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Yes, this is yet another "I'm still here" post. It's not something to be proud of.

I won't promise that things aren't going to stay choppy, at least for the short term, but more updates are coming. Watch this space. Or the space just above it, since that's where the new stuff goes.

Yes, me again. Did you seriously think I'd completely abandon a future president in a coal car outside of Tampa? The agonizing hesitation between entries paid off in a way, since the History Channel documentary Spanish-American War: First Intervention—I liked it, even if some reviewers just weren't feeling the love—was parceled out through their Cable in the Classroom slot last week. It gave some much-needed gap-filler to this entry.

On to the back end of Chapter Two, where Roosevelt, Wood, and company are piling out on the quay by Port Tampa, all the trains unloading willy-nilly “wherever they happened to be, no attention whatever being paid to the possible position of the transport on which the soldiers were to go,”—and really, why should this part of the operation be any different than anything else so far? After a metaphorical once-around-the-block, Roosevelt and Wood decided if they were going to get a transport ship at all, they'd have to hustle, mainly because nobody could tell them who to ask about ship assignments. Eventually, the found out that the guy to see was the depot quartermaster, but good luck finding him, since they were assured he was asleep on one of the transports...unless he was awake and somewhere else. Of course, being thoroughly awesome individuals, they made an end-run around that nonsense, too.

At last, however, after over an hour's industrious and rapid search through this swarming ant-heap of humanity, Wood and I, who had separated, found Colonel Humphrey at nearly the same time and were alloted a transport—the Yucatan. She was out in midstream, so Wood seized a stray launch and boarded her. At the same time I happened to find out that she had previously been allotted to two other regiments—the Second Regular Infantry and the Seventy-first New York Volunteers, which latter regiment alone contained more men than could be put aboard her. Accordingly, I ran at full speed to our train; and leaving a strong guard with the baggage, I double-quicked the rest of the regiment up to the boat, just in time to board her as she came into the quay, and then to hold her against the Second Regulars and the Seventy-first, who had arrived a little too late, being a shade less ready than we were in the matter of individual initiative. There was a good deal of expostulation, but we had possession; and as the ship could not contain half of the men who had been told to go aboard her, the Seventy-first went away, as did all but four companies of the Second. These latter we took aboard. Meanwhile a General had caused our train to be unloaded at the end of the quay farthest from where the ship was; and the hungry, tired men spent most of the day in the labor of bringing down their baggage and the food and ammunition.

The officers' horses were on another boat, my own being accompanied by my colored body-servant, Marshall, the most faithful and loyal of men, himself an old soldier of the Ninth Cavalry. Marshall had been in Indian campaigns, and he christened my larger horse "Rain-in-the-Face," while the other, a pony, went by the name of "Texas." (pp. 59-60)

The troops were packed like sardines both above and below decks, and here's a good a place as any for one of the less savory details that T.R. fails to mention: the “troop carriers” were badly converted cargo ships with one toilet for every 1,256 men. Since the place probably smelled like a stable by the time they reached Santiago, it'd be easier to forget they left the horses in America. Of course, if they had horses, they might have been tempted to eat them, since “the meat was very bad indeed.” The protein portion of their rations was something called “canned fresh beef,” which was stringy and unseasoned. “Not one-fourth of it was ever eaten at all, even when the men became very hungry.”

Of course, that was all small potatoes, because they were finally underway! Except they weren't, since the next morning, the order to sail was countermanded because some brilliant officer mistook some of the ships for Spanish vessels. Meanwhile, the men (the ones packed like sardines) were cooking like Ballpark Franks, “but everyone made the best of it, and there was little or no grumbling even among the men. All, from the highest to the lowest, were bent upon perfecting themselves according to their slender opportunities.”

About the only amusement was bathing over the side, in which we indulged both in the morning and evening. Many of the men from the Far West had never seen the ocean. One of them who knew how to swim was much interested in finding that the ocean water was not drinkable. Another, who had never in his life before seen any water more extensive than the headstream of the Rio Grande, met with an accident later in the voyage; that is, his hat blew away while we were in mid-ocean, and I heard him explaining the accident to a friend in the following words: "Oh-o-h, Jim! Ma hat blew into the creek!" So we lay for nearly a week, the vessels swinging around on their anchor chains, while the hot water of the bay flowed to and fro around them and the sun burned overhead. (p. 63)

By the way, in case you were wondering, this entry is low on cheeky rejoinders because all that talk about sardines and Ballpark Franks is making me hungry.

