America's Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay Was Paid for in U.S. Marine Blood
In his handwritten diary, Private Henry D. Schrieder of C Company recalled the events that followed: “About five-thirty we heard shots. Moments later, a Cuban scout rushed into camp shouting that a Spanish force was heading our way. The outposts were immediately alerted and hurried measures were taken for defense of the camp. Enemy Mauser bullets quickly began zipping over our heads. The Spaniards were hiding in the brush on all sides of us. Many had leaves and branches tied around their bodies so that they could scarcely be distinguished from the undergrowth. With our entrenchments still not completed, we made easy targets.
“Colonel Huntington tried to lead the battalion in a counterattack, but the underbrush was so thick and thorny that he continued the advance with only one company. Upon reaching the outpost defended by Dumphy and McColgan, the butchered bodies of our fellow marines were discovered. They never had a chance to defend themselves.”
The search for the elusive enemy was abandoned at dark and Huntington and his frustrated detachment returned to the camp. Throughout the night, the Marines never slept. Deadly, high-velocity bullets riddled their defenses. Furious volleys—interspersed with sporadic fire—kept the battalion on adrenalin-flowing alert.
About one o’clock in the morning, Assistant Surgeon John B. Gibbs was standing in front of a hospital tent. He had just remarked to another doctor, “Let’s get out of this. I don’t want to be killed here!” when a Spanish bullet struck him in the head—passing through one temple and out the other.
Spaniards Launch Several Attacks
Sergeant Charles H. Smith and his squad from D Company were dug in on the east slope of the hill on picket duty. They withstood enemy attacks throughout the night. Smith was killed, and Corporal Glass and Privates McGowan and Dalton were wounded. First Lieutenant W.C. Neville and several men ventured out to recover Smith’s body, but they came under heavy fire and were forced to fall back.
Henry Schrieder continued his account: “The Spaniards launched a dozen attacks before daybreak. The assaults were most threatening after midnight, when it seemed that the camp was completely surrounded. We held our ground defiantly, and our volleys seemed to have been delivered with good judgment, for they sufficed to hold the enemy in check.
“The night was uncommonly dark but the Marblehead, anchored out in the bay, kept her searchlight trained on the thickets. The lightbeams—along with the muzzle flash of Mauser rifles—served to guide our aim.
“Snipers Became A Major Problem”
“At daylight on the 12th, the artillery field pieces, under the command of Lieutenants Long and McKelvy, commenced pounding the Spanish positions with rapid fire barrages. About this time, the Texas arrived and landed 40 marine reinforcements and two Colt machine guns. The weapons were hauled up the hill and mounted on the earthworks. The additional fire power promised more security for our men defending the camp, and gave Colonel Huntington the opportunity to deploy one company as skirmishers and move forward to dislodge the Spaniards. The efforts of the skirmishing party—supported by gunfire from the camp and numerous salvos from the Marblehead—seemed almost continuous, but the Spaniards kept shifting their attacks from place to place.
“Snipers became a major problem. Accordingly, all tents and supplies were moved to the side of the hill facing the bay, and a trench 40 yards long was dug on the south front. A barricade was also constructed as enemy forces were reported to be assembling for an all-out assault on Camp McCalla.
“At ten o’clock on the morning of the 12th, Privates Dumphy and McColgan and Surgeon Gibbs were buried on the south slope of the hill. The solemn ceremony was continually interrupted by the enemy—to whom the sacred purpose of those sharing in this observance must have been apparent. The prayers were concluded under the zing of Mauser bullets. The salutes we fired over the graves were aimed at the Spaniards.”
Following the burial service, a flagpole and a large American flag were sent ashore from the Marblehead. The permanent flag was raised over Camp McCalla by the Marine battalion adjutant, First Lt. Herbert L. Draper. As the Stars and Stripes whipped in the breeze, the Marines cheered and ships in the harbor fired salutes and blew their whistles.
At the conclusion of the flag-raising ceremony, a defense perimeter was established, and C and D Companies took over the outpost positions. Ten Cuban scouts were attached to each picket company.
Repelling the Spanish Charge of Camp
As soon as darkness settled over the jungle, a large Spanish force attacked the outposts. Hearing the gunfire, the Marblehead and Panther closed the shore and sent salvo after salvo into the woods. Several shells exploded in the vicinity of D Company. Word was quickly passed back to camp, and the ships were ordered to cease firing. Commander McCalla assumed responsibility for the error. He stated that upon noticing the muzzle flash from the Marine rifles, he had mistakenly believed that they were Mausers.
For most of the night, the men of D Company were kept busy defending their outpost. Under the circumstances, casualties were light. Sergeant Major Henry Good and Private Goode Taurman were killed, and Privates Burke, Wallace, Martin, and Roxbury were wounded. Just before daybreak, a large Spanish force sneaked through the high brush on the hill and charged Camp McCalla, but was beaten back by heavy rifle and machine-gun fire.