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at all strange, for instance, that Captain "Buckey” O'Neil, “the ironnerved, iron-willed fighter from Arizona, the sheriff whose name was a by-word of terror to every .wrongdoer, white or red, the gambler who with unmoved face would stake and lose every dollar he had in the world,” should have been overheard by his Colonel discussing Aryan root-words with Dr. Robb Church. The stories and tales that went round added miles of horizon to the imagination of those who listened, for, taken all together, the soldiers of the regiment had explored nearly every corner of the earth and had passed through the whole gamut of human experience.
At the end of the voyage came the dramatic and dangerous performance of landing at Daiquiri, where the Rough Riders, with the rest of the seven thousand men, were put ashore in small row boats. These had either to be run up through the surf and beached or landed at a pier, so high that the only way of reaching it was by a mighty leap just as the boat rose on the topmost crest of a wave. Several boats filled with supplies and ammunition were swamped and only a few rifles could be recovered by the men who dived after the missing cargoes. Two men also were drowned, but considering the awkwardness and primitive method of landing, the wonder is not that there should have been any men at all drowned, but that there should have been as few.
Roosevelt begged that his regiment might be one of the first to go to the front. His request was granted. Almost as soon as the Rough Riders, therefore, were all on shore, they began to march forward with the rest of the advance column on the narrow trail, full of strength and courage. On Thursday, June 23, the day following the landing, the army advanced to Juragua. This place the enemy hastily evacuated. By night the two main divisions of the invaders, advancing by different roads, had met on the high ground surrounding the city of Santiago, within ten miles of the guns of Morro.
The army even at this time had a foretaste of the real misery of the war—lack of shelter and food. The soldiers even then began to make jokes about the possibility of being killed by hunger before the enemy had a shot at them. For the food sent to them at that time was scanty and unsuitable, and during all the hardest part of the campaign the same deplorable state of affairs existed.
In reference to this Roosevelt says in “The Rough Riders”:
"Of course no one would have minded in the least such hardships as we endured had there been any need of enduring them; but there was none. System and sufficiency of transportation were all that were needed.”
At daybreak on Friday the forward movement began again. The
heat was intense, the jungle almost impassable. The Rough Riders were weary from the journey and their forced march. But they beat their way untiringly through thick brush and treacherous swamps with the rest of the guarding column. The sound of trees falling gave warning that the enemy was ahead preparing defenses. Almost before they realized it the firing began. Spanish sharpshooters concealed in the trees dropped accurate bullets among them. Volley after volley assailed them from the enemy screened behind the bushes. The smokeless powder used gave no clew to their whereabouts. But the order for a general charge was given and with a cheer regulars and Rough Riders obeyed the order, firing where they could, as they plunged along over the uneven ground into the first engagement of the war, the battle of Las Guasimas.
The Spaniards had made careful preparations. They had placed nearly fifteen hundred men in front of the advancing column and on its sides. They had arranged an ambush and they held the ridges with rifle guns and machine guns. It was a warm reception, truly, for our soldiers. The Spanish fire was well placed and very heavy. The enemy held their ground obstinately. But it was impossible to hold out against American pluck. In spite of every obstacle the invaders forced the pass and won the victory.
When the fighting was over and the rush and hurry and the feverish intensity of battle had given place to temporary calm and quiet, the history of the day was told again and again as each man had seen it for himself. It was a wonderful'story, for every foot of ground over which the soldiers had advanced bore its record of brave and fearless deeds.
"No man," writes Roosevelt, "was allowed to drop out to help the wounded. It was hard to leave them there in the jungle where they might not be found again until the vultures and the land crabs came, but war is a grim game and there was no choice. One of the men shot was Harry Heffner, of G Troop, who was mortally wounded through the hips. He fell without uttering a sound and two of his companions dragged him behind a tree. Here he propped himself up and asked to be given his canteen and his rifle, which I handed to him. He then again began shooting, and continued loading and firing until the line moved forward and we left him alone, dying, in the gloomy shade. When we found him again, after the fight, he was dead.”
The instances of bravery, devotion and self-sacrifice displayed by the Rough Riders on that day of conflict would fill a volume. On none of the glorious battle-fields where Americans have fought for their country, was the typical American bravery better displayed.
In the field hospital lay a little group of twenty men, all badly
wounded. The battle agony was in their faces, their "red badge of courage” stained the Cuban soil, yet in their hearts there was no fear. Some one began to sing
"My country, 'tis of thee,
Oi thee we sing." Others joined in. The eyes of the men bore the glaze of approaching death, others sang jerkily and of key, and more than one quavering voice was stopped by the finger of Death upon his lips. Yet the anthem was finished—sung for the first time by American soldiers, fighting for the first time on Cuban suil, under the flag they loved.
Lieutenant Ord and his men had captured a rifle pit. A Spaniard, badly wounded, was still firing. One of Ori's men took aim, but the lieutenant ordered him not to fire at a wounded man. He lowered his gun. The Spaniard took deliberate aim at Lieutenant Ord and blew his brains out. Ord's men at once killed the Spaniard, not with a bullet, as a soldier hopes to go, but with the butts of their rifles as such a man should be dispatched.
Captain Capron, of the artillery, lifted the blanket which covered his dead boy's face. "Well done, my son," was all he said, but it was enough. For the boy had died fighting for his country, and there is no nobler death.
Hamilton Fish, Jr., and Captain Capron fell at the very outset. The latter displayed the extreme of bravery, killing two Spaniards with a rifle after he was mortally wounded. Captain Capron was buried in Juragua on the hillside near the seashore. But all the other Rough Riders who fell in the battle of Las Guasimas lie together in one grave, at the top of the hill which they had died to win.
“There could be no more honorable burial," writes Roosevelt in the story of the regiment, “than that of these men in a common grave-Indian and cowboy, miner, packer and college athlete—the man of unknown ancestry from the lonely Western plains, and the man who carried on his watch the crests of the Stuyvesants and Fishes, one in the way they had met death, just as during life they had been one in their daring and loyalty.”
Vo stained glass windows shed softened light upon the faces of those who lay on the hillside, no organ sounded the majestic chords of the funeral march, and no roses lay in their folded hands. It was grim and silent and pitiful. But the brief tropic dusk made their cathedral and the “taps” from the bugle was their last good night. Over their grave is an inscription—"to the memory of eight unknown
prs.” Unknown, perhaps, but not forgotten, for they are the eight