Expedition to Cuba
TALLAHASSEE, June 7, 1850.
Editor Tallahassee Sentinel:
Sir--On leaving Key West some eight days ago, to return home, I was authorized by Col. O'Hara, Lt. Col. Picket, and other officers of the Kentucky regiment engaged in the late Cuban expedition, to correct, on their behalf, any misrepresentations that might appear relative to our embarking in the affair; and to give the unvarnished facts touching the conduct of the American soldiers engaged in it. Through your kind indulgence, I hasten to do so, as I have already noticed in different accounts many great mistakes, and some gross misrepresentations. The latter particularly in the Savannah Georgian, the editor of which says he obtained his information in an interview with General Lopez.
I will first briefly state the reasons why we engaged in the expedition, and why we abandoned it after so signal a victory at Cardenas.
We wish our motives and conduct to be fully understood, that our countrymen may appreciate the one and justify the other; our deeds are before them, and, with a proper commentary, we are willing to submit the decision of those from whom we inherited the spirit which impelled us in the adventure that now brings us before them. We feel sure that intelligent, chivalrous and patriotic Americans will not censure us for what we have done, nor condemn the high motives and bright hopes that urged us on in this desperate undertaking. Nor will they fail to justify our return to "freedom's soil," after seeing the indifference and abject timidity of the people of Cuba, which seems to have restrained them from rallying around their chosen leader, and his little band, who had come thousands of miles to unfurl the banner of independence. If more is need, I will also state the insurmountable difficulties which surround us on every side. We ask not that the mantel of charity may be thrown over our acts, for we are proud of the impulses that led us from our homes and friends to a foreign land, to aid an iron-ruled people, who, we were told, and believed, sighed for aid to sunder the chain that Spanish tyranny had riveted on them. Our appeal is to those who have been taught to value liberty dearer than life, to those who would rejoice to see freedom--the offspring of our beloved country--given to the oppressed of every land.
It is well known that Gen. Narciso Lopez has been for nearly two years engaged in organizing an expedition to aid the Creoles of Cuba, whom he stated were ripe for revolt and determined to be free; and that all they required was to have him at their head. His landing on the Island was to be the signal for a general rising of the people. He wanted but a small force to accompany him from the United States, as a nucleus around which the people could readily rally. He exhibited correspondence with some of the leading citizens of Cuba, urging him to come to their assistance as soon as possible--alone, if needs be. We were to land at a point on the Island where a large number of people were already organized and armed, in readiness to receive us, and join in a glorious struggle for their liberty. Much evidence was adduced going to show that the Cubans were content to achieve their independence, that they only wanted the banner to be raised and the first blow to be struck. He was represented to be the Washington of Cuba, and we would appear as the little band of Lafayettes, Dekalbs, and Kosciuskos, fighting with him, that our own proud eagle might ultimately spread her free pinions over the "coral-bound Queen of the Antilles!!"
Those who enlisted us in the enterprize--men of the highest character and station--were perfectly convinced by the representation of Gen. Lopez and others, that a speedy revolution in the Government of Cuba was certain. And being animated by that noble ambition hich warms the hearts of the truly brave and generous, they were willing to offer themselves on the altar of freedom, and were anxious that their friends might have an opportunity to wreath their brows with victorious laurels in so noble a cause. Many distinguished men in our country encouraged those engaged in it, vouching for the statements of Gen. Lopez, and thus leaving in our minds no cause for doubt. That we did not intend a mercenary invasion of Cuba, our numbers will show; nor injury to the property of the people, as our conduct at Cardenas, attested by the Governor whom we took prisoner and afterwards released, fully establishes.
We these facts before our countrymen, we leave them censure or admire the spirit that prompted us to make the sacrifices we did, to endure the privations we have, and brave the dangers that were sure to surround us even in the realization of our most sanguine hopes.
I will now turn to the active operations of the "Army of Liberation." the Kentucy regiment, 245 in numbers, left New Orleans on the 25th of April, on the bark Georgianna, to rendezvous on the island of Mugeres, or Women's Island, near the coast of Yucatan, and there await the arrival of General Lopez with the other regiments. The Georgianna anchored off Contoy Island, twenty miles North of Mugeres, on the 6th of May; being unable to reach Mugeres in consequence of adverse winds. On the 13th, the steamer Creole arrived at Contoy with General Lopez and the Mississippi and Louisiana regiments, numbering about 175 men each. After a consultation, the steamer proceeded to Mugeres for a supply of water. On the 15th she returned, when the Kentucky regiment was take on board the Creole, and early on the morning of the 16th, we were under way, with light hearts and bright hopes, for the coast of Cuba.
