This was one side of the picture. The other side was that the crisis at once brought to the front any amount of latent fighting strength. There were plenty of Congressmen who showed cool-headed wisdom and resolution. The plain people, the men and women back of the persons who lost their heads, set seriously to work to see that we did whatever was necessary, and made the job a thorough one. The young men swarmed to enlist. In time of peace it had been difficult to fill the scanty regular army and navy, and there were innumerable desertions; now the ships and regiments were over-enlisted, and so many deserters returned in order to fight that it became difficult to decide what to do with them. England, and to a less degree Japan, were friendly. The great powers of Continental Europe were all unfriendly. They jeered at our ships and men, and with fatuous partisanship insisted that the Spaniards would prove too much for our "mercenaries" because we were a commercial people of low ideals who could not fight, while the men whom we attempted to hire for that purpose were certain to run on the day of battle.
Among my friends was the then Army Surgeon Leonard Wood. He was a surgeon. Not having an income, he had to earn his own living. He had gone through the Harvard Medical School, and had then joined the army in the Southwest as a contract doctor. He had every physical, moral, and mental quality which fitted him for a soldier's life and for the exercise of command. In the inconceivably wearing and harassing campaigns against the Apaches he had served nominally as a surgeon, really in command of troops, on more than one expedition. He was as anxious as I was that if there were war we should both have our part in it. I had always felt that if there were a serious war I wished to be in a position to explain to my children why I did take part in it, and not why I did not take part in it. Moreover, I had very deeply felt that it was our duty to free Cuba, and I had publicly expressed this feeling; and when a man takes such a position, he ought to be willing to make his words good by his deeds unless there is some very strong reason to the contrary. He should pay with his body.
As soon as war was upon us, Wood and I began to try for a chance to go to the front. Congress had authorized the raising of three National Volunteer Cavalry regiments, wholly apart from the State contingents. Secretary Alger of the War Department was fond of me personally, and Wood was his family doctor. Alger had been a gallant soldier in the Civil War, and was almost the only member of the Administration who felt all along that we would have to go to war with Spain over Cuba. He liked my attitude in the matter, and because of his remembrance of his own experiences he sympathized with my desire to go to the front. Accordingly he offered me the command of one of the regiments. I told him that after six weeks' service in the field I would feel competent to handle the regiment, but that I would not know how to equip it or how to get it into the first action; but that Wood was entirely competent at once to take command, and that if he would make Wood colonel I would accept the lieutenant-colonelcy. General Alger thought this an act of foolish self-abnegation on my part—instead of its being, what it was, the wisest act I could have performed. He told me to accept the colonelcy, and that he would make Wood lieutenant-colonel, and that Wood would do the work anyway; but I answered that I did not wish to rise on any man's shoulders; that I hoped to be given every chance that my deeds and abilities warranted; but that I did not wish what I did not earn, and that above all I did not wish to hold any position where any one else did the work. He laughed at me a little and said I was foolish, but I do not think he really minded, and he promised to do as I wished. True to his word, he secured the appointment of Wood as colonel and of myself as lieutenant-colonel of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry. This was soon nicknamed, both by the public and by the rest of the army, the Rough Riders, doubtless because the bulk of the men were from the Southwestern ranch country and were skilled in the wild horsemanship of the great plains.
Wood instantly began the work of raising the regiment. He first assembled several old non-commissioned officers of experience, put them in office, and gave them blanks for requisitions for the full equipment of a cavalry regiment. He selected San Antonio as the gathering-place, as it was in a good horse country, near the Gulf from some port on which we would have to embark, and near an old arsenal and an old army post from which we got a good deal of stuff—some of it practically condemned, but which we found serviceable at a pinch, and much better than nothing. He organized a horse board in Texas, and began purchasing all horses that were not too big and were sound. A day or two after he was commissioned he wrote out in the office of the Secretary of War, under his authority, telegrams to the Governors of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Indian Territory, in substance as follows:
The President desires to raise —- volunteers in your Territory to form part of a regiment of mounted riflemen to be commanded by Leonard Wood, Colonel; Theodore Roosevelt, Lieutenant-Colonel. He desires that the men selected should be young, sound, good shots and good riders, and that you expedite by all means in your power the enrollment of these men.
(Signed) R. A. ALGER, Secretary of War.
As soon as he had attended to a few more odds and ends he left Washington, and the day after his arrival in San Antonio the troops began to arrive.
For several weeks before I joined the regiment, to which Wood went ahead of me, I continued as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, trying to get some coherence of plan between the War Department and the Navy Department; and also being used by Wood to finish getting the equipment for the regiment. As regards finding out what the plans of the War Department were, the task was simple. They had no plans. Even during the final months before the outbreak of hostilities very little was done in the way of efficient preparation. On one occasion, when every one knew that the declaration of war was sure to come in a few days, I went on military business to the office of one of the highest line generals of the army, a man who at that moment ought to have been working eighteen hours out of the twenty-four on the vital problems ahead of him. What he was actually doing was trying on a new type of smart-looking uniform on certain enlisted men; and he called me in to ask my advice as to the position of the pockets in the blouse, with a view to making it look attractive. An aide of this general—funnily enough a good fighting man in actual service—when I consulted him as to what my uniform for the campaign should be, laid special stress upon my purchasing a pair of black top boots for full dress, explaining that they were very effective on hotel piazzas and in parlors. I did not intend to be in any hotel if it could possibly be avoided; and as things turned out, I had no full-dress uniform, nothing but my service uniform, during my brief experience in the army.
I suppose that war always does bring out what is highest and lowest in human nature. The contractors who furnish poor materials to the army or the navy in time of war stand on a level of infamy only one degree above that of the participants in the white slave traffic themselves. But there is conduct far short of this which yet seems inexplicable to any man who has in him any spirit of disinterested patriotism combined with any power of imagination. Respectable men, who I suppose lack the imagination thoroughly to realize what they are doing, try to make money out of the Nation's necessities in war at the very time that other men are making every sacrifice, financial and personal, for the cause. In the closing weeks of my service as Assistant Secretary of the Navy we were collecting ships for auxiliary purposes. Some men, at cost to their own purses, helped us freely and with efficiency; others treated the affair as an ordinary business transaction; and yet others endeavored, at some given crisis when our need was great, to sell us inferior vessels at exorbitant prices, and used every pressure, through Senators and Congressmen, to accomplish their ends. In one or two cases they did accomplish them too, until we got a really first-class board established to superintend such purchases. A more curious experience was in connection with the point chosen for the starting of the expedition against Cuba. I had not supposed that any human being could consider this matter save from the standpoint of military need. But one morning a very wealthy and influential man, a respectable and upright man according to his own lights, called on me to protest against our choice of Tampa, and to put in a plea for a certain other port, on the ground that his railroad was entitled to its share of the profit for hauling the army and equipment! I happened to know that at this time this very man had kinsfolk with the army, who served gallantly, and the circumstances of his coming to me were such as to show that he was not acting secretly, and had no idea that there was anything out of the way in his proposal. I think the facts were merely that he had been trained to regard business as the sole object in life, and that he lacked the imagination to enable him to understand the real nature of the request that he was making; and, moreover, he had good reason to believe that one of his business competitors had been unduly favored.
The War Department was in far worse shape than the Navy Department. The young officers turned out from West Point are precisely as good as the young officers turned out from Annapolis, and this always has been true. But at that time (something has been done to remedy the worst conditions since), and ever since the close of the Civil War, the conditions were such that after a few years the army officer stagnated so far as his profession was concerned. When the Spanish War broke out the navy really was largely on a war footing, as any navy which is even respectably cared for in time of peace must be. The admirals, captains, and lieutenants were continually practicing their profession in almost precisely the way that it has to be practiced in time of war. Except actually shooting at a foe, most of the men on board ship went through in time of peace practically all that they would have to go through in time of war. The heads of bureaus in the Navy Department were for the most part men who had seen sea service, who expected to return to sea service, and who were preparing for needs which they themselves knew by experience. Moreover, the civilian head of the navy had to provide for keeping the ships in a state of reasonable efficiency, and Congress could not hopelessly misbehave itself about the navy without the fact at once becoming evident.
