San Juan Hill

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San Juan Hill, Battle of (1898).Probably the best known U.S. battle in Cuba during the Spanish‐American War because of the media coverage of Theodore Roosevelt, the Battle of “San Juan Hill” is more accurately the Battle of San Juan Heights, and Roosevelt's famous charge occurred on nearby Kettle Hill.

On 1 July 1898, the U.S. Expeditionary Forces under Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter assaulted the Spanish defenses of Santiago, where the Spanish squadron lay protected in the harbor. After sending one division to attack Spanish fortifications at El Caney on his right flank, Shafter ordered the Fifth Corps to attack San Juan Heights, where Gen. Arsenio Linares had established a forward defensive line 4,000 yards long anchored on San Juan Hill, the largest elevation in the area.

In the difficult terrain below the heights, U.S. troop concentrations, located by their artillery's smoke and their observation balloon, came under Spanish fire. The main attack finally began at 1:00 P.M. The key to the assault on San Juan Hill by a U.S. infantry division was the effective fire of a battery of three Gatling (machine) guns that swept the summit and forced most of the Spanish defenders to flee as the infantry in some disarray secured the heights.

To the right, meanwhile, elements of a dismounted cavalry division moved against Kettle Hill. Without benefit of artillery or the Gatling gun, and in the face of heavy enemy fire, the dismounted troopers of two regular army cavalry regiments, the First and the Ninth (the latter one of the army's black regiments), and the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, moved up the slopes and drove the Spanish soldiers from the entrenchments at the top.

Although U.S. Army regulars provided the bulk of the force, the press and the American public focused primarily on the exploits of Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, a New York politician, and his First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, a group of western cowboys and eastern elites known as the “Rough Riders.”

In the fighting of 1 July, the U.S. attacking forces sustained 205 killed and 1,180 wounded, the Spanish defenders 215 killed and 376 wounded. Because of the casualties, Shafter did not assault the next and primary Spanish defensive line, but the Spanish governor general ordered the squadron out of the harbor, where it was destroyed on 3 July by waiting U.S. naval forces. Santiago surrendered on 17 July 1898.
[See also Colored Troops, U.S., Cuba, U.S. Military Involvement in; Santiago, Battle of.]

Bibliography

David F. Trask , The War with Spain in 1898, 1981.
Paul H. Carlson , “Pecos Bill”: A Military Biography of William R. Shafter, 1989.
Michael L. Collins , That Damned Cowboy, 1989.

David F. Trask

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Kettle Hill, Battle of. See San Juan Hill, Battle of (1898).