Our Man in Havana: How Harry Scovel Became One of the World’s Best-Known War Correspondents


It wasn’t the primary time that Harry Scovel had discovered himself in a Cuban jail. Previously, nevertheless, he’d been imprisoned by the Spanish for his unauthorized protection of the Cuban riot. This time it was his personal facet—the U.S. Military—that had clapped him within the calaboose. He was there for violating a cardinal rule of reporting by making himself a part of the story. Within the eyes of the military, he was there for a much more severe offense. Pondering his attainable destiny, he may need envied the vermin whose cell he was sharing. Not solely had he struck an officer, however the officer occurred to be the commanding common.

Sylvester Henry Scovel had at all times been a insurgent. Born in Pittsburgh in 1869 to Sylvester Finian Scovel, a Presbyterian minister, his center identify honored his maternal uncle, Henry Woodruff, who had evidently been a paragon of deportment. He’d so usually heard “Why can’t you be extra like your Uncle Henry?” from his mom that he by no means used his hated center identify in maturity. For mates who could have thought of “Sylvester” too stuffy, he answered to “Harry.”

When Scovel was 14, his father was named president of the College (now Faculty) of Wooster, and the household moved to Ohio. Harry entered the college’s preparatory division however scotched his father’s dream that he would possibly change into the fourth in a line of Scovel ministers. Avowing atheism and declaring for a profession in engineering, he enrolled within the College of Michigan however distinguished himself extra in crusading in opposition to the fraternity system than excelling in his research. He dropped out his sophomore yr.

Clockwise from high left: Officers within the military of Common Máximo Gómez, the commander in chief of Cuba’s rebel forces; Harry Scovel vaulted to fame as a correspondent within the Spanish-American Warfare; Gómez on his horse; U.S. soldiers in frontline trenches as they await orders to cost San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898. (From high left: Ullstein Bild/Getty; New York World; Granger; Bettmann/Getty)

After a sequence of jobs round america that constituted a course of sensible schooling, Scovel landed in Cleveland and achieved a measure of success as the overall supervisor of the Cleveland Athletic Membership. It’s attainable that doorways have been open to him by way of a collateral department of the household that included Philo Scovill, an entrepreneur, banker, and railroad director. Harry nonetheless made a reputation for himself by opening membership within the membership to hitherto untapped social lessons, together with younger Irish boxers from the working class. He even wrote the libretto to an operetta about early Cleveland that performed to standing-room-only audiences for 3 nights.

Scovel additionally grew to become a member of Troop A, an unbiased navy firm fashioned after the civil unrest surrounding the Nice Railroad Strike of 1877. Identified variously because the First Metropolis Troop and the Black Horse Troop, it had change into a unit of the Ohio Nationwide Guard. Its members hailed largely from the higher lessons and drilled in navy expertise, particularly horsemanship. Scovel will need to have match proper in, having equestrian expertise beforehand realized at a Michigan navy academy and presumably honed throughout stints at Western ranches. He additionally served as firm bugler for 2 years.

Membership in a mounted drill workforce was costly, as was transferring in sporting circles. Regardless of a very good wage and free room on the Cleveland Athletic Membership, Scovel discovered himself in severe debt. Again in Wooster, his father supplied to settle his money owed if he agreed to take a job with an insurance coverage firm in Pittsburgh. Harry went to Pittsburgh however was saved from an insurance coverage profession by destiny. Early that yr a full-fledged riot had damaged out in Cuba, and Harry went to a rally in assist of the Cubans. Scovel grew to become an immediate convert—the insurgent had discovered his trigger.

Tales about Cuban resistance to Spanish oppression had begun dominating the entrance pages of American newspapers within the embryonic days of “yellow journalism”—the sensationalistic, scaremongering fashion of newspapering designed to drive up circulation on the expense of reality. Scovel was seized with the need to assist inform that story and organized to ship copy to a number of Western newspapers in addition to to the New York Herald. With the intuition of a born reporter, he grasped the significance of attending to the sources of the information. Bypassing Key West and Havana, sources of most riot tales, Scovel hopped a steamer to Cienfuegos on the island’s southern coast. From there, with the help of pleasant Cubans, he made his strategy to the camp of Máximo Gómez.

Military History Quarterly magazines GIF

this text first appeared in navy historical past quarterly

Fb @MHQMag | Twitter @MHQMagazine

Gómez was one of many insurgency’s three high leaders, the others being Antonio Maceo and Calixto García. Elbert Hubbard, a well-known American author, would make one in every of them a family identify with a narrative titled “A Message to García,” through which he associated how President William McKinley dispatched “a fellow by the identify of Rowan,” who secretly landed in Cuba, “disappeared into the jungle, and…traversed a hostile nation on foot” to ship McKinley’s letter to the Cuban commander. It takes nothing away from Rowan to watch that for 3 years earlier than his mission, a number of newspaper correspondents had routinely been making their strategy to the insurgent camps and getting out their tales.

“They’re taking probabilities that no conflict correspondents ever took in any conflict in any a part of the world,” wrote Richard Harding Davis. “For this isn’t a conflict—it’s a state of lawless butchery, and the rights of correspondents…and of noncombatants are usually not acknowledged.” Among the many probabilities they ran, he mentioned, have been “being put in jail and left to die of fever.” Davis himself was a longtime author of descriptive reportage and quick fiction slightly than a conflict correspondent. Despatched by William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal early in 1897 to ship again tales on “the Horrors of the Cuban Warfare,” he by no means reached the precise discipline, settling as an alternative for “a automobile window view of issues.”

Most reporters in Cuba have been confined to Havana and the railroads and topic to navy censorship. Common Aresenio Martínez Campos, the Spanish commander, had constructed a line of fortifications alongside the principal railroad line, bisecting the island throughout its slender waist. Underbrush and jungle have been cleared on either side of the tracks, which have been guarded by barbed wire barricades and blockhouses. It wasn’t totally impenetrable; rebels sometimes crossed in drive. A handful of reporters additionally moved freely throughout the road, notably George Rea of the New York Herald, Grover Flint of the Journal, and Scovel.

The journalists who managed to achieve the inside offered antidotes for a number of the fantasy accounts popping out of Havana and Key West. Havana was by no means below siege; “battles” have been extra usually skirmishes or sorties. This was traditional guerrilla warfare, as Gómez and his friends had no intention of making an attempt to seize Havana or have interaction superior Spanish forces in open battle. Their technique consisted of bringing the Spanish to heel by burning the sugarcane fields and ruining the Cuban economic system.

Getting tales of this irregular warfare to their newspapers could possibly be as tough for reporters as reaching the scenes of the motion. To keep away from having their copy eviscerated by the Spanish censors, reporters needed to smuggle their tales out. Some papers despatched boats to the Cuban coast at organized occasions and locations to obtain dispatches from their correspondents. Some reporters employed couriers to hold their reviews to the coast. Scovel and Rea have been valued not just for their reportage however for his or her potential to get their tales to their papers.

Common Valeriano Weyler, the Spanish commander in Cuba, had little love for conflict correspondents, whom he branded “meddlesome scribblers,” and barred them from accompanying forces on both facet. (Ministerio de Defensa, Spain)

Scovel returned to america on the finish of 1895, partly to get better from an contaminated wound and partly to report in individual to a brand new employer: Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, formidable rival of Hearst’s Journal. Change of a extra portentous nature was happening in Cuba, the place Spain changed Common Campos with Common Valeriano Weyler, identified to historical past by the epithet “Butcher Weyler.” The brand new commander in chief had little love for “meddlesome scribblers” and barred journalists from accompanying both the Spanish or the rebel forces.

When Scovel returned to Cuba early in 1896, he went with the mission of ascertaining whether or not the tales of Spanish atrocities that had been popping out of the island have been true. Ignoring Weyler’s fiat, he traveled with Maceo’s forces in Havana Province. In one in every of journalism’s earliest cases of investigative reporting, he started documenting deeds in opposition to noncombatants by Spanish forces that may later be thought of conflict crimes.

Sustaining that he went with a certain quantity of skepticism, Scovel uncovered examples of barbarity “so beastly, so indecent no Apache might have conceived something equal to it.” His reviews started showing within the World in Might, together with a ugly description of mutilated Cuban corpses:

The skulls of all have been cut up to items all the way down to the eyes. A few of these have been gouged out. All of the our bodies had been stabbed by sword bayonets and hacked by sabers till I couldn’t depend the cuts; they have been indistinguishable. The our bodies had nearly misplaced semblance of human type….Fingers and toes have been lacking….The Spanish troopers habitually minimize off the ears of the Cuban useless and retain them as trophies.