All this was changed so far as the army was concerned. Not only was it possible to decrease the efficiency of the army without being called to account for it, but the only way in which the Secretary of War could gain credit for himself or the Administration was by economy, and the easiest way to economize was in connection with something that would not be felt unless war should arise. The people took no interest whatever in the army; demagogues clamored against it, and, inadequate though it was in size, insisted that it should be still further reduced. Popular orators always appealed to the volunteers; the regulars had no votes and there was no point in politicians thinking of them. The chief activity shown by Congressmen about the army was in getting special army posts built in places where there was no need for them. Even the work of the army in its campaigns against the Indians was of such a character that it was generally performed by small bodies of fifty or a hundred men. Until a man ceased being a lieutenant he usually had plenty of professional work to attend to and was employed in the field, and, in short, had the same kind of practice that his brother in the navy had, and he did his work as well. But once past this stage he had almost no opportunity to perform any work corresponding to his rank, and but little opportunity to do any military work whatsoever. The very best men, men like Lawton, Young, Chaffee, Hawkins, and Sumner, to mention only men under or beside whom I served, remained good soldiers, soldiers of the best stamp, in spite of the disheartening conditions. But it was not to be expected that the average man could continue to grow when every influence was against him. Accordingly, when the Spanish War suddenly burst upon us, a number of inert elderly captains and field officers were, much against their own wishes, suddenly pitchforked into the command of regiments, brigades, and even divisions and army corps. Often these men failed painfully. This was not their fault; it was the fault of the Nation, that is, the fault of all of us, of you, my reader, and of myself, and of those like us, because we had permitted conditions to be such as to render these men unfit for command. Take a stout captain of an out-of-the-way two-company post, where nothing in the world ever occurred even resembling military action, and where the only military problem that really convulsed the post to its foundations was the quarrel between the captain and the quartermaster as to how high a mule's tail ought to be shaved (I am speaking of an actual incident). What could be expected of such a man, even though thirty-five years before he had been a gallant second lieutenant in the Civil War, if, after this intervening do-nothing period, he was suddenly put in command of raw troops in a midsummer campaign in the tropics?
The bureau chiefs were for the most part elderly incompetents, whose idea was to do their routine duties in such way as to escape the censure of routine bureaucratic superiors and to avoid a Congressional investigation. They had not the slightest conception of preparing the army for war. It was impossible that they could have any such conception. The people and the Congress did not wish the army prepared for war; and those editors and philanthropists and peace advocates who felt vaguely that if the army were incompetent their principles were safe, always inveighed against any proposal to make it efficient, on the ground that this showed a natural bloodthirstiness in the proposer. When such were the conditions, it was absolutely impossible that either the War Department or the army could do well in the event of war. Secretary Alger happened to be Secretary when war broke out, and all the responsibility for the shortcomings of the Department were visited upon his devoted head. He was made the scapegoat for our National shortcomings. The fault was not his; the fault and responsibility lay with us, the people, who for thirty-three years had permitted our representatives in Congress and in National executive office to bear themselves so that it was absolutely impossible to avoid the great bulk of all the trouble that occurred, and of all the shortcomings of which our people complained, during the Spanish War. The chief immediate cause was the conditions of red-tape bureaucracy which existed in the War Department at Washington, which had prevented any good organization or the preparation of any good plan of operation for using our men and supplies. The recurrence of these conditions, even though in somewhat less aggravated form, in any future emergency is as certain as sunrise unless we bring about the principle of a four years' detail in the staff corps—a principle which Congress has now for years stubbornly refused to grant.
There are nations who only need to have peaceful ideals inculcated, and to whom militarism is a curse and a misfortune. There are other nations, like our own, so happily situated that the thought of war is never present to their minds. They are wholly free from any tendency improperly to exalt or to practice militarism. These nations should never forget that there must be military ideals no less than peaceful ideals. The exaltation of Nogi's career, set forth so strikingly in Stanley Washburn's little volume on the great Japanese warrior, contains much that is especially needed for us of America, prone as we are to regard the exigencies of a purely commercial and industrial civilization as excusing us from the need of admiring and practicing the heroic and warlike virtues.
Our people are not military. We need normally only a small standing army; but there should be behind it a reserve of instructed men big enough to fill it up to full war strength, which is over twice the peace strength. Moreover, the young men of the country should realize that it is the duty of every one of them to prepare himself so that in time of need he may speedily become an efficient soldier—a duty now generally forgotten, but which should be recognized as one of the vitally essential parts of every man's training.
In endeavoring to get the "Rough Riders" equipped I met with some experiences which were both odd and instructive. There were not enough arms and other necessaries to go round, and there was keen rivalry among the intelligent and zealous commanders of the volunteer organizations as to who should get first choice. Wood's experience was what enabled us to equip ourselves in short order. There was another cavalry organization whose commander was at the War Department about this time, and we had been eyeing him with much alertness as a rival. One day I asked him what his plans were about arming and drilling his troops, who were of precisely the type of our own men. He answered that he expected "to give each of the boys two revolvers and a lariat, and then just turn them loose." I reported the conversation to Wood, with the remark that we might feel ourselves safe from rivalry in that quarter; and safe we were.
In trying to get the equipment I met with checks and rebuffs, and in return was the cause of worry and concern to various bureau chiefs who were unquestionably estimable men in their private and domestic relations, and who doubtless had been good officers thirty years before, but who were as unfit for modern war as if they were so many smooth-bores. One fine old fellow did his best to persuade us to take black powder rifles, explaining with paternal indulgence that no one yet really knew just what smokeless powder might do, and that there was a good deal to be said in favor of having smoke to conceal us from the enemy. I saw this pleasing theory actually worked out in practice later on, for the National Guard regiments with us at Santiago had black powder muskets, and the regular artillery black powder guns, and they really might almost as well have replaced these weapons by crossbows and mangonels. We succeeded, thanks to Wood, in getting the same cavalry carbines that were used by the regulars. We were determined to do this, not only because the weapons were good, but because this would in all probability mean that we were brigaded with the regular cavalry, which it was certain would be sent immediately to the front for the fighting.
There was one worthy bureau chief who was continually refusing applications of mine as irregular. In each case I would appeal to Secretary Alger—who helped me in every way—and get an order from him countenancing the irregularity. For instance, I found out that as we were nearer the July date than the January date for the issuance of clothing, and as it had long been customary to issue the winter clothing in July, so as to give ample leisure for getting it to all the various posts, it was therefore solemnly proposed to issue this same winter clothing to us who were about to start for a summer campaign in the tropics. This would seem incredible to those who have never dealt with an inert officialdom, a red-tape bureaucracy, but such is the fact. I rectified this and got an order for khaki clothing. We were then told we would have to advertise thirty days for horses. This meant that we would have missed the Santiago expedition. So I made another successful appeal to the Secretary. Other difficulties came up about wagons, and various articles, and in each case the same result followed. On the last occasion, when I came up in triumph with the needed order, the worried office head, who bore me no animosity, but who did feel that fate had been very unkind, threw himself back in his chair and exclaimed with a sigh: "Oh, dear! I had this office running in such good shape—and then along came the war and upset everything!" His feeling was that war was an illegitimate interruption to the work of the War Department.
There were of course department heads and bureau chiefs and assistants who, in spite of the worthlessness of the system, and of the paralyzing conditions that had prevailed, remained first-class men. An example of these was Commissary-General Weston. His energy, activity, administrative efficiency, and common sense were supplemented by an eager desire to help everybody do the best that could be done. Both in Washington and again down at Santiago we owed him very much. When I was President, it was my good fortune to repay him in part our debt, which means the debt of the people of the country, by making him a major-general.
The regiment assembled at San Antonio. When I reached there, the men, rifles, and horses, which were the essentials, were coming in fast, and the saddles, blankets, and the like were also accumulating. Thanks to Wood's exertions, when we reached Tampa we were rather better equipped than most of the regular regiments. We adhered strictly to field equipment, allowing no luxuries or anything else unnecessary, and so we were able to move off the field when ordered, with our own transportation, leaving nothing behind.
I suppose every man tends to brag about his regiment; but it does seem to me that there never was a regiment better worth bragging about than ours. Wood was an exceptional commander, of great power, with a remarkable gift for organization. The rank and file were as fine natural fighting men as ever carried a rifle or rode a horse in any country or any age. We had a number of first-class young fellows from the East, most of them from colleges like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; but the great majority of the men were Southwesterners, from the then territories of Oklahoma, Indian Territory, Arizona, and New Mexico. They were accustomed to the use of firearms, accustomed to taking care of themselves in the open; they were intelligent and self-reliant; they possessed hardihood and endurance and physical prowess; and, above all, they had the fighting edge, the cool and resolute fighting temper. They went into the war with full knowledge, having deliberately counted the cost. In the great majority of cases each man was chiefly anxious to find out what he should do to make the regiment a success. They bought, first and last, about 800 copies of the cavalry drill regulations and studied them industriously. Such men were practically soldiers to start with, in all the essentials. It is small wonder that with them as material to work upon the regiment was raised, armed, equipped, drilled, sent on trains to Tampa, embarked, disembarked, and put through two victorious offensive—not defensive—fights in which a third of the officers and one-fifth of the men were killed or wounded, all within sixty days. It is a good record, and it speaks well for the men of the regiment; and it speaks well for Wood.[*]
[*] To counterbalance the newspapers which ignorantly and indiscriminately praised all the volunteers there were others whose blame was of the same intelligent quality. The New York Evening Post, on June 18, gave expression to the following gloomy foreboding: "Competent observers have remarked that nothing more extraordinary has been done than the sending to Cuba of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, known as the 'rough riders.' Organized but four weeks, barely given their full complement of officers, and only a week of regular drill, these men have been sent to the front before they have learned the first elements of soldiering and discipline, or have even become acquainted with their officers. In addition to all this, like the regular cavalry, they have been sent with only their carbines and revolvers to meet an enemy armed with long-range rifles. There have been few cases of such military cruelty in our military annals." A week or so after this not wholly happy prophecy was promulgated, the "cruelty" was consummated, first at Las Guasimas and then in the San Juan fighting.
