Read CHAPTER IV of Cuba Its Past‚ Present‚ and Future, free online book, by Arthur D. Hall, on

The ten years’ war.

For about fourteen years after 1854, the outbreaks in Cuba were infrequent, and of little or no moment. To all intents and purposes, the island was in a state of tranquility.

In September, 1868, a revolution broke out in the mother country, the result of which was that Queen Isabella was deposed from the throne and forced to flee the country.

This time Cuba did not proclaim her loyalty to the Bourbon dynasty, as she had done some sixty years before. She had learned her lesson. She knew now how Spanish sovereigns rewarded loyalty, and the fall of Isabella, instead of inspiring the Cubans with sympathy, caused them to rush into a revolution, an action which, paradoxical as it may seem, was somewhat precipitate, although long contemplated.

All Cuba had been eagerly looking forward to the inauguration of political reforms, or to an attempt to shake of the pressing yoke of Spain. At first it was thought that the new government would ameliorate the condition of Cuba, and so change affairs that the island might remain contentedly connected with a country of which she had so long formed a part.

But these hopes were soon dissipated, and the advanced party of Cuba at once matured their plans for the liberation of the island from the military despotism of Spain.

A declaration of Cuban independence was issued at Manzanillo in October, 1868, by Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, a lawyer of Bayamo.

This declaration began as follows:

“As Spain has many a time promised us Cubans to respect our rights, without having fulfilled her promises; as she continues to tax us heavily, and by so doing is likely to destroy our wealth; as we are in danger of losing our property, our lives and our honor under further Spanish dominion, therefore, etc., etc.”

Thus was inaugurated what was destined to prove the most protracted and successful attempt at Cuban freedom, up to that time.

It is certain that the grievances of the islanders were many, and this was even recognized to a certain extent in Spain itself.

In a speech delivered by one of the Cuban deputies to the Cortes in 1866 occurs this passage:

“I foresee a catastrophe near at hand, in case Spain persists in remaining deaf to the just reclamations of the Cubans. Look at the old colonies of the American continent. All have ended in conquering their independence. Let Spain not forget the lesson; let the government be just to the colonies that remain. Thus she will consolidate her dominion over people who only aspire to be good sons of a worthy mother, but who are not willing to live as slaves under the sceptre of a tyrant.”

In 1868 the annual revenue exacted from Cuba by Spain was in the neighborhood of twenty-six million dollars; and plans were in progress by which even this great revenue was to be largely increased. Not one penny of this was applied to Cuba’s advantage. On the contrary, it was expended in a manner which was simply maddening to the Cubans.

The officials of the island, be it understood, were invariably Spaniards. The captain-general received a salary of fifty thousand dollars a year; at this time, this sum was twice as much as that paid to the President of the United States. The provincial governors obtained twelve thousand dollars each, while the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba and the Bishop of Havana were paid eighteen thousand dollars apiece. In addition to these large salaries, there were perquisites which probably amounted to as much again.

Even the lowest offices were filled by friends of Spanish politicians. These officials had no sympathy with Cuba, and cared nothing for her welfare, save in so far as they were enabled to fill their own pockets.

The stealing in the custom houses was enormous. It has been estimated at over fifty per cent of the gross receipts. Every possible penny was forced from the native planters under the guise of taxes and also by the most flagrant blackmail.

By a system of differential duties, Spain still managed to retain a monopoly of the trade to Cuba while the colonists were forced to pay the highest possible rates for all they received from the mother country.

The rates of postage were absurdly outrageous. For instance there was an extra charge for delivery. When a native Cuban received a prepaid letter at his own door, he was obliged to pay thirty-seven and a half cents additional postage.

The taxes on flour were so high that wheaten bread ceased to be an article of ordinary diet. The annual consumption of bread in Spain was four hundred pounds for each person, while in Cuba, it was only fifty-three pounds, nine ounces. In fact, all the necessaries of life were burdened with most iniquitous taxation.

