Friday, November 5, 2010


Everybody's heard of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and the Battle of San Juan Hill. Some of us have even heard of the Battle for Kettle Hill.

But who's ever heard of the Battle of El Caney ? ? ?

"The Capture of El Caney" by Howard Chandler Christy

At El Caney, Cuba, 514 Spanish regular soldiers, together with approximately 100 armed Spanish loyalists under the command of General Joaquín Vara de Rey were instructed to hold the northwest flank of Santiago against the American 2d Division commanded by Brigadier General Henry Ware Lawton.

Although the Spanish defenders had no machine guns, they were well-equipped with modern smokeless powder rifles and a battery of two modern breech-loading 80mm mountain howitzers (Cañón de 8 cm Plasencia Modelo 1874, designed by Colonel Plasencia of the Spanish Army) that also utilized smokeless ammunition. The Spanish regular infantry was armed with fast-firing M1893 7mm Mauser rifles, while the loyalists were equipped with single-shot Remington Rolling Block rifles in .43 Spanish (also using smokeless powder). Denied promised reinforcements from Santiago, Vara de Rey and his forces held over 6,000 Americans from their position for nearly twelve hours before retreating, preventing General Lawton's men from reinforcing the U.S. assault on San Juan Hill.

Some of the American forces were hindered by their equipment; in the case of the 2nd Massachusetts, the men were equipped with antiquated blackpowder single-shot .45-70 Springfield rifles. According to Frederick E. Pierce, a trooper of the 2nd Massachusetts, the Americans "...received such a shower of bullets that it seemed at one time as if the company must be wiped out of existence." Because of this unequal contest, the 2nd Massachusetts was later taken out of the line and replaced with troops armed with more modern weapons.

The American forces also lacked effective support fire, as the single Gatling Gun Detachment had been sent to support the troops assaulting San Juan heights. General Lawton's artillery support consisted of a single battery of four 3.2-inch (80mm) Model 1885 Field Guns - light breech-loading rifled cannon using black powder ammunition. The relatively short range of the American gun battery - together with the signature cloud of black smoke generated with each volley - forced gun crews to endure a fusillade of Mauser rifle fire from the Spanish defenders. General Lawton's initial decision to continually shift the battery's fire to multiple targets resulted in minimal effect on the Spanish strongpoints. Continued assaults took a heavy toll of the attackers. During the fighting, General Vara del Rey was killed, but Spanish resistance continued.

After an initial repulse, Lawton ordered his battery of four 3.2-inch guns, commanded by Capt. Allyn Capron, to concentrate fire on the El Viso strongpoint in the Spanish defenses. Capron's guns successfully breached the strongpoint walls at a range of 1,000 yards. An attack was then launched by two U.S. infantry regiments, the 12th and the 25th, and after a bloody firefight, El Viso was captured. Private T. C. Butler, Company H, 25th Infantry, was the first man to enter the blockhouse at El Caney, and took possession of the Spanish colors. Once El Viso was taken, the U.S. battery reduced each Spanish strongpoint in turn. The fighting ended about 5:00pm with the withdrawal of the Spanish troops.

Though eventually successful, the attack on the fortifications of El Caney had proved to be of little real value. The attack on two strongly defended points at both El Caney and San Juan diluted the strength of American forces, resulting in delays and additional casualties.

The Americans lost 81 dead and 360 wounded, with Cuban rebel losses estimated at around 150 killed and wounded. The number of killed and wounded on the Spanish side is not known with certainty, as many of the defenders who survived the battle at El Caney were later killed, wounded, or captured in a fruitless attempt to recapture the Spanish trenchworks at Kettle Hill.

Approximately 400-600 of the retreating Spanish defenders at El Caney later participated in a hastily-organized counterattack against troopers of the U.S. 3rd Cavalry and the 1st Volunteer Infantry atop Kettle Hill. After closing to within 200 yards of Kettle Hill, they were taken under fire at a range of 600 yards by a single ten-barrel .30 Gatling Gun atop San Juan Hill manned by Sgt. Green of the Gatling Gun Detachment. According to Spanish commanders captured after the battle, all but 40 of the 600 attacking Spanish troops were killed by the Gatling gun fire.

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