Nonfiction > Theodore Roosevelt > The Rough Riders
Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919).  The Rough Riders.  1899.
IT has been suggested to me that when Bucky O'Neill spoke of the vultures tearing our dead, he was thinking of no modern poet, but of the words of the prophet Ezekiel: "Speak unto every feathered fowl ... ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty and drink the blood of the princes of the earth."   1
  At San Juan the Sixth Cavalry was under Major Lebo, a tried and gallant officer. I learn from a letter of Lieutenant McNamee that it was he, and not Lieutenant Hartwick, by whose orders the troopers of the Ninth cast down the fence to enable me to ride my horse into the lane. But one of the two lieutenants of B troop was overcome by the heat that day; Lieutenant Rynning was with his troop until dark.   2
  One night during the siege, when we were digging trenches, a curious stampede occurred (not in my own regiment) which it may be necessary some time to relate.   3
  Lieutenants W. E. Shipp and W. H. Smith were killed, not far from each other, while gallantly leading their troops on the slope of Kettle Hill. Each left a widow and young children.   4
  Captain (now Colonel) A. L. Mills, the Brigade Adjutant-General, has written me some comments on my account of the fight on July 1st. It was he himself who first brought me word to advance. I then met Colonel Dorst—who bore the same message—as I was getting the regiment forward. Captain Mills was one of the officers I had sent back to get orders that would permit me to advance; he met General Sumner, who gave him the orders, and he then returned to me. In a letter to me Colonel Mills says in part:
  I reached the head of the regiment as you came out of the lane and gave you the orders to enter the action. These were that you were to move, with your right resting along the wire fence of the lane, to the support of the regular cavalry then attacking the hill we were facing. "The red-roofed house yonder is your objective," I said to you. You moved out at once and quickly forged to the front of your regiment. I rode in rear, keeping the soldiers and troops closed and in line as well as the circumstances and conditions permitted. We had covered, I judge, from one-half to two-thirds the distance to Kettle Hill when Lieutenant-Colonel Garlington, from our left flank called to me that troops were needed in the meadow across the lane. I put one troop (not three, as stated in your account 1) across the lane and went with it. Advancing with the troop, I began immediately to pick up troopers of the Ninth Cavalry who had drifted from their commands, and soon had so many they demanded nearly all my attention. With a line thus made up, the colored troopers on the left and yours on the right, the portion of Kettle Hill on the right of the red-roofed house was first carried. I very shortly thereafter had a strong firing-line established on the crest nearest the enemy, from the corner of the fence around the house to the low ground on the right of the hill, which fired into the strong line of conical straw hats, whose brims showed just above the edge of the Spanish trench directly west of that part of the hill. 2 These hats made a fine target! I had placed a young officer of your regiment in charge of the portion of the line on top of the hill, and was about to go to the left to keep the connection of the brigade—Captain McBlain, Ninth Cavalry, just then came up on the hill from the left and rear—when the shot struck that put me out of the fight.
  There were many wholly erroneous accounts of the Guasimas fight published at the time, for the most part written by newspaper-men who were in the rear and utterly ignorant of what really occurred. Most of these accounts possess a value so purely ephemeral as to need no notice. Mr. Stephen Bonsal, however, in his book, "The Fight for Santiago," has cast one of them in a more permanent form; and I shall discuss one or two of his statements.   6
  Mr. Bonsal was not present at the fight, and, indeed, so far as I know, he never at any time was with the cavalry in action. He puts in his book a map of the supposed skirmish ground; but it bears to the actual scene of the fight only the well-known likeness borne by Monmouth to Macedon. There was a brook on the battle-ground, and there is a brook in Mr. Bonsal's map. The real brook, flowing down from the mountains, crossed the valley road and ran down between it and the hill-trail, going nowhere near the latter. The Bonsal brook flows at right angles to the course of the real brook and crosses both trails—that is, it runs up hill. It is difficult to believe that the Bonsal map could have been made by any man who had gone over the hill-trail followed by the Rough Riders and who knew where the fighting had taken place. The position of the Spanish line on the Bonsal map is inverted compared to what it really was.   7
  On page 90 Mr. Bonsal says that in making the "precipitate advance" there was a rivalry between the regulars and Rough Riders, which resulted in each hurrying recklessly forward to strike the Spaniards first. On the contrary. The official reports show that General Young's column waited for some time after it got to the Spanish position, so as to allow the Rough Riders (who had the more difficult trail) to come up. Colonel Wood kept his column walking at a smart pace, merely so that the regulars might not be left unsupported when the fight began; and as a matter of fact, it began almost simultaneously on both wings.   8
  On page 91 Mr. Bonsal speaks of "The foolhardy formation of a solid column along a narrow trail, which brought them (the Rough Riders) ... within point-blank range of the Spanish rifles and within the unobstructed sweep of their machine-guns." He also speaks as if the advance should have been made with the regiment deployed through the jungle. Of course, the only possible way by which the Rough Riders could have been brought into action in time to support the regulars was by advancing in column along the trail at a good smart gait. As soon as our advance-guard came into contact with the enemy's outpost we deployed. No firing began for at least five minutes after Captain Capron sent back word that he had come upon the Spanish outpost. At the particular point where this occurred there was a dip in the road, which probably rendered it, in Capron's opinion, better to keep part of his men in it. In any event, Captain Capron, who was as skilful as he was gallant, had ample time between discovering the Spanish outpost and the outbreak of the firing to arrange his troop in the formation he deemed best. His troop was not in solid formation; his men were about ten yards apart. Of course, to have walked forward deployed through the jungle, prior to reaching the ground where we were to fight, would have been a course of procedure so foolish as to warrant the summary court-martial of any man directing it. We could not have made half a mile an hour in such a formation, and would have been at least four hours too late for the fighting.   9
  On page 92 Mr. Bonsal says that Captain Capron's troop was ambushed, and that it received the enemy's fire a quarter of an hour before it was expected. This is simply not so. Before the column stopped we had passed a dead Cuban, killed in the preceding day's skirmish, and General Wood had notified me on information he had received from Capron that we might come into contact with the Spaniards at any moment, and, as I have already said, Captain Capron discovered the Spanish outpost, and we halted and partially deployed the column before the firing began. We were at the time exactly where we had expected to come across the Spaniards. Mr. Bonsal, after speaking of L Troop, adds: "The remaining troops of the regiment had travelled more leisurely, and more than half an hour elapsed before they came up to Capron's support." As a matter of fact, all the troops travelled at exactly the same rate of speed, although there were stragglers from each, and when Capron halted and sent back word that he had come upon the Spanish outpost, the entire regiment closed up, halted, and most of the men sat down. We then, some minutes after the first word had been received, and before any firing had begun, received instructions to deploy. I had my right wing partially deployed before the first shots between the outposts took place. Within less than three minutes I had G Troop, with Llewellen, Greenway, and Leahy, and one platoon of K Troop under Kane, on the firing-line, and it was not until after we reached the firing-line that the heavy volley-firing from the Spaniards began.  10
  On page 94 Mr. Bonsal says: "A vexatious delay occurred before the two independent columns could communicate and advance with concerted action.... When the two columns were brought into communication it was immediately decided to make a general attack upon the Spanish position.... With this purpose in view, the following disposition of the troops was made before the advance of the brigade all along the line was ordered." There was no communication between the two columns prior to the general attack, nor was any order issued for the advance of the brigade all along the line. The attacks were made wholly independently, and the first communication between the columns was when the right wing of the Rough Riders in the course of their advance by their firing dislodged the Spaniards from the hill across the ravine to the right, and then saw the regulars come up that hill.  11
  Mr. Bonsal's account of what occurred among the regulars parallels his account of what occurred among the Rough Riders. He states that the squadron of the Tenth Cavalry delivered the main attack upon the hill, which was the strongest point of the Spanish position; and he says of the troopers of the Tenth Cavalry that "their better training enabled them to render more valuable service than the other troops engaged." In reality, the Tenth Cavalrymen were deployed in support of the First, though they mingled with them in the assault proper; and so far as there was any difference at all in the amount of work done, it was in favor of the First. The statement that the Tenth Cavalry was better trained than the First, and rendered more valuable service, has not the slightest basis whatsoever of any kind, sort, or description, in fact. The Tenth Cavalry did well what it was required to do; as an organization, in this fight, it was rather less heavily engaged, and suffered less loss, actually and relatively, than either the First Cavalry or the Rough Riders. It took about the same part that was taken by the left wing of the Rough Riders, which wing was similarly rather less heavily engaged than the right and centre of the regiment. Of course, this is a reflection neither on the Tenth Cavalry nor on the left wing of the Rough Riders. Each body simply did what it was ordered to do, and did it well. But to claim that the Tenth Cavalry did better than the First, or bore the most prominent part in the fight, is like making the same claim for the left wing of the Rough Riders. All the troops engaged did well, and all alike are entitled to share in the honor of the day.  12
  Mr. Bonsal out-Spaniards the Spaniards themselves as regards both their numbers and their loss. These points are discussed elsewhere. He develops for the Spanish side, to account for their retreat, a wholly new explanation—viz., that they retreated because they saw reinforcements arriving for the Americans. The Spaniards themselves make no such claim. Lieutenant Tejeiro asserts that they retreated because news had come of a (wholly mythical) American advance on Morro Castle. The Spanish official report simply says that the Americans were repulsed; which is about as accurate a statement as the other two. All three explanations, those by General Rubin, by Lieutenant Tejeiro, and by Mr. Bonsal alike, are precisely on a par with the first Spanish official report of the battle of Manila Bay, in which Admiral Dewey was described as having been repulsed and forced to retire.  13
  There are one or two minor mistakes made by Mr. Bonsal. He states that on the roster of the officers of the Rough Riders there were ten West Pointers. There were three, one of whom resigned. Only two were in the fighting. He also states that after Las Guasimas Brigadier-General Young was made a Major-General and Colonel Wood a Brigadier-General, while the commanding officers of the First and Tenth Cavalry were ignored in this "shower of promotions." In the first place, the commanding officers of the First and Tenth Cavalry were not in the fight—only one squadron of each having been present. In the next place, there was no "shower of promotions" at all. Nobody was promoted except General Young, save to fill the vacancies caused by death or by the promotion of General Young. Wood was not promoted because of this fight. General Young most deservedly was promoted. Soon after the fight he fell sick. The command of the brigade then fell upon Wood, simply because he had higher rank than the other two regimental commanders of the brigade; and I then took command of the regiment exactly as Lieutenant-Colonels Veile and Baldwin had already taken command of the First and Tenth Cavalry when their superior officers were put in charge of brigades. After the San Juan fighting, in which Wood commanded a brigade, he was made a Brigadier-General and I was then promoted to the nominal command of the regiment, which I was already commanding in reality.  14
  Mr. Bonsal's claim of superior efficiency for the colored regular regiments as compared with the white regular regiments does not merit discussion. He asserts that General Wheeler brought on the Guasimas fight in defiance of orders. Lieutenant Miley, in his book, "In Cuba with Shafter," on page 83, shows that General Wheeler made his fight before receiving the order which it is claimed he disobeyed. General Wheeler was in command ashore; he was told to get in touch with the enemy, and, being a man with the "fighting edge," this meant that he was certain to fight. No general who was worth his salt would have failed to fight under such conditions; the only question would be as to how the fight was to be made. War means fighting; and the soldier's cardinal sin is timidity.  15
  General Wheeler remained throughout steadfast against any retreat from before Santiago. But the merit of keeping the army before Santiago, without withdrawal, until the city fell, belongs to the authorities at Washington, who at this all-important stage of the operations showed to marked advantage in overruling the proposals made by the highest generals in the field looking toward partial retreat or toward the abandonment of the effort to take the city.  16
  The following note, written by Sergeant E. G. Norton, of B Troop, refers to the death of his brother, Oliver B. Norton, one of the most gallant and soldierly men in the regiment:
  On July 1st I, together with Sergeant Campbell and Troopers Bardshar and Dudley Dean and my brother who was killed and some others, was at the front of the column right behind you. We moved forward, following you as you rode, to where we came upon the troopers of the Ninth Cavalry and a part of the First lying down. I heard the conversation between you and one or two of the officers of the Ninth Cavalry. You ordered a charge, and the regular officers answered that they had no orders to move ahead; whereupon you said: "Then let us through," and marched forward through the lines, our regiment following. The men of the Ninth and First Cavalry then jumped up and came forward with us. Then you waved your hat and gave the command to charge and we went up the hill. On the top of Kettle Hill my brother, Oliver B. Norton, was shot through the head and in the right wrist. It was just as you started to lead the charge on the San Juan hills ahead of us; we saw that the regiment did not know you had gone and were not following, and my brother said, "For God's sake follow the Colonel," and as he rose the bullet went through his head.
  In reference to Mr. Bonsal's account of the Guasimas fight, Mr. Richard Harding Davis writes me as follows:
  We had already halted several times to give the men a chance to rest, and when we halted for the last time I thought it was for this same purpose, and began taking photographs of the men of L Troop, who were so near that they asked me to be sure and save them a photograph. Wood had twice disappeared down the trail beyond them and returned. As he came back for the second time I remember that you walked up to him (we were all dismounted then), and saluted and said: "Colonel, Doctor La Motte reports that the pace is too fast for the men, and that over fifty have fallen out from exhaustion." Wood replied sharply: "I have no time to bother with sick men now." You replied, more in answer, I suppose, to his tone than to his words: "I merely repeated what the Surgeon reported to me." Wood then turned and said in explanation: "I have no time for them now; I mean that we are in sight of the enemy."   This was the only information we received that the men of L Troop had been ambushed by the Spaniards, and, if they were, they were very calm about it, and I certainly was taking photographs of them at the time, and the rest of the regiment, instead of being half an hour's march away, was seated comfortably along the trail not twenty feet distant from the men of L Troop. You deployed G Troop under Captain Llewellen into the jungle at the right and sent K Troop after it, and Wood ordered Troops E and F into the field on our left. It must have been from ten to fifteen minutes after Capron and Wood had located the Spaniards before either side fired a shot. When the firing did come I went over to you and joined G Troop and a detachment of K Troop under Woodbury Kane, and we located more of the enemy on a ridge.   If it is to be ambushed when you find the enemy exactly where you went to find him, and your scouts see him soon enough to give you sufficient time to spread five troops in skirmish order to attack him, and you then drive him back out of three positions for a mile and a half, then most certainly, as Bonsal says, "L Troop of the Rough Riders was ambushed by the Spaniards on the morning of June 24th."
  General Wood also writes me at length about Mr. Bonsal's book, stating that his account of the Guasimas fight is without foundation in fact. He says: "We had five troops completely deployed before the first shot was fired. Captain Capron was not wounded until the fight had been going on fully thirty-five minutes. The statement that Captain Capron's troop was ambushed is absolutely untrue. We had been informed, as you know, by Castillo's people that we should find the dead guerilla a few hundred yards on the Siboney side of the Spanish lines."  19
  He then alludes to the waving of the guidon by K Troop as "the only means of communication with the regulars." He mentions that his orders did not come from General Wheeler, and that he had no instructions from General Wheeler directly or indirectly at any time previous to the fight.  20
  General Wood does not think that I give quite enough credit to the Rough Riders as compared to the regulars in this Guasimas fight, and believes that I greatly underestimate the Spanish force and loss, and that Lieutenant Tejeiro is not to be trusted at all on these points. He states that we began the fight ten minutes before the regulars, and that the main attack was made and decided by us. This was the view that I and all the rest of us in the regiment took at the time; but as I had found since that the members of the First and Tenth Regular Regiments held with equal sincerity the view that the main part was taken by their own commands, I have come to the conclusion that the way I have described the action is substantially correct. Owing to the fact that the Tenth Cavalry, which was originally in support, moved forward until it got mixed with the First, it is very difficult to get the exact relative position of the different troops of the First and Tenth in making the advance. Beck and Galbraith were on the left; apparently Wainwright was farthest over on the right. General Wood states that Leonardo Ros, the Civil Governor of Santiago at the time of the surrender, told him that the Spanish force at Guasimas consisted of not less than 2,600 men, and that there were nearly 300 of them killed and wounded. I do not myself see how it was possible for us, as we were the attacking party and were advancing against superior numbers well sheltered, to inflict five times as much damage as we received; but as we buried eleven dead Spaniards, and as they carried off some of their dead, I believe the loss to have been very much heavier than Lieutenant Tejeiro reports.  21
  General Wood believes that in following Lieutenant Tejeiro I have greatly underestimated the number of Spanish troops who were defending Santiago on July 1st, and here I think he completely makes out his case, he taking the view that Lieutenant Tejeiro's statements were made for the purpose of saving Spanish honor. On this point his letter runs as follows:
