The Courteous Battle

: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

In the bay where more than three and a half centuries later the Spanish

fleet was to be destroyed the don once fought the enemy with different

result. It was in 1538, in the harbor of Santiago de Cuba, that the

battle occurred,--Santiago of sad memory, with its shambles, where

insurgents were shot by platoons; with its landings, where slaves were

unloaded at night and marched thence to the plantations, like mules and

ttle; with its Morro, connected by wells and traps with caves in the

rock beneath, where bodies of men mysteriously done to death slipped

away on the tide. A French privateer had appeared before the town,

demanding ransom or surrender. Luckily for Santiago, a Spanish caravel

had arrived a few days before, under command of Captain Diego Perez,

and this gallant sailor offered to go out and defend the town. His

ship was attacked as soon as it came within range of the enemy's guns,

and, turning so as to deliver an effective fire, he gave as good as

he got. All that day the people of the town heard the pounding of

the brass pieces and saw the smudge of powder against the blue to

the south, yet at the fall of evening little damage had been done:

the ships lay too far apart, and the aim on both sides was ridiculous.

Each commander had seen enough of his adversary to respect him,

however, and moved by a common impulse they raised white flags,

declared for a cessation of hostilities through the night, and every

night, so long as they should continue to oppose one another. Then

followed an exchange of fruit and wine, of which both crews were in

need, and, confident in the honor of their enemies, all hands slept

as tired men usually sleep. Said the Spanish captain to the French

commander in the morning, "Artillery is a cowardly and abominable

invention. It is desired to hurt a foe while those who serve it run

no risk. How say you if we put the tompions back into our cannon and

fight, as chivalric men should ever fight, with sword and pike?"

To this the Frenchman gave willing consent, and, the ships ranging

near, the battle reopened, after prayers and breakfast, to some

purpose. With cries of "Santo Iago!" the Spanish tried to board the

pirate ship, but could not secure a footing. Blows were exchanged

throughout the day, save when one ship or the other drew off, that

the wounded might have attention, and the dying prayers, for much

blood was shed and several lost their lives. At the end of the day

both commanders declared their admiration for the skill and courage

of their opponents, and again gave presents of fruit and wine as they

stopped work until the morrow. Perez sent ashore that night to tell

the people of Santiago that fighting was an exhausting business,

and to some extent a risky one, and would they kindly send a few

able-bodied fellows to replace the dead and disabled on his ship?

The response to this call was so meagre that he began to mistrust

his countrymen, and he asked if, in case he lost his ship, the town

would reimburse him, considering that he was risking his all in

their defence. After much debate the townsmen replied, through their

officials, that they were not in a position to make good his loss,

but they trusted that such a calamity would not be possible; that he

would maintain a stout heart and fight on to prove the superiority

of Spanish valor to French craft; that the blessed Santo Iago would

watch over him and his gallant crew; that their best wishes were

with him, and that his kindness would never, never be forgotten. A

trifle disheartened, Captain Perez nevertheless resumed the fight

on the next day, and again on the fourth day, and after the usual

exchange of courtesies at evening, he told the privateer on the fifth

day that he would encounter with him as usual. The persistence of the

Spaniard in thus holding out against seeming odds--for the Frenchman

had the larger crew--set the privateer to thinking, and a sudden

fear arose within him that Spanish reinforcements were on their

way, and that Perez was merely fighting for time until they should

arrive. This fear grew until it became belief, though a baseless one,

and, hoisting sail as quietly as possible, he stole out of Santiago

Bay on the fourth night after hostilities had opened. As thanks are

cheap, Perez received a good many of them.