Artículo sobre el bombardeo a San Juan en Scientific American (1898)

Artículo, fotos y un mapa sobre el bombardeo a San Juan el 12 de mayo de 1898, publicado en la edición del 21 de mayo del mismo año en la revista Scientific American. El artículo da un breve recuento del bombardeo por la flota del almirante Sampson, el cual duró unas tres horas, luego del cual la flota estadounidense se retiró a Mayagüez, ya que en aquel momento no tenían intención de capturar a San Juan.

Portada de la revista que presenta varias vistas de la isla de “Porto Rico”.

El artículo está ilustrado con 7 fotos que aparecen en la portada de la revista, las cuales reproducimos a continuación:

“San Juan from the Bay.”

“The Old City Wall.”

“Native Hut.”

“San Juan from the Inglaterra Hotel.”

“A Portable Candy Shop.”

“Ancient Gateway, San Juan.”

“A Dusky Belle.”

Luego del recuento del bombardeo, el artículo provee un breve resumen de la historia de Puerto Rico, su población, recursos naturales, agricultura, infraestructura, etc. Describe la ciudad murada del Viejo San Juan, sus castillos, su armamento, La Marina, el faro y sus jardines públicos, entre otros.

Ofrece además datos económicos de la isla, como el ingreso bruto de la isla y las cantidades en dólares de exportación e importación de mercancía. Culmina diciendo que desde un punto de vista económico, la adquisición de Puerto Rico sería beneficioso para los Estados Unidos.

“Porto Rico and the Reduction of San Juan.”

Reproducimos a continuación el texto completo del artículo y el mapa de la bahía de San Juan:

PORTO RICO AND THE REDUCTION OF SAN JUAN.

Last week it was out pleasing duty to chronicle the decisive victory of Manila Bay, we are now able to announce that the reduction of San Juan, the fortified capital of Porto Rico, by Admiral Sampson was attended by few casualties and no injury to the fleet. The squadron, consisting of the flagship “Iowa,” the “Indiana,” “New York,” “Terror,” “Amphitrite,” “Detroit,” “Montgomery” and the “Porter,” in search of the Spanish fleet, arrived at San Juan, Porto Rico, at five o’clock in the morning, May 12. The “Detroit” led the squadron to the harbor, and the “Iowa” fired on Morro fort and the “Detroit” followed at short range, and the others in the order named, with the exception of the “Montgomery,” steamed in an ellipse before the forts. The first round of the firing was aimed too low, but in the second round the ships got the elevation and silenced the guns of Morro. They also fired upon the town and repeatedly drove the Spaniards from their guns. The forts mounted seven good guns, but their markmanship was wretched. They fired hundreds of shots, but they only hit the “New York” and the “Iowa” once each, doing no damage except to kill one seaman and wound six others. The bombardment lasted three hours and the fortifications were completely reduced, and havoc was wrought in the city by the shells of the fleet. Admiral Sampson retired to Mayaguez after the bombardment, as he had no intention of capturing the town, his intention now being to engage the Spanish fleet.

We will now consider the island of Porto Rico and will glance briefly at its history. Our engravings are made from photographs recently taken in the island and show some of the scenes in this tropical land.

Porto Rico, the fourth in size of the Greater Antilles, lies 70 miles west of Hayti and it is about a thousand miles, as the crow flies, from Havana to the harbor of San Juan du Puerto Rico. It forms an irregular parallelogram, 108 miles long and 37 miles broad ; its area is 3,550 miles, which is less than that of the island of Jamaica, or about seven-tenths that of the State of Connecticut. The northern coast is rugged, and at the eastern end of the island it is very high and the cliffs extend in almost an unbroken line from Cape San Juan to the port of the same name. Porto Rico is traversed from east to west by a range of hills which are so situated that the streams flowing north are much longer than those flowing to the south. The highest part is near the northeast corner, and the highest peak, Yunque (“Anvil”), is 3,600 feet high and can be seen for a great distance out at sea. The mountain ranges serve to divide the island into two parts as regards climate. As the hills and mountains intercept the northeast trade winds with their rain clouds, there is sometimes almost a superabundance of moisture in the lowlands of the north, while in the south severe drouths occur and the land demands artificial irrigation, which is, as yet, carried out with very little system. The island is, on the whole, well watered. Over 1,300 streams have been counted, of which 47 are considerable rivers. The island is rather beautiful in appearance, forests still covering all the highest part of the hills, but the interior seems to be one vast system of mountains, and from the deck of the steamer there seems to be a limitless sea of hills with rounded summits and with such gentle slopes as to be susceptible of cultivation to their very summits. In reality, however, it is level compared with the other West Indian islands. It is strange that few of the rivers are navigable even at their mouths, and vessels of small burden can ascend them only for a few miles.