It was generally understood up to this time, that we would land on the South Western coast of the Island, at point where, to use the very words of Gen. Gonzales, they "had 4,000 troops in commission." But General Lopez thought proper to change the design of the landing at the point alluded to, and determined to proceed to Cardenas, on the North East coast. Accordingly, the army arrived at that place about 3 o'clock on the morning of Sunday, the 19th May. Shortly previous to landing, Gen. Lopez called a council and stated to the field officers his plan of operations. We were not to fight at Cardenas, as it was expected that the garrison there would surrender immediately they were called upon by Gen. Lopez, who would surround them with two regiments. The other regiment would march quickly through the city to the Railroad depot, seize the cars, , and cut off communication with Matanzas and Havana, the first 30 and the last 90 miles from Cardenas. By day light our army was to take the cars, proceed to Matanzas, a city of 18 or 20,000 inhabitants, and there make the first demonstration. A detachment of 50 men from the Kentucky regiment, under Lieut. Col. Picket, did take possession of the Railroad. As the remaining force was moving on, by column of companies, they were received with vollies from the garrison and Governor's palace, and a general engagement soon ensued. Brisk firing continued for nearly three hours, through the windows of the garrison and the Governor's house, and from the tops of houses. The doors of the garrison were finally battered down when thirty-odd of the Spanish soldiers came out, threw off their uniforms and shouted "viva Lopez!" A destructive fire being still kept up from the Governor's palace, General Lopez at length set fire to it, and the house was soon reduced to ashes. The Governor then surrendered the city, and the fighting ceased.
During the day, preparations were making for our march on Matazas; but towards the evening, General Lopez received intelligence that a large force was already coming against us from Matanzas and Havana. Orders were then given to re-embark. Several companies were sent down to the steamer, and were engaged in re-shipping the baggage and provisions, which had been placed on the cars.--About sun down, the troops who remained up in the city, numbering probably 200 effective men, were attacked by a body of infantry and some lancers, their number being, from the general account, 200 of the former, and nearly 100 of the latter. The infantry were quickly repulsed and scattered off. The lancers made some gallant, but very rash charges, as our men were so posted along the streets, that scarcely a man or horse escaped--nor could many have escaped, had there been twice the number of lancers, for our men "shot to kill." Our loss, as near as it can be ascertained in the absence of an official report, was, in all, from 10 to 15 killed, and from 15 to 20 wounded.
In going out of the bay of Cardenas, after night, the Creole got fast aground about five miles from the city, where she remained until day light next morning. All the ammunition but eight boxes, some arms, and a large quantity of provisions, were thrown overboard, and the steamer was finally got off, by putting a great many of the men on a small island, who were taken aboard again when she floated.
As soon as we got out of the bay, the officers and men began to discuss affairs among themselves. Gen. Lopez was asked where he proposed to go? He stated to Mantua.--It was then submitted by the officers of companies to their men, whether they would return to Cuba, and a great many objected to doing so, having lost all confidence to Lopez, his promises, and the disposition or ability of the Cubans to revolutionize the island. When this was made known to Lopez, he resigned his command, and asked it as a favor of the army that they would land him on the island, with his thirty Spanish soldiers, and as many others as were willing to go with him. The question then arose, can this be done? The Captain of the steamer was called, and stated that there was not fuel enough to run to the place proposed. The Quartermaster stated that we were already nearly out of water, as very little had been got aboard at Cardenas. Even the few officers--myself among the number--who had before signified their willingness to accompany the General, now declined the attempt. The steamer, therefore, headed for Key West. We lay at anchor some forty miles from the city until a pilot was procured next morning. The Spanish steamer was at Key West early in the morning. As she was coming out, she discovered the Creole, then 25 or 30 miles from Key West. The Pizarro immediately tacked about, and a race commenced, which was intensely exciting, and decidedly critical, so far as we were concerned. Within six or eight miles of Key West our coal was exhausted, and the Captain then resorted to burning pork and rosin. According to the statement of a fireman on the Creole, there were but two barrels of rosin left, when we reached Key West, which we did 20 or 30 minutes ahead of the Spaniard. As the Creole struck the pier, after drawing up her anchor at quarantine, the cannon of the Pizarro passed within a 100 yards of her. The Spaniard was greatly excited, but he did not fire. Above the unfortunate adventurers, the American flag again protectingly floated! Respectfully and truly yours,
Major Kentucy Regiment.