Magdalen M. Pando
Marcos Maceo, his father, who was of French descent, came to Santiago from Venezuela sometime after 1823 when Simon Bolivar and his fellow patriots ousted Spain from South America. The end of these wars of independence against Spain shifted people around on the continent.
The Maceo family migrated from Venezuela because they belonged to the vanquished; the men had fought as common soldiers in the Spanish lines. Marcos Maceo thus came to Santiago to start a new life. A thrifty bachelor who worked hard, he acquired in due time a small productive farm and a house in town. Mariana Grajales, an industrious widow with four sons, was persuaded to join him. She was black, of Dominican ancestry. Four other sons and a daughter were born of this union; Antonio Maceo was the eldest of Mariana's second family.
Although the Revolutionary Army, or "Army of Liberation" as it was then named, began as a hodgepodge of patriots who brought along members of their families--wives, the elderly, children--it eventually took on a semblance of a military force. Everyone was put to work, camps were built, women sewed uniforms, children planted vegetable patches.
The young lieutenant colonel informed the newly appointed Chief of the First Corps, General Maximo Gomez, of the action which took place December 7, 1870:
"I have today effected an attack against Barigua, without being able to dislodge the enemy due to his superior force, although I did succeed in firing the hamlet and taking eight prisoners; must lament the death of Lieutenants Felipe Guerra and Jose Perez and four soldiers. Wounded were Commander Francisco Borrero, Second Lieut. Luis Dupini, First Sergeant Juan Torres, Second Sergeant Anastasio Loreschea and six soldiers. About four o'clock a reinforcement appeared from Tacamara, which I shattered, as well as another one consisting of 100 men out of Camazan."
Maximo Gomez directed successful campaigns in the years 1871 and 1872, ordering effective frontal attacks that were so ferocious that the startled Spaniards publicly admitted defeat. In the battle of Indiana, key village to the entrance of the Valley of Guantanamo, Antonio Maceo led the pitiless fight. When the Spaniards retreated from all areas of the battleground to their fortifications, the rebel officers gathered at the request of their commander in a clearing designated as the chief of staff headquarters. Here officers in uniforms tailored by their womenfolk, soldiers in shabby pants and shirts, followers in working clothes, all united in celebration of the thorough thrashing suffered by the Spaniards. General Gomez ordered a roll call of the men who helped him gain victory. He asked the man who successfully held the valley entrance, Lieut. Colonel Antonio Maceo, to step forward. He proceeded to commend the officer before him for the remarkable and effective organization of the men under his command and for his personal courage.
The movement for the freedom of Cuba, under the leadership of Cespedes, suffered from lack of organization; it was not centered in a core of purpose for unified rebel action; it had no tangible form, nor did it have a dependable source of funds. Cespedes was constantly challenged by other patriots who felt they could do a better job. Funds received from emigre centers, mostly in the United States, and from threatened property owners made up a rather haphazard treasury; many of the insurgents fought with the booty they snatched from their fallen enemies or with the booty they snatched from their fallen enemies or with the arms they picked up after the enemy left the battlefield.. The ouster of Cespedes was finally accomplished. There were other leaders, other ousters.
Maceo, unhappy over the climate of disunity, did not give up harassing the enemy. The enthusiasm of the movement for liberation diminished, the rebel civil command weakened; changes forced by dissenters in the ranks and lack of cooperation among the chieftains pointed to the collapse of the rebellion begun in 1868. Through the months of July and August of 1875, his reports of operations, directed to Citizen Secretary of War Tomas Estrada Palma listed in detail on the letterhead of the General Headquarters the continuing activities of the First Corps of the Army in Potosi:
"After burning the Monte Alto coffee estate and the nearby hamlet, we marched 300 meters to the fort of Virginia, acquiring an abundance of provisions, cattle and supplies, and then crossed the coffee estates of Felicidad and Joven Maria. We encamped at three in the afternoon. Townspeople and influential tradesmen visited our camp. During the night our trumpets were heard and our bonfires seen by the enemy."
In a following report he advised that groups of men with their own arms and equipment had voluntarily joined his forces. He added that his men had destroyed great lengths of telegraph wires, and at the same time gathered many head of cattle. The resume listed: total volunteers, 144; firearms in their possession, 144; arms taken in battle, 55; total of arms, 199. Supplies acquired: percussion caps for various systems, 20,000; cartridges, 600: total 20,600. Animals taken: horses, 105; beasts of burden, 56. Coffee plantations destroyed: 18. Slaves from the coffee estates recruited into our ranks: 67. Family members who have come in, 635. The closing of the resume of gains and burdens reads: "Receive, Citizen Secretary, the testimony of my respect, Antonio Maceo, Acting Chief of the Second Division of the First Corps of the Army."
Right through to early 1876, the then Brigadier-General Antonio Maceo sent in his reports, detailing continuous actions, giving succinct details of skirmishes and battles; listing booty as well as casualties. The outstanding conduct of his officers was regularly noted; his appreciation of their performance made clear. The salient valor of Lieut. Colonel Jose Maceo, his brother, was related.
Fernando Figueredo Socarras, brother of Felix Figueredo, Maceo's friend, mentor and solace during some of his most difficult hours, in his book La Revolucion de Yara recalls a day of battle and with these words sketched the leader: "The outstanding figure in the scene was that of Brigadier Antonio Maceo; he appeared and disappeared in clouds of smoke and dust, seated on his gigantic horse "Concha" who responded not to the reins but to the thoughts of his heroic rider; that man, laboring for breath, machete in hand, magnificent embodiment of the angel of destruction, carried out the assault in that battle which for all of us was extraordinary."
Early in May of that significant year of military successes Maceo's value to the cause of Cuba's freedom was questioned and then denigrated. His "class" referring to his color, became an issue fanned by the Spanish press which maintained that Maceo's popularity and acclaim as a hero would lead to a take-over by the black race, and to Cuba becoming another Haiti. hurt and angry, he drafted a letter to his superior in which he gathered all the bitter injuries and injustices he was therein protesting. He submitted this draft to his friend Felix Figueredo asking for that good man's counsel. There is no evidence that the letter, dated May 16, 1876, was completed and delivered to the addressee, but proof of his distress remains in his handwritten draft.
The heart of the complaint is in the words reading:
And as this writer happens to be of the black race, not therefor considering himself of lesser value than other men, he cannot, nor should he allow, that which is not so, nor that which he does not wish to happen, to develop and continue to grow, for this is required of his dignity, of his military honor, of the position he holds and because of the laurels he has so legitimately earned.
Vehemently he resented as falsehoods the side-mouthed warnings then abroad that the growth of his popularity among black Cubans and the great number of black fighters in his columns would lead to a dictatorship headed by himself. The final words of the worked- over draft included the disavowal of the calumny that he wanted to become a dictator: ". . . I denounce those who started the canard that I am the author of such a doctrine, which I consider fatal, especially when I am a member of the democratic republic, and a not insignificant participant in that Republic which has its principal base liberty, equality and fraternity; that I have refused to recognize hierarchies. . ." Maceo angrily rejected the ambitions ascribed to him.
The insurrection without yet having acquired a center of command nor a fixed seat of operations continues its program of destruction, presently with special determination in the rich jurisdictions of Las Villas and Colon, as previously practiced in the Centro, as though its only aspirations and objectives are to convert the luxuriant fields of Cuba into sterile wastelands.
Spain concentrated in 1876 on restoring public order to her "Pearl of the Antilles"" because it had become an urgent requirement to keep her possession. The United States's sympathy for the cause of the rebels became a threat and as a result many alarming thrusts were aimed at Spain's sovereignty. Some of the United States's preoccupations with the Cuban situation related to humanitarian sentiments, others were concerned with the possibility of acquiring the Island. Spain in a series of diplomatic notes protested to President Grant against the assistance the rebels received from United States citizens which was considered detrimental to the interest of a friendly nation.
Martinez Campos, who had served in Cuba under Valmaseda in 1869, came authorized to use his own judgement, under Jovellar, in restoring the Island to peaceful colonialism. The Spanish forces in Cuba were increased to 70,000 men. Under able officers, he successfully concentrated them in areas of greatest insurgent activity; among these were included the department's under Maceo's command.
Martinez Campos was the ideal man for the mission; he was personally disposed to solutions by compromise. Critical of plans strongly supported by conservatives in Spain and on the Island calling for extermination of the rebels, he contended that persecution would only force fierce retaliation by the enemy in order not to perish. With inducements in one hand and military might in the other, Aresenio Martinez Campos succeeded in weakening the wobbly, patchy insurrection begun October 10, 1868.