The climate is such that foreigners are easily acclimated, and fevers there have the reputation of not being as contagious or as dangerous as in Cuba and San Domingo.

The residents are acclimated to fever and do not suffer much, but the casual visitor in the summer is in danger. The climate is divided generally into two seasons, the wet and the dry, or there may be two brief rainy seasons, when the sun passes over the earth in the vernal and autumnal equinoxes; and in the latter the hurricanes occur. The dry months are usually from November to April inclusive, and the wet are from May to November. The longest day scarcely exceeds thirteen hours, and the difference between the maximum and minimum of heat is much less than with us ; in summer the annual mean being about 75° to 80°, with the daily range of not much more than 10° and an average winter temperature of 70°. Then there is the daily alternation of sea and land breezes, the former setting in about nine in the morning and continuing through the day, the latter beginning soon after sunset and holding until an hour after sunrise, the hottest times being in the intervals between the two. The worst natural characteristic of the island is the tremendous hurricanes that sweep across it between the months of July and October.

Porto Rico was discovered by Columbus, in November, 1493, and in 1510 Ponce de Leon founded the town of Caparra, which was soon after abandoned, and with more success in 1511 the city of San Juan Bautista. The native inhabitants were subdued according to the usual methods of colonization which were adopted by the Spaniards, by sweeping them entirely away, and from that time on, the island was left to fill up with Spanish and slaves. It has therefore been very nearly a detached section of Spain itself, and has kept in closer sympathy with the Spanish government than has any of her other colonies in the western hemisphere. In 1595 the capital was sacked by Drake, and in 1598 by the Duke of Cumberland, and it had other sieges, for in 1615 Baldwin Heinrich, a Dutchman, lost his life in an attack on Castillo del Morro. The attempt of the English in 1678 was equally unsuccessful, and Abercromby in 1797 had to retire after a three days’ siege, though in the same campaign he captured Grenada, Demerara and Trinidad. In 1820 a movement was made toward a declaration of independence on the part of Porto Rico, but Spanish supremacy was completely re-established in 1823, and the last traces of slavery were abolished in 1873 by the abrogation of the system of forced labor. In 1870 Porto Rico was made a province of Spain instead of a colony. Recently, when the so-called system of autonomy was offered to Cuba, Porto Rico received the same. It now has a premier and a house of representatives and all the other forms and shapes of a representative government, but they are all in the hands of the Spanish oligarchy that controlled the island while it was still a colony. Like Cuba and the Philippines revolutionary parties existed in Porto Rico; its leaders are exiles living in Europe and the United States. The discontented elements of the population, which are by no means small, have not dared to fight, lest Spain import a greater army and sweep them off the face of the island, the military roads making concentration of troops easy. The insurgents are in no shape to battle with the 40,000 troops Spain keeps on the island, but they are hoping for some good to come to them as a result of the war over Cuba. The inhabitants of Porto Rico numbered, in 1877, 813,937, the negroes being over 300,000.

In Porto Rico the entire land has the appearance of a picturesque and continual chain of habitations, the land being under good cultivation, with fields of sugar, plantains, coffee, patches of rice, etc. There are some sixty towns and villages on the island, but it is really a land of fertile farms between the innumerable hills and mountains and rich valleys. The soil everywhere is very fertile and cultivable, even to the mountain crests, the pastures of Porto Rico being famous for the succulent qualities of their grasses, upon which feed cattle and horses. These are shipped in great numbers, and constitute the chief wealth of a great many people engaged in the business. Among the hills also are thousands of coffee plantations, for here the soil is good and the climate is adapted for its perfect development. In the valleys also grow the sugar cane, cocoa, bananas, plantains, in fact, all sorts of tropical fruits. The banana industry has been vastly increased in the island of Jamaica during the past five years and it has rescued many a planter from ruin. This will also be the case in Porto Rico, which has everything for its profitable cultivation, provided proper attention is given to growing them. With its wonderful range of vegetable products and consequent facilities for subsistence with the minimum of labor, Porto Rico may well be termed an earthly paradise ; but While nature has done everything for this island, the race whom the accident of discovery placed in power have done worse than nothing toward its development. Poverty exists everywhere, since the taxes are so oppressive, administered as the government is by alien office holders assisted by foreign soldiers. The island has 470 miles of telegraph and 137 miles of railway, besides 170 miles which is under construction.

