America's Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay Was Paid for in U.S. Marine Blood
The cable-cutting went off without a hitch as the Marblehead and Yankee steamed into the bay. McCalla observed Spanish soldiers entrenched on the cliffs and in front of the blockhouse. He immediately ordered his ship and the Yankee to open fire on the enemy position. The blockhouse was swiftly pounded to rubble and most of the trenches destroyed.
During the bombardment, the Marblehead and Yankee were in plain view of the Spanish artillery batteries on South Toro Cay and the Caimanera fort. The Spaniards fired several nuisance salvos, without effect, and at dusk, the St. Louis raced down the channel, fired a few quick shots, then dashed back to Caimanera.
Ships Begin Island Bombardment
Commander McCalla conferred with Admiral Sampson. They decided to land the Marine battalion at Fisherman’s Point and establish a campsite at the clifftop blockhouse.
Preparatory to the invasion, the Marblehead, along with the Dolphin and Vixen, bombarded the landing beach and enemy trenches. They were soon joined by the St. Louis, Yankee, and the Adria. The exact number of Spanish troops in the vicinity was not known; however, about five thousand soldiers, commanded by Gen. Felix Pareja, were reported to be encamped a short distance inland.
Aboard the Marblehead, a war correspondent for the Boston Herald described the amphibious operation: “The first landing of American forces on Cuban soil took place about eight o’clock on the morning of June 10. A detachment of 40 marines from the Oregon and 20 from the Marblehead went ashore at Guantànamo Bay and occupied the east entrance of the harbor below Fisherman’s Point.
Marines Land Unopposed At Guantànamo
“At one o’clock the Panther, escorted by the Yosemite, arrived with more than 600 marines. The men climbed into cutters and were towed by steam-launches to the beach.
“The landing, carried out under a blazing-hot afternoon sun, was unopposed. B Company, under Lieutenant N.H. Hall, was the first contingent ashore. C Company, led by Captain George F. Elliott, was the next to land, and both companies deployed up the steep cliff to the ruins of the blockhouse.
“The entire assault proceeded as efficiently as a Sunday-school picnic. Within an hour, the marines had burned the village and taken possession of the hill. Color Sergeant Richard Silvey hoisted the Stars and Stripes above the blockhouse—the first American flag to fly over Cuba. The site was enthusiastically given the name of Camp McCalla, after the popular commanding-officer of the Marblehead.”
Vulnearable Camp McCalla
The Spaniards had evidently made a hurried departure from the hill. Scattered about the trenches and blockhouse were many personal possessions—along with hammocks, machetes, ammunition, and two field pieces. Also discovered in the rubble were a batch of official telegrams giving the strength of Spanish fortifications in the area. It was suspected that the messages had been deliberately discarded to deceive the Americans, but they were turned over to Admiral Sampson so he could investigate their authenticity.
In his report to Marine Headquarters, Lt. Col. Huntington commented on the Marine campsite: “The hill occupied by our troops is not a good location—but the best to be had at this time. The ridge slopes downward and to the rear from the bay. The plateau at the top is very small, and the surrounding countryside is covered with thick, almost impenetrable, brush. Our position is commanded by a range of hills about 1200 yards distant.”
With the bay at their backs—and the jungle and hills to the front and sides—the Marines were in an endangered position, but tents were pitched and outposts established. Shortly after sundown the Marines ate their first meal in Cuba—hardtack and coffee.
About 10 o’clock a sentry sounded an alarm. The Marines were rousted from their sleep, and a skirmish line was quickly formed. Spanish voices were heard in the distance and lights were seen in the brush, but no attack materialized.
The Marines had a restless night and awoke to another scorching hot day. The only sounds emanating from the jungle were the cooing of mourning doves—which in reality were the Spaniards signaling to each other.
Two Outpost Duty Privates Killed By Spanish
In the early afternoon, Colonel Laborde, commander of the Cuban insurgents in the area, told Huntington that the main Spanish force in the vicinity was headquartered at a freshwater well at Cuzco—six miles southeast of Fisherman’s Point. The well provided the only drinking water for the enemy troops—which comprised about five hundred soldiers.
Late in the day, Privates William Dumphy and James McColgan of D Company were on outpost duty about three hundred yards from camp. They were relaxing under a tree, but were soon lulled into carelessness by the constant heat and hypnotic sounds of the tropical forest. Suddenly, without any warning, Dumphy and McColgan were attacked and killed by a Spanish patrol that had sneaked unobserved through the thick brush. Both men were shot through the head at close range. The bodies of the Marines were stripped of shoes, hats, and cartridge belts—and then horribly mutilated with machetes.
“They Never Had A Chance To Defend Themselves”