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6. The Yucatan?” exclaimed a member of another command. “That is our transport.”
“No, she has been allotted to us,” put in an officer belonging to still another command.
“How many men will she hold ?” questioned a captain of the Rough Riders.
“ About a thousand.”
“ Then she can't take the three commands."
Theodore Roosevelt overheard this talk, and at once made up his mind that it would be a question of what command got aboard of the transport first. Without the loss of a moment he ran back to where his men were in waiting
“Double-quick to the dock !” was his order. And forming quickly, the troops made their way to the wharf with all possible speed. In the meantime, Colonel Wood had gone out to the transport in a steam-launch and gotten the vessel to come up to the wharf. On board went the Rough Riders pell-mell, and not a minute too soon.
“This is our boat!” cried an officer, as he came up with his command a minute later.
“Sorry for you, sir, but it is our boat," was Colonel Wood's firm answer. Then the third command loomed
and a three-handed dispute arose.
But the Rough Riders remained aboard of the transport, taking four companies of another command in with them.
I have told of the particulars of this affair to show my young readers what was needed at this time, and how well Theodore Roosevelt performed his duties. He had been a soldier and officer only a few weeks, yet he realized that army life on paper and army life in reality were two different things. He felt that an officer must do much besides leading his men in the field: that he must look after them constantly, see that their health was provided for, see that they got their rations, see that transportation was ready when needed, and even see to it that some were kept away from the temptations of drink, and that they did not quarrel among themselves.
When going on board of the transport, the Rough Riders were supplied with twelve days' rations each. The most of the food was good, but the canned beef was very
bad, just as it was found to be very bad in many other quarters, and it made a great number sick. Added to this, somebody had forgotten to issue salt to the soldiers; so much had to be eaten without this very necessary seasoning.
“But we took matters good-naturedly,” said one of the number, in speaking of the trip that followed. Many of the boys were out for a lark, and when they growled, they did it good-naturedly. We had all sorts of men, and all sorts of nicknames. An Irishman was called Solomon Levi, and a nice young Jew Old Pork Chop. One fellow who was particularly slow was called Speedy William, and another who always spoke in a quick, jerky voice answered to the bail of “Slow-up Peter. One cowboy who was as rough as anybody in the command was christened The Parson, and a fine, high-toned, well-educated college boy had to answer to the name of Jimmy the Tramp. Some of the boys could sing, and they organized the Rough Rider Quartette; and others could play, and they gave us music on the mouth harmonicas and other instruments they had managed to smuggle along."
The War Department had expected to send the troops to Cuba without delay, but now came in a report that some Spanish war-ships were hovering around, ready to sink the transports as soon as they should show themselves, and for five days the vessels remained in Port Tampa Harbor, until it was ascertained that the report was untrue.
Those five days were important to Theodore Roosevelt and to the men under him. Every day the young officer spent a certain portion of his time in studying military tactics and in drilling his soldiers. Much had still to be learned, and the officers had their school of instructions as well as did those under them.
The weather was broiling hot, and some were already suffering from fever or its symptoms. Fortunately bathing was good, and many went in once or twice a day. Bathing in the ocean was great sport to some of the plainsmen who had never seen anything larger than a river or creek, and they frolicked around like children, and got up races, with prizes for the best swimmers.
At last came the orders for the transports to set sail for Cuba. They numbered
thirty-two in all, including a schooner which was towed along filled with drinking water, for water must be had, and that was the only place where it could be stowed. To protect the transports from a possible attack by the enemy, they were accompanied by five war-ships at first, and later on by fourteen. All told, there were on the transports eight hundred officers and sixteen thousand enlisted men. Of the commands, the most were from the regular army, the volunteers numbering but three - the Rough Riders, the Seventy-first New York Infantry, and the Second Massachusetts Infantry.