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Before we launch this campaign, one caveat: it's pretty safe to assume this isn't the whole story of the war, or even of the Rough Riders themselves. What we're presented with here is most likely the version of the story considered noble enough for public consumption, and to reassure the homefront that yes, this was a decent war fought for decent reasons by gallant soldiers, the bulk of which were still alive at press time and ready to kick your sorry pansy ass if you decided to split hairs with them. However, this is a first-generation document, and you ignore it at your own peril. (makes “spooky” fingers at the reader)

As a curtain jerker for the main show (Chapter 1, “Raising the Regiment”), the first three stanzas of a Bret Harte poem:

Hark! I hear the tramp of thousands,
And of armed men the hum;
Lo! a nation's hosts have gathered
Round the quick-alarming drum—
Saying, "Come,
Freemen, come!
Ere your heritage be wasted," said the quick-alarming drum.

"Let me of my heart take counsel:
War is not of Life the sum;
Who shall stay and reap the harvest
When the autumn days shall come?"
But the drum
Echoed, "Come!
Death shall reap the braver harvest," said the solemn-sounding drum.

"But when won the coming battle,
What of profit springs therefrom?
What if conquest, subjugation,
Even greater ills become?"
But the drum
Answered, "Come!
You must do the sum to prove it," said the Yankee-answering drum. (p. xii)

If you didn't click the link, the poem's called “The Reveille,” disappointing those of you who were expecting it to be called “Stop Being A Pussy And Enlist Already.” And yes, this poem is also posted somewhere on the Stormfront site, but you can't blame Harte or Roosevelt for that.

(You really expected me to link to Stormfront? No, don't answer that. Yikes.)

As far as launching the story, T.R. doesn't futz around. From the first paragraph: “During the year preceding the outbreak of the Spanish War I was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. While my party was in opposition, I had preached, with all the fervor and zeal I possessed, our duty to intervene in Cuba, and to take this opportunity of driving the Spaniard from the Western World. Now that my party had come to power, I felt it incumbent on me, by word and deed, to do all I could to secure the carrying out of the policy in which I so heartily believed; and from the beginning I had determined that, if a war came, somehow or other, I was going to the front.”

Since there wasn't a war just yet—a minor point soon to be solved—he busied himself getting the navy up to snuff, while finding sympathizers to his point of view in the naval officers, certain Senators, and House members, “particularly those from the West, where the feeling for war was strongest.” But alas, Congress came and went with the seasons, some of them drying up, falling off the tree, and crunching under your feet as you raked them off your lawn. Roosevelt found in Dr. Leonard Wood, an army surgeon and medical advisor to the president, a friend who didn't split town when school let out, but Wood (and I'm sorry to throw this into the pot) is dangerously close to being built up as the lost Galbraith brother before the Colonel comes to his senses.

He had served in General Miles's inconceivably harassing campaigns against the Apaches, where he had displayed such courage that he won that most coveted of distinctions—the Medal of Honor; such extraordinary physical strength and endurance that he grew to be recognized as one of the two or three white men who could stand fatigue and hardship as well as an Apache; and such judgment that toward the close of the campaigns he was given, though a surgeon, the actual command of more than one expedition against the bands of renegade Indians. Like so many of the gallant fighters with whom it was later my good fortune to serve, he combined, in a very high degree, the qualities of entire manliness with entire uprightness and cleanliness of character. It was a pleasure to deal with a man of high ideals, who scorned everything mean and base, and who also possessed those robust and hardy qualities of body and mind, for the lack of which no merely negative virtue can ever atone. He was by nature a soldier of the highest type, and, like most natural soldiers, he was, of course, born with a keen longing for adventure; and, though an excellent doctor, what he really desired was the chance to lead men in some kind of hazard. To every possibility of such adventure he paid quick attention. For instance, he had a great desire to get me to go with him on an expedition into the Klondike in mid-winter, at the time when it was thought that a relief party would have to be sent there to help the starving miners. (pp. 3-4)

Well now, some of that reads like an unprocessed man-crush. I was this close to saying “get a room,” but buddy, a Medal of Honor's nothing to sneeze at. Oh, wait, there's more...

In the summer he and I took long walks together through the beautiful broken country surrounding Washington.

Steaaaaaaaady now...

So they bonded by kicking the football around and other sports, but the conversation didn't stray very far from the Spanish problem. “We both felt very strongly that such a war would be as righteous as it would be advantageous to the honor and the interests of the nation; and after the blowing up of the Maine, we felt that it was inevitable. We then at once began to try to see that we had our share in it.” What that share would consist of was another matter altogether—although both men being tight with the White House gave them a tactical advantage. Nevertheless, there were ten men for every single opportunity, which didn't bode well for a couple of guys (even well-connected guys) who wanted to get right in the thick of the scrap.

All this was solved when Congress authorized three cavalry regiments drawn from the men of the Rockies and the Great Plains. Roosevelt was offered the command of one of the regiments, but realized that in the time it would take for him to get up to speed on finding out how to equip that type of outfit, the war might be over, and that wouldn't be cool at all. “Fortunately, I was wise enough to tell the Secretary that while I believed I could learn to command the regiment in a month, yet that it was just this very month which I could not afford to spare, and that therefore I would be quite content to go as Lieutenant-Colonel, if he would make Wood Colonel.” This was fine and dandy with the Prez and the Secretary, so they were commissioned in the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, dubbed the “Rough Riders” by da peeple! The Colonel actually didn't care for it all that much, but by the time “Rough Riders” started turning up in official communications, it was too late to call that boat back to shore. He probably didn't trademark it, either.

While war fever was so hot that “[w]ithout the slightest trouble, so far as men went, we could have raised a brigade or even a division,” getting the men trained and supplied was something else again. You're not going to send those boys against the Spanish army with pocketknives and slingshots, are you? Well, you might, but that's why you're reading a blog instead of being a hero to the nation. (Unless, of course, you're busy doing both. Sometimes heroes of the nation get a day off.) Apparently, the American army of the time was really hurting for slingshots and etc. etc., which is where Wood's knowledge of red tape (and well-placed, well-timed pestering) came in handy. “To a man who knew the ground as Wood did, and who was entirely aware of our national unpreparedness, it was evident that the ordnance and quartermaster's bureaus could not meet, for some time to come, one-tenth of the demands that would be made upon them; and it was all-important to get in first with our demands.” Wood even managed to get the Krag-Jorgensen carbine used by the regular cavalry (the career soldiers...M*A*S*H hasn't steered me wrong yet on terminology). Sure, they could've waited for everything to make it through channels, but T.R. assures us that thanks to that extra bit of speed, “no other volunteer regiment saw anything like the fighting which we did.” Remember, Teddy Roosevelt was Batman, and Batman ain't no sideline sitter, buddy.

Doggonnit, it just occurred to me that we're within spitting distance of my recent post lengths and I haven't even covered a third of the chapter. Teddy's get-to-the-point, all-meat-no-gristle style so far is fresh air and clear skies after the endless rambling of Waters That Pass Away, but after last month's ordeal, it's also like buying one of those things at the dollar store that looks like a Technicolor hockey puck and watching it turn into a beach towel when you get it wet. Seriously, the best part of the chapter is yet to come, so let's draw a line here to avoid a TL;DR situation and come back in an hour (or maybe a day).

Next: Get to know the Rough Riders! And yeah, I chickened out and used the spoiler tag anyway. Some men can't be proud about these types of things.


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