Scovel catalogued 212 circumstances of Spanish brutality, backed up by 196 affidavits. His dispatches continued by way of June. “Extermination of the Cuban individuals below the cloak of civilized warfare is Spain’s settled function,” he wrote. The World praised its man in Cuba as having “all the nice and excessive qualities of the conflict correspondent—devotion to responsibility, accuracy, graphic descriptive energy, absolute braveness and ability.”

After a sojourn in New York, Scovel was again in Cuba early in 1897, in defiance of a $5,000 reward that Weyler had supplied for his seize. Although he was in all probability touring incognito, his luck quickly ran out. Fitzhugh Lee, the U.S. consul common in Havana, reported that Scovel had been arrested on February 5 as he was making an attempt to ship out dispatches on the southern coast. He was held on a laundry checklist of prices, together with crossing Spanish traces and speaking with the enemy. Some have been capital offenses.

Scovel’s seize proved to be much less problematic for the prisoner than for Spain, which was desperate to keep away from inflaming anti-Spanish sentiment in America. Despatched to a jail in Sancti Spiritus, in the course of the island, Scovel discovered his lodging a far cry from loss of life row. Cuban sympathizers flooded his cell with flowers and meals. “Señor Sylvester” had change into a people hero to many for his exploits in getting their story out to the world. He even managed to ship tales to the World from his cell, datelined “Calaboose No. 1, Jail of Sancti-Spiritus.”

Pulitzer’s newspaper promptly took up the reason for its imprisoned reporter, which it introduced as a matter of nationwide honor. Illustrating its story of his arrest was a four-column drawing of Scovel on horseback, a military-­fashion mustache over easily shaven jaws and chin, his eyes shaded by a rakish, wide-brimmed hat.

Scovel tried to rearrange for divers to look at the wreckage of the united statesMaine, however Spanish authorities squelched the concept. (Library of Congress)

Dozens of American newspapers joined the campaign to spring Scovel. Fourteen state legislatures and the U.S. Congress handed resolutions urging the State Division to take motion. Many confused his standing as a noncombatant, with the World observing that the closest factor to a weapon he carried was “a typewriting machine.” Spain’s ambassador in Washington knowledgeable Madrid that any harm to Scovel would possibly fatally flip public opinion in America in opposition to Spain. Madrid in flip instructed a reluctant Weyler to launch his prisoner.

Scovel returned to america a conquering hero. He met President McKinley within the White Home shortly thereafter. Days later he married Frances Cabanné, a Saint Louis socialite he had met the earlier fall. The World despatched its new star reporter to the Balkans to cowl the Greco-­Turkish Warfare, however the conflict was basically over earlier than Scovel arrived. He went to Alaska to cowl the Klondike gold rush, however the World quickly summoned him again for reassignment.

Spain had recalled Weyler, clearing the best way for Scovel’s return to Cuba. Taking Frances with him, Scovel submitted to the formality of an arrest on the outdated prices and launch below parole. He was permitted to renew work as a correspondent, and Ramón Blanco, the brand new Spanish commander, even allowed him to cross Spanish traces to go to Gómez’s camp. He was accompanied by the U.S. consul at Sancti Spiritus, who was carrying Spain’s formal provide of native autonomy for Cuba, to be assured by america.

As reported within the World, Gómez replied that Spain’s provide was too late. Scovel returned to Havana, the place anti-­American riots by the pro-Spanish faction broke out in January 1898. Secretary of the Navy John D. Lengthy ordered the USS Maine to Havana harbor. Ostensibly it was a goodwill gesture; implicitly the battleship put Spain on discover
that the U.S. authorities stood prepared, if crucial, to guard American lives and property.

At 9:40 p.m. on February 15, 1898, Harry and Frances Scovel have been eating close to Havana’s Central Park with George Rea of the Herald when a terrific explosion rattled dishes and shattered many of the home windows within the neighborhood. It got here from the harbor, brightly illuminated in opposition to the moonless sky. After seeing Mrs. Scovel to security, the 2 reporters raced to the scene of the explosion and bluffed their approach by way of a police cordon by claiming to be officers from the blazing Maine. Havana’s police chief waved them into his boat, which set off towards the ship by way of exploding small-arms ammunition overhead and our bodies and particles within the water.

