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We pick up Chapter 4 right at the moment where Roosevelt prepares to ride into capital-H History, springing to Little Texas as soon as the word came down. He had intended to run the show on foot, but decided that the ever-oppressive heat combined with the need for speed in his duties made that a bad idea. Besides, the men could see him better on horseback, and vice versa.

The Spanish guerrillas were still firing from the trees and also holding the hill on the right front, which gives us another opening for mentioning the tactical advantages of that infernal smokeless powder and the matter of “a curious incident.”

Always when men have been lying down under cover for some time, and are required to advance, there is a little hesitation, each looking to see whether the others are going forward. As I rode down the line, calling to the troopers to go forward, and rasping brief directions to the captains and lieutenants, I came upon a man lying behind a little bush, and I ordered him to jump up. I do not think he understood that we were making a forward move, and he looked up at me for a moment with hesitation, and I again bade him rise, jeering him and saying: "Are you afraid to stand up when I am on horseback?" As I spoke, he suddenly fell forward on his face, a bullet having struck him and gone through him lengthwise. I suppose the bullet had been aimed at me; at any rate, I, who was on horseback in the open, was unhurt, and the man lying flat on the ground in the cover beside me was killed. There were several pairs of brothers with us; of the two Nortons one was killed; of the two McCurdys one was wounded. (pp. 127-8)

Now take notes, because there may be a test later: the main group with Roosevelt's Rough Riders at this point were the First and Ninth Regulars, while the Third, Sixth, and Tenth were divided between Kettle Hill and “the block-house hill, which the infantry were assailing.” (That linked picture isn't from the book, by the way, it's “compliments of Bacardi.” I thought drinking was what you did to forget history, but whatever...) General Sumner in person gave the word to the Tenth to charge the hills. There was a lot of intermingling as they pushed forward, and by the time Roosevelt came to the head of the regiment, he pulls his Glory Move. “I spoke to the captain in command of the rear platoons, saying that I had been ordered to support the regulars in the attack upon the hills, and that in my judgment we could not take these hills by firing at them, and that we must rush them. He answered that his orders were to keep his men lying where they were, and that he could not charge without orders. I asked where the Colonel was, and as he was not in sight, said, 'Then I am the ranking officer here and I give the order to charge'—for I did not want to keep the men longer in the open suffering under a fire which they could not effectively return.” When the Captain hesitated without hearing from his own Colonel, Roosevelt said “Then let my men through, sir!” and rode through the lines, followed by the Rough Riders, who were naturally eating this stuff up with a spoon. After a moment's hesitation, the regulars joined Roosevelt, because seriously, were they going to let that punk hog the whole game? I don't care if he is Batman, there should be plenty of war for everyone.

Meanwhile, Captains Taylor and McBride of the Ninth decided at roughly the same time to charge, while Colonels Carroll and Hamilton off to the left gave their orders to advance (“it seems that different parts slipped the leash at almost the same moment”), and Goodrich and Captain Mills were getting their men in attack positions on other sides of the hill.

Wheeling around, I then again galloped toward the hill, passing the shouting, cheering, firing men, and went up the lane, splashing through a small stream; when I got abreast of the ranch buildings on the top of Kettle Hill, I turned and went up the slope. Being on horseback I was, of course, able to get ahead of the men on foot, excepting my orderly, Henry Bardshar, who had run ahead very fast in order to get better shots at the Spaniards, who were now running out of the ranch buildings. Sergeant Campbell and a number of the Arizona men, and Dudley Dean, among others, were very close behind. Stevens, with his platoon of the Ninth, was abreast of us; so were McNamee and Hartwick. Some forty yards from the top I ran into a wire fence and jumped off Little Texas, turning him loose. He had been scraped by a couple of bullets, one of which nicked my elbow, and I never expected to see him again. As I ran up to the hill, Bardshar stopped to shoot, and two Spaniards fell as he emptied his magazine. These were the only Spaniards I actually saw fall to aimed shots by any one of my men, with the exception of two guerillas in trees.

Almost immediately afterward the hill was covered by the troops, both Rough Riders and the colored troopers of the Ninth, and some men of the First. There was the usual confusion, and afterward there was much discussion as to exactly who had been on the hill first. The first guidons planted there were those of the three New Mexican troops, G, E, and F, of my regiment, under their Captains, Llewellen, Luna, and Muller, but on the extreme right of the hill, at the opposite end from where we struck it, Captains Taylor and McBlain and their men of the Ninth were first up. Each of the five captains was firm in the belief that his troop was first up. As for the individual men, each of whom honestly thought he was first on the summit, their name was legion. One Spaniard was captured in the buildings, another was shot as he tried to hide himself, and a few others were killed as they ran. (pp. 131-3)

Finally, Roosevelt and the others were on the crest, which was the cue for the Spanish in the hills in front of them to open fire with rifles and artillery. Some of the men found a huge iron kettle out in the open (Hey! Just like the name of the hill! What a coincidence!) and took cover behind it. Since they had a good view of the charge on San Juan Hill, they engaged in a few minutes' worth of volley-firing on the blockhouse to help stir the pot. And from here, we get more stories that Roosevelt calls “conspicuous valor” but I call “three-fisted tales of manly toughness.” In an earlier passage, we were told about Sergeant Charles Karsten, who was hit by a shrapnel bullet but stayed on the line firing until his arm went numb, “and he then refused to go to the rear, and devoted himself to taking care of the wounded, utterly unmoved by the heavy fire.” In this round, we're told that not only was Colonel Hamilton killed, but Captain Mills was shot through the head, permanently losing sight in one eye and temporarily losing sight in the other, too. Hamilton just sat down where he was, refusing help until he was told that the hill was taken.