Wood was so busy getting the regiment ready that when I reached San Antonio he turned most of the drilling of it over to me. This was a piece of great good fortune for me, and I drilled the men industriously, mounted and unmounted. I had plenty to learn, and the men and the officers even more; but we went at our work with the heartiest good will. We speedily made it evident that there was no room and no mercy for any man who shirked any duty, and we accomplished good results. The fact is that the essentials of drill and work for a cavalry or an infantry regiment are easy to learn, which of course is not true for the artillery or the engineers or for the navy. The reason why it takes so long to turn the average civilized man into a good infantryman or cavalryman is because it takes a long while to teach the average untrained man how to shoot, to ride, to march, to take care of himself in the open, to be alert, resourceful, cool, daring, and resolute, to obey quickly, as well as to be willing, and to fit himself, to act on his own responsibility. If he already possesses these qualities, there is very little difficulty in making him a soldier; all the drill that is necessary to enable him to march and to fight is of a simple character. Parade ground and barrack square maneuvers are of no earthly consequence in real war. When men can readily change from line to column, and column to line, can form front in any direction, and assemble and scatter, and can do these things with speed and precision, they have a fairly good grasp of the essentials. When our regiment reached Tampa it could already be handled creditably at fast gaits, and both in mass and extended formations, mounted and dismounted.
I had served three years in the New York National Guard, finally becoming a captain. This experience was invaluable to me. It enabled me at once to train the men in the simple drill without which they would have been a mob; for although the drill requirements are simple, they are also absolutely indispensable. But if I had believed that my experience in the National Guard had taught me all that there was to teach about a soldier's career, it would have been better for me not to have been in it at all. There were in the regiment a number of men who had served in the National Guard, and a number of others who had served in the Regular Army. Some of these latter had served in the field in the West under campaign conditions, and were accustomed to long marches, privation, risk, and unexpected emergencies. These men were of the utmost benefit to the regiment. They already knew their profession, and could teach and help the others. But if the man had merely served in a National Guard regiment, or in the Regular Army at some post in a civilized country where he learned nothing except what could be picked up on the parade ground, in the barracks, and in practice marches of a few miles along good roads, then it depended purely upon his own good sense whether he had been helped or hurt by the experience. If he realized that he had learned only five per cent of his profession, that there remained ninety-five per cent to accomplish before he would be a good soldier, why, he had profited immensely.
To start with five per cent handicap was a very great advantage; and if the man was really a good man, he could not be overtaken. But if the man thought that he had learned all about the profession of a soldier because he had been in the National Guard or in the Regular Army under the conditions I have described, then he was actually of less use than if he had never had any military experience at all. Such a man was apt to think that nicety of alignment, precision in wheeling, and correctness in the manual of arms were the ends of training and the guarantees of good soldiership, and that from guard mounting to sentry duty everything in war was to be done in accordance with what he had learned in peace. As a matter of fact, most of what he had learned was never used at all, and some of it had to be unlearned. The one thing, for instance, that a sentry ought never to do in an actual campaign is to walk up and down a line where he will be conspicuous. His business is to lie down somewhere off a ridge crest where he can see any one approaching, but where a man approaching cannot see him. As for the ceremonies, during the really hard part of a campaign only the barest essentials are kept.
Almost all of the junior regular officers, and many of the senior regular officers, were fine men. But, through no fault of their own, had been forced to lead lives that fairly paralyzed their efficiency when the strain of modern war came on them. The routine elderly regular officer who knew nothing whatever of modern war was in most respects nearly as worthless as a raw recruit. The positions and commands prescribed in the text-books were made into fetishes by some of these men, and treated as if they were the ends, instead of the not always important means by which the ends were to be achieved. In the Cuban fighting, for instance, it would have been folly for me to have taken my place in the rear of the regiment, the canonical text-book position. My business was to be where I could keep most command over the regiment, and, in a rough-and-tumble, scrambling fight in thick jungle, this had to depend upon the course of events, and usually meant that I had to be at the front. I saw in that fighting more than one elderly regimental commander who unwittingly rendered the only service he could render to his regiment by taking up his proper position several hundred yards in the rear when the fighting began; for then the regiment disappeared in the jungle, and for its good fortune the commanding officer never saw it again until long after the fight was over.
After one Cuban fight a lieutenant-colonel of the regulars, in command of a regiment, who had met with just such an experience and had rejoined us at the front several hours after the close of the fighting, asked me what my men were doing when the fight began. I answered that they were following in trace in column of twos, and that the instant the shooting began I deployed them as skirmishers on both sides of the trail. He answered triumphantly, "You can't deploy men as skirmishers from column formation"; to which I responded, "Well, I did, and, what is more, if any captain had made any difficulty about it, I would have sent him to the rear." My critic was quite correct from the parade ground standpoint. The prescribed orders at that time were to deploy the column first into a line of squads at correct intervals, and then to give an order which, if my memory serves correctly, ran: "As skirmishers, by the right and left flanks, at six yards, take intervals, march." The order I really gave ran more like this: "Scatter out to the right there, quick, you! scatter to the left! look alive, look alive!" And they looked alive, and they scattered, and each took advantage of cover, and forward went the line.
Now I do not wish what I have said to be misunderstood. If ever we have a great war, the bulk of our soldiers will not be men who have had any opportunity to train soul and mind and body so as to meet the iron needs of an actual campaign. Long continued and faithful drill will alone put these men in shape to begin to do their duty, and failure to recognize this on the part of the average man will mean laziness and folly and not the possession of efficiency. Moreover, if men have been trained to believe, for instance, that they can "arbitrate questions of vital interest and national honor," if they have been brought up with flabbiness of moral fiber as well as flabbiness of physique, then there will be need of long and laborious and faithful work to give the needed tone to mind and body. But if the men have in them the right stuff, it is not so very difficult.
At San Antonio we entrained for Tampa. In various sociological books by authors of Continental Europe, there are jeremiads as to the way in which service in the great European armies, with their minute and machine-like efficiency and regularity, tends to dwarf the capacity for individual initiative among the officers and men. There is no such danger for any officer or man of a volunteer organization in America when our country, with playful light-heartedness, has pranced into war without making any preparation for it. I know no larger or finer field for the display of an advanced individualism than that which opened before us as we went from San Antonio to Tampa, camped there, and embarked on a transport for Cuba. Nobody ever had any definite information to give us, and whatever information we unearthed on our own account was usually wrong. Each of us had to show an alert and not overscrupulous self-reliance in order to obtain food for his men, provender for his horses, or transportation of any kind for any object. One lesson early impressed on me was that if I wanted anything to eat it was wise to carry it with me; and if any new war should arise, I would earnestly advise the men of every volunteer organization always to proceed upon the belief that their supplies will not turn up, and to take every opportunity of getting food for themselves.
Tampa was a scene of the wildest confusion. There were miles of tracks loaded with cars of the contents of which nobody seemed to have any definite knowledge. General Miles, who was supposed to have supervision over everything, and General Shafter, who had charge of the expedition, were both there. But, thanks to the fact that nobody had had any experience in handling even such a small force as ours—about 17,000 men—there was no semblance of order. Wood and I were bound that we should not be left behind when the expedition started. When we were finally informed that it was to leave next morning, we were ordered to go to a certain track to meet a train. We went to the track, but the train never came. Then we were sent to another track to meet another train. Again it never came. However, we found a coal train, of which we took possession, and the conductor, partly under duress and partly in a spirit of friendly helpfulness, took us down to the quay.
