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It's Chapter 4 (“The Cavalry At Santiago”), and we're rapidly gaining on the day that cemented Roosevelt's legend and guaranteed his place on Mount Rushmore. I don't know if I'm more excited about San Juan Hill or that they got enough mules together to take the dynamite guns this time! Come on! Guns! That shoot dynamite! Don't tell me you wouldn't want to see that...from a safe distance.

On June 30th, the words everybody had been waiting for came down: get yourselves together, we're making a move on Santiago. As before, the men, officers included, only took what they were able to carry themselves, which included three days' provisions.

At last, toward mid-afternoon, the First and Tenth Cavalry, ahead of us, marched, and we followed. The First was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Veile, the Tenth under Lieutenant-Colonel Baldwin. Every few minutes there would be a stoppage in front, and at the halt I would make the men sit or lie down beside the track, loosening their packs. The heat was intense as we passed through the still, close jungle, which formed a wall on either hand. Occasionally we came to gaps or open spaces, where some regiment was camped, and now and then one of these regiments, which apparently had been left out of its proper place, would file into the road, breaking up our line of march. As a result, we finally found ourselves following merely the tail of the regiment ahead of us, an infantry regiment being thrust into the interval. Once or twice we had to wade streams. Darkness came on, but we still continued to march. It was about eight o'clock when we turned to the left and climbed El Poso hill, on whose summit there was a ruined ranch and sugar factory, now, of course, deserted. Here I found General Wood, who was arranging for the camping of the brigade. Our own arrangements for the night were simple. I extended each troop across the road into the jungle, and then the men threw down their belongings where they stood and slept on their arms. Fortunately, there was no rain. Wood and I curled up under our rain-coats on the saddle-blankets, while his two aides, Captain A. L. Mills and Lieutenant W. N. Ship, slept near us. We were up before dawn and getting breakfast. Mills and Ship had nothing to eat, and they breakfasted with Wood and myself, as we had been able to get some handfuls of beans, and some coffee and sugar, as well as the ordinary bacon and hardtack.

We did not talk much, for though we were in ignorance as to precisely what the day would bring forth, we knew that we should see fighting. We had slept soundly enough, although, of course, both Wood and I during the night had made a round of the sentries, he of the brigade, and I of the regiment; and I suppose that, excepting among hardened veterans, there is always a certain feeling of uneasy excitement the night before the battle. (pp. 113-5)

General Wheeler was a bit under the weather, and although he was out at the front, he didn't directly command, which leads to another “devolution of command” passage. You'll forgive me if I take a flyer on rattling that off; these things are involved enough as it is.

In the morning, the guns were brought into position on a hill crest pointing in the direction of Santiago, and the American and Cuban troops were falling into formation. The only orders they had at the outset was that Lawton's force was taking the main fight to El Caney, off to the right by several miles, while Roosevelt's force and the artillery were to be used as a diversion. (The most famous diversion there ever was(!!!), of course, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.) At 6 a.m., the first cannon sounded from El Caney, and immediately the guns from their position answered. “Wood and I were sitting together, and Wood remarked to me that he wished our brigade could be moved somewhere else, for we were directly in line of any return fire aimed by the Spaniards at the battery. Hardly had he spoken when there was a peculiar whistling, singing sound in the air, and immediately afterward the noise of something exploding over our heads. It was shrapnel from the Spanish batteries.” This was the first volley of a fifteen or twenty minute barrage which wounded four of Roosevelt's men, as well as two or three regulars (one of which lost a leg), and—I know I'm going to get it for this—raised a big ol' goose-egg on Roosevelt's wrist. The Cubans weren't quite so lucky, as another shell landed right on their position, killing and wounding several while scattering the rest “like guinea-hens.” And here I thought we'd get through five pages without a negative image of the Cuban rebels. Silly me.

After things cooled down, Wood formed his brigade, with Roosevelt's regiment at the frontmost, and in columns of four they hit the trail for the San Juan River. “The Spaniards in the trenches and block-houses on top of the hills in front were already firing on the brigade in a desultory fashion.” “Desultory” is an interesting choice of words. “Did we hit anyone yet?” “Eh. I'm just runnin' down the clock.”

And here's where the fun starts. And by “fun,” I mean “something grisly that I can nevertheless get my smartass teeth into.” Regardez:

Our orders had been of the vaguest kind, being simply to march to the right and connect with Lawton—with whom, of course, there was no chance of our connecting. No reconnoissance (sic) had been made, and the exact position and strength of the Spaniards was not known. A captive balloon was up in the air at this moment, but it was worse than useless. A previous proper reconnoissance and proper look-out from the hills would have given us exact information. As it was, Generals Kent, Sumner, and Hawkins had to be their own reconnoissance, and they fought their troops so well that we won anyhow.