Then again there was the interest on the national debt. While the Spaniards paid three dollars and twenty-three cents per capita, six dollars and thirty-nine cents, nearly double, was exacted from the Cubans.

All these were the chief causes of the revolution which began in 1868, and many of them still existed a few years ago and led to the last revolution. By the way, there is but little chance but that it will prove the last, bringing as its consequence, what has been struggled for so long the freedom of Cuba.

The standard of revolt in the Ten Years War, as has been stated, was raised by Carlos Manuel de Cespedes. He was well known as an able lawyer and a wealthy planter. In the very beginning, he was unfortunately forced to take action before he had intended to do so, by reason of news of the projected outbreak reaching the authorities in Havana.

A letter carrier, who from his actions gave rise to suspicions, was detained at Cespedes’ sugar plantation, La Demajagua, and it was found that he was the bearer of an order for the arrest of the conspirators.

With this information, immediate action became necessary. Cespedes deemed it expedient to strike at once, and with only two hundred poorly equipped men, he commenced the campaign at Yara.

This place was defended by a Spanish force too strong for the insurgents. But Cespedes was not long in attracting to himself a most respectable following.

At the end of a few weeks he found himself at the head of fifteen thousand men. The little army, however, was anything but well provided with arms and ammunition. Among them were many of Cespedes’ former slaves whom the general promptly liberated.

Attacks were made on Las Tunas, Cauto Embarcardero, Jiguana, La Guisa, El Datil and Santa Rita, in almost every case victory remaining with the insurgents.

On the 15th of October it was decided to attack Bayamo, an important town of ten thousand inhabitants. On the 18th the town was captured. The governor, with a small body of men, shut himself up in the fort, but a few days after was forced to capitulate.

For the relief of Bayamo, a Spanish force under Colonel Quiros, numbering, besides cavalry and artillery, about eight hundred infantry, started out from Santiago de Cuba, but was defeated and driven back to Santiago with heavy losses.

The Spanish general, Count Valmaseda, was sent from Havana into the insurrectionary district, but was attacked and forced to return, leaving his dead on the field.

Afterwards Valmaseda, who had increased his force to four thousand men, marched on Bayamo. He received a severe check at Saladillo, but eventually succeeded in crossing the Cauto. The Cubans saw the hopelessness of defending the place against such superior numbers, and, rather than have it fall into the hands of the enemy, burned the city.

In December, General Quesada, who afterward played a most prominent part in the war, landed a cargo of arms and took command of the army at Camarguey.

Before the close of the year, Spain, realizing how desperate was to be the struggle, had under arms nearly forty thousand troops which had been sent from Europe, besides twelve thousand guérillas recruited on the island and some forty thousand volunteers organized for the defense of the cities. These latter were in many respects analogous to the National Guard of the United States. They were raised from Spanish immigrants, between whom and the native Cubans have always existed a bitter enmity and jealousy.

In the spring of 1869, the revolutionists drew up a constitution, which provided for a republican form of government, an elective president and vice-president, a cabinet and a single legislative chamber. It also made a declaration in favor of the immediate abolition of slavery. Cespedes was elected president and Francisco Aquilero vice-president.

It is said that at the beginning of the war, before being driven to reprisals, the Cubans behaved with all humanity. They took many Spanish prisoners of war, but paroled them. On the other hand, the Cuban prisoners were treated with the utmost treachery and cruelty. In all parts of the island, no Cuban taken a prisoner of war was spared; to a man they were shot on the spot as so many dogs.

Valmaseda, the Spanish general, in April, 1869, issued the following proclamation, which speaks for itself:

“Inhabitants of the country! The re-enforcements of troops that I have been waiting for have arrived; with them I shall give protection to the good, and punish promptly those that still remain in rebellion against the government of the metropolis.

“You know that I have pardoned those that have fought us with arms; that your wives, mothers and sisters have found in me the unexpected protection that you have refused them. You know, also, that many of those I have pardoned have turned against us again.

