« PreviousContinue »
the men on board than there had been for landing them, and the transport Miami sailed north in the afternoon with its closely stored cargo of human freight. The crowding was not nearly so great as on the Yucatan, coming down. In the first place, there were not so many men. It was almost exclusively a passenger list of Rough Riders. Some of the space taken up before was vacated. Over there in their graves at Las Guasimas, or on the sides of the hill of San Juan, were men who had pushed about full of health in the throng that covered the decks of the Yucatan. Some were still in the field-hospitals at El Caney, or in the yellow fever circle at the rear, who would rather have shared the graves of the fallen brave of July 1 than to have missed the trip home on the Miami. Colonel Roosevelt had been advanced virtually to the rank of a brigadier-general at the close of Service on the island, by reason of the engagements elsewhere of Colonel Wood, who had occupied that position since the truce began. And when the transport started on her homeward voyage he was entrusted with policing the ship and the management of the men. The ship was kept in good sanitary condition, and in spite of the tremors that attacked timid people in the United States when they read in sensational papers of the yellow fever that the soldiers were bringing home, these men were inspected on arrival, and at once were permitted to land. Their physical condition was one that need terrify no one; and it certainly appealed to all that was humane in the hearts of their countrymen.
Shortly after leaving the island, the captain of the ship told Colonel Roosevelt that the stokers and engineers were inclined to disobey orders. A few of them had been drinking intoxicants, and there was the beginning of a mutiny among them. Colonel Roosevelt went straight at the root of the matter. He shrewdly guessed that many of his men had brought liquor on board, and he assembled them, the same as at roll-call, and told them there could be no drinking on the ship. There was too much at stake to permit such chances to be taken. He would take care of all the whisky his men would voluntarily give him, and would return it when they landed. After they had a chance to make this surrender, he would have a search of the ship, and would throw overboard all the liquor he found. As soon as the soldiers “broke ranks” they hurried to bring their bottles. The search revealed a few other bottles, more or less skilfully hidden, and these were consigned to the sea. That was the end of the drinking. Then he took a number of his most reliable men to the engine-rooms, and told the mutinous people there if they failed for an instant to obey orders he would put them in irons, and set his own men to the task of providing power for the ship. “I could have drawn from the regiment sufficient skilled men to fill every position in the entire ship's crew, from captain to stoker,” said the Colonel in commenting on the incident. But there was no further need of complaint. The sailors did their full duty, and the skilled men, serving in the ranks of the volunteer army, were allowed to go back to their rest and their pastimes. It was a trying voyage, even for the men who were well. It was doubly distressing for the sick. Besides Colonel Roosevelt but one other officer in the regiment had escaped disease. Richard Harding Davis has told in admirable stories of the pathos of that home-coming for the men in “sick bay.” As to the others, their occupations were various. A good many played cards. There was some gambling, and the commanding officer knew it. He deprecated the practice, and never indulged in it. But he wanted the men to have as much occupation and relaxation as was possible, and believed that the loss of a month's pay would be less of a calamity to the men than the imposition of rigid restrictions. And so discipline was removed so far as was consistent with maintaining order and cleanliness. Every evening dozens of groups would form in every part of the ship, and the men who could sing were drafted into the service of entertaining their comrades. The musical instruments that had escaped destruction in the marches and loss in the handling of scattered baggage, were welcomed again. There were occasional dances, with extemporized adjuncts of dress which should distinguish the “men” from the “women.” Occasionally there were courts-martial, in which culprits were accused of absurd offenses, and tried with all the rigors of a tribunal in actual war. Usually the forfeits were to be paid in dinners at some famous café in New York, when they should have reached “home.” The Rough Riders had started in with a number of mascots. One was a young mountain lion, brought by the Arizona men. Another was an eagle from New Mexico, and a third was a very ugly, but very wise, little dog. All three had been lost time and again, but always recovered, and they made the return trip with the soldiers, the cougar trying continually to make a meal off either eagle or canine, and never succeeding. The voyage occupied nine days. The only death on board was that of a trooper who had been indiscreet enough to imbibe a large quantity of Cuban whisky on the evening of June 30. He had not yet recovered next morning when the march began. The fatigue and heat were too much for him, and he succumbed. He never recovered, and on the third day out from Daiquiri he died. His body was wrapped in his hammock and covered with the stars and stripes, and then the burial service was read over him. At its conclusion the flag was lifted, and the hammock, weighted, was slipped over the side and into the sea. In the evening Colonel Roosevelt, making his regular rounds, noticed a certain lessening of customary activity. There was a somberness on the faces of the men which they had not worm even in the tragedy of battle. And, at the side of a gun he found a group to which one of the troopers was singing a fragment