Page images

the memories of Crockett, Bowie and their heroic companions in arms. The journey to Tampa occupied four days. There were more than a thousand men, and the full complement of horses. Then they had a pack-train of 150 animals; and the train which moved the regiment was cut into seven sections, Wood commanding the first three, and Roosevelt the remaining four. They left San Antonio May 29, 1898. June 2 their camp was pitched at Tampa, with tents standing neatly in long streets, and supplied with every adjunct that good management could provide. They were told that marching orders would be issued immediately, and that they were to hold themselves in readiness. But they were also told that four troops, with all the horses, would have to be left behind. That was the bitterest disappointment any member of the Rough Riders ever knew. “I saw,” says Mr. Roosevelt, ‘‘more than one among the officers and privates burst into tears when he found he could not go.” But some had to be chosen and some had to be left. One of the captains chosen was Maximilian Luna, the only man of pure Spanish blood who bore a commission in the army. His people had been on the banks of the Rio Grande before the Roosevelts came to the mouth of the Hudson, or Colonel Wood's ancestors landed at Plymouth Rock; and he claimed a right to go as a representative of his race in America. He demanded the privilege of proving that his people were as loyal Americans as any others, and they took him. The command was ordered to be at a certain track on the night of June 6, there to take a train for Port Tampa, nine miles distant. The soldiers were there, but the train was not. Colonel Roosevelt hurried to the tents of brigadier-generals, and to the headquarters of major-generals; but no one knew anything at all of arrangements. The men slept heavily through the night, and at three o'clock in the morning they received orders to go to another track, half a mile away. No train was there, either; but at six o'clock a string of gravel-cars came along, and these were seized by the officers of the Rough Riders, and backed down the dusty, sunny nine miles to the port. Lack of system in the management of the military was still evident, for when the First Wolunteers reached the quay, they did not know where to go, nor which transport they were expected to have, though their orders to “go on board” were imperative. Both Colonel Wood and Colonel Roosevelt spent a bad half-day searching for some hint as to direction, and at noon the depot quartermaster assigned them to the Yucatam, a transport lying in midstream. Colonel Wood hurried aboard and took possession, for he had discovered that this same transport had been assigned to two other regiments besides his own. It was a race to see who should first be ready to march aboard. Colonel Roosevelt ran full-speed back to the command, left a guard with the baggage, and double-quicked the rest of the regiment to the pier just as Colonel Wood brought the big transport to the landing. Then the men spent a hot and dusty day carrying their baggage and the camp equipment down from the distant end of the wharf, where they had been compelled to leave the train, and stowing it away in the Yucatan. In the evening the transport was pulled out and anchored in midstream, and the Rough Riders felt they had had a rather interesting thirty-six hours. Nothing more significant than Colonel Roosevelt's own words can be used in describing this phase of their service. In his book “The Rough Riders,” he says: “The transports were overloaded, the men being packed like sardines, not only below, but above decks. At night it was impossible to walk about without stepping over the bodies of sleepers. The travel rations were insufficient, because the meat was very bad. If we had been given canned corned beef we would have been all right; but instead of this the soldiers were given a horrible stuff called “canned fresh beef.” There was no salt in it. At the best it was stringy and tasteless. At the worst it was nauseating. Not one-fourth of it was ever eaten at all, even when the men became very hungry. There were no facilities for the men to cook anything. There was no ice for them. The water was not good, and they had no fresh meat or fresh vegetables.” But all their hardships were borne without grumbling. They had wanted to come, and here they were—on the first transport that pushed from the pier at Port Tampa. They accepted the discomforts, and would not, for any conceivable consideration, have traded with their comrades left behind there on the sand flats between Tampa and the river. Yet they were not advancing toward Cuba. They were simply lying at the edge of the ocean, taking salt-water baths night and morning for nearly a week, and fighting their first big battle in controlling themselves. At last, on the evening of June 13, they received the welcome order to start, and ship after ship weighed anchor and pushed ahead under half steam, the bands playing, the flags flying, and the rigging black with soldiers cheering and shouting. The jubilation was short-lived, for the ships came to anchor presently, and waited till morning. Then they were again all under way; and by mid-afternoon the whole fleet had passed out of sight of land. For six days they sailed steadily southward and eastward, the thirty odd transports moving in parallel lines, while ahead and behind and on their flanks the gray hulls of the war-ships surged through the blue water. They were guarded by every variety of craft— battle-ship, cruiser, converted yacht, and torpedo-boat. The war-ships watched with ceaseless vigilance day and night. When a sail of any kind appeared, instantly one of the guardians steamed toward it. Once a strange ship sailed too close, and the nearest torpedo-boat sped across the water toward it. But the stranger proved harmless, and the swift, delicate, deathfraught craft returned.

« PreviousContinue »