THE land fighting before Santiago was dwarfed by the spectacular glory of the naval engagement that followed swiftly upon its heels. The ocean is the perfect battlefield, offering no natural advantage to either combatant. On land, the limitless opportunities for defence, concealment, and surprise require most patient investigation both of the original plan of a battle and its variations in execution, in order that the action may be comprehended and explained. All that is known at first are the general results and the confused mass of individual experiences and incidents that indicate the fighting temper of the forces engaged. The fighting before Santiago on July 1 and 2 was without precedent, and was involved in more confusion than any other modern battle of respectable scale. The destruction of Cervera's squadron was achieved amid all the surroundings of a magnificent theatrical display. Its opening, swift progress, and final tragedy, possessed a dramatic completeness of effect that could not have been surpassed if the details had been designed and rehearsed in advance.
Yet, splendid as the achievement was, the heroism displayed by the soldiers in the obscurity of the inland jungles was of a quality that equalled the courage and skill by which our ships were brought out victorious. And, at the moment when the observers of the land battles were preparing to analyze the incidents and construct the great story, the naval engagement intervened and relegated the army's achievements to second place. It was not until two weeks had elapsed and Santiago had surrendered, that the world understood the significance of the American fighting at San Juan and El Caney.
The discovery was momentous. Upon a larger field 16,000 men, against the same odds and with the same determination of unprecedented courage, devoid of any quality of desperation, had repeated the achievement of the 950 at Las Guasimas. As Sampson's fleet demonstrated that Dewey's victory was the fruit of national character and system, and not chance, the forces at San Juan and El Caney enforced with equal thoroughness the lesson of Las Guasimas.
It established the quality of manhood developed by free government, which the monarchical systems had persistently denied. The very blunders of forecast called out triumphantly the individual resource of each soldier, apart from the combination in bodies. It is doubtful if the desperate courage of the Spaniards had been underestimated; but certainly the deadly Cuban climate, with its alternation of burning heat and nightly chill, its drowning tropical rains, the rankness of vegetation, the tangled jungles, and the absence of foundations for road-building -- certainly these were all underestimated or not prepared for. Yet, if it had been determined to overcome these obstacles before attacking, the purpose of the government to push the war to a quick conclusion could not have been achieved. Cuba could not have been scientifically invaded and the war ended short of twelve months.
It was thoroughly characteristic of the American idea of "business" that when Shafter perceived the heat and the impending of the rainy season he determined without hesitation to "beat the rains to Santiago," and do the necessary fighting while the health and spirits of the men were good. It cannot be said that the losses in battle were greater because of the impetuous advance. The losses by disease later demonstrated the wisdom of haste.
The three battles on the journey were characteristic of what Europe has sarcastically called "American enterprise." Disregarding tradition and precedent, the army of the United States, provided with no field artillery of sufficient power, plunged into a jungle and marched against a fortified city -- leaving all supplies behind, and throwing away, on the march, every pound of clothing and equipment that was not necessary for actual fighting.
The extreme advance-guard of 950 cavalrymen, marching and fighting for the first time dismounted, half of them volunteers of two months' training, charged an enemy two or three times greater in numbers, intrenched, provided with artillery, protected by barbed wire entanglements, in a familiar jungle, and drove them back after an hour's fighting. It was called an "ambush," and at home amateur critics of war attributed to desperation the valor of our troops. It was to be discovered later that from Las Guasimas to Santiago the same ambuscade confronted all our troops.
Halting only to fight, rest, and permit the main body to come up, cut off from provisions and hospital relief, with quarter rations for empty stomachs, the half-nude and weary, but determined army reached the outposts of Santiago and assaulted them with a spirit that would not be denied. The outposts that were to be taken in two days were stormed and captured against overwhelming odds of defence in one day, after ten hours of ceaseless fighting. The night was spent in making intrenchments and resisting attempts at recapture, and the next day in the blazing sunlight, without tents, without food, without relief, they fought the enemy back to his last ditch and held the city.
