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Maceo And The Struggle For Cuban Independence
by [?]

On the 24th of February, 1895, the people of Havana, the capital of Cuba, were startled by a report that rebels were in the field, a band of twenty-four having appeared in arms at Ybarra, in the province of Matanzas. Other small bands were soon heard of elsewhere in the island. A trifle this seemed, in view of the fact that Cuba was guarded by twenty thousand Spanish troops and had on its military rolls the names of sixty thousand volunteers. But the island was seething with discontent, and trifles grow fast under such circumstances. Twenty years before a great rebellion had been afoot. It was settled by treaty in 1878, but Spain had ignored the promises of the treaty and steadily heaped up fuel for the new flame which had now burst out.

As the days and weeks went on the movement grew, many of the plantation hands joining the insurgents until there were several thousand men in arms. For a time these had it all their own way, raiding and plundering the plantations of the loyalists, and vanishing into the woods and mountains when the troops appeared.

The war to which this led was not one of the picturesque old affairs of battles and banners, marches and campaigns. It displayed none of “the pomp and circumstance of glorious war;” forest ambushes, sudden attacks, quick retreats, and brisk affrays that led to nothing forming the staple of the conflict. The patriots had no hope of triumphing over the armed and trained troops of Spain, but they hoped to wear them out and make the war so costly to Spain that she would in the end give up the island in despair.

The work of the Cuban patriots was like the famous deeds of Marion and his men in the swampy region of the Carolina coast. Two-thirds of Cuba were uncultivated and half its area was covered with thickets and forests. In the wet season the low-lands of the coast were turned into swamps of sticky black mud. Underbrush filled the forests, so thick and dense as to be almost impassable. The high bushes and thick grasses of the plains formed a jungle which could be traversed only with the aid of the machete, the heavy, sharp, cutlass-like blade which the Cuban uses both as tool and sword, now cutting his way through bush and jungle, now slicing off the head of an enemy in war.

Everywhere in the island there are woods, there are hills and mountains, there are growths of lofty grass, affording countless recesses and refuges for fugitives and lurking-places for ambushed foes. To retire to the “long grass” is a Cuban phrase meaning, to gain safety from pursuit, and a patriot force might lie unseen and unheard while an army marched by. In brief, Cuba is a paradise for the bush-fighter, and the soldiers of Spain were none too eager to venture into the rebel haunts, where the flame of death might suddenly burst forth from the most innocent-looking woodland retreat or grass-grown mead. The soldiers might search for days for a foe who could not be found, and as for starving out the rebels, that was no easy thing to do. There were the yam, the banana, the sweet potato, the wild fruits of the woodland, which the fertile soil bore abundantly, while the country-people were always ready to supply their brothers in the field.

Such was the state of affairs in Cuba in the rebellion of 1895. For a time the rebels gathered in small bands with none but local leaders. But the outbreak had been fomented by agents afar, fugitives from the former war, and early in April twenty-four of these exiles arrived from Costa Rica, landing secretly at a point near the eastern end of the island.

Chief among the new comers was Antonio Maceo, a mulatto, who had won a high reputation for his daring and skill in the past conflict, and who had unbounded influence over the negro element of the rebellion. Wherever Maceo was ready to lead, they were ready to follow to the death if he gave the word, and he soon proved himself the most daring and successful soldier in the war.