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"We should have probably spent the summer in our sick camps, losing half the men and hopelessly shattering the health of the remainder, if General Shafter had not summoned a council of officers, hoping by united action of a more or less public character, to wake up the Washington authorities to the actual condition of things. As all the Spanish forces in the province of Santiago had surrendered, and as so-called immune regiments were coming to garrison the conquered territory, there was literally not one thing of any kind whatsoever for the army to do, and no purpose to serve by keeping it at Santiago. We did not suppose that peace was at hand, being ignorant of the negotiations. We were anxious to take part in the Porto Rico campaign, and would have been more than willing to suffer any amount of sickness, if by so doing we could get into action. But if we were not to take part in the Porto Rico campaign, then we knew it was absolutely indispensable to get our commands north immediately, if they were to be in trim for the great campaign against Havana, which would surely be the main event of the winter if peace were not declared in advance.
“Our army included the great majority of the Regulars, and was, therefore, the flower of the American force. It was on every account imperative to keep it in good trim; and to keep it in Santiago meant its entirely purposeless destruction. As soon as the surrender was an accomplished fact, the taking away of the army to the north should have begun.
“Every officer, from the highest to the lowest, especially among the regulars, realized all of this, and about the last day of July, General Shafter called a conference, in the Palace, of all the division and brigade commanders. By this time, owing to Wood's having been made Governor-General, I was in command of my brigade; so I went to the conference too, riding in with Generals Sumner and Wheeler, who were the other representatives of the cavalry division. Besides the line officers, all the chief medical officers were present at the conference. The telegrams from the Secretary stating the position of himself and the Surgeon-General were read, and then almost every line and medical officer present expressed his views in turn. They were almost all Regulars and had been brought up to life-long habits of obedience without protest. They were ready to obey still, but they felt, quite rightly, that it was their duty to protest rather than to see the flower of the United States forces destroyed as the culminating act of a campaign in which the blunders that had been committed had been retrieved only by the valor and splendid soldierly qualities of the officers and enlisted men of the infantry and dismounted cavalry. There was not a dissenting voice, for there could not be. There was but one side to the question. To talk of continually shifting camp or of moving up the mountains into the interior was idle, for not one of the plans could be carried out with our utterly insufficient transportation, and at that season and in that climate they would merely have resulted in aggravating the sickliness of the soldiers. It was deemed best to make some record of our opinion, in the shape of a letter or report, which would show that to keep the army in Santiago meant its absolute and objectless ruin, and that it should at once be recalled. At first, there was naturally some hesitation on the part of the Regular officers to take the initiative, for their entire future career might be sacrificed. So I wrote a letter to General Shafter, reading over the rough draft to the various Generals and adopting their corrections. Before I had finished making these corrections, it was determined that we should send a circular on behalf of all of us to General Shafter, and when I returned from presenting him mine, I found this circular letter already prepared and we all of us signed it. Both letters were made public. The result was immediate. Within three days the army was ordered to be ready to sail for home. As soon as it was known that we were to sail for home the spirits of the men changed for the better. In my regiment the officers began to plan methods of drilling the men on horseback, so as to fit them for use against the Spanish cavalry, if we should go against Havana in December. We had, all of us, eyed the captured Spanish cavalry with particular interest. The men were small, and the horses, though well trained and well built, were diminutive ponies, very much smaller than cow ponies. We were certain that if we ever got a chance to try shock tactics against them they would go down like nine-pins, provided only that our men could be trained to charge in any kind of line, and we made up our minds to devote our time to this. Dismounted work with the rifle we already felt thoroughly competent to perform.”
Colonel Roosevelt commanding a brigade was never hard to understand. He did not for a moment hesitate to accept the responsibility, and he took it in this case. The alarms of General Alger were not supported by dangers, and there was no cause for outcry as to military discipline. Spain was no longer a belligerent. Her fleets had been destroyed, so that there was no question about the command of the seas. We were masters in the Philippines and the West Indies. Cuba could not receive reinforcements or munitions of war. The United States had an overwhelming army of volunteers, and we could crush the Spanish army in the West end of the island and invade the Spanish peninsula, capturing all the islands belonging to Spain in the Mediterranean and on the African coast. There was one great peril, and it could not be concealed,—that of the yellow fever pestilence. Our army was in a hotbed of fevers, and if it had not been removed with more system and celerity than it had been disembarked, there would have been an awful and wholly useless sacrifice of brave men.
All the Spanish war ships were destroyed, and the army of the Santiago
district surrendered, giving up their arms, and overjoyed because they were going home to Spain. There was a danger that could not have been found in any other country of even rank with the Cubans in civilization. It was that the armed Cuban insurgents were disposed to assail the unarmed Spanish prisoners and massacre them. There was like threatening at the same time in the Philippines. If this matter had become very serious in Eastern Cuba, the remedy would have been to return to the Spanish captives their arms. Colonel Roosevelt's theory that Havana might sustain a siege after the fall of Santiago, shows a trace of his comparative isolation and absorption in the active operations of war, for the Spaniards could not have hoped to hold Havana against the power of the United States. Spain was irreparably down, and there was not the slightest chance for her to find an ally anywhere in the world. However, if there had been a siege of Havana, we could not have undertaken it before December, and the place to restore an army to health was not on the highlands of Cuba, which were simply impossible; but on the alternately sandy and shady shores of Long Island; and we had nothing better to do with the fleet of transports than to send the sick boys to the pleasant places where they told the Colonel, who had done so much to give them first a fighting chance, and at last rest in airs that were a matchless restorative-told him when he asked them how they were doing, “This is Heaven.”
The military episode of Colonel Roosevelt lasted less than a year, including the days of preparation for the strife and recuperation after it; but he had, by his genius for good works, his talent for doing things, and the greater force of getting others to do that which he saw was inevitable and indispensable -made four points, each with glory enough to go far. First, he foresaw, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the war, and dominated the Department to prepare for it, by finding the war boats, coal and powder, that the engineers might go to find the enemy at full speed of steam, and smash them, so that fire and water fought to finish them. Second, he raised a regiment that was unique in quality, composed of plainsmen, men of the West, representatives of North and South—the most mobile troopers and the best riflemen in the world—soldiers almost of incomparable mettle and quite unconquerable, a new element in warfare, with the swiftness of the Cossack, and the eye and hand for a rifle of the Boer. Third, such was his executive force and ceaseless effort, his initiative in enterprise, and audacity in pushing on through all the obstacles that confusion heaps in the paths of adventure and glory, that he landed his volunteers ahead of the Regulars, and headed the column that got the first baptism of blood. Fourth, last, not least, when the foe was vanquished on sea and land, the war over, he took the steps that were never before possible, using all the apparatus of modern invention and adaptation —the telegraph, the steamboat, the railroad, the cables under the seas, the