The Battle of San Juan Hill The Americans declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898 after the USS Maine exploded in the Havana Harbor. This declaration began the Spanish American War in which led to the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba on July 1, 1898. The United States headed to Cuba with the intention of battling the Spaniards who had taken over Cuba and the Cubans. MAJ General Shafter led the V Corps which consisted of three divisions and one independent brigade. MAJ General Joseph Wheeler commanded the Calvary Division, Brigadier Generals J.
F. Kent and H. W. Lawton commanded the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions, and Brigadier General J. C. Bates commanded the Independent Brigade. General Arsenio Linares led the Spaniards in Cuba, and Admiral Sampson was in charge of the Naval Battle ship which carried the V Corps into Cuba. Multiple principles of mission command can be seen throughout this battle. Mutual trust with cohesive team building, shared understanding, and the exercising of discipline initiative are the main principles of mission command identified in this battle.
Although MAJ General Shafter won the battle, he did well in some principles but not others. There were many moving pieces to the Battle of San Juan Hill. The USS Maine destroyed off the coast of Havana on February 15, 1898 served as the catalyst in the Battle of San Juan Hill. Cubans that escaped from Cuba to live in New York publicized that the ship exploding and sinking in the Havana Harbor was due to the Spaniards. This incident gave the Americans a reason to declare war on the Spaniards, and MAJ General William R. Shafter is selected to lead the V Corps into Cuba.
The V Corps left for Cuba on June 14, 1898 but had dealt with chaos leading up to the departure. The trains used to transport the equipment and men were inadequate, which would lead to a breakdown in mission capabilities once arriving to Cuba. Once arriving to Cuba on June 22, 1898 men disembarked to shore on pontoons, and horses had to swim into shore since they had no capabilities of docking. Soldiers from the 2nd Division commanded by Lawton are ordered to head to Siboney and defend the port for the other men to join once getting to shore.
Fighting Joe’ Wheeler of the Calvary division joined Lawton on this mission, but did not listen to the orders given by MAJ General Shafter to Lawton. Instead he led his soldiers into Siboney to Las Guasimas where he encountered heavy gunfire from the Spaniards. The Spaniards hid in trenches, which caused many casualties for the Americans. The Calvary unit caused the Spaniards to retreat. MAJ General Shafter planned to use the road known as camino real to bring all of his soldiers and equipment through. The road was not built to hold as much weight and people.
Once realizing camino real was an inadequate route some equipment had to stay on the shore. As they progressed MAJ General Shafter reached a position in which the V Corps was ready to attack Santiago. Santiago is the major city where the majority of Spaniards were using defensive operations. Shafter was able to recon the area from El Pozo, which was south of camino real and south west of Siboney. He decided to attack El Caney first, which would give the Americans advantage to control right flank of the battle.
Once attacking El Caney, a battle that should have only taken two hours, the 2nd Infantry Division would meet up with the 1st Infantry Division and the calvary units. The 1st Infantry Division and the Calvary unit were given an order to seize Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill, which would give them the advantage of high ground. The battle at El Caney took longer than expected due to the 500 Spaniards hiding in trenches, blockhouses, and using smokeless weapons.
Another issue the Americans faced at El Caney was the fact that the Spaniards were able to distinguish where the Americans were at on the battlefield since they were using outdated weapons with smoke. While the battle of El Caney continued, Kent’s Division and the Calvary made their way to San Juan Hill on camino real. As the soldiers moved towards San Juan and Kettle Hill, the Spaniards hiding in trenches attacked. This caused many more casualties among the Americans and the remaining American troops dropped to the ground and took cover.
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt with the Rough Riders empowered men to charge the Spaniards by attacking them directly. Lieutenant Jules Ord with the 1st Brigade ran up the hill to attack the Spaniards and yelled at his men to “follow me! We can’t stay here! Lieutenant John Parker with the Gatling detachment was a machine gun enthusiast who hurried behind LT Ord. He led his Gatling detachment to conduct shaping operations for LT Ords brigade. With the initiative of these officers and their units, the Spaniards retreated to Santiago, and the Americans won the Battle of San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898.