Of the 15,000 troops engaged, three regiments were volunteers practically useless, not for lack of fighting qualities -- the stubborn march disproved that -- but because their rifle ammunition carried black powder and the smoke menaced our troops by revealing their position at every discharge. Of the remainder, one regiment was of volunteers with smokeless powder ammunition, and the remainder regulars, one-third of whose ranks had been recruited within sixty-five days. One-third of that army was practically composed of volunteer recruits.
The military observers present, representing foreign nations, were unanimously of the opinion before the attack on Friday the 1st, that the storming of San Juan and El Caney, without the aid of heavy artillery, was a military feat impossible of accomplishment. The intrenchments of the enemy, his position, his advance defences, his artillery and numbers, rendered him impregnable against enormous odds. Yet all this was swept away by infantry alone, by troops thrown into regimental confusion in the jungle, some without brigade or regimental commanders, yet all welded into substantial cohesive formation by the instinct of self-reliance, springing from intelligent knowledge of the value of combination and organization.
Captain Lee and Captain Paget of the British army declared that the United States troops had performed the impossible in warfare. Count von Goetzen, the German attache, whose opinion will scarcely be suspected of too much leaning to the side of the United States, said the fighting of the Americans was wonderfully well done, and that the storming of the outposts was a wonderful feat of war. The fighting was creditable, he declared, to both sides, but he did not dream how formidable San Juan was until after it had been taken. The American marksmanship was surprising. The vigorous way in which our troops sprang to the deadly work was a tremendous lesson to other nations. The volunteers, he heard from other expert observers who had watched them, were fully up to the regulars, and the dash and spirit exhibited were marvellous. Major Grandprey, of the French service, who has been quoted elsewhere, declared that some of the best-grounded theories adopted in Europe were overturned by the achievements of the American soldiers. The Frank-furter Zeitung, a leading newspaper authority of Germany, in a well-considered article from a military contributor, declared that the United States troops before Santiago had surpassed all precedents, and that the susceptibility of the American citizen to quick training had demonstrated that our volunteer militia was a much more reliable force than the compulsory reserves of Europe, an utterance astonishing in the light of past beliefs.
It may be said that the United States military operations against Santiago were marred by blunders or misfortunes, without raising the question of cause or responsibility for them. But through all, the intelligence, tenacity, and strong character of the American citizen found an unerring way to victory against the odds of the enemy in front and the failure or impossibility of support behind.
The courage of our soldiers was matched by the skill of our seamen. The naval battle of Santiago was most extraordinary in its contrasts of methods and men. For eighty-six years American seamen had engaged no foreign adversaries. Our ships were regarded as too light in armor, or too heavy in armament, and too delicate in interior mechanism. It had been predicted by foreign experts that our battle-ships would be capsized by the recoil from the delivery of full broadsides from the great and small guns. These theoretical doubts were dissipated. The battleships, in bombarding, were "listed," or careened to one side by running the heavy guns out of the ports and turrets, in order to gain elevation sufficient for the guns on the other side to throw shells over the hills. Not a gun exploded, not a piece of delicate machinery failed, not one gloomy prediction was realized.
Our methods of fighting, like our methods of diplomacy, were startling to the enemy. Europe has clung to the conventions. In diplomacy, Europeans proceed by the tortuous paths of tradition and the etiquette of precedent. They pronounced the American directness of procedure by going to the heart of the subject in a business-like manner as "brutal" and "irritating." At San Juan the Spanish complained that our troops charged, when, under all the conventions of warfare by accepted tactics they should have run away!
