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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!


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