All kinds of other organizations, infantry and cavalry, regular and volunteer, were arriving at the quay and wandering around it, and there was no place where we could get any specific information as to what transport we were to have. Finally Wood was told to "get any ship you can get which is not already assigned." He borrowed without leave a small motor boat, and commandeered the transport Yucatan. When asked by the captain what his authority was, he reported that he was acting "by orders of General Shafter," and directed the ship to be brought to the dock. He had already sent me word to be ready, as soon as the ship touched the pier, to put the regiment aboard her. I found that she had already been assigned to a regular regiment, and to another volunteer regiment, and as it was evident that not more than half of the men assigned to her could possibly get on, I was determined that we should not be among the men left off. The volunteer regiment offered a comparatively easy problem. I simply marched my men past them to the allotted place and held the gangway. With the regulars I had to be a little more diplomatic, because their commander, a lieutenant-colonel, was my superior in rank, and also doubtless knew his rights. He sent word to me to make way, to draw my regiment off to one side, and let his take possession of the gangway. I could see the transport coming in, and could dimly make out Wood's figure thereon. Accordingly I played for time. I sent respectful requests through his officers to the commander of the regulars, entered into parleys, and made protestations, until the transport got near enough so that by yelling at the top of my voice I was able to get into a—highly constructive—communication with Wood. What he was saying I had no idea, but he was evidently speaking, and on my own responsibility I translated it into directions to hold the gangway, and so informed the regulars that I was under the orders of my superior and of a ranking officer, and—to my great regret, etc., etc.—could not give way as they desired. As soon as the transport was fast we put our men aboard at the double. Half of the regular regiment got on, and the other half and the other volunteer regiment went somewhere else.
We were kept several days on the transport, which was jammed with men, so that it was hard to move about on the deck. Then the fleet got under way, and we steamed slowly down to Santiago. Here we disembarked, higgledy-piggledy, just as we had embarked. Different parts of different outfits were jumbled together, and it was no light labor afterwards to assemble the various batteries. For instance, one transport had guns, and another the locks for the guns; the two not getting together for several days after one of them had been landed. Soldiers went here, provisions there; and who got ashore first largely depended upon individual activity. Fortunately for us, my former naval aide, when I had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Lieutenant-Commander Sharp, a first-class fellow, was there in command of a little ship to which I had succeeded in getting him appointed before I left the Navy Department. He gave us a black pilot, who took our transport right in shore, the others following like a flock of sheep; and we disembarked with our rifles, ammunition belts, and not much else. In theory it was out of our turn, but if we had not disembarked then, Heaven only knows when our turn would have come, and we did not intend to be out of the fighting if we could help it. I carried some food in my pockets, and a light waterproof coat, which was my sole camp equipment for the next two or three days. Twenty-four hours after getting ashore we marched from Daiquiri, where we had landed, to Siboney, also on the coast, reaching it during a terrific downpour of rain. When this was over, we built a fire, dried our clothes, and ate whatever we had brought with us.
We were brigaded with the First and Tenth Regular Cavalry, under Brigadier-General Sam Young. He was a fine type of the American regular. Like General Chaffee, another of the same type, he had entered the army in the Civil War as a private. Later, when I was President, it was my good fortune to make each of them in succession Lieutenant-General of the army of the United States. When General Young retired and General Chaffee was to take his place, the former sent to the latter his three stars to wear on his first official presentation, with a note that they were from "Private Young to Private Chaffee." The two fine old fellows had served in the ranks, one in the cavalry, one in the infantry, in their golden youth, in the days of the great war nearly half a century before; each had grown gray in a lifetime of honorable service under the flag, and each closed his active career in command of the army. General Young was one of the few men who had given and taken wounds with the saber. He was an old friend of mine, and when in Washington before starting for the front he told me that if we got in his brigade he would put us into the fighting all right. He kept his word.
General Young had actively superintended getting his two regular regiments, or at least a squadron of each, off the transports, and late that night he sent us word that he had received permission to move at dawn and strike the Spanish advance position. He directed us to move along a ridge trail with our two squadrons (one squadron having been left at Tampa), while with the two squadrons of regulars, one of the First and one of the Tenth, under his personal supervision, he marched up the valley trail. Accordingly Wood took us along the hill trail early next morning, till we struck the Spaniards, and began our fight just as the regulars began the fight in the valley trail.
It was a mountainous country covered with thick jungle, a most confusing country, and I had an awful time trying to get into the fight and trying to do what was right when in it; and all the while I was thinking that I was the only man who did not know what I was about, and that all the others did—whereas, as I found out later, pretty much everybody else was as much in the dark as I was. There was no surprise; we struck the Spaniards exactly where we had expected; then Wood halted us and put us into the fight deliberately and in order. He ordered us to deploy alternately by troops to the right and left of the trail, giving our senior major, Brodie, a West Pointer and as good a soldier as ever wore a uniform, the left wing, while I took the right wing. I was told if possible to connect with the regulars who were on the right. In theory this was excellent, but as the jungle was very dense the first troop that deployed to the right vanished forthwith, and I never saw it again until the fight was over—having a frightful feeling meanwhile that I might be court-martialed for losing it. The next troop deployed to the left under Brodie. Then the third came along, and I started to deploy it to the right as before.
By the time the first platoon had gotten into the jungle I realized that it likewise would disappear unless I kept hold of it. I managed to keep possession of the last platoon. One learns fast in a fight, and I marched this platoon and my next two troops in column through the jungle without any attempt to deploy until we got on the firing line. This sounds simple. But it was not. I did not know when I had gotten on the firing line! I could hear a good deal of firing, some over to my right at a good distance, and the rest to the left and ahead. I pushed on, expecting to strike the enemy somewhere between.
Soon we came to the brink of a deep valley. There was a good deal of cracking of rifles way off in front of us, but as they used smokeless powder we had no idea as to exactly where they were, or who they were shooting at. Then it dawned on us that we were the target. The bullets began to come overhead, making a sound like the ripping of a silk dress, with sometimes a kind of pop; a few of my men fell, and I deployed the rest, making them lie down and get behind trees. Richard Harding Davis was with us, and as we scanned the landscape with our glasses it was he who first pointed out to us some Spaniards in a trench some three-quarters of a mile off. It was difficult to make them out. There were not many of them. However, we finally did make them out, and we could see their conical hats, for the trench was a poor one. We advanced, firing at them, and drove them off.
What to do then I had not an idea. The country in front fell away into a very difficult jungle-filled valley. There was nothing but jungle all around, and if I advanced I was afraid I might get out of touch with everybody and not be going in the right direction. Moreover, as far as I could see, there was now nobody in front who was shooting at us, although some of the men on my left insisted that our own men had fired into us—an allegation which I soon found was almost always made in such a fight, and which in this case was not true. At this moment some of the regulars appeared across the ravine on our right. The first thing they did was to fire a volley at us, but one of our first sergeants went up a tree and waved a guidon at them and they stopped. Firing was still going on to our left, however, and I was never more puzzled to know what to do. I did not wish to take my men out of their position without orders, for fear that I might thereby be leaving a gap if there was a Spanish force which meditated an offensive return. On the other hand, it did not seem to me that I had been doing enough fighting to justify my existence, and there was obviously fighting going on to the left. I remember that I kept thinking of the refrain of the fox-hunting song, "Here's to every friend who struggled to the end"; in the hunting field I had always acted on this theory, and, no matter how discouraging appearances might be, had never stopped trying to get in at the death until the hunt was actually over; and now that there was work, and not play, on hand, I intended to struggle as hard as I knew how not to be left out of any fighting into which I could, with any possible propriety, get.
So I left my men where they were and started off at a trot toward where the firing was, with a couple of orderlies to send back for the men in case that proved advisable. Like most tyros, I was wearing my sword, which in thick jungle now and then got between my legs—from that day on it always went corded in the baggage. I struck the trail, and began to pass occasional dead men. Pretty soon I reached Wood and found, much to my pleasure, that I had done the right thing, for as I came up word was brought to him that Brodie had been shot, and he at once sent me to take charge of the left wing. It was more open country here, and at least I was able to get a glimpse of my own men and exercise some control over them. There was much firing going on, but for the life of me I could not see any Spaniards, and neither could any one else. Finally we made up our minds that they were shooting at us from a set of red-tiled ranch buildings a good way in front, and these I assaulted, finally charging them. Before we came anywhere near, the Spaniards, who, as it proved, really were inside and around them, abandoned them, leaving a few dead men.
By the time I had taken possession of these buildings all firing had ceased everywhere. I had not the faintest idea what had happened: whether the fight was over; or whether this was merely a lull in the fight; or where the Spaniards were; or whether we might be attacked again; or whether we ought ourselves to attack somebody somewhere else. I got my men in order and sent out small parties to explore the ground in front, who returned without finding any foe. (By this time, as a matter of fact, the Spaniards were in full retreat.) Meanwhile I was extending my line so as to get into touch with our people on the right. Word was brought to me that Wood had been shot—which fortunately proved not to be true—and as, if this were so, it meant that I must take charge of the regiment, I moved over personally to inquire. Soon I learned that he was all right, that the Spaniards had retreated along the main road, and that Colonel Wood and two or three other officers were a short distance away. Before I reached them I encountered a captain of the Ninth Cavalry, very glum because his troopers had not been up in time to take part in the fight, and he congratulated me—with visible effort!—upon my share in our first victory. I thanked him cordially, not confiding in him that till that moment I myself knew exceeding little about the victory; and proceeded to where Generals Wheeler, Lawton, and Chaffee, who had just come up, in company with Wood, were seated on a bank. They expressed appreciation of the way that I had handled my troops, first on the right wing and then on the left! As I was quite prepared to find I had committed some awful sin, I did my best to accept this in a nonchalant manner, and not to look as relieved as I felt. As throughout the morning I had preserved a specious aspect of wisdom, and had commanded first one and then the other wing, the fight was really a capital thing for me, for practically all the men had served under my actual command, and thenceforth felt an enthusiastic belief that I would lead them aright.