San Juan is the capital of Porto Rico and has about 28,000 inhabitants. It is on the northeast shore of the island. The harbor, as will be seen by our map, is one of the finest in the West Indies, being large, sheltered and capable of accommodating any number of the largest ships, having anchorage in it from three to seven fathoms. It bears a striking resemblance to Havana Harbor, to which it is but little inferior. Its entrance toward the north is invitingly open to the vessels of our great republic. Its entrance is over 2,000 feet wide and is defended on the west side by forts erected on two small islands. On the east side of the harbor is an extensive sand bank, but the entrance to the harbor has no sand bank. The harbor is big and deep, but the coral formation makes it impossible for ships of any great draught to get close up to the wharves. The city occupies all of what is generally supposed to be an island, but it is not really built on an island at all, but on a coral reef at some distance from the shore for a great part of its length and joined to the main, island at the eastern end by a short bridge. The town is completely inclosed within massive walls of stone and mortar, which rise to a height in some places of from fifty to one hundred feet. Like Havana, which has its “Morro” or citadel (literally a round Moorish tower), it has, or rather had, fortifications on an extensive scale, with bastions and drawbridges, with sentry boxes hanging over the sea and grim, gray walls towering threateningly. One may find a very counterpart on a small scale in the old fort at St. Augustine and every way similar to those at Havana before her walls were torn down.

The peninsula upon which Morro and the lighthouse stands is thrust out into the sea, one side breasting the thundering surges of the Caribbean Sea and the other guarding the placid waters of a beautiful and almost landlocked harbor. The old forts suffered terribly from the shells of Admiral Sampson’s fleet and offered but little effective resistance to the fire of the modern rifles. They had an advantage over a fleet in being at a considerable elevation, thus enabling them to deliver a plunging fire. Until early in last year the only battery of any consequence was placed toward the east coast, designed specially to protect the city from an anticipated attack on the land side. The battery has several Krupp guns of medium caliber. It is believed several more of these were mounted in Morro Castle at the other end of the town. The remainder of the ordnance in San Juan along the walls was, until very recently, of an obsolete pattern and unserviceable against the armor of modern ships. A large number of rifled guns were sent to San Juan from Spain about three months ago, and recent reports indicate that they have been mounted. There are forts and batteries all along the outer edge of the reef.

Though the main portion of San Juan is inclosed within the walls, through which entrance is obtained only by well guarded gateways, yet there is a small town by itself in the Marina between the fortifications and the wharves. Here is a fine public garden and pleasure space for booths and restaurants as well as the public cockpit where battles royal are frequently waged. The buildings of the inner city are of stone, massive and substantial like those of Havana and the city of Mexico, and are of the old world type, which would not furnish much food for a conflagration in case of a bombardment. Here the captain-general and chief officials reside. Many of the wealthy inhabitants have summer residences at Bayamon, and the very poor live in the huts shown in one of our engravings. The “Morro” is an interesting place with its deep dungeons and covered ways.

San Juan is not a very attractive city under its present conditions, owing to its filthy streets and lack of attention to sanitation. The only thing that saves the city is its being built on a declivity and it is therefore fairly well drained. Yellow fever is quite prevalent. That the city is not a healthy one is shown by the frequent funeral processions that pass through the streets to the cemetery, which lies between the sea wall of the fort and the shore, the interments being in columbarie. San Juan is only one port of the islands, and there are some harbors that are as fine, if not as large and land-locked. The other most notable city is Ponce, having a population of about 35,000.

The total revenue for 1894-95 was $5,454,958, while the expenditure was $3,905,667, very little going for public improvements. The principal exports in 1896 were coffee, valued at $2,500,000; sugar, $3,500,000; tobacco, $425,000, etc. The total exports in 1895 amounted to $15,799,000, and the imports to $17,446,000. In 1895 1,077 vessels of 1,079,036 tons entered Porto Rico. From a commercial point of view the acquisition of Porto Rico would be important to the United States.

Como se podrá imaginar, el punto de vista de los residentes de San Juan sobre el bombardeo fue muy distinto. Le recomendamos leer el recuento del capitán de artillería del ejército español Ángel Rivero Méndez que publicamos anteriormente en GeoIsla, donde nos narra el pánico que sintió la ciudad ante este “acto de guerra innecesario, cruel y abusivo” perpetrado por el almirante Sampson y su flota.

Puede ver y descargar la edición de la revista Scientific American del 21 de mayo de 1898 en el portal del Internet Archive.

Fuente: Revista Scientific American vía el Internet Archive.

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