While Theodore Roosevelt was spending a large part of his time in hunting and in literary work, and in studying political economy, Grover Cleveland's first term as President came to an end, and Benjamin Harrison was inaugurated to fill the office of Chief Magistrate.
At that time the question of Civil Service was again being agitated. Theodore Roosevelt was a warm advocate of the merit system, and knowing this, President Harrison appointed him, in 1889, a Civil Service Commissioner, and this office he held for six years, until his resignation in 1895. When Benjamin Harrison's term of office was up, and Grover Cleveland was reelected to the Presidency, it was thought that Roosevelt would have to go, but his friend, the newly elected President, wished him to remain as a commissioner, and he did so for two years longer, thus serving both under a Republican and a Democratic administration.
To some of my young readers the term Civil Service, as applied here, may be a bit perplexing. For the benefit of such let me state that civil service here applies to the thousands of persons who work for the government, such as post-office clerks, letter carriers, clerks in the various departments at Washington, like the Treasury, the Congressional Library, the Government Printing Office, the War Department, and the hundred and one other branches in which Uncle Sam needs assistance.
For seventy or eighty years these various positions had been under what is commonly called the "spoils system." "To the victor belong the spoils," had been the old motto, which generally meant that the party happening to be in power could do as it pleased about dealing out employment to those under it. A worker might have been ever so faithful in the discharge of his duties, but if the administration was changed, he ran the risk of losing his position without any notice.
Statesmen of both great political parties had long seen the injustice of the spoils system, but few cared to take the matter up for fear of offending their political friends. But as matters grew worse, those who were honest said they would stand such a system no longer, and they began to advocate the merit plan, whereby each worker for our government should stand on his merit, so that he could not be removed from his position without just cause. This merit system is in operation to-day and is a most excellent thing, only becoming dangerous when extended too far.
There were two other commissioners besides Mr. Roosevelt on the Commission, but all worked together in harmony, although in many moves taken Mr. Roosevelt was the leader. About this work he has written a notable essay called "Six Years of Civil Service Reform," in which he reviews much of the work done. In this essay, among many other things, he says:—
"No republic can permanently endure when its politics are corrupt and base; and the spoils system,—the application in political life of the degrading doctrine that to the victor belong the spoils,—produces corruption and degradation. The man who is in politics for the offices might just as well be in politics for the money he can get for his vote, so far as the general good is concerned." Certainly wise words and well worth remembering.
The work of the Commission was by no means easy, and the members were often accused of doing some things merely to benefit their own particular party or friends. Politicians of the old sort, who wanted everything they could lay hands on, fought civil service bitterly, and even those who might have been expected to help often held back, fearing they would lose their own popularity. Yet on the other hand, some members of Congress upheld the Commission nobly, and when President Garfield was assassinated by a half-crazy office-seeker many more came forward and clamored to put public offices on the merit system by all means.
Part of the work of the Commission was to prosecute the head of any bureau or department where an employee had been discharged or had suffered without just cause. Such cases came up in large numbers and were prosecuted with all the vigor of which the Commission were capable.
"We were not always successful in these trials," says Mr. Roosevelt. "But we won out in the majority of cases, and we gave the wrong-doing such a wide publicity that those who were guilty hesitated to repeat their actions." And he goes on to add that during his term of service not over one per cent. of those who worked for Uncle Sam were dismissed purely for political reasons. This was certainly an excellent record, and our government will do well to maintain such a high standard in the future.
To give a further idea of the work required in the way of examinations for positions under our government, let me state that during the year from July 1, 1890, to July 1, 1891, 5251 applicants were examined for the departments service, 1579 for the customs service, 8538 for the postal service, 3706 for the railway mail service, making a total of nearly 20,000, of which about 13,000 passed and the balance failed. Since our war with Spain, the work of the government has been vastly increased, and the places to be filled every year run up into figures that are startling.
One of the best and wisest acts of the Commission was to place the colored employees of the government on an equal footing with the white employees. In the past the colored employees had occupied their places merely through the whim or goodwill of those over them. Now this was changed, and any colored man who could pass the examination, and who was willing to attend strictly to his labor, was as safe in his situation as anybody.
A TRIP TO THE SHOSHONE MOUNTAINS—CAUGHT IN A DRIVING SNOWSTORM—BACK TO WORK—RESIGNATION AS CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSIONER
Notwithstanding the great amount of labor involved as a Civil Service Commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt did not forego the pleasures of the hunt, and in 1891 he made an extended trip to the Shoshone Mountains in Wyoming, going after elk and such other game as might present itself.
On this trip he was accompanied by his ranch partner, a skilled shot named Ferguson, and two old hunters named Woody and Hofer. There was also in the party a young fellow who looked after the pack-horses, fourteen in number.
The start was made on a beautiful day in September, and the party journeyed along at a gait that pleased them, bringing down everything that came to hand and which could be used as meat. Two tents were carried, one for sheltering their packs at night and the other for sleeping purposes.
In his book called "The Wilderness Hunter," Mr. Roosevelt has given many of the details of this grand hunt, which he says was one of the most exciting as well as most pleasurable undertaken. With an interest that cannot be mistaken, and which betrays the true sportsman at every turn, he gives minute descriptions of how the tents were erected, how everything in camp was put in its proper place, and how on wet days they would huddle around the camp-fire in the middle of the larger tent to keep warm and dry. He also tells how the packs on the horses were adjusted, and adds that the hunter who cannot take care of his outfit while on the hunt, or who must have all his game stalked for him, is a hunter in name only;—which is literally true, as every genuine sportsman knows.
The young Civil Service Commissioner went out garbed in a fitting hunting costume, consisting of a buckskin shirt, with stout leggings, and moccasins, or, when occasion required, alligator-leather boots. Heavy overcoats were also carried and plenty of blankets, and for extra cold nights Theodore Roosevelt had a fur sleeping-bag, in which, no doubt, he slept "as snug as a bug in a rug."
The horses of a pack-train in the wild West are not always thoroughly broken, and although the majority rarely do anything worse than lag behind or stray away, yet occasionally one or another will indulge in antics far from desired. This was true on the present occasion, when at different times the pack-beasts went on a "shindy" that upset all calculations and scattered packs far and wide, causing a general alarm and hard work on the part of all hands to restore quietness and order.
For two days the hunters pushed on into the mountains with but little signs of game. Then a rain-storm set in which made the outlook a dismal one.
"Going to have a big storm," said one of the old hunters.
"Never mind, we'll have to take it as it comes," was Mr. Roosevelt's philosophical answer. "We can't expect good weather every day."
It was almost noon of that day when all heard the call of a bull elk, echoing over the hills. The sound came from no great distance, and in the face of the rain, Theodore Roosevelt and the hunter named Woody set off on foot after the beast, who was still calling as loudly as ever.
It was not long before the hunters could hear the bull plainly, as he pawed the earth, a challenge to another bull who was answering him from a great distance.
"We are gettin' closer to him," said Woody. "Got to go slow now, or he'll take alarm and be off like a flash."
The timber was rather thin, and the ground was covered with moss and fallen leaves, and over this the pair glided as silently as shadows, until Woody declared that the bull was not over a hundred yards away.
"And he's in a tearing rage, on account of that other bull," he added. "Got to plug him fair and square or there will be trouble."
Without replying to this, Theodore Roosevelt took the lead, keeping eyes and ears wide open for anything that might come to hand. Then through the trees he caught sight of the stately horns of the elk, as he stood with head thrown back, repeating his call in trumpet-like tones.
As the hunters came closer, the elk faced around and caught sight of his human enemies. Up went his antlers once more, as if to defy them.
"He's coming!" shouted Woody. And scarcely had he spoken when Theodore Roosevelt took aim and fired at the animal. There was a snort and a gasp, and the elk turned to run away. Then Roosevelt fired a second shot, and over went the monarch of the forest in his death agony. It was a fine bit of game to bring down, the antlers having twelve prongs. The head was cut off and taken back to camp, along with a small part of the best of the meat.
After that the forward march was resumed in the face of a sweeping rain that wet everybody to the skin. On they went until, just as the rain ceased, they reached a bold plateau, overlooking what is called Two-Ocean Pass, a wild and wonderful freak of nature, surrounded by lofty mountains and watered by streams and brooks flowing in several directions. Far up the mountains could be seen the snow-drifts, while lower down were the heavy forests and underbrush, the haunts of the game they were seeking.
In this Wonderland Theodore Roosevelt hunted to his heart's content for many days—bringing down several more elk and also a fair variety of smaller game. It was now growing colder, and knowing that the winter season was close at hand, the hunters decided to strike camp and return homeward.
