The Buzz

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

On June 15, Captain John Philip, commanding the Texas, received orders to bombard the fort at Caimanera and drive out the Spaniards. The Texas, followed by the Marblehead, carefully steamed past the Toro Cays and entered the inner harbor. Captain Philip maneuvered the battleship as close to the shore as possible without running aground, and opened fire with his 12-inch battery. The Marblehead joined in the action—the blasts from its five-inchers drowned out by the thunder from the big guns of the Texas. The Suwanee took position off the starboard side of the Marblehead and participated in the attack.

Carlton T. Chapman, a war correspondent aboard the press boat Kanapaha, described the bombardment in vivid detail: “The St. Paul and other vessels remained in the lower bay. Sailors crowded the rigging and swarmed every lofty perch. They had grandstand seats and could see it all—the ships, the red-tile roofs of Caimanera, and the fort where exploding shells hurled thick clouds of yellow dust skyward.

“The marines on McCalla Hill had even a better view. A dark blue thundercloud in the background made a magnificent setting for the ships and the spiraling smoke which floated across the bay and melted into the distance.

The Texas’s Strikes Go Unanswered

“The sailors and marines cheered, shouted and waved their hats whenever a shell from the Texasstruck the fort. The flash of the discharge and the resulting explosion seem to be instantaneous. Then comes the smoke from the guns—rolling and swelling out in a vast cloud—followed by shock waves from the explosions reverberating across the water and ringing in your ears.

“The battleship was silhouetted most of the time—standing out in bold relief against the flame and smoke one moment, and enveloped in a thick cloud of haze the next. Except for a few shots from the fort at the opening of the action, there was no reply from the Spaniards, The bombardment was halted after an hour and a quarter and the fighting men-of-war withdrew down the bay.”

The Marblehead’s launch remained in the channel and began grappling for mines. The boat’s crew had no sooner hooked one of the deadly devices when enemy soldiers along the shore opened fire on the sailors. The launch was struck several times, but the bow gunner turned his one-pounder on the Spaniards and the other members of the crew replied with their rifles. The battle was running hot and heavy. Suddenly the boat’s gun mounting loosened and the one-pounder fell overboard.

Spanish Soldiers Surrender At Camp McCalla

The Suwanee, hearing the shooting, dashed up the channel and shelled the enemy positions, driving the Spanish troops into the jungle. Henry Schrieder remarked: “Two mines were picked up by the Marblehead’sAdria launch. Both were French-made and packed with about a hundred pounds of guncotton each. The mines were manufactured in 1896 and placed in position when war was declared.

“Two Spanish soldiers came into camp and surrendered. They reported that their forces near Camp McCalla had been without food for three days, and one body of 500 men would give themselves up if not prevented by the officers.

“Spanish snipers in the bushes and trees along the north shore of the bay continue to be a nuisance. At dark, searchlight beams from the ships shined up and down the channel and into the thickets looking for any movement. About ten o’clock, the Marblehead, Suwanee, Dolphin and St. Paul steamed up the bay and bombarded the enemy shoreline for a half-hour.”

The following morning, June 16, the Oregon arrived escorting two large coal colliers. Captain Charles Clark, commanding officer of the Oregon, requested permission for his men to get in some target practice. The request was granted and, in the early afternoon, the Oregon fired a few salvos into Caimanera—hitting the telegraph office and railroad station. As soon as the first shell exploded, a train standing alongside the station immediately put on a full head of steam and took off up the tracks with its whistle shrieking.

Huntington Targets Remaining Resistance

A few days after the bombardment of Caimanera, Commander McCalla began to concentrate his efforts on clearing the enemy minefield, which still posed a danger to ships. A minesweeping operation was carried out using two steam-launches and two whaleboats from the Marblehead and Dolphin—but they were quickly fired upon by a detachment of Spanish infantry across from the Toro Cays. McCalla was determined to eliminate the danger, and an expedition was planned.

At three o’clock on the morning of June 25, Colonel Huntington left camp with C and E Companies, along with 60 Cubans under Lt. Col. Tomas. Their mission was to clean out Spanish resistance on the west side of the bay.

The Marines crossed the channel in 15 boats. Henry Schrieder narrated: “The Marblehead took position close to the beach to cover the landing. The boats advanced in three columns and the marines were landed quietly and rapidly. A thorough reconnaissance was made, but the enemy was gone. Evidence indicated that they had left in a great hurry—probably the night before. We reembarked at nine o’clock. A column of Spaniards was seen from the Marblehead—one or two men at a time crossing a dry lagoon a few miles to the northwest. They were not fired upon.”