Maceo, away from the centers of pacification activities, felt the weight of his adversary. On February 9, 1877, while in Anguila, he wrote in a personal note a desperate summons to one of his subordinates:
Dear Friends: I am here repairing the havoc wrought by the Spaniards battling in this zone and I have not succeeded in remedying our situation, as many families are missing; Baldomera, my sister , and Telesfora cannot be found. Majin we believe is dead. You can imagine what it was like when Arias was attacked twice in the center of Pinares. In their last sortie they made away with my horses, "Tizon"" and "Concha" (this, for me, a mortal blow). This havoc was caused by lack of foresight as the families and horses should have been moved to a more secure place. Come when you receive this letter and help me with the many burdens that weigh upon me.
But eight days later, on the 17th, his formal report to his then chief of staff makes clear that he takes upon himself responsibility for the disaster and that he considers it of minor import in view of his mounting effective attacks against the enemy.
The many machete and gunshot scars on Maceo's body attested to his direct encounters with the enemy. In that period of Spanish troop concentration in Oriente, he received a nearly fatal wound. Recovery took three months. Attended by his wife and doctor, he was moved by his staff from one camp to another, deep in the woods, evading the Spaniards in constant search of the incapacitated leader.
Once recovered, he ignored the many machinations among his fellow rebels and continued confrontations with the Spanish forces through early February of 1878. In a valley named La Llanada del Mulato, he decisively defeated his adversaries. The prisoners he captured, most of them injured, he returned to the vanquished Spanish officer. In it Maceo noted the great quantity of blood spilled in pursuit of victory and stated that present high standards of human conduct and his own principles required that the wounded receive medical attention; since he was not able to give this care, he had chosen to return the captured men to their command. The Spanish officer, Brigadier J. F. Barges, thanked his adversary, expressed appreciation of the good sentiments and gave assurance of reciprocal consideration.
Martinez Campos kept himself well informed of the dissensions, rivalries and dissatisfactions among the rebel leaders, the military and civilian, while conducting an effective war against the active rebels. The intelligently conducted campaign culminated in the capitulation of the greater number of insurgent leaders who signed an agreement known as the Pact of Zanjon, February 8, 1878. The men who signed the agreement received moneys which were publicized as indemnities; among the recipients were Maximo Gomez and Vicente Garcia. Other privileges were extended, such as passage out of the country for the capitulators and their families.
The articles of the Pact established guarantees for the people of Cuba: concession to the Island of Cuba granting the same conditions, political, organic and administrative, that applied to the island of Puerto Rico; pardon for the men who had deserted the Spanish forces; "to forget the past" as it related to political misdeeds committed from 1868 to that date; freedom to the indentured Asiatics and slaves who had taken part in the rebel movement. There were also other commitments referring to the disposition and surrender of arms, etc.
By February 21 Maceo had to admit that he was informed on the cessation details and terms of the agreement. Maximo Gomez, wearied of fighting, exasperated by what he viewed as the revolutionaries inability to unify under him for the greater good of the cause, tired of their use of him as a useful outsider never allowed into the inner circle, explained in a letter to Maceo the circumstances of the pact and his reactions to his role in Cuban affairs.
Maceo could not accept defeat because he did not feel defeated . He had been winning his battles; he had a good military organization. Strongly objecting to the terms of the peace agreement, he brushed aside its promised concessions as insulting. The third article of the pact, which gave freedom to the Asiatic sharecroppers and to the slaves who had participated in the rebellion, he considered particularly obnoxious. Why should not all the slaves be set free? Why should those who had remained loyal to their masters be continued in thralldom? The proclamation of October 10, 1868, El Grito de Yara," had been his lighthouse; its brightest beacon the resolve to end slavery on the Island.
Martinez Campos tried to persuade, using the words of a diplomat skilled in the art of convincing speech. Maceo spoke deliberately, only with care could he avoid a stutter, but his soft delivery did not weaken the force of his demands. He asked for the independence of the people of Cuba, some form of representation that granted self- government; he wanted all slaves set free. Martinez Campos was not disposed to give in to these demands, neither did he have the authority to turn Cuba over to the Cubans. History calls this conference the Protesta de Baragua.
The two conferees did come to one agreement: hostilities would be renewed on the 23rd of the month--that is, eight days later. During that eight-day period Maceo frantically directed appeals to other leaders who were inclined to continue to give battle, made proclamations to the people, in an all-out effort to again set the revolution in motion. One of the circulars assured readers that "Washington, Lafayette and Bolivar, liberators of the oppressed are with us."
The years that followed the February, 1878, pacification of the Island did not relieve the indifference and oppression suffered by the Cuban colonials at the hands of the Spanish Crown. For this reason, the Protesta de Baragua grew in significance in the patriotic conscience of the Cuban people. Maceo rejected the treaty because his demands were refused and he was convinced that the much- touted reforms offered to the islanders would never materialize. Maceo was proved right by the Spaniards.
After the interview at Baragua, Maceo renewed hostilities against the enemy, in an unsupported effort with the remnants of the forces he had been able to retain. The Spaniards concentrated on disposing of their principal dissenter; their pursuit of this remaining fighter was relentless.
The Acting President of the quickly reorganized government of the "Republic of Cuba," Manuel J. Calvar, persuaded Maceo, after the conference with the Captain-General, to accept the assignment all members had agreed was indicated at the most valuable contribution he could then make to the cause of Cuba's freedom. Maceo was appointed "Collecter of Funds Abroad." A collector of funds Maceo was not; nevertheless he accepted the assignment in good faith and with enthusiasm started to communicate with contacts abroad.
The years following the Pact were turbulent for Antonio Maceo, with no repose for the unhappy exile. He floundered in strange countries while plunged in despair; he was the center of assassination plots. Periods of personal satisfaction rarely lighted his path in those years following his protest; not until 1892 did he attain a measure of success when the friendly, progressive government of Costa Rica offered him a haven he could accept.
Because the patriotic fervor uniting emigres and sympathizers dissipated when the centers closed, Maceo's efforts to re-establish the system of contributions failed completely. The scheme to get him out to deter him from his determination to continue the war led to heartbreaking frustration. Depressed, with a sense of personal defeat, he returned to Jamaica late in June, 1878, his revolutionary fires banked.
Maceo, believing himself in command of future Oriente forces made up, for the most part, of his followers, immediately plunged into revolutionary activities. His papers show how diligently he worked during that late summer to reach everyone who could help in the cause. He wrote letters to private individuals and government heads, soliciting funds, and issued proclamations.
One of his proclamations, issued September 5, 1879, was declared incendiary by the Spanish government. It is known as "The Kingston Proclamation." The well-distributed circular reminded readers that the reforms promised in the Pact had not materialized: "we knew full well there was no intention to benefit the people," it read. "Instead of giving Cubans the opportunity to participate in the direction of their government, Spaniards have been pouring into the Island to man political posts, pushing the rightful representatives of the people to one side; they are guided only by the interests of their pockets and that of the Peninsula," it continued.
In this printed notice Maceo also addressed himself to the Spaniards on the Island who he felt were persuaded to identify themselves with the interests of a free nation: "You are well aware of the abuses of your government; you are overburdened with enormous taxes; you have no more rights than the slave under the master; come to our side and be assured your life and property will be respected; you will obtain the benefits of a free nation; but if you choose not to join us, the responsibility is your own." He also directed the circular to the wealthy Cubans on Cuban soil, asking them for their aid in the cause of their country's freedom. Lastly, he spoke to the slaves, reminding them that the tyrant had denied them their right to liberty; that it had been granted only to those who had been under the protection of the Cuban flag--here referring to the concession of freedom under the Pact which was limited to those slaves who had fought in the rebel lines.
The Spanish government reacted with vehement anger to the prospect of more agressive acts by Maceo, and maintained that he and his black followers planned to eliminate white rule from the Island. Concentration by the Spaniards on the peril the mulatto leader's involvement had its effect. Calixto Garcia visited Maceo after the Kingston proclamation was released and bluntly removed him from command of Oriente province forces. His replacement was Gregorio Benitez, a white man, with no influence in the area. Garcia said he had made the decision on advice of his New York committee and white patriots in Jamaica, who believed it necessary to counteract Spanish claims that the projected revolution was race inspired.
Maceo traveled through the two-island nation of Hispaniola, Grand Turk Island, the Bahamas, and Jamaica. He traveled in constant danger marked for capture or assassination by the Spaniards. In March of 1880 Maceo went off again, this time to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, where some of the emigres had prospered. They gave him funds for the cause. General Gregorio Luperon, President of that republic, offered friendship and aid, proving himself a valuable ally.