I was now ordered to cross the ford, march half a mile or so to the right, and then halt and await further orders; and I promptly hurried my men across, for the fire was getting hot, and the captive balloon, to the horror of everybody, was coming down to the ford. Of course, it was a special target for the enemy's fire. I got my men across before it reached the ford. There it partly collapsed and remained, causing severe loss of life, as it indicated the exact position where the Tenth and the First Cavalry, and the infantry, were crossing. (pp. 119-20)

Since to my eyes, this is the most memorable “what the hell?” moment of the whole operation so far, a little background is called for here. The US Army had been experimenting with manned recon balloons since the Civil War, and the balloon section, recently created under the supervision of the Signal Corps, accompanied the troops down to Cuba, arriving at field headquarters on the afternoon of the 29th. Once the 28 man section got their equipment unloaded (what they were allowed to unload, anyway), they patched their single leaky balloon as best as they could, they made a few observations of the countryside ahead (reconnaissance, remember, was a weak point of the operation so far). That was all fine and dandy, until Lt. Col. Derby, chief engineer of the 5th Corps, decided the balloon really needed to be right on the front lines. I have no idea what you'd call that type of decision in military terms, but I think the civilian term is an insanely bad idea.

At first (according to the Army Communicator article linked above), the balloon did exactly what it was sent to do: help spot troop positions on the enemy side. However, the guys manning the Spanish guns correctly figured out that that big ol' balloon probably showed the furthest American advance, and made a dandy range marker to boot. So they just started firing at that, managing to do all kinds of damage to the Americans with almost pinpoint precision. The balloon wasn't a bad idea, don't get me wrong, but somebody got a little too overambitious.

And now, back to the Roosevelt part of the story, which is still in progress and still under Spanish fire. “After awhile I came to a sunken lane, and as by this time the First Brigade had stopped and was engaged in a stand-up fight, I halted my men and sent back word for orders.” And we finally catch sight of a Famous Hill. Or at least it would be famous if people learned how to tell this story correctly.

Captain Mills was with me. The sunken lane, which had a wire fence on either side, led straight up toward, and between, the two hills in our front, the hill on the left, which contained heavy block-houses, being farther away from us than the hill on our right, which we afterward grew to call Kettle Hill, and which was surmounted merely by some large ranch buildings or haciendas, with sunken brick-lined walls and cellars. I got the men as well-sheltered as I could. Many of them lay close under the bank of the lane, others slipped into the San Juan River and crouched under its hither bank, while the rest lay down behind the patches of bushy jungle in the tall grass. The heat was intense, and many of the men were already showing signs of exhaustion. The sides of the hills in front were bare; but the country up to them was, for the most part, covered with such dense jungle that in charging through it no accuracy of formation could possibly be preserved. (pp. 120-1)

Yeah. Kettle Hill. San Juan Hill was the other one. I can't blame them. That just doesn't sing like “San Juan.”

Anyway, the fight was on in earnest, and Roosevelt observed that they were being hit with two types of shells: the Mauser bullets, which made a “small, clean hole” that healed nicely, and a brass-jacketed bullet shot from a .45 rifle which exploded with a pop, making a jagged sheet of shrapnel which made “a ghastly wound.” T.R. was convinced that the Spanish fire wasn't being targeted so much as raked across the general area, but very few of the wounded who didn't get shot through the heart, spine, or brain actually died at this point. Not that there weren't more than a few of those, and one of the dead under fire was already revealed a few chapters ago.

The most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged. Bucky O'Neill was strolling up and down in front of his men, smoking his cigarette, for he was inveterately addicted to the habit. He had a theory that an officer ought never to take cover—a theory which was, of course, wrong, though in a volunteer organization the officers should certainly expose themselves very fully, simply for the effect on the men; our regimental toast on the transport running, “The officers; may the war last until each is killed, wounded, or promoted.” As O'Neill moved to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said, “Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you.” O'Neill took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, “Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn't made that will kill me.” A little later he discussed for a moment with one of the regular officers the direction from which the Spanish fire was coming. As he turned on his heel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out at the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone out into the darkness. (pp. 123-4)

As with any story too dripping with dramatic irony to be real, there are sources (even among the battle survivors) that say it didn't quite happen that way, but who's telling this story, anyhow? Raise your hand if you were there. Anybody? Anybody? Yeah, I didn't think so. Even if it's Roosevelt goosing the story for maximum impact, it makes for a good yarn, which is what we're looking for here, if you remember.

In a variation on the whole command devolution theme these battle stories have been drenched in so far, O'Neill's men were temporarily at a loss regarding whom to follow; one man, Henry Bardshar, attached himself to Roosevelt as his orderly. In the meantime, Roosevelt himself was getting a little impatient, and was about to use his own initiative (again) to march his guys toward the guns, when Lt. Col. Dorst finally settled it with the command to support the regulars in the assault on the hills.

General Sumner had obtained authority to advance from Lieutenant Miley, who was representing General Shafter at the front, and was in the thick of the fire. The General at once ordered the first brigade to advance on the hills, and the second to support it. He himself was riding his horse along the lines, superintending the fight. Later I overheard a couple of my men talking together about him. What they said illustrates the value of a display of courage among the officers in hardening their soldiers; for their theme was how, as they were lying down under a fire which they could not return, and were in consequence feeling rather nervous, General Sumner suddenly appeared on horseback, sauntering by quite unmoved; and, said one of the men, “That made us feel all right. If the General could stand it, we could.” (pp. 125-6)

You don't have to tell a guy like Roosevelt twice...or even once, sometimes. “The instant I received the order I sprang on my horse and then my "crowded hour" began.”

