« PreviousContinue »
ROOSEVELT'S SWORN ROUGH RIDER HISTORY.
His Talks under Oath to the Spanish War Investigation Commission-Thrilling Personal Narrative of Trouble and Triumph-How He Got into the Fight at Santiago, and the Way It Was Won.
HE prevalent opinion of the American people, when war with Spain was declared, was that the great event would be the siege of Havana. The Spaniards had in Cuba four times as many troops as composed our regular army, and they were equipped with better firearms than were generally served to our troops. The fault was with the rash rush for war, in opposition to the peace policy of President McKinley, whose anxiety was to gain time to use our superior resources; and there were some weeks well won, and used especially in the equipment of our squadron of the Asiatic station. Here the iron hand of Roosevelt appeared. He was officially only Assistant Secretary of the Navy Department, but personally a force that disturbed the inertia, and prepared for the cable to Dewey to do something at once. There was a close question whether the order to destroy the Spanish fleet was not a few hours ahead of time, as we lose a day on the way to Manila, going west, when we cross the one hundred and eightieth parallel.
It was Roosevelt who energized the Navy Department, insisted so positively on coal, powder and shell, and target practice, that he carried his point. The red tape was rent that things might be done in Asian waters, and the order to fight far outstripped the daylight that chased the night around the world. The prevalent idea at Washington was that Roosevelt did deserve credit, though there was no fierce impetuosity in its expression by such regulars as need leisure to be proper in phrase and pose; and, of course, the "strenuous" Assistant had to stay, so they said; and this was urged until it was ascertained that the Assistant Secretary was going over across lots to the army; and that was his fixed purpose. He was not a seaman, but a horseman, and there was nothing more for him to do as a subordinate in the Navy Department. It was the purpose of Roosevelt to go to war on horseback, and he overruled all opposition, until there was not transportation for horses. His Western life had told him where to find the fighting men who knew how to shoot and ride, and
more than that, but the news from the Cape Verde islands caused many changes in the movements of the Americans. The question of naval superiority had to be a settled certainty for us before we could risk an army on transports large enough to cope with that of Spain. Two of our opening campaign calculations were broken by the adventure upon which Cervera was ordered, but there was no Roosevelt in Spain to see to it that there was target practice by our enemies, or abundance of coal and fixed ammunition. The lack in Civil Service reform in Spain had partially disarmed her Navy. Money had been appropriated, but did not get as far as the ships. Cervera knew he was sent on a desperate errand, and had not even the coal as he approached southern Cuba to risk a run to Cienfuegos, which is connected by rail with Havana. Hence, he sheltered his squadron in Santiago, and drew the decisive land battle of the war there. Our Cuban allies turned out to be less numerous, warlike and victorious than represented by the Bureau provided for the American Press at Key West. There were those who remained of the opinion, after Cervera was located, that the Santiago combat would be a minor matter, and the decisive conflict near Havana. Roosevelt was not deceived. He had the fighter's instinct that told him the first fight was to come off at Santiago, and that the first would be the last, at least the greatest. It was fortunate for the Americans that Cervera had to run into Santiago, and that the facilities for coaling there were so inadequate he could not get to Cienfuegos, where the Spanish army at Havana could be moved by railroad; and the American regular army, with the few volunteers ready, could not have beaten the great Spanish army intrenched there. Suppose twenty thousand Spanish troops had been waiting at Santiago, and well supplied. The regiments sufficient to defeat them on that line would have been constrained to wait for re-inforcements until yellow fever time. It is, in the light of these facts, of the highest interest to note the pushing qualities, the headlong run for a transport, the hasty, impetuous landing and dashing advance, that placed the Rough Riders dismounted at the front and enabled them to get into the fight.
The action was most dramatic, and the combats in the tropical jungle exceedingly exacting and dangerous. We are supplied with reports of the severity of the Spanish fire. The casualty lists tell of the deadly work done. We have three accounts from President Roosevelt-all of the deepest interest and corroborating and corroborated from all sides. Before these accounts came in order the dispatches to and from Washington and the battlefields by wire. We have the descriptions of the features of warfare, as seen in the lights and shadows, written with time and material for permanency. Next, the official reports of Col. Roosevelt and of Col. Wood, the superior officer of the famous Lieutenant Colonel, Brigadier General Young, commanding the Brigade; Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Division. First of all
we have the sworn testimony, before the Commission of Investigation of the Spanish War, of President Roosevelt; and it is given with his extraordinary intelligence and fearlessness, making such an inside history as is rare in the accounts of military operations. The testimony was taken November 22nd, 1898, and is invaluable as "the true inwardness." Hereafter, when we make ready for war, we will need to study this story. It goes to the bottom facts and presents them as was done in the Police and Civil Service investigations, and later, in the affairs of the State.
