Editor: Michael Spilling and Consultant Editor: Chris McNab
The San Juan Ridge (Kettle Hill) was the last obstacle to the complete investment of Santiago, the principal port on the southern coast of Cuba. This hill was just off the southern end of the ridge, crowned by a strong blockhouse with 750 Spanish defenders. They were led by Gen Arsenio Linares and armed with Model 1893 Mausers, which reloaded from a stripper clip. After waiting under fire for the troops from El Caney, Gen Samuel Sumner ordered his Dismounted Cavalry Division up the hill, supported by the fire of Gatling guns, while the infantry moved up San Juan Ridge and its own blockhouse, taking casualties from accurate Spanish fire.
Roosevelt’s Rough Riders charge the Kettle Hill
Leading the charge mostly on horseback was former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt and his ‘Rough Riders’, a volunteer cavalry regiment equipped with Winchester repeating carbines. Alongside them were the African-American ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ of the 9th US Cavalry. The Spanish withdrew from the blockhouse, and the dismounted cavalry on Kettle Hill supported the attacks upon San Juan Ridge and the higher San Juan Hill behind the ridge, although the Spanish resisted stubbornly.
The Americans’ field guns and some rifles fired black powder, which obscured the battlefield, while the more modern Spanish artillery fired smokeless charges more rapidly.
The Spanish on San Juan Hill continued firing from the trenches as the US infantry moved forward. Linares kept most of his garrison within the walls of Santiago, taking the Americans under fire and launching one attack to retake San Juan Hill, which fire from the American Gatlings on Kettle Hill repulsed.
For the eventual American victory, casualties on Kettle Hill were 35 US dead, a total of 170 infantry perishing in the assault on San Juan Ridge and the Suan Juan Hill. Fifty-eight Spanish were also killed.
Dr. Chris McNab is the editor of AMERICAN BATTLES & CAMPAIGNS: A Chronicle, from 1622-Present and is an experienced specialist in wilderness and urban survival techniques. He has published over 20 books including: How to Survive Anything, Anywhere, an encyclopedia of military and civilian survival techniques for all environments. Special Forces Endurance Techniques, First Aid Survival Manual, and The Handbook of Urban Survival.