The movement was made none too soon. The snow was already filling the air, and one morning, on coming from his tent, Theodore Roosevelt found the ground covered to a depth of a foot and a half. To add to his discomfort the pony he was riding began to buck that day and managed to dislocate his rider's thumb. But Theodore Roosevelt stuck to him and showed him who was master; and after that matters went better. The snow continued to come down, and before the end of the journey was reached, at Great Geyser Basin, the hunters almost perished from the cold.
Such pictures as the above give us some idea of the varied life that Theodore Roosevelt has led. Even at this early age—he was but thirty-three years old—he had been a college student, a traveller, an author, an assemblyman, a ranchman and hunter, and a Civil Service Commissioner. He had travelled the length and breadth of Europe and through a large section of our own country. He had visited the palaces of kings and the shacks of the humble cowboys of the far West, he had met men in high places and in low, and had seen them at their best and at their worst. Surely if "experience is the school wherein man learns wisdom," then the future President had ample means of growing wise, and his works prove that those means were not neglected.
As already mentioned, when Grover Cleveland became President a second time, he requested Theodore Roosevelt to retain his place on the Civil Service Commission. This was a practical illustration of the workings of the merit system, and it made for Mr. Cleveland many friends among his former political enemies. By this movement the workings of the Commission were greatly strengthened, so that by the time Theodore Roosevelt resigned, on May 5, 1895, the Commission had added twenty thousand places filled by government employees to those coming under the merit system. This number was larger than any placed under the system before that time, and the record has scarcely been equalled since.
"He was a fighter for the system, day and night," says one who knew him at that time. "He was enthusiastic to the last degree, and had all sorts of statistics at his fingers' ends. If anybody in the government employ was doing wrong, he was willing to pitch into that person regardless of consequences. Some few politicians thought he was a crank on the subject, but the results speak for themselves. Some politicians, who wanted the old spoils system retained, were often after him like a swarm of angry hornets, but he never got out of their way, and when they tried to sting, he slapped them in a way that soon made them leave him alone. And more than that, he was very clever in the way that he presented his case to those representatives and senators who understood the real value of Civil Service reform. He made them appreciate what he and his fellow-commissioners were trying to do, and when the Commission was attacked in Congress it always had, as a consequence, a support that could not be easily overthrown."
When Theodore Roosevelt resigned, President Cleveland wrote as follows to him:—
"You are certainly to be congratulated upon the extent and permanency of civil service reform methods which you have so substantially aided in bringing about. The struggle for its firm establishment and recognition is past. Its faithful application and reasonable expansion remain, subjects of deep interest to all who really desire the best attainable public service." It was high praise for the retiring commissioner, and it was well deserved.
APPOINTED POLICE COMMISSIONER OF NEW YORK CITY—CORRUPTNESS OF THE DEPARTMENT—STRENUOUS EFFORTS TO MAKE MATTERS BETTER—A "DRY" SUNDAY—ENFORCING THE TENEMENT HOUSE LAW AND OTHER MEASURES
During the time that Theodore Roosevelt was a Civil Service Commissioner there were several important political changes made in New York City.
In the past there had been a great deal of what is familiarly called "machine politics," and matters had been going from bad to worse. But now there was an upward turn by the election of William S. Strong to the office of mayor. Mr. Strong was a man of high character, and was elected by a vote that combined the best elements of all the political parties.
It was at a time when New York City was in urgent need of reform. Those in power were doing but little to stop the corruption that was stalking abroad upon every hand. Bribes were given and taken in nearly all departments, clerks were being paid large salaries for doing practically nothing, and contracts were put out, not to those who could do the best work, but to those who would pay the political tricksters the most money for them.
The record of the police department was perhaps the blackest of the lot. It was to this department that the citizens looked for protection from crime, yet it was known that many in the department winked at all sorts of vice, providing they were properly paid for so doing. Saloons and worse resorts were kept open in defiance of the law, and wickedness flaunted itself in the face of the public in a manner that was truly shocking. Occasionally a private citizen would try to do something to mend matters, but his complaint was generally "pigeon-holed," and that would be the end of the matter. The rottenness, as it was well called, extended from the highest places in the department to the lowest, so that it was said not even a policeman could secure his appointment without paying several hundred dollars for it, and this he was, of course, expected to get back by blackmailing those who lived or did business on his beat. And get it back the policeman would, even if he had to make an Italian fruit dealer pay him a dollar a month for having a stand on the sidewalk, where the walk was supposed to be free from obstruction.
When William Strong came into office, the first thing he did was to cast his eyes about him for reliable men who might aid him in purifying the city. He already knew of Theodore Roosevelt's work as an assemblyman and a Civil Service Commissioner.
"Mr. Roosevelt is just the man to take the office of Police Commissioner and put the department on an honorable basis," said the newly elected mayor, and he lost no time in tendering the office to Mr. Roosevelt. The tender was accepted, and Theodore Roosevelt was sworn into his new position on May 24, 1895.
The appointment of Mr. Roosevelt to the office of Police Commissioner was a great shock to nearly the entire police department. He was known for his sterling honesty, and it was felt that he would not condone crime in any shape or form.
"There will be a grand shaking up," said more than one. "Just you wait till he gets to the bottom of things. He'll turn the light on in a way that will make more than one officer tremble in his boots."
On the Board with Mr. Roosevelt were Andrew D. Parker, Avery D. Andrews, and Frederick D. Grant, the latter the son of former President Grant. Theodore Roosevelt was chosen president, and the Board lost no time in getting to work.
"The new Board found the department in a demoralized condition," says Mr. Roosevelt, in his report on the matter. "A recent grand jury had investigated the records of many officers, and many indictments had been found; 268 vacancies existed in the department, and 26 officers, including one inspector and five captains, were under suspension on account of indictment for crime." This was truly a sad state of affairs, and a horrible example to the other large cities of our Union.
The Commissioners went to work with a will, and Theodore Roosevelt was the leading spirit in every move made. Every branch of the police department was given an overhauling, and those who would not do their duty were promptly dismissed, while minor offences were met with heavy fines. By an act of the legislature the force of men was increased to eight hundred, to keep pace with the growth of the metropolis. The men who were particularly faithful in the discharge of their duties were rewarded by honorable mention, engrossed certificates, medals of honor, and by promotions. More than this, they were given to understand that if they did their duty faithfully they need not fear trouble from those over them, no matter what changes were made. No officer was allowed to accept blackmail money from those lower in the service; and above all, no politics were to interfere with the fair and square running of the whole department.
It was a gigantic task, and it cannot be said that it was totally successful, for the opposition in some quarters was strong. More than once Mr. Roosevelt was threatened with violence, but, as when an assemblyman, he paid but scant attention to these mutterings.
His habits of personally investigating matters still clung to him, and it is well remembered how he went around at odd hours of the day and night, and on Sundays, seeing if the policemen were really doing their duty. There had been a boast that all policemen were at their posts at night. Mr. Roosevelt went out once and found just two out of an even dozen where they should be. Then began that "shaking up" that has resulted in better police service in New York to this day.
The effect of the new vigor in the police department was felt in many other ways. There was a tenement-house law regarding buildings which were unfit for human habitations. New York City was crowded with such buildings, but nobody had ordered them torn down, because either nobody wanted to bother, or the owners paid blackmail money to keep them standing for the rent they could get out of them.
"Those tenements must come down," said Theodore Roosevelt.
"If you order them down, the owners will fight you to the bitter end," said another officer of the department.
"I don't care if they do. The houses are a menace to life and health. They are filthy, and if a fire ever started in them, some would prove regular traps. They have got to go." And shortly after that about a hundred were seized, and the most destroyed.
The enforcement of the Sunday liquor law was another thing that occasioned great surprise during Mr. Roosevelt's term as Police Commissioner. In the past, saloons had been almost as wide open on Sundays as on week days. On account of the cosmopolitan character of the population it was thought that to close up the saloons on Sundays would be impossible. But the police force was given strict orders, and on one Sunday in June, 1895, New York City had the first "dry" Sunday that it could remember in many years.
This "dry" Sunday provoked a new storm of opposition, especially from many of foreign birth, who were used to getting liquor as easily on that day as on any other. More threats were made against the vigorous commissioner, and on two occasions dynamite bombs were placed in his desk, evidently with the hope that they would explode and blow him to pieces. But the bombs were found in time, and no damage was done, and Theodore Roosevelt paid scant attention to them.
After that he was attacked in a new way. Some of the politicians laid traps for him whereby they hoped to bring discredit to his management of the department. The fight grew very hot and very bitter, and he was accused of doing many things, "just for the looks of them," rather than to benefit the public at large. But he kept on his way, and at last the opposition were silenced to such an extent that they merely growled behind his back.
