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So away we went, with Colonel Wood at our head, and LieutenantColonel Roosevelt in command of one squadron and Major Brodie in command of the other. In some spots the road was frightful, full of mud-holes, with big land crabs crawling around in all directions, and with the trailing vines full of poisonous spiders. We didn't know but that the woods might be full of Spaniards, and we were on the alert to give the Dons as good as they sent, should they show themselves.”
By nightfall the Rough Riders reached the little village of Siboney without having met the enemy. Here they went into camp in the midst of a heavy thunder-storm in which every soldier and officer was drenched to the skin. Fires could scarcely be lighted, and it was not until the storm had partly cleared away that the cooks could prepare anything to eat. Surely being a soldier was not all glory after all.
It had been learned that a portion of the Spanish army was less than four miles away, and General Young was ordered by General Wheeler to move forward at daybreak and engage the enemy.
Wood received orders to move the Rough Riders by a trail over a hill, beyond which the country sloped toward the bay and the city of Santiago.
The first encounter with the enemy occurred at a place called La Guasima (or Las Guasimas), so called on account of trees of that name growing in the vicinity. Here the Spaniards had rifle-pits and mounds of earth to shelter them and had likewise the sugar-house of a plantation. They had been watching for the coming of the Americanos eagerly, and were determined to give our soldiers a lesson not to be forgotten. They knew that our army had not been in active warfare for years, and felt certain that they would soon be able to make the “paper soldiers retreat. The Rough Riders found the
up a steep hill, and the pace was so fast that before the firing line was reached some men fell out from exhaustion. Theodore Roosevelt was at the head of the first squadron and did his best to urge those under him forward. There was an advance guard, led by some men under Sergeant Hamilton Fish, and Captain Capron's troop, and soon
a crash of firearms notified all that a fight was on.
Orders were at once issued to fill the magazines of the guns, and this was done. Then, while some troops moved to the left of the trail, Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt was ordered to take three troops to the right. Here the jungle was heavy, and no sooner had the Rough Riders advanced than the Spaniards opened fire upon them. In speaking of the opening of this fight, Mr. Roosevelt himself writes :
“ The effect of the smokeless powder (used by the enemy) was remarkable. The air seemed full of the rustling sound of the Mauser bullets, for the Spaniards knew the trails by which we were advancing, and opened heavily on our position. But they themselves were entirely invisible. The jungle covered everything, and not the faintest trace of smoke was to be seen in any direction, to indicate from whence the bullets came.”
It was certainly a trying time to stand up and be shot at without being able to return the compliment. Roosevelt and all the other leaders knew that this would not
do, and at a great risk they continued to advance, until some Spaniards were at last discovered across a valley to the right of where the troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt were located.
“ There they are !” was the cry. ward and at 'em, boys! Down with the Dons !” Without delay some sharpshooters fired on the Spaniards, and then the regular troops opened up, and at last the Spaniards ran from cover.
Bullets were now flying in all directions, and both sides were making their shots tell. The Americans had but scant protection, and it was not long before a number of them fell. Some bullets came close to Theodore Roosevelt, and one hit a palm tree near where he was standing, filling his left eye and ear with the dust and splinters. Had that Mauser bullet come a few inches closer, the man who was destined to become the future President of our country might have been killed on the spot.
In the midst of the skirmish - for the conflict proved to be nothing more — there was a report that Colonel Wood was dead, and Theodore Roosevelt took it upon him
self to restore the fighting line of Rough Riders to order. But happily the report proved false; and a little while after this the skirmish came to an end, and both Spaniards and Americans betook themselves to positions of greater safety. In this skirmish, brief as it was, the Rough Riders lost eight men killed and nearly forty wounded.