About a week after Hobson’s heroic deed, a force of American marines landed at Guantonamo Bay in Cuba, where they had to fight many hours to gain and hold the position they wanted. They defended it bravely, and the bay served as a harbor for the American ships. General Shafter’s army next landed a few miles from Santiago, where he met General Garcia, the famous Cuban leader, who came to help him with a force of determined Cubans.
A plan was then made for the attack on Santiago. It was agreed that while the American and Cuban soldiers closed around it on the land side, our navy should throw shells over the hills and into the city. In carrying out this plan, the Rough Riders—a troop composed of Western cowboys and Eastern athletes—suddenly came upon a strong Spanish force, and a few of them relieved their feelings by swearing. But when their leader shouted, “Don’t swear—shoot.” they ceased misusing their tongues, and used their arms to such good purpose that they completely routed the Spaniards. Advancing farther, our army fought a brisk battle at El Caney, and made a memorable charge up the hill of San Juan.
Having thus become masters of a position overlooking the town, they planted their field cannon. But as they knew their shells would do great damage, all the women, children, and old men were allowed to leave the city and seek a place of safety.
Just before the final shelling of Santiago was to begin, at nine o’clock on Sunday morning, July 3, while our sailors were getting ready for divine service, the men on watch suddenly cried: “Cervera is trying to escape.” It was true; the Spanish fleet was coming out of the channel, which the Merrimac did not block securely, having swung only part way around owing to its disabled rudder.
As soon as the Spanish fleet was sighted, our ships prepared for action, and a few seconds later opened fire and closed in on the enemy. In spite of the running fire which the Spaniards bravely kept up to the very last, their vessels were soon riddled with shot, and, wreathed in flames, they sank or were run ashore to enable some of the men to escape. While one of the ships was sinking, our men started to cheer; but their captain quickly checked them, saying: “Don’t cheer, boys; the poor fellows are dying.” Thus, at the moment of victory, he showed himself generous as well as brave by pitying the enemy.
This second naval victory, which did very little damage to our men or ships, proved a crushing blow to Spain. Admiral Cervera, with all the Spanish sailors who had not been killed, fell into our hands, and his six fine war ships lay battered wrecks on the Cuban shore. Perceiving it would be useless to struggle any longer, Spain recalled her third and last fleet, which was on its way to the Philippines via the Suez Canal, and gave General Toral permission to save Santiago from destruction by immediate surrender.
On July 17, 1898, the American flag floated over Santiago; and seeing there was nothing more to be done there, General Miles set off with part of our army to conquer Puerto Rico. Almost four centuries before, this island had been conquered by Ponce de Leon, who sought there, as well as in Florida, the marvelous Fountain of Youth. He founded San Juan (1511), more than fifty years before the building of St. Augustine, the oldest city on our mainland.