Charles D. Sigsbee, the ship’s captain, additionally tried to maintain Scovel away from the positioning. (Sotheby’s)

There was little left to see, aside from that many of the harm had occurred within the ahead finish of the ship. Captain Charles Sigsbee ordered survivors to desert what was left of the Maine because it settled slowly to the underside of the harbor. Scovel and Rea returned to the Havana telegraph workplace, the place solely three messages have been allowed to exit that evening. First was Sigsbee’s terse message to the Navy Division, then a hundred-word dispatch to the Related Press. The one unique report was Scovel’s dispatch to the World, written on a clean, prestamped cable type he had surreptitiously lifted from the censor’s desk that very morning. Essentially the most provocative of its 5 sentences acknowledged: “There’s some doubt as as to if the explosion passed off ON the Maine.”

That query would encourage screaming headlines within the yellow press for the subsequent a number of weeks. If the explosion had taken place on the ship, the implication was that it was doubtless unintended in origin. If it had not taken place on the ship, the trigger was assumed to be a torpedo or a mine, presumably of Spanish origin. (Typically ignored was the commentary that Spain had much less to achieve from the Maine’s sinking than did the insurgents.)

Scovel, on behalf of the World, tried to rearrange for divers to look at the wreckage, however the Spanish squelched that concept. As an alternative, a U.S. naval court docket of inquiry got here to Havana to make an official report. Spain, with Captain Sigsbee’s approbation, tried to maintain American correspondents away from the investigation, however Scovel continued to go to the positioning with out permission. “The ever present American newspaper correspondent couldn’t be denied,” Sigsbee wryly commented.

By the tip of March the court docket of inquiry had issued its discovering that the reason for the Maine’s destruction had been a submarine mine of indeterminate origin. It could not have been the chief casus belli, nevertheless it stirred up extra conflict fever than the reason for the Cubans ever had. The final of the American reporters left Havana with Consul Common Lee on April 10—the eve of McKinley’s conflict message to Congress.

Key West and Tampa grew to become the mobilization factors for the Atlantic Fleet, the Fifth Military Corps, and the conflict correspondents who would cowl their campaigns. The reporters included outdated Cuba fingers like Scovel and a pair hundred newcomers to the theater of conflict. “Amid the surging pleasure of Key West, no determine moved with calmer assurance than the nice Sylvester Scovel,” noticed Ralph Paine, of the Philadelphia Press. “To be blind to Sylvester Scovel was to argue your self unknown….By the each day journalism of his time this energetic younger man whizzed like a detonating meteor.”

Some representatives of the fourth property have been much more celebrated than Scovel, notably literary stars reminiscent of Richard Harding Davis and Stephen Crane. Davis returned to Cuba for the Journal, Crane would write for the World—two giants of letters going through off for the 2 giants of yellow journalism. Common reporters, maybe, have been much less impressed. The newspapers assigned veteran correspondents to each of the celebs, Christopher Michaelson to Davis and Scovel to Crane—to not assist with their writing, however merely to get them to the information and to get their copy whereas it was nonetheless information. Scovel was put on the whole cost of the World’s workforce, telling Paine that he would possibly journey on the paper’s dispatch boat, the Triton, in return for sharing his copy with the World.

When Rear Admiral William Sampson was ordered to blockade Havana with the Atlantic Fleet, the correspondents adopted in quite a lot of chartered craft. In want of detailed data, Sampson might consider no higher supply than Scovel. Placing the Triton on the service of the U.S. Navy, Scovel despatched reporters and a photographer ashore to acquire intelligence and footage of Havana’s defenses. He despatched messengers to make contact with Gómez, inform him of America’s declaration of conflict, and focus on concepts for joint operations. Paine later complained of looking in useless for the Triton to take his dispatch as a result of Scovel had commandeered it “to take soundings for the Admiral.” Paine’s emotions towards Scovel oscillated between hero worship and resentment. “A lot as I admired Sylvester Scovel the magnificent,” he mentioned, “it was to want that he may need attended extra strictly to the newspaper recreation and left the administration of the conflict to Admiral Sampson.”

