Originally Published by María R. Estorino in December 2001
On June 30, 1871, Federico Fernández Cavada found himself a prisoner of war aboard the Spanish steamship Neptuno near Nuevitas, Cuba. He wrote his last letter to his wife, Carmela, who was living in Philadelphia with their son, Samuel.
“My dearest wife, I am here as a prisoner of war due to circumstances that without doubt are familiar to you. I don’t know what fortune will befall me – in any case you know that you and my adored son are in the most intimate of my thoughts. I hug you, and the rest of the family, Yours affectionately, Federico.”
The second of three sons, Federico was born to Emily Howard and Isidro Fernández Cavada in 1832 in Cienfuegos, Cuba. After her husband’s death, Emily Howard moved to Philadelphia with her children and married Samuel Dutton. Federico and his younger brother Adolfo served in the Union Army during the US Civil War. At the battle of Gettysburg, Federico was captured and taken prisoner. Held at Libby Prison until 1864, he later published his prison memoirs and sketches under the title Libby Life: Experiences of a Prisoner of War in Richmond, Va., 1863-64. From 1864 until February 1869, Federico served as Consul of the United States n Trinidad. He resigned this post to join the Cuban revolution that became Cuba’s Ten Years War.
In July of 1871, Fernández Cavada was executed by the Spanish in Puerto Principe, Cuba. He had served as a general of the Cuban army in the district of Trinidad and as commander-in-chief of the Cinco Villas. Adolfo Fernández Cavada, who had also joined Cuba’s revolutionary forces, was killed in battle in 1872.
This letter forms part of the Fernando Fernández-Cavada Collection of the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) of the University of Miami Libraries. This collection was donated to the CHC by Fernando Fernández-Cavada, grandson of Emilio, the eldest Fernández Cavada brother, in 1997. Along with this letter, the collection contains correspondence to and from Emilio, Federico, and Adolfo Fernández Cavada as well as some correspondence and a field diary of Emilio’s son, Emilio, who served as a doctor in the Cuban War of Independence of the 1890s.
For more information about this collection, view the finding aid.
Letter: CHC5006, Folder 5. Fernando Fernández-Cavada Collection, Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida.