Ambrosio José Gonzalez.
The man who has suffered, who has shed blood for the cause of liberty, has a holy place in our heart.
The first Cuban wounded in combat by Spanish lead was Ambrosio José González; that is why, even though he might have not rendered other services, his name will be remembered with love, by the grateful fatherland.
González was born in Matanzas. At the age of nine, his father, one of the first educators of the youth of Yumurí, sent him to Europe in which capitals and in New York he received a conscientious education. In the University of Havana, he studied arts and sciences and later, Law, gaining in both faculties his graduate degree. At the conclusion of his studies he returned to his native city, where he shared with his father the teaching profession.
Youth of generous ideals, lover of progress, he accepted with enthusiasm the revolutionary plans that ended with the invasions of the island by General Narciso López.
When López managed to escape the net thrown by Captain General Roncali, and sought asylum in the United States, the Junta of Havana commissioned González the delicate mission of offering the North-American General Worth, who was returning from the war in Mexico, three million dollars with which to prepare an expedition of five thousand North-American veterans, who would disembark in Cuba in the aid of the patriots headed by López would rise in arms; and for this purpose González put Worth in communication with López and Gaspar Betancourt Cisneros who edited La Verdad.
Risking his life, González left the island embarked for New Orleans, where he hoped to find Worth. He arrived late; in stage coaches, and on horseback he crossed a great part of the South, yet not invaded by the railroads, until he finally had the longed interview with Worth, who received him and gave him credit even though, Gonzalez lacked his credentials, snatched from the post office in New Orleans. Meeting later with General López and Lugareño, they went to Washington where their project found backers among the statesmen of the South. But the federal government assigned Worth Chief of the Department of Texas, where he died within a month, and the landed annexationists abandoned the plan; but the emigre patriots did not quit and formed the first Cuban Junta of New York, which was made up of General Narciso López, President, of Juan Manuel Macías, José María Sánchez Yznaga, Cirilo Villaverde and Ambrosio José González.
López, González and Yznaga were the ones who devised the Cuban flag. The colors were French and American; the three blue stripes, the three departments; the triangle, symbol of strength, red like the precious blood that is needed to shed to conquer the rights of dignified man, then there surged the solitary star.
With forty thousand dollars that they sold in Cuban bonds, the Creole expedition was formed, which was organized in great part by González, and which he led during the trip as Chief of Staff.
González was the first one to disembark in Cárdenas that very dark night of 19 May of 1848,(1) in the attack on the city he distinguished himself for his successful dispositions. When it began to dawn the attack on the Governor's palace was ordered, refuge of the Spaniards, dislodged from the garrison. In the vanguard of the expeditionaries stood out in the indecisive light of dawn, the leaders, two svelte men with red shirts--the shirt that Garibaldi later immortalized--with a white star over its heart.
An instant after giving the order to advance by the most corpulent one, by Narciso López, a volley was heard and fell at his feet the other companion, an Apollonian youth, two bullets aimed at the two stars penetrated, jointly, the right thigh of Ambrosio José Gonzalez, the first Cuban who shed his blood for us.
The authorities asked for reinforcements by telegraph, and the people not having responded to the excitement of the filibusters, López determined to continue travelling toward Oriente. The Spanish warship Pizarro made the Creole change course, and head for Key West.
On 16 December 1850 Lopez, Gonzalez, General Quitman and other North American notables were tried in New Orleans for having violated the laws of neutrality; after three attempts to condemn them the persecution was abandoned.
General Gonzalez in the spring of 51 was recruiting people in Savannah for the expedition that was frustrated due to the detention of the Cleopatra, by order of President Fillmore.
Then, while Lopez began new plans, Gonzalez went to recuperate his health; in the autumn with the contingent of Georgia and Florida they would attempt a new blow.
As soon as Gonzalez left Lopez the errors began, which led him to his sorrowful end. The noble Agüero, who lost the opportunity of defeating the enemy for not immolating him in his sleep, rose in Camagüey, the 4 of July; the courageous Armenteros(2) and his companions revolted in Trinidad. These exaggerated and other false news, cleverly circulated by the Spanish Government, precipitated General Lopez who without giving notice to Gonzalez invaded the island for the second time, falling in the net prepared by Concha. The same day that Lopez disembarked in Bahía Honda Agüero died in Puerto Príncipe. Armenteros paid for his courage with his life, and soon after died in the garrote the brave Narciso Lopez pronouncing these words: "Goodbye, dear Cuba."
General Gonzalez established himself in South Carolina were he married a charming woman of beauty and virtues, daughter of Senator Elliott.
They lived wealthy and happily in Charleston, when the bombardment of Fort Sumter (April 1861) in the harbor, began the cruel fratricidal war between the north and the south.
