Ten Years' War

Ten Years' War
Ten Years War
Embarcament dels voluntaris catalans al port de Barcelona.jpg
Embarkation of the Catalan Volunteer from the port of Barcelona
Date October 10, 1868–1878
Location Cuba
Result Spanish victory. Pact of Zanjón
Cuba Cuba Spain Kingdom of Spain
Commanders and leaders
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes
Máximo Gómez
Antonio Maceo Grajales
Arsenio Martínez Campos
12,000 rebels, 40,000 supporters 100,000
Casualties and losses
300,000+ rebels and civilians ??

The Ten Years' War (Spanish: Guerra de los Diez Años) (1868–1878), also known as the Great War and the War of '68, began on October 10, 1868 when sugar mill owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and his followers proclaimed Cuba's independence from Spain. It was the first of three liberation wars that Cuba fought against Spain, the other two being the Little War (1879–1880) and the Cuban War of Independence (1895–1898). The final three months of the last conflict escalated to become the Spanish–American War.



The failure of the latest Reformist efforts, the demise of the "Information Board" and an economic crisis in 1866/67 gave way to a new scenario. In spite of the crisis, the colonial administration continued to make huge profits which were not invested on the island but either went into military expenditures (44% of the revenue), paid for the colonial government's expenses (41%), or were sent to Spain and Fernando Po (12%). The Spaniards with 8% of the population appropriated over 90% of the island’s wealth. In addition, the majority of the Cuban population still had no political rights, giving rise to underground movements, especially in the eastern part of the country.[1]

In July 1867, the "Revolutionary Committee of Bayamo" was founded under the leadership of one of Cuba’s wealthiest plantation owners, Francisco Vicente Aguilera. The conspiracy rapidly spread to Oriente’s lager towns, most of all Manzanillo where Carlos Manuel de Céspedes became the main protagonist of the uprising. Originally from Bayamo, Céspedes owned an estate and sugar mill known as La Demajagua. The Spanish, aware of Céspedes’ anti-colonial intransigence, tried to force him into submission by imprisoning his son Oscar. Céspedes refused to negotiate and Oscar was executed.[2]


The date for the uprising was moved up, because the Spaniards had discovered the plans in early October. In the early morning of October 10 Céspedes issued the independence cry ‘’’10th of October Manifesto’’’ at La Demajagua, starting the war against Spanish rule in Cuba. As a first step, Céspedes freed his slaves, asking them to join the struggle. However, many questioned Céspedes's plans for manumission, notably the rate at which slaves were to be freed, or disagreed with his call for U.S. annexation of Cuba.

During the first few days, the uprising almost failed. Céspedes intended to occupy the nearby town of Yara on October 11, from which this revolution is commemorated in Cuba as a national holiday under the name Grito de Yara ("Cry of Yara"). In spite of this defeat, the uprising of Yara was supported in various regions on Oriente and continued to spread throughout the eastern region of Cuba. On October 13, the rebels took eight towns in the province favouring enrolment and acquisition of arms. By the end of October, the insurrection had some 12,000 volunteers.

That same month, Máximo Gómez, a former cavalry officer for the Spanish Army in the Dominican Republic, with his extraordinary military skills, taught the Cuban forces what would be their most lethal tactic: the machete charge.[3] The machete charge was particularly lethal because it involved firearms as well. If the Spanish were caught on the march, the machetes would cut through their ranks. When the Spaniards (following then-standard tactics) formed a square, rifle fire from infantry under cover and pistol and carbine fire from charging cavalry would cause many losses. However, as it would be in wars such as these, yellow fever caused the heaviest losses because the Spanish had not acquired the childhood immunity that the Cuban troops had.