In the naval battle our commanders wasted no time in vain technical parade and maneuver. They fell upon the adversary with all the weight of metal that could be discharged, pounding the amazed and breathless Spaniards to destruction before they could recover from the shock. The European gunner is trained to shoot on the upward roll of his side of the ship, with the result that most of the Spanish shots were hurled harmlessly over our ships. United States gunners are trained to fire on the downward roll, so that the missile may go straight to the enemy's hull, or reach it on ricochet. The hulls of the Spanish cruisers testified to the deadly efficacy of the method. The three battles of this century, preceding Santiago, that were enormously greater in political significance than important as mere military operations, were Waterloo, Gettysburg and Sedan. The effect of Waterloo was the destruction of Napoleon's personal power and threatened political supremacy in Europe. The effect of Gettysburg was to presage the downfall of the institution of slavery in the United States, and the denial, by force of arms, of the political theory of the right of any State to withdraw peacefully from the Federal Union. The effect of Sedan was the ushering into immediate power of the German Empire, that Bismarck had patiently constructed from the petty German states, the solidarity of which was committed with its crown to the keeping of William I., of the new imperial dynasty. In no military sense are these battles comparable, but in significance they are. They were of momentous effect upon the nations and continents whose interests were directly concerned. But to the round world they were, after all, more or less incidents of locality. Waterloo was, perhaps, greatest of all; but the world of 1814 was much smaller than the world of 1898.
In respect of the importance of the forces engaged on land and the display of recognized scientific military operations, the land battles before Santiago were mere skirmishes beside Waterloo, Gettysburg and Sedan. But in respect of the revelation resulting from measuring the fighting and enduring qualities of the American soldier by the standard obtaining in the standing army of Spain, the result was of the highest significance. Among the people of the United States it confirmed and established the confidence they had long cherished in the efficiency of their race. It was more important to us than Gettysburg, in that, while it erased every jarring memory of Gettysburg itself, it sanctified and heightened the one glorious -- of the valor of all Americans who met on that field of heroic struggle; and that the reunited devotion to one country and one flag was sealed in sacrifice of blood and life by North and South together fighting side by side. It revealed to us, as by inspiration, the strength and character of our population, and the resourceful intelligence springing from liberty restricted only by the rights of man. That this revelation was understood by all foreign observers was confessed. They were sent to observe both sides; not merely the tools of war, but the nature and power of the men who wielded them. It is for the purpose of studying forces as possible adversaries that such observations are made.
When the combined operations of the army and navy at Santiago are considered, it is not improbable that the Spanish defeat will prove, by future results, to have been more significant than any other battle of the century.
The overwhelming and quick defeat of Spain was confidently prepared for and expected by the United States. The progress of the war did not appreciably interrupt the regular course of our every-day life or business.
It was also conceded by all other nations that Spain must be defeated, if the prosecution of the war was not averted by the intervention of European powers. But some grave authorities abroad did not dream that it was possible for Spain in a hundred days to be stripped of all her colonies, her splendid fleet annihilated, her ocean commerce paralyzed, her finances demoralized, her population maddened to the point of revolution, an important body of her army captured within its own fortified places by a smaller army, and the prisoners transported back to Spain, at the expense of the conquerors, as an act of compassionate charity, founded upon good "Yankee" economy.
And all this without the enemy being able to strike a single blow in return, or to disarrange in any particular the ordinary course of life in this country.
The significance of Santiago lay in this: that those who had considered Dewey's action at Manila to be a miracle of good fortune, saw it repeated at Santiago, at Manzanillo, at San Juan de Puerto Rico, and at Nipe. Those who thought the 95 deg at Las Guasimas were reckless daredevils, who won out of sheer audacity, saw the same quality of indomitable courage repeated by increased forces, with equal success, at San Juan and El Caney.
When Santiago surrendered, the republic of the United States, so long scorned by Europe as a nation of money-getters and sordid adventurers, with no traditions of dignity or glory; so long treated with contempt by Europe in its accredited representatives as being a government of ignorance and corrupt politicians and mercenaries -- that republic, after Santiago, stood before the world suddenly revealed in its real strength, taking undisputed place in the first rank of nations, unsurpassed in its practical ability to provide for offence or defence, and with a capacity for future influence in the whole world, and for the increase of its strength restricted only within the national purpose, whatever that might be.
The surrender of Santiago was the death-blow to Spain, and sudden warning to Europe.
