« PreviousContinue »
caught from the flotsam of song that spreads
over the land—
“We had no costly winding-sheet,
The selection of Camp Wykoff was probably the best that could have been made. It was not ideal, and the same lack of preparation was noted there as at Daiquiri, and everywhere else in the campaign. It is curious to reflect on the mountains of supplies for which the Government paid, and which were never placed at the disposal of the men. But that sandy beach toward the extreme east end of Long Island was healthy, if cool northern breezes, pure air and the welcome of friends could make it so. It is likely that a better physical condition resulted from their location there. The only criticism is that departmental ability seemed so shortened that a state of “unpreparedness” remained to the very end. It is curious that mills had time to manufacture, and railroads had time to deliver, and private citizens had time to act, and yet that millions of dollars’ worth of provisions sorely needed never reached the men, or reached them only after the need had passed.
The month at Camp Wykoff provided an experience which was at least interesting. There was policing of camp, and the usual detail of barrack-keeping; but the war was over. There was no longer even a hope of further service about Havana, and no chance for a trip to Porto Rico. Spain had been driven from the West Indies, and had lost the Philippines as well. After five months of service or of waiting, the men could hope for nothing better than a return to the duties which had engaged them before that night in February when the Maine was destroyed. But there was no lack of occupation as the work of disbanding the army went on. For one thing, there were a good many horses at Camp Wykoff. That whole portion of the Rough Riders’ command which had been left at Tampa joined the returning veterans, and most of the camp equipage and the regimental property was once more restored to its owners. In Cuba, of course, the title “Rough Riders” was a misnomer. The men did not ride, because they had no horses. Even Colonel Roosevelt, who had taken two horses to the island with him, lost one by drowning at the Daiquiri landing, and he abandoned the other, little “Texas,” just as he started at the head of his men for the rush up San Juan hill. So that a regiment that probably could have ridden through or over every opposing force in the island, had memories, only of very laborious trudging on foot. But here at the eastern end of Long Island they had all the horses they wanted. They found the country back of their camps strikingly similar to the sand plains on which they had ridden before enlistment. And they took abundant exercise there. The camp, in those days, was the Mecca for New York's millions. It seemed to the soldiers that all the population of the great city came out to see them. The day of privation had passed. There was an abundance not only of the substantial things of life, but of delicacies as well. Every mess was enriched with dainty offerings of admirers from the city. Every train on the shoddy little railroad brought visitors, and every visitor seemed to have made it a part of the errand to bring some offering “for the heroes of Santiago.” Besides, the men were permitted to go to the city whenever their health and prudent discipline would permit. And wherever they went in New York, with their khaki uniforms, and the insignia of the Rough Riders, they were most welcome guests. They had started to the coast of Cuba, from the camp at El Caney, in a state of rags and tatters. The clothing issued at the beginning of their service had been wholly worn out, and many of the men went to Daiquiri for embarkation absolutely barefoot. At the coast they received the clothing that had been sent to the island for them, but which incompetence had not been able to give further transportation; so that they were fairly dressed when they came to their Northern camp. But some had brought along the rags of those earlier uniforms, and these tattered garments were souvenirs of pronounced value in the eyes of visitors. Everything that had been in Cuba with the Rough Riders was in demand. Autographs were constantly sought; and the men from the frontier, who were far more clumsy with a pen than with a revolver or a lariat, found their simple signatures were things of value. The more notable men among the Rough Riders could have employed all their spare time complying with requests for autographs; and some of them pretty nearly achieved that record. There was another phase of the life at Camp Wykoff which cannot be overlooked. It went to the deeper things of human life. Here were men in the vigor of splendid health, who had gone through grievous peril without flinching, men who had performed acts of splendid heroism and had come back scatheless. But there were wounded men, as well. There were men on whom disease had set its stamp, and who were fighting for a return to that health which they felt was their right. There was happiness, and pleasant occupation, and enjoyable pastime in the camp; but there was suffering, too. And among the thousands who came daily to the camp, there were very many whose errand was purely one of mercy. They left the lighter purpose of selfgratification, the whetting of curiosity, for others, and went themselves to the tents of pain. They brought such food as princes could hardly have commanded. They brought eminent physicians, who gently and nobly added their judgment and advice to the thoughtful care of the regimental surgeons. In many a tent beautiful women sat reading to sick soldiers through the September afternoons. Everything that care and gratitude and appreciation could suggest was placed at the disposal of the invalids.