For many years a large number of shiftless and often lawless men, and women too, were attracted to the metropolis because of the "Tramps' Lodging Houses" located there. These resorts were continually filled by vagrants who would not work and who were a constant menace to society at large.
"We must get rid of those lodging houses," said Mr. Roosevelt. "They simply breed crime. No respectable man or woman, no matter how poor, will enter them."
"But we'll have to have some sort of shelter for the poor people," said others.
"To be sure—for those who are deserving. The others should be driven off and discouraged," answered Mr. Roosevelt. And one by one the tramps' lodging places were abolished. In their place the Board of Charities opened a Municipal Lodging House, where those who were deserving were received, were made to bathe, and given proper shelter and nourishment.
A story is told that, during the excitement attending the closing of saloons on Sunday, a friend came to Mr. Roosevelt and told about hearing some saloon-keepers plotting to harm him.
"What can they do?" demanded the Police Commissioner.
"I am afraid they can do a good deal," was the answer. "Each of those men has a barkeeper who has been in jail for various crimes. They may attack you some dark night and kill you."
"Perhaps I won't give them the chance," answered the man who had been on many a dangerous hunt in the wild West. "If they can shoot, so can I."
"But they may sneak up behind you and knock you out," insisted the visitor.
"Well, if they do that, I shall have died doing my duty," was the calm answer made by the future hero of the Rough Riders.
APPOINTED FIRST ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE NAVY—THE CONDITION OF AFFAIRS IN CUBA—PREPARING FOR WAR—THEODORE ROOSEVELT'S RESOLVE
While Theodore Roosevelt was serving as Police Commissioner of the city of New York, William McKinley ran for the Presidency of the United States the first time and was elected.
The young commissioner was a firm upholder of McKinley, for he did not believe in "free silver" as it was called, but in "sound money," which meant that in the future, as in the past, all national indebtedness should be made payable in gold, instead of in gold and silver, as many desired.
As soon as the new President was inaugurated, March 4, 1897, he appointed Hon. John D. Long to be Secretary of the Navy. Mr. Long knew Theodore Roosevelt well, and also knew of the "History of the Naval War of 1812," which the energetic author and commissioner had written.
"He is just the man we need here," said Mr. Long to President McKinley. "He has made a study of the navy, and he is not afraid of work," and without further delay Theodore Roosevelt was asked to resign his position in the metropolis and come to Washington, where he was duly installed as First Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
In his new position, certainly a high one for such a young man to occupy, Mr. Roosevelt had much to do. As first assistant, nearly the whole responsibility of the real workings of the department fell upon his shoulders. He took up these responsibilities manfully, and how well he succeeded in the work, history has abundantly proved.
"It was Roosevelt's work that made Dewey's victory at Manila possible," one who knew of the inner workings of the department has said, and another has said that the victory off Santiago Bay was also due in part to Roosevelt's watchfulness over the ships that took part in that conflict.
At Washington the Assistant Secretary found an era of extravagance equal to that which he had discovered in New York. The Navy Department was paying dearly for almost everything it bought, and many laborers and others were drawing high wages for doing little or no work. Against this Theodore Roosevelt set his face uncompromisingly, so that inside of a year the actual saving to our government was twenty-five per cent. When it is remembered that the Navy Department spends each year millions of dollars, something of what such a saving means can be realized.
For many years our country had been at peace with the whole world, but now a war cloud showed itself on the horizon, scarcely visible at first, but gradually growing larger and larger. Those at Washington watched it with great anxiety, wondering if it would burst, and what would be the result.
Cuba had been fighting for liberty for years. It was under Spanish rule, and the people were frightfully oppressed. To Spain they paid vast sums of money and got but little in return. Money that should have gone into improvements—that should have supplied good roads and schools—went into the pockets of the royalty of Spain. When a Cuban tried to remonstrate, he could scarcely get a hearing, and this state of affairs went from bad to worse until, in sheer desperation, the Cubans declared war on the mother-country, just as in 1776 our own nation threw off the yoke of England.
As my young readers know, Cuba lies only a short distance from the southeast coast of Florida. Being so close, it was but natural that our people should take an interest in the struggle at hand. Everybody sympathized with the Cubans, and some made offers of assistance. Then, when many Cubans were on the verge of starvation, we voted to send them relief in the way of something to eat.
The action of the United States was viewed with suspicion by Spain. The people of that country were certain we wanted to help Cuba only in order to "gobble her up afterward," as the saying went. Such was not our intention at all, and total Cuban liberty to-day testifies to that fact.
Not knowing how far matters might go, President McKinley and his advisers deemed it wise to prepare for the worst. This meant to put the army and navy on the best possible footing in the least possible time.
It was felt that should war come, it would be fought largely on the sea, and nobody realized this more than did Theodore Roosevelt. He was active day and night in the pursuit of his duty, seeing to it that this ship or that was properly manned, and this fortification and that put in proper order to resist attack. Our ships were in all parts of the world, on the Atlantic and the Pacific, in the far north and the far south, in European waters and Hong Kong Harbor. Each had to be supplied with coal and ammunition and with provisions. Those that were "out of commission," that is, laid up, generally for repairs, were put into commission with all speed. A thousand contracts had to be inspected, judged, and passed upon. Outwardly the Navy Department at Washington was moving along as peacefully as ever, internally it was more active than it had been at any time since the great Civil War.
"War may come at any moment," said Mr. Roosevelt to his friends. "And if it does come, there is nothing like being prepared for it."
About one thing Theodore Roosevelt was very particular. In the past, gun practice on board of our war-ships had been largely a matter of simply going through the motions of handling the guns.
"This will not do," said the Assistant Secretary. "Our gunners will never make good marksmen in that way. They must practise with powder and ball, shot and shell." And after that they did. Such practice cost a round sum of money, and the department was criticised for its wastefulness in this direction; but the worth of it was afterward proven when Commodore Dewey sank the Spanish ships in Manila Bay, and the Atlantic Squadron likewise destroyed the enemy's ships that were trying to escape from Santiago Harbor.
In those days at Washington, Theodore Roosevelt made a warm, personal friend of Dr. Leonard Wood. Dr. Wood was an army surgeon, who had seen considerable active service while under General Miles in the campaigns against the Apache Indians. Mr. Roosevelt has himself told how he and Dr. Wood would often, after office hours, take long walks out of the city, or play foot-ball, or go snow-skating when the weather permitted, and during such pastimes their conversation was invariably about the situation in Cuba, and what each intended to do should war break out.
"If war actually comes, I intend, by hook or by crook, to get out into the field," said Dr. Wood.
"I shall go with you," answered Theodore Roosevelt. "No more office work for me if there is any fighting to be done."
In the meantime, as already mentioned, matters in Cuba were rapidly approaching a crisis. Spain could not send a large enough army to the island to conquer the people while they were at liberty to roam through the jungles and mountains, and so began to drive men, women, and children into various cities or camps, where they were kept, under penalty of death if they tried to escape. Thus large numbers were torn from their homes, and sent miles and miles away, with no money, and nothing with which to support themselves. Food became scarce and high in price, and many grown folks and children were literally starved to death.
To help these starving people the Congress of our country voted to expend fifty thousand dollars from the national treasury. This excited Spain more than ever, and we were accused of trying to prolong the rebellion. But the deed was done, and many would have had us go farther, and recognize Cuba as a free and independent nation. This desire was overruled on the ground that our government could not with propriety endanger the peace of the world by taking so serious a step at that time. But the strength of popular sympathy with an oppressed people was shown by the fact that many Americans at grave personal risk went to Cuba, and joined the army in one capacity or another, fighting as bravely as if for their own individual rights.
DESTRUCTION OF THE MAINE—DEWEY'S VICTORY—THEODORE ROOSEVELT BECOMES A SOLDIER—ORGANIZING THE ROUGH RIDERS—VARIOUS MEN IN THE COMMAND
"The Maine has been blown up!"
Such was the awful news which startled this whole nation in the middle of February, 1898, and which caused the question of war with Spain to crystallize without further deliberation.
The Maine was a battleship of large size, that had been sent down to the harbor of Havana, Cuba, on nothing more than a friendly visit. The explosion that destroyed this noble vessel occurred about ten o'clock at night, and was heard for miles around. Soon after the explosion, the war-ship began to sink, and over two hundred and fifty sailors and officers lost their lives.
The entire nation was now aroused, and many wanted to go to war with Spain immediately. But the Spaniards professed to be ignorant of the cause of the explosion, and said it must have come from the inside of the ship and not the outside. Without delay a Board of Inquiry was established, and it was settled that the explosion had come from the outside, probably from a mine set by the Spaniards in Havana Harbor.
