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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!


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