General Shafter ordered his commanders to attack both El Caney and the San Juan Heights at dawn on July 1st. At El Caney, 5,000 U.S. troops faced 500 well-entrenched Spanish defenders.
The American battery kept up a leisurely fire on the stone fort, eliciting no reply, and so little disturbing the Spanish that someone suggested they were dummies. Captain Arthur Lee, British military attaché.
The Spaniards then aimed their volleys on our attacking line. We dropped to the ground and fired at will. Men fell in front of me to my right and left. Private Edward Henry, Twenty-first Infantry.
It was not until late afternoon that U.S. forces had taken El Caney. Among those wounded was New York Journal reporter James Creelman, who had tried to recover the Spanish flag from atop the stone fort.
James Creelman got carried away and he had his pistol, he drew his pistol and started shooting and ran up the hill and took a bullet in the back and fell over, thought he was dying. And the next thing he knew was he awoke from his daze and there was Hearst leaning over him wearing a straw hat with a nice ribbon in it. And he said, “Well, I’m sorry you’re shot, but wasn’t it a splendid fight? We beat all the other newspapers.”
This was just wonderful for the newspapers. Coming out of the depression, all the news had been bad news and here came a war and it was a glorious war to cover: exotic place, an enemy that it was easy to despise, real heroes, all the color of the Rough Riders.
That same day, the Rough Riders and 9,000 other U.S. troops, including three black regiments, formed southwest of El Caney to take the San Juan Heights. U.S. commanders planned first to cross the San Juan River at the base of the Heights; then to take Kettle Hill, just west of the San Juan River; and last, to seize the blockhouse atop San Juan Hill, Spain’s final stronghold before Santiago.