"This means war, and nothing but war," said even the wisest of our statesmen. And so it proved. Without hesitation the whole nation sprang forward to uphold the administration, and in a few days Congress passed an appropriation of fifty millions of dollars "for national defence." It may be added that this appropriation was passed unanimously, regardless of party politics and regardless of the differences which, in the past, had existed between the North and the South.
We have already learned what had been done to prepare the navy for the conflicts to follow. Now there was even more work on hand, to get the army into shape for service in Cuba and on other foreign soil.
The regular army at that time consisted of about twenty-five thousand men, scattered all over the United States,—on the frontier, at the Indian reservations, and along the sea-coasts. Many of these troops were hurried to camps in the southeast portion of our country, leaving but small garrisons in the far West.
It was realized by President McKinley that our regular army could not cope with the troubles at hand, and soon came a call for one hundred and twenty-five thousand volunteers. These volunteers were to come from the various States and Territories, each furnishing its proportion of soldiers according to its population. These soldiers were quickly collected and marched to the various state camps, there to be sworn into the service of the United States.
The "war fever" was everywhere, and many private parties began to raise companies, while all sorts of independent commands, Grand Army, Confederate Veterans, Italian-American Guards, German Singing Societies, Colored Guards, and the like, offered their assistance. Even the colleges caught the fever, and men went forth from Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and other institutions of learning to battle for Uncle Sam.
The first blow struck at Spain was a most effective one. Commodore, afterwards Admiral, Dewey was at Hong Kong when the trouble began, and he was directed by the War Department to hunt for a Spanish fleet somewhere among the Philippine Islands and engage it. On Sunday, May 1, came the news that the gallant commodore had reached Manila Bay, fought the Spanish fleet and sunk every hostile ship, and come out of the battle with all of his own ships safe and not a single man killed!
"Hurrah! that shows what our navy can do!" cried many citizens. And they were justly proud. In the past, foreign nations had looked with something akin to scorn on our vessels and the way they were manned. Now such criticism was silenced; and this result was, in a certain measure, due to the work of Theodore Roosevelt, while First Assistant Secretary to Secretary Long.
But Theodore Roosevelt was no longer in the department. He resigned and closed his desk, saying, "My duty here is done; my place is in the field." With such an active nature, it was impossible for him to remain a private citizen while stern war was a reality.
In his own excellent work, "The Rough Riders," and in his sworn testimony before the Commission of Investigation of the Spanish War, Mr. Roosevelt has given us graphic pictures of how the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, commonly called the Rough Riders, happened to be organized, and what it tried to do and did, and this testimony is supplemented by many who know the facts, and who took part in the battles which made the organization famous throughout the length and breadth of our land.
At first Theodore Roosevelt thought to attach himself to the militia of New York, but found every place taken.
"Let us try one of my Massachusetts regiments," said Dr. Wood. And this was also done, with a like result.
"We could fill every place, did we want five times as many men," said one colonel. "Everybody seems crazy to go." This shows how truly patriotic our nation can become when the occasion arises for going to the front.
While Theodore Roosevelt and his intimate friend were wondering what to do next, Congress authorized the raising of three cavalry regiments, to be composed of the daring riflemen and riders of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Indian Territory.
"There, that will just suit me," said Theodore Roosevelt. "I know many of those men, and I know we can raise a regiment in no time."
And without delay he sought out Secretary of War Alger and told him of his hopes.
"I am perfectly willing to give you command of one of those regiments," said the war secretary. "I know you are something of a rough rider yourself, and a good marksman to boot."
This was certainly flattering, but Theodore Roosevelt's head was not turned by the offer.
"I don't think I am quite ready to take command," said he. "I know that I can learn, and that quickly, but it will be precious time wasted."
"Well, what do you wish, Mr. Roosevelt?" asked the Secretary of War, curiously.
"What I should like best of all is for Dr. Wood to become colonel of the regiment, and for myself to become lieutenant-colonel."
"Very well; I will consult President McKinley on the subject," said the secretary. The request was granted, and in a few days more Colonel Wood and Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt sallied forth to organize the Rough Riders, and fit them for service in Cuba.
Leaving his family, which now consisted of his wife and six children, the lieutenant-colonel made his way to San Antonio, Texas, where the regiment was to gather. Previous to going he spent a full week in Washington, seeing to it that arrangements were completed for supplying the command with uniforms, carbines, saddles, and other articles which were needed. This was in itself quite a task, for all of the departments at the Capitol were more than busy, and it took a great amount of "hustling" to get what one wanted.
As soon as it was known that Theodore Roosevelt was going to help organize the Rough Riders, offers from everywhere began to pour in upon him. Not alone did the men of the plains and ranch who knew him want to go, but likewise his old college chums at Harvard. These men, of wealth and good families, were willing to serve in any capacity, if only they could be mustered in. There were crack base-ball and foot-ball players, yachtsmen, all-round athletes and men of fortune, all mixed in with hunters, cowboys, men who had served as sheriffs in the far West, where fighting was an everyday occurrence, some policemen who had served under Roosevelt when he was a Police Commissioner in New York, and even some Indians. Nearly every nationality was represented when it came to blood, and the men ran from the best educated to the most ignorant.
But there were three tests which every man, private or officer, had to pass. He had to be in perfect health, he had to know how to ride, and he had to know how to shoot. To these conditions were afterward added two more: each man had to learn his duty as quickly as he could and had to learn to obey his superiors.
In such a collection of soldiers it was but natural that the real leaders soon asserted themselves. Several of the captains had served in the United States army before; two were former famous western sheriffs; and all were full of that pluck and energy which is bound to command success.
In this regiment were some men who had hunted with Theodore Roosevelt on more than one occasion. They knew him well and loved him, and did their best to serve him. To them he was really their commander, although they officially recognized Colonel Wood. They were preeminently "Roosevelt's Rough Riders," and the great majority of the people of our nation call them such to this day.
The majority of the command were rather young in years, although a few were of middle age. But all were tough and hardy, either from athletic training or from years spent in the open air of the great West. Some of them could ride almost any kind of a horse, and "bronco busting," that is, breaking in a wild steed, was common sport among them. Some had spent nearly their entire lives in the saddle, and some could exhibit remarkable skill with their firearms while riding at full speed.
When the men began to come into San Antonio, they found but little in the way of accommodations. But soon tents and blankets were procured. It is said that good shoes were scarce, but some of the soldiers did not mind going without them. The regiment was supplied with good rifles, but the cartridges were not made of smokeless powder, which was a bad thing, for smoke sometimes enables an enemy to locate the shooter, when, if smokeless powder were used, nothing could be seen. Each man had also a six shooter, and was to have had a machete, but the long knives did not come.
"On to Cuba!" was the cry. And it was taken up every day. The Rough Riders were eager for the fray. Alas! little did many of them realize that, once in the "bloody isle," they would never see their native land again.
IN CAMP AT TAMPA—TO PORT TAMPA IN COAL CARS—THEODORE ROOSEVELT'S QUICK MOVE TO OBTAIN A TRANSPORT—THE WAIT IN THE HARBOR—OFF FOR CUBA AT LAST
That the path of the soldier is not always one full of glory can easily be proven by what happened to the Rough Riders when, late in May, they were ordered to Tampa, Florida, where a part of the army was gathering in readiness to be transported to Cuba.
"We were just wild to go," says one of the number, in speaking of that time. "We were tired of staying at San Antonio and drilling day in and day out, rain or shine. I guess everybody felt like hurrahing when we piled on to the cars.
"Colonel Roosevelt—he was only Lieutenant-Colonel then—had six troops under him, and he did all he could to make the boys comfortable. But the cars were crowded, and travelling was so slow it took us four days to reach Tampa. Then when we got there, we found everything in confusion. The railroad yard was chock-a-block with freight and passenger cars, and nobody was there to tell us where to go or where to find provisions.
"The boys were hungry and tired out, for sleeping on the railroad had been almost out of the question. There wasn't a sign of rations in sight, and it looked as if we would have to stay hungry. But Teddy Roosevelt just put his hand into his own pocket and bought us about all we wanted. Then he scurried around and found out where we were to go, and in another twenty-four hours we were settled in camp." Even in camp the Rough Riders had to put up with continued discomfort. The weather was warm, flies and mosquitoes were numerous, and the drinking water was not of the best. The rations were plain, but the Rough Riders did not mind this, for many of them had often fared worse on the plains.
Although it was now a regular military camp that the Rough Riders were in, it was rather difficult to control some of the men, especially those who had been used to an unusually rough life. But they were held in check as much as possible by their commanders, and on Sunday all attended a church service held by Chaplain Brown, who spoke to them in a manner that soon claimed their attention.
