Butcher Weyler, Sherman's Understudy
The yellow-journalism American press railed at Spain’s decision to assign “Butcher” Weyler to solve the problem of Cubans seeking independence, though forgetting that it was Lincoln’s own General William T. Sherman who had taught Weyler how to carry total war to an American people seeking independence. The New York papers in 1864-65 did not describe Sherman as “a butcher, rapist and a Torqemada of torture.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Butcher Weyler, Sherman’s Understudy
“In the circumstances, one can pity General Valeriano Weyler, who had been sent to Cuba by the Queen Regent of Spain with orders to put down the rebellion. He arrived to find himself described by New York newspapers as a butcher, rapist, and a Torquemada of torture.
A fifty-nine-year-old professional soldier, short and broad-shouldered, Weyler as a young officer had been a military attaché at the Spanish legation in Washington during the Civil War, and as an observer had accompanied Sherman on his march through Georgia. He had admired Sherman, but his liking for things American was dwindling.
He read things in the American papers he could scarcely credit. Miss Nellie Bly, the World reporter who had gone around the world in seventy-two days, announced that she planned to recruit a regiment of volunteers, officered by women, to fight for Cuban independence.
“The Cubans are fighting us openly,” Weyler said. “The Americans are fighting us secretly . . . The American newspapers are responsible. They poison everything with falsehood.”
The Spanish government in Cuba had been autocratic, but not oppressive. The rebellion was in large part inspired by revolutionists in New York, encouraged by unrest caused by economic depression and poverty. It had gained strength because of a ruthless rebel decree that all Cubans who did not aid them would be considered allies of Spain and enemies of the “republic,” causing many citizens to help the insurgents out of fear.
Weyler, like the majority of Spaniards, believed that the rebels would long since have been crushed but for the incitement of the New York press, and the arms, men and supplies sent by filibuster ships that slipped into Cuba.
Weyler commanded some 80,000 Spanish soldiers whose presence in Cuba was bleeding Spain white. Yet they could not achieve a finished fight because the rebels invariably dodged them. The rebel strategy was to burn sugar plantations and towns, wreck railroads and flee, always avoiding pitched battles. The hatred between the contending parties had grown so bitter that when men were captured by either side, hangings and disembowelments were common.
Amid such incidents . . . Weyler employed the stern measures expected of him. To neutralize the thousands of Cubans in the interior who were secretly aiding and supplying the rebels while posing as loyal citizens, he issued a “reconcentration” order. This required all citizens . . . to leave their villages and move within Spanish lines.
Spanish forces then proceeded to clear the interior of supplies, applying a “scorched earth” program to starve out the rebels. This brought great suffering and privation to the reconcentrados, or uprooted families, many of whom were near starvation themselves. But the measure, along with renewed Spanish military activity, proved effective and the insurgents for a time lost ground.”
(Citizen Hearst, W.A. Swanberg, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961, pp. 118-119)