Next: “My 'crowded hour.'” And no, that's not the title of a Steve Miller song.

Chapter 3 is still raging all around us, but for the moment the torrent of bullets flying around Roosevelt and company has slowed to a drizzle, a situation unique to his part of the line. T.R. wasn't exactly clear where the battle lines were at this point, or where the main opposition was. Obviously this just wouldn't do, so when they spotted some cavalry regulars, Sergeant Lee of Troop K climbed a tree and waved the troop guidon from the highest point. They waved theirs back, and satisfied at having established a connection with the regulars, Roosevelt led a troop back to the path to find Wood and the rest of the regiment.

Wood, as it turned out, had pushed right into the thick of it. “When the firing opened some of the men began to curse. 'Don't swear—shoot!' growled Wood, as he strode along the path leading his horse, and everyone laughed and became cool again.” Meanwhile, the advance guard ran up against the Spanish advance, and then...

Here, at the very outset of our active service, we suffered the loss of two as gallant men as ever wore uniform. Sergeant Hamilton Fish at the extreme front, while holding the point up to its work and firing back where the Spanish advance guards lay, was shot and instantly killed; three of the men with him were likewise hit. Captain Capron, leading the advance guard in person, and displaying equal courage and coolness in the way that he handled them, was also struck, and died a few minutes afterward. The command of the troop then devolved upon the First Lieutenant, young Thomas. Like Capron, Thomas was the fifth in line from father to son who had served in the American army, though in his case it was in the volunteer and not the regular service; the four preceding generations had furnished soldiers respectively to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. In a few minutes Thomas was shot through the leg, and the command devolved upon the Second Lieutenant, Day (a nephew of "Albemarle" Cushing, he who sunk the great Confederate ram). Day, who proved himself to be one of our most efficient officers, continued to handle the men to the best possible advantage, and brought them steadily forward. L Troop was from the Indian Territory. The whites, Indians, and half-breeds in it, all fought with equal courage. Captain McClintock was hurried forward to its relief with his Troop B of Arizona men. In a few minutes he was shot through the leg and his place was taken by his First Lieutenant, Wilcox, who handled his men in the same soldierly manner that Day did.

Among the men who showed marked courage and coolness was the tall color-sergeant, Wright; the colors were shot through three times. (pp. 95-6)

As Roosevelt was leading G Troop back up the trail, he passed Fish “as he lay with glazed eyes under the rank tropic growth to one side of the trail.”

When they found the front, he found “a very thin skirmish line” doing what advancing they could over open ground, with Wood leading his horse through the thick of it and somehow managing not to get hit. And here, once again, we discover why cowboys don't use swords: “I had left (my horse) at the beginning of the action, and was only regretting that I had not left my sword with it, as it kept getting between my legs when I was tearing my way through the jungle. I never wore it again in action.”

Major Brodie, who you might remember was at the front of everything when the bullets started flying, was still close at hand, but not for long, as he was spun around by a bullet which shattered his arm. At first he refused to go to the rear to get patched up, but some things just won't be denied, and Wood soon directed Roosevelt to take over Brodie's left wing for the next push.

I now had under me Captains Luna, Muller, and Houston, and I began to take them forward, well spread out, through the high grass of a rather open forest. I noticed Goodrich, of Houston's troop, tramping along behind his men, absorbed in making them keep at good intervals from one another and fire slowly with careful aim. As I came close up to the edge of the troop, he caught a glimpse of me, mistook me for one of his own skirmishers who was crowding in too closely, and called out, “Keep your interval, sir; keep your interval, and go forward.” (pp. 97-8)

“A perfect hail of bullets” was raining upon them, and once he got a good fix on the surroundings, Roosevelt became convinced they were being fired upon from a few building that were part of a ranch on the front, but that damn smokeless powder (the wonder of the age and part of any Rough Riders drinking game) was cutting the legs out from under them. The Spanish bullets were overshooting their position, however, so the men were suffering more from heat exhaustion than actual casualties at this point. “As we advanced, the cover became a little thicker and I lost touch of the main body under Wood; so I halted and we fired industriously at the ranch buildings ahead of us, some five hundred yards off. Then we heard cheering on the right, and I supposed that this meant a charge on the part of Wood's men, so I sprang up and ordered the men to rush the buildings ahead of us. They came forward with a will.” After a quick exchange of fire (most of which went over their heads) the opposition ceased entirely, and when they stormed the building, they found two Spanish sharpshooters, each shot through the head. In a footnote later on, Roosevelt speculates these were guerrillas instead of regular army.

(Man. Have I mentioned lately this stuff just doesn't lend itself to comedy at all?)

Having taken out the object of their immediate infliction, confusion reigned (doesn't that sound familiar). Although the firing had died down, the jungle forest was so thick it was impossible to tell what was going on where, and for how long it would keep going. To add to the commotion, one of the men arrived with the information that Wood had died in the battle, which would've been a good place for Roosevelt to drop a cliffhanger if he was playing that game, except he obviously wasn't since he tells us in the same breath that it later turned out to be a false report. Since that meant the command fell to him, however, he immediately took charge, ordering the filling of canteens, making sure the heat exhaustion cases were tended to...oh, and running into the not-dead-after-all Wood, who told him the Spanish had retreated and the battle was over, with the Americans being that much closer to Santiago. While while the late arrivals complain about not getting a chance to fight, T.R. does the numbers for us.

