been to steal some ponies [Davis 1976].
The newspaper correspondents with Miles' expedition included Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, and Richard Harding Davis, an important war correspondent of the time.  During a lull in the Puerto Rican campaign the two men took it upon themselves to make their own news by sneaking into Spanish held towns before the American army arrived.  On August 4th, Crane double-crossed Davis and slipped into Juana Diaz without his partner.  Fortunately for Crane,
. . . the Spanish had pulled out of the town by the time he arrived, and the local people took him to be the advance guard of the American army.  So Crane spent three days in relative luxury, being entertained by the local dignitaries, until [General] Wilson's men showed up to end the party [Nofi 1996:244].
Davis himself would get a taste of the experience of "capturing" a town in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.  On August 9th, during Miles' big offensive, Davis and three other journalists arrived in Coamo just before the American military, the alcalde turned the village over to Davis (Brown 1967:414).  While only in charge for twenty minutes, until the arrival of the American troops, Davis watched the advancing Americans and acted like a military governor during that brief time (Brown 1967:414).

Reporters at Tampa, including Stephen Crane and Richard Harding Davis
Reporters gathered at Tampa. Richard Harding Davis is the gent wearing the helmet. Stephen Crane is wearing the white suit.

General Miles was conscious of the need to win the support of the population of Ponce and to be seen as a liberator rather than a conqueror, Miles issued the following proclamation, on the 28th of July, in Ponce.


In the prosecution of war against the kingdom of Spain by the people of the United States, in the cause of liberty, justice, and humanity, its military forces have come to occupy the island of Puerto Rico.  They come bearing the banner of freedom, inspired by a noble purpose to seek the enemies of our country and yours, and to destroy or capture all who are in armed resistance.  They bring you the fostering arm of a free people, whose greatest power is in its justice and humanity to all those living within its fold.  Hence the first effect of this occupation will be the immediate release from your former relations, and it is hoped a cheerful acceptance of the government of the United States.  The chief object of the American military forces will be to overthrow the armed authority of Spain, and to give the people of your beautiful island the largest measure of liberty consistent with this occupation.  We have not come to make war upon the people of a country that for centuries has been oppressed, but, on the contrary, to bring you protection, not only to yourselves, but to your property; to promote your prosperity, and bestow upon you the immunities and blessings of the liberal institutions of our government.  It is not our purpose to interfere with any existing laws and customs that are wholesome and beneficial to your people so long as they conform to the rules of military administration of order and justice.  This is not a war of devastation, but one to give all within the control of its military and naval forces the advantages and blessings of enlightened civilization.

 Nelson A. Miles,
 Major-General, Commanding United States Army
 [Herrmann 1907:33].

Nine years after these events in Ponce, Mr. Karl Herrmann, a former Regular with the 11th Infantry commented on the effect of this proclamation on the Puerto Ricans and the American troops.  Hermann believed the existing laws of Puerto Rico were morally superior and more severe than what most of the American forces were used to, therefore, there was little danger of a conflict between the military order of Miles and the common law of the island.   The laws of Puerto Rico were so stringent that it was more likely for an American soldier to be in the wrong than a citizen of Puerto Rico was.
The promises set forth in this document [Miless' proclamation] were kept to the letter.  Indeed, Justice sat up so straight for the people of Puerto Rico that she often toppled over backward and crushed the American soldier.  To steal anything, from a kiss to a cow, was almost a capital offense; while houses and churches might have been lined with gold and jasper, or infected with the small-pox, so stringently were we kept out of them - at least during the hostile period [Herrmann 1907:34].
By keeping the American troops in line and working with the Porto Rican Commission the US Army was soon able to recruit 2500 Puerto Rican men to serve in the "Porto Rican Scouts" or the "Porto Rican Guards."  The Porto Rican Commission also organized hundreds of local dockworkers to quickly off load the supplies needed by Miles' forces (Nofi 1996:241-242).



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