Abolitionist, like Lincoln; who wanted that the owners be compensated with something for the loss of the slave, with all his friends in the region which rebelled against the Union, united with the first aristocratic families of the State which had been the first to secede, thankful for what--out of generosity or personal interest--they had done for Cuba those who now were called Confederates, Gonzalez offered his sword to the cause of the sovereignty of the States, in the defense of South Carolina which had generously sheltered him, where he had made his happy home.
He was Inspector General under General Beauregard. In November of 1861, he maintained out of his own pocket, forces of cavalry and infantry, thereby protecting the operations of General Lee, during three months. Named Lieutenant Colonel at the beginning of the war he soon ascended to Colonel, for his services in the artillery, of which he was Chief of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. He served under the orders of Pemberton, Jones, Hardy, and Gustavus Smith; in the battle of Honey Hill where the 2,000 Confederates triumphed over 13,000 Federals, Gonzalez had a great share of the glory of that unequal and magnificent conflict.
Finally Charleston had to be evacuated, the cannons that Gonzalez had constructed there and in Savannah were captured by the victorious armies of the North; as Chief of artillery (acting chief) of Johnson he surrendered to Sherman, in Hillsboro, N.C. His service record would honor any professional soldier.
Upon returning to Charleston he found the properties destroyed, the family ruined. His loyal horse was the only thing he possessed; his heroic wife and his children his only wealth.
Without fear he faced the situation, he tried to establish businesses in the abated country, to New York he came to be an interpreter, to give lessons; he was separated from what he mostly idolized to be a tutor and be able to give sustainment to the needy family, to Matanzas he returned so that with teaching he would not starve to death. There he was surprised by the Yara uprising, and he thought about renewing his military life, now to give the fatherland independence!
But one day the brightness of his soul was eclipsed, the palm trees of the majestuous valley inclined their melancholic crests in a sign of mourning and Ambrosio José Gonzalez when he dreamed of new victories, closed with loving and trembling hands the eyes of sapphire, of the woman who twenty five years later he exclaimed movingly: "For me, she is not dead, she is in my heart."
With his orphaned sons in his hand he abandoned the land where he also wanted to die.
In these twenty three years he has educated his children, two of them are important journalists in Charleston; he has labored with valor, without ever turning to anyone, to fulfill his obligations; in Washington he has been employed by the Hispanic-American embassies; where ever he has lived he has aided with his word and pen the cause of Cuba.
Less than two years ago I saw him at a diplomatic ball in the federal Capital; tall, without the years bending his rigid and elegant body nor has his beautiful head lost, crowned by gray hair, its martial posture, it was not that kind face, and also energetic that of a septuagenarian, the years had the clarity and the movement of youth; the nose, perfectly Roman denoted the power of command, the white mustache covered his mouth with delicate lines; his complete conversation, that night was about his country.
Since then a paralysis has undermined his robust constitution, last September, his sons sent him with the object of getting better to Key West, where at the time there were meeting the Chiefs of the war of 68 and the Delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party.(3) The revolutionaries of yesterday, of today, and of tomorrow, went to greet the invalid; he sat up straight in his wheelchair; his whole figure glowed, he raised his numb limbs and said with solemnity: "I salute the redeemers of the fatherland!"
And today he is in our bosom. In Fordham, on a hill on which during another time the soldiers of Washington were camped, defeated in Long Island, there is a hospital for incurables; there is the expeditionary, the military man, the patriot who will die Cuban.
When I went to render him the tribute of affection that all good patriots owe him, it seemed to me that that elevation was the Cumbre of his native city, that the building had been erected by the Republic of Cuba for the needy and sick veterans.
I crossed the ward, I did not recognize a Cuban face in the steel beds aligned and clean; in a corner, in the last one, there was an aged man, the impressions of age had marked his pale face, adorned by a white untrimmed beard. He slept, his sleep guarded by a mater dolorosa of Reni placed over the small and solitary bed.
"My General" I softly whispered in his ear.
He awoke and looking at me he greeted me with these words: "I was dreaming of Cuba."
When I left the aged man hours later, something tightened my heart, it was not that barren and cold countryside, ours perfumed and exuberant; that house was not the asylum of our soldiers, the only thing ours there was the invalid septuagenarian, the noble Ambrosio José Gonzalez, forgotten possibly by his compatriots, and far from his Cuba, does not want to die before seeing the fatherland free!
Gonzalo de Quesada.
1. 1. The date should be 19 May 1850.
2. 2 Isidoro Armenteros Muñoz (1808-1851). Member of a wealthy Trinidad family, owner of two sugar mills. Lieutenant Colonel of the Militia cavalry. Conspired with Narciso López in 1848. Led a revolt in Camaguey in July 1851, was captured, and executed.
3. 3. José Martí was the Delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party.