Carbonell: The essential conspirator
Lee’s unpublished manuscript is strikingly detailed about the role of Carlos Carbonell, a Cuban-American who had turned forty-seven just three days before the jailbreak. Carbonell, a banker who had earned a degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1875,123 concealed Cisneros in his house for two days after the escape and then smuggled her aboard the Seneca, Lee’s account says. The Journal in May 1898 disclosed that Carbonell had been an accomplice—or what it termed “not the least important of Karl Decker’s aid[e]s”124—in the Cisneros escape. The Journal’s report was prompted by what in the spring of 1898 had become an open secret in Richmond—that Carbonell was engaged to be married to Cisneros.125 The Journal reported that he had proposed marriage at Lee’s house in Richmond, while Cisneros was visiting. 126 Carbonell had left Cuba in April 1898127 as the U.S. entry into the war became certain. Lee, Barker, and other U.S. diplomatic personnel departed for the United States that month as well.128
Lee’s manuscript describes Carbonell as central to Cisneros’ successful flight from Cuba and offers new details about Cisneros’ refuge at Carbonell’s house.129 Her time there was harrowing from the moment she arrived in a horse-drawn carriage that had sped her from the jail. As she left the carriage, two policemen were passing on foot and one of them “had to stop to let the young lady go into Mr. Carbonell’s house,” Lee wrote. “The servant who was opening the door upon hearing the carriage approach, told Mr. Carbonell just as the girl did when she entered[,] ‘What a pity the police have seen us.’”130 But the suspicions of the policemen were not stirred, Lee wrote, as they did not search the premises.
Once inside, Cisneros was troubled to find that Carbonell had no family and presumed he was a widower, Lee wrote. Carbonell replied that he was a bachelor. With that, Cisneros “became a little nervous,” Lee wrote, “not knowing where she was to be taken. Mr. Carbonell then replied that … she would be respected in his house as much as his own mother.”131
Cisneros was terrified of being found and arrested, and grew “more and more nervous every time she read a paper saying they were looking for her,” Lee’s manuscript says.132 She told Carbonell “that she would not surrender herself … by which she meant she would kill herself first.”133 Carbonell, Lee wrote, told her:
that if the police came to search the house, there would be three of them as that was the usual custom, one would stop at the door and the other two would come up stairs. Mr. Carbonell said in that case he would tell the police that she was his friend, and not the lady for whom they were looking; in case they would not believe him, he would try to bribe them. He then asked her what she would do in that case and [she] answered, ‘All that we can do is to fight. I know where your revolver is,’ upon which Mr. Carbonell sent for another revolver, and there they remained both of them having pistols.134
Carbonell took other precautions to prevent Cisneros’ recapture, renting a house next to his. “The windows between the two houses were broken so that she could escape [next door] if necessary,” Lee wrote. 135
Carbonell had intended to smuggle Cisneros aboard the Seneca during the night of 8 October, after its arrival from Mexico. But “the steamer was behind time and did not arrive into port until the next day, the ninth, so he had to take her aboard in the day time,” Lee wrote. 136 “He then sent for his friend, Captain Stevens of the Seneca, and took him over and introduced him … to the young lady. Captain Stevens found her dressed as a boy, and agreed to take her to New York if she was put on board.”137
Late in the afternoon that day, Carbonell told Decker and MacDonald that he “was going to put her aboard the Seneca that evening.” MacDonald wanted to take a photograph of Cisneros dressed as a boy, “but as he had never taken a photograph before, they made a mistake and took all five pictures on one plate,” Lee wrote.138
Carbonell walked with Cisneros, who had an unlighted cigar in her mouth, the two blocks from his house to the wharf where they boarded a launch to the Seneca. While Cisneros waited in the launch, Lee wrote, Carbonell and the ship’s purser “induced” the policemen onboard “to go into the dining room with him and take a dirnk,[sic] while in the meantime Captain Stevens sent his Quartermaster down the gangway to bring the girl up.”139 She was hidden in a stateroom. The cigar and the heat in her hideaway “made her quite sick,” Lee wrote. “Fortunately the steamer left soon afterwards and Mr. Carbonell went back to his house to inform Mr. Decker that everything was all right.”140
Lee’s papers make clear that he and Carbonell were well-acquainted before the jailbreak141 and, if anything, their association deepened afterward. The consul-general came to regard Carbonell as “an excellent man,” who was as “conscientious and honest as he can be.”142 Carbonell also was a source of information for Lee. Several weeks after the Cisneros escape, he took Lee to visit a hospital in Havana where Cuban doctors treated Cuban women and children. Many patients were reconcentrados. In late November 1897, Lee wrote to his wife about visiting the hospital, telling her of seeing a malnourished “baby child of a reconcentrado—6 months old and only a foot long.”143 In addition, Carbonell recommended the manservant whom Lee hired in late 1897.144
At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898, Lee was given command of the U.S. Seventh Army Corps. He appointed Carbonell to his staff, with the rank of lieutenant. The Seventh Corps remained in the United States during the war but afterward was ordered to Cuba.145 Shortly before the Corps was deployed there, Carbonell went to Havana with Lee’s instructions “to quietly make investigation in reference to certain properties that I know must largely increase in value the very instant the Corps reaches Havana, and proves by its presence that the United States proposes to see that law and order is maintained, and human life and property protected.”146 Lee envisioned buying land for a trolley line and solicited the backing of Daniel Lamont, a former U.S. secretary of war. “If a few of us can pick these properties up now, and build the trolley line, there are real millions in it,” Lee wrote to Lamont.147
Carbonell reported from Havana that he had completed his investigation and suggested to Lee “that the sooner we buy the land and houses will be the better. You might write to your friends and try to have them come when you do it, as it will be a matter that should be decided right off as the longer it is delayed, the more it will cost.”148 Carbonell also told Lee: “Everybody is anxious to see you arrive to welcome you. … All Cubans look at you as the salvation of the country.”149
Carbonell’s name also surfaced during the U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry into the destruction in February 1898 of the U.S.S. Maine. In testimony before the Court of Inquiry, a U.S. consular clerk named Henry Drain said Carbonell had passed along an anonymous letter describing a purported plot to blow up the warship. Drain testified that Lee had instructed him “to consult with Mr. Carbonell, who would probably know more about it than anybody else.” Drain further testified that he regarded Carbonell as reliable, “from having known him several years.”150 The letter, which was included as an appendix to the Court of Inquiry’s record, was never substantiated. But it holds significance for the Cisneros case because it underscores that Carbonell was well-known to, and well-regarded by, Lee’s consular staff. And it demonstrates that Carbonell continued to engage in intrigue in Havana months after the Cisneros jailbreak.
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123. Carlos F. Carbonell to Lee (30 November 1898), Lamont Papers, Container 83, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, DC.
124. Carbonell to Lee (30 November 1898), Lamont Papers, Library of Congress.
125. Record of the Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry Upon the Destruction of the United States Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor February 15, 1898 (Washington, DC: U.S. Navy, 1898), 101.
126. See Henry B. Nason, ed., Biographical Record of the Officers and Candidates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1824–1886 (Troy, NY: William H. Young, 1887), 449–450. The volume’s entry for Carbonell says he went to preparatory school in Philadelphia and matriculated at Rensselaer in 1872.
127. “Miss Cisneros Will Wed,” New York Journal (21 May 1898).
128. “Miss Cisneros Will Wed,” New York Journal (21 May 1898). The Journal reported that Carbonell had “desired no public mention” of the engagement until after the Spanish-American War. “The news, however, spread in that mysterious manner in which such fascinating morsels invariably will, and so the public is talking the matter over and rejoicing with the lovers over their happiness,” the Journal reported.
129. “Miss Cisneros Will Wed,” New York Journal (21 May 1898).
130. “Miss Cisneros Will Wed,” New York Journal (21 May 1898).
131. Lee received a hero’s welcome upon his return to the United States. See “Lee the Hero of the Hour,” New York Times (13 April 1898): 1. The Times said in a dispatch from Washington: “The ovation that has followed Consul General Fitzhugh Lee since he set foot on American soil on his return from Havana culminated … in what was in many ways the most remarkable demonstration the city has ever seen.” See also, “A Nation’s Hero,” Washington Evening Times (6 April 1898): 4.
132. Curiously, Cisneros’s account contains almost no details about her stay at Carbonell’s house. See Cisneros and Decker, The Story of Evangelina Cisneros, 206–207.
133. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
134. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
135. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
136. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
137. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
138. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
139. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia. Timetables published in a leading Havana newspaper of the time show that the Seneca was two days behind schedule. The steamer was to arrive 7 October 1897. See “Puerto de la Habana, Saldrain,” La Union Constitucional (8 October 1897): 1.
140. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
141. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
142. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
143. Lee, “Rescue of Miss Cisneros,” Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
144. Lee’s correspondence shows, for example, that he was invited to a dinner party that Carbonell gave in early July 1897. “I backed out,” Lee wrote in a letter to his wife, adding that their son, Fitzhugh Lee Jr., attended. See Lee to his wife (3 July 1897), Fitzhugh Lee Papers, University of Virginia.
145. Lee to Lamont (3 December 1898), Lamont Papers, Container 83, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, DC.
146. Lee to his wife (23 November 1897), Fitzhugh Lee papers, University of Virginia.
147. Lee to his wife (23 November 1897), Fitzhugh Lee papers, University of Virginia. Lee wrote that the manservant had been “recommended by Carbonell and others as thoroughly honest.”
148. Fitzhugh Lee, Annual Report of Brig. General Fitzhugh Lee, Commanding the Department of the Province of Havana and Pinar del Rio (Quemados, Cuba: 1899), 1.
149. Lee to Lamont (29 November 1898), Lamont Papers, Library of Congress.
150. Lee to Lamont (3 December 1898), Lamont Papers, Library of Congress. See also, Eggert, “Our Man in Havana,” 484–485.