Blogger Template by Blogcrowds

Rough Riders magazine advertisement from June 1899 Atlantic Monthly
Where did the updates go? Don't ask me what ate the past two weeks. All you need to know is that the march to Cuba resumes later today. In the meantime, here's a vintage ad for the book to kill about ten seconds of your day.

Sorry for yet another delay. It's been a busy week in the real world.

Chapter 2 (“To Cuba”) begins with some leftover character sketches that spilled over from Chapter 1, this time focusing mostly on men promoted during basic training in San Antonio, all of them we're promised are good people, but we'll be here all day. Before we plow through, I'd be less than diligent if I didn't mention Louisiana's John McIlhenny, “a planter and manufacturer, a big-game hunter and book-lover, who could have had a commission in the Louisiana troops, but who preferred to go as a trooper in the Rough Riders because he believed we would surely see fighting. He could have commanded any influence, social or political, he wished; but he never asked a favor of any kind. He went into one of the New Mexican troops, and by his high qualities and zealous attention to duty speedily rose to a sergeantcy, and finally won his lieutenancy for gallantry in action.” He then went on to slather the world in Tabasco sauce. And no, I'm not kidding. Check your kitchen cabinet. Admit I'm right.

There's one other leftover that's just too good to skip:

One of our best soldiers was a man whose real and assumed names I, for obvious reasons conceal. He usually went by a nickname which I will call Tennessee. He was a tall, gaunt fellow, with a quiet and distinctly sinister eye, who did his duty excellently, especially when a fight was on, and who, being an expert gambler, always contrived to reap a rich harvest after pay-day. When the regiment was mustered out, he asked me to put a brief memorandum of his services on his discharge certificate, which I gladly did. He much appreciated this, and added, in explanation, "You see, Colonel, my real name isn't Smith, it's Yancy. I had to change it, because three or four years ago I had a little trouble with a gentleman, and—er—well, in fact, I had to kill him; and the District Attorney, he had it in for me, and so I just skipped the country; and now, if it ever should be brought up against me, I should like to show your certificate as to my character!" The course of frontier justice sometimes moves in unexpected zigzags; so I did not express the doubt I felt as to whether my certificate that he had been a good soldier would help him much if he was tried for a murder committed three or four years previously. (pp. 43-4)

Jury foreman: “Your Honor, on the charge of first degree murder, we find the defendant not guilty by reason of a note from Roosevelt.”

Judge: “Case dismissed. And just to speed things up, does anybody else have a note from home?”

Not long after Wood had finished his bureaucratic juggling act to get the store fully stocked, the orders came down to finally—finally!—put the troops (and their 1,200 horses and pack mules) on a train to Tampa. The train was split into seven sections, with Wood taking charge of the first three and Roosevelt the last four. This gives T.R. some thinkin' time.

To occupy my few spare moments, I was reading M. Demolins's "Supériorité des Anglo-Saxons." M. Demolins, in giving the reasons why the English-speaking peoples are superior to those of Continental Europe, lays much stress upon the way in which "militarism" deadens the power of individual initiative, the soldier being trained to complete suppression of individual will, while his faculties become atrophied in consequence of his being merely a cog in a vast and perfectly ordered machine. I can assure the excellent French publicist that American "militarism," at least of the volunteer sort, has points of difference from the militarism of Continental Europe. The battalion chief of a newly raised American regiment, when striving to get into a war which the American people have undertaken with buoyant and light-hearted indifference to detail, has positively unlimited opportunity for the display of "individual initiative," and is in no danger whatever either of suffering from unhealthy suppression of personal will, or of finding his faculties of self-help numbed by becoming a cog in a gigantic and smooth-running machine. If such a battalion chief wants to get anything or go anywhere he must do it by exercising every pound of resource, inventiveness, and audacity he possesses. The help, advice, and superintendence he gets from outside will be of the most general, not to say superficial, character. If he is a cavalry officer, he has got to hurry and push the purchase of his horses, plunging into and out of the meshes of red-tape as best he can. He will have to fight for his rifles and his tents and his clothes. He will have to keep his men healthy largely by the light that nature has given him. When he wishes to embark his regiment, he will have to fight for his railway-cars exactly as he fights for his transport when it comes to going across the sea; and on his journey his men will or will not have food, and his horses will or will not have water and hay, and the trains will or will not make connections, in exact correspondence to the energy and success of his own efforts to keep things moving straight. (pp. 47-8)

So in a nutshell, he's saying that the American style of military (at least as it was back then) rewards the proactive problem solver, and you're in for a flaming pit of hurt if you're a lazy punk who expects things to just happen. It's a good thing that T.R. and Wood are just loaded with get-up-and-go, since they'll need it in spades during the next leg of the trip.

On Sunday, May 29th, the Rough Riders were finally ready to depart for Tampa, with the three sections under Wood loaded first, and here's where things started to go a trifle awry, because if the loading experience was any indication, the 48 hour trip promised by the railroad wasn't going to come off that quickly. “There were no proper facilities for getting the horses on or off the cars, or for feeding or watering them; and there was endless confusion and delay among the railway officials.” Still, Wood had worked out a system to minimize confusion, “and when the delays of the [railroad men], and their inability to understand what was necessary, grew past bearing, I took charge of the trains myself, so as to insure the horse-cars of each section being coupled with the baggage-cars of that section.”

Roosevelt's men worked well into the night to get their freight and animals loaded, but they weren't quite out of the woods yet, since the passenger cars were still a few hours away. Meanwhile, some of the troops had drifted off to get their drink on at the “vile drinking-booths around the stockyard.” As quickly as they turned into military men, they weren't above a little drunken disorderliness once in awhile. One guy was even tossed in jail during basic training and missed the big show. Well, they are supposed to be cowboys...

Once their passenger cars caught up with them (which finally happened around dawn), they finally set off on the two day trip to Tampa, which, thanks largely to the sterling efficiency and precision of the rail yards, managed to be dragged out to four. But don't take my word for it:

The next four days were very hot and very dusty. I tried to arrange so the sections would be far enough apart to allow each ample time to unload, feed, water, and load the horses at any stopping-place before the next section could arrive. There was enough delay and failure to make connections on the part of the railroad people to keep me entirely busy, not to speak of seeing at the stopping-places that the inexperienced officers got enough hay for their horses, and that the water given to them was both ample in quantity and drinkable. It happened that we usually made our longest stops at night, and this meant that we were up all night long.

Two or three times a day I got the men buckets of hot coffee, and when we made a long enough stop they were allowed liberty under the supervision of the non-commissioned officers. Some of them abused the privilege, and started to get drunk. These were promptly handled with the necessary severity, in the interest of the others; for it was only by putting an immediate check to every form of lawlessness or disobedience among the few men who were inclined to be bad that we were enabled to give full liberty to those who would not abuse it.

That's buckets of coffee, not pots. It takes more than a sissy percolator to keep a thousand men awake and grinding their teeth. What the hell do you mean “What kind of coffee is it?” It's the coffee kind of coffee, and hot enough to change your nickname to Ol' Melty if you're not careful. Stir it with your finger if you're brave enough, just not one you think you'll need later. Latte? Latte the back of my hand, ya son of a bitch.

Everywhere the people came out to greet us and cheer us. They brought us flowers; they brought us watermelons and other fruits, and sometimes jugs and pails of milk—all of which we greatly appreciated. We were travelling through a region where practically all the older men had served in the Confederate Army, and where the younger men had all their lives long drunk in the endless tales told by their elders, at home, and at the cross-roads taverns, and in the court-house squares, about the cavalry of Forrest and Morgan and the infantry of Jackson and Hood. The blood of the old men stirred to the distant breath of battle; the blood of the young men leaped hot with eager desire to accompany us. The older women, who remembered the dreadful misery of war—the misery that presses its iron weight most heavily on the wives and the little ones—looked sadly at us; but the young girls drove down in bevies, arrayed in their finery, to wave flags in farewell to the troopers and to beg cartridges and buttons as mementos. Everywhere we saw the Stars and Stripes, and everywhere we were told, half-laughing, by grizzled ex-Confederates that they had never dreamed in the bygone days of bitterness to greet the old flag as they now were greeting it, and to send their sons, as now they were sending them, to fight and die under it. (pp. 51-3)

At the end of this journey was Tampa, “in the pine-covered sand-flats at the end of a one-track railroad.” And who was there to greet them and steer them? Don't be ridiculous—nobody. The whole place was a perfect storm of confusion. “We had to buy the men food out of our own pockets, and to seize wagons in order to get our spare baggage taken to the camping ground which we at last found had been allotted to us.” And if this was a sitcom, the little devil would pop up on his shoulder asking “How do you like your individual initiative army now, Teddy?” while rubbing its stereotypical cloven hooves together.

Of course Roosevelt liked it just fine once he and Wood sorted everything out, and soon the men were camped out along the streets and back to their drilling. “Over in Tampa town the huge winter hotel was gay with general-officers and their staffs, with women in pretty dresses, with newspaper correspondents by the score, with military attachés of foreign powers, and with onlookers of all sorts; but we spent very little time there.” As it transpired, they didn't have to sit tight for long, but they were dealt an unfortunate blow.

There were but four or five days at Tampa, however. We were notified that the expedition would start for destination unknown at once, and that we were to go with it; but that our horses were to be left behind, and only eight troops of seventy men each taken. Our sorrow at leaving the horses was entirely outweighed by our joy at going; but it was very hard indeed to select the four troops that were to stay, and the men who had to be left behind from each of the troops that went. Colonel Wood took Major Brodie and myself to command the two squadrons, being allowed only two squadron commanders. The men who were left behind felt the most bitter heartburn. To the great bulk of them I think it will be a life-long sorrow. I saw more than one, both among the officers and privates, burst into tears when he found he could not go. No outsider can appreciate the bitterness of the disappointment. Of course, really, those that stayed were entitled to precisely as much honor as those that went. Each man was doing his duty, and much the hardest and most disagreeable duty was to stay. Credit should go with the performance of duty, and not with what is very often the accident of glory. All this and much more we explained, but our explanations could not alter the fact that some had to be chosen and some had to be left. (pp. 55-6)

I know I'm still a part of the team, but dammit, I wanted to shoot something! Maybe that Tennessee guy can help me out...and maybe the Colonel can write me one of those notes, too.

On the evening of June 7th, they were informed that the train for Port Tampa, from where they'd be casting off for parts unknown, was leaving at daybreak, and if they weren't on it right on the dot, they'd just have to thumb their way to Cuba. At midnight, the men who were allowed to go were at the appointed track with their gear, but in the spirit of the operation's smoothness so far, their train wasn't anywhere to be found. “Some regiments got aboard the trains and some did not, but as none of the trains started this made little difference.” Finally, they resorted to flagging some coal-cars, and the engineer was persuaded to back his train the whole nine miles to the port. They were dusty—coal dusty, which is the second worst kind at least—but they were there.

Next: Where “there” is, and how ridiculous “there” can be. And Cuba! And this time I mean it!

Thoroughly exhausted—and exasperated—by the '08 Republican Convention, my trip into the heroic past continues unabated with the concluding entry for the surprisingly difficult to condense Chapter 1 of The Rough Riders.

The last post concerned the remarkable individuals that made up the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, but again, the big trick was turning them into a remarkable fighting force. Fortunately most of them got it. “There were plenty of hard characters who might by themselves have given trouble, and with one or two of whom we did have to take rough measures; but the bulk of the men thoroughly understood that without discipline they would be merely a valueless mob, and they set themselves hard at work to learn the new duties.” For the officers' part, being too hard would have been as fatal as being too loose, since they didn't want to drum out the vital elements that made Congress start beating the bushes for men of the Territories in the first place. To that effect, they only stressed the essentials while letting what was considered nonessential slide, and the men adapted their approaches accordingly. That's not to say there wasn't a learning curve.

One of the new Indian Territory recruits, after twenty-four hours' stay in camp, during which he had held himself distinctly aloof from the general interests, called on the Colonel in his tent, and remarked, "Well, Colonel, I want to shake hands and say we're with you. We didn't know how we would like you fellars at first; but you're all right, and you know your business, and you mean business, and you can count on us every time!"

That same night, which was hot, mosquitoes were very annoying; and shortly after midnight both the Colonel and I came to the doors of our respective tents, which adjoined one another. The sentinel in front was also fighting mosquitoes. As we came out we saw him pitch his gun about ten feet off, and sit down to attack some of the pests that had swarmed up his trousers' legs. Happening to glance in our direction, he nodded pleasantly and, with unabashed and friendly feeling, remarked, "Ain't they bad?" (pp. 30-1)

Yes they (ahem) is. Now put your pants back on, soldier.