Even after the destruction of the Maine the Spanish government did not expect war with the United States. That act of cruel perfidy was so well shrouded in mystery, as Spain viewed it, that it might be made the subject of endless diplomacy, or, if put to it, the "mercenaries" of America could be pacified with a money indemnity. No allowance was made for the existence of a profound public sentiment in the United States aroused by the murder of our seamen. Once before Spanish authorities had shot to death the crew of the Virginius, filibusters from this country going to aid Cuban revolutionists, and nothing had come of the outrage. The idea that the United States possessed any actual sympathy for Cubans who perished under Spanish cruelty, neither Canovas nor Sagasta could comprehend as anything more than rhetorical declamation covering a pretence to forward some scheme of sharp practice that our government was preparing to present. They frankly admitted that Spain could not be victorious in a war with the United States, but they did not expect war -- diplomacy, and money indemnity, at the proper time, would dispose of American protestations of honorable purpose and humane motives.
Curiously enough, England, the European nation best able to know and understand the spirit and power of the United States, underrated the situation at first. Her naval and military authorities did not hesitate to prophesy that the Americans were sure to be victorious in the end, because, although the national spirit rose slowly, it rose surely under adversity, and was then irresistible. They were ready, however, to expect the first successes for Spain, whose standing army and excellent navy, equipped according to European standards, would be superior to the overloaded and lumbering ships of our fleet and the handful of soldiers composing our standing army, which would have to be laboriously recruited from raw volunteers, these, naturally, of the lowest classes of our population.
Even after Manila, the London Times, that recognized channel of sound conservative opinion in England, took a gloomy view of our outlook. "In time, of course," it said, "the United States will be able to bring out their immense, almost inexhaustible resources of military and naval strength, but for the moment nothing decisive can be looked for so long as Admiral Cervera's fleet is in being, and while the American army is in process of manufacture." All that had then been gained, it believed, was the knowledge that European intervention was no longer practicable.
"Intervention by the powers" was, in fact, the trump card that Spanish statesmen believed they held for use when all other resources should prove futile. It was not possible to admit that a republic of "pig-stickers," "railroad builders" and "tradesmen" would dare resist the dignified wishes of the "Concert of Europe," whose mission was the maintenance of the balance of power, the custodianship of the secrets of diplomacy by circumlocution, and the division of the estates of deceased governments among heirs to be selected for the decedent.
It was to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy, and the Franco-Russian League that Spain looked for assistance. Great Britain was, as usual, independent of alliances, a solitary among nations, more powerful and much more feared than the United States, but yet a solitary, as we have always been.
When Congress had taken steps that left no doubt of immediate war, Spain recognized that her own diplomacy was ended. She turned immediately to Austria (whose emperor was the uncle of the queen-regent and granduncle of Alfonso XIII.), to the pope and to France. The mighty mystery of the "intervention of the powers" was thus solemnly invoked. The venerable Leo XIII., representing in his pontifical character and personal virtues the loftiest mission of religion, made overtures to the President that were acknowledged with interest and respect and replied to with open frankness of explanation. Then the aged pontiff suddenly learned that even in this effort to preserve the curious national pretence called her "honor," Spain had not hesitated to ascribe his action to the wrong initiative and to represent his motives in such a manner as to cover his high office with indignity and to reflect insult upon the United States. Overcome with grief and feeling deep humiliation, Leo XIII. withdrew, not the less respected by our government and the world that recognized his greatness of mind and nobility of purpose.
During this time, also, the powers of the continent had agreed to make united "representations" to the government of the United States through their ambassadors and ministers in a body. The note was intended to have the appearance of disinterested anxiety for peace and the effect of a menace from combined Europe, if we persisted in the determination to make war on Spain, and to destroy her sovereignty in Cuba. Italy did not join in the action.
The continent having agreed upon the plan, application was made to Great Britain to join in the remonstrance. The continent relied upon the ancient feeling of jealous dislike between England and the United States, and the recent embroilment over the Anglo-Venezuelan boundary, as causes sufficient to move the queen's ministers.
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