Calixto García

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Calixto García

Letter of protest to U.S. general William R. Shafter, July 17, 1898

Reprinted from The Spanish-Cuban-American War
and the Birth of American Imperialism, by Philip S. Foner

Published in 1972

"I was neither honored, sir, with a kind word from you inviting me or any officer of my staff to represent the Cuban army on that memorable occasion."

When the United States declared war on Spain in April 1898, rebels in Cuba already had been fighting for independence from Spain over the previous three years. By intervening, the United States intended to end the revolution, which was hurting American business with the colony. In a show of good faith toward Cuba, the U.S. Congress approved the Teller Amendment, in which the United States promised to leave Cuba to the Cubans after a victory over Spain.

On April 9, 1898, U.S. war secretary Russell A. Alger (1836-1907) and U.S. Army general Nelson A. Miles (1839-1925) sent Lieutenant Andrew S. Rowan on a mission to meet with Cuban general Calixto García (1839-1898). García was in charge of the Cuban Liberating Army's troops in the southeastern province of Oriente. García gave Rowan maps and military data to take back to Alger and Miles. In a letter to Alger, García said he would be happy to coordinate the war effort with the United States. By May 12, the Republic of Cuba had ordered García and the Liberating Army not only to cooperate with the U.S. Army, but also to obey the orders of its commander in Cuba, William R. Shafter (1835-1906; see entry in Biographies section).

Shafter's troops arrived in Cuba on June 22, 1898. Under protection from García's army, the American soldiers landed at Daiquirí, twelve miles east of the Spanish stronghold at Santiago de Cuba. Shafter's plan was to march his troops to attack Spain at Santiago, where the U.S. Navy had trapped a Spanish fleet in the harbor.

Shafter's Fifth Army Corps and the Cuban rebels accomplished this task over the next few weeks, forcing Spanish general José Torál to surrender at Santiago on July 17, 1898. In a report on the effort, General Miles noted the valuable role played by García's troops in keeping Spanish reinforcements away from the city, as reprinted by Philip S. Foner in The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism:

It will be observed that Gen. Garcia regarded my requests as his orders, and promptly took steps to execute the plan of operations. He sent 3,000 men to check any movement of the 12,000 Spaniards stationed at Holguin. A portion of this latter force started to the relief of the garrison at Santiago, but was successfully checked and turned back by the Cuban forces under Gen. Feria. General Garcia also sent 2,000 men, under Perez, to oppose the 6,000 Spaniards at Guantánamo, and they were successful in their object. He also sent 1,000 men, under General Rios, against 6,000 men at Manzanillo. Of this garrison, 3,500 started to reinforce the garrison at Santiago, and were engaged in no less than 30 combats with the Cubans on their way before reaching Santiago, and would have been stopped had Gen. Garcia's request of June 27 been granted.

In spite of the hard work of the Cuban rebels, Shafter excluded them from negotiations for the surrender of Santiago and did not invite García to the surrender ceremonies on July 17. Then, at the direction of U.S. president William McKinley (1843-1901; served 1897-1901; see entry in Biographies section), Shafter allowed the Spanish authorities to remain in charge in Santiago until the United States could set up a military government to control the area. Despite the Teller Amendment, it looked like the United States was not going to be quick in putting Cubans in control of their own country.

These events led García to resign from the Liberating Army on July 17, 1898. In a letter to his General-in-Chief, Máximo Gómez y Báez (1836-1905; see entry in Biographies section), García explained that resignation was the only way he could protest America's insults without disobeying his orders to follow Shafter's commands. That same day, García sent a letter to Shafter criticizing America's disrespectful treatment of the Liberating Army.

Things to remember while reading the letter from Cuban general Calixto García to U.S. general William R. Shafter on July 17, 1898:

  • Two days before General Toral surrendered at Santiago, General Shafter sent a telegram to Washington, D.C., acknowledging the key role played by García's troops, as reprinted by Foner: "I do not believe that Toral is trying to gain time in hopes of getting reinforcement. Cubans have forces in vicinity of all Spanish troops."
  • In spite of their promise to give Cuba to the Cubans, many Americans wrongly believed the Cubans were savages, incapable of self-government. Racism was largely responsible for such attitudes, as over half of Cubans were black.

Letter of protest from Cuban general Calixto García to U.S. general William R. Shafter on July 17, 1898

Sir: On May 12 the government of the Republic of Cuba ordered me, as commander of the Cuban army in the east, to cooperate with the American army following the plans and obeying the orders of its commander. I have done my best, sir, to fulfill the wishes of my government, and I have been until now one of your most faithful subordinates, honoring myself in carrying out your orders as far as my powers have allowed me to do it.