That such a personal force as that of the Twenty-Fifth President should have been called for positively by the National Republican Convention at Philadelphia with a continuity that dismayed opposition, and an energy and resolution that could not be denied, and that all plans and purposes should be set aside, is a proof of our capacity to govern ourselves, of the highest order; and the key to the pertinacity of the pressure for Roosevelt was the conviction, with due respect to all others, that, if President McKinley were by some mysterious dispensation of misfortune called away, Roosevelt was the man, who should be his successor, and certain to command respect and confidence -that our system of government, at once simple and majestic, should move on without jeopardy.
Col. Roosevelt, examined by General Wilson, was asked his name and the position he held during the war with Spain. He was Lieutenant Colonel from May 6th until July 8th, when he was made Colonel; and from August until September, he was Second Brigade Commander of the Cavalry Division. He joined the cavalry regiment known as Rough Riders, at San Antonio. He "was busy learning his own duties. It was due Col. Wood's energy that the regiment was enabled to get to the field." This remark was a very handsome compliment to Wood, for the great mass of volunteers did not succeed in leaving their home camps of instruction.
Col. Roosevelt testified that before leaving San Antonio, tents and blankets were found for almost everybody, but some could not get shoes. His regiment was armed with Krag-Jorgensen carbines, and a forty-five calibre six-shooter. The men did not have sabers, but were to have machetes that didn't come in time; but it didn't make a particle of difference that they didn't come. The last of May the regiment left San Antonio, and were four days getting to Tampa. On reaching that place, there was no one to show the regiment where to camp, the railroad system was in a condition of congestion, and there were twentyfour hours of utter and absolute confusion. Some of the regiments were dumped miles out of Tampa; but the six troops Roosevelt commanded were brought into town, when he had to take matters into his own hands, get the horses watered and fed, and buy food for the troopers. Finally they got into camp, and after twenty-four hours, everything went smoothly. But the Colonel
thought somebody might have met his troopers to show where the camp was. Asked whether he was re-imbursed for the outlay in the purchase of supplies, the answer was, "Oh, Lord, no; that was a personal matter." The water supply came to the camp in a thin iron pipe. It was good, but it got hot in the sun. The usual army ration was good, and as the men were plainsmen, they were used to cooking and cooked for themselves. After four days they moved down to Port Tampa, and the Colonel thought "there was a good deal of higglety pigglety business," but it might have been due to the congested condition of the road. They were told to take a track at twelve o'clock and a train, and there was nobody to tell where the train was; and at three o'clock they were moved to another track and at six o'clock got some coal cars, not intended to take the troopers, but the Colonel said, "We construed it that they were, and went down on them." He further testified, "We had been told if we didn't get aboard by daybreak, we'd get left; we didn't intend to get left, and we took those coal cars and slipped down."
The Colonel didn't know who was responsible for the confusion or delay; but he thought where there were so many regiments to embark on so many transports, it might have been settled the day before what regiment was to go on each transport, and try to have the first ten regiments and the first ten transports come together, so that when the transports were loaded, they could pull out; and then ten other regiments take more transports, and so on. The quay was swarming with ten thousand men, and transports were pulling in from mid-stream, but nobody could tell which transport to get on. General Shafter said to find the Quartermaster, Colonel Humphrey, but the Quartermaster wasn't in his place, and hadn't been for some time; so Colonel Wood and Colonel Roosevelt hunted him up, by going for him in opposite directions, and he told them to go on the Yucatan, which was coming in at the dock. Colonel Wood jumped in a boat and went out to the transport, and Roosevelt found that the Yucatan was allotted to the Second Infantry and the SeventyFirst New York. He pleasantly remarked: "I ran down my men and left the guard, and took the rest and rushed them down to the dock, and got on the Yucatan, holding the gang-plank against the Second Infantry and the SeventyFirst New York, and those soldiers had to spend two nights on a train." The Colonel at this point gave the note of triumph. "But we had the Yucatan!" As to the explanation of all this confusion, the Colonel modestly testified: "I was only a Lieutenant-Colonel and can give the facts, but do not know the explanation."
His regiment had had ten or twelve days' rations, good except in one particular, and that made it all bad. Instead of having canned corned beef, which is excellent, they had canned fresh beef, which was exceedingly bad. The Colonel didn't think more than a tenth of it was eaten. When the men got very