“Before such ingratitude, such villainy, it is not possible for me to be the man I have been; there is no longer a place for a falsified neutrality; he that is not for me is against me, and that my soldiers may know how to distinguish, you hear, the orders they carry:

1st. Every man, from the age of fifteen years, upward, found away from his habitation and not proving a justified motive therefor, will be shot.

2d. Every unoccupied habitation will be burned by the troops.

3d. Every habitation from which does not float a white flag, as a signal that its occupants desire peace, will be reduced to ashes.

“Women that are not living at their own homes, or at the house of their relatives, will collect in the town of Jiguana or Bayamo, where maintenance will be provided. Those who do not present themselves will be conducted forcibly.”

The second paragraph was flagrantly untrue. Those who had fought against the Spaniards had not been pardoned. On the contrary, they had been put to death. Fearful atrocities had been committed in Havana and elsewhere. To cite only a few instances: The shooting of men, women and children at the Villanuesa Theatre, at the Louvre, and at the sack of Aldama’s house.

Valmaseda’s proclamation raised a storm of protest from all civilized nations, and the Spaniards, stiff and unbending, never wavered, but the policy embodied in Valmaseda’s proclamation remained their tactics until the end of the war.

The United States was especially roused and disgusted. Secretary Fish, in a letter to Mr. Hale, then Minister to Spain, protested “against the infamous proclamation of general, the Count of Valmaseda.”

Even a Havanese paper is quoted as declaring that,

“Said proclamation does not even reach what is required by the necessities of war in the most civilized nations.”

The revolutionists were victorious in almost every engagement for the first two years, although their losses were by no means inconsiderable.

It has even been acknowledged recently by a representative of Spain to the United States that the greater and better part of the Cubans were in sympathy with the insurrection. This opinion appeared in a statement made by Senor De Lomé (whose reputation among Americans is now somewhat unsavory) in the New York Herald of February 23, 1896.

The Cubans were recognized as belligerents by Chili, Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, Columbia and Mexico.

There were two important expeditions of assistance sent to the Cubans in the early part of the war. One was under the command of Rafael Quesada, and, in addition to men, brought arms and ammunition, of which the insurgents were sadly in need. The other was under General Thomas Jordan, a West Point graduate and an ex-officer in the Confederate service. By the way, the South, with its well-known chivalry, has always evinced warm sympathy for the unfortunate Cubans. To their glory be it spoken and remembered!

Quesada managed to reach the interior without resistance. But Jordan, with only one hundred and seventy-five men, but carrying arms and ammunition for two thousand six hundred men, besides several pieces of artillery, was attacked at Camalito and again at El Ramon; he succeeded in repulsing the enemy and reaching his destination.

Soon after, as General Quesada demanded extraordinary powers, he was deposed by the Cuban congress, and General Jordan was appointed commander-in-chief in his stead.

In August, 1870, the United States government offered to Spain their good offices for a settlement of the strife. Mr. Fish, who was then secretary of State, proposed terms for the cession of the island to the Cubans, but the offer was declined. This is only one of the many times when Spain, in her suicidal policy, has refused to listen to reason.

About this time the volunteers expelled General Dulce, and General de Rodas was sent from Spain to replace him with a re-enforcement of thirty thousand men.

General de Rodas, however, remained in command only about six months, he in his turn being replaced by Valmaseda, again at the dictation of the volunteers.

Speaking of these volunteers, who it will be remembered were recruited from Spanish immigrants and who were peculiarly obnoxious to Cubans of all classes, it will not be out of place to relate here an act of wanton cruelty upon their part.

This took place in the autumn of 1871. One of the volunteers had died, and his body had been placed in a public tomb in Havana. Later it was discovered that the tomb had been defaced, by some inscription placed upon it, no more, no less. Suspicion fell upon the students of the university. The volunteers made a complaint and forty-three of the young students were arrested and tried for the misdemeanor. An officer of the regular Spanish army volunteered to defend them, and through his efforts, they were acquitted.

