Fernández-Cavada, Fernando

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Fernández-Cavada, Fernando

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There were three sons born to Isidoro Fernández Cavada (d. 1838) of Santander, Spain and Emily Howard Gatier (d. 1903) of Philadelphia: Emilio (1830-1914), Federico (1831-1871), and Adolfo (1832-1871), all born in Cienfuegos, Cuba. After her husband’s death in 1838, Emily took her young sons to Philadelphia, where she later married Samuel Dutton (1814?-1889). Although they were raised in the United States, the Fernández Cavada brothers felt strong ties to the island of their birth, and each played different roles in its struggles for independence.

Federico Fernández Cavada (1831-1871) is perhaps the best known of the brothers, having published a book about his experiences as a prisoner of war in a Confederate prison during the US Civil War. He served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Union Army until his capture in the battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Federico remained a prisoner at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia until January 1864 and later published Libby Life, his sketches and illustrations of his prison experience.

Soon thereafter, Fernández Cavada was appointed United States consul at Trinidad, Cuba, a post he occupied until February 1869 when he resigned to take part in the Cuban insurrection that became Cuba’s Ten Years War (1868-1878). Federico was a General for the District of Trinidad, Commander in Chief of the Cinco Villas, and came to be the Commander-in-Chief of all Cuban forces. Burning and destroying Spanish property as a battle tactic, he became known as “General Candela” (General Fire). In 1871, Federico was captured by the Spanish gunboat Neptuno and was taken to Puerto Principe for trial. Although the exact date is not certain, Federico Fernández Cavada was executed in July 1871. He was survived by his wife, Carmela Merino, and their son Samuel.

The youngest Fernández Cavada, Adolfo (1832-1871), followed in his brother Federico’s footsteps. Having served in the Union Army in the 23rd Pennsylvania Infantry and as an aide to General A. A. Humphreys, Adolfo joined the Cuban struggle for independence and served as Commander of the District of Cienfuegos, later succeeding his brother as Commander-in-Chief of the Cinco Villas. On 18 December 1871, he was killed in battle at the coffee estate “La Adelaida” near Santiago de Cuba.

While his brothers took up arms to support the Cuban cause, Emilio (1830-1914) rallied support for the independence efforts from Philadelphia. He was an active fundraiser and information relay from his brothers to exiled strategists. With other exiles in Philadelphia and New York, Emilio Fernández Cavada raised funds and funneled arms and munitions to the insurgent forces on the island. Emilio later resettled with his family in Cienfuegos and fathered six children: Isidoro, Inés, Angela, Emilio (1866-1947), Adolfo, and Fernando, whose son Fernando Fernández-Cavada donated this collection to the Cuban Heritage Collection.

Emilio’s son Emilio Fernández-Cavada Suárez del Villar trained as a doctor in Philadelphia and in 1896 joined Cuba’s War of Independence (1895-1898) as a Lieutenant Colonel. His death was misreported in Liberating Army records when in fact he had escaped the island. Emilio later returned to Cuba and married Hortensia Elizondo, with whom he lived in Cienfuegos until his death in 1947.


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