It was a week after this skirmish before the army made the advance on Santiago. Just before this occurred General Young was stricken down with fever. General Wheeler, who had commanded the Cavalry Division, was put in general charge of the left wing of the army, which fought before the city itself. Brigadier-General Sam Sumner, an excellent officer, who had the second cavalry brigade, took command of the cavalry division, and Wood took command of our brigade, while, to my intense delight, I got my regiment. I therefore had command of the regiment before the stiffest fighting occurred. Later, when Wood was put in command in Santiago, I became the brigade commander.
Late in the evening we camped at El Poso. There were two regular officers, the brigade commander's aides, Lieutenants A. L. Mills and W. E. Shipp, who were camped by our regiment. Each of my men had food in his haversack, but I had none, and I would have gone supperless to bed if Mills and Shipp had not given me out of their scanty stores a big sandwich, which I shared with my orderly, who also had nothing. Next morning my body servant Marshall, an ex-soldier of the Ninth (Colored) Cavalry, a fine and faithful fellow, had turned up and I was able in my turn to ask Mills and Shipp, who had eaten all their food the preceding evening, to take breakfast with me. A few hours later gallant Shipp was dead, and Mills, an exceptionally able officer, had been shot through the head from side to side, just back of the eyes; yet he lived, although one eye was blinded, and before I left the Presidency I gave him his commission as Brigadier-General.
Early in the morning our artillery began firing from the hill-crest immediately in front of where our men were camped. Several of the regiment were killed and wounded by the shrapnel of the return fire of the Spaniards. One of the shrapnel bullets fell on my wrist and raised a bump as big as a hickory nut, but did not even break the skin. Then we were marched down from the hill on a muddy road through thick jungle towards Santiago. The heat was great, and we strolled into the fight with no definite idea on the part of any one as to what we were to do or what would happen. There was no plan that our left wing was to make a serious fight that day; and as there were no plans, it was naturally exceedingly hard to get orders, and each of us had to act largely on his own responsibility.
Lawton's infantry division attacked the little village of El Caney, some miles to the right. Kent's infantry division and Sumner's dismounted cavalry division were supposed to detain the Spanish army in Santiago until Lawton had captured El Caney. Spanish towns and villages, however, with their massive buildings, are natural fortifications, as the French found in the Peninsular War, and as both the French and our people found in Mexico. The Spanish troops in El Caney fought very bravely, as did the Spanish troops in front of us, and it was late in the afternoon before Lawton accomplished his task.
Meanwhile we of the left wing had by degrees become involved in a fight which toward the end became not even a colonel's fight, but a squad leader's fight. The cavalry division was put at the head of the line. We were told to march forward, cross a little river in front, and then, turning to the right, march up alongside the stream until we connected with Lawton. Incidentally, this movement would not have brought us into touch with Lawton in any event. But we speedily had to abandon any thought of carrying it out. The maneuver brought us within fair range of the Spanish intrenchments along the line of hills which we called the San Juan Hills, because on one of them was the San Juan blockhouse. On that day my regiment had the lead of the second brigade, and we marched down the trail following in trace behind the first brigade. Apparently the Spaniards could not make up their minds what to do as the three regular regiments of the first brigade crossed and defiled along the other bank of the stream, but when our regiment was crossing they began to fire at us.
Under this flank fire it soon became impossible to continue the march. The first brigade halted, deployed, and finally began to fire back. Then our brigade was halted. From time to time some of our men would fall, and I sent repeated word to the rear to try to get authority to attack the hills in front. Finally General Sumner, who was fighting the division in fine shape, sent word to advance. The word was brought to me by Mills, who said that my orders were to support the regulars in the assault on the hills, and that my objective would be the red-tiled ranch-house in front, on a hill which we afterwards christened Kettle Hill. I mention Mills saying this because it was exactly the kind of definite order the giving of which does so much to insure success in a fight, as it prevents all obscurity as to what is to be done. The order to attack did not reach the first brigade until after we ourselves reached it, so that at first there was doubt on the part of their officers whether they were at liberty to join in the advance.
I had not enjoyed the Guasimas fight at all, because I had been so uncertain as to what I ought to do. But the San Juan fight was entirely different. The Spaniards had a hard position to attack, it is true, but we could see them, and I knew exactly how to proceed. I kept on horseback, merely because I found it difficult to convey orders along the line, as the men were lying down; and it is always hard to get men to start when they cannot see whether their comrades are also going. So I rode up and down the lines, keeping them straightened out, and gradually worked through line after line until I found myself at the head of the regiment. By the time I had reached the lines of the regulars of the first brigade I had come to the conclusion that it was silly to stay in the valley firing at the hills, because that was really where we were most exposed, and that the thing to do was to try to rush the intrenchments. Where I struck the regulars there was no one of superior rank to mine, and after asking why they did not charge, and being answered that they had no orders, I said I would give the order. There was naturally a little reluctance shown by the elderly officer in command to accept my order, so I said, "Then let my men through, sir," and I marched through, followed by my grinning men. The younger officers and the enlisted men of the regulars jumped up and joined us. I waved my hat, and we went up the hill with a rush. Having taken it, we looked across at the Spaniards in the trenches under the San Juan blockhouse to our left, which Hawkins's brigade was assaulting. I ordered our men to open fire on the Spaniards in the trenches.
Memory plays funny tricks in such a fight, where things happen quickly, and all kinds of mental images succeed one another in a detached kind of way, while the work goes on. As I gave the order in question there slipped through my mind Mahan's account of Nelson's orders that each ship as it sailed forward, if it saw another ship engaged with an enemy's ship, should rake the latter as it passed. When Hawkins's soldiers captured the blockhouse, I, very much elated, ordered a charge on my own hook to a line of hills still farther on. Hardly anybody heard this order, however; only four men started with me, three of whom were shot. I gave one of them, who was only wounded, my canteen of water, and ran back, much irritated that I had not been followed—which was quite unjustifiable, because I found that nobody had heard my orders. General Sumner had come up by this time, and I asked his permission to lead the charge. He ordered me to do so, and this time away we went, and stormed the Spanish intrenchments. There was some close fighting, and we took a few prisoners. We also captured the Spanish provisions, and ate them that night with great relish. One of the items was salted flying-fish, by the way. There were also bottles of wine, and jugs of fiery spirit, and as soon as possible I had these broken, although not before one or two of my men had taken too much liquor. Lieutenant Howze, of the regulars, an aide of General Sumner's, brought me an order to halt where I was; he could not make up his mind to return until he had spent an hour or two with us under fire. The Spaniards attempted a counter-attack in the middle of the afternoon, but were driven back without effort, our men laughing and cheering as they rose to fire; because hitherto they had been assaulting breastworks, or lying still under artillery fire, and they were glad to get a chance to shoot at the Spaniards in the open. We lay on our arms that night and as we were drenched with sweat, and had no blankets save a few we took from the dead Spaniards, we found even the tropic night chilly before morning came.
During the afternoon's fighting, while I was the highest officer at our immediate part of the front, Captains Boughton and Morton of the regular cavalry, two as fine officers as any man could wish to have beside him in battle, came along the firing line to tell me that they had heard a rumor that we might fall back, and that they wished to record their emphatic protest against any such course. I did not believe there was any truth in the rumor, for the Spaniards were utterly incapable of any effective counter-attack. However, late in the evening, after the fight, General Wheeler visited us at the front, and he told me to keep myself in readiness, as at any moment it might be decided to fall back. Jack Greenway was beside me when General Wheeler was speaking. I answered, "Well, General, I really don't know whether we would obey an order to fall back. We can take that city by a rush, and if we have to move out of here at all I should be inclined to make the rush in the right direction." Greenway nodded an eager assent. The old General, after a moment's pause, expressed his hearty agreement, and said that he would see that there was no falling back. He had been very sick for a couple of days, but, sick as he was, he managed to get into the fight. He was a gamecock if ever there was one, but he was in very bad physical shape on the day of the fight. If there had been any one in high command to supervise and press the attack that afternoon, we would have gone right into Santiago. In my part of the line the advance was halted only because we received orders not to move forward, but to stay on the crest of the captured hill and hold it.
We are always told that three-o'clock-in-the-morning courage is the most desirable kind. Well, my men and the regulars of the cavalry had just that brand of courage. At about three o'clock on the morning after the first fight, shooting began in our front and there was an alarm of a Spanish advance. I was never more pleased than to see the way in which the hungry, tired, shabby men all jumped up and ran forward to the hill-crest, so as to be ready for the attack; which, however, did not come. As soon as the sun rose the Spaniards again opened upon us with artillery. A shell burst between Dave Goodrich and myself, blacking us with powder, and killing and wounding several of the men immediately behind us.
Next day the fight turned into a siege; there were some stirring incidents; but for the most part it was trench work. A fortnight later Santiago surrendered. Wood won his brigadier-generalship by the capital way in which he handled his brigade in the fight, and in the following siege. He was put in command of the captured city; and in a few days I succeeded to the command of the brigade.
The health of the troops was not good, and speedily became very bad. There was some dysentery, and a little yellow fever; but most of the trouble was from a severe form of malarial fever. The Washington authorities had behaved better than those in actual command of the expedition at one crisis. Immediately after the first day's fighting around Santiago the latter had hinted by cable to Washington that they might like to withdraw, and Washington had emphatically vetoed the proposal. I record this all the more gladly because there were not too many gleams of good sense shown in the home management of the war; although I wish to repeat that the real blame for this rested primarily with us ourselves, the people of the United States, who had for years pursued in military matters a policy that rendered it certain that there would be ineptitude and failure in high places if ever a crisis came. After the siege the people in Washington showed no knowledge whatever of the conditions around Santiago, and proposed to keep the army there. This would have meant that at least three-fourths of the men would either have died or have been permanently invalided, as a virulent form of malaria was widespread, and there was a steady growth of dysentery and other complaints. No object of any kind was to be gained by keeping the army in or near the captured city. General Shafter tried his best to get the Washington authorities to order the army home. As he failed to accomplish anything, he called a council of the division and brigade commanders and the chief medical officers to consult over the situation.
Although I had command of a brigade, I was only a colonel, and so I did not intend to attend, but the General informed me that I was particularly wanted, and accordingly I went. At the council General Shafter asked the medical authorities as to conditions, and they united in informing him that they were very bad, and were certain to grow much worse; and that in order to avoid frightful ravages from disease, chiefly due to malaria, the army should be sent back at once to some part of the northern United States. The General then explained that he could not get the War Department to understand the situation; that he could not get the attention of the public; and that he felt that there should be some authoritative publication which would make the War Department take action before it was too late to avert the ruin of the army. All who were in the room expressed their agreement.
Then the reason for my being present came out. It was explained to me by General Shafter, and by others, that as I was a volunteer officer and intended immediately to return to civil life, I could afford to take risks which the regular army men could not afford to take and ought not to be expected to take, and that therefore I ought to make the publication in question; because to incur the hostility of the War Department would not make any difference to me, whereas it would be destructive to the men in the regular army, or to those who hoped to get into the regular army. I thought this true, and said I would write a letter or make a statement which could then be published. Brigadier-General Ames, who was in the same position that I was, also announced that he would make a statement.
When I left the meeting it was understood that I was to make my statement as an interview in the press; but Wood, who was by that time Brigadier-General commanding the city of Santiago, gave me a quiet hint to put my statement in the form of a letter to General Shafter, and this I accordingly did. When I had written my letter, the correspondent of the Associated Press, who had been informed by others of what had occurred, accompanied me to General Shafter. I presented the letter to General Shafter, who waved it away and said: "I don't want to take it; do whatever you wish with it." I, however, insisted on handing it to him, whereupon he shoved it toward the correspondent of the Associated Press, who took hold of it, and I released my hold. General Ames made a statement direct to the correspondent, and also sent a cable to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at Washington, a copy of which he gave to the correspondent. By this time the other division and brigade commanders who were present felt that they had better take action themselves. They united in a round robin to General Shafter, which General Wood dictated, and which was signed by Generals Kent, Gates, Chaffee, Sumner, Ludlow, Ames, and Wood, and by myself. General Wood handed this to General Shafter, and it was made public by General Shafter precisely as mine was made public.[*] Later I was much amused when General Shafter stated that he could not imagine how my letter and the round robin got out! When I saw this statement, I appreciated how wise Wood had been in hinting to me not to act on the suggestion of the General that I should make a statement to the newspapers, but to put my statement in the form of a letter to him as my superior officer, a letter which I delivered to him. Both the letter and the round robin were written at General Shafter's wish, and at the unanimous suggestion of all the commanding and medical officers of the Fifth Army Corps, and both were published by General Shafter.
[*] General Wood writes me: "The representative of the Associated Press was very anxious to get a copy of this despatch or see it, and I told him it was impossible for him to have it or see it. I then went in to General Shafter and stated the case to him, handing him the despatch, saying, 'The matter is now in your hands.' He, General Shafter, then said, 'I don't care whether this gentleman has it or not,' and I left then. When I went back the General told me he had given the Press representative a copy of the despatch, and that he had gone to the office with it."
In a regiment the prime need is to have fighting men; the prime virtue is to be able and eager to fight with the utmost effectiveness. I have never believed that this was incompatible with other virtues. On the contrary, while there are of course exceptions, I believe that on the average the best fighting men are also the best citizens. I do not believe that a finer set of natural soldiers than the men of my regiment could have been found anywhere, and they were first-class citizens in civil life also. One fact may perhaps be worthy of note. Whenever we were in camp and so fixed that we could have regular meals, we used to have a general officers' mess, over which I of course presided. During our entire service there was never a foul or indecent word uttered at the officers' mess—I mean this literally; and there was very little swearing—although now and then in the fighting, if there was a moment when swearing seemed to be the best method of reaching the heart of the matter, it was resorted to.
The men I cared for most in the regiment were the men who did the best work; and therefore my liking for them was obliged to take the shape of exposing them to the most fatigue and hardship, of demanding from them the greatest service, and of making them incur the greatest risk. Once I kept Greenway and Goodrich at work for forty-eight hours, without sleeping, and with very little food, fighting and digging trenches. I freely sent the men for whom I cared most, to where death might smite them; and death often smote them—as it did the two best officers in my regiment, Allyn Capron and Bucky O'Neil. My men would not have respected me had I acted otherwise. Their creed was my creed. The life even of the most useful man, of the best citizen, is not to be hoarded if there be need to spend it. I felt, and feel, this about others; and of course also about myself. This is one reason why I have always felt impatient contempt for the effort to abolish the death penalty on account of sympathy with criminals. I am willing to listen to arguments in favor of abolishing the death penalty so far as they are based purely on grounds of public expediency, although these arguments have never convinced me. But inasmuch as, without hesitation, in the performance of duty, I have again and again sent good and gallant and upright men to die, it seems to me the height of a folly both mischievous and mawkish to contend that criminals who have deserved death should nevertheless be allowed to shirk it. No brave and good man can properly shirk death; and no criminal who has earned death should be allowed to shirk it.
One of the best men with our regiment was the British military attache, Captain Arthur Lee, an old friend. The other military attaches were herded together at headquarters and saw little. Captain Lee, who had known me in Washington, escaped and stayed with the regiment. We grew to feel that he was one of us, and made him an honorary member. There were two other honorary members. One was Richard Harding Davis, who was with us continually and who performed valuable service on the fighting line. The other was a regular officer, Lieutenant Parker, who had a battery of gatlings. We were with this battery throughout the San Juan fighting, and we grew to have the strongest admiration for Parker as a soldier and the strongest liking for him as a man. During our brief campaign we were closely and intimately thrown with various regular officers of the type of Mills, Howze, and Parker. We felt not merely fondness for them as officers and gentlemen, but pride in them as Americans. It is a fine thing to feel that we have in the army and in the navy modest, efficient, gallant gentlemen of this type, doing such disinterested work for the honor of the flag and of the Nation. No American can overpay the debt of gratitude we all of us owe to the officers and enlisted men of the army and of the navy.
Of course with a regiment of our type there was much to learn both among the officers and the men. There were all kinds of funny incidents. One of my men, an ex-cow-puncher and former round-up cook, a very good shot and rider, got into trouble on the way down on the transport. He understood entirely that he had to obey the officers of his own regiment, but, like so many volunteers, or at least like so many volunteers of my regiment, he did not understand that this obligation extended to officers of other regiments. One of the regular officers on the transport ordered him to do something which he declined to do. When the officer told him to consider himself under arrest, he responded by offering to fight him for a trifling consideration. He was brought before a court martial which sentenced him to a year's imprisonment at hard labor with dishonorable discharge, and the major-general commanding the division approved the sentence.
We were on the transport. There was no hard labor to do; and the prison consisted of another cow-puncher who kept guard over him with his carbine, evidently divided in his feelings as to whether he would like most to shoot him or to let him go. When we landed, somebody told the prisoner that I intended to punish him by keeping him with the baggage. He at once came to me in great agitation, saying: "Colonel, they say you're going to leave me with the baggage when the fight is on. Colonel, if you do that, I will never show my face in Arizona again. Colonel, if you will let me go to the front, I promise I will obey any one you say; any one you say, Colonel," with the evident feeling that, after this concession, I could not, as a gentleman, refuse his request. Accordingly I answered: "Shields, there is no one in this regiment more entitled to be shot than you are, and you shall go to the front." His gratitude was great, and he kept repeating, "I'll never forget this, Colonel, never." Nor did he. When we got very hard up, he would now and then manage to get hold of some flour and sugar, and would cook a doughnut and bring it round to me, and watch me with a delighted smile as I ate it. He behaved extremely well in both fights, and after the second one I had him formally before me and remitted his sentence—something which of course I had not the slightest power to do, although at the time it seemed natural and proper to me.
When we came to be mustered out, the regular officer who was doing the mustering, after all the men had been discharged, finally asked me where the prisoner was. I said, "What prisoner?" He said, "The prisoner, the man who was sentenced to a year's imprisonment with hard labor and dishonorable discharge." I said, "Oh! I pardoned him"; to which he responded, "I beg your pardon; you did what?" This made me grasp the fact that I had exceeded authority, and I could only answer, "Well, I did pardon him, anyhow, and he has gone with the rest"; whereupon the mustering-out officer sank back in his chair and remarked, "He was sentenced by a court martial, and the sentence was approved by the major-general commanding the division. You were a lieutenant-colonel, and you pardoned him. Well, it was nervy, that's all I'll say."
The simple fact was that under the circumstances it was necessary for me to enforce discipline and control the regiment, and therefore to reward and punish individuals in whatever way the exigencies demanded. I often explained to the men what the reasons for an order were, the first time it was issued, if there was any trouble on their part in understanding what they were required to do. They were very intelligent and very eager to do their duty, and I hardly ever had any difficulty the second time with them. If, however, there was the slightest willful shirking of duty or insubordination, I punished instantly and mercilessly, and the whole regiment cordially backed me up. To have punished men for faults and shortcomings which they had no opportunity to know were such would have been as unwise as to have permitted any of the occasional bad characters to exercise the slightest license. It was a regiment which was sensitive about its dignity and was very keenly alive to justice and to courtesy, but which cordially approved absence of mollycoddling, insistence upon the performance of duty, and summary punishment of wrong-doing.
In the final fighting at San Juan, when we captured one of the trenches, Jack Greenway had seized a Spaniard, and shortly afterwards I found Jack leading his captive round with a string. I told him to turn him over to a man who had two or three other captives, so that they should all be taken to the rear. It was the only time I ever saw Jack look aggrieved. "Why, Colonel, can't I keep him for myself?" he asked, plaintively. I think he had an idea that as a trophy of his bow and spear the Spaniard would make a fine body servant.
One reason that we never had the slightest trouble in the regiment was because, when we got down to hard pan, officers and men shared exactly alike. It is all right to have differences in food and the like in times of peace and plenty, when everybody is comfortable. But in really hard times officers and men must share alike if the best work is to be done. As long as I had nothing but two hardtacks, which was the allowance to each man on the morning after the San Juan fight, no one could complain; but if I had had any private little luxuries the men would very naturally have realized keenly their own shortages.
Soon after the Guasimas fight we were put on short commons; and as I knew that a good deal of food had been landed and was on the beach at Siboney, I marched thirty or forty of the men down to see if I could not get some and bring it up. I finally found a commissary officer, and he asked me what I wanted, and I answered, anything he had. So he told me to look about for myself. I found a number of sacks of beans, I think about eleven hundred pounds, on the beach; and told the officer that I wanted eleven hundred pounds of beans. He produced a book of regulations, and showed me the appropriate section and subdivision which announced that beans were issued only for the officers' mess. This did me no good, and I told him so. He said he was sorry, and I answered that he was not as sorry as I was. I then "studied on it," as Br'r Rabbit would say, and came back with a request for eleven hundred pounds of beans for the officers' mess. He said, "Why, Colonel, your officers can't eat eleven hundred pounds of beans," to which I responded, "You don't know what appetites my officers have." He then said he would send the requisition to Washington. I told him I was quite willing, so long as he gave me the beans. He was a good fellow, so we finally effected a working compromise—he got the requisition and I got the beans, although he warned me that the price would probably be deducted from my salary.
Under some regulation or other only the regular supply trains were allowed to act, and we were supposed not to have any horses or mules in the regiment itself. This was very pretty in theory; but, as a matter of fact, the supply trains were not numerous enough. My men had a natural genius for acquiring horseflesh in odd ways, and I continually found that they had staked out in the brush various captured Spanish cavalry horses and Cuban ponies and abandoned commissary mules. Putting these together, I would organize a small pack train and work it industriously for a day or two, until they learned about it at headquarters and confiscated it. Then I would have to wait for a week or so until my men had accumulated some more ponies, horses, and mules, the regiment meanwhile living in plenty on what we had got before the train was confiscated.
All of our men were good at accumulating horses, but within our own ranks I think we were inclined to award the palm to our chaplain. There was not a better man in the regiment than the chaplain, and there could not have been a better chaplain for our men. He took care of the sick and the wounded, he never spared himself, and he did every duty. In addition, he had a natural aptitude for acquiring mules, which made some admirer, when the regiment was disbanded, propose that we should have a special medal struck for him, with, on the obverse, "A Mule passant and Chaplain regardant." After the surrender of Santiago, a Philadelphia clergyman whom I knew came down to General Wheeler's headquarters, and after visiting him announced that he intended to call on the Rough Riders, because he knew their colonel. One of General Wheeler's aides, Lieutenant Steele, who liked us both individually and as a regiment, and who appreciated some of our ways, asked the clergyman, after he had announced that he knew Colonel Roosevelt, "But do you know Colonel Roosevelt's regiment?" "No," said the clergyman. "Very well, then, let me give you a piece of advice. When you go down to see the Colonel, don't let your horse out of your sight; and if the chaplain is there, don't get off the horse!"
We came back to Montauk Point and soon after were disbanded. We had been in the service only a little over four months. There are no four months of my life to which I look back with more pride and satisfaction. I believe most earnestly and sincerely in peace, but as things are yet in this world the nation that cannot fight, the people that have lost the fighting edge, that have lost the virile virtues, occupy a position as dangerous as it is ignoble. The future greatness of America in no small degree depends upon the possession by the average American citizen of the qualities which my men showed when they served under me at Santiago.
Moreover, there is one thing in connection with this war which it is well that our people should remember, our people who genuinely love the peace of righteousness, the peace of justice—and I would be ashamed to be other than a lover of the peace of righteousness and of justice. The true preachers of peace, who strive earnestly to bring nearer the day when peace shall obtain among all peoples, and who really do help forward the cause, are men who never hesitate to choose righteous war when it is the only alternative to unrighteous peace. These are the men who, like Dr. Lyman Abbott, have backed every genuine movement for peace in this country, and who nevertheless recognized our clear duty to war for the freedom of Cuba.
But there are other men who put peace ahead of righteousness, and who care so little for facts that they treat fantastic declarations for immediate universal arbitration as being valuable, instead of detrimental, to the cause they profess to champion, and who seek to make the United States impotent for international good under the pretense of making us impotent for international evil. All the men of this kind, and all of the organizations they have controlled, since we began our career as a nation, all put together, have not accomplished one hundredth part as much for both peace and righteousness, have not done one hundredth part as much either for ourselves or for other peoples, as was accomplished by the people of the United States when they fought the war with Spain and with resolute good faith and common sense worked out the solution of the problems which sprang from the war.
Our army and navy, and above all our people, learned some lessons from the Spanish War, and applied them to our own uses. During the following decade the improvement in our navy and army was very great; not in material only, but also in personnel, and, above all, in the ability to handle our forces in good-sized units. By 1908, when our battle fleet steamed round the world, the navy had become in every respect as fit a fighting instrument as any other navy in the world, fleet for fleet. Even in size there was but one nation, England, which was completely out of our class; and in view of our relations with England and all the English-speaking peoples, this was of no consequence. Of our army, of course, as much could not be said. Nevertheless the improvement in efficiency was marked. Our artillery was still very inferior in training and practice to the artillery arm of any one of the great Powers such as Germany, France, or Japan—a condition which we only then began to remedy. But the workmanlike speed and efficiency with which the expedition of some 6000 troops of all arms was mobilized and transported to Cuba during the revolution of 1908 showed that, as regards our cavalry and infantry, we had at least reached the point where we could assemble and handle in first-rate fashion expeditionary forces. This is mighty little to boast of, for a Nation of our wealth and population; it is not pleasant to compare it with the extraordinary feats of contemporary Japan and the Balkan peoples; but, such as it is, it represents a long stride in advance over conditions as they were in 1898.
A MANLY LETTER
There was a sequel to the "round robin" incident which caused a little stir at the moment; Secretary Alger had asked me to write him freely from time to time. Accordingly, after the surrender of Santiago, I wrote him begging that the cavalry division might be put into the Porto Rican fighting, preparatory to what we supposed would be the big campaign against Havana in the fall. In the letter I extolled the merits of the Rough Riders and of the Regulars, announcing with much complacency that each of our regiments was worth "three of the National Guard regiments, armed with their archaic black powder rifles."[*] Secretary Alger believed, mistakenly, that I had made public the round robin, and was naturally irritated, and I suddenly received from him a published telegram, not alluding to the round robin incident, but quoting my reference to the comparative merits of the cavalry regiments and the National Guard regiments and rebuking me for it. The publication of the extract from my letter was not calculated to help me secure the votes of the National Guard if I ever became a candidate for office. However, I did not mind the matter much, for I had at the time no idea of being a candidate for anything—while in the campaign I ate and drank and thought and dreamed regiment and nothing but regiment, until I got the brigade, and then I devoted all my thoughts to handling the brigade. Anyhow, there was nothing I could do about the matter.
[*] I quote this sentence from memory; it is substantially correct.
When our transport reached Montauk Point, an army officer came aboard and before doing anything else handed me a sealed letter from the Secretary of War which ran as follows:—
August 10, 1898.
DEAR COL. ROOSEVELT:
You have been a most gallant officer and in the battle before Santiago showed superb soldierly qualities. I would rather add to, than detract from, the honors you have so fairly won, and I wish you all good things. In a moment of aggravation under great stress of feeling, first because I thought you spoke in a disparaging manner of the volunteers (probably without intent, but because of your great enthusiasm for your own men) and second that I believed your published letter would embarrass the Department I sent you a telegram which with an extract from a private letter of yours I gave to the press. I would gladly recall both if I could, but unable to do that I write you this letter which I hope you will receive in the same friendly spirit in which I send it. Come and see me at a very early day. No one will welcome you more heartily than I.
Yours very truly, (Signed) R. A. ALGER.
I thought this a manly letter, and paid no more heed to the incident; and when I was President, and General Alger was Senator from Michigan, he was my stanch friend and on most matters my supporter.
THE SAN JUAN FIGHT
The San Juan fight took its name from the San Juan Hill or hills—I do not know whether the name properly belonged to a line of hills or to only one hill.
To compare small things with large things, this was precisely as the Battle of Gettysburg took its name from the village of Gettysburg, where only a small part of the fighting was done; and the battle of Waterloo from the village of Waterloo, where none of the fighting was done. When it became the political interest of certain people to endeavor to minimize my part in the Santiago fighting (which was merely like that of various other squadron, battalion and regimental commanders) some of my opponents laid great stress on the alleged fact that the cavalry did not charge up San Juan Hill. We certainly charged some hills; but I did not ask their names before charging them. To say that the Rough Riders and the cavalry division, and among other people myself, were not in the San Juan fight is precisely like saying that the men who made Pickett's Charge, or the men who fought at Little Round Top and Culps Hill, were not at Gettysburg; or that Picton and the Scotch Greys and the French and English guards were not at Waterloo. The present Vice-President of the United States in the campaign last year was reported in the press as repeatedly saying that I was not in the San Juan fight. The documents following herewith have been printed for many years, and were accessible to him had he cared to know or to tell the truth.
These documents speak for themselves. The first is the official report issued by the War Department. From this it will be seen that there were in the Santiago fighting thirty infantry and cavalry regiments represented. Six of these were volunteer, of which one was the Rough Riders. The other twenty-four were regular regiments. The percentage of loss of our regiment was about seven times as great as that of the other five volunteer regiments. Of the twenty-four regular regiments, twenty-two suffered a smaller percentage of loss than we suffered. Two, the Sixth United States Infantry and the Thirteenth United States Infantry, suffered a slightly greater percentage of loss—twenty-six per cent and twenty-three per cent as against twenty-two per cent.
NOMINATIONS BY THE PRESIDENT
To be Colonel by Brevet
Lieutenant-Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, First Volunteer Cavalry, for gallantry in battle, Las Guasima, Cuba, June 24, 1898.
To be Brigadier-General by Brevet
Lieutenant-Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, First Volunteer Cavalry, for gallantry in battle, Santiago de Cuba, July 1, 1898. (Nominated for brevet colonel, to rank from June 24, 1898.)
FORT SAN JUAN, CUBA, July 17, 1898.
THE ADJUTANT-GENERAL UNITED STATES ARMY, Washington, D. C. (Through military channels)
SIR: I have the honor to invite attention to the following list of officers and enlisted men who specially distinguished themselves in the action at Las Guasimas, Cuba, June 24, 1898.
These officers and men have been recommended for favorable consideration by their immediate commanding officers in their respective reports, and I would respectfully urge that favorable action be taken.
. . . . .
In First United States Volunteer Cavalry—Colonel Leonard Wood, Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt.
Respectfully, JOSEPH WHEELER, Major-General United States Volunteers, Commanding.
HEADQUARTERS SECOND CAVALRY BRIGADE, CAMP NEAR SANTIAGO DE CUBA, CUBA, June 29, 1898.
THE ADJUTANT-GENERAL CAVALRY DIVISION.
SIR: By direction of the major-general commanding the Cavalry Division, I have the honor to submit the following report of the engagement of a part of this brigade with the enemy at Guasimas, Cuba, on June 24th, accompanied by detailed reports from the regimental and other commanders engaged, and a list of the killed and wounded:
. . . . .
I cannot speak too highly of the efficient manner in which Colonel Wood handled his regiment, and of his magnificent behavior on the field. The conduct of Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt, as reported to me by my two aides, deserves my highest commendation. Both Colonel Wood and Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt disdained to take advantage of shelter or cover from the enemy's fire while any of their men remained exposed to it—an error of judgment, but happily on the heroic side.
. . . . .
Very respectfully, S. B. M. YOUNG, Brigadier General United States Volunteers, Commanding.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION SECOND ARMY CORPS CAMP MACKENZIE, GA., December 30, 1898.
ADJUTANT-GENERAL, Washington, D. C.
SIR: I have the honor to recommend Hon. Theodore Roosevelt, late Colonel First United States Volunteer Cavalry, for a medal of honor, as a reward for conspicuous gallantry at the battle of San Juan, Cuba, on July 1, 1898.
Colonel Roosevelt by his example and fearlessness inspired his men, and both at Kettle Hill and the ridge known as San Juan he led his command in person. I was an eye-witness of Colonel Roosevelt's action.
As Colonel Roosevelt has left the service, a Brevet Commission is of no particular value in his case.
Very respectfully, SAMUEL S. SUMNER, Major-General United States Volunteers.
WEST POINT, N. Y., December 17, 1898.
MY DEAR COLONEL: I saw you lead the line up the first hill—you were certainly the first officer to reach the top—and through your efforts, and your personally jumping to the front, a line more or less thin, but strong enough to take it, was led by you to the San Juan or first hill. In this your life was placed in extreme jeopardy, as you may recall, and as it proved by the number of dead left in that vicinity. Captain Stevens, then of the Ninth Cavalry, now of the Second Cavalry, was with you, and I am sure he recalls your gallant conduct. After the line started on the advance from the first hill, I did not see you until our line was halted, under a most galling fire, at the extreme front, where you afterwards entrenched. I spoke to you there and gave instructions from General Sumner that the position was to be held and that there would be no further advance till further orders. You were the senior officer there, took charge of the line, scolded me for having my horse so high upon the ridge; at the same time you were exposing yourself most conspicuously, while adjusting the line, for the example was necessary, as was proved when several colored soldiers—about eight or ten, Twenty-fourth Infantry, I think—started at a run to the rear to assist a wounded colored soldier, and you drew your revolver and put a short and effective stop to such apparent stampede—it quieted them. That position was hot, and now I marvel at your escaping there. . . . Very sincerely yours, ROBERT L. HOWZE.
WEST POINT, N. Y., December 17, 1898.
I hereby certify that on July 1, 1898, Colonel (then Lieutenant-Colonel) Theodore Roosevelt, First Volunteer Cavalry, distinguished himself through the action, and on two occasions during the battle when I was an eye-witness, his conduct was most conspicuous and clearly distinguished above other men, as follows:
1. At the base of San Juan, or first hill, there was a strong wire fence, or entanglement, at which the line hesitated under a galling fire, and where the losses were severe. Colonel Roosevelt jumped through the fence and by his enthusiasm, his example and courage succeeded in leading to the crest of the hill a line sufficiently strong to capture it. In this charge the Cavalry Brigade suffered its greatest loss, and the Colonel's life was placed in extreme jeopardy, owing to the conspicuous position he took in leading the line, and being the first to reach the crest of that hill, while under heavy fire of the enemy at close range.