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Battle of El Caney

Battle of El Caney
Part of the Spanish–American War

"The Capture of El Caney" by Howard Chandler Christy
Date July 1, 1898
Location El Caney, Cuba
Result American-Cuban victory
United States
Republic of Cuba
Kingdom of Spain
Commanders and leaders
Henry W. Lawton Joaquín Vara del Rey y Rubio 
6,653 Americans[1]
3,000 Cubans[2]:134
520 regulars[1]
≈100 irregulars[3]
Casualties and losses
81 killed
360 wounded[2]:137
38 killed, 138 wounded and 160 captured[1]

The Battle of El Caney was fought on 1 July 1898, during the Spanish–American War in southeastern Cuba. Lawton succeeded in capturing the town, fort and blockhouses and protected the right flank of the main American attack on the Heights of San Juan to the south.[2]:131


  • Background 1
  • Battle 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Sources 6
  • External links 7


At El Caney, Cuba, 514 Spanish regular soldiers, together with approximately 100 armed Spanish and Cubans loyal to Spain[3] under the command of General Joaquín Vara del Rey y Rubio were instructed to hold the northwest flank of Santiago against the American 2nd Division, Fifth Army Corps commanded by Brigadier General Henry Ware Lawton.


Although the Spanish defenders had no machine guns, they were well equipped with modern smokeless powder rifles and a battery of two modern breech-loading 80mm mountain howitzers (Cañón de 8 cm Plasencia Modelo 1874, designed by Colonel Plasencia of the Spanish Army) that also utilized smokeless ammunition. The Spanish regular infantry was armed with fast-firing M1893 7mm Mauser rifles, while the loyalists were equipped with single-shot Remington Rolling Block rifles in .43 Spanish (also using smokeless powder).[4][5] Denied promised reinforcements from Santiago, Vara de Rey and his forces held over 6,000 Americans from their position for nearly twelve hours before retreating, preventing General Lawton's men from reinforcing the U.S. assault on San Juan Hill.

Some of the American forces were hindered by their equipment; in the case of the 2nd Massachusetts, the men were equipped with antiquated black-powder single-shot .45-70 Springfield rifles. According to Frederick E. Pierce, a trooper of the 2nd Massachusetts, the Americans "received such a shower of bullets that it seemed at one time as if the company must be wiped out of existence."[6] Because of this unequal contest, the 2nd Massachusetts was later taken out of the line and replaced with troops armed with more modern weapons.[7]

The American forces also lacked effective support fire, as the single Gatling Gun Detachment had been sent to support the troops assaulting San Juan heights. General Lawton's artillery support consisted of a single battery of four 3.2-inch (80mm) Model 1885 Hotchkiss Field Guns—light breech-loading rifled cannon using black-powder ammunition.[8] The relatively short range of the American gun battery—together with the signature cloud of black smoke generated with each volley—forced gun crews to endure a fusillade of Mauser rifle fire from the Spanish defenders. General Lawton's initial decision to continually shift the battery's fire to multiple targets resulted in minimal effect on the Spanish strongpoints.[9] Continued assaults took a heavy toll of the attackers. During the fighting, General Vara del Rey was wounded in both legs and was captured by American troops.[10] While being evacuated on a stretcher, Vara del Rey and his American escorts came under intense Spanish fire, killing the stretcher bearers and several American officers accompanying the group.[10] A new set of stretcher bearers arrived, but a loyalist .43 Remington bullet then hit Vara del Rey in the head, killing him.[10] With no one to evacuate, the stretcher bearers left the body on the field.[10] His body was later found after the battle by a group of Spanish officers sent to locate him, and he was buried nearby.[10] Despite Vara del Rey's death, Spanish resistance continued.

After an initial repulse, Lawton ordered his battery of four 3.2-inch guns, commanded by Capt. Allyn Capron, to concentrate fire on the El Viso strongpoint in the Spanish defenses.[11] Capron's guns successfully breached the strongpoint walls at a range of 1,000 yards. An attack was then launched by two U.S. infantry regiments, the 12th and the 25th, and after a bloody firefight, El Viso was captured.[11] Private T. C. Butler, Company H, 25th Infantry, was the first man to enter the blockhouse at El Caney, and took possession of the Spanish colors. Once El Viso was taken, the U.S. battery reduced each Spanish strongpoint in turn.[11] The fighting ended about 5:00pm with the withdrawal of the Spanish troops.[11]


Though eventually successful, the attack on the fortifications of El Caney had proved to be of little real value. The attack on two strongly defended points at both El Caney and San Juan diluted the strength of American forces, resulting in delays and additional casualties.