This verdict did not satisfy the volunteers, however. They demanded and obtained from the captain-general, who was a man of weak character, the convening of another court-martial two-thirds of which was to be composed of volunteers. Was there ever such a burlesque of justice? The accusers and the judges were one and the same persons. Of course, there could be but one result. All the prisoners were found guilty and condemned, eight to be shot, and the others to imprisonment and hard labor.

The day after the court-martial (?) fifteen hundred volunteers turned out under arms and executed the eight boys.

This incident filled the whole of the United States with horror and indignation. The action was censured by the Spanish Cortes, but the matter ended there. No attempt whatever was made to punish the offenders.

The insurgents waged an active warfare until the spring of 1871. They had at that time a force of about fifty thousand men, but they were badly armed and poorly supplied with necessities of all sorts. The resources of the Spaniards were infinitely greater. About this time the Cuban soldiers who had been fighting in the district of Camaguey signified a desire to surrender and cease the conflict, provided their lives were spared. The proposition was accepted. Their commander, General Agramonte refused to yield, and he was left with only about thirty-five men who remained loyal to him. He formed a body of cavalry, and continued fighting for some two years longer, when he was killed on the field of battle.

In January, 1873, the Edinburg Review contained a very strong article on the condition of affairs in Cuba, in the course of which it said:

“It is well known that Spain governs Cuba with an iron and blood-stained hand. The former holds the latter deprived of political, civil and religious liberty. Hence the unfortunate Cubans being illegally prosecuted and sent into exile, or executed by military commissions in time of peace; hence their being kept from public meeting, and forbidden to speak or write on affairs of State; hence their remonstrances against the evils that afflict them being looked on as the proceedings of rebels, from the fact that they are bound to keep silence and obey; hence the never-ending plague of hungry officials from Spain, to devour the product of their industry and labor; hence their exclusion from public stations, and want of opportunity to fit themselves for the art of government; hence the restrictions to which public instruction with them is subjected, in order to keep them so ignorant as not to be able to know and enforce their rights in any shape or form whatever; hence the navy and the standing army, which are kept in their country at an enormous expenditure from their own wealth, to make them bend their knees and submit their necks to the iron yoke that disgraces them; hence the grinding taxation under which they labor, and which would make them all perish in misery but for the marvelous fertility of their soil.”

In July, 1873, Pieltain, then captain-general, sent an envoy to President Cespedes to offer peace on condition that Cuba should remain a state of the Spanish republic, but this offer was declined.

In December of the same year, Cespedes was deposed by the Cuban Congress, and Salvador Cisneros elected in his place. The latter was a scion of the old Spanish nobility who renounced his titles and had his estates confiscated when he joined the revolution. He was and is distinguished for his patriotism, intelligence and nobility of character. It was his daughter, Evangelina Cisneros, who was rescued from the horrors of a Spanish dungeon by Americans, and brought to the United States.

After his retirement, Cespedes was found by the Spaniards, and put to death, according to their usual policy: “Slay and spare not.”

The war dragged on, being more a guerrilla warfare than anything else. The losses were heavy on both sides. There is no data from which to obtain the losses of the Cubans, but the records in the War Office at Madrid show the total deaths in the Spanish land forces for the ten years to have been over eighty thousand. Spain had sent to Cuba one hundred and forty-five thousand men, and her best generals, but while they kept the insurgents in check they were unable to subdue them. The condition of the island was deplorable, her trade had greatly decreased and her crops were ruined.

For years there had been a constant waste of men and money, with no perceptible gain on either side.

By 1878, both parties were heartily weary of the struggle and ready to compromise.

General Martinez de Campos was then in command of the Spanish forces, and he opened negotiations with the Cuban leader, Maximo Gomez, the same who was destined later to attain even more prominence. Gomez listened to what was proposed, and after certain deliberations, terms of peace were concluded in February, 1878, by the treaty of El Zanjón.

This treaty guaranteed Cuba representation in the Spanish Cortes, granted a free pardon to all who had taken part directly or indirectly, in the revolution, and permitted all those who wished to do so to leave the island.

At first glance these terms seem fair. But, as we shall see later, Spain in this case as in all others was true to herself, that is, false to every promise she made.