The Rough Riders had lost eight men killed and thirty-four wounded, aside from two or three who were merely scratched and whose wounds were not reported. The First Cavalry, white, lost seven men killed and eight wounded; the Tenth Cavalry, colored, one man killed and ten wounded; so, out of 964 men engaged on our side, 16 were killed and 52 wounded. The Spaniards were under General Rubin, with, as second in command, Colonel Alcarez. They had two guns, and eleven companies of about a hundred men each: three belonging to the Porto Rico regiment, three to the San Fernandino, two to the Talavero, two being so-called mobilized companies from the mineral districts, and one a company of engineers; over twelve hundred men in all, together with two guns. (pp. 100-1)

The battle safely out of the way, Roosevelt then spends the next few pages picking nits with the Spanish account of the aforementioned General Antero Rubín, who claims to have repulsed the attack in his book, the rapscallion. The heavily condensed version: Rubin got the details all wrong, claimed the opposing force was five times its actual size, and counted his dead kind of funny, too. T.R. thankfully stops short of claiming Rubín's mom picks out weird clothes for him. While scoffing at all this, he grants that some of the American official reports may have been inflated when they counted some of the Spanish dead two or three times, which is a hell of a trick considering the total number was less than ten.

Following on the above theme, the afternoon's meal was also a load of beans found on a Spanish mule (again with the mules! Oh well, might as well stop fighting it. And no, I'm not implying that Rubín was that stubborn.). Then was the matter of the wounded and dead, and just as Roosevelt didn't spare the action earlier, he doesn't spare the cost of the fight now.

Dr. Church had himself gone out to the firing-line during the fight, and carried to the rear some of the worst wounded on his back or in his arms. Those who could walk had walked in to where the little field-hospital of the regiment was established on the trail. We found all our dead and all the badly wounded. Around one of the latter the big, hideous land-crabs had gathered in a gruesome ring, waiting for life to be extinct. One of our own men and most of the Spanish dead had been found by the vultures before we got to them; and their bodies were mangled, the eyes and wounds being torn.

The Rough Rider who had been thus treated was in Bucky O'Neill's troop; and as we looked at the body, O'Neill turned to me and asked, "Colonel, isn't it Whitman who says of the vultures that 'they pluck the eyes of princes and tear the flesh of kings'?" I answered that I could not place the quotation. Just a week afterward we were shielding his own body from the birds of prey.

[...]Thomas Isbell, a half-breed Cherokee in the squad under Hamilton Fish, was among the first to shoot and be shot at. He was wounded no less than seven times. The first wound was received by him two minutes after he had fired his first shot, the bullet going through his neck. The second hit him in the left thumb. The third struck near his right hip, passing entirely through the body. The fourth bullet (which was apparently from a Remington and not from a Mauser) went into his neck and lodged against the bone, being afterward cut out. The fifth bullet again hit his left hand. The sixth scraped his head and the seventh his neck. He did not receive all of the wounds at the same time, over half an hour elapsing between the first and the last. Up to receiving the last wound he had declined to leave the firing-line, but by that time he had lost so much blood that he had to be sent to the rear. The man's wiry toughness was as notable as his courage. (pp. 104-6)

The wounded were carried back to an improvised open-air hospital at Siboney the next day; those that could walk did. One of the most severely wounded was the correspondent Edward Marshall, who was shot through the spine (!!!) but was still dictating his report of the battle while still conscious. It's again stressed here how there was no complaining in the hospital, with the men helping each other in whatever way they could. Of course, he can understand how somebody else would get the wrong impression from the more underbellied members of the popular press (and those evil novel-writers): “At the front everyone behaved quite simply and took things as they came, in a matter-of-course way; but there was doubtless, as is always the case, a good deal of panic and confusion in the rear where the wounded, the stragglers, a few of the packers, and two or three newspaper correspondents were, and in consequence the first reports sent back to the coast were of a most alarming character, describing, with minute inaccuracy, how we had run into ambush, etc.” MEDIA! (shakes fist at the empty air in outrage) Among the heavily confused were the mules pulling the big rapid-fire guns, who took off into the jungle at the outset and weren't found until after the Spanish pulled back.

The next morning, they buried the seven dead Rough Riders in a common grave as the men sang “Rock of Ages” and the vultures circled overhead. As General Young was struck with “the fever,” Wood took charge of the brigade, leaving Roosevelt in command of the regiment.

There was nothing like enough transportation with the army, whether in the way of wagons or mule-trains; exactly as there had been no sufficient number of landing-boats with the transports. The officers' baggage had come up, but none of us had much, and the shelter-tents proved only a partial protection against the terrific downpours of rain. These occurred almost every afternoon, and turned the camp into a tarn, and the trails into torrents and quagmires. We were not given quite the proper amount of food, and what we did get, like most of the clothing issued us, was fitter for the Klondyke than for Cuba. We got enough salt pork and hardtack for the men, but not the full ration of coffee and sugar, and nothing else. I organized a couple of expeditions back to the seacoast, taking the strongest and best walkers and also some of the officers' horses and a stray mule or two, and brought back beans and canned tomatoes. These I got partly by great exertions on my part, and partly by the aid of Colonel Weston of the Commissary Department, a particularly energetic man whose services were of great value. A silly regulation forbade my purchasing canned vegetables, etc., except for the officers; and I had no little difficulty in getting round this regulation, and purchasing (with my own money, of course) what I needed for the men.