Finally, the order to sail arrived on June 13th, and by the next day they were actually underway for parts uncertain—would it be Puerto Rico or Santiago? Well, I already wrecked the reveal by saying “Santiago” a few paragraphs ago, so hee-haw for me, I'm a jackass. And while we're on the ocean, Roosevelt's thoughts drift back to Bucky O'Neill.

[H]e, alone among his comrades, was a visionary, an articulate emotionalist. He was very quiet about it, never talking unless he was sure of his listener; but at night, when we leaned on the railing to look at the Southern Cross, he was less apt to tell tales of his hard and stormy past than he was to speak of the mysteries which lie behind courage, and fear, and love, behind animal hatred, and animal lust for the pleasures that have tangible shape. He had keenly enjoyed life, and he could breast its turbulent torrent as few men could; he was a practical man, who knew how to wrest personal success from adverse forces, among money-makers, politicians, and desperadoes alike; yet, down at bottom, what seemed to interest him most was the philosophy of life itself, of our understanding of it, and of the limitations set to that understanding. But he was as far as possible from being a mere dreamer of dreams. A stanchly loyal and generous friend, he was also exceedingly ambitious on his own account. If, by risking his life, no matter how great the risk, he could gain high military distinction, he was bent on gaining it. He had taken so many chances when death lay on the hazard, that he felt the odds were now against him; but, said he, "Who would not risk his life for a star?" Had he lived, and had the war lasted, he would surely have won the eagle, if not the star. (pp. 67-8)

Colonel, please, no spoilers...

On the morning of the 20th, they were in sight of the Cuban coast (“High mountains rose almost from the water's edge, looking huge and barren across the sea.”), and by the end of the day they found themselves anchored off of Santiago Harbor waiting for the order to land, which came on the 22nd. The landing was attempted at Daiquri, (“a squalid little village”), and everything went off with clockwork precision. Oh, who the hell am I trying to fool, the whole thing was as much of a muddle as everything that came before. “There were no facilities for landing, and the fleet did not have a quarter the number of boats it should have had for the purpose. All we could do was to stand in with the transports as close as possible, and then row ashore in our own few boats and the boats of the war-ships.” As it happened, Roosevelt's former aide (Lieutenant Sharp) was in command of a converted yacht that was part of the escort and offered to help put them ashore. Sharp's pilot knew how to get the transport within a few hundred yards of shore, which was a mile and a half better than they managed on their own.

And so, under a cover of American shells, they set off for shore, the men stocked with three days' field rations and a hundred rounds of ammunition. “Our regiment had accumulated two rapid-fire Colt automatic guns, the gift of Stevens, Kane, Tiffany, and one or two others of the New York men, and also a dynamite gun, under the immediate charge of Sergeant Borrowe.” I'm not an expert, but dynamite gun? Now we're talking! A weapon that uses compressed air to fling explosive charges really speaks to a guy who grew up in a part of the country where evil children made pipe bombs to kill time.

Then, we come to the mules and officers' horses they managed to bring with them. What complicated procedure did they use to put their limited animal resources ashore? They pushed them overboard and hoped to God they could swim. “Well, you're on your own.” (swat to the horse's rump) And as the History Channel documentary reminded me, just because a horse could swim didn't mean you could trust its sense of direction; one horse was found alive about a week later, miles off shore and still swimming in the wrong direction. “Both of Wood's got safely through. One of mine was drowned. The other, little Texas, got ashore all right.”

There's also the matter of what immediately followed: “While I was superintending the landing at the ruined dock, with Bucky O'Neill, a boatful of colored infantry soldiers capsized, and two of the men went to the bottom; Bucky O'Neill plunging in, in full uniform, to save them, but in vain.” At the start of the next chapter we're assured “Oh, don't worry, we managed to recover the rifles.”

Okay, fine, I'm sure it wasn't as bad as I made it sounds (unless it was), but hey, we're finally in Cuba!

Next: Making camp before the shooting starts. Did you expect something clever? Cut me some slack! Horses and black guys were drowning up there!

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