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October Tuesday

Sanguily’s rescue, the machete charge that keeps flashing

Only 35 of his best horsemen accompanied Major General Ignacio Agramonte y Loynaz on October 8, 1871, in the rescue of Brigadier Julio Sanguily, the brilliant and successful action of the Camagüey cavalry leading up to the defeat of a Spanish column of 120 better equipped troops—some said there were 300—in the plains near the city of Puerto Príncipe, province of Camagüey, during the Ten Years' War (1868-1878).

That day not only showed the convening power of a gallant young man, courageous and honorable, an outstanding Mambi chief and model soldier, but also the Cubans’ moral superiority, the kind that leads to real and material achievements, when ideas and feelings respond to an unstoppable will and fair, deeply rooted values and principles.

On the eve of his rescue, Brigadier Julio Sanguily had been taken prisoner by an enemy column while he was spending the night, with the command's permission, at the ranch of a local peasant woman, where he was washing his clothes and trying to recover from some wounds.
One of his assistants managed to escape and reach Agramonte's camp to inform him of the mishap.

Immediately, the Major conceived a plan to rescue Sanguily dead or alive. In modern language, it could be said that Agramonte formed an elite troop to execute the audacious attack with half of his almost 70 soldiers.

It was not a secret for either the mambises or the Spaniards that Ignacio Agramonte, a gymnast and a fan of sport and hunting shooting, had gathered disciplined and courageous fighters whose demolishing force was truly shocking, a fact soon ratified by the enemy, much to his regret.
One of those outstanding men was American-born captain Henry Reeve, nicknamed El inglesito (The Little Englishman), an experienced and skilled young man who checked the place where the Spaniards kept Sanguily as well as the characteristics of the enemy column.

With Reeve’s findings and with him by his side, Agramonte entered into action like a rocket in a military charge that today would be no doubt considered "movie material".

Picture this: the Major and his men are said to have charged the strong Spanish column head-on and come out on the other end with Sanguily mounted on a horse. The prisoner, who was wearing a Spanish uniform, shouted, ‘Viva Cuba libre!’ (Long live Cuba) so that his people could identify him in the middle of the fierce fight.

On the way, they had left in their wake 11 dead and several wounded soldiers, leaving the Iberians astonished at the action and planting the seed of demoralization among them.

“Bugler, call to slit throats!," was the Major's order after a brief harangue to his troops and as the brigadier was being taken hastily to Puerto Príncipe, where he would surely face a swift court-martial and a firing squad, as was de rigueur at the time.

The Cubans followed Agramonte at full gallop, rescued the officer, decimated the Spanish troops and captured dozens of horses, saddles, a tent and plenty of ammunition, revolvers and sabers.

The mambises were extremely happy as they hugged Sanguily. They say that Agramonte kept repeating that his soldiers had not fought like men, but like wild beasts, such was the force of their endeavor.

Of course, the Spaniards were unwilling to talk about such an embarrassment, but to their regret the pleasant Cuban victory went down in history with the name of Sanguily’s Rescue.

It was a time when the internal evils of our first liberation effort were not yet so obvious and harmful to Spain, but a deed like the one carried out by Agramonte, together with his outstanding record, built a great deal of faith in the future victory.

Whether it was a full combat per se or just a military skirmish is not important. What matters is the previous message that it has conveyed to this day, the reason that Cuba always remembers it.

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