On the grounds of his own small estate Carlos Manuel Cespedes
sounded the work-bell of his sugar
mill to assemble his slaves and their gave them their freedom. On the following day he read a declaration, known as the Manifiesto de la Junta Revolucionaria de Cuba setting forth the right to self-government of the protesters.
The small group of men who under the leadership of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes
declared a revolt against Spain on October 10, 1868, increased in numbers in the following months from an initial 150 followers to an army of some 8,000 insurgents. Early in the contest Marcos Maceo and four of his sons joined this revolution
ary force as privates. Antonio, one of the four, moved up through rebel ranks as he gave proof of valor and leadership. On November 23, 1870 a few months past his twenty-fifth birthday and two years after the insurrection began, he sent to rebel headquarters a report of his action in the war
scene. He advised that with only thirty-seven men he had made the enemy retreat, inflicting casualties and suffering losses among his own men. The military dispatch was signed `Lieutenant Colonel, Antonio Maceo
Although the Revolutionary Army, or `Army of Liberation` as it was then named, began as a hodgepodge of patriots who brought along members of their families--wives, the elderly, children--it eventually took on a semblance of a military force. Everyone was put to work, camps were built, women sewed uniforms, children planted vegetable patches.
The young lieutenant colonel informed the newly appointed Chief of the First Corps, General Maximo Gomez, of the action which took place December 7, 1870:
`I have today effected an attack against Barigua, without being able to dislodge the enemy due to his superior force, although I did succeed in firing the hamlet and taking eight prisoners; must lament the death of Lieutenants Felipe Guerra and Jose Perez and four soldiers. Wounded were Commander Francisco Borrero, Second Lieut. Luis Dupini, First Sergeant Juan Torres, Second Sergeant Anastasio Loreschea and six soldiers. About four o`clock a reinforcement appeared from Tacamara, which I shattered, as well as another one consisting of 100 men out of Camazan.`
Maximo Gomez directed successful campaigns in the years 1871 and 1872, ordering effective frontal attacks that were so ferocious that the startled Spaniards publicly admitted defeat. In the battle of Indiana, key village to the entrance of the Valley of Guantanamo
, Antonio Maceo
led the pitiless fight. When the Spaniards retreated from all areas of the battleground to their fortifications, the rebel officers gathered at the request of their commander in a clearing designated as the chief of staff headquarters. Here officers in uniforms tailored by their womenfolk, soldiers in shabby pants and shirts, followers in working clothes, all united in celebration of the thorough thrashing suffered by the Spaniards. General Gomez ordered a roll call of the men who helped him gain victory. He asked the man who successfully held the valley entrance, Lieut. Colonel Antonio Maceo
, to step forwar
d. He proceeded to commend the officer before him for the remarkable and effective organization of the men under his command and for his personal courage.
The movement for the freedom of Cuba, under the leadership of Cespedes
, suffered from lack of organization; it was not centered in a core of purpose for unified rebel action; it had no tangible form, nor did it have a dependable source of funds. Cespedes
was constantly challenged by other patriots who felt they could do a better job. Funds received from emigre centers, mostly in the United States, and from threatened property owners made up a rather haphazard treasury; many of the insurgents fought with the booty they snatched from their fallen enemies or with the booty they snatched from their fallen enemies or with the arms they picked up after the enemy left the battlefield.. The ouster of Cespedes
was finally accomplished. There were other leaders, other ousters.
Maceo, unhappy over the climate of disunity, did not give up harassing the enemy. The enthusiasm of the movement for liberation diminished, the rebel civil command weakened; changes forced by dissenters in the ranks and lack of cooperation among the chieftains pointed to the collapse of the rebellion begun in 1868. Through the months of July and August of 1875, his reports of operations, directed to Citizen Secretary of War Tomas Estrada Palma
listed in detail on the letterhead of the General Headquarters the continuing activities of the First Corps of the Army in Potosi:
`After burning the Monte Alto coffee estate and the nearby hamlet, we marched 300 meters to the fort of Virginia, acquiring an abundance of provisions, cattle and supplies, and then crossed the coffee estates of Felicidad and Joven Maria. We encamped at three in the afternoon. Townspeople and influential tradesmen visited our camp. During the night our trum
pets were heard and our bonfires seen by the enemy.`
In a following report he advised that groups of men with their own arms and equipment had voluntarily joined his forces. He added that his men had destroyed great lengths of telegraph wires, and at the same time gathered many head of cattle. The resume listed: total volunteers, 144; firearms in their possession, 144; arms taken in battle, 55; total of arms, 199. Supplies acquired: percussion caps for various systems, 20,000; cartridges, 600: total 20,600. Animals taken: horses, 105; beasts of burden, 56. Coffee plantation
s destroyed: 18. Slaves from the coffee estates recruited into our ranks: 67. Family members who have come in, 635. The closing of the resume of gains and burdens reads: `Receive, Citizen Secretary, the testimony of my respect, Antonio Maceo
, Acting Chief of the Second Division of the First Corps of the Army.`
Right through to early 1876, the then Brigadier-General Antonio Maceo
sent in his reports, detailing continuous actions, giving succinct details of skirmishes and battles; listing booty as well as casualties. The outstanding conduct of his officers was regularly noted; his appreciation of their performance made clear. The salient valor of Lieut. Colonel Jose Maceo, his brother, was related.
Socarras, brother of Felix Figueredo
, Maceo`s friend, mentor and solace during some of his most difficult hours, in his book La Revolucion de Yara recalls a day of battle and with these words sketched the leader: `The outstanding figure in the scene was that of Brigadier Antonio Maceo
; he appeared and disappeared in clouds of smoke and dust, seated on his gigantic horse `Concha` who responded not to the reins but to the thoughts of his heroic rider; that man, laboring for breath, machete in hand, magnificent embodiment of the angel of destruction, carried out the assault in that battle which for all of us was extraordinary.`
Early in May of that significant year of military successes Maceo`s value to the cause of Cuba`s freedom was questioned and then denigrated. His `class` referring to his color, became an issue fanned by the Spanish press which maintained that Maceo`s popularity and acclaim as a hero would lead to a take-over by the black race, and to Cuba becoming another Haiti. hurt and angry, he drafted a letter to his superior in which he gathered all the bitter injuries and injustices he was therein protesting. He submitted this draft to his friend Felix Figueredo
asking for that good man`s counsel. There is no evidence that the letter, dated May 16, 1876, was completed and delivered to the addressee, but proof of his distress remains in his handwritten draft.
The heart of the complaint is in the words reading:
And as this writer happens to be of the black race, not therefor considering himself of lesser value than other men, he cannot, nor should he allow, that which is not so, nor that which he does not wish to happen, to develop and continue to grow, for this is required of his dignity, of his military honor, of the position he holds and because of the laurels he has so legitimately earned.
Vehemently he resented as falsehoods the side-mouthed war
nings then abroad that the growth of his popularity among black Cuban
s and the great number of black fighters in his columns would lead to a dictatorship headed by himself. The final words of the worked- over draft included the disavowal of the calumny that he wanted to become a dictator: `. . . I denounce those who started the canard that I am the author of such a doctrine, which I consider fatal, especially when I am a member of the democratic republic, and a not insignificant participant in that Republic which has its principal base liberty, equality and fraternity; that I have refused to recognize hierarchies. . .` Maceo angrily rejected the ambitions ascribed to him.