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We've reached nightfall at this point in Chapter 5, when suddenly fires started shooting up around the mountain passes to the right. “They all rose together and we could make nothing of them.” The best theory the Americans could come up with was that these were signal fires between the main Spanish forces in Santiago and their reinforcements—naturally they had no idea that the reinforcements had already arrived in the city, since the Cubans, as T.R. doesn't hesitate to remind us yet again, were just hopeless in stopping the traffic. The Spanish, meanwhile, assumed that those were signal fires between the Americans and the Cuban rebels, not knowing that the Americans were pretty much done with the rebels. With both sides thinking the other was making with the funny business, zany hijinks ensued! And by “zany hijinks,” I mean “sudden outbursts of deadly fire into the darkness.”

Both sides were accordingly on the alert, and the Spaniards must have strengthened their outlying parties in the jungle ahead of us, for they suddenly attacked one of our pickets, wounding Crockett seriously. He was brought in by the other troopers. Evidently the Spanish lines felt a little nervous, for this sputter of shooting was immediately followed by a tremendous fire of great guns and rifles from their trenches and batteries. Our men in the trenches responded heavily, and word was sent back, not only to me, but to the commanders in the rear of the regiments along our line, that the Spaniards were attacking. It was imperative to see what was really going on, so I ran up to the trenches and looked out. At night it was far easier to place the Spanish lines than by day, because the flame-spurts shone in the darkness. I could soon tell that there were bodies of Spanish pickets or skirmishers in the jungle-covered valley, between their lines and ours, but that the bulk of the fire came from their trenches and showed not the slightest symptom of advancing; moreover, as is generally the case at night, the fire was almost all high, passing well overhead, with an occasional bullet near by. (pp. 173-4)

Roosevelt concluded that it wasn't going to get them anywhere returning fire under these conditions, and Captain Ayres of the 10th Cavalry had the same idea, but getting the idea to hold fire and actually bringing his men around to that idea were two different things.

His troopers were devoted to him, would follow him anywhere, and would do anything he said; but when men get firing at night it is rather difficult to stop them, especially when the fire of the enemy in front continues unabated. When he first reached the trenches it was impossible to say whether or not there was an actual night attack impending, and he had been instructing his men, as I instructed mine, to fire low, cutting the grass in front. As soon as he became convinced that there was no night attack, he ran up and down the line adjuring and commanding the troopers to cease shooting, with words and phrases which were doubtless not wholly unlike those which the Old Guard really did use at Waterloo. As I ran down my own line, I could see him coming up his, and he saved me all trouble in stopping the fire at the right, where the lines met, for my men there all dropped everything to listen to him and cheer and laugh. Soon we got the troopers in hand, and made them cease firing; then, after awhile, the Spanish fire died down. At the time we spoke of this as a night attack by the Spaniards, but it really was not an attack at all. Ever after my men had a great regard for Ayres, and would have followed him anywhere. I shall never forget the way in which he scolded his huge, devoted black troopers, generally ending with "I'm ashamed of you, ashamed of you! I wouldn't have believed it! Firing; when I told you to stop! I'm ashamed of you!" (pp. 175-6)

The rest of the night was spent perfecting the trenches (no more relief forces hopping around like June bugs, as humorous as that image was), and on the morning of the 3rd the firing began again, with only one man catching a bullet from a sharpshooter. The annoyance of the day were the Spanish sharpshooters in the jungle just beyond the American lines, and so a team of twenty “first-class men,” including the many of the guerrilla-hunters from the previous day, were sent out to clean up the jungle.

Among them was good, solemn Fred Herrig, the Alsatian. I knew Fred's patience and skill as a hunter from the trips we had taken together after deer and mountain sheep through the Bad Lands of the Little Missouri. He still spoke English with what might be called Alsatian variations—he always spoke of the gun detail as the "góndêtle," with the accent on the first syllable—and he expressed a wish to be allowed "a holiday from the gondetle to go after dem gorrillas." I told him he could have the holiday, but to his great disappointment the truce came first, and then Fred asked that, inasmuch as the "gorrillas" were now forbidden game, he might be allowed to go after guinea hens instead. (p. 178)