With the supplies and monies he had received, Maceo early in July, 1880, boarded in Puerto Plata a U.S. vessel, the Santo Domingo, destined for a port in Cuba. When the vessel called at Cap-Haitien, Maceo arranged to have the money exchanged into English or US currency, of easy circulation in the Bahamas where he expected to negotiate for military supplies. As this was being done, Haitian authorities cofiscated the funds. Unable to promote an invasion, a greatly discouraged Maceo went on to Grand Turk. Other disasters had also been taking place. Calixto Garcia made his ill-prepared invasion in May, but by August 2nd had been forced to surrender to the pursuing Spanish brigades. Calixto Garcia's revolutionary movement collapsed less than two years of disorganized activity. It is known as "La Guerra Chiquita," that is, "the little war."
In this period of enforced leisure, he socialized. He also read extensively; reading was a lifetime habit. Documents relating to the South American wars of independence appealed to him and his dedication to his Patria appears to be modeled on that of Simon Bolivar.
In October of 1882, he entrusted a delicate mission to a proven friend. To Don Jose Perez, owner of a cigar factory in Kingston, he wrote:
My dear friend: For various reasons I give myself the pleasure of writing these lines to you. First, because I have always considered you worthy of the esteem of honorable men. Secondly, because I need you; thirdly, I would like to offer you my services here as far as I am able. I am employed earning 300 pesos a month. From a money draft going to Don Juan Palma, you will receive twenty pounds sterling which please deliver to Miss Amalia Marryatt, mother of a child I have in Kingston, to whom I am writing today. This is a mission not especially suited to your high moral standards, but knowing that you, better than anyone else can appreciate my situation with respect to my son, I have not hesitated to make the request, for even though you may make an unfavorable judgement of me, you will make another which in a measure will mitigate my conduct.
In June of that year, 1882, he had received a letter from Jose Marti - - the first from the future liberator of Cuba -- exploring Maceo's sentiments and interest in cooperating in preparations for a plan of revolt being formulated in New York by emigres who were of the opinion that the political climate was favorable to a new effort.
Maceo, occupied with the duties of his double post in Honduras, did not reply until November 29th, five months later. He returned the compliment in addressing his correspondent as "friend," and agreed that the time was propitious. "My sword and my last breath are at the service of Cuba," he wrote. His country could call him at any time; but in the long reply he spelled out what experience had taught him:
". . . I believe that for the new struggle we need unity of action, organization and money; none of these have been made available to me in my efforts to see my Patria free and fulfilled. . . . Moral and political unity are indispensable for combating Spain's power in Cuba. . ."
He made clear that he did not aspire to be the leader of the revolution, an expression Marti sought from him; he would want the most competent man available to be given that post. Assurances were given that the military segment of the revolution would be ready when needed.
Although Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo receive praise in unison, a fervor welding their two patriotic lives into one, they were strikingly dissimilar. Marti's talents were diffused in many directions; as a revolutionary organizer he was most effective in oratory. Maceo consistently gave every thought and followed that thought with practical effective action to the end that Cuba should be free and independent.
General Luis Bogran, elected President of Honduras in November, 1883, communicated with Maceo, the commander of his ports of Omoa and Cortes. Maceo's reply is dated November 28th and in it he expresses his dream for Cuba:
"I have before me your esteemed letter of the 26th instant. . . . I rejoice because the popular vote of the nation has given you the direction of the Government of the Republic. Such is the fruit of free suffrage. Liberty is so beautiful! May God bless her and make her available to all men . . ."
He elaborated in letters to friends and sympathizers that the principles of freedom and the rights of citizenship should, when the revolution was won, apply to all, with no division between Cubans and Spaniards then living on the Island; honorable men, members of the same family, should unite in ties of humanity, of common origin, casting out the contemptible antagonisms of class distinctions. "Humanism is a whole concept . . ." he wrote in a May 6, 1884, letter which also contained the theme of his life dedication:
"The sovereignty and freedom of my native land is my only desire; I have no other aspirations; as a sovereign nation we shall secure our rightful privileges, we shall have dignity, and the recognition due a free and independent people."
In the communications outlining the preparations for the new invasion, Maceo emphasized that the military leadership belonged to Maximo Gomez. The two leaders prepared a directive listing military commands assigned to their former officers. They then made preparations for a tour for the collection of funds.
Each hero gave his life for Cuba's freedom, but the two tragedies differed greatly in their respective patriotic values. Marti's death caused only ripples of concern among the insurgents and the Spaniards; his death did not alter the course of the revolution. Maceo's caused unrestrained grief to the peoples of Cuba and brought unrestrained joy to the government in Spain and to the Spanish colonials on the Island; his death changed the character of the rebellion; it lost strength--fighting strength. The two men are linked as complementing each other through erroneous assumption of historians that they enjoyed mutual understanding.
He remained in Panama until the work projects slackened. Political activity during the Panamanian years, 1887-1888, ceased. His correspondencee during this period was meager, and in it he mainly complained of the health hazards of the hot, humid country. During those years of Maceo's disengagement from revolutionary activities, Jose Marti in New York City became the central force of rebel enthusiasm.
Maceo in his correspondence with Marti stated his political philosophy:
"Unshakeable respect for the Law, and a decided preference for a republican form [of government] are the principles of my political thought; they are now, have been, and will always be my ideals--for these I fought yesterday, under that aegis I shall perform tomorrow if Providence and Patria again call me to complete my obligation."
On February 24, 1895, an uprising took place in Cuba, which though abortive, marks the beginning of the second war of independence. Many patriots were involved in this movement, launched from New York by Marti in his "Order of Uprising" dated January 29th, and directed to the patriot, Juan Gualberto Gomez in Havana.
While these momentous events were being activated by Marti first from New York and later from Santo Domingo, Maceo was bogged down and frustrated in San Jose, Costa Rica. On February 22, two days before the uprising, Maceo wrote to Marti lamenting that the needed money had not been provided. Neither had his suggestion been followed that the services of the captain of the Adirondack, a US vessel, be bought to allow the loading of arms under a manifest of merchandise. "I only need 50 rifles, 50 machetes and 50 revolvers with corresponding ammunition to undertake the voyage. And what I need mostly is money and possibly I can make this move with $3,500 gold," he wrote, and concluded that it was not convenient to procrastinate; that the perils ahead should be faced and when faced, the machete would take care of opening the way and establishing liberty in Cuba.
Marti and Maximo Gomez in Santo Domingo were busy preparing their long literary "Manifesto of Montecristi" issued March 25, 1895, which presented in a detailed, verbose, passionate document all the reasons the Island sought freedom.
Maceo, joined with fourteen others, including his brother, Jose, in making arrangements to return to Cuba. What arms they had been able to purchase were hidden in boxes, which with hatchets they carried were registered as laborers' equipment.
A sympathetic American, a Mr. Farrington, U.S. representative on the island, provided them with a small thirteen-ton schooner, the Honor, and a crew. The voyage ended on a black stormy night, March 31, when they came close to a desolate area of the Cuban coast and the crew was forced to land them and their supplies in two small boats. The reluctant sailors did not want to attempt landing in the dark among the rocky spires lining the beach. When forced to do so, the schooner was wrecked and one of the sailors lost his life.
On land, later recognized as the outlet of the Duaba River, near Baracoa, Maceo and other men broke open the boxes of arms, a small cache of Remingtons, distributed the rifles and wooded area they wandered on foot for many days, hungry and tired. Finally, they came upon friendly country people who fed them and gave them the location of Spanish forces in pursuit. When the Spaniards came close to them, and were about to find them, they broke up into three sections and separated, Maceo led the men with him to safety. Flor Crombet was not so fortunate; he was killed in ambush, though the men with him were not. Jose Maceo, the third leader, survived the ordeal, and escaped entrapment.
One month later, after successfully eluding Spanish columns in pursuit of the invaders, Maceo had brought under his command the insurgents in the area by independently imposing his authority. He issued and distributed proclamations during late April, warning his patriotic readers to recall their sacrifices in the Ten Years' War and not to succumb to the blandishments of Martinez Campos who would again be offering shamefully false promises. Appointed captain- general and chief of the Spanish army in Cuba, Martinez Campos had arrived to take up his new post a few days after Maceo landed on the shores of Cuba.
Maximo Gomez and Marti, who had moved out of Santo Domingo and slipped successfully into Cuba the previous month sent word to Maceo to attend a meeting. The invitation was ignored. Maceo wanted to be in control of the insurgent troops of Oriente, which he considered his own, before submitting to anyone else's direction. The meeting finally took place on May 5th in Maceo's camp in Bocucy, where he had summoned the offended conspirators. Marti entered the day's encounter in his personal diary: "Suddenly some horsemen. Maceo, in a grey uniform, on a chestnut horse; there is silver on the saddle, he is resplendent and starred." Maceo told them he was on the march, and not remaining in camp.
In this meeting held in the La Mejorana sugarmill complex, near Santiago de Cuba, the three men, Marti, Gomez and Maceo, briefly discussed the formation of the government of the republic. The first wanted a civil organization in control of the military; Maceo maintained that a strong military command was indicated until such time as they had conquered the land to be in a position to implant civil government. Until the insurgents in arms dislodged Spain from the Island, there were no assurances they could give the civilian population.
Maceo cut short the meeting. He had things to do: establishing prefectures to provide centers of leadership to the underground patriots and making the insurgent bands scattered in the jungle into effective military divisions.
On June 30, he found time to address a short letter to his wife who remained in San Jose:
"My always adored wife: The progressions of the Revolution do not allow for considerations of family duties. Tranquility is not for me; I live on horseback, riding in all directions as I organize forces and prefectures; 2,200 men form eighteen regiments. . . . "
A bank draft was included in this letter with instructions that she cash it and attend to her needs. The final phrase read:"And you receive the heart of your husband who adores you and yearns for you."
He did not here relate that on May 12th the enemy suffered great losses in battle, including the death of Lieut. Colonel Bosch, a Spanish officer from the Regiment of Simancas, nor did he comment on Jose Marti's death on May 19th, when posing as a soldier, Marti had perished in the action carried out by Maximo Gomez against the Spanish forces in the area of Dos Rios.
Spain's military command on the Island admitted to the success of the insurrection in the eastern sector where Maceo fought along with Maximo Gomez and other rebel leaders. Martinez Campos, in charge of the defense of Spanish interests on the Island since mid-April, sent a confidential report to Canovas, chief of government in Madrid, stating in part:
Although after being here a month I realized the seriousness of the situation, I did not want to accept it; my visits to Cuba [city of], Principe and Holguin began to frighten me, but fearful that I was turning pessimistic, decided not to confine my tours to the coastal cities but to enter the interior towns . . . and I have now come to these sad conclusions. The few Spaniards on the Island who dare to proclaim themselves as such can do so only in the cities. the rest of the inhabitants hate Spain, the effect of the propaganda in the press and of the clubs, and the state of abandonment of the Island after Polavieja left; they have assumed appeasement and permissiveness not for what they are--error and weakness--but manifestations of fear, and have become arrogant. Even the timid ones are quick to follow the orders of insurrectionary chiefs. When one goes by the huts in the countryside the men are not to be seen, and the women, when asked the whereabouts of their husbands or their sons, reply with terrifying naturalness "In the backwoods with 'so and so!" Not even an offer of 500 to 1,000 pesos will get a message through. It is true that if caught, the messenger would be hanged; on the other hand they keep the enemy informed spontaneously and with frightening speed of the numbers and passage of our columns.
Martinez Campos' evaluation of conditions in Cuba clearly showed that the people were willing to help in the ouster of Spain. Because the strength of the revolution was maintained in the eastern provinces, insurrectionary leaders considered mobilizing all sympathizers throughout the length of the island. While these plans of invasion were being considered as an extension of the campaign, Maceo gave battle and made appeals.
A major battle which Maceo had been provoking finally took place in Peralejo, near Manzanillo, on the 12th of July. Maceo and Martinez Campos faced each other on the battleground of an open pasture of coarse grass, surrounded by vegetation-enmeshed barbed wire fence. Maceo gave the order to attack the marching Spanish column of four hundred men, as they came into view inside the enclosure. Among the mingled shouts of "Viva Cuba!", "Viva Maceo", "Viva Espana!", "Viva Isabel la Catolica!" the face-to-face combat took place in the pasture, beyond which rose the Peralejo heights lapped by the River Mabay. The battle screams of the charging attackers increased and rose above gun shots, and were more intimidating than the fire itself to the Spaanish foot soldiers fighting in battle formation. Both the Cuban leader and the Spanish general received aid from their respective sides: Bartolome Maso dispatched a troop to Maceo, when he learned of the magnitude of the battle. General Santolcides with 1,000 men came to the aid of his captain-general and lost his life in the five-hour hard fought encounter.
When the Spaniards appeared defeated and retreated to the river's edge, Maceo ordered infantry troops under Rabi to stop their flight. The order could not be carried out as the men had run out of ammunition. Martinez Campos managed to cross the river, proceeding to the safety of the fortified town of Bayamo.
This encounter, considered one of Maceo's major accomplishments in the field of battle, left him frustrated: he had so narrowly missed capturing Martinez Campos. Several days later, on July 16, he wrote to the captain-general offering to return the injured "which you left on the battlefield" and giving assurances that the men sent to take back the wounded would have safe conduct.
Though Maceo had originally rejected Marti's projection of a plan for the organization of the government of the "Republic of Cuba," by the end of July he was promoting its establishment. To Maximo Gomez he announced on July 26th that with great difficulty he had organized twenty-one regiments and that they would be listed in the forthcoming issue of El Cubano Libre, the newspaper launched by Maceo after taking possession of a printing press. In another letter with the same date, he gave Gomez a list of five names "corresponding to the 25,000 men in arms in the Oriente province" of the persons who would act as their representatives at the forthcoming assembly which would constitute the government.
Preparation for the creation of a government body for the "Republic of Cuba" began with the appointment early in July, 1895, of Tomas Estrada Palma as Delegate of the New York City-based Cuban Revolutionary Party which, under Marti, had launched the revolution. Estrada Palma exchanged the poet's battered shoes for his own sturdier ones and strode a firmer path for the solicitation of funds and for their use in the acquisition of military supplies. In the middle of August, Estrada Palma issued a directive which confirmed a previous order circulated by Maximo Gomez to the effect that all people on the Island were obligated to contribute to the movement for freedom, with their properties or their persons, under penalty of losing the former; property-less persons would be expelled from the Island if they did not join in the rebellion.
Martinez Campos, regretting that he had not requested a greater number of troops, accepted the 26,835 men the Queen Regent and the young King had sent off at the pier in Vitoria in an elaborate ceremony of sentimental farewell attended by the populace and featuring music and oratory. The contingent brought the total of Spanish soldiers on the Island to some 37,000. Soon after arrival, the total would be reduced by the usual twenty percent claimed by fever, the change of climate, and diet. Fighting methods, as practiced by the Spaniards, caused unnecessary losses, for the men were not taught how to combat the surprise machete attacks of the Cubans. The collective opinion of Spanish veterans was that four Spanish soldiers on the Island equalled one able combatant.
The entire month of August was given over to skirmishes and battles, in a munition-short situation. On the 30th he received an urgent summons from his brother Jose to come to his aid as the Spaniards, aware that he was incapacitated with sciatica, were about to overwhelm him. Maceo went forward and engaged the Spaniards in a nine-hour bloody battle in the craggy area of Sao del Indio. As the battle progressed, he issued an order allowing the Spaniards to move on. He had had bombs placed in the path of the enemy; on explosion the column was expected to retreat in panic into the waiting rebel lines. Instead they continued forward, leaving the injured on the field, and moving away from the murderous rebel attack.
The Maceo brothers renewed the battle, which continued for thirty- six hours, mustering what men they could since they too had suffered great losses and were short of ammunition. Incidents of great valor were recorded by the insurrectionists, and in due course Madrid acknowledged that they had been beaten in Sao del Indio. Though the count of casualties differed in various reports to the Peninsula, in the final reckoning the figures were given at eight officers and one hundred soldiers killed in action; forty seven wounded. The rebels admitted to eighty-nine casualties out of a total of six hundred men. The Spaniards claimed there were 3,500 insurrectionists in this action, which is a considerable difference and attests to the punishment they received. In this instance, it can be assumed that the rebels' claim to a force of six hundred represented their total men in battle.
Drafting a constitution for the "Republic of Cuba" was discussed by the rebels early in September; by the 16th, this task was accomplished. On the 18th, the government council was voted upon, resulting in the appointment of Salvador de Cisneros Betancourt as president; Bartolome Maso, vice president; Carlos Roloff, secretary of war. A week before their election, Maceo had expressed in a letter to Cisneros Betancourt as favoring Maso for the presidency, unaware that his correspondent's ambition was attainment of the highest post. Cisneros's letter suggested an expression from Maceo declaring the position he aspired to fill in the new government, which, possibly, would be available to him under certain conditions. Maceo rejected the suggestion, reminding Cisneros that at no time had he found it necessary to solicit favors, stating emphatically that he knew his humble birth did not permit him to reach the heights due others who were born to be leaders of the revolution.
After the government was established, preparations were begun for the projected for the invasion of the Island, a central crossing from Oriente to the other end of the country, to Havana and Pinar del Rio provinces. These areas had been at peace with Spain. Plans for an "army of invasion" had been discussed during the previous war; now the time had come in Maximo Gomez's and Maceo's estimation to reduce Spain's prestige further by boldly ridiculing its military power, executing a passage through the center of the Island across its defense lines to reach its seat of government in Havana and to continue on into Pinar Del Rio, where the populace's adherence to colonialrule was a source of pride to the Mother Country.
Maceo, designated by Gomez and the government to recruit an army for the invasion, sent a series of invitations to known rebel leaders. Because the plan of invasion did not have the approval of all chiefs, he encountered considerable resistance to his demand for allotment of soldiers. Through sheer perserverance he succeeded in convincing reluctant leaders to bring their followers to designated centers; from thse groups he obtained volunteers to man the invasion. The bold adventure of a spectacular cross-country march appealed to many.
The composition of the army of invasion was not what Maceo had visualized. There were men properly uniformed and armed, carrying Winchesters, Remingtons, Mausers, Colts, or Smiths, among them, depending upon whose leadership they had been recruited. But the greatest number carried machetes; other recruits, in the interest of carrying something, brandished heavy sticks and poles, and were the ragged and barefooted guajiros who formed a segment of the rather bizarre column. Nevertheless, he began the march October 22, leading the column towards Las Villas where Maximo Gomez was to address the invaders.
Keeping up with his correspondence while on the march, he wrote Maximo Gomez what was taking place on letterhead bearing the imprint "Republic of Cuba. Headquarters of the Invading Army." It was marked "confidential," bor a file number, and read in part:
The arrival of the Citizen President and other members of the government had a surprising effect on the Orientals [residents of Oriente province]; they were indescribably enthusiastic. The official reception took place in the savannah of Baragua on the 9th of this month and there the Constitution was read and our guests acclaimed. The venerable President addressed the troops who were in correct formation; his words inspired by patriotism were felicitous and opportune. Under the mango trees where I held my conference with Martinez Campos in 1878, I linked arms with ex-Marquis and led him to a rustic kiosk, artistically arranged. Fiery speeches were given and a formal banquet served, while our military band played. In other words, I did what I could to host them in the best possible manner as required when dealing with the Representatives of the Republic.
Marching under heavy rains and through mud-bound roads, pursued by forces under Martinez Campos, he avoided encounters. The invasion plans projected a trek across the Island with no stops for battle action, if circumstances permitted. On the 8th of November, the rebel column forded the Jodabo river, the dividing line between Oriente and Camaguey provinces, and soon entered that beautiful open cattle country of extensive meadows, undamaged by the devastation of war. Two days after the crossing, Maceo had the pleasure of receiving into the column 300 well-equipped and mounted troopers under the command of Jose Maria Rodriguez who had decided to join the invading army.
On the night of November 29th, Maceo and an estimated 1,500 men crossed the Jucaro to Moron trocha militar, the fortified line which was supposed to shut off the rebels in the east from the rest of the country. The barrier crossing was effected at night amid surrounding enemy forces which had been previously distracted by a mock attack on nearby Moron. Scouts fanned out and as their approach was announced by barking dogs, the invaders were warned that they were in inhabited areas. Slipping through the line of fortifications, the men and their mule train made it to the other side of Las Villas, reaching San Juan where Maceo and Maximo Gomez rendezvoused.
At a remote spot in Havana province, Maximo Gomez and Maceo held a fifteen-minute interview on January 7th, 1896, which resulted in a plan of action: the former would continue skirmishing against the concentration of Spanish troops in the province while Maceo would continue his advance into the province of Pinar del Rio, goal of the invading army. Gomez noted in his diary of operations why they had arrived in good condition at the immediate surroundings of Havana: "Our cavalry has improved greatly; as we crossed the province of Matanzas we took possession of all the good and useful horses we found, using them as replacements for ours which were tired or useless. " With the sense of reporting a debacle, Martinez Campos cabled Madrid on the 14th of January:
"Maceo continues his invasion of Pinar del Rio, entering through Cabanas, then to Bahia Honda and other towns, burning and pillaging. . . . Have four columns in pursuit. Received information from General Garcia Navarro, out of Bahia Honda, that one hundred armed voluntarios deserted; in that area more than one thousand men have joined rebel forces. . . . I judge that there are more than 40,000 armed insurgents."
Four days before his cabled message, on January 10th, Martinez Campos learned that Maceo had entered the supposedly impenetrable, rich and loyal province of Pinar del Rio, and there had found an alarming number of men willing to follow rebel leadership. On January 22, 1896, he reached Mantua, the largest town in the far end of the province, four hundred twenty-four leagues from the departure point. The townspeople, informed of the nature of the march, extended a welcome to Maceo and his men. On the 23rd, representatives of the rebel force were invited to the municipal building where a resolution was read before the audience of townspeople:
". . . That General Maceo with his force has taken this town and county, while respecting the lives and properties, and maintaining public order, allowing the continuation of the services of the authorities and employees placed in their positions by the Spanish government . . . not only to benefit this community empoverished by the multiple burdens placed upon it, but also [for the benefit] for the entire country suffering from the same mistreatment. . ."
Martinez campos, under a cloud because he had not succeeded in containing the revolution, left Havana the 24th of January, two days after Maceo's triumphant conclusion of the invasion march in the town of Mantua. On the 22nd, Valeriano Weyler Y Nicolau had been named in Madrid Captain-General of Cuba. Weyler's well-known military and political history assured a harsh and determined war. He was clearly indicated to carry out the government's mandate expressed in Chief of State Canovas del Castillo's position of no transactions with the enemy until they lay down their arms.
At an unnamed headquarters site, established after leaving Mantua, Maceo again attended to his correspondence. In a long letter, dated January 27th, addressed to the director of The Star, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, he denied there was dissension between Maximo Gomez and himself. On the contrary, he and his men considered the "Chief of the Armed Forces" their supreme authority in all military matters. He touched on their being short of war materials and stated that it would be useless to say that they did not urgently need supplies. "Our soldiers," he wrote, "are not properly armed from any point of view. Were this not the case, today there would not be a single Spanish column in action other than in the cities of La Habana, Matanzas and Santiago de Cuba."
His final words touched chords of patriotism: "In spite of this, we have made great strides in our concept and we are constantly attaining improved conditions as we go into battle. The Cuban army is full of enthusiasm. The thought of liberty inflames the hearts and feeds the hope and the wishes of the great majority of the people of Cuba." Maceo concluded: "Cuba should be free. The oppressed people have consecrated their lives to attain emancipation and God in heaven will strengthen their arms."
While flames continued to consume the wealth of Matanzas and Maximo Gomez devastated without entering into battle, Maceo crossed back into Pinar del Rio, prepared to fight against the greater number of troops the Spaniards announced would be assigned to that province. He early came to the conclusion that it was absolutely necessary to lock Maceo in Pinar del Rio, and then to pacify that sector.
Maceo back in Pinar del Rio showed his determination to meet the Spaniards head-on. There were many engagements, some more serious than others. On March 15th he led his men after the battle of Neptune, which resulted in losses to his men, to the nearby municipality of Artemisa where a hospital was established to take care of the wounded. Nearby he set up the headquarters camp, and there summoned insurrectionists leaders under his command to give them a plan of strategy. The plan was outlined in a report to the Delegate in New York, Tomas Estrada Palma, under date of March 21. It was necessary, he pointed out, to shatter Weyler's dream of conquest. For that reason, the rebel command was taking dramatic measures and spreading terror, a necessary expedient which would inhibit millowners from attempting to salvage their crops.
Through March he continued battling the converging Spanish forces, as he gave protection to threatened property owners on payment of assessments. He formed camp headquarters among the mountains of the province of Pinar del Rio, as needed. Weyler, who had been provided with additional manpower, headed an army of 21,460 men. To this total of men from Spain he attached voluntario corps recruited on the Island.
Maceo's campaign in March included a dramatic encounter in which the contenders battled from the 16th through the 18th. At two o'clock in the afternoon he halted a march begun at seven that first morning. Because there was a great downpour, the halt was extended to allow for the unsaddling of horses and the forming of a shelter. Suddenly, above the sound of rain, artillery and rifle fire reverberated over the camp. The soldiers assumed the camp had been discovered and went into a disorderly scramble for safety. Maceo jumped on his horse and galloped into the milling men, forcing them to answer the attack. He blamed the cowardice of the men on the officers. After the battle he read a directive to the assembled men to the effect that any soldier who saw an officer turn his back in battle was authorized to shoot the coward. He then dismissed Brigadier Quintin Banderas, the black veteran of the revolutionary wars, and ordered the arrest of three other officers. The directive was ultimately cancelled and the men restored to the force.
The United States Senate sessions that spring were concerned with the merits of going to the aid of the belligerents of Cuba. The greater number of pronouncements favored this step. Maceo's reaction to the debate was to give his opinion and to ask for clarification of the stand being taken on the Senate floor. His opinion was that United States intervention was unnecessary to triumph now or later. As of now, all that was necessary was to deliver to Cuba twenty or thirty thousand rifles and a million rounds of ammunition, in one or at the most, two expeditions. The Government of the United States's contribution would be to protect the shipment and aid in its unloading; in this manner the United States would not be exposed and compromised vis-a-vis Spain, nor would the Cubans require any other assistance.
The rainy season made contest between the two enemies difficult, yet Maceo managed to descend from the mountainous territories to harass Spanish columns patrolling the highways. The Pinar del Rio terrain in many ways was similar to that of Santiago de Cuba, he reported to Maximo Gomez late in April, in an optimistic account of the state of the morale of the men under his command, both military and civil. He was seeing action and confirmed that General Suarez Inclan had been injured in an encounter with his forces. Elated at the success of a propaganda circular he had addressed to townspeople, he advised how many neighboring residents had come to join him from enemy territory. Every day he had reports of more new recruits. There was a lull in military activity late that spring while Weyler prepared for the all-out winter campaign he had previously presented to the government.
While his shattered leg healed in the secluded and well guarded farmhouse deep in the sierra, about four kilometers from where the battle had taken place, Maceo wrote a long letter, dated June 27th and headed "Campaign," to Maximo Gomez, deploring the general's appointment of Calixto Garcia as head of the forces of Oriente, by- passing Maceo's brother Jose and "Mayia" Rodriguez, thereby creating an impossible situation, described as "playing a goad in Flanders." He accused the old general of playing favorites, forgetting, he pointed out, that such procedures in the previous Ten Years' War had brought disaster.
The solution developed, hinted at in his reports, was in a plan to concentrate the Islanders into the larger cities or military camps. This bold plan required preparation and approval from Madrid. In the meantime, early in July, he received information that it was rumored that Jose Maceo had been killed in action in the area of Holguin, in the province of Santiago de Cuba. Confirmation of casualty took many months, but his absence on the field of battle was noted.
On July 14, Maceo still in his campaign headquarters in El Roble, elated by his possession of ample supplies, wrote an affectionate letter to Gonzalo de Quesada, charge d'affaires of the Cuban rebels, then in Washington, expressing appreciation for the manner in which the successful operations of the rebels under his command had been publicized. If the revolution continued to receive aid from abroad, the entire Spanish army, even though reinforced as suggested, by 200,000 more men, could not win: "we are masters of our destiny and no one, no power can take it away from us by arms," were his concluding words.
The long letter contains the statement of his philosophy as a Cuban patriot, which has been construed as his rejection of the United States. In it he reacted to the concept that the United States should be the protector of the Cuban people. He rejected the idea of protection from any source. He said:
"I have never anticipated any benefit from Spain; she has always despised us, and it would be unworthy to believe otherwise. Liberty is conquered with the edge of the machete, it is not asked for; to beg for one's rights is a device of cowards, incapable of exercising such rights. Nor do I expect any benefit from the Americans; everything must be accomplished through our own efforts; 'tis best to rise or fall without assistance than to contract debts of gratitude with so powerful a neighbor."
These words have been construed to convey his hatred of the United States, while they were actually a warning to his fellow countrymen to avoid involvement if they wanted to form an independent nation.
Although Maceo's letters during the last days of July and early August begged for definite word on his brother's whereabouts, confirmation of Jose's death did not reach him until late in August. Besides being distressed by lack of news regarding his brother, Maceo was burdened by the neglect of the government leaders; they had not sent the auxiliary troops he had asked for and needed to crush the concentration of Spanish forces in the western province.
Jose Maceo had been killed July 5, 1896, nine days before his brother requested information from their New York friend. the battle in which Jose lost his life was reported in the regular military message of that day to Madrid, but it was not known then that he had perished in the action.
From another camp, that in Manantial, on August 12th he directed a form letter to six generals and a colonel in the eastern areas asking that they make every effort to clarify rumors regarding his brother and to advise him of the truth. Also in the letter he stated he wished to know something of the political situation in the insurgents' government, for he could not obtain unbiased information from the Spanish newspapers available to him in Pinar del Rio. He wanted to know whether the rebels' problems existed as they were publicized in recent days, presenting dissensions and threatened resignations. Hopefully his inclination, he stated , was toward the belief that the Revolution was not experiencing such difficulties, but the belief was not enough. He wanted confirmation of this faith from his correspondents. He assured them that he was continuing the job of the Invasion, with excellent success, and that circumstances which appeared to be adverse had been turned into favorable accomplishments. To these men he gave a warning, concluding his missives with the admonition that if they did not pull together ". . . a worse enemy than the Spanish tyrants would be our own unpardonable discords. Let us hope that we'll have a smooth road to the end, embracing in peace after having been brothers in the struggle against our common enemy.
In the rough headquarters of Puerta de la Muralla, he organized protection forces along designated routes for the successful movement of the announced expedition under the supervision of Brigadier Juan Rius Rivera. Rebel leaders were given definite instructions; commands were changed as the General considered expedient. He headed out of headquarters on August 25th for the purpose of personally escorting the men and material through enemy fortified towns and through the countryside where it was known from spying activity that many of the inhabitants had not quite decided upon their loyalties. The possibility that Spanish authorities would be advised of every rebel move was a constant consideration.
The staff accompanying him and three hundred troopmen included Sotomayor, Leyte Vidal, who had brought the previous expedition, Nunez, and the disgraced former brigadier Bermudez. Relieved of his "brigadier" status for undertaking unauthorized executions of captured enemies, his defense that his procedure was in the best interests of the revolution rejected, Bermudez meekly accepted Maceo's order breaking his rank and became a part of the rescue brigade. Although his chastisement had taken place several weeks earlier, his continued acceptance of it could be attributed to his admiration for his commander, or, to the conviction that Maceo would not hesitate to have a subordinate hanged if that subordinate's actions did not reflect his, General Maceo's, standards of conduct.
The above was soon tested by a group of mounted bandits who in the name of the Revolution attacked Las Nieves sugar-mill grounds in Santa Lucia. They shot up the buildings, took possession of the general store-tavern, drank up the liquor, destroyed the premises, and roaring drunk remounted and raced away, threatening to return to kill mill personnel and dislodge families. Maceo's discipline was established when he ordered pursuit and capture of the culprits, their prompt trial, and punishment by being hanged from limbs of trees off the mill road.
Maceo's activities in Pinar del Rio, from early harassment to taking posession of the cargo shipment successfully unloaded in spite of vigilance of Spanish naval and land forces, to the openhanded use of armaments thus acquired, continued to be Weyler's greatest concern. Yet, fighting also continued on the rest of the island. In the area of the line enclosing Maceo, Commander Cirujeda continued to move, and reports to the War Office in Madrid repeatedly praised his actions. Towards the end of the month Weyler ordered forces in this area to leave via war vessels from Batabano for the southern end of Pinar del Rio province to increase Spanish strength there.
On the evening of October 21, Maceo, at his end of the island, marched toward Arolas's territory, following a patrol he had sent forward to lay a route through the backwoods. Above the fortified town of Artemisa, near the Linea, site of Arola's fortified headquarters, in a dense circle of palm trees neglected by the Spanish sentinels, he placed his men and cannon. When the night shadows quieted the town, he set the pneumatic cannon booming off into the plaza. The surprises inhabitants rushed out of their homes screaming, the soldiery in the guard house sounded trumpet blasts, and soon horrified townspeople dodged fiery volleys coming from the circle of palms ringing their community. Arolas ordered artillery fire, but did not seek to engage the rebels in combat. The rebel leader retired his men, his only satisfaction being that he had caused panic.
About the same time Maceo tried to do battle with Arolas in Artemisa, Weyler's Bando de Reconcentracion became public. Known as the most infamous decision of the governor's campaign, its restrictions were spelled out in five harsh paragraphs.
1st.--Every inhabitant of the countryside or outside the lines of fortified towns must within eight days move into occupied towns. Any person who within the stated period remains in the open country shall be considered a rebel and judged accordingly.
2nd.--The movement of provisions from the city and their transport by water or land, without permission from the local military authorities, is absolutely prohibited. Violators shall be judged and penalized as allies of the rebels.
3rd.--Cattle in the surrounding area shall be taken to nearby towns; suitable protection will be made available for this purpose.
4th.--At the end of eight days, which in each municipality shall be counted from the date of publication of this order as it appears in the heading, such rebels who chose to surrender will be under my [Weyler's] control in order to designate their future place of residence. It will be also to their advantage to come prepared to provide information about the enemy and if the surrender includes firearms, and if this is a group action, it will be to their benefit.
5th.--The regulations of this edict apply only to the Province of Pinar del Rio.
Weyler was harshly criticized on the Island and in Madrid for the severity of this military measure, which disrupted lives and brought misery to inoffensive rural colonials who in that province constituted the greatest number of inhabitants. But there remained some who did help the rebel cause. The edict was a military expedient, an effort to end all contact between the rebels and their sympathizers.
During the last days of October, when the rainy session eased, Weyler ordered continuous movement of troops from Maceo's mountain hideaway to the Linea. The Spaniard was convinced that Maceo could be flushed out and captured or killed. His officers, as ordered, communicated every move, every rumour, relating to Maceo. On the 1st of November, Maceo, noticeably depressed, a condition ascribed by his men to rumors of worsening disagreements among the revolution's civil and military leaders, left his Brujito farm retreat for another campsite in the Roble heights. There he received the packet of documents, letters, and newspapers. Among the letters was Maximo Gomez's request to Maceo to return to his side, its wording a deprecation of self, an appeal for help in combating the abuse of power which Gomez felt was victimizing him.
Maceo knew that he was the focus of military and political attention in Madrid, that the conduct of his campaign in Pinar del Rio as reported on in the United States and commented on in Congress swayed that nation's public opinion in favor of the revolution, and that the visible progress toward independence came primarily from his own tenacious warfare. But these considerations he now had to set aside to determine if the revolution was disintegrating. He would have to find out for himself.
That fall in Madrid, Francisco Pi y Margall again presented to the nation a proposed plan of reform to end the war in Cuba. It offered autonomy to the islands (Cuba and Puerto Rico) in terms bordering on total independence; Spain would only expect favorable trade agreements and repayment of the islanders' national debts. Maceo rejected autonomy, but was not totally averse to the great Spanish realist's plan. Pi y Margall was one of Maceo's favorite political figures. Maceo wanted him as a negotiator when a treaty of peace giving independence was drafted. Yet, because conservatives on the mainland and in Cuba rejected any program that decreased Spain's power over the Island, the proposed plan for ending the war was shelved.
In the early days of November, Maceo went from camp to camp of the small commands he had established in the province issuing combat orders. He was preparing his escape from the Spanish cordon to answer the summons of the querulous Maximo Gomez and to try to mend the disintegrating relations of the rebels' military and civil commands in the eastern portion of the island.
He turned over his command to General Juan Rius Rivera, believing him to be the most capable military leader on his staff. Many other officers had made the trek with him from Sierra Maestra to Sierra de los Organos, distinguishing themselves as leaders and fighters, and many of them were black. Since Rius Rivera was white, it is specious to maintain that Maceo, the "Bronze Titan," fought only for the supremacy of the black race; instead, Maceo fought to deliver the Cuban people, black and white, from Spanish colonial domination.
Rius Rivera was not given command on the basis of rank; other rebel leaders might have felt equally entitled to the promotion except for the well-learned lesson of all men under Maceo's orders that he gave and took away rank as he felt circumstances deserved. On one occasion, he wrote to a colonel: "The republic gains no profit from decorative figures; and you are one of them." And, on another occasion, he adressed a general with the admonition: "Do not count on my going to direct the operation which I have made your responsibility."
Later in the month, on November 22nd, before he grappled with the swarm of Spanish troops attempting to prevent his escape from the province, he wrotee to forty-eight-year-old Manuel Sanguily, the Cuban rebel patriot of English-French descent, suggesting his return from New York to take the helm of the emerging republic:
". . . I am convinced, therefore, that your contribution here would be of greater positive value than what you could offer out of the country, regardless of the official mission now entrusted to your talents. We need someone, an outstanding and prestigious personality, who at the same time would give strong impulse to the Revolution, preparing and leading it to a propitious and tranquil future, stripping our nation as of now from all its political and social defects, the heavy burden inherited from the vicious system of Spanish domination. You are needed to be among the men who give serious thought to the future of Cuba."
This heartfelt letter establishes for all time that Maceo did not believe his own military prestige, or his considerable following, or his heroic stature, of which he must in some measure have been aware, entitled him to lead the colony out of subjugation into independence. He was admitting that his Patria in order to become a model republic needed more than a Maceo. As he saw it, Sanguily or a man of his background was indicated for that honor. the selection of Sanguily again ignored racial considerations; Sanguily was white.
On November 9th, the Governor of the Island and General of the Army, Valeriano Weyler, boarded the war vessel Legazpi, accompanied by his chief of staff and their battalions, departing from Havana and entering the port of Mariel. The public was given every detail of the noteworthy, unprecedented happening. General Arolas and the mayor of Mariel, on the morning of the 10th, received Weyler aboard the gunboat Reina Maria Cristina from whence he stepped on land, followed by generals, lieutenant generals, distinguished citizens, and press correspondents. General Weyler reviewed the troops which in formal formation lined an entire kilometer of highway. A listing of the troops accompanyiig him was given: they were the America, Castilla, La Reina, Barcelona, and Puerto Rico battalions. Six pieces of artillery were included, and 400 cavalry of the Principe regiment with their auxiliary guerrillas for a total of 6,000 men. Regiments stationed in the vicinity were also on hand. The public was informed that Weyler rode on a spirited horse in the center of this formidable column to begin an aggressive campaign to wipe out the rebel leader and his followers.
Weyler's attempts to lead his numerous battalions through the thickets and overgrown trails he needed to follow to engage the rebels in battle lasted a bare six days. He sent back reports on a series of bayonet charges, his men going up the mountain sides, giving assurance that they had dislodged the enemy from their positions.
The rebels under Maceo's command, buffeted by Spanish forces, retired further into the Rubi mountains. Maceo realized that the concentration of numerous enemy troops below him in the Rosario area meant that every risk would be taken to lead them up into rebel sanctuary protecting his principal headquarters camp on the old coffee estate. He knew, too, that General Gonzalez-Munoz would be chosen to make the attempt because he and his men had previously scaled the rugged inclines of the Rubi terrain. In anticipation of the action, early on the morning of the 10th, Maceo took the Chumbo hill path which would position him for battle. He left Rius Rivera on the Madama knoll to intercept the center of the enemy's column, knowing that the Spaniards right wing would undertake the conquest of the Rubi camp area. With 130 men from the force which had fought the day before, Maceo prepared to impede Gonzalez-Munoz's passage through the massed vegetation. The enemies met, the fight was bitter, ruthless. Every structure remaining on the old coffee estate was riddled with bullets and spattered with blood.
While his determined assistant, General Gonzalez-Munoz, challenged the rebels on the heights of Rubi, Weyler battled in the hills of Rosario through which he had led his six battalions, artillery brigade, and cavalry regiment to confront the small force of Rius Rivera, which Maceo had strategically placed in the Spanish leader's suspected path. After deciding that he had made a good defense of the Rubi site, Maceo retired his men and led them to Rius Rivera's lines, which had not been overrun by Weyler's large contingent of men. Finding that the Spaniards had been contained, and no longer fighting, Maceo, on impulse, decided to penetrate the encircling Spanish lines in the direction of the Linea, which he would have to cross if he were to heed Maximo Gomez's summons.
Maceo returned from his scouting expedition convinced that he could make the Linea crossing safely. He also found that Weyler had returned to Havana, after the embarassing and unpleasant experience of getting lost with his men in the mountain forests because of his lack of knowledgeable scouts.
The harassment of General Rius Rivera, whom Maceo had left with forces high in mountain top positions, would continue to repel the enemy effectively. The great number of casualties suffered by Weyler's forces would serve to discredit the latter. If Weyler did not learn to become more effective, Maceo predicted total failure for Weyler's efforts to crush the revolution. He added that his men, derisively, called Weyler's operations "the banana campaign" because it was known that a shriveled banana field had been charged by soldiers under Weyler's orders. In that letter of November 17 to Lacoste, Maceo commented on the presidential election in the United States, predicting good fortune for the rebel cause as he assumed the new president would follow a different approach from that of the "fatal, for us, conduct of the Spain-loving Mr. Cleveland"; he hoped for United States recognition of Cuban belligerency.
Meanwhile Maceo continued to become visibly depressed after reading Maximo Gomez's summons and other letters from members of the government, who threatened to resign if their differences with the Dominican chief Gomez were not resolved and he were not restrained from acting independently of the council. At his distance from the controversy, Maceo could not judge whose position was more beneficial for his beloved Patria. It disturbed Maceo to read suggestions by those antagonized by Maximo Gomez and President Salvador Cisneros that he, Maceo, assume all power--military and governmental. If this were their judgement, Maceo believed it to be a grievous blow to the future republic. Maceo, thus, did not reply to any of the dissidents; he limited himself to writing that heartfelt letter of November 22 to Manuel Sanguily requesting that he come to the aid of the Republic as the only means of endowing the revolution with respected leadership.
