June 24, 1898 – This Day During The Spanish–American War – Battle of Las Guasimas

June 24, 1898 – The Battle of Las Guasimas of June 24, 1898 was a Spanish rearguard action by Major General Antero Rubín against advancing columns led by Major General “Fighting Joe” Wheeler and the first land engagement of the Spanish–American War. The battle unfolded from Wheeler’s attempt to storm Spanish positions at Las Guasimas de Sevilla, in the jungles surrounding Santiago de Cuba, with the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry and the 10th Regular Cavalry.
On June 23, the Spanish garrisons of Sigua, Siboney and Daiquirí, retiring before American landings in their vicinity, clashed with a Cuban advance guard column of 250 men under Colonel Carlos González Clavel near Sevilla, east of Santiago de Cuba. Having lost three dead and 10 wounded in the skirmish and inflicted roughly the same casualties, the Spaniards retired to a lightly entrenched position at Las Guasimas de Sevilla, on the road to Santiago (4 miles northwest of Siboney beach).
Brigadier-General Lawton, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Volunteers V Corps, had been appointed chief of the landing operation by Major General William Rufus Shafter, Commander-in-Chief of American forces in Cuba. American reports suggested the Spaniards were digging in with a field gun; however, Cuban scouts contradicted these, revealing the Spaniards were preparing to abandon their position.
On the 23rd, Major General Joseph Wheeler, received orders from Shafter to throw pickets to Siboney, but found the enemy in retreat towards Sevilla, with about 100 Cubans engaging their rear. Wheeler decided to attack the new Spanish positions the next day, which were established three miles from Siboney, with the aid of General Castillo. With information supplied by General Castillo, including a map of the Spanish positions, Wheeler and General Young planned an advance along two columns, Col. Wood on the left and the 1st and 10th cavalry on the right.
Brigadier General Antero Rubín commanded nearly 1,500 men and 2 guns. These forces were deployed in three echelons: 3 companies of Puerto Rico and 1 company of movilizados covering the crossroads of the Siboney trails, with 2 other companies (San Fernando) guarding the surrounding heights; 3 companies (San Fernando), the engineers, and the artillery holding the Asiento de Sevilla; and 5 companies of Talavera and 1 company of movilizados at La Redonda under Colonel Bory, covering the trails to Justicí and El Pozo.
The American side included the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, or “Rough Riders”, under Leonard Wood, the 1st U.S. Regular Cavalry, and the 10th U.S. Regular Cavalry (this consisted of Afro-American soldiers, then called Buffalo soldiers). Supported by artillery, the American forces numbered 964 men, supported by 800 men from Castillo.
The first sign the Americans had of the enemy’s proximity was a Cuban Army soldier lying dead by the road. The engagement began with shots by U.S. artillery. Spanish infantry returned fire, pinning down the advancing American units with rifle volleys. The Spaniards were armed with superior 7mm 1893 model Mauser repetition rifles that fired round after round of smokeless gunpowder, making them exceedingly difficult to target in return.
Wheeler’s forces moved to encircle the Spaniards’ first echelon, assaulting its front and right flank. Brigade commander SMB Young personally supervised the positioning of a battery of one pounder Hotchkiss field guns 900 yards from the Spanish main position on a dominant ridge pointing Southwest. Wanting to be absolutely sure that the troops on the hill were not Spanish, he fired several rounds at the hill. Immediately, two 75mm Spanish Krupp-designed mountain guns returned fire. Satisfied that he was up against the Spanish. Writing in his serialized set of articles (and later book), “The Rough Riders,” Theodore Roosevelt described the opening phase of the battle that started on the right road and involved the 1st and 10th Regular Cavalry in Chapter III “General Young’s Fight.” as follows:
The denseness of the jungle and the fact that they used absolutely smokeless powder, made it exceedingly difficult to place exactly where they were, and almost immediately Young, who always liked to get as close as possible to his enemy, began to push his troops forward. They were deployed on both sides of the road in such thick jungle that it was only here and there that they could possibly see ahead, and some confusion, of course, ensued, the support gradually getting mixed with the advance. Captain Beck took A Troop of the Tenth in on the left, next to Captain Galbraith’s (K) troop of the First; two other troops of the Tenth were on the extreme right. Through the jungle ran wire fences here and there, and as the troops got to the ridge they encountered precipitous heights. They were led most gallantly, as American regular officers always lead their men; and the men followed their leaders with the splendid courage always shown by the American regular soldier. There was not a single straggler among them, and in not one instance was an attempt made by any trooper to fall out in order to assist the wounded or carry back the dead, while so cool were they and so perfect their fire discipline, that in the entire engagement the expenditure of ammunition was not over ten rounds per man. Major Bell, who commanded the squadron, had his leg broken by a shot as he was leading his men. Captain Wainwright succeeded to the command of the squadron. Captain Knox was shot in the abdomen. He continued for some time giving orders to his troops, and refused to allow a man in the firing-line to assist him to the rear. His First Lieutenant, Byram, was himself shot, but continued to lead his men until the wound and the heat overcame him and he fell in a faint. The advance was pushed forward under General Young’s eye with the utmost energy, until the enemy’s voices could be heard in the entrenchments. The Spaniards kept up a very heavy firing, but the regulars would not be denied, and as they climbed the ridges (on the right side of the Camino Real road going into the village of Las Guasimas from the southeast) the Spaniards broke and fled.”
Spanish claims that they had twice repulsed the American attack were not born by any battlefield reports of Troop commanders that day.
On the left trail, at approximately 7:20am, the four man point patrol 250 yds ahead of L Troop commanded by Captain Alyn Capron came across the dead Spanish soldier killed by a Cuban attack the previous day and which the Cubans had told Wheeler would indicate the proximity of Spanish lines running left and right across the road. When informed of this by Capron, Leonard Wood, who was about 500 yards back on the bridle path and commanding the Rough Riders ordered “Silence in the Ranks” and immediately deployed several troops to the left under Major Brodie and several troops to the right under Lt. Col. Roosevelt. It was while this deployment was occurring that the point man shot a Spaniard and triggered an immediate return fire by volleys on the part of the Spaniards. Rough Riders on both left and right sides of the trail moved forward and eventually forced the Spaniards back to their second line of trenches. Continuing to advance, the Rough Riders eventually forced the Spanish to withdraw completely from their final positions. Rough Riders from A Troop on the far right linked up with their regular counterparts and helped them seize the Spanish positions on the long finger-like hill to the right of the right road, with both Rough Riders and Regulars meeting at the base of the finger-like hill. By this time it was approximately 9:30. Reinforcements from the regular 9th Cavalry arrived, but it was already 30 minutes after the fight.
After halting the American advance, the Spanish inexplicably resumed their ongoing withdrawal towards Santiago’s outer defenses instead of profiting from the sharp reverse inflicted on the Americans, allowing “American observers to unanimously but incorrectly assume their attack had forced the enemy to retreat.”
Spanish forces suffered 7 dead and 7 wounded, as reported by general Rubin, although these figures are sometimes revised upward. (The discrepancy occurs because the Spaniards at Las Guásimas escorted a convoy carrying wounded troopers, as can be read in the order of retreat sent to General Rubin by Lt. General Arsenio Linares on the afternoon of the 24th.)

Las Guasimas, a fanciful depiction of the U.S. advance by Chicago printers Kurz and Allison.

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