The Buzz

America's Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay Was Paid for in U.S. Marine Blood

Later in the morning, reinforcements of 50 Cuban insurgents commanded by Lt. Col. Enrique E. Tomas arrived. The Cubans, familiar with guerrilla tactics, deployed in front of the camp—burning the thicket as they advanced—and cleared an area so as to deny the Spaniards the cover they had been using to their advantage.

Weary Marines Thwart Another Attack

Sporadic enemy sniper fire continued to plague the Marines. They stayed by their guns, ready for immediate action. By nightfall, the battalion was on the verge of exhaustion. In addition to the unbearable heat, the Marines had not slept or rested for more than 72 hours.

At daybreak on June 14—while half the Marine battalion was at breakfast—the Spaniards launched a heavy attack on Camp McCalla from the direction of the Cuzco hills. But once again they were beaten back. The Marblehead’s steam-launch, heading for Fisherman’s Point, opened fire on the retreating Spanish troops, chasing them along the beach with her rapid-fire one-pounder.

Taking the Battle To The Spanish

Colonel Huntington realized that his overly-tired Marines could not keep fighting off enemy raids, both day and night, while waiting for promised reinforcements to arrive. A large-scale Spanish assault could possibly drive the battalion off the narrow beachhead. Huntington discussed the situation with Colonel Laborde. The Cuban commander suggested a surprise attack on the Spanish headquarters at Cuzco. Defeat of the enemy troops—and destruction of their water supply—would force the Spaniards to withdraw from the area. A strategy conference was held with Commander McCalla, and the plan was given the go-ahead. It was nine o’clock when the Marines received their orders—and the sun was already hot and bright.

In his official report of the expedition, Captain George Elliott stated: “In accordance with verbal instructions, I left camp with 160 men of C and D companies—commanded respectively by First Lieutenant L.C. Lucas and Captain William F. Spicer. We were accompanied by 50 Cubans under Lieutenant Colonel Enrique Tomas. My orders were to destroy the well at Cuzco. This was the enemy’s only drinking water supply within 12 miles, and made possible the continuance of annoying attacks upon Camp McCalla.

When we were about three miles from Cuzco, I sent the first platoon of C Company, and 25 Cubans under Lieutenant Lucas, to traverse a high hill on the left. I had hoped to cut off any enemy pickets in the vicinity, however, our detachment was seen by a Spanish outpost. The Spaniards immediately ran to warn their main body of soldiers at Cuzco.

“Lucas and his platoon were successful in gaining the crest of the hill, but came under heavy enemy fire from the valley below—a distance of 800 yards. Meanwhile, Second Lieutenant P.M. Bannon led the second platoon of C Company along a path below the crest and hidden from view by the Spaniards. In order to keep from being seen, it soon became necessary for Bannon’s column to leave the narrow trail and proceed through the heavy brush. Captain Spicer and D Company followed in single file.

“We Were Under Attack By An Unseen Enemy”

“The crest of the hill was in the shape of a horseshoe—two-thirds encircling the Cuzco valley and the well. By late morning, C and D Companies, along with the Cubans, had occupied one-half of the horseshoe ridge.

“Meanwhile, Second Lieutenant L.J. Magill—on outpost duty with a platoon of A Company—heard the firing and came to our assistance. His detachment was directed to cover the left-center of the ridge.

“We were under attack by an unseen enemy. Individual Spaniards were sighted here and there and fired upon. They would dash from cover to cover, enabling us to find targets, which otherwise was impossible because of the thick chaparral in which the Spanish soldiers successfully concealed themselves.

“The enemy, rushing from one position to another, gave Magill’s platoon the opportunity to catch the Spaniards in a crossfire. The Spanish defense was quickly reduced to straggling shots.

“The Dolphin, which had been ordered to cruise along the shore and support us if necessary, was signaled to destroy the house used as the enemy’s headquarters, and also to bombard the valley.”

Spanish Headquarters Destroyed

By this time, however, the ship had steamed too far up the coast and her shells began falling on Magill’s position, forcing the platoon to dig in on the reverse side of the ridge. Sergeant John H. Quick jumped to his feet and—amid a barrage of Mauser bullets—signaled the Dolphin to cease firing.

Lieutenant Magill was ordered to form a skirmish line and move down into the valley toward the sea. Lieutenant Lucas, with 40 men, fought his way into Cuzco, destroyed the well, and burned the building being used by the Spaniards as their headquarters.

Magill’s platoon ransacked the enemy’s shore signal station and confiscated a heliograph signal outfit that had been in constant use since the Marine landing.

Spanish Retreat With Loss Of Fresh Water

The mission was a resounding success. Eighteen Spanish soldiers, including one officer, were captured—along with 30 Mauser rifles and a large quantity of ammunition. For the Americans, casualties were remarkably low—one Marine wounded and 12 overcome by the heat. Spanish losses were approximately 30 killed and 150 wounded. The fight at Cuzco was the first pitched battle between American and Spanish troops during the war. With their fresh-water supply cut off, the Spaniards retreated to Caimanera and the town of Guantànamo.

Striking the Spanish at Caimanera

Pages