About 185 Spanish escaped to the north, but Vara del Rey, his two sons, and his brother perished.[2]:137 One of the Spanish wounded was Colonel Salvador Diaz Ordóñez, who commanded the Spanish artillery and was the designer of the Ordóñez guns that the Spanish used as coastal artillery in Cuba.

Approximately 400–600 of the retreating Spanish defenders at El Caney later participated in a hastily-organized counterattack against troopers of the U.S. 3rd Cavalry and the 1st Volunteer Cavalry atop Kettle Hill.[12] After closing to within 200 yards of Kettle Hill, they were taken under fire at a range of 600 yards by a single ten-barrel .30 Gatling Gun atop San Juan Hill manned by Sgt. Green of the Gatling Gun Detachment.[12] According to Spanish commanders captured after the battle, all but 40 of the 600 attacking Spanish troops were killed by the Gatling gun fire.[13]

General Vara del Rey's body was relocated where it had been buried and was exhumed five months after the battle by a Spanish commission.[10] The commission members were accompanied by Cuban Captain Alberto Plochet and a sergeant, who recognized the general by his insignia, his long beard, and an enormous Remington bullet hole in his skull.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Micheal Clodfelter, Warfare and Armed Conflict: A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1500–2000, page 286.
  2. ^ a b c d Nofi, A.A., 1996, The Spanish–American War, 1898, Pennsylvania: Combined Books, ISBN 0938289578
  3. ^ a b Ossad, Steven L., Henry Ware Lawton: Flawed Giant and Hero of Four Wars, Army History (Winter 2007), p. 13
  4. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore, "The Rough Riders", Scribner's Magazine, Vol. 25 (January–June), New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 572
  5. ^ Tucker, Spencer C., The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO Press (2009), p. 840
  6. ^ Nofi, Albert A., From ‘Dagoes’ to ‘Nervy Spaniards’: American Soldiers’ Views of their Opponents, 1898, On War and Warfare.
  7. ^ Dierks, Jack, A Leap to Arms: The Cuban Campaign of 1898, Philadelphia PA: J.B. Lippincott Company (1970), p. 103
  8. ^ Gilman, Daniel, Peck, Harry, et al. (ed.), The New International Encyclopedia: Artillery, Vol. II, New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. (1902), p. 71
  9. ^ Tucker, Spencer C., The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO Press (2009), p. 200
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Castellanos Garcia, Gerardo, Tierras y Glorias de Oriente, Editorial Hermes Havana (1927) pp. 334–337
  11. ^ a b c d Tucker, p. 200
  12. ^ a b Parker, John H. (Lt.), The Gatlings At Santiago, Middlesex, UK: Echo Library (reprinted 2006), pp. 59–61
  13. ^ Parker, John H. (Lt.), The Gatlings At Santiago, pp. 59–61: Capt. Henry Marcotte, U.S. Army (ret.), correspondent of the Army and Navy Journal who accompanied the Gatling Gun Detachment, stated that Spanish officers in charge of the counter-attack against Kettle Hill told him that the enemy consisted of about 600 troops who had withdrawn from El Caney, and whose attack was repulsed by machine gun fire so effective that only forty troops ever got back to Santiago, the rest being killed.


  • Carrasco García, Antonio, En Guerra con Los Estados Unidos: Cuba, 1898, Madrid: 1998
  • Dierks, Jack, A Leap to Arms: The Cuban Campaign of 1898, Philadelphia PA: J.B. Lippincott Company (1970)
  • Parker, John H. (Lt.), The Gatlings At Santiago, Middlesex, UK: Echo Library (reprinted 2006)

External links

  • Spanish-American War Centennial website
  • History of Negro soldiers in the Spanish-American War, and other items of interest, by Edward Augustus Johnston, published 1899, hosted by the Portal to Texas History. Features illustrations and information about the Battle of El Caney.

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