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THE ROUND ROBIN LETTER.
Secretary of War Alger and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt Differ Radically—The Full
Correspondence The Rough Rider Was Tender Hearted, and Saved Thousands of Sick Men-He Unbound the Army Tied in Fever Camps by Cutting the Red Tape.
ENERAL RUSSELL A. ALGER, War Secretary of the McKinley AdU ministration, during the war with Spain, has published a history which
he was in good position to make of value, and the volume contributes much of interest. He contends that the “Round Robin" letter had nothing whatever to do with either the return of the Fifth corps to the United States or the selection of Montauk Point. The “R. R.” paper was published on the 4th of August. General Alger was indignant and alarmed, and many ills appeared in his excitement that were after all fanciful. General Alger says the enemy secured information our Government was anxious to conceal, and after a conference at the White House, this message was sent:
"White House, Washington, Aug. 4, 1898. "General Shafter, Santiago:
“At this time, when peace is talked of, it seems strange that you should give out your cable, signed by your general officers, concerning the condition of your army, to the Associated Press without permission from the War Department. You did not even await a reply to your communication.
“R. A. ALGER,
“Secretary of War." To which General Shafter replied:
“Santiago de Cuba, August 4, 1898. “Hon. R. A. Alger, Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.:
"The report was given out, as I have since learned, before it reached me. I called the general officers together, to tell them what I proposed to do, and to express to them my views, and ask them to give me a letter, setting forth their views, and I told them to do so. Meanwhile, I wrote my telegram, and later it was handed in and forwarded, with the letter of the surgeons and the letter of these officers. It was not until some time after that I
learned their letter had been given to the press. It was a foolish improper thing to do, and I regret very much that it occurred. . . I have been very careful about giving to the press any information, and I will continue to do so.
“W. R. SHAFTER,
“Major General.” General Alger says: When the President read the “Round Robin" for the first time in the newspapers he became much excited and indignant. Every possible effort was made to ascertain the name of the person responsible for its publication, that he might be called to a proper account for the act, but in vain.
To counteract the effect of the “Round Robin,” the following statement was given to the press:
“ Adjutant-General's Office, August 4, 1898. “The Secretary of War has ordered General Shafter's troops relieved from further duty in Santiago as fast as transportation can be provided, and the transfer of Spanish prisoners will admit of reduction of the garrison. .. . These will sail for New York as fast as they can be comfortably embarked. The rest at Montauk Point will prepare these seasoned troops for the campaign against Havana, in which they will probably take part. The first transport left Santiago yesterday. The movement is expected to be completed by the 20th of the month. Five United States volunteer regiments, immunes, have been ordered to Santiago for garrison duty. The first has already arrived; the others are being pushed forward as rapidly as transportation can be furnished.”
As soon as the announcement was made that the "immune” regiments were to be sent to Santiago, many protests were received against such action. No attention, however, could be paid to these communications. The following indicates their general character:
“Macon, Georgia, August 5, 1898. "General H. C. Corbin, Adjutant-General U. S. A., Washington, D. C.:
"It is distinctly understood throughout the whole country that the 3d Regiment United States Volunteers, although called immune, are no more immune from yellow fever than any other volunteer regiment. It is composed almost exclusively of Georgians, nearly all of whom are very young men, and many of them minors. When enlisted, the Government subjected them to a rigid physical examination, but no proof was demanded or desired as to their immunity from yellow fever. To send these young men and boys to Santiago, at this time, with no enemy to fight, is to expose them to the same deadly peril from yellow fever as is now said to confront those who, having reaped the honors, are now demanding to be sent to a Northern seaside. If
more troops were now needed at Santiago, or if fighting were to be done, then the order for this regiment would be approved by all; but it is a wholly different matter to send them into a pestilence that other soldiers, who are probably more nearly immune than they, may be removed from the danger. A solemn sense of my duty to these young men impels me, therefore, to request most earnestly and urgently that the order for their removal to Santiago be revoked. I send this without the knowledge of any officer or man in the regiment.
"A. O. BACON,
“United States Senator." "Santiago de Cuba, August 4, 1898.—Summoned by Major General Shafter, a meeting was held here this morning at headquarters, and in the presence of every commanding and medical officer of the Fifth Army Corps, General Shafter read a cable message from Secretary Alger, ordering him, at the recommendation of Surgeon General Sternberg, to move the army into the interior of San Luis, where it is supposed to be more healthful.
"As a result of the conference, General Shafter will insist upon the immediate withdrawal of the army north, or within two weeks. As an explanation of the situation, the following letter from Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, commanding the First Volunteer Cavalry, to General Shafter, was handed by the latter to the correspondent of the Associated Press for publication:
“'Major General Shafter, Sir: In a meeting of the general and medical officers called by you at the Palace this morning, we were all, as you know, unanimous as to what should be done with the army. To keep us here, in the opinion of every officer commanding a division or brigade, will simply involve the destruction of thousands. There is no possible reason for not shipping practically the entire command North at once. Yellow fever cases are very few in the cavalry division where I command one of the two brigades, and not one true case of yellow fever has occurred in this division, except among the men sent to the hospital at Siboney, where they have, I believe, contracted it. But in this division there have been fifteen hundred cases of malarial fever. Not a man has died from it, but the whole command has been so weakened and shattered as to be ripe for dying like rotten sheep, when a real yellow fever epidemic, instead of a fake epidemic like the present, strikes us, as it is bound to if we stay here at the height of the sickness season, August, and the beginning of September. Quarantine against malarial fever is like quarantine against the toothache. All of us are certain, as soon as the authorities fully appreciate the conditions of the army, they will order us to be sent home,
“ 'If we are kept here, it will in all human possibility mean an appalling disaster, for the surgeons here estimate that over half the army, if kept here
during the sickly season, will die. This is not only terrible from the standpoint of the individual lives lost, but it means ruin from the standpoint of the military efficiency of the flower of the American Army, for the great bulk of the regulars are here with you. The sick list, large although it is, exceeding four thousand, affords but a faint index of the debilities of the army. Not ten per cent are fit for active work.
“ 'Six weeks on the North Maine coast, for instance, or elsewhere, where the yellow fever germ can not possibly propagate, would make us all as fit as fighting cocks, able as we are, and eager to take a leading part in the great campaign against Havana in the Fall, even if we are not allowed to try Puerto Rico.
“ 'We can be moved North, if moved at once, with absolute safety to the country, although, of course, it would have been infinitely better if we had been moved North or to Puerto Rico two weeks ago. If there were any object in keeping us here, we would face yellow fever with as much indifference as we face bullets. But there is no object in it. The fever immune regiments ordered here are sufficient to garrison the city and surrounding towns, and there is absolutely nothing for us to do here, and there has not been since the city surrendered. It is impossible to move into the interior. Every shifting of camp doubles the sick rate in our present weakened condition, and, anyhow, the interior is rather worse than the coast, as I have found by actual reconnoissance. Our present camps are as healthy as any camps at this end of the island can be.
“ 'I write only because I can not see our men, who have fought so bravely and who have endured extreme hardship and danger so uncomplainingly, go to destruction without striving, so far as lies in me, to avert a doom as fearful as it is unnecessary and undeserved.
“ Colonel Commanding First Brigade.” After Colonel Roosevelt had taken the initiative, all the American general officers united in a Round Robin addressed to General Shafter. It reads:
“We, the undersigned officers, commanding the various brigades, divisions, etc., of the army of occupation in Cuba, are of the unanimous opinion that this army should be at once taken out of the Island of Cuba, and sent to some point on the seacoast of the United States; that it can be done without danger to the people of the United States; that yellow fever in the army is not now epidemic; that there are only a few sporadic cases; but that the army is disabled by malarial fever to the extent that its efficiency is destroyed, and that it is in a condition to be practically entirely destroyed by an epidemic of yellow fever which is sure to come in the near future.
"We know from the reports of competent officers and from personal observations, that the army is unable to move into the interior, and that there are no facilities for such a move if attempted, and that it could not be attempted until too late. Moreover, the best authorities of the island say that with our present equipment we could not live in the interior during the rainy season without losses from malarial fever, which is almost as deadly as yellow fever.
"This army must be moved at once or perish. As the army can be safely moved now, the persons responsible for preventing such a move will be responsible for the unnecessary loss of many thousands of lives. Our opinions are the result of careful personal observation and they are also based on the unanimous opinion of our medical officers with the army, who understand the situation absolutely.
"J. FORD KENT, “Major General Volunteers, Commanding First Division 5th Corps.
"J. C. BATES, “Major General Volunteers, Commanding Provisional Division.
“ADNA R. CHAFFEE, “Major General, Commanding Third Brigade, Second Division.
“SAMUEL S. SUMNER, “Brigadier General Volunteers, Commanding First Brigade Cavalry.
"ADELBERT AMES, “Brigadier General Volunteers, Commanding Third Brigade, 2nd Division.
"LEONARD WOOD, “Brigadier General Volunteers, Commanding Second Cavalry Brigade.
"Colonel Commanding Second Cavalry Brigade.” General Alger seems to have been excited when he wrote:.
"It would be impossible to exaggerate the mischievous and wicked effects of the 'Round Robin.' It afflicted the country with a plague of anguish and apprehension. There are martyrs in all wars, but the most piteous of these are the silent, helpless, heartbroken ones who stay at home to weep and pray and wait-the mother, the sister, wife and sweetheart. To their natural suspense and suffering these publications added the pangs of imaginary terrors. They had endured, through sympathy, the battle-field, the wasting hardships of the camp, the campaign in the tropics, the fever-stricken trench. They might at least have been spared this wanton torture, this impalpable and formless yet overwhelming blow.”
In his "Rough Rider" history, President Roosevelt gives his opinion in distinct and decisive terms, as follows: