ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
The fleet of transports got under way June 14, and sailed for Cuba, convoyed by warships which took position to the front, flanks, and rear. The transports were not well adapted to carrying stock and this caused much suffering on some of the boats for lack of ventilation. The convoy arrived off Santiago, Cuba, June 20, and the landing of the troops began on the 22nd at Daiquiri, while the navy shelled the coast from Aquadores to Daiquiri. The troops were landed in surf boats but there were no facilities for putting horses ashore. In some cases platforms were built extending from gangways and horses forced on to them and then slid into the water, while another method was to push the horses bodily overboard. Men in rowboats stood by and after the horses were in the water, towed them as near as possible to the shore and turned them loose.
The squadron was directed on June 23 to accompany Bates’ brigade, consisting of the Third and Twentieth Infantry, to Siboney, which was about five miles west in the direction of Santiago. Troops A and C complied with the order, as the other two troops were not yet landed. Orders were received the next day to attach the squadron to corps headquarters and the two troops now at Siboney marched back to Daiquiri, where they joined the other two.
Troop D was assigned to the Second Division, commanded by General Lawton, on June 30 when the advance of the army began. On this date it escorted Capron’s battery to a position southeast of El Caney and bivouacked with it that night.
On July 1 the squadron (less D Troop) reported to General Shafter’s headquarters. At 9:00 a.m. Lieutenant Pope, with a detachment of Troop A, was ordered to secure a wagon-load of ammunition and take it to Grimes’ battery at El Poso. Later, Troop A gathered stragglers on the road to El Poso and returned them to their organizations. In the afternoon this troop escorted Parkhurst’s battery to the front and during this time was under fire from the Spanish lines. After the battery went into action, the troop formed a skirmish line as a support in connection with Troop C and remained in this position under heavy fire until nightfall, when it started back to Corps Headquarters. At El Poso it was ordered to escort Grimes’ battery to the front and upon completion of the duty reached headquarters after midnight.
Troop C was stationed to the right of Grimes’ battery early on the morning of July 1. At the same time part of the troop was used as couriers. Later in the morning a detachment under Lieutenant Christian was employed in escorting ammunition trains and in gathering stragglers. In the afternoon a detachment of the troop under Lieutenant Clark escorted Best’s battery to a position south of San Juan Hill. The horses were placed behind a hill and the men formed a skirmish line in support of the battery. Before sundown the battery changed position and the detachment remained with it on outpost duty all night. The remainder of the troop returned to General Shafter’s headquarters.
Lieutenant H. T. Allen held Troop D at the headquarters of General Lawton during the fight at El Caney on July 1, rendering such service as called for. Most of the day was spent in accompanying staff officers as escort to various parts of the line and in carrying messages, during which time the men were under fire a great deal. After the capture of El Caney, the troop proceeded to the stone fort and the village, where it received Spanish prisoners and wounded, and also buried the Spanish dead. The night was spent at General Lawton’s headquarters at the Du Curot house.
Early on the morning of July 1, Lieutenant L. M. Brett took a portion of Troop F and reported to General Lawton with a message from General Shafter. Soon after returning to Corps Headquarters, that same officer escorted a load of ammunition to General Lawton’s command. This portion of the troop remained with Lawton the rest of the day as an escort. The other part of the troop, under Lieutenant Kochersperger, was used at general headquarters carrying messages to the front and in escorting ammunition to the troops. While doing these duties the men were often under heavy fire from the Spaniards. Lieutenant Brett asked permission to have Troops D and F join in the final assault on El Caney but was told by General Lawton they were needed for other duties. Troop F was used during the night to administer to the wounded. In this task the troopers carried the helpless, built shelter, and provided food as assistants to the medical offices.
During most of July 2, Troops A and C were employed in caring for the wounded. Troop A transported them in wagons from the field hospital at El Caney to the division hospital at Corps Headquarters, while Troop C constructed shelters for them at this place. Part of the latter unit escorted Best’s battery during the morning from San Juan Hill to a new position at El Poso. In the afternoon Troop C took 154 Spanish prisoners to Siboney, and after turning them over, returned to camp, a distance of sixteen miles.