10th of October Manifesto

When rebelling us against the Spanish tyranny we want to indicate to the world the reasons for our resolution. Spain governs us with iron and blood; it imposes contributions and taxes at will; it prevails us from all political, civil and religious freedom; it has put us under military watch in days of peace, that catch, exile and execute without been subject to any proceedings or laws; it prohibits that we freely assembly, if it is not under the presidency of military leaders; and it declares rebels to whom reclaim remedy for so many evils. Spain loads us with hungry employees who live from our patrimony and consume the product of ours work. So that we do not know our rights it maintains us in the ignorance; and so that we do not learn to exert it, it keeps us away from the administration of the public thing. Without nobody threatens to us, and without a reason which justifies that, it forces us to maintain a expensive square and army, whose unique use is to repress and to humiliate us. Its system of customs is so perverse that we had already perished in the misery, to not being so extraordinary the fertility of our ground and so raised the price of its fruits. It opposes whichever obstacles are imaginable to the promotion of our white population. It limits the use to us of the word; it prevents us to write, thanks that let think to us, and it resists to that we participate in the intellectual progress of other countries. Several times it has promised to improve our condition, and many it has deceived to us, and it is not left us more resource than to appeal to the arms to defend our properties, to protect our lives and to save our honor. To the God of our consciousness we appealed, and to the goof faith of the civilized nations. We aspire to the popular sovereignty and the universal suffrage. We want to enjoy the freedom for whose use God created the man. We profess sincerely the dogma of the brotherhood, the tolerance and justice, and consider all men, equal, and do not be excluded from its benefits; nor even the Spaniards, if they decide to live peacefully among us. We want that the people take part in the formation of the laws, and in the distribution and investment of the contributions. We want to abolish the slavery and compensate whoever is harmed. We want freedom of meeting, freedom of the press and freedom of brings back consciousness; and we requested respect to the inalienable rights of the man, foundations of the independence and the greatness of the towns. We want to remove from the yoke of Spain and to become a free and independent nation. If Spain recognizes our rights, will have in Cuba an affectionate daughter; if it persists in subjugating to us, we are resolute to die before to be under his domination. We have chosen a head to which we conferred total faculties to direct the war. We have authorized to who provisionally will have to collect contributions and to take care of the needs of the administration. When Cuba be free, it will constituted in the form and of the way that creates more advisable.

Ingenio ``El Rosario, octubre 6 de 1868.

Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Jaime M. Santiesteban, Bartolomé Masó, Juan Hall, Francisco J. Céspedes, Pedro Céspedes, Manuel Calvar, Isaías Masó, Eduardo Suástegui, Miguel Suástegui, Rafael Tornés, Manuel Santiesteban, Manuel Socarrás, Agustín Valerino, Rafael Masó, Eligio Izaguirre.

Progress of the War

Col. Federico Fernández Cavada

The rebels proceeded to seize the important city of Bayamo after a 3-day-combat. It was in the enthusiasm of this victory when the poet and musician, Perucho Figueredo, composed Cuba’s national anthem, the “Bayamo”. The first government of the Republic in Arms, headed by Céspedes, was established in Bayamo. The city was retaken by the Spanish after 3 months on January 12, but it had been burned to the ground.[4]

Nevertheless, the war spread in Oriente: On November 4, 1868, Camagüey rose up in arms and, in early February 1869, Las Villas followed. The uprising was not supported in the westernmost provinces Pinar del Río, Havana and Matanzas and, with few exceptions (Vuelta Abajo) remained clandestine. A staunch supporter of the rebellion was José Martí who, at the age of 16, was detained and condemned to 16 years of hard labour, later deported to Spain and would eventually become a leading Latin American intellectual and Cuba’s foremost national hero as a primary architect of the 1895-98 War of Independence.

After some initial victories, and then defeats, Céspedes replaced Gomez with General Thomas Jordan, who brought a well-equipped force, as head of Cuban army. However, General Jordan's regular tactics, although initially effective, left the families of Cuban rebels far too vulnerable to the "ethnic cleansing" tactics of the ruthless Blas Villate, Count of Valmaceda (also spelled Balmaceda). Valeriano Weyler, who would reach notoriety as the "Butcher Weyler" in the 1895-1898 War, fought along the Count of Balmaceda. General Jordan then left, Máximo Gómez was returned to his command and a new generation of skilled battle-tested Cuban commanders rose from the ranks, these including Antonio Maceo Grajales, José Maceo, Calixto García, Vicente Garcia González[5] and Federico Fernández Cavada. Fernández Cavada once served as a Colonel in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and on April 4, 1870, was named Commander-in-Chief of all the Cuban forces.[6] Other war leaders of note fighting on the Cuban Mambí side included: Donato Mármol, Luis Marcano-Alvarez, Carlos Roloff, Enrique Loret de Mola, Julio Sanguily, Domingo Goicuría, Guillermo Moncada, Quentin Bandera, Benjamín Ramirez, and Julio Grave de Peralta.