After accomplishing this mission, MAJ General Shafter was able to seize Santiago. This action caused the Spaniards to retreat to the sea and back to Spain. Mutual trust is shared confidence among commanders, subordinates, and partners. Creating mutual trust is done by sharing experiences, the interaction of the commander, subordinates, and soldiers through two-way communication. Mutual trust is broken before heading to Cuba when it was evident that the “effects of command and staff inexperience in managing large operations was seen from the delay and confusion of disembarking. MAJ General Shafter was not efficient in building mutual trust in his leaders from the beginning. This was evident when arriving to Cuba and Admiral Sampson and MAJ General Shafter did not see eye to eye on accomplishing the mission and it was evident the two were “fighting separate wars. ” Shafter decided to go with his plans of heading into shore and having the Navy wait until the Spaniards reached the port or sea for the Navy to start fighting. In addition, COL Lawton was given an order to defend the port until disembarkation was complete.
MG Joe Wheeler of the Calvary division felt he was superior to COL Lawton and decided he wasn’t going to obey the orders given by Shafter who was still on the ship. He proceeded to run into Spaniards who started firing at the Americans. Wheeler had no mutual trust with his subordinate or his commander since he disobeyed the orders of Major General Shafter. His actions resulted in many casualties, and MG Shafter had to reconsider his battle plan. Another principle of mission command within this battle creating a shared understanding.
A defining challenge for commanders and staff is creating a shared understanding of their operational environment, their operation’s purpose, its problems, and approaches to solving them. Both armies are unprepared and disorganized in the Battle of San Juan Hill, which in return cause them defeat in different parts of the battle. MAJ General Shafter did a poor job of understanding his operational environment, which caused him the inability to share this information with his soldiers. He did not recon the original area in which the soldiers were to enter Cuba.
If he had done a recon on the terrain of Cuba, then he would have known there was no way to dock the naval ship on the beach. Instead his men and horses had to swim to shore. In addition, Shafter did not realize how unreliable camino real was until they arrived and started pulling heavy equipment through this route. Camino real was tactically significant, since it was the route the Americans would take to maneuver into their offensive positions. The road was unable to handle all the men and equipment. Heavy artillery would have to remain behind.
If the Americans would have had some of their heavy weight guns during the battle, they may have been more efficient at destroying the enemy, and they could have prevented many casualties. The hills had trenches in which Shafter did not take into account which allowed the Spaniards to have an advantage attacking position. Many casualties are sustained, which could be prevented if MG Shafter knew the terrain features within Cuba. Major General Shafter had not properly analyzed the enemy’s capabilities. The Spaniards were using smokeless weapons which, made it hard to determine where the firing was coming from.
Shafter’s incompetence in understanding the operational environment, caused the Americans unnecessary casualties. Disciplined initiative is an action in the absence of orders, when existing orders no longer fit the situation, or when unforeseen opportunities or threats arise. MAI General Shafter did not issue orders because he felt his generals “were experienced officers. ” With that said, there were occasions where the soldiers are pinned down by the Spaniards and decided to take cover in the thick brush. The units were waiting for orders from Shafter, but with the wait came more casualties.
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Lieutenant Jules Ord, and Lieutenant John Parker may not have been generals, but they were brave leaders who decided to take initiative in order to take the hill instead of being sitting ducks for the Spaniards. MAJ General Shafter gave concise orders to take the hill in order to get to Santiago but it was the subordinate leaders who took the initiative and creativity to complete his orders. In conclusion, MAJ General Shafter was unable to create mutual trust and shared understanding between himself and his subordinates.
He was successful in getting his subordinates to exercise disciplined initiative. Although he won the battle at San Juan Hill, in future battles mutual trust, shared understanding, and exercising disciplined initiative are a must. Without shared understanding you cannot have mutual trust and disciplined initiative among subordinates. Also, disciplined initiative is unattainable if subordinates do not understand the final goal of the mission, or they do not trust the person giving the orders. This will ensure a successful battle with less error than the Battle of San Juan Hill.