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a crash of firearms notified all that a fight was on.
Orders were at once issued to fill the magazines of the guns, and this was done. Then, while some troops moved to the left of the trail, Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt was ordered to take three troops to the right. Here the jungle was heavy, and no sooner had the Rough Riders advanced than the Spaniards opened fire upon them. In speaking of the opening of this fight, Mr. Roosevelt himself writes:
“ The effect of the smokeless powder (used by the enemy) was remarkable. The air seemed full of the rustling sound of the Mauser bullets, for the Spaniards knew the trails by which we were advancing, and opened heavily on our position. But they themselves were entirely invisible. The jungle covered everything, and not the faintest trace of smoke was to be seen in any direction, to indicate from whence the bullets came.'
It was certainly a trying time — to stand up and be shot at without being able to return the compliment. Roosevelt and all the other leaders knew that this would not
do, and at a great risk they continued to advance, until some Spaniards were at last discovered across a valley to the right of where the troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt were located. “ There they are !” was the cry.
6 Forward and at 'em, boys! Down with the Dons !” Without delay some sharpshooters fired on the Spaniards, and then the regular troops opened up, and at last the Spaniards ran from cover.
Bullets were now flying in all directions, and both sides were making their shots tell. The Americans had but scant protection, and it was not long before a number of them fell. Some bullets came close to Theodore Roosevelt, and one hit a palm tree near where he was standing, filling his left eye and ear with the dust and splinters. Had that Mauser bullet come a few inches closer, the man who was destined to become the future President of our country might have been killed on the spot.
In the midst of the skirmish — for the conflict proved to be nothing more — there was a report that Colonel Wood was dead, and Theodore Roosevelt took it upon him
self to restore the fighting line of Rough Riders to order. But happily the report proved false; and a little while after this the skirmish came to an end, and both Spaniards and Americans betook themselves to positions of greater safety. In this skirmish, brief as it was, the Rough Riders lost eight men killed and nearly forty wounded.
ALONG THE JUNGLE TRAIL – FORDING THE RIVER
OPENING OF THE BATTLE OF SAN JUAN HILL
TAKEN as a whole, the skirmish at La Guasima was quite an important one, for it showed the Spaniards that our soldiers were bound to advance upon Santiago, be the cost what it might.
More than this, it showed that Theodore Roosevelt was brave under fire. During the skirmish he paid but scant attention to his own personal safety. He went wherever he thought he was needed, and the fact that Mauser bullets were flying about in all directions did not daunt him.
“ He was about as cool a man as I ever saw in a fight,” said one old soldier. “He did all he could to encourage the men, and had a kind word for every man he ran across who was wounded. Once, in the thickest of the brush, he grabbed up a gun
and began to shoot with us, and I reckon he fired as straight as anybody there, for he had had lots of practice while hunting.”
The Spaniards had been driven from their pits and from the sugar-house of the plantation, and now took good care to keep out of sight. Picket-guards were thrown out by the officers of the army, and those who had been in the fight took a much-needed rest, and looked after the dead and wounded. There was certainly a touching scene at the temporary hospital, where one soldier started to sing “My Country, 'tis of Thee,” and many others joined in.
On the following morning the dead were buried, the men gathering around the one common grave to sing “Rock of Ages” in a manner that brought tears to the eyes of many.
From La Guasima the Rough Riders moved to the bank of a small stream in the neighborhood. Part of the army was ahead of them and the rest behind, and for several days nothing unusual occurred. But during that time General Young caught the fever, whereupon Colonel Wood had to take charge of the brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt took command of the Rough Riders.