On April 10, 1869, a constitutional assembly took place in the town of Guáimaro (Camagüey), with the purpose of providing the revolution with greater organizational and juridical unity and with representatives from the areas that had joined the uprising. A major topic of the discussions was whether a centralized leadership should be in charge of both military and civilian affairs or if there should be a separation between civilian government and military leadership, the latter being subordinate to the first. The overwhelming majority voted for the separation option. Céspedes was elected president of this assembly and General Ignacio Agramonte y Loynáz and Antonio Zambrana, principal authors of the proposed Constitution, were elected Secretaries.[7] After completing its work, the Assembly reconstituted itself as the House of Representatives as the state’s supreme power, electing Salvador Cisneros Betancourt as its president, Miguel Gerónimo Gutiérrez as vice-president, and Agramonte and Zambrana as Secretaries. Céspedes was then elected, on April 12, 1869, as the first president of the Republic in Arms and General Manuel de Quesada (who had fought in Mexico under Benito Juárez during the French invasion of that country), as Chief of the Armed Forces.

After failing to reach an agreement with the insurrection forces in early 1869, the Spanish responded by unleashing a war of extermination. The colonial government passed several laws: all arrested leaders and collaborators would be executed on the spot, ships carrying weapons would be seized and all onboard immediately executed, males 15 and older caught outside of their plantations or places of residence without justification would be summarily executed, all towns were ordered to raise the white flag, otherwise burnt to the ground, any woman caught away from her farm or place of residence would be concentrated in cities. Apart from its own army the government could rely on the Voluntary Corps which had been created a few years earlier to face the announced invasion by Narcisco López and which became notorious for its barbaric and bloody acts. One infamous incident was the execution of eight students from the University of Havana on November 27, 1871.[8] Another one was the seizure of the steamship Virginius in international waters on October 31, 1873, and, starting on November 4, serial execution of 53 persons, including the captain, most of the crew and a number of Cuban insurgents onboard. The serial executions were only stopped by the intervention of a British man-of-war under the command of Sir Lambton Lorraine. In another incident, the so-called "Creciente de Valmaseda", farmers (Guajiros), and the families of Mambises were killed or captured en masse and sent to concentration camps.

The Mambises fought using guerrilla warfare and their efforts had much more impact on the eastern side of the island than on the western, due in part to a lack of supplies. Ignacio Agramonte was killed by a stray bullet on May 11, 1873 and was replaced in the command of the central troops by Máximo Gómez. Because of political and personal disagreements and Agramonte's death, the Assembly deposed Céspedes as president, who was replaced by Cisneros. Agramonte had come to realize that his dream Constitution and government were ill suited to the Cuban Republic in Arms, which was the reason he quit as Secretary and assumed command of the Camaguey region. By being curtailed by the Congress, he understood Cespedes' plight, thus becoming a supporter. Céspedes was later surprised and killed by a swift-moving patrol of Spanish troops on February 27, 1874. The new Cuban government had left him with only one escort and denied him permission to leave Cuba for the US, where he wanted to help to prepare and send armed expeditions.

Activities in the Ten Years War peaked in the years 1872 and 1873, but after the death of Agramonte and destitution of Céspedes, Cuban operations were limited to the regions of Camagüey and Oriente. Gómez began an invasion of Western Cuba in 1875, but the vast majority of slaves and wealthy sugar producers in the region did not join the revolt. After his most trusted general, the American Henry Reeve, was killed in 1876, the invasion was over.