It was originally thought by General Shafter that it would take only two hours for Lawton’s division to capture El Caney on July 1. The other two divisions had orders to march to the vicinity of San Juan, and before attacking that place, await the fall of El Caney. General Lawton was then to bring his division south to form on the right of the other two divisions. Actually, it took all day for the Second Division to capture El Caney, and in the meantime the attack was started on San Juan by the other two divisions. Although El Caney was captured before dark on the 1st, no attempt was made by Lawton to reconnoiter the new position during daylight. That commander has been criticized for not sending Troop F, under Lieutenant Brett, at once to take a look for routes of march to San Juan.
After encountering hostile fire on the way south, Lawton halted and reported the situation to Corps Headquarters. General Shafter directed him to proceed to the right of the line as originally ordered. The route selected was via Corps Headquarters at El Poso. Troop D headed the march over bad roads in utter darkness, and after daylight was under heavy artillery fire from the Spaniards. Later in the morning of July 2 the troop was used to conduct a Cuban regiment to the firing line. As the natives were not anxious to face the enemy fire, the cavalrymen were stationed along the whole length of the regiment to prevent the men from taking refuge in the bushes. The troop later returned to General Lawton’s headquarters, which was behind a hill but continually under fire of the enemy.
Early in the morning of July 2 Troop F, under Lieutenant Brett, was used as an escort to conduct General Shafter to El Poso Hill, where it remained most of the day performing mounted messenger service. In the late afternoon the troop was used to drive back stragglers from the front lines to their regiments.
General Shafter sent a message to the Spaniards on July 3, demanding surrender. Early on this same day Troop D, under Lieutenant Allen, escorted General Lawton to the headquarters of the insurgent general, Garcia. Soon after reaching there, word came that the Spanish fleet was leaving Santiago Harbor. Lieutenant Allen took the news of this momentous event at once to General Shafter, this being the first word he had of what was happening to the fleet. Later this was verified from Siboney, when the announcement came of the sinking of the Spanish fleet. Troop A was ordered on this same day to Siboney to escort Admiral Sampson to General Shafter’s headquarters. The Admiral in the meantime got word of the Spanish fleet leaving Santiago, and of course did not come ashore. Troop A returned to camp after reaching Siboney.
The squadron was on a variety of duties during the remainder of the month. Troop F was permanently detailed on provost duty but in addition was sent on reconnaissance missions to discover the location and intentions of the enemy. Troops A and C were frequently used on the right of the army to reconnoiter for new trails and to watch the Spaniards in this sector.
After the demand made upon the Spaniards to surrender on July 3, they agreed to an armistice. During the next few days negotiations went back and forth between the two armies without result. Disease was taking toll of so many of the Americans that General Shafter terminated the armistice on July 10 and firing commenced at once.
During the armistice the women and children of Santiago were sent through the American lines to El Caney. A desperate situation was created here, as there were 22,000 refugees in a town with normally a few hundred people. Troop D, under Lieutenant Allen, was detailed to the unpleasant task of feeding the people and policing the place. Although this work took the troop away from the firing line, the task was a very important one. It was the first work of this kind engaged in by the army during the campaign but was to be continued on a large scale throughout the island for several years.
Firing ceased the next day and negotiations again were resumed for an unconditional surrender. After the arrival of General Miles, the Commander of the American Armies, from Washington, the Spaniards laid down their arms. When the final surrender of the city took place July 17, Troops A, C, and F acted as an escort for the general in the ceremonies of that occasion. On July 18, a detail from Troop A carried the flag to Morro Castle at the entrance of Santiago Bay. General McClernand [2d Cavalry 1870-1901] has this to say of these troops: “Captain Brett with 100 mounted troopers of the Second Cavalry, looking unusually smart considering what they had passed through, appeared for us, and General Toral with a number of officers and 100 infantry of the Spanish army.”
Troops A and C were now detailed on the delicate duty of acting as escort for the American and Spanish commissioners to receive the surrender of the garrisons of the surrounding towns. The column had also attached to it a pack train lately surrendered from the Spaniards, with Spanish prisoners in charge. As the column approached a garrison a white cloth was attached to a guidon and General Toral’s envoy proceeded into the lines to inform his comrades of the state of affairs and the instructions to surrender. This procedure was followed at each town, and though some of the garrisons doubted the authenticity of the envoy, they were finally convinced without bloodshed. Troop A returned to the squadron camp at San Juan August 5 and Troop C returned there August 15.
As sickness had taken such a toll of the men of the squadron, it received orders to sail for the United States. The troops were put aboard August 22 and the transport sailed the next day. Upon arrival in New York the squadron joined their comrades from the rest of the regiment at Camp Wikoff, Long Island.