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of eighteen hundred and ninety-eight entitled ‘An Act for the government of cities of the second class '".
Given under my hand and the Privy Seal of the
State at the Capitol in the city of Albany this [L s] twenty-seventh day of April in the year of our
Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninetynine.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT By the Governor:
Wm. J. YOUNGS
Secretary to the Governor
MEMORANDUM APPROVING FINDINGS OF
THE COURT OF INQUIRY IN THE CASES
STATE OF NEW YORK
Albany, N. Y., April 27, 1899 At the outset, I desire in the strongest manner to commend the admirable work done by the Court of Inquiry. It would be impossible to speak in too high terms of their fearlessness and impartiality. The senior field officers of the Seventy-first discredited their regiment, and therefore by just so much discredited the American volunteer service, by their actions at San Juan; but it must be remembered to the lasting credit of the American volunteers that it was left to three of their number to punish this wrongdoing when the regular army had signally failed to punish
it. If the Seventy-first regiment had been treated as the Sixth Massachusetts was treated under similar circumstances in Porto Rico, that is, if the offending field officers had been at once removed, the whole trouble would have been avoided and a very great service conferred upon both the army and the regiment itself. The trouble in the Seventy-first was a matter of common notoriety in the Santiago army, and after General Kent made his report there was no excuse whatever for failure to take decisive action.
In any war where large numbers of volunteers are called into the service, the greatest danger to the country at large lies in the fact that very many men by the exertion of various influences get commissions which they are wholly incompetent to bear. They eagerly grasp at high regimental rank when they are utterly without the training necessary to the proper performance of their duties, or else, though very possibly men of amiable character in their domestic relations and of exemplary conduct as regards their civic and social duties, yet lack the fighting edge without which no man is competent to do good soldier's work. There is absolutely no way to prevent men of this stamp from obtaining positions in which they may jeopardize the welfare of the country and disgrace the country's flag, save by making them understand that they will be held to a sharp and rigid accountability for failure to perform aright the arduous and difficult duties of the vitally responsible positions which they have sought with such thoughtless eagerness. The higher the man's rank is, the greater is his chance to.win distinction and do honorable work, and the greater also must be the blame that rightly attaches to him if he is guilty of failure or shortcoming; especially
if his failure or shortcoming be tainted with lack of courage,– the soldier's cardinal virtue.
In this case the facts are perfectly clear. The Seventyfirst, with two regular regiments, composed Hawkins' Brigade which led the advance of Kent's Infantry Division in the San Juan fight of July ist. The brigade marched down the narrow jungle road toward the San Juan River. Before reaching it the Seventy-first was ordered into a trail which struck the river to the left of the road. According to Colonel Downs' own testimony, General Kent's orders were for him to take his brigade to the left along this trail until his right reached the ford of the river and then to deploy, it being uncertain whether he would meet the Spaniards on the hither or the further side of the road. Instead of obeying these orders, Colonel Downs marched the regiment along until its head — that is the left — struck the ford, when it recoiled, and he then halted it and kept it lying down, partly in and partly on both sides of the trail, in an irregular column of twos or column of files. It is unnecessary to allude to the absurd pretense that this retrograde movement was a deployment. When the regiment halted, General Kent told one of the rearmost officers, Captain Austin, that he wanted the regiment to go forward; that if it could not go forward then he would find other regiments that would go. Captain Austin took no steps to inform Colonel Downs of what General Kent had said. Soon afterwards General Kent sent orders to Colonel Downs to move forward. These orders were passed up along the regiment from officer to officer until they reached Colonel Downs who sent back word that the regiment could go no further. At this time the two other regiments of the brigade had crossed the San Juan River and were engaged under the personal lead of General Hawkins in desperate fighting. Finding that he could not get the Seventy-first forward, General Kent then directed certain of the regular regiments of his two other brigades to march along the trail over and through the Seventy-first until they got to the front, and one after another five regular regiments passed up the trail, the officers and men jeering at the Seventy-first and telling them to come on. Incredible to relate Colonel Downs still made no effort to get his regiment forward, and his Lieutenant-Colonel and Senior Major likewise did nothing. Most of the other officers and of the enlisted men, however, showed a spirit and good will all the more striking because of the contrast with the conduct of their superiors. Some of them joined the regulars, others were led out by their own officers, Colonel Downs and the LieutenantColonel and Senior Major doing nothing to advance and but little to hinder this move. The larger part of the Seventy-first then went up the hill, had men killed and Wounded on its summit, entered the blockhouse, supported a piece of artillery which had gotten into trouble, and in short showed that they were of splendid stuff and that save when paralyzed by bad leadership they were as able as they were eager to do honor to the glorious traditions of the American volunteer service.
But while the bulk of the regiment had thus gone forward, Colonel Downs, Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, and the Senior Major, Whittle, remained behind in the trail, behind the river, with various stragglers and with most of one company, which the colonel had kept with him. Toward nightfall General Kent sent back word by one of the officers of the Seventy-first to Colonel Downs to come forward and
bring up every available man. This order was first delivered to Major Whittle who had at the moment ventured
and waited until after dark, on the pretense that he desired to see what his Colonel's orders were — this, be it remembered, when Major Whittle, according to his own statement, had just been informed that the division commander wished every man at the front. Lieutenant-Colonel Smith meanwhile had gone to the rear where he was reported as sick and did not turn up again at the front 'for a couple of days. There was no heavy fighting after the ist.
These are the facts. On no possible theory can Colonel Downs' conduct be justified. If his men had behaved badly there would have been a poor excuse for it, but his men did not. And on behalf of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, it was actually urged by his counsel that the men had behaved badly because they had gone forward to take part in the fight on the hill crest when the senior field officers, in spite of the repeated commands which the men must all have heard, passed up the line, from or on behalf of General Kent, had refused to lead them. Colonel Downs had failed to take his men through the trail and deploy them at the ford; he failed to take his regiment forward when ordered to do so by word of command passed up the trail from officer to officer; he failed to lead them forward when the regular infantry regiments marched over his own regiment and forward into the fight; he failed even to accompany his men or to follow them, save at a distance, when they finally went forward in battalions and in companies by themselves. He has since resigned.
Major Whittle's case is almost as clear. He was the