Spain's efforts to fight were hindered by the civil war (Third Carlist War) that broke out in Spain in 1872. When the civil war ended in 1876, more Spanish troops were sent to Cuba until they numbered more than 250,000. The impact of the Spanish measures on the liberation forces was severe. Neither side in the war was able to win a single concrete victory, let alone crush the opposing side to win the war, but in the long run Spain gained the upper hand.[9]

Conclusion of the War

From the very onset of the war there were deep divisions with respect its organisation which became even more pronounced after the Assembly of Guáimaro with the dismissal of Céspedes and Quesada in 1873. The Spanish were able to exploit regionalist sentiments and fears that the slaves of Matanzas would break the weak existing balance between whites and blacks. They changed their policy towards the Mambises, offering amnesties and reforms. The Mambises did not prevail for a variety of reasons: lack of organization and resources; lower participation by whites; internal racist sabotage (against Maceo and the goals of the Liberating Army); the inability to bring the war to the western provinces (Havana in particular); and opposition by the US government to Cuban independence. The US sold the latest weapons to Spain, but not to the Cuban rebels.[10]

Tomás Estrada Palma succeeded Cisneros as president of the Republic in Arms. Estrada Palma was captured by Spanish troops on October 19, 1877. As a result of successive misfortunes, on February 8, 1878, the constitutional organs of the Cuban government were dissolved and negotiations for peace were started in Zanjón, Puerto Príncipe.

General Arsenio Martínez Campos, in charge of applying the new policy, arrived in Cuba, but it took him almost two years to convince most of the rebels to accept the Pact of Zanjón on February 10, 1878, signed by a negotiating committee. The document contained most of the promises made by Spain. The Ten Years' War came to an end, except for the resistance of a small group in Oriente led by General Garciá and Antonio Maceo Grajales, who protested in Los Mangos de Baraguá on March 15. Even a constitution and a provisional government was set up, but the revolutionary élan was gone. The provisional government convinced Maceo to give up, thus ending the war on May 28, 1878.[11] Many of the graduates of Ten Years' War, however, became central players in Cuba's war of independence that started in 1895. These include the Maceo brothers, Maximo Gómez, Calixto Garcia and others.[10]

The Pact of Zanjón promised various reforms throughout the island which would improve the financial situation of Cuba. Perhaps the most significant was to free all slaves who had fought Spain. A major conflict throughout the war was the abolition of the slavery. Both the rebels and the people loyal to Spain wanted to abolish slavery. In 1880, a law was passed by the Spanish government that freed all of the slaves. However, the slaves were required by law to work for their masters for a number of years but the masters had to pay the slaves for their work. The wages were so low the slaves could barely afford to live off them. The Spanish government lifted the law before it was to expire because neither the land owners nor the freed men appreciated it.[citation needed]

After the war ended, there were 17 years of tension between the people of Cuba and the Spanish government, a time called "The Rewarding Truce", including the Little War (La Guerra Chiquita) between 1879-1880. These separatists would go on to follow the lead of José Martí, the most passionate of the rebels chose exile over Spanish rule. There was also a severe depression throughout the island. Overall, about 200,000 people lost their lives in the conflict. The war also devastated the coffee industry and American tariffs badly damaged Cuban exports.

See also


  1. ^ Navarro 1998, p. 43.
  2. ^ Navarro 1998, pp. 43–44.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Navarro 1998, p. 45.
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ The Latino Experience in U.S. History"; publisher: Globe Pearson; pages 155-157; ISBN 0-835-90641-8
  7. ^ Navarro 1998, p. 47.
  8. ^ Navarro 1998, p. 48.
  9. ^ Navarro 1998, p. 50.
  10. ^ a b History of Cuba - The Ten Year War
  11. ^ Navarro 1998, p. 52.


  • Perez Jr., Louis A (1988). Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Navarro, José Cantón (1998). History of Cuba: The Challenge of the Yoke and the Star. Havana, Cuba: Editorial SI-MAR S. A.. ISBN 959-7054-19-1. 

Further reading

Portions of this article were extracted from CubaGenWeb.

Perhaps the most detailed source for information on the Ten Years' War is still Antonio Pirala's Anales de la Guerra en Cuba, (1895, 1896 and some from 1874) Felipe González Rojas (Editor), Madrid.

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