Scovel didn’t at all times take the Triton. When Spanish forces captured two of his brokers, he boarded the navy tug Uncas to assist negotiate for his or her launch. This proved to be a violation of navy rules, main Scovel to be formally barred from all naval vessels and stations. Sampson wrote to Secretary Lengthy, explaining the mitigating circumstances behind Scovel’s offense. “Mr. Scovel,” he wrote, “has executed such exceedingly good work among the many insurgents, and given us a lot useful data at very nice danger to himself, that I ought to really feel obliged should you would allow me to behave at my discretion within the matter.” Scovel appealed to each Lengthy and McKinley to have the ban lifted, however within the meantime he merely ignored it. He hopped aboard the armed tug Tecumseh to assist land two Cuban couriers on the coast, coming below hearth himself within the course of.

From left: Main Common William Rufus Shafter, in a cartoon captioned “Placing Yellow Journalism in Its Place,” seemingly prepares to drop Scovel within the ocean; Rear Admiral William Sampson, the Atlantic Fleet’s commander. (Library of Congress (2))

In June, nevertheless, motion within the Caribbean dramatically shifted from northwest Cuba to the acute southeastern coast. Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete had left the Cape Verde Islands with a Spanish fleet and disappeared into the Atlantic. Guesses as to his vacation spot ranged from the West Indies to inhabitants facilities alongside the japanese coast of america. New York’s World and Herald collectively despatched a dispatch boat on an entire 1,500-mile circumnavigation of Cuba that turned up, Scovel wrote, “no Spanish warships within the harbor or on the excessive seas.” Quickly a report got here in that Cervera had discovered a harbor in Santiago, and Sampson’s fleet and its newspaper satellites weighed anchors for the opposite finish of Cuba.

Sampson proceeded to bottle up Cervera in Santiago Bay whereas awaiting the arrival of Main Common William Rufus Shafter and the Fifth Military Corps, which must take town of Santiago earlier than Sampson might enter the harbor. In the meantime, Sampson was in want of intelligence on this new theater of operations, and one in every of his main sources once more proved to be Scovel. Taking Crane with him, Scovel landed in insurgent territory west of Santiago and handed by way of Spanish traces. After climbing a 2,000-foot mountain, they have been rewarded with a chicken’s-eye view of Santiago Bay, which Scovel later described within the World:

There upon the bosom of the green-fringed harbor lay Cervera’s as soon as dreaded squadron. There have been the 4 massive warships, simply acknowledged—the Cristobal Colon, Vizcaya, Almirante Oquendo, Infanta Maria Teresa, and the outdated Reina Mercedes…I climbed a tree and made a tough sketch of the scene earlier than me, so {that a} working map could possibly be constituted of it, and to repair the placement of all necessary factors firmly in my reminiscence.

It was simple to see why Sampson was prepared to miss rules in favor of reporters; Shafter proved to be a distinct story. A Medal of Honor recipient for his actions within the Civil Warfare, Shafter now minimize fairly a distinct determine. At 300 kilos he might not mount a horse. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt of the volunteer “Tough Riders” regiment bore him no respect, writing his pal Henry Cabot Lodge that the commanding common was “criminally incompetent” and responsible of gross mismanagement. Reporters have been equally disrespectful, and with cause. Shafter’s aide de camp had known as them a nuisance and threatened to expel them from the expeditionary drive. When the redoubtable Davis tried to inform the overall what sort of writing he did, Shafter rudely minimize him off. “I don’t give a rattling what you might be,” he instructed Davis. “I’ll deal with you all alike.”

By the tip of June the Fifth Corps was in place east of Santiago. Reporters hadn’t been expelled from its traces, however within the face of shortages for the troops, the commissary regularly denied their efforts to buy rations. On the eve of the climactic battle Scovel organized the World’s protection and arrange a camp with refreshments on the peak of El Pozo simply behind the traces. Through the battle he adopted the troops to Kettle and San Juan Hills, writing his dispatch below a tree and warning different correspondents to keep away from an space lined by Spanish sharpshooters. A messenger carried his story on horseback to the World’s base, asserting that People had carried the day and cleared the best way to the very gates of Santiago.

