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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.


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