In 1833, Marcos Maceo moved to the island of Cuba, after a number of his fellow soldiers were exiled from Venezuela. Marcos Maceo was a Venezuelan soldier fighting for the Spanish in the Venezuelan War of Independence. While living in Cuba Marcos met and married a woman named Mariana Grajales y Cuello, the couple produced a son named Antonio. Antonio Maceo Grajales was born on June 14th, 1845, in the town of San Luis, Cuba. His family lived on the Jobabo farm, which was Antonio’s place of birth. His parents were very instrumental in his upbringing. His father not only was a soldier, but he was also a successful farmer who owned several farms. His mother was an iconic Afro-Cuban woman who fought for women’s rights and Cuban independence. It is said that his father taught him how to be strong, crafty, and resourceful, but his mother taught him, discipline and critical thinking. Bring the eldest of nine siblings he needed to help his family bring in money. At the age of sixteen, he began working for his father as a delivery boy for his father’s farms. During his teens is when Antonio became interested in politics; he joined a Masonic Lodge in the year 1864. As a member of the lodge, Antonio was influenced by Cuban freedom fighters who were fighting against Spain to gain their independence.
In 1868, Antonio married a woman named María Cabrales; 1868 is also the year he joined the Cuban Ten Years’ War along with his father and a few siblings. Mariana Grajales fully supported her sons and husband fighting against the Spanish for their independence. She is known as the “Mother of the Nation” because of how dedicated she was to the Cubans gaining their independence from Spain. The Ten Years’ War started after Cuban Revolutionary hero Carlos Manuel de Céspedes led a revolt known as “The Cry of Yara”. Céspedes freed the slaves he owned and they all joined together to fight Spain during “The Cry of Yara”. Antonio excelled as a soldier in the Cuban rebel army. Five months into his enlistment he was promoted to commander in the army, within the next few weeks he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and then colonel shortly after. Antonio was a military star in the making; over his next five years and five hundred battles, he became very popular because of his success over the Spanish. He was promoted to Brigadier General then eventually Major General. Many feel that his promotion to Major General was delayed because of his skin color and his family not being of the bougie class of Cubans.
Antonio gained a reputation for being almost invincible on the battlefield, he was known as the “Bronze Titan”, he suffered more than twenty-five injuries on the battlefield but never slowed down leading his men into battle. Antonio admired the military strategies of the Dominican Major General Máximo Gómez and even adopted the use of the machete over the Spanish sword. As the “Ten Years’ War” progressed it was also coming to an end and officially ended with the signing of the Pact of Zanjón, a document Antonio opposed any Cuban rebels signing. Antonio believed that the rebels needed tangible gains from the peace talks such as the abolition of slavery and Cuban independence, not just empty promises and moral victories. The Protest of Baraguá was Antonio and his men rejecting the limited and still oppressive terms of the proposed peace treaty. A comrade of Antonio planned to ambush the Spanish general who proposed the terms of the peace treaty, Antonio rejected the ambush because he wanted his victory to be with honor. Days after meeting with the Spanish general the battle resumed but it was paramount for Antonio to escape from his post in Cuba. He eventually found himself in New York planning a Cuban invasion with Major General Calixto García Íñiguez. The planned invasion became the second of three conflicts between Cuba and Spain known as the Little War. The Spanish did an effective job of promoting racist and divisive messages against the Cubans, which caused tension to arise between the white Cubans and Afro-Cubans.
The Spanish were determined to kill Antonio while he was visiting Haiti, Jamaica, and Costa Rica. While in Costa Rica he was aided by the president and assigned to join a Costa Rican military unit as a consultant. Cuban poet and professor José Martí contacted Antonio to convince him to initiate a war thought of as the “Necessary War” or the War of 1895. Antonio was not confident in his army’s chances of victory until Marti was able to convince him that their chances of winning were higher than Antonio may have calculated. He was able to escape the capture of Spanish soldiers by going into the mountains, while in the mountains he was able to form a small group of soldiers that quickly became a small army. Antonio, Marti, and Gomez held a meeting in which Antonio and Marti disagreed on military strategy, days after the meeting Marti was killed in battle, Gomez was named the General in Chief of the Cuban Liberation Army, and Antonio became the Lieutenant General or second in command of the army. Behind the leadership of Gomez and Antonio, the Cuban liberation army traveled one-thousand miles in ninety-six days and earned numerous victories against the Spanish. Gomez organized the liberation army so well that they were overwhelming the Spanish army who had a greater number of soldiers and resources; the guerrilla warfare took a toll on the Spanish army.
The cruel treatment of the Spanish towards the Cuban people encourage more able Cubans to join the Cuban Independence Army. A great number of Cubans were placed in concentration camps by the Spanish, which was the fuel needed to encourage more Cubans to fight against the Spanish. The Cuban Liberation Army was earning victories over the Spanish on both the East and West sides of the island. December 7th, 1896, Antonio and his personal escorts were moving in on Spanish territory and attempting to create an entrance for his army into Spanish territory when they were fired upon and Antonio was struck by two bullets that took his life. He was initially buried in a secret location but his remains were later moved to the Monumento El Cacahual in Havana, Cuba, and honored as a military hero. Antonio is remembered as one of Cuba’s greatest military heroes and fighters for the abolition of slavery and the independence of all Cubans, he even was aware enough to fight the underlying racism Afro-Cubans faced from white Cubans. He was the son of a military hero and Cuban independence icon, and he took the lessons from his parents to help lead his people closer to their true independence. To the legendary Antonio Maceo Grajales, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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