After but a few days spent in the camp at Tampa, within walking distance of many of the fashionable hotels, the command was ordered to Port Tampa, there to board a transport to sail for some destination not revealed. But the soldiers knew they were going to Cuba, to fight the Spaniards and to aid in freeing Cuba, and again there was a loud hurrahing.
But immediately on top of this came one of the hardest blows the Rough Riders had to endure, and one which some of them will probably never forget.
As already stated, volunteers from all over our nation were anxious to get into the fight, and it was no easy matter for the authorities at Washington to decide who should go and who should be left behind.
"Only eight troops of seventy men each of the Rough Riders will embark on the transport," was the order sent to Colonel Wood. More than this, it was ordered that the command should be on board of the transport by the following morning, otherwise it could not go.
"Four troops to be left behind!" exclaimed Theodore Roosevelt.
"Too bad," returned Colonel Wood. "Every man expects to go, and wants to go."
It was a hard task to tell some of the men that they could not go. Mr. Roosevelt tells us that many of them actually cried at the news. They were willing to go under any conditions. They did not want any pay, they did not want any pensions if they were disabled, and some, who had money, even offered to pay their way, just for the privilege of fighting for Uncle Sam. After such an exhibition, let nobody dare to say that true patriotism is dying out in this country.
But orders were orders, and as quickly as possible those to go were selected. Then the command marched to the railroad tracks to await the cars. None came, and they were given orders to march to another track. This they also did; but still no train appeared.
"We'll be left, that is certain," said Colonel Wood, anxiously.
"It certainly looks like it, unless we march the boys down to the port."
"Here comes a train!" was the cry.
It was a train, but only of empty coal cars. It was about to pass by when the Rough Riders halted it.
"What's the matter with riding down to the port in the coal cars?" was the question asked by several.
"Good enough!" came the answer. "Into the cars, boys, and don't waste time!" And into the dirty coal cars they piled, and persuaded the engineer of the train to take them down to Port Tampa as quickly as he could.
If there had been bustle and confusion up at Tampa, it was far worse at the port. Everybody was in a hurry, and ten thousand soldiers stood around, not knowing what to do with their baggage, and not knowing which of the many transports to board.
At last the Rough Riders were told to go aboard the Yucatan, and started to do so.
"The Yucatan?" exclaimed a member of another command. "That is our transport."
"No, she has been allotted to us," put in an officer belonging to still another command.
"How many men will she hold?" questioned a captain of the Rough Riders.
"About a thousand."
"Then she can't take the three commands."
Theodore Roosevelt overheard this talk, and at once made up his mind that it would be a question of what command got aboard of the transport first. Without the loss of a moment he ran back to where his men were in waiting.
"Double-quick to the dock!" was his order. And forming quickly, the troops made their way to the wharf with all possible speed. In the meantime, Colonel Wood had gone out to the transport in a steam-launch and gotten the vessel to come up to the wharf. On board went the Rough Riders pell-mell, and not a minute too soon.
"This is our boat!" cried an officer, as he came up with his command a minute later.
"Sorry for you, sir, but it is our boat," was Colonel Wood's firm answer.
Then the third command loomed up, and a three-handed dispute arose. But the Rough Riders remained aboard of the transport, taking four companies of another command in with them.
I have told of the particulars of this affair to show my young readers what was needed at this time, and how well Theodore Roosevelt performed his duties. He had been a soldier and officer only a few weeks, yet he realized that army life on paper and army life in reality were two different things. He felt that an officer must do much besides leading his men in the field: that he must look after them constantly, see that their health was provided for, see that they got their rations, see that transportation was ready when needed, and even see to it that some were kept away from the temptations of drink, and that they did not quarrel among themselves.
When going on board of the transport, the Rough Riders were supplied with twelve days' rations each. The most of the food was good, but the canned beef was very bad, just as it was found to be very bad in many other quarters, and it made a great number sick. Added to this, somebody had forgotten to issue salt to the soldiers; so much had to be eaten without this very necessary seasoning.
"But we took matters good-naturedly," said one of the number, in speaking of the trip that followed. "Many of the boys were out for a lark, and when they growled, they did it good-naturedly. We had all sorts of men, and all sorts of nicknames. An Irishman was called Solomon Levi, and a nice young Jew Old Pork Chop. One fellow who was particularly slow was called Speedy William, and another who always spoke in a quick, jerky voice answered to the hail of 'Slow-up Peter.' One cowboy who was as rough as anybody in the command was christened The Parson, and a fine, high-toned, well-educated college boy had to answer to the name of Jimmy the Tramp. Some of the boys could sing, and they organized the Rough Rider Quartette; and others could play, and they gave us music on the mouth harmonicas and other instruments they had managed to smuggle along."
The War Department had expected to send the troops to Cuba without delay, but now came in a report that some Spanish war-ships were hovering around, ready to sink the transports as soon as they should show themselves, and for five days the vessels remained in Port Tampa Harbor, until it was ascertained that the report was untrue.
Those five days were important to Theodore Roosevelt and to the men under him. Every day the young officer spent a certain portion of his time in studying military tactics and in drilling his soldiers. Much had still to be learned, and the officers had their school of instructions as well as did those under them.
The weather was broiling hot, and some were already suffering from fever or its symptoms. Fortunately bathing was good, and many went in once or twice a day. Bathing in the ocean was great sport to some of the plainsmen who had never seen anything larger than a river or creek, and they frolicked around like children, and got up races, with prizes for the best swimmers.
At last came the orders for the transports to set sail for Cuba. They numbered thirty-two in all, including a schooner which was towed along filled with drinking water, for water must be had, and that was the only place where it could be stowed. To protect the transports from a possible attack by the enemy, they were accompanied by five war-ships at first, and later on by fourteen. All told, there were on the transports eight hundred officers and sixteen thousand enlisted men. Of the commands, the most were from the regular army, the volunteers numbering but three—the Rough Riders, the Seventy-first New York Infantry, and the Second Massachusetts Infantry.
LIFE ON THE TRANSPORT—THE LANDING AT DAIQUIRI—THE MARCH TO SIBONEY—THE TRAIL THROUGH THE JUNGLE—THE SKIRMISH AT LA GUASIMA
While the army was preparing to invade Cuba, matters so far as they concerned the navy had been moving along rapidly. Commodore Dewey had sunk the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay; Havana and the adjacent coasts were being blockaded, so no ships could pass in or out without running the risk of capture; and a large fleet of war-ships under Admiral Cervera, of the enemy's navy, had been "bottled up" in Santiago Harbor.
It had been decided that the United States troops should be landed on the southeast coast of Cuba, not far from the entrance to Santiago Bay, and from that point should make an advance on Santiago, which is the second city of importance in the island.
Day after day the flotilla of transports kept on its way, spread out in a broad column during the time it was light, and coming in close together during the night. The war-ships hovered near, and at night swept the ocean with their powerful search-lights, rendering a surprise by the enemy impossible.
The trip to the southeast coast of Cuba lasted seven days. It was very hot, even for this time of the year, and those who could, slept on deck during the voyage. There was but little to do, and when not drilling, the men took it easy in the shade,—sleeping, chatting, or playing games. Sometimes they would talk of the future and wonder how much of real fighting lay before them.
"We didn't know even then where we were going," said one, in speaking of the trip. "I don't believe Wood or Roosevelt knew either. First we thought it might be Havana, then we imagined it might be Porto Rico, but when we turned southward and ran around the eastern end of the island, we all knew we were bound for Santiago."
As the transports swept up toward the mouth of Santiago Bay, they came within sight of the American war-ships that were keeping Admiral Cervera's fleet "bottled up" in the harbor. A shout of recognition went up, and one of the bands struck up a patriotic air that was truly inspiring.
The landing of the Rough Riders and many other commands was made at Daiquiri, a small settlement on the coast east of Santiago Harbor. The Yucatan got closer to the shore than most of the other transports, and the men lost no time in disembarking, taking with them two Colt's automatic guns and a dynamite gun of which they had become possessed. As there had not been transports enough, only the officers' horses had been brought along. These were thrown into the water and made to swim ashore. Theodore Roosevelt had two horses, but one was drowned.
It was important that the landing should be guarded, and the war-ships sent in some shot and shell to dislodge any Spaniards who might be in the vicinity. But none showed themselves, and soon nearly all of the soldiers were ashore, either at Daiquiri or at a landing a short distance farther westward. No enemy was in sight, and the only persons who appeared were some Cubans, soldiers and civilians, who wanted but one thing, food.
The Rough Riders had been put into a brigade commanded by General S.B.M. Young. There were two of these brigades, and it is worth noting that they formed a division under the command of Major-General Joseph Wheeler, who had in years gone by fought so gallantly on the side of the Confederacy. Now, as brave as of old, he was fighting for Old Glory, the one banner of the North and the South alike.
As the Rough Riders landed, they were marched up the beach, and here they went into temporary camp,—an easy matter, since each soldier carried his outfit with him, or, at least, as much as he could get of what belonged to him. Theodore Roosevelt had his weapons and ammunition, a mackintosh and a toothbrush, certainly much less than he had carried even when roughing it in the Bad Lands of the West.
As soon as the larger portion of the army was landed, General Lawton—he who was afterward to give his life for his flag in the Philippines—threw out a strong detachment on the Santiago road to the westward, and also detachments on the roads to the north and east.
"On to Santiago!" was the cry. And many were for pushing forward without delay. But the transports had still to unload their baggage, and word did not reach the Rough Riders to move on until the afternoon of the day after landing.
It was a rocky, uneven country, with much brushwood and jungles of trees and vines. It had rained, but now the sun came out fiercely, and the Rough Riders (riders in name only, for only the officers were on horseback) suffered greatly through being clad in winter uniform.
"It was a tough and tiresome march," said one who was there. "The air just quivered with heat, and many of the boys felt like throwing half of their clothing away. Whenever we reached a drinking place, the crowd would swarm around for water like a lot of bees.
"General Lawton had his outposts pretty well advanced. Our commander, old General Wheeler, was just as anxious to make a showing, and he ordered General Young to push on with the Rough Riders and some other troops. So away we went, with Colonel Wood at our head, and Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt in command of one squadron and Major Brodie in command of the other. In some spots the road was frightful, full of mud-holes, with big land crabs crawling around in all directions, and with the trailing vines full of poisonous spiders. We didn't know but that the woods might be full of Spaniards, and we were on the alert to give the Dons as good as they sent, should they show themselves."
By nightfall the Rough Riders reached the little village of Siboney without having met the enemy. Here they went into camp in the midst of a heavy thunder-storm in which every soldier and officer was drenched to the skin. Fires could scarcely be lighted, and it was not until the storm had partly cleared away that the cooks could prepare anything to eat. Surely being a soldier was not all glory after all.
It had been learned that a portion of the Spanish army was less than four miles away, and General Young was ordered by General Wheeler to move forward at daybreak and engage the enemy. Colonel Wood received orders to move the Rough Riders by a trail over a hill, beyond which the country sloped toward the bay and the city of Santiago.
The first encounter with the enemy occurred at a place called La Guasima (or Las Guasimas), so called on account of trees of that name growing in the vicinity. Here the Spaniards had rifle-pits and mounds of earth to shelter them and had likewise the sugar-house of a plantation. They had been watching for the coming of the Americanos eagerly, and were determined to give our soldiers a lesson not to be forgotten. They knew that our army had not been in active warfare for years, and felt certain that they would soon be able to make the "paper" soldiers retreat.
The Rough Riders found the way led up a steep hill, and the pace was so fast that before the firing line was reached some men fell out from exhaustion. Theodore Roosevelt was at the head of the first squadron and did his best to urge those under him forward. There was an advance guard, led by some men under Sergeant Hamilton Fish, and Captain Capron's troop, and soon a crash of firearms notified all that a fight was on.
Orders were at once issued to fill the magazines of the guns, and this was done. Then, while some troops moved to the left of the trail, Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt was ordered to take three troops to the right. Here the jungle was heavy, and no sooner had the Rough Riders advanced than the Spaniards opened fire upon them. In speaking of the opening of this fight, Mr. Roosevelt himself writes:—
"The effect of the smokeless powder (used by the enemy) was remarkable. The air seemed full of the rustling sound of the Mauser bullets, for the Spaniards knew the trails by which we were advancing, and opened heavily on our position. But they themselves were entirely invisible. The jungle covered everything, and not the faintest trace of smoke was to be seen in any direction, to indicate from whence the bullets came."
It was certainly a trying time—to stand up and be shot at without being able to return the compliment. Roosevelt and all the other leaders knew that this would not do, and at a great risk they continued to advance, until some Spaniards were at last discovered across a valley to the right of where the troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt were located.
"There they are!" was the cry. "Forward and at 'em, boys! Down with the Dons!" Without delay some sharpshooters fired on the Spaniards, and then the regular troops opened up, and at last the Spaniards ran from cover.
Bullets were now flying in all directions, and both sides were making their shots tell. The Americans had but scant protection, and it was not long before a number of them fell. Some bullets came close to Theodore Roosevelt, and one hit a palm tree near where he was standing, filling his left eye and ear with the dust and splinters. Had that Mauser bullet come a few inches closer, the man who was destined to become the future President of our country might have been killed on the spot.
In the midst of the skirmish—for the conflict proved to be nothing more—there was a report that Colonel Wood was dead, and Theodore Roosevelt took it upon himself to restore the fighting line of Rough Riders to order. But happily the report proved false; and a little while after this the skirmish came to an end, and both Spaniards and Americans betook themselves to positions of greater safety. In this skirmish, brief as it was, the Rough Riders lost eight men killed and nearly forty wounded.
ALONG THE JUNGLE TRAIL—FORDING THE RIVER—OPENING OF THE BATTLE OF SAN JUAN HILL—BRAVERY OF THE ROUGH RIDERS—PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT DURING THE BATTLE
Taken as a whole, the skirmish at La Guasima was quite an important one, for it showed the Spaniards that our soldiers were bound to advance upon Santiago, be the cost what it might.
More than this, it showed that Theodore Roosevelt was brave under fire. During the skirmish he paid but scant attention to his own personal safety. He went wherever he thought he was needed, and the fact that Mauser bullets were flying about in all directions did not daunt him.
"He was about as cool a man as I ever saw in a fight," said one old soldier. "He did all he could to encourage the men, and had a kind word for every man he ran across who was wounded. Once, in the thickest of the brush, he grabbed up a gun and began to shoot with us, and I reckon he fired as straight as anybody there, for he had had lots of practice while hunting."
The Spaniards had been driven from their pits and from the sugar-house of the plantation, and now took good care to keep out of sight. Picket-guards were thrown out by the officers of the army, and those who had been in the fight took a much-needed rest, and looked after the dead and wounded. There was certainly a touching scene at the temporary hospital, where one soldier started to sing "My Country, 'tis of Thee," and many others joined in. On the following morning the dead were buried, the men gathering around the one common grave to sing "Rock of Ages" in a manner that brought tears to the eyes of many.
From La Guasima the Rough Riders moved to the bank of a small stream in the neighborhood. Part of the army was ahead of them and the rest behind, and for several days nothing unusual occurred. But during that time General Young caught the fever, whereupon Colonel Wood had to take charge of the brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt took command of the Rough Riders.
It was now the end of June, and the weather was anything but agreeable. When the rain did not come down in torrents, the sun shone with a glare and a heat that was terrific. As said before, the uniforms of the Rough Riders were heavy, and much clothing had to be cast aside as unfit for use. To add to the discomfort, rations that were promised failed to appear, so that a good square meal was almost unknown.
"This will not do; the men must have enough to eat, even if I have to buy it for them," said Acting Colonel Roosevelt, and made two trips down to the seacoast in search of beans, tomatoes, and other things to eat. Here he was informed that he could only buy stuff meant for the officers.
"All right; I'll buy the things for the officers," he answered, and purchased as much as they would allow. When he got back, he turned the food over to the officers, but saw to it that they gave their men a fair share.
"It was a kindness none of his men ever forgot," said a soldier who was there. "It wasn't any of his business to buy the grub,—the commissary department had to supply it free,—but he knew we might starve while the department was getting itself straightened out and ready to do the right thing. Before he went on a hunt for food, all we had was salt pork, hardtack, and coffee, and some of the stuff wasn't fit to put in your mouth." And this testimony was the testimony of scores of others.
The Spaniards were strongly intrenched upon the outskirts of Santiago, and as it was a rough, hilly country, with many shallow streams and much jungle, it was hard for the American army to advance. It was General Shafter's idea to form a grand semicircle around Santiago, starting from El Caney on the north, and running in an irregular line to Aguadores on the south. Throughout this territory the Spaniards had done everything possible to hinder the advance of our troops. Barbed wire was strung in many directions, and often the brushwood would conceal dangerous pitfalls, so that any advance had to be made with great caution.
