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Cuba in War Time
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Pages (PDF): 52
Publication Date: 1897
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Dispatched by William Randolph Hearst to cover the guerilla war in Cuba for Hearst's newspaper the New York Journal, Richard Harding Davis filed dramatic reports that may have brought the United States into the conflict, launching the Spanish-American War. A truly interesting account of war-torn Cuba.
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When the revolution broke out in Cuba two years ago, the Spaniards at once began to build tiny forts, and continued to add to these and improve those already built, until now the whole island, which is eight hundred miles long and averages eighty miles in width, is studded as thickly with these little forts as is the sole of a brogan with iron nails. It is necessary to keep the fact of the existence of these forts in mind in order to understand the situation in Cuba at the present time, as they illustrate the Spanish plan of campaign, and explain why the war has dragged on for so long, and why it may continue indefinitely.
The last revolution was organized by the aristocrats; the present one is a revolution of the puebleo, and, while the principal Cuban families are again among the leaders, with them now are the representatives of the "plain people," and the cause is now a common cause in working for the success of which all classes of Cubans are desperately in earnest. The outbreak of this revolution was hastened by an offer from Spain to make certain reforms in the internal government of the island. The old revolutionary leaders, fearing that the promise of these reforms might satisfy the Cubans, and that they would cease to hope for complete independence, started the revolt, and asked all loyal Cubans not to accept the so-called reforms when, by fighting, they might obtain their freedom. Another cause which precipitated the revolution was the financial depression which existed all over the island in 1894, and the closing of the sugar mills in consequence. Owing to the lack of money with which to pay the laborers, the grinding of the sugar cane ceased, and the men were turned off by the hundreds, and, for want of something better to do, joined the insurgents. Some planters believe that had Spain loaned them sufficient money with which to continue grinding, the men would have remained on the centrals, as the machine shops and residence of a sugar plantation are called, and that so few would have gone into the field against Spain that the insurrection could have been put down before it had gained headway. An advance to the sugar planters of five millions of dollars then, so they say, would have saved Spain the outlay of many hundreds of millions spent later in supporting an army in the field. That may or may not be true, and it is not important now, for Spain did not attack the insurgents in that way, but began hastily to build forts. These forts now stretch all over the island, some in straight lines, some in circles, and some zig-zagging from hill-top to hill-top, some within a quarter of a mile of the next, and others so near that the sentries can toss a cartridge from one to the other.
The island is divided into two great military camps, one situated within the forts, and the other scattered over the fields and mountains outside of them. The Spaniards have absolute control over everything within the fortified places; that is, in all cities, towns, seaports, and along the lines of the railroad; the insurgents are in possession of all the rest. They are not in fixed possession, but they have control much as a mad bull may be said to have control of a ten-acre lot when he goes on the rampage. Some farmer may hold a legal right to the ten-acre lot, through title deeds or in the shape of a mortgage, and the bull may occupy but one part of it at a time, but he has possession, which is better than the law.
It is difficult to imagine a line drawn so closely, not about one city or town, but around every city and town in Cuba, that no one can pass the line from either the outside or the inside. The Spaniards, however, have succeeded in effecting and maintaining a blockade of that kind.
They have placed forts next to the rows of houses or huts on the outskirts of each town, within a hundred yards of one another, and outside of this circle is another circle, and beyond that, on every high piece of ground, are still more of these little square forts, which are not much larger than the signal stations along the lines of our railroads and not unlike them in appearance. No one can cross the line of the forts without a pass, nor enter from the country beyond them without an order showing from what place he comes, at what time he left that place, and that he had permission from the commandante to leave it.
A stranger in any city in Cuba to-day is virtually in a prison, and is as isolated from the rest of the world as though he were on a desert island or a floating ship of war. When he wishes to depart he is free to do so, but he cannot leave on foot nor on horseback. He must make his departure on a railroad train, of which seldom more than two leave any town in twenty-four hours, one going east and the other west. From Havana a number of trains depart daily in different directions, but once outside of Havana, there is only one train back to it again. When on the cars you are still in the presence and under the care of Spanish soldiers, and the progress of the train is closely guarded.
A pilot engine precedes it at a distance of one hundred yards to test the rails and pick up dynamite bombs, and in front of it is a car covered with armor plate, with slits in the sides like those in a letter box, through which the soldiers may fire. There are generally from twenty to fifty soldiers in each armored car. Back of the armored car is a flat car loaded with ties, girders and rails, which are used to repair bridges or those portions of the track that may have been blown up by the insurgents. Wherever a track crosses a bridge there are two forts, one at each end of the bridge, and also at almost every cross-road.
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