In the midst of the Spanish-American War, Gunner’s Mate Third Class John Davis stood tall on board the USS Marblehead, facing a torrent of enemy fire during a crucial operation off the coast of Cienfuegos, Cuba.

John Davis: Life Before Service

John Davis was born on October 28, 1877, in Germany. He later immigrated to the United States, where he joined the Navy and served as a Gunner’s Mate Third Class. Davis was deployed aboard the USS Marblehead (C-11), the last Montgomery-class unprotected cruiser, to fight in the Spanish–American War—a conflict that would shape his military career and leave an indelible mark on his life.

USS Marblehead (C-11) / Image source: Wikimedia Commons

During his deployment aboard USS Marblehead, Davis partook in a vital operation to cut the cable leading from Cienfuegos, Cuba, on May 11, 1898.

The Raid on Cienfuegos

The Battle of Cienfuegos, or the Raid on Cienfuegos, was a crucial engagement during the Spanish-American War. Its objective was to tighten the US Navy’s blockade of Cuba by disrupting Spanish communications through the undersea cables. These cables served as vital links between the Spanish command, Havana, Santiago, and other Caribbean islands.

The raid focused on a key junction near Cienfuegos, where the cables were connected and controlled from a strategically located house. Recognizing that merely destroying the house would have limited impact, the decision was made to grapple and cut the cables, severely impairing Spanish communication and operational capabilities.

Led by Captain Bowman H. McCalla, American forces, including the cruiser USS Marblehead, gunboat USS Nashville, and revenue cutter USS Windom were dispatched for the mission. An hour after the crack of dawn on May 11, the Marblehead and Nashville initiated a fierce bombardment of the cable house, causing it to collapse within minutes.

Wikimedia Commons

Following the initial assault, workboats were deployed with minimal crew to minimize casualties. However, their element of surprise was compromised when a Spanish cavalryman spotted the approaching ships en route to the beach.

Rising Amidst Chaos

The raid faced challenges when attempting to cut the second cable due to coral formations and the proximity of Spanish forces. To suppress enemy fire, both warships intensified their bombardment.