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We're still in Chapter 4, but not for much longer, buddy. Of course, to escape we have to go through another passage about that godawful black powder. This time, the accursed black powder prevents the artillery with Roosevelt from being effective within rifle range. “When one of the guns was discharged a thick cloud of smoke shot out and hung over the place, making an ideal target, and in a half minute every Spanish gun and rifle within range was directed at the particular spot thus indicated; the consequence was that after a more or less lengthy stand the gun was silenced or driven off.” The two volunteer infantry regiments, stuck with black powder and “antiquated Springfields,” were almost equally hopeless.

As if all this talk about black powder wasn't enough to remind you exactly where you are in American history, we come to Roosevelt's first extended mention of the famous Buffalo Soldiers, the African-American units who did their bit for the north during the Civil War and the Union during the Indian Wars. Whenever you see the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiment mentioned in the text, that's a part of them, and bits of them were among the mishmash of troops that Roosevelt found himself commanding at this point in the battle. While Roosevelt admitted that they handled themselves with flying colors on the battlefield, “they are, of course, peculiarly dependent upon their white officers.” Yes, he went there, but wait, there's more...

Occasionally they produce non-commissioned officers who can take the initiative and accept responsibility precisely like the best class of whites; but this cannot be expected normally, nor is it fair to expect it. With the colored troops there should always be some of their own officers; whereas, with the white regulars, as with my own Rough Riders, experience showed that the non-commissioned officers could usually carry on the fight by themselves if they were once started, no matter whether their officers were killed or not. (pp. 143-4, my emphasis)

Of course you can't expect that from "colored troops." It's as plain as the nose on your foot! As genteel as his phrasing of this malarkey is, it's still a bit of a jawdropper to run across this line of talk.

Oh, you didn't think we were done, did you? There's one more anecdote that sticks out like a bare butt painted purple and pressed against an open car window. Roosevelt tells us that since the black soldiers were without their familiar officers, they began to drift to the rear using one excuse or another, breaking down Teddy's line in the process.

This I could not allow, […] so I jumped up, and walking a few yards to the rear, drew my revolver, halted the retreating soldiers, and called out to them that I appreciated the gallantry with which they had fought and would be sorry to hurt them, but that I should shoot the first man who, on any pretence whatever, went to the rear. My own men had all sat up and were watching my movements with utmost interest; so was Captain Howze. I ended my statement to the colored soldiers by saying: "Now, I shall be very sorry to hurt you, and you don't know whether or not I will keep my word, but my men can tell you that I always do;" whereupon my cow-punchers, hunters, and miners solemnly nodded their heads and commented in chorus, exactly as if in a comic opera, "He always does; he always does!"

This was the end of the trouble, for the "smoked Yankees"—as the Spaniards called the colored soldiers—flashed their white teeth at one another, as they broke into broad grins, and I had no more trouble with them, they seeming to accept me as one of their own officers. The colored cavalry-men had already so accepted me; in return, the Rough Riders, although for the most part Southwesterners, who have a strong color prejudice, grew to accept them with hearty good-will as comrades, and were entirely willing, in their own phrase, "to drink out of the same canteen." Where all the regular officers did so well, it is hard to draw any distinction; but in the cavalry division a peculiar meed of praise should be given to the officers of the Ninth and Tenth for their work, and under their leadership the colored troops did as well as any soldiers could possibly do. (p. 144-6)

Well, that was...something, all right. Yes...sir. Moving on now with great speed...

The afternoon brought the only offensive move they saw from the Spanish during the entire battle, not a charge so much as heavy fire from skirmishers. The Americans, overjoyed to see some forward movement from the Spanish force, quickly broke that nonsense up with a little bit of firepower, driving the enemy back to their trenches. Meanwhile, Lt. Parker was getting tired of support and had pushed his Gatlings to the extreme front. “From this time on, throughout the fighting, Parker's Gatlings were on the right of my regiment, and his men and mine fraternized in every way. He kept his pieces at the extreme front, using them on every occasion until the last Spanish shot was fired.”

As night fell and the battle died down, the men were hoping that the Spaniards would try to drive them off to give them an excuse to push on to Santiago. To shut down some loose talk about “retiring” from their current position, General Wheeler assured them that there should be no fear of them pulling back, that they would sit tight until the opportunity to advance presented itself. In the meantime, they helped themselves to the dinner the retreating Spanish officers had been fixing for themselves and spent the next few hours entrenching themselves with some found Spanish tools, helped by a good strong dose of found Spanish coffee.

With the main show out of the way, Roosevelt moves on to the “acts of gallantry” and battlefield promotions from the day's fight. Since I'm about eleven months behind schedule at this point, hopefully you'll forgive me if I just mention Corporal Fortescue of Troop E, one of thirteen men who kept fighting despite being wounded. “I noticed he limped, but supposed that his foot was skinned. It proved, however, that he had been struck in the foot, though not very seriously, by a bullet, and I never knew what was the matter until the next day I saw him making wry faces as he drew off his bloody boot, which was stuck fast to the foot.” When Roosevelt “wry faces,” I see Jim Varney in my mind's eye. Hey Vern, there's a hole in my foot! I would also be shirking my duty, since I singled him out earlier, if I didn't mention that Kettle Hill was where future tabasco king McIlhenny earned a promotion to second lieutenant.

At this point I thought we were done, with the men calling it a day at midnight drenched in sweat and heavy dew from the cool night's air. The only thing left is to tally up the dead and wounded, right? Of course it can't be that simple.

Before anyone had time to wake from the cold, however, we were all awakened by the Spaniards, whose skirmishers suddenly opened fire on us. Of course, we could not tell whether or not this was the forerunner of a heavy attack, for our Cossack posts were responding briskly. It was about three o'clock in the morning, at which time men's courage is said to be at the lowest ebb; but the cavalry division was certainly free from any weakness in that direction. At the alarm everybody jumped to his feet and the stiff, shivering, haggard men, their eyes only half-opened, all clutched their rifles and ran forward to the trench on the crest of the hill.

The sputtering shots died away and we went to sleep again. But in another hour dawn broke and the Spaniards opened fire in good earnest. There was a little tree only a few feet away, under which I made my head-quarters, and while I was lying there, with Goodrich and Keyes, a shrapnel burst among us, not hurting us in the least, but with the sweep of its bullets killing or wounding five men in our rear, one of whom was a singularly gallant young Harvard fellow, Stanley Hollister. An equally gallant young fellow from Yale, Theodore Miller, had already been mortally wounded. Hollister also died. (pp. 154-5)

And now that we're really, really done, let's take a look at the scoreboard:

In this fight our regiment had numbered 490 men, as, in addition to the killed and wounded of the first fight, some had had to go to the hospital for sickness and some had been left behind with the baggage, or were detailed on other duty. Eighty-nine were killed and wounded: the heaviest loss suffered by any regiment in the cavalry division. The Spaniards made a stiff fight, standing firm until we charged home. They fought much more stubbornly than at Las Guasimas. We ought to have expected this, for they have always done well in holding intrenchments. On this day they showed themselves to be brave foes, worthy of honor for their gallantry.

In the attack on the San Juan hills our forces numbered about 6,600. There were about 4,500 Spaniards against us. Our total loss in killed and wounded was 1,071. Of the cavalry division there were, all told, some 2,300 officers and men, of whom 375 were killed and wounded. In the division over a fourth of the officers were killed or wounded, their loss being relatively half as great again as that of the enlisted men—which was as it should be.

I think we suffered more heavily than the Spaniards did in killed and wounded (though we also captured some scores of prisoners). It would have been very extraordinary if the reverse was the case, for we did the charging; and to carry earthworks on foot with dismounted cavalry, when these earthworks are held by unbroken infantry armed with the best modern rifles, is a serious task. (pp. 155-159)

Once again, the official and the Spanish numbers are contained in an extremely long footnote, but if you're that curious, you can seek it out for yourself. “Lieutenant Tejeiro, while rightly claiming credit for the courage shown by the Spaniards, also praises the courage and resolution of the Americans, saying that they fought, 'con un arrojo y una decision verdaderamente admirables.' He dwells repeatedly upon the determination with which our troops kept charging though themselves unprotected by cover.” Which is mighty neighborly of him, I'm sure.

Next: Well, we're one step closer on the road to Santiago, so that has to count for something. Also, THE DYNAMITE GUN! No way am I about to stop now. Just give me a chance to get back into gear...

(Edit note: This post was tweaked on 29 September, because some things just can't be left alone.)


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