Returning to his plans for escape, Maceo again explored the Linea and concluded that it would be impossible to slip through the continuous, closely-placed, manned fortifications extending from the Sierra de los Organos range down to Mariel Bay. While on these explorations, he was distressed to find enemy platoons engaged in mopping-up operations of small landowners who had refused to enter Spanish lines as ordered.
To the heights of Gobernadora mountain, which majestically shadows Mariel Bay, Maceo led a troop of men to rout a marching enemy column in what was to be his last battle in the Province of Pinar del Rio. The battle, under a heavy downpour, resulted in a considerable loss of men. On that stromy day of December 3rd, in midst of heavy rains and powerful winds, Maceo pursued the retreating Spanish forces until they had gone far afield. Camp was established in the only remaining building in the devastated area, in which a pile of human skeletons was discovered. The men turned their backs on the stacks of bones and settled in for the night.
When the storm subsided, three men who had made use of the rebels' small boat located the camp. They brought another packet of letters, and assured Maceo that the crossing was possible in the fragile vessel which had so often slipped across the waters without being challenged. One of the couriers, a rebel officer who came directly from Maximo Gomez's headquarters, in the shadows of the gloomy camp, relayed messages from the old chief; repetitions of his previous statements. The correspondence was set aside to be read by daylight. On the next day, December 4th, the packet was opened. It contained a letter from General Rafael Portuondo, a man greatly respected by Maceo.
Portuondo outlined in detail the unpleasantness, the discord, the ill- will disrupting relations between the chief of the army and the president and their opposition. The writer made clear that the machinations directed against Maximo Gomez and President Salvador Cisneros de Betancourt were beyond his power to untangle, and that the worsening situation required Maceo's presence to extinguish the conflagration caused by the friction of personalities and ambitions, which would, if continued, destroy the revolution. Maceo after reading Portuondo's letter was visibly depressed and withdrew to walk alone. He later returned to say that whatever the cost he must leave immediately.
By mid-afternoon on the 4th, Maceo had selected the men who were to make the trip with him in the small boat, a perilous undertaking since they were a group large enough to require several crossings, increasing their chance of being caught. He assigned combat sectors to the remaining officers, convincing them, as they pleaded to be allowed to leave with him, that they served best by continuing to engage the Spaniards in that overrun province.
At 11 o'clock that night, Maceo decided to make the channel crossing. Accompanying him were General Miro, Brigadier Pedro Diaz; Colonel Alberto Nodarse; Lieutenant Colonels Manuel Piedra and Alfredo Justiz; Captains Nicolas Sauvanell and Ramon Penalvar; Lieutenenat Francisco Gomez y Toro, Maximo Gomez's son; and Lieutenant Jose Urbina. Also included were Dr. Maximo Zertucha, Colonel Charles Gordon, Captain Ramon Ahumada, three assistants to Maceo, an assistant to Miro, another attached to Diaz's staff, plus the three crewmembers. Fourteen men, including Maceo, picked up the boat, placed it on their shoulders, and walked in the mud to their new point of departure. The rest followed in single, silent file, carrying supplies, Maceo's saddle, and oars and a bailer.
The entrance to the channel was carefully explored in the rain, and, as it appeared safe, Maceo, four of his companions and the crew of three entered the boat and rowed toward a pier known as "Gerardo's," which jutted out from the surrounding Spanish fortifications. It belonged to Gerardo Llaneras, one of the crewmen. Two more trips were made to this pier, and another two to the wharf of Jose Gonzalez, a Spaniard who was a partisan of the revolution. By three that morning, the four-hour perilous adventure had ended; the transportation of the rebels accomplished. Exhilirated by the success of the venture, the men grouped safely on the shore reacted by repeatedly congratulating each other, shaking hands, making comments: "Weyler has been outwitted"; "Arolas, commander of the territory, disgraced." They were quieted when their leader called out, "Silence; march!"
Maceo and his men made their way about a league distant to the Garro mill complex, where Perfecto Lacoste and his wife welcomed the weary warrior into their home. The influential Lacostes, appreciated and respected by Maceo, aided the rebel cause with money and personal services, somehow avoiding conflict with the Spanish authorities. Lacoste evaluated the state of public opinion, as he sensed it, particularly in the Havana area, where U.S. Consul Fitzhugh Lee at a recent public affair toasted Maceo for his defiance of the superior Spanish forces.
The general discussion which followed the private conference explored the value of effecting a surprise appearance in a city or town near the capital which would establish Maceo's presence in Weyler's domain, and discredit his "impassable " encirclement. Rebels in sufficient numbers would then converge on the selected site to protect Maceo's entrance. Lacoste assured his listeners that Weyler's prestige was at an all time low, and that the shock which could be anticipated would force the Autonomists out into the open to endorse Cuba's right to total independence. Many of the men identified with the Autonomist Party had secretly contributed to the rebel's war chest, Lacoste added. The sixty-two men gathered there agreed that the plan of a surprise show should be carried out and the details were discussed.
On the night of the 6th, they left their hosts and bivouacked in a demolished mill complex. After a short stay, Maceo decided to continue on to San Pedro de Hernandez, to the camp of a rebel band under Colonel Sanchez Figueras, which had been chosen for him as his new headquarters. The march began before dawn on the tragic day, December 7, 1896. Some movement was noted in the forts of Hoyo Colorado township by Maceo's rear guard. After crossing the inundated areas surrounding the extensive Pastora Lagoon, Maceo and his men entered the San Pedro de Hernandez camp in Punta Brava, the site selected for Maceo's headquarters. Some 450 men came together in answer to Maceo's summons. Some of the units were better equipped than others, an indication of the disparity of individual commands. Maceo responded to the greetings of the new arrivals with warmth and affection.
The site at San Pedro was a rustic farm area, not a war camp. Maceo's disappointment was obvious. It offered no security, no free passage. The area had at some distance a natural stone fence and another side a barbed wire fence which contained cattle in the past, enclosed by a large gate. A solid hedge divided the land, and provided spiney hooks to entangle trespassers who attempted to scale this wild pineapple plant. Since none of these obstacles could be cleared by mounted men, it was a thoughtless choice, devoid of the basic needs of a camp for a leader who expected to engage the enemy.
Discussions of future actions which would depend on the results of the planned surprise appearance in Marianao continued around the resting Maceo. That Weyler had returned to Pinar del Rio Province and was still there was a clear indication that Maceo's escape remained undisclosed and unknown. Thus, Maceo's sudden appearance in Marianao would make the Captain-General appear ridiculous for chasing a prey that had moved into his own backyard.
Suddenly, the hum of conversation was interrupted when Baldomero Acosta and Juan Delgado rushed in, shouting, "Shots are being fired! Shots are being fired into San Pedro!" A Spanish column under General Cirujeda, whose command constantly patrolled the area, had located the camp following the many trails of hoof marks left by the rebels' horses converging on San Pedro. Maceo attempted to lift himself from his hammock, but had to ask for the hand of an assistant to aid him. He voiced self-criticism for the laxity which made the intrusion of the enemy possible. A hail of projectiles struck trees and the supports of his tent as Maceo saddled his horse, mounted, and called for a bugler to sound a machete charge against the intruding army. No bugler responded.
Maceo angrily shouted orders to his disorganized men. Surprise gave the Spaniards the upper hand. What for them began as a routine action to flush out insurgents turned into a three hour devastating rout, culminating in the death of the enemy leader, Maceo. Maceo gave furious battle until a shot in the scorching rifle volley tumbled him from his horse. Another shot hit him as he lay on the ground. Attempts by his men to recover his body failed when intensive fire caused them to retreat. Among the many other rebel casualties was Francisco Gomez. The vanquished rebels returned in the night and recovered Maceo's and young Gomez's bodies, which, though stripped of personal belongings by the Spaniards , had gone unrecognized. With great secrecy, burial took place on a nearby farm.
Confirmation of the Cuban freedom fighter's death was delayed for three days. As soon as the news reached Weyler, he left Pinar del Rio and returned to his palace in Havana. Spaniards in Cuba and in the homeland rejoiced; church bells rang out. For the delirious celebrants, the elimination of the "Bronze Titan" foretold the end of the revolution. For the rebels, plunged in despair, the strongest arm, the most resolute among them, was plucked from their march to sovereignty. The most constant anticolonialist fighter in the struggle for the independence of Cuba no longer lived; the dream of a free Cuba had come to an end.
Copyright 1980 by Magdalen M. Pando
All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 79-93001