While the men were being drilled (first in marching, then in open-order work, skirmishing, and firing), there was the matter of getting and breaking the horses. Come on, it's cavalry. You didn't think they were going to take turns riding each other, did you? At least half were unbroken, but that's where having “abundance of men who were utterly unmoved by any antic a horse might commit” came in handy, and while the basic drills came together “ragged but right,” the mounted drill was a rollicking success. And if you don't understand why, there's obviously a part of the word “cowboy” that isn't getting through to you. Unfortunately, they weren't actually used mounted in battle, which deeply disappointed Roosevelt.

We thought we should at least be employed as cavalry in the great campaign against Havana in the fall; and from the beginning I began to train my men in shock tactics for use against hostile cavalry. My belief was that the horse was really the weapon with which to strike the first blow. I felt that if my men could be trained to hit their adversaries with their horses, it was a matter of small amount whether, at the moment when the onset occurred, sabres, lances, or revolvers were used; while in the subsequent mêlée I believed the revolver would outclass cold steel as a weapon. But this is all guesswork, for we never had occasion to try the experiment. (pp. 36-7)

And since this entry is going to be unspeakably short if I don't allow myself to meander once in awhile, let's pause for a moment to ponder hitting the opposition with horses. Even I (whose knowledge of military tactics ends with Hogan's Heroes) know he's talking about using them as big, fleshy battering rams, but why not a Roosevelt Horse Cannon (patent pending)? Do you think that firing a bronco through the air would be enough to make the Spanish break ranks? Or would we need a few Clydesdales on a catapult to soften them up?

No, no, that would be cruel...unless you trained them to tuck and roll. And wear a helmet and kneepads. It's not like they'd be landing on the hard ground, either, since they'd have a whole Spanish unit cushioning their fall! And yes, I'll stop now. This is what you get when two weeks of unceasing political rhetoric drives me around the bend.

Discarding my brilliant-but-criminally-cruel idea, the weapons of choice were the aforementioned Krag or the revolver, with all cartridges packed with the relatively new smokeless powder to increase visibility during battle. “A few carried their favorite Winchesters, using, of course, the new model, which took the Government cartridge.” For the matters of keeping things moving along, they skipped sabre training, T.R. rightly figuring that cowboys didn't use frickin' swords. Maybe the vaqueros did in old California, but dammit, we're not fighting Zorro today. The concept is enough to trigger one of those ridiculous Family Guy flashbacks. Remember, the idea here is to get these guys into Cuba before the Spanish army dies of old age.

So, the summing up:

It was astonishing what a difference was made by two or three weeks' training. The mere thorough performance of guard and police duties helped the men very rapidly to become soldiers. The officers studied hard, and both officers and men worked hard in the drill-field. It was, of course, rough and ready drill; but it was very efficient, and it was suited to the men who made up the regiment. Their uniform also suited them. In their slouch hats, blue flannel shirts, brown trousers, leggings and boots, with handkerchiefs knotted loosely around their necks, they looked exactly as a body of cow-boy cavalry should look. The officers speedily grew to realize that they must not be over-familiar with their men, and yet that they must care for them in every way. The men, in return, began to acquire those habits of attention to soldierly detail which mean so much in making a regiment. Above all, every man felt, and had constantly instilled into him, a keen pride of the regiment, and a resolute purpose to do his whole duty uncomplainingly, and, above all, to win glory by the way he handled himself in battle. (pp. 37-8)

And we've just run out of chapter 1! Time to get to the main show! The chapter head promised me!

Next: Cuba! Finally! With exclamation points!

Yeah, I know I only had a few more pages to cover in chapter 1, but this whole Sarah Palin thing has drawn me forcibly into the 21st century for the past few days. Not because I'm in the media or anything, just because I'm a filthy stinkin' rubbernecker.

She's going to speak at the Republican convention tonight, selling the idea of herself to the party of Teddy Roosevelt (at least that's what it says on the letterhead), and from there, it's back to Roosevelt building the legend that makes "the party of Teddy Roosevelt" a bit zingier to cap a speech with than "the part of William Howard Taft."

Newer Posts Older Posts Home