Part 1 (1/2)

History of Negro Soldiers in the Spanish-American War, and Other Items of Interest.

by Edward A. Johnson.



Many causes led up to the Spanish-American war. Cuba had been in a state of turmoil for a long time, and the continual reports of outrages on the people of the island by Spain greatly aroused the Americans. The ”ten years war” had terminated, leaving the island much embarra.s.sed in its material interests, and woefully scandalized by the methods of procedure adopted by Spain and carried out by Generals Campos and Weyler, the latter of whom was called the ”butcher” on account of his alleged cruelty in attempting to suppress the former insurrection. There was no doubt much to complain of under his administration, for which the General himself was not personally responsible. He boasted that he only had three individuals put to death, and that in each of these cases he was highly justified by martial law.

FINALLY THE ATTENTION OF THE UNITED STATES was forcibly attracted to Cuba by the Virginius affair, which consisted in the wanton murder of fifty American sailors--officers and crew of the Virginius, which was captured by the Spanish off Santiago bay, bearing arms and ammunition to the insurgents--Captain Fry, a West Point graduate, in command.

Spain would, no doubt, have received a genuine American thras.h.i.+ng on this occasion had she not been a republic at that time, and President Grant and others thought it unwise to crush out her republican principles, which then seemed just budding into existence.

The horrors of this incident, however, were not out of the minds of the American people when the new insurrection of 1895 broke out. At once, as if by an electric flash, the sympathy of the American people was enlisted with the Insurgents who were (as the Americans believed) fighting Spain for their _liberty_. Public opinion was on the Insurgents' side and against Spain from the beginning. This feeling of sympathy for the fighting Cubans knew no North nor South; and strange as it may seem the Southerner who quails before the mob spirit that disfranchises, ostracises and lynches an American Negro who seeks his liberty at home, became a loud champion of the Insurgent cause in Cuba, which was, in fact, the cause of Cuban Negroes and mulattoes.

GENERAL FITZHUGH LEE, of Virginia, possibly the most noted Southerner of the day, was sent by President Cleveland to Havana as Consul General, and seemed proud of the honor of representing his government there, judging from his reports of the Insurgents, which were favorable. General Lee was retained at his post by President McKinley until it became necessary to recall him, thus having the high honor paid him of not being changed by the new McKinley administration, which differed from him in politics; and as evidence of General Fitzhugh Lee's sympathy with the Cubans it may be cited that he sent word to the Spanish Commander (Blanco) on leaving Havana that he would return to the island again and when he came he ”would bring the stars and stripes in front of him.”

BELLIGERENT RIGHTS TO THE INSURGENTS OR NEUTRALITY became the topic of discussion during the close of President Cleveland's administration.

The President took the ground that the Insurgents though deserving of proper sympathy, and such aid for humanity's sake as could be given them, yet they had not established on any part of the island such a form of government as could be recognized at Was.h.i.+ngton, and accorded belligerent rights or rights of a nation at war with another nation; that the laws of neutrality should be strictly enforced, and America should keep ”hands off” and let Spain and the Insurgents settle their own differences.

[Ill.u.s.tration: GENERAL FITZHUGH LEE.]

MUCH MONEY AND TIME was expended by the United States government in maintaining this neutral position. Fillibustering expeditions were constantly being fitted up in America with arms and ammunition for the Cuban patriots. As a neutral power it became the duty of the American government to suppress fillibustering, but it was both an unpleasant and an expensive duty, and one in which the people had little or no sympathy.

SPAIN TRIES TO APPEASE public sentiment in America by recalling Marshal Campos, who was considered unequal to the task of defeating the Insurgents, because of reputed inaction. The flower of the Spanish army was poured into Cuba by the tens of thousands--estimated, all told, at three hundred thousand when the crisis between America and Spain was reached.

WEYLER THE ”BUTCHER,” was put in command and inaugurated the policy of establis.h.i.+ng military zones inside of the Spanish lines, into which the unarmed farmers, merchants, women and children were driven, penniless; and being without any visible means of subsistence were left to perish from hunger and disease. (The condition of these people greatly excited American sympathy with the Insurgents.) General Weyler hoped thus to weaken the Insurgents who received considerable of supplies from this cla.s.s of the population, either by consent or force. Weyler's policy in reference to the reconcentrados (as these non-combatant people were called) rather increased than lessened the grievance as was natural to suppose, in view of the misery and suffering it entailed on a cla.s.s of people who most of all were not the appropriate subjects for his persecution, and sentiment became so strong in the United States against this policy (especially in view of the fact that General Weyler had promised to end the ”Insurrection” in three months after he took command) that in FEBRUARY, 1896, the United States Congress took up the discussion of the matter. Several Senators and Congressmen returned from visits to the island pending this discussion, in which they took an active and effective part, depicting a most shocking and revolting situation in Cuba, for which Spain was considered responsible; and on April 6th following this joint resolution was adopted by Congress:

”_Be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America_, that in the opinion of Congress a public war exists between the Government of Spain and the Government proclaimed and for some time maintained by force of arms by the people of Cuba; and that the United States of America should maintain a strict neutrality between the contending powers, according to each all the rights of belligerents in the ports and territory of the United States.”

”_Resolved further_, that the friendly offices of the United States should be offered by the President to the Spanish government for the recognition of the independence of Cuba.”

THE INSURGENTS gained by this resolution an important point. It dignified their so-called insurrection into an organized army, with a government at its back which was so recognized and treated with. They could buy and sell in American ports.

[Ill.u.s.tration: GENERAL ANTONIO MACEO.]

GENERAL ANTONIO MACEO about this time was doing great havoc along the Spanish lines. He darted from place to place, back and forth across the supposed impa.s.sable line of Spanish fortifications stretching north and south across the island some distance from Havana, and known as the _trocha_. Thousands of Spaniards fell as the result of his daring and finesse in military execution. His deeds became known in America, and though a man of Negro descent, with dark skin and crisp hair, his fame was heralded far and wide in the American newspapers.

At a public gathering in New York, where his picture was exhibited, the audience went wild with applause--the waving of handkerchiefs and the wild hurrahs were long and continued. The career of this hero was suddenly terminated by death, due to the treachery of his physician Zertucha, who, under the guise of a proposed treaty of peace, induced him to meet a company of Spanish officers, at which meeting, according to a pre-arranged plot, a mob of Spanish infantry rushed in on General Maceo and shot him down unarmed. It is said that his friends recovered his body and buried it in a secret place unknown to the Spaniards, who were anxious to obtain it for exhibition as a trophy of war in Havana.

Maceo was equal to Toussaint L'Overture of San Domingo. His public life was consecrated to liberty; he knew no vice nor mean action; he would not permit any around him. When he landed in Cuba from Porto Rico he was told there were no arms. He replied, ”I will get them with my machete,” and he left five thousand to the Cubans, conquered by his arm. Every time the Spanish attacked him they were beaten and left thousands of arms and much ammunition in his possession. He was born in Santiago de Cuba July 14, 1848.

THE SPIRIT OF THE INSURGENTS did not break with General Maceo's death.

Others rose up to fill his place, the women even taking arms in the defence of home and liberty. ”At first no one believed, who had not seen them, that there were women in the Cuban army; but there is no doubt about it. They are not all miscalled amazons, for they are warlike women and do not shun fighting. The difficulty in employing them being that they are insanely brave. When they ride into battle they become exalted and are dangerous creatures. Those who first joined the forces on the field were the wives of men belonging in the army, and their purpose was rather to be protected than to become heroines and avengers. It shows the state of the island, that the women found the army the safest place for them. With the men saved from the plantations and the murderous bandits infesting the roads and committing every lamentable outrage upon the helpless, some of the high spirited Cuban women followed their husbands, and the example has been followed, and some, instead of consenting to be protected, have taken up the fas.h.i.+on of fighting.”--_Murat Halsted_.

JOSE MACEO, brother of Antonio, was also a troublesome character to the Spaniards, who were constantly being set upon by him and his men.

WEYLER'S POLICY AND THE BRAVE STRUGGLE of the people both appealed very strongly for American sympathy with the Insurgent cause. The American people were indignant at Weyler and were inspired by the conduct of the Insurgents. Public sentiment grew stronger with every fresh report of an Insurgent victory, or a Weyler persecution.

MISS EVANGELINA COSIO Y CISNERO'S RESCUE helped to arouse sentiment.

This young and beautiful girl of aristocratic Cuban parentage alleged that a Spanish officer had, on the occasion of a _raid_ made on her home, in which her father was captured and imprisoned as a Cuban sympathizer, proposed her release on certain illicit conditions, and on her refusal she was incarcerated with her aged father in the renowned but filthy and dreaded Morro Castle at Havana.