Meanwhile, I just realized I didn't give a proper introduction to Dr. Robb Church, who first turned up in one of the parts I pruned from Chapter 2. He was a Princeton man assigned as Assistant Surgeon but ended up acting as Regimental Surgeon during the campaign. “It was Dr. Church who first gave me an idea of Bucky O'Neill's versatility, for I happened to overhear them discussing Aryan word-roots together, and then sliding off into a review of the novels of Balzac, and a discussion as to how far Balzac could be said to be the founder of the modern realistic school of fiction. Church had led almost as varied a life as Bucky himself, his career including incidents as far apart as exploring and elk-hunting in the Olympic Mountains, cooking in a lumber-camp, and serving as doctor on an emigrant ship.” All of this backtracking is to mention the field hospital Dr. Church set up on the far side of one of the American hills, and he did about as well as one could expect considering that he didn't really have (here comes the leitmotif again) that much in the way of hospitalin' supplies. As bad as Church had it (and he was feeling a bit sick himself), the conditions in the larger hospitals further to the rear of the lines were “so horrible, from the lack of attendants as well as of medicines, that we kept all the men we possibly could at the front.”

Here we reach an interesting point in the story of the siege of Santiago, one that's batted around in the wrong end of my imagination for quite some time. It doesn't figure into Roosevelt's story, at least as he tells it here, but I'm going to lay it on you anyway since otherwise this entry come up short.

A major player in the Spanish-American War I haven't mentioned yet was one of the biggest players of them all, as far as ground forces go: Major General William R. Shafter, a career soldier who was the commander of this whole operation in spite of being a gouty sixtysomething who weighed in excess of 300 pounds at the start of the campaign. He had a loose-limbed management style when it came to the whole expedition, which may have contributed to any number of frustrations Roosevelt has been complaining about for the past 180 pages. Shafter wasn't even aware that Wheeler had initiated the Battle of Las Guasimas until well after it was over. By San Juan Hill, he had succumbed to the heat of the Cuban jungle and was running the show (if you can call it that) flat on his back and well to the rear of the action.

Here's how the anonymous collective of Wikipedia editors phrase what happened next: “Shafter's lack of political understanding became more apparent after the battle when he proposed to Washington that he would pull his army back several miles to safety and where supplies could reach the troops more easily. However, by the time this message reached Washington a very different turn of events was actually taking place in Cuba. Instead of pulling back, Shafter demanded the surrender of Santiago. The Spaniards did not surrender the city immediately and Shafter conducted siege operations against the city.” The actual idea came from his adjutant, who said later that Shafter “looked at me a full minute for perhaps a full minute and I thought he was going to offer a rebuke,” but he finally decided to issue an ultimatum: surrender or be shelled. The shelling that closed the war came from the navy, and even then only after direct intervention from the Secretary of War. It's a shame that a Medal of Honor winner had to cap his career with this type of confused muddle, even if it was ultimately successful...more or less.

All of the above drama was diplomatically dismissed by Roosevelt, who wouldn't have been privy to any of it from the battlefield anyway, in one jungle's-eye-view sentence: “At twelve o'clock we were notified to stop firing and a flag of truce was sent in to demand the surrender of the city.” Even if it didn't accomplish anything on its own, Shafter's talk of getting a surrender gave the guys on the ground an opportunity to finally get properly restocked.

That afternoon I arranged to get our baggage up, sending back strong details of men to carry up their own goods, and, as usual, impressing into the service a kind of improvised pack-train consisting of the officers' horses, of two or three captured Spanish cavalry horses, two or three mules which had been shot and abandoned and which our men had taken and cured, and two or three Cuban ponies. Hitherto we had simply been sleeping by the trenches or immediately in their rear, with nothing in the way of shelter and only one blanket to every three or four men. Fortunately there had been little rain. We now got up the shelter tents of the men and some flies for the hospital and for the officers; and my personal baggage appeared. I celebrated its advent by a thorough wash and shave.

Later, I twice snatched a few hours to go to the rear and visit such of my men as I could find in the hospitals. Their patience was extraordinary. Kenneth Robinson, a gallant young trooper, though himself severely (I supposed at the time mortally) wounded, was noteworthy for the way in which he tended those among the wounded who were even more helpless, and the cheery courage with which he kept up their spirits. Gievers, who was shot through the hips, rejoined us at the front in a fortnight. Captain Day was hardly longer away. Jack Hammer, who, with poor Race Smith, a gallant Texas lad who was mortally hurt beside me on the summit of the hill, had been on kitchen detail, was wounded and sent to the rear; he was ordered to go to the United States, but he heard that we were to assault Santiago, so he struggled out to rejoin us, and thereafter stayed at the front. Cosby, badly wounded, made his way down to the sea-coast in three days, unassisted. (pp. 180-1)

Next: the end of the violence...the violence with guns, anyway. Yeah, as posts go, this is one of the shorter 'uns...


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