The city of Santiago surrendered to the American army, and news of that important event was given to me by persons entirelyforeign to your staff. I have not been honored with a single word from yourself informing me about the negotiations for peace or the terms of the capitulation by the Spaniards. The important ceremony of the surrender of the Spanish army and the taking possession of the city by yourself took place later on, and I only knew of both events by public reports.

I was neither honored, sir, with a kind word from you inviting me or any officer of my staff to represent the Cuban army on that memorable occasion.

Finally, I know that you have left in power in Santiago the same Spanish authorities that for three years I have fought as enemies of the independence of Cuba. I beg to say that these authorities have never been elected at Santiago by the residents of the city; but were appointed by royal decrees of the Queen of Spain.

I would agree, sir, that the army under your command should have taken possession of the city, the garrison and the forts.

I would have given my warm cooperation to any measure you may have deemed best under American military law to hold the city for your army and to preserve public order until the time comes to fulfill the solemn pledge of the people of the United States to establish in Cuba a free and independent government. But when the question arises of appointing authorities in Santiago de Cuba under the special circumstances of our thirty years strife against Spanish rule, I cannot see but with the deepest regret that such authorities are not elected by the Cuban people, but are the same ones selected by the Queen of Spain, and hence are ministers appointed to defend Spanish sovereignty against the Cubans.

A rumor, too absurd to be believed, General, describes the reason of your measures and of the orders forbidding my army to enter Santiago for fear of massacres and revenge against the Spaniards. Allow me, sir, to protest against even the shadow of such an idea. We are not savages ignoring the rules of civilized warfare. We are a poor, ragged army as ragged and poor as was the army of your forefathers in their noble war for independence, but like the heroes of Saratoga and Yorktown, we respect our cause too deeply to disgrace it with barbarism and cowardice.

In view of all these reasons, I sincerely regret being unable to fulfill any longer the orders of my government, and, therefore, I have tendered today to the commander-in-chief of the Cuban army, Maj.Gen. Máximo Gómez, my resignation as commander of this section of our army.

Awaiting his resolution, I have retired with all my forces to Jiguaní.

I am respectfully yours,

Calixto García, Major General

What happened next…

American papers printed García's letter about one week later. According to Foner, newspaper editorials generally agreed that Shafter should have treated García and the Cuban rebels with more respect. In fact, the letter created such a disturbance that Shafter had to explain his conduct to officials in Washington, D.C. Instead of swallowing his pride, Shafter accused García of expecting to get control of the whole city of Santiago.

Before leaving Santiago, García urged members of the Liberating Army to maintain peace and good order to demonstrate their capability for self-government. He also drew up plans for Cubans to elect mayors and councils for governing Cuban cities and towns. The plans called for voting rights for all people over twenty-one years of age, regardless of race or gender.

Continuing its disrespect for Cuban independence, the United States rejected García's plans. According to Foner, in a dispatch to Washington, D.C., on August 16, 1898, Shafter said that America must have full control over the Cubans. Over the next few months, the United States worked to put its own military government in charge on the island. Cuba did not get its independence until 1902. Even then, the American authorities forced Cuba to include provisions in its constitution giving the United States the right to intervene in Cuba's domestic and foreign affairs.

García did not live to see his country govern itself. In December 1898, he headed a Cuban commission sent to meet with the McKinley administration. The commission intended to negotiate a monetary payment for disbanding the Liberating Army. (After the war ended, the United States had smoothed relations with García by giving him a hero's welcome in Santiago on September 23.) During the visit to Washington, D.C., Senator John T. Morgan told the Cubans that the United States would control their country with a military government until America thought it was time to leave, regardless of the commitment to Cuban independence as described in the Teller Amendment.

In an undated letter to Senator Morgan signed by García, the Cuban commission argued strongly that the Teller Amendment obligated the United States to act according to Cuba's wishes for immediate self-government. Shortly after writing that letter, García contracted pneumonia and died in Washington, D.C., on December 11, 1898.

Did you know…

• Even after Spain surrendered at Santiago de Cuba on July 17, 1898, large numbers of Cubans, Spaniards, and Americans continued to die there. Disease and starvation were the common enemies. At the time of the Spanish surrender, fifteen thousand of Santiago's fifty thousand residents were sick. Smallpox and yellow fever were the most serious diseases. Limited food supplies and dirty, crowded conditions threatened life throughout the city, where two hundred people died each day during the hot summer months in 1898.

For More Information

Foner, Philip S. The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.

Golay, Michael. The Spanish-American War. New York: Facts on File, 1995.