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Private Correspondence from the Fight for Guantanamo Bay

by A.B. Feuer

On June 17, 1898, Private Henry Schrieder was a member of a scouting patrol that captured a Spanish messenger attempting to reach Santiago. The Spaniard was carrying a letter from General Felix Pareja to General Arsenio Linares at the Santiago garrison. A handwritten translation of the letter appears on Schrieder’s diary and reads in part:

“Excellent sir. On the tenth of the month, American ships fired grapeshot and all kinds of projectiles on Fisherman’s Point and the Toro Cays. The harbor pilot’s village was burned and the point occupied. We could do nothing. Our defenses had only two muzzle loading guns and sand entrenchments. With warships firing on them from all sides, our soldiers withdrew to Cuzco where they remain today making sorties against the enemy. One hundred and fifty men of my division are positioned on Punta Carcolos, observing the movement of ships and the transfer of water material. I remain in Caimanera and only send messages to Santiago when I think it is necessary, like today.

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“Yesterday, in an attempt to impede the Americans, the batteries at Toro Cay attacked the enemy. Our guns, however, were hindered by their short range. The Sandoval is operating in the center of the channel, but it only has seven torpedoes. The Fort Caimanera batteries are holding their fire until the American ships enter the inner harbor.

“The enemy squadron has taken possession of the outer bay and is using it as a refuge. Their ships have anchored as if in one of their own ports. They have cut all our cables of communication.

“Despite the present situation, my men are in good spirits. I continue serving half-rations of everything, but, even so, I only expect provisions to last until the end of the month. My main concern is bread. We have no flour of any kind, an no way of getting some. Quinine for the hospital is also in short supply. I have had to confiscate it from private drugstores, and still only have enough to carry us for a few weeks.

“The cable house, although riddled with shells, still stands. If the Americans abandon the bay—which I doubt—everything will be done to reestablish communications. Today, there is in the harbor, a large armored vessel, seven smaller ships, and a collier. Armed steam-launches patrol Fisherman’s Point.”

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