One of the men I took with me on one of these trips was Sherman Bell, the former Deputy Marshal of Cripple Creek, and Wells-Fargo Express rider. In coming home with his load, through a blinding storm, he slipped and opened the old rupture. The agony was very great and one of his comrades took his load. He himself, sometimes walking, and sometimes crawling, got back to camp, where Dr. Church fixed him up with a spike bandage, but informed him that he would have to be sent back to the States when an ambulance came along. The ambulance did not come until the next day, which was the day before we marched to San Juan. It arrived after nightfall, and as soon as Bell heard it coming, he crawled out of the hospital tent into the jungle, where he lay all night; and the ambulance went off without him. The men shielded him just as school-boys would shield a companion, carrying his gun, belt, and bedding; while Bell kept out of sight until the column started, and then staggered along behind it. I found him the morning of the San Juan fight. He told me that he wanted to die fighting, if die he must, and I hadn't the heart to send him back. He did splendid service that day, and afterward in the trenches, and though the rupture opened twice again, and on each occasion he was within a hair's breadth of death, he escaped, and came back with us to the United States. (pp. 110-12)

And ambulance dodging is as good a place as any to stop for now. For another take on Las Guasimas, we can always lean on Wikipdedia. Since it explains why the Cuban rebels didn't come out for support, which struck such a sour note in this chapter, it's highly recommended.

Next: The cavalry at Santiago...and a bunch of hills over by San Juan. I'm sure if they're important, somebody will tell us.

Before we move into the actual battle (shades of PRI's Marketplace), let's do the numbers: “General Young had in his immediate command a squadron of the First Regular Cavalry, two hundred and forty-four strong, under the command of Major Bell, and a squadron of the Tenth Regular Cavalry, two hundred and twenty strong, under the command of Major Norvell. He also had two Hotchkiss mountain guns, under Captain Watson of the Tenth.” For those who didn't follow the links, the Hotchkiss guns were carriage mounted light artillery designed especially for rough country. The light mountain gun was a 1.65-inch (42 mm) piece with a range of up to two miles. The shells it fired sound like a really nasty piece of work: “The common shell would explode on contact showering the enemy with jagged shell fragments. The canister would rip open at the muzzle spraying the enemy with a fan shaped pattern of hardened lead 1/2 inch balls. This projectile was used at close range.” Yikes.

Did I mention they found something? Well, they did.

It was at half-past seven that Captain (A. L.) Mills, with a patrol of two men in advance, discovered the Spaniards as they lay across where the two roads came together, some of them in pits, others simply lying in the heavy jungle, while on their extreme right they occupied a big ranch. Where General Young struck them they held a high ridge a little to the left of his front, this ridge being separated by a deep ravine from the hill-trail still farther to the left, down which the Rough Riders were advancing. That is, their forces occupied a range of high hills in the form of an obtuse angle, the salient being toward the space between the American forces, while there were advance parties along both roads. There were stone breastworks flanked by block-houses on that part of the ridge where the two trails came together. The place was called Las Guasimas, from trees of that name in the neighborhood. (pp. 81-2)

“Obtuse angle”? I was told there would be no math...

The attack didn't begin until around eight o'clock to allow Wood to get into position, and in the meantime General Wheeler was brought up to speed on the plan. They led with the Hotchkiss guns while the Spanish troops fired back “almost as on parade,” and do you remember that smokeless powder that Wood was so eager to get? The Spanish were also well stocked with the stuff, which made it harder to get a fix and return fire, so we can assume they were both in the same boat on that account. Nevertheless, Young began to push the men forward, but it was so hard to see what was going on in the jungle that the support troops eventually got mixed in with the vanguard. But don't read into that a more general breakdown, since Roosevelt tells us there were no stragglers in the regulars (“the men followed their leaders with the splendid courage always shown by the American regular soldier”), and were so unshakable that not one of them used more than ten rounds during the battle.

At this point, showing how meticulous this record is intended to be, we get a quick list of the handoffs of command during the battle that reminded me more of the “begats” which opened the New Testament, but it shows a continuity of leadership that wouldn't be broken.