The attack upon the Spanish lines began on July 1, and the fighting took place in several quarters at once, but was unusually heavy at El Caney and at San Juan Hill. At El Caney the heroic General Lawton was in command, and fought as gallantly as he afterward did in the Philippines. Some of the charges were terrific, and will ever be remembered by those who participated in them.
The Rough Riders struck camp and moved along the trail on the last day of June. It was as hot as ever, with no sign of rain. The trail was filled with troops and provision wagons, and the progress, consequently, was slow.
"Let us get into the fight!" was the cry heard on every side. "Don't keep us waiting any longer."
"Keep cool," said one of the officers. "You'll get all the fighting you want soon." And so it proved.
At a little after eight o'clock in the evening the Rough Riders found themselves on El Poso Hill, and here the whole brigade to which they were attached went into camp.
"It wasn't much of a camp," said one who was there. "We just threw out a strong picket-guard and went to sleep on our arms, and glad of it, after that day in the broiling sun. We had had to ford some pretty muddy streams, and all of us were water and mud up to our knees. But everybody was as enthusiastic to fight as ever."
At sunrise the battle opened at El Caney, and the Rough Riders could hear the booming of cannon. At once all was activity, and the men prepared to move ahead at a moment's notice.
Acting Colonel Roosevelt was with Colonel Wood at the time, and both were listening to the roar of the artillery.
"I wish we could move—" began Colonel Wood, when, of a sudden, both he and Theodore Roosevelt heard a strange humming sound in the air. Then came the explosion of a shrapnel shell over their heads, and both leaped to their feet.
"This is getting warm!" cried Theodore Roosevelt, and ran toward his horse, when boom! came another explosion, and one of the bullets fell upon his wrist, making, as he himself says, "a bump about as big as a hickory nut." This same shell, he adds, wounded four of the men under him and two or three regulars, one of whom lost his leg. Certainly another providential escape on the part of the future President.
Without loss of time Theodore Roosevelt ordered his troops into the underbrush, and here, for the time being, they were safe. On account of the smokeless powder they used, the Spanish batteries could not be precisely located, so our own artillery were at a slight disadvantage.
But now the blood of the Americans was fully aroused, and soon came an order for a general advance,—something that was hailed with wild delight by the Rough Riders.
"Hurrah, now we'll show 'em what the Yankees can do!" was the cry. "Down with the Dons! Three cheers for Uncle Sam!"
The Rough Riders had to ford the river, and while they were doing this, a balloon that had been used for observations came down in that vicinity and attracted the attention of the Spanish sharpshooters. The firing was now heavy on all sides, and many a gallant soldier went down to rise no more.
Then came another wait of an hour, during which the Rough Riders rested in a hollow leading up from the river. Again there was grumbling. With so much fighting on all sides, why could they not advance?
"We'll get our turn," said Theodore Roosevelt. And soon after a staff officer dashed up with orders to move forward and support the cavalry of the regular army on the hills in front.
"Now to the front!" was the cry. "Down with the Dons!" And away went troop after troop on the double-quick, with Acting Colonel Roosevelt leading them. Shot and shell were hurling themselves through the air in all directions, and on all sides could be heard the shrieks and groans of the dead and the dying. It was a time long to be remembered. Men went down in all directions, and with them not a few officers. It was so hot that Roosevelt's orderly was prostrated from the heat and afterward died. Roosevelt summoned another Rough Rider, and had just finished giving the man some orders when the soldier pitched forward upon his commander, killed by a bullet through the throat.
As the troops advanced, Theodore Roosevelt urged his men forward and told them to do their best, to which they responded with a cheer. He was on horseback at the time, and soon came across a man lying in the shade, probably overcome by the heat. He started to speak to the Rough Rider when a bullet hit the fellow and killed him on the spot.
"I suppose that bullet was meant for me," says Mr. Roosevelt, in writing of this incident. "I, who was on horseback in the open, was unhurt, and the man lying flat on the ground in the cover beside me was killed."
The fight had now centred around the possession of San Juan Hill, upon which was located a Spanish blockhouse. The bullets were flying as thickly as ever, when Roosevelt was ordered to advance in support of another regiment. As the Rough Riders reached the spot where the other regiment was, they found the men lying down awaiting orders.
"I am ordered to support your regiment," said Theodore Roosevelt to the first captain he met.
"We are awaiting orders to advance," answered the captain of the regulars.
"In my opinion we cannot take these hills by firing at them," returned the commander of the Rough Riders. "We must rush them."
"My orders are to keep my men where they are."
"Where is your Colonel?"
"I don't know."
"Well, if he isn't here, then I am the ranking officer, and I give the order to charge," came quickly and positively from Theodore Roosevelt.
"Well, sir,—I—I have orders from our Colonel—" began the captain of the regulars.
"If you won't charge, let my men pass through, sir," cut in the Acting Colonel of the Rough Riders, and he ordered his men to move to the front. This was too much for the regulars, and up they sprang with shouts and yells, and Rough Riders and regulars went up San Juan Hill together. Roosevelt was on horseback as before, but at a barbed-wire fence he leaped to the ground, swung his hat in the air, and joined his men on foot.
The fight was now at its fiercest, and men were being mowed down in all directions. But the fever of battle was in the veins of all the American soldiers, and nothing could stop them. Up the hill they went, loading and firing at random, and making as many shots as possible tell. The Spaniards were in retreat, and soon Old Glory was planted in several places. Some of the leading officers had been shot, and Theodore Roosevelt found himself at one time in command of five regiments, and doing his best to keep them in military order. Strange as it may seem, with bullets flying all around him, he remained unharmed, saving for some slight scratches which, he tells us, "were of no consequence."
With the top of the hill gained, the American soldiers could get a distant glimpse of Santiago, several miles away, and some wanted to move still farther forward. But the Spaniards had strong intrenchments to fall back upon, and it was deemed best to "let well enough alone." Accordingly the American line was made as strong as possible, and by nightfall the battle was at an end, and the Rough Riders were told to hold the hill and intrench, and they did so. In the blockhouse they found some food belonging to some Spanish officers, and upon this they feasted after their well-earned victory.
RESULTS OF THE FIGHT—LIFE IN THE TRENCHES—THE SPANISH FLEET IN SANTIAGO HARBOR—ANOTHER GREAT NAVAL VICTORY—THE ROUGH RIDERS AND THE SPANISH GUERILLAS
The fight had been a hard and heavy one. The Rough Riders had gone into the engagement just 490 strong, and of that number 89 were killed or wounded. The total loss to the Americans was 1071 killed and wounded. The loss to the Spanish was also heavy, but the exact figures will probably never be known.
Utterly tired out with their marching and fighting, the Rough Riders intrenched as best they could, cared for their wounded and dead, and then dropped down to get a well-earned rest. The night was misty and cold, and many who had been bathed in perspiration suffered accordingly. Theodore Roosevelt had a blanket taken from the Spanish, and in this he rolled himself, and slept with others of his command.
At three o'clock in the morning came an unexpected alarm. The Spanish skirmishers were out in force, trying to drive the Americans back. But there was no heavy attack, and presently all became as quiet as before.
"They'll not give up yet," said one of the officers of the Rough Riders. "They mean to retake this hill if they can."
Just at daybreak the Spaniards opened the attack on San Juan Hill once more. Theodore Roosevelt was resting under a little tree when a shrapnel shell burst close by, killing or wounding five men of the command. He at once ordered the eight troops under him to a safer position, where the Spanish battery and the sharpshooters could not locate them so readily.
If the fight had been hard, guarding the trenches was almost equally so. The sun beat down fiercely, and the newly turned up earth made many of the Rough Riders sick. Added to this, provisions were, as usual, slow in arriving. Those in the trenches were kept there six hours, and then relieved by the others who were farther to the rear.
"Running from the cover of brush to the trenches was no easy matter," says one Rough Rider who was there. "We had dug the trenches in a hurry, and had no passages from the rear leading to them. All we could do was to wait for a signal, and then rush, and when we did that, the Spaniards would open a hot fire and keep it up for perhaps fifteen minutes. The sun was enough to turn a man's brain, and more than one poor fellow caught a fever there that proved fatal to him."
Through the entire day the firing continued, but no advances were made upon either side. The Americans were waiting for reinforcements, and the Spaniards were doing likewise. On our side a dynamite gun and two Colt's guns were used, but with little success. But the Gatling guns proved very effective, and caused a great loss to the enemy.
The city of Santiago lies on the northeast coast of a large bay of the same name. This bay is shaped somewhat like a bottle, with a long neck joining it to the Caribbean Sea.
In the harbor, at the time of the battles just described, the Spaniards had a fleet of war-ships under the command of Admiral Cervera, an old and able naval commander. In the fleet were four large cruisers and two torpedo-boats. Three of the cruisers were of seven thousand tons burden each, and all could make from eighteen to nineteen knots an hour. Each carried a crew of about five hundred men, and all were well supplied with guns and ammunition.
To keep this fleet "bottled up," our own navy had a fleet of its own just outside of the harbor, where it had been stationed ever since Admiral Cervera had been discovered within. The American fleet consisted of the cruiser Brooklyn, which was Commodore Schley's flag-ship, the battleships Texas, Iowa, Indiana, and Oregon (the latter having sailed all the way from the Pacific coast around Cape Horn to get into the fight), and the converted yachts Gloucester and Vixen. There were also close at hand, but not near enough to get into the fight, the cruiser New York, Admiral Sampson's flag-ship, and several other vessels of lesser importance.
For a long time it had been thought that Cervera would try to escape from the harbor, in which he could not be reached because of the strong forts that protected the entrance. To bottle him up more effectively, the Americans tried to block up the harbor entrance by sinking an old iron steamboat, the Merrimac, in the channel. This heroic work was undertaken by Lieutenant Hobson with a crew of seven daring men, but the plan failed, for the Merrimac, instead of sinking where intended, swung to one side of the main channel.
When it was reported to him that the Americans had taken the heights of El Caney and San Juan and were strongly intrenched in their positions, Admiral Cervera concluded that Santiago Bay might soon become too hot to hold him. The capture of the city would be followed by the taking of the forts at the harbor entrance, and then there would be nothing left for him to do but to surrender.
San Juan and El Caney had been taken on Friday, and all day Saturday occurred the shooting at long range, as already described. In the meantime the war-ships outside of the harbor kept up a close watch on the harbor entrance, lying well out during the day, but coming in closer at night, and using their powerful search-lights from sundown to sunrise.
Sunday dawned bright and clear, and for the time being all was quiet both ashore and afloat. In the trenches the Rough Riders and other soldiers were still on guard, doing what they could for their wounded, and trying to get the rations which were still delayed.
Presently, those on board of the American fleet noticed a thick cloud of smoke hanging over the harbor, coming from the funnels of the Spanish war-ships. Then one of the enemy's vessels showed itself, quickly followed by the others, and all turned westward, to escape up the coast.
"The enemy is escaping!" was the signal hoisted. And then one cannon after another boomed out, giving the signal to all our ships in that vicinity. The booming of the cannon was heard away eastward at Siboney, whither Admiral Sampson had gone with his ship to confer with General Shafter, and without delay the New York raced madly back to get into the fight that followed.
"Remember the Maine!" was the cry. "Down with the Spanish ships! Give 'em what Dewey did!" And this cry, "Give 'em what Dewey did!" was heard on every hand.
The first vessel to go down was a torpedo-boat, sunk by the Gloucester, and this was quickly followed by the sinking of the second torpedo-boat. In the meantime the larger vessels were pouring in their rain of steel upon the Spanish cruisers with deadly effect, knocking great holes into the ships and killing scores of those on board.
The Spanish cruiser Teresa was the first to succumb to the heavy attack, and soon she turned in to shore to save her crew from drowning. Then the Oquendo caught fire in several places, and burning fiercely from stem to stern, she, too, turned in.
But two ships were now left to Admiral Cervera, the Vizcaya and the Colon, and each had suffered much. Both were doing their best to get out of reach of our guns and the marvellous accuracy of our gunners.
"Don't let 'em get away!" was the cry. "Give 'em what Dewey did!" Forward went the war-ships of Uncle Sam, the powerful Oregon leading, with the Brooklyn and Texas not far behind. The rain of steel continued, and at last, burning like her sister ships, the Vizcaya turned shoreward, and many of her crew leaped overboard to save their lives.
Only the Colon now remained. She was still in fair condition, and it was the Spaniards' ardent hope to save at least one ship from the dire calamity that had overtaken them. But this was not to be, and after a run of a few miles, during which the Oregon and Brooklyn continued to pound her with shot and shell, the Spanish flag was lowered, and the Colon also ran ashore.
It was assuredly a mighty victory, a fitting mate to the great victory won by Admiral Dewey, and when the news reached our country there was such a Fourth of July celebration everywhere as will never be forgotten. Twice had our navy met the ships of Spain, and each time we had sunk every vessel without losing any of our own. More than this, while the Spaniards had lost many men through shot and fire and drowning, our total loss was but one man killed and a handful wounded.
The loss of her second fleet was a bitter blow to Spain, and many predicted that the war would not continue much longer, and this prediction proved correct.
During the rush made by the Rough Riders and our other soldiers, they had gone right through several bodies of Spanish guerillas who were secreted in the trees of the jungle. These guerillas, really lawless fellows belonging to no particular command, could not get back into Santiago because of the strong American guard at the intrenchments, and consequently they contented themselves with remaining out of sight and peppering our soldiers whenever the opportunity offered.
"This will not do," said Theodore Roosevelt. "They are shooting down our men without giving them a chance to fire back. We'll have to get after them." And without delay he sent out a detachment of the best Rough Rider shots to be found. These sharpshooters searched the jungle back of the intrenchments thoroughly, and as a result killed eleven of the guerillas and wounded many more. After that the guerillas kept their distance, satisfied that the Yankees could beat them at their own game.
DEVOTION OF THE ROUGH RIDERS TO THEODORE ROOSEVELT—HIS KINDNESS TO HIS MEN—LAST OF THE FIGHTING—THE TRUCE AND TREATY OF PEACE
With the defeat of Admiral Cervera's fleet, a flag of truce was sent into Santiago by the commander of our army, demanding the surrender of the city. While these negotiations were pending, all fighting came to an end, and the Rough Riders had but little to do outside of making themselves comfortable and caring for the many who were getting sick because of the lack of shelter and proper food. Food was now coming in more rapidly, and soon all were supplied with tents and blankets. During this time Theodore Roosevelt's personal baggage appeared, and he celebrated the arrival by treating himself to a shave and a change of linen, something impossible to do since the fighting had begun.
In his own writings, Mr. Roosevelt has spoken at great length of the devotion which all of the Rough Riders displayed toward him. They were anxious to wait on him at all hours of the day and night. Some would pitch his tent, others would clean his weapons, and still others would go hunting and bring in such game as the vicinity afforded. When ordered to do anything, there was rarely a grumble. Those in the hospital bore their sufferings with remarkable fortitude.
In return for this, Theodore Roosevelt did all he could to make life less hard for those under him. The game that was brought to him he sent to the hospital, that the wounded might have proper nourishment; and he either went himself or sent somebody to the seacoast, to purchase food which the commissary department possessed, but which, through lack of organization, it was slow in distributing. When no shelter was to be had, he slept on the ground with his men, and when they had to work on the trenches at night, he was up and around superintending the labor.
"He was one of us, and he let us know it," was said by one of the Rough Riders. "He ate the same food we did, and he was mighty good to the sick and the wounded. He paid for lots of things out of his own pocket, and I don't believe he has ever asked Uncle Sam to pay him back."
There was no telling how soon the truce would come to an end and fighting would begin again, and night after night the Rough Riders were kept on guard. There was a standing order that each fourth man should keep awake while the others slept, and no matter how dark or rainy the night, Theodore Roosevelt tramped around from one trench to another, seeing to it that this order was obeyed. He also visited the intrenchments of other commands, to compare them and make certain that the grade of service was equally high among the Rough Riders. This shows distinctly that he was a natural-born military commander.
The truce lasted a week, and while all operations were supposed to have come to an end, both the Americans and the Spaniards spent the time in strengthening their positions. At one time the Americans constructed a fairly good defence, in which they placed two Gatling guns and two automatic Colt guns, and this was named Fort Roosevelt, in honor of the Rough Rider commander.
On the tenth of July the fighting began once more, and again the batteries on both sides sent shot and shell into the camps of the enemy. It was largely fighting at long range, and the only Rough Riders who took part were those who manned the Colt's guns, and a small body of sharpshooters stationed in a trench well to the front.
On the next day the Rough Riders were ordered northward, to guard the road running from Santiago to El Caney. Here some fighting was in progress, and the troopers expected to get into battle once more. But the skirmish came to an end before they arrived, very much to their disappointment.
Hardly had the Rough Riders settled in their new position than a storm came up which proved to be the heaviest yet experienced during the campaign. While Theodore Roosevelt was sleeping in his tent, the shelter was blown down and away, and all of his personal effects were scattered in the mud and wet. As best he could, he donned his clothing, saw to it that his men were safe, and then betook himself to a kitchen tent, where he finished the sleep of that night on a rude table recently taken from an abandoned Spanish home in that vicinity.