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CHAPTER VIII

SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR

J

UST before leaving the police department of
New York, Commissioner Roosevelt sent for me

to come to his office. He greeted me with these words, “Doctor, I have good news to tell you. It is good for me, and I think you will rejoice with me over it. It is this: President McKinley has appointed me assistant secretary of the navy, and my heart is bounding over the fact, and it goes without saying, I have accepted the position. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, one of the ablest and best men of this country, and one of the best friends I have in the world, an old Harvard chum, and some other influential friends, have secured this appointment from President McKinley.” He said, “It looks like the Lord is on my side, to give me an honorable way out of this beastly job, thankless and perplexing to the highest degree. And yet I am not sorry I tackled it and gave two years of my life to it. I believe I have made things better. I have gotten good discipline for anything else that may follow in life.” He continued, "My new job is exactly to my liking. From my earliest recollection I have been fed on tales of the sea and of ships. My mother's brother was an admiral in the Confederate navy, and her deep interest in the Southern

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cause and her brother's calling led her to talk to me as a little shaver about ships, ships, ships, and fighting of ships, till they sank into the depths of my soul. And when I first began to think, in any independent and consecutive order, for record at Harvard, I began to write a history of the Naval War of 1812. And when the professor thought I ought to be on mathematics and the languages, my mind was running to ships that were fighting each other.”

Mr. McKinley did not want the war with Spain, and Mr. Long, Secretary of the Navy, was still more opposed to the war, but Theodore Roosevelt's far vision saw that Cuba was oppressed and that there soon would be a just cause for war with Spain. He set himself diligently to repair our navy, to improve its marksmanship and in every way to fit it for the sea war, which he believed would come. What he did in the short time he was in this office is little less than miraculous. In the war he saw impending, he felt that it would be necessary to have the ablest commander in the navy in charge of the Asiatic Squadron. He was convinced that Admiral Dewey was that man, and he went to work to secure his appointment to that position and, with the aid of the senators from Dewey's state and others, he succeeded in securing his appointment.

On Saturday afternoon, February 25, 1898, Roosevelt happened to be acting Secretary of the Navy and sent out the following cablegram, which made history, which made the United States a world-wide nation:

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DEWEY-HONGKONG.

Order the squadron, except the Monocacy, to Hongkong, Keep full of coal. In the event of declaration of war, Spain, your duty will be to see that the Spanish Squadron does not leave the Asiatic coast and then offensive operations in the Philippine Islands. Keep Olympia until further orders.

ROOSEVELT.

This policy was counted so rash by his superiors that it is said that he was never permitted to be acting Secretary of the Navy again, but the telegram had been sent and was not recalled. In two months from that time war was declared, and Dewey, all ready, slipped out of Hongkong and smashed the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay.

The assistant secretary, with as high a type of patriotism as any man ever had, felt it to be his duty to go out in the field and fight with the army of his nation for the defense of his flag. On hearing of his determination, I wrote him an earnest letter in which I said, “You have done so much in getting the navy ready, you understand it so well, this is to be a naval war, you can serve the country better by staying in the navy department than in going out with the army." He wrote me back promptly, thanking me for my advice, and said, “I have done more perhaps than any one man in bringing on this war, and I feel it my duty to go out in the field if I have to leave my body there. The question of danger from fevers or bullets does not enter a moment into my calculation. My country is first, and it can have my services, or it can have me.

He talked the whole difficult matter over with his old Harvard chum, Leonard Wood, and they organized the famous Rough Riders' Regiment which, next to Dewey's fight, was the most spectacular feature of the Spanish-American War. This regiment was a strange combination of Westerners, cowboys and "bloods" from Fifth Avenue; of the rude youth of the plains and the cultured graduate of Harvard but all bound to Theodore Roosevelt as their leader by his unspeakable magnetism and fastened to each other by their lofty patriotism and heroic service on the field. Colonel Wood was promoted and Theodore Roosevelt was made colonel of the regiment. The boys fairly worshipped him. He never called on his men to do a task that he would not be willing to do himself, or to suffer a sacrifice which he would not gladly endure himself. He knew every man in his regiment by name, and the boys say that when food was short he spent as high as five thousand dollars out of his own pocket to get something for them to eat. His story one day of dividing his food and his blanket with the boys and enduring the hardships of the trenches with them brought tears to my eyes tears of love and pride.

Some of his enemies in his gubernatorial campaign charged that he had shot a Spaniard in the back, which, of course, was a falsehood, although it is no disgrace to shoot the enemy in that part, if he shall turn his back to the bullets. But Reverend Bowman gave me the true version of the story, as Colonel Roosevelt told it to him. The Colonel said to him that in one of the battles two snipers jumped up suddenly out of the high grass just in front of him and aimed their rifles pointblank at him. Neither of the shots touched him, and he, drawing his gun quickly, shot one of the men to death and would have gotten the other if he had not made his escape very rapidly.

The stories of Colonel Roosevelt's personal heroism in battle are among the most priceless legacies of our nation.

Theodore Roosevelt, the ranchman, the cowboy, the rough rider, the Governor, the great man of history, appears at his best in the address which he made at a reunion of the Rough Riders at Las Vegas, N. M., in the month of June, 1899. Standing in his Rough Rider's suit with five thousand people enthusiastically cheering him, he waved his hand for silence and said:

Just at this time I would not have left New York State for any purpose save to attend the reunion of my old regiment, and for that purpose I would have gone to Alaska, or anywhere else, for the bond that unites us together is as close as any bond of human friendship can be.

It was our good fortune to be among those accepted, when the country called to arms a year ago last spring, and when ten men volunteered for every one that could be chosen. I think I may say, without boasting, that the regiment did its duty in every way and with its record is a subject for honorable pride, not only as regards the members themselves, but the country at large. I am proud of you because you never complained and never flinched. When you went to war you knew you would not have an easy time; you expected to encounter hardships, and you took them without a murmur. You were all readiness to learn promptness and obedience, which makes it possible to turn the American volunteer so soon into a first-class type of fighting man.

Of those who landed for the brief campaign in the tropical midsummer against Santiago, one-fourth were killed or wounded, and three-fourths of the remainder were, at one time or another, stricken down by fever. Many died, but there is not one among you so poor in spirit that he does not count fever, wounds and death itself as nothing, compared with the honor of having been able to serve with the regiment under the flag of the United States in one of the most righteous wars which this country has seen.

This was a typical American regiment. The majority of its members came from the Southwest, but not all. We had in our ranks Easterners, Westerners, Northerners, Southerners, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Gentiles-men whose parents were born in Germany or Ireland and men whose parents were born on the banks of the James, the Hudson and at Plymouth Rock nearly three centuries ago; and all were Americans in heart and soul, in spirit and purpose-Americans, and nothing else. We knew no distinction

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