Major Bell, who commanded the squadron, had his leg broken by a shot as he was leading his men. Captain Wainwright succeeded to the command of the squadron. Captain Knox was shot in the abdomen. He continued for some time giving orders to his troops, and refused to allow a man in the firing-line to assist him to the rear. His First Lieutenant, Byram, was himself shot, but continued to lead his men until the wound and the heat overcame him and he fell in a faint. The advance was pushed forward under General Young's eye with the utmost energy, until the enemy's voices could be heard in the entrenchments. The Spaniards kept up a very heavy firing, but the regulars would not be denied, and as they climbed the ridges the Spaniards broke and fled. (pp. 84-5)

Passing around the glory is all fine and dandy, but this book is called The Rough Riders, not General Young On A Mule In Cuba. Where's the guy across from the title page? He's had troubles of his own, since his still-footsore horsemen-minus-horses needed to march up a steep hill, and a number of them kept falling out of line. Thanks to a combination of these stragglers and a detail that was left behind to guard the supplies on shore, the Rough Riders went into their first real charge with less than 500 men. And while they managed to get enough precious mule-power to bring along some Colt automatic guns (the “Potato Diggers,” among the first generation of automatic machine guns used by the United States), they had to leave the dynamite gun behind “as mules for it could not be obtained in time.” Dammit, if it turns out Roosevelt dangled a provocatively-named piece of artillery in front of me just to yank it away, I'm going to get salty. We already lost the horses and most of the mules, throw me a bone over here!

With Captain Capron's troop in the lead, Sergeant Hamilton Fish and three other men at the frontmost, they made their way through a jungle trail so narrow, they had to march single-file. With them were two civilian journalists, Edward Marshall and Richard Harding Davis, who held their own with the soldiers. And just to keep the well of goodwill poisoned, we can't let this one slip by: “There was a Cuban guide at the head of the column, but he ran away as soon as the fighting began.”

But enough of the locals, let's have some local color!

After reaching the top of the hill the walk was very pleasant. Now and then we came to glades or rounded hill-shoulders, whence we could look off for some distance. The tropical forest was very beautiful, and it was a delight to see the strange trees, the splendid royal palms and a tree which looked like a flat-topped acacia, and which was covered with a mass of brilliant scarlet flowers. We heard many bird-notes, too, the cooing of doves and the call of a great brush cuckoo. Afterward we found that the Spanish guerillas imitated these bird-calls, but the sounds we heard that morning, as we advanced through the tropic forest, were from birds, not guerillas, until we came right up to the Spanish lines. It was very beautiful and very peaceful, and it seemed more as if we were off on some hunting excursion than as if were about to go into a sharp and bloody little fight.

Of course, we accommodated our movements to those of the men in front. After marching for somewhat over an hour, we suddenly came to a halt, and immediately afterward Colonel Wood sent word down the line that the advance guard had come upon a Spanish outpost. Then the order was passed to fill the magazines, which was done. (pp. 86-7)

Wood gave orders for Roosevelt to deploy three troops to the right of the trail, where the jungle was thickest, while Major Brodie would take the other troops to the left where there was something close to open ground. All of this was barely in place when “a crash in the front announced that the fight was on.”

Meanwhile I had gone forward with Llewellen, Greenway, Kane and their troopers until we came out on a kind of shoulder, jutting over a ravine, which separated us from a great ridge on our right. It was on this ridge that the Spaniards had some of their intrenchments, and it was just beyond this ridge that the Valley Road led, up which the regulars were at that very time pushing their attack; but, of course, at the moment we knew nothing of this. The effect of the smokeless powder 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. Moreover, as we advanced we were, of course, exposed, and they could see us and fire. 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 some time before the men fired; Llewellen, Kane, and I anxiously studying the ground to see where our opponents were, and utterly unable to find out.

We could hear the faint reports of the Hotchkiss guns and the reply of two Spanish guns, and the Mauser bullets were singing through the trees over our heads, making a noise like the humming of telephone wires; but exactly where they came from we could not tell. The Spaniards were firing high and for the most part by volleys, and their shooting was not very good, which perhaps was not to be wondered at, as they were a long way off. Gradually, however, they began to get the range and occasionally one of our men would crumple up. In no case did the man make any outcry when hit, seeming to take it as a matter of course; at the outside, making only such a remark as: "Well, I got it that time." With hardly an exception, there was no sign of flinching. I say with hardly an exception, for though I personally did not see an instance, and though all the men at the front behaved excellently, yet there were a very few men who lagged behind and drifted back to the trail over which we had come. The character of the fight put a premium upon such conduct, and afforded a very severe test for raw troops; because the jungle was so dense that as we advanced in open order, every man was, from time to time, left almost alone and away from the eyes of his officers. There was unlimited opportunity for dropping out without attracting notice, while it was peculiarly hard to be exposed to the fire of an unseen foe, and to see men dropping under it, and yet to be, for some time, unable to return it, and also to be entirely ignorant of what was going on in any other part of the field. (pp. 88-90)

It was at this point that Richard Harding Davis, in a remarkably un-Geraldolike moment, succeeded in finding the Spanish entrenchments with his field glasses by finding the tops of their hats. Using three or four of his best shooters, they managed to flush out enough of them to know they were onto something. After a round of quick firing, the Spaniards retreated to another position, followed by another large body of men who T.R. later discovered were more Spaniards. At the time, however, he thought they were the Cuban forces Young had been promised, since he didn't get the message that they slept in or had to drive their mom to the farmacia...y'know, whatever makes them look worse in the post-game report. The short version is that they didn't shoot at the second group because they didn't know who they'd be shooting at..

Once the action heats up, it becomes increasingly difficult—inadvisable, even—for me to do much more than artful editing, especially when we run across passages like these.

At every halt we took advantage of the cover, sinking down behind any mound, bush, or tree trunk in the neighborhood. The trees, of course, furnished no protection from the Mauser bullets. Once I was standing behind a large palm with my head out to one side, very fortunately; for a bullet passed through the palm, filling my left eye and ear with the dust and splinters.

No man was allowed to drop out to help the wounded. It was hard to leave them there in the jungle, where they might not be found again until the vultures and the land-crabs came, but war is a grim game and there was no choice. One of the men shot was Harry Heffner of G Troop, who was mortally wounded through the hips. He fell without uttering a sound, and two of his companions dragged him behind a tree. Here he propped himself up and asked to be given his canteen and his rifle, which I handed to him. He then again began shooting, and continued loading and firing until the line moved forward and we left him alone, dying in the gloomy shade. When we found him again, after the fight, he was dead.

At one time, as I was out of touch with that part of my wing commanded by Jenkins and O'Neill, I sent Greenway, with Sergeant Russell, a New Yorker, and trooper Rowland, a New Mexican cow-puncher, down in the valley to find out where they were. To do this the three had to expose themselves to a very severe fire, but they were not men to whom this mattered. Russell was killed; the other two returned and reported to me the position of Jenkins and O'Neill. They then resumed their places on the firing-line. After awhile I noticed blood coming out of Rowland's side and discovered that he had been shot, although he did not seem to be taking any notice of it. He said the wound was only slight, but as I saw he had broken a rib, I told him to go to the rear to the hospital. After some grumbling he went, but fifteen minutes later he was back on the firing-line again and said he could not find the hospital—which I doubted. However, I then let him stay until the end of the fight. (pp. 92-3)

And here, good friends and better strangers, is where I just fall flat. This is all the heaviest of stuff, with guys unflinchingly paying the gravest price—the textbook definition of “red-blooded,” in other words. It's also ultra-manly to the point where your bookmark turns hairy. Meanwhile, my biggest physical agony of the past twelve months that didn't involve rolling over in bed the wrong way was when I hand-washed a glass with a cracked rim and cut the bejeezus out of my thumb just enough to get some impressive bleeding action going for the next half-hour or so. Hoo-boy, was I ever a wreck for the rest of the day! My pinafore was all stained with salty tears, and only a cookie and a story could ease my simpering.

So yeah, I'm not stupid enough to get all glib about the actual battles. You don't mind if I still rag on the storytelling, do you? Because if I don't have something to react to, I might as well turn this into an all-poetry blog, and as we all know, that's a path straight into the mouth of madness.

Next: the dramatic conclusion of our first battle (and possibly Chapter 3)! Also, my inner smartass comes out of its hole once the shooting stops!

(Gun info found at The Spanish-American War Centennial Website...because sometimes Wikipedia just isn't up to the job.)

Okay, where were we again? Oh yes, Cuba. Undaunted, we march on...

Since Chapter 3 is titled “General Young's Fight at Las Guasimas,” we obviously need to be introduced to General Young himself, and since it's been a few pages since the topic came up, we just as obviously need to be reintroduced to the unavoidable inevitability of the conflict at hand.

Just before leaving Tampa we had been brigaded with the First (white) and Tenth (colored) Regular Cavalry under Brigadier-General S. B. M. Young. We were the Second Brigade, the First Brigade consisting of the Third and Sixth (white), and the Ninth (colored) Regular Cavalry under Brigadier-General Sumner. The two brigades of the cavalry division were under Major-General Joseph Wheeler, the gallant old Confederate cavalry commander.

General Young was—and is—as fine a type of the American fighting soldier as a man can hope to see. He had been in command, as Colonel, of the Yellowstone National Park, and I had seen a good deal of him in connection therewith, as I was President of the Boone and Crockett Club, an organization devoted to hunting big game, to its preservation, and to forest preservation. During the preceding winter, while he was in Washington, he had lunched with me at the Metropolitan Club, Wood being one of the other guests. Of course, we talked of the war, which all of us present believed to be impending, and Wood and I told him we were going to make every effort to get in, somehow; and he answered that we must be sure to get into his brigade, if he had one, and he would guarantee to show us fighting. None of us forgot the conversation. As soon as our regiment was raised General Young applied for it to be put in his brigade. We were put in; and he made his word good; for he fought and won the first fight on Cuban soil.

Yet, even though under him, we should not have been in this fight at all if we had not taken advantage of the chance to disembark among the first troops, and if it had not been for Wood's energy in pushing our regiment to the front. (pp. 73-4)

Anyway, enough is enough! We're finally in Cuba, and this time I mean it! Boots on the ground and everything! Don't give me any lip or we'll take the next boat out to the Bahamas instead!

Men were landing by boatloads, marching a quarter of a mile inland to make room for the next wave. “The country would have offered very great difficulties to an attacking force had there been resistance. It was little but a mass of rugged and precipitous hills, covered for the most part by dense jungle. Five hundred resolute men could have prevented the disembarkation at very little cost to themselves.” However, the main enemy forces at Daiquiri took off before the shelling began, so instead the Americans were greeted by hundreds of “tatterdemailons” that made up the local insurgency, armed with anything they could find that would shoot. Here, o patient reader, is one of those moments where you can see the next hundred years (not to mention an ugly undercurrent in the text) start to unfold: “It was evident, at a glance, that they would be no use in serious fighting, but it was hoped that they might be of service in scouting. From a variety of causes, however, they turned out to be nearly useless, even for this purpose, so far as the Santiago campaign was concerned.” Well, that's just a dandy attitude, all things considered.

While General Lawton's men pushed on in advance, the first night's encampment was on a dusty plain ringed with jungle and palms, and since they didn't have their mule train, the men had to make do with what they could carry, while the officers were equipped (if that's the right word) with nothing more than a mackintosh and a toothbrush. Scoff if you like, but think what MacGruber could do with that and a can of Pepsi! Maybe that's how the Maine blew up...

The next morning was unloading day, but while that operation was a success, there wasn't much they could do with most of it. “If we had been allowed to take our mule-train, we could have kept the whole cavalry division supplied.” Yes, yes, and if you had an ice cream truck, you could draw the Spanish out with the little tune and lay 'em flat with doped Eskimo Pies. Enough about your stinkin' mules already!

(Deep breath...get your thumbnail out of the page...)

Wheeler, “a regular game-cock,” was eager to get first blood and to get his men to the vanguard when the fighting started, so when he heard that Lawton had laid eyes on some of the Spanish forces, he just had to check for himself. When he was satisfied they weren't going anywhere, Wheeler made plans to get the cavalry into position for the following morning, managing to get them to the extreme front by the time the action heated up. By the time Colonel Wood gave the order for their regiment to set out, Roosevelt had found Texas—his personal horse that didn't drown—and led his squadron mounted, as was Wood at the head of them all. Of course, the main body of the regiment wasn't nearly that lucky. “The men were not in very good shape for marching, and moreover they were really horsemen, the majority being cowboys who had never done much walking. The heat was intense and their burdens very heavy. Yet there was very little straggling. Whenever we halted they instantly took off their packs and threw themselves on their backs. Then at the word to start they would spring into place again.” And I'm sad to say that the first thing I thought of was “Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down,” except T.R., always one step ahead, quickly makes me regret my snarky insolence.

That night's encampment was livened up by torrential rains, which were at least good enough to hold off until the men finished their coffee. After the fires were relighted, we hit the aforementioned insolence-regretting passage.

Wood had gone off to see General Young, as General Wheeler had instructed General Young to hit the Spaniards, who were about four miles away, as soon after daybreak as possible. Meanwhile I strolled over to Captain Capron's troop. He and I, with his two lieutenants, Day and Thomas, stood around the fire, together with two or three non-commissioned officers and privates; among the latter were Sergeant Hamilton Fish and Trooper Elliot Cowdin, both of New York. Cowdin, together with two other troopers, Harry Thorpe and Munro Ferguson, had been on my Oyster Bay Polo Team some years before. Hamilton Fish had already shown himself one of the best non-commissioned officers we had. A huge fellow, of enormous strength and endurance and dauntless courage, he took naturally to a soldier's life. He never complained and never shirked any duty of any kind, while his power over his men was great. So good a sergeant had he made that Captain Capron, keen to get the best men under him, took him when he left Tampa—for Fish's troop remained behind. As we stood around the flickering blaze that night I caught myself admiring the splendid bodily vigor of Capron and Fish—the captain and the sergeant. Their frames seemed of steel, to withstand all fatigue; they were flushed with health; in their eyes shone high resolve and fiery desire. Two finer types of the fighting man, two better representatives of the American soldier, there were not in the whole army. Capron was going over his plans for the fight when we should meet the Spaniards on the morrow, Fish occasionally asking a question. They were both filled with eager longing to show their mettle, and both were rightly confident that if they lived they would win honorable renown and would rise high in their chosen profession. Within twelve hours they both were dead. (pp. 79-80)

And with the consequences of war, even a “splendid” one, once again fixed firmly in our heads, Roosevelt finds out from Wood the plan for the next morning: “We were to start by sunrise toward Santiago, General Young taking four troops of the Tenth and four troops of the First up the road which led through the valley; while Colonel Wood was to lead our eight troops along a hill-trail to the left, which joined the valley road about four miles on, at a point where the road went over a spur of the mountain chain and from thence went down hill toward Santiago. The Spaniards had their lines at the junction of the road and the trail.”

Here Roosevelt does the “big man” thing by letting Young's part of the first battle jerk the curtain on the combat phase of this yarn, but not before mentioning that General Castillo, commander of the Cuban forces, had promised a complement of eight hundred of his guys if Young and his people did the necessary reconnaissance to get a feel for the Spanish troop strength. “This promised Cuban aid did not, however, materialize, the Cubans, who had been beaten back by the Spaniards the day before, not appearing on the firing-line until the fight was over.” Call me skeptical, but I get a funny feeling T.R. doesn't want us to be impressed with the natives. Will our text take a slant that you could ride down on a toboggan? Maybe we'll find out next time. Maybe we'll also find out if I manage to limber up my ridiculous self again.

Next: FIRST BLOOD! You've waited this long, another day won't break you!

What can I say, my life had a case of the Ridiculous for the past few months. Expect a continuation of my action-packed coverage of The Rough Riders in a couple of days...and this time, I mean it. We spent all that time on the boat, so damn skippy we're gonna see the fighting.

That is all.

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