The men hear a “peculiar drumming sound” that turned out to be Lieutenant Parker's Gatlings, every burst of fire pushing closer to San Juan Hill in support of the other attack. “It was the only sound which I ever heard my men cheer in battle.” They had reason to cheer, because with Kettle Hill more or less settled, Sumner decided he wanted to charge San Juan Hill as well (I admit that I lost the thread for a while here, since it wasn't completely spelled really was a crowded hour). So now, another dash for glory...but what would this operation be if there wasn't one more hitch?

The infantry got nearer and nearer the crest of the hill. At last we could see the Spaniards running from the rifle-pits as the Americans came on in their final rush. Then I stopped my men for fear they should injure their comrades, and called to them to charge the next line of trenches, on the hills in our front, from which we had been undergoing a good deal of punishment. Thinking that the men would all come, I jumped over the wire fence in front of us and started at the double; but, as a matter of fact, the troopers were so excited, what with shooting and being shot, and shouting and cheering, that they did not hear, or did not heed me; and after running about a hundred yards I found I had only five men along with me.

“Guys? I'm feeling kind of lonely here...” “Sorry, Colonel, we couldn't hear you over the war.” You can see why this charge isn't the stuff of legends. Oh, wait, there's more.

Bullets were ripping the grass all around us, and one of the men, Clay Green, was mortally wounded; another, Winslow Clark, a Harvard man, was shot first in the leg and then through the body. He made not the slightest murmur, only asking me to put his water canteen where he could get at it, which I did; he ultimately recovered.

*sigh* If you're wondering why there's less of me with each advance in this book, it's because even the slightest hint of cheek bites me in the butt.




Anyway, to continue:

There was no use going on with the remaining three men, and I bade them stay where they were while I went back and brought up the rest of the brigade. This was a decidedly cool request, for there was really no possible point in letting them stay there while I went back; but at the moment it seemed perfectly natural to me, and apparently so to them, for they cheerfully nodded, and sat down in the grass, firing back at the line of trenches from which the Spaniards were shooting at them. Meanwhile, I ran back, jumped over the wire fence, and went over the crest of the hill, filled with anger against the troopers, and especially those of my own regiment, for not having accompanied me. They, of course, were quite innocent of wrong-doing; and even while I taunted them bitterly for not having followed me, it was all I could do not to smile at the look of injury and surprise that came over their faces, while they cried out, "We didn't hear you, we didn't see you go, Colonel; lead on now, we'll sure follow you." I wanted the other regiments to come too, so I ran down to where General Sumner was and asked him if I might make the charge; and he told me to go and that he would see that the men followed. By this time everybody had his attention attracted, and when I leaped over the fence again, with Major Jenkins beside me, the men of the various regiments which were already on the hill came with a rush, and we started across the wide valley which lay between us and the Spanish intrenchments. Captain Dimmick, now in command of the Ninth, was bringing it forward; Captain McBlain had a number of Rough Riders mixed in with his troop, and led them all together; Captain Taylor had been severely wounded. The long-legged men like Greenway, Goodrich, sharp-shooter Proffit, and others, outstripped the rest of us, as we had a considerable distance to go. Long before we got near them the Spaniards ran, save a few here and there, who either surrendered or were shot down. When we reached the trenches we found them filled with dead bodies in the light blue and white uniform of the Spanish regular army. There were very few wounded. Most of the fallen had little holes in their heads from which their brains were oozing; for they were covered from the neck down by the trenches. (pp. 136-8)

Ooooo, there must be a better way to put it than “little holes with oozing brains,” but I won't fault him for getting to the point, considering the alternative. Getting shot in the head—the back of the head—apparently didn't stop Major Wessels (Third Cavalry), who got a rude bandage job and went right back to the front. “Lieutenant Davis's first sergeant, Clarence Gould, killed a Spanish soldier with his revolver, just as the Spaniard was aiming at one of my Rough Riders. At about the same time I also shot one. I was with Henry Bardshar, running up at the double, and two Spaniards leaped from the trenches and fired at us, not ten yards away. As they turned to run I closed in and fired twice, missing the first and killing the second.” Roosevelt's revolver, in a pretty on-the-nose bit of symbolism, had been retrieved from the wreckage of the Maine. History does not record whether the bullets were made from the crutches of Civil War veterans, or if the gun had been polished with orphans' tears.

Under heavy fire and great confusion (the regiments were completely intermingled at this point), Roosevelt got together a “mixed lot of men” and made one last push from the ranch houses and trenches they had just taken to drive the Spaniards further back through a line of palm trees and over the crest of a chain of hills. “When we reached these crests we found ourselves overlooking Santiago.” While Roosevelt was reorganizing his men across this new ground, one of Sumner's aides rode up to tell him to not advance further, but hold their ground at all costs. And since I'm kind of floundering at this point, here's a reasonable place for me to make camp.

Next: A few things I don't feel up to warning you about just yet. Trust me, it makes a bigger impression if you go in cold.


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