  A word in regard to the number of troops in Santiago. I have had, during my long association here, a good many opportunities to get information which you have not got and probably never will get; that is, information from parties who were actually in the fight, who are now residents of the city; also information which came to me as commanding officer of the city directly after the surrender.   To sum up briefly as follows: The Spanish surrendered in Santiago 12,000 men. We shipped from Santiago something over 14,000 men. The 2,000 additional were troops that came in from San Luis, Songo, and small up-country posts. The 12,000 in the city, minus the force of General Iscario, 3,300 infantry and 680 cavalry, or in round numbers 4,000 men (who entered the city just after the battles of San Juan and El Caney), leaves 8,000 regulars, plus the dead, plus Cervera's marines and blue-jackets, which he himself admits landing in the neighborhood of 1,200 (and reports here are that he landed 1,380), and plus the Spanish Volunteer Battalion, which was between 800 and 900 men (this statement I have from the lieutenant-colonel of this very battalion), gives us in round numbers, present for duty on the morning of July 1st, not less than 10,500 men. These men were distributed 890 at Caney, two companies of artillery at Morro, one at Socapa, and half a company at Puenta Gorda; in all, not over 500 or 600 men, but for the sake of argument we can say a thousand. In round numbers, then, we had immediately about the city 8,500 troops. These were scattered from the cemetery around to Aguadores. In front of us, actually in the trenches, there could not by any possible method of figuring have been less than 6,000 men. You can twist it any way you want to; the figures I have given you are absolutely correct, at least they are absolutely on the side of safety.
  It is difficult for me to withstand the temptation to tell what has befallen some of my men since the regiment disbanded; how McGinty, after spending some weeks in Roosevelt Hospital in New York with an attack of fever, determined to call upon his captain, Woodbury Kane, when he got out, and procuring a horse rode until he found Kane's house, when he hitched the horse to a lamp-post and strolled in; how Cherokee Bill married a wife in Hoboken, and as that pleasant city ultimately proved an uncongenial field for his activities, how I had to send both himself and his wife out to the Territory; how Happy Jack, haunted by visions of the social methods obtaining in the best saloons of Arizona, applied for the position of "bouncer out" at the Executive Chamber when I was elected Governor, and how I got him a job at railroading instead, and finally had to ship him back to his own Territory also; how a valued friend from a cow ranch in the remote West accepted a pressing invitation to spend a few days at the home of another ex-trooper, a New Yorker of fastidious instincts, and arrived with an umbrella as his only baggage; how poor Holderman and Pollock both died and were buried with military honors, all of Pollock's tribesmen coming to the burial; how Tom Isbell joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and how, on the other hand, George Rowland scornfully refused to remain in the East at all, writing to a gallant young New Yorker who had been his bunkie: "Well, old boy, I am glad I didnt go home with you for them people to look at, because I aint a Buffalo or a rhinoceros or a giraffe, and I dont like to be Stared at, and you know we didnt do no hard fighting down there. I have been in closer places than that right here in Ynited States, that is Better men to fight than them dam Spaniards." In another letter Rowland tells of the fate of Tom Darnell, the rider, he who rode the sorrel horse of the Third Cavalry: "There aint much news to write of except poor old Tom Darnell got killed about a month ago. Tom and another fellow had a fight and he shot Tom through the heart and Tom was dead when he hit the floor. Tom was sure a good old boy, and I sure hated to hear of him going, and he had plenty of grit too. No man ever called on him for a fight that he didn't get it."  23
  My men were children of the dragon's blood, and if they had no outland foe to fight and no outlet for their vigorous and daring energy, there was always the chance of their fighting one another: but the great majority, if given the chance to do hard or dangerous work, availed themselves of it with the utmost eagerness, and though fever sickened and weakened them so that many died from it during the few months following their return, yet, as a whole, they are now doing fairly well. A few have shot other men or been shot themselves; a few ran for office and got elected, like Llewellen and Luna in New Mexico, or defeated, like Brodie and Wilcox in Arizona; some have been trying hard to get to the Philippines; some have returned to college, or to the law, or the factory, or the counting-room; most of them have gone back to the mine, the ranch, and the hunting camp; and the great majority have taken up the threads of their lives where they dropped them when the Maine was blown up and the country called to arms.  24
Note 1   The other two must have followed on their own initiative.  [back]
Note 2   These were the Spaniards in the trenches we carried when we charged from Kettle Hill, after the infantry had taken the San Juan block-house.  [back]
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