For 2 weeks the Fifth Corps stood earlier than these gates, till Shafter had negotiated the give up of not solely town’s garrison however all Spanish forces within the district. He organized for a proper switch of energy on Sunday, July 17, and let it’s identified that correspondents weren’t invited. A few of the extra enterprising ones managed to slide into town anyway.

Within the plaza fronting the governor’s palace, an American regiment and its band stood at consideration to witness the elevating of the Stars and Stripes atop the palace. Ralph Paine described the little bit of improvisational theater that adopted. As three officers bearing the colours approached the flagpole, all of a sudden “there appeared the energetic, compact determine of Sylvester Scovel, Particular Commissioner of the ‘New York World.’ ” What may need been seen as an unwarranted intrusion appeared to Paine a matter in fact. “At this explicit second within the histories of Spain and america, what was extra pure and to be accepted than that Scovel needs to be within the middle of the stage?”

Shafter didn’t see it that approach. Furious, he bellowed, “Throw him off!” As a number of troopers moved to hold out the order, Scovel beat a tactical retreat from the roof. He rushed into the sq. to confront Shafter. Phrases have been exchanged; then greater than phrases.

“He [Shafter] instructed Sylvester Scovel to close up or be locked up, and brushed him to 1 facet,” Paine wrote. “Sylvester Scovel swung his good proper arm and tried to knock the top off the major-general commanding the American Military in Cuba.” Shafter ordered the reporter arrested, and Scovel was summarily hauled off to what was described as “a moss-covered calaboose” whereas the give up ceremony proceeded.

Scovel had been “abusive and insubordinate,” Shafter reported to the Warfare Division, “one phrase main to a different, till he struck at me, however didn’t hit me. I might have tried him and had him shot…however I most well-liked to fireplace him from the island.” As Paine instructed it, Scovel’s swing wasn’t an entire miss: “It was a flurried blow, with out a lot science behind it, and Scovel’s fist glanced off the overall’s double chin, nevertheless it left a mark there, a crimson scratch seen for some days.”

“By no means once more do I need to cross an evening on this hellhole with all these creeping issues,” avowed a considerably chastened Scovel on his launch the morning after his incarceration. He realized, mentioned a fellow reporter, that “he could be shot in any nation with a navy system.” Little doubt Shafter on his half would have had second ideas about executing a reputed acquaintance of President McKinley. Scovel later received to inform his facet of the story, claiming that he had approached Shafter to apologize for disrupting his ceremony. “You son of a bitch,” he quoted Shafter as replying, “you and all of your tribe are goddamned nuisances.” Scovel took exception to the overall’s language, Shafter hit him, and he returned the blow.

Response to the contretemps initially ran in opposition to Scovel. He was banned from all U.S. Military and Navy bases; even the World determined it might dispense together with his companies. Earlier than lengthy, nevertheless, even the fastidious Davis mentioned that he had left Santiago for worry that he’d “do what Scovel did.” The World reconsidered and invited Scovel to jot down his personal account of the affair for the paper. He appealed personally to McKinley to rescind his banishment from accompanying U.S. navy forces, which the president did by the tip of 1898.

Scovel turned down the World’s provide of a European correspondent place in favor of returning to Cuba. He lined the early days of the American occupation till the topic pale in public curiosity. His conflict reporting days have been over after one conflict, however in what has been dubbed “The Correspondents’ Warfare,” he had been the undisputed chief of the pack. “From the angle of editors and reporters within the discipline,” famous media historian Mary S. Mander, “Sylvester Scovel—slightly than literary star Davis or his New York World counterpart Stephen Crane—was the beau ideally suited.”

Scovel grew to become a consulting engineer for the U.S. occupation authorities earlier than participating in quite a few enterprise ventures, together with one in every of Cuba’s first vehicle dealerships. However his life was minimize quick at age 35 from issues that adopted an operation in a Havana hospital to take away an abscess of the liver.

Frances introduced Scovel’s stays to Wooster for burial. Troop A despatched a mass of roses that lined the casket. Members of the Ohio Nationwide Guard who had seen responsibility in Cuba served as pallbearers, fired a volley in salute, and sounded faucets. The household raised a tombstone bearing the identify Scovel, below which was carved Sylvester Henry, 1869–1905.

Uncle Henry seems to have had the final phrase.



Share:

Leave a Reply

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings