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Hey, everybody! We're fever-mangled wrecks but we're going home!

The spirits of the soldiers were rising almost as fast as their lunches once they found out they would be sailing for home, but while the campaign was winding down, they were still in the dark about the disposition of the war at large. With that in mind, Roosevelt's officers began making plans for drilling the men on horseback again in case they had to make a future push against the Spanish cavalry. “The [Spanish cavalry] men were small, and the horses, though well trained and well built, were diminutive ponies, very much smaller than cow ponies. We were certain that if we ever got a chance to try shock tactics against them they would go down like nine-pins, provided only that our men could be trained to charge in any kind of line, and we made up our minds to devote our time to this.”

Without bullets and bursting shells flying around his ears, Roosevelt could now afford to get a little touristy and get a little cozier with the stuff that stuck in his craw before.

The surroundings of the city of Santiago are very grand. The circling mountains rise sheer and high. The plains are threaded by rapid winding brooks and are dotted here and there with quaint villages, curiously picturesque from their combining traces of an outworn old-world civilization with new and raw barbarism. The tall, graceful, feathery bamboos rise by the water's edge, and elsewhere, even on the mountain-crests, where the soil is wet and rank enough; and the splendid royal palms and cocoanut palms tower high above the matted green jungle.

Generally the thunder-storms came in the afternoon, but once I saw one at sunrise, driving down the high mountain valleys toward us. It was a very beautiful and almost terrible sight; for the sun rose behind the storm, and shone through the gusty rifts, lighting the mountain-crests here and there, while the plain below lay shrouded in the lingering night. The angry, level rays edged the dark clouds with crimson, and turned the downpour into sheets of golden rain; in the valleys the glimmering mists were tinted every wild hue; and the remotest heavens were lit with flaming glory. (pp. 213-4)

The embarkation orders came on August 6th, and the next morning they were on the transport Miami. While things were crowded, the conditions weren't nearly as bad as on the Yucatan. Sure, the dreaded “canned beef” was back, there wasn't a proper infirmary, and the officers slept in “an improvised shed” on the upper deck, but the illness and hygiene were kept under enough control that they didn't have to quarantine the whole lot once the ship landed at Montauk. The only death during the return trip was a dysentery case, and we're helpfully informed that it was his own damn fault for getting wasted on the Cubans' liquor and then marching in the heat before he had fully slept it off. “He never recovered, and was useless from that time on. On board ship he died, and we gave him sea burial.”

That's not to say there weren't other issues, of course.

Soon after leaving port the captain of the ship notified me that his stokers and engineers were insubordinate and drunken, due, he thought, to liquor which my men had given them. I at once started a search of the ship, explaining to the men that they could not keep the liquor; that if they surrendered whatever they had to me I should return it to them when we went ashore; and that meanwhile I would allow the sick to drink when they really needed it; but that if they did not give the liquor to me of their own accord I would throw it overboard. About seventy flasks and bottles were handed to me, and I found and threw overboard about twenty. This at once put a stop to all drunkenness. The stokers and engineers were sullen and half mutinous, so I sent a detail of my men down to watch them and see that they did their work under the orders of the chief engineer; and we reduced them to obedience in short order. I could easily have drawn from the regiment sufficient skilled men to fill every position in the entire ship's crew, from captain to stoker. (p. 215)

“Didn't you have a hip flask when we set out?” “Yeah, but Colonel Buzz Killington took it away from me.” “Buzz Killington? Did he tell you a story about a bridge?” “Thank God, no.” (long pause) The guy's Batman, y'know.” “Really? That would explain a lot...”

There was also the problem of relieving the shipboard tedium on the nine-day trip, which was dealt with through gambling and the sharing of manly yarns. “Sometimes General Wheeler joined us and told us about the great war, compared with which ours was such a small war—far-reaching in their importance though its effects were destined to be.” You don't know the half of it, Teddy, but we'll talk about that later. There was also time to contemplate the implications of a single word cable that they'd received from a man at the New York Sun before casting off: “Peace.” So much for Havana in December. Unless you're willing to book your own passage, that is...and I wouldn't put that past the Colonel.

On the late afternoon of the 14th of August, roughly two months after they left Tampa Harbor for Cuba, the ship carrying the Rough Riders cast anchor at Montauk. “A gun-boat of the Mosquito fleet came out to greet us and to inform us that peace negotiations had begun.” Now that the peace was in the bag, the men of the regiment who had been left behind were really in a bad way. “Of course those who stayed had done their duty precisely as did those who went, for the question of glory was not to be considered in comparison to the faithful performance of whatever was ordered; and no distinction of any kind was allowed in the regiment between those whose good fortune it had been to go and those whose harder fate it had been to remain. Nevertheless the latter could not be entirely comforted.”

While there was some confusion in the hospitals at first, the ill were well cared for...although Roosevelt, typically, wasn't among them in the sickbeds. In fact, he had never felt better in his life, “all the better for having lost twenty pounds.”

Oh, there were regimental mascots, too. Funny that he never mentioned them before.

The regiment had three mascots; the two most characteristic—a young mountain lion brought by the Arizona troops, and a war eagle brought by the New Mexicans—we had been forced to leave behind in Tampa. The third, a rather disreputable but exceedingly knowing little dog named Cuba, had accompanied us through all the vicissitudes of the campaign. The mountain lion, Josephine, possessed an infernal temper; whereas both Cuba and the eagle, which have been named in my honor, were extremely good-humored. Josephine was kept tied up. She sometimes escaped. One cool night in early September she wandered off and, entering the tent of a Third Cavalry man, got into bed with him; whereupon he fled into the darkness with yells, much more unnerved than he would have been by the arrival of any number of Spaniards. The eagle was let loose and not only walked at will up and down the company streets, but also at times flew wherever he wished. He was a young bird, having been taken out of his nest when a fledgling. Josephine hated him and was always trying to make a meal of him, especially when we endeavored to take their photographs together. The eagle, though good-natured, was an entirely competent individual and ready at any moment to beat Josephine off. Cuba was also oppressed at times by Josephine, and was of course no match for her, but was frequently able to overawe by simple decision of character.

In addition to the animal mascots, we had two or three small boys who had also been adopted by the regiment. One, from Tennessee, was named Dabney Royster. When we embarked at Tampa he smuggled himself on board the transport with a 22-calibre rifle and three boxes of cartridges, and wept bitterly when sent ashore. The squadron which remained behind adopted him, got him a little Rough Rider's uniform, and made him practically one of the regiment.(pp. 221-2)

Poor kid. He only wanted to shoot somebody. Well, a lot of grown men had to settle for a consolation prize, too.

Now that the excitement of battle was receding into memory, Roosevelt was confronted with the heart-stopping glamor of the mustering-out paperwork...where he discovered for the first time how fast and loose he had played his authority on the battlefield. “The mustering-out officer, a thorough soldier, found to his horror that I had used the widest discretion both in imposing heavy sentences which I had no power to impose on men who shirked their duties, and, where men atoned for misconduct by marked gallantry, in blandly remitting sentences approved by my chief of division.”

During the last month at Montauk, the Rough Riders engaged in daily bronco-busting exhibitions and a few mounted drills, including one for a visiting President McKinley. One afternoon the regiment presented Roosevelt with Remington's “The Bronco Buster” as a gift of thanks. “There could have been no more appropriate gift from such a regiment, and I was not only pleased with it, but very deeply touched with the feeling which made them join in giving it.”

If the month as a whole was a winding-down and wrapping-up period, the last night was a veritable circus.

The last night before we were mustered out was spent in noisy, but entirely harmless hilarity, which I ignored. Every form of celebration took place in the ranks. A former Populist candidate for Attorney-General in Colorado delivered a fervent oration in favor of free silver; a number of the college boys sang; but most of the men gave vent to their feelings by improvised dances. In these the Indians took the lead, pure bloods and half-breeds alike, the cowboys and miners cheerfully joining in and forming part of the howling, grunting rings, that went bounding around the great fires they had kindled.

Next morning Sergeant Wright took down the colors, and Sergeant Guitilias the standard, for the last time; the horses, the rifles, and the rest of the regimental property had been turned in; officers and men shook hands and said good-by to one another, and then they scattered to their homes in the North and the South, the few going back to the great cities of the East, the many turning again toward the plains, the mountains, and the deserts of the West and the strange Southwest. This was on September 15th, the day which marked the close of the four months' life of a regiment of as gallant fighters as ever wore the United States uniform. (pp. 228-9)

Since the book was written barely six months after the muster out, it seems a bit premature to ponder how well everybody turned out in the end, but after an assessment of the uniqueness of his unit among volunteers, Roosevelt goes on to tell us how the men's self-reliance saw the survivors through the short-term future. “[A]s a whole, they scattered out to their homes on the disbandment of the regiment; gaunter than when they had enlisted, sometimes weakened by fever or wounds, but just as full as ever of sullen, sturdy capacity for self-help; scorning to ask for aid, save what was entirely legitimate in the way of one comrade giving help to another.” This in spite of the fact that many of the men had lost their jobs while in service—way to stand behind your army, homefront—and were too sick to go back to work immediately. Roosevelt and a few others managed to scrape up a fund to help these men out, and while a few reluctantly accepted the money, we're told most of them wouldn't accept any kind of help.

In the first chapter, I spoke of a lady, a teacher in an academy in the Indian Territory, three or four of whose pupils had come into my regiment, and who had sent with them a letter of introduction to me. When the regiment disbanded, I wrote to her to ask if she could not use a little money among the Rough Riders, white, Indian, and half-breed, that she might personally know. I did not hear from her for some time, and then she wrote as follows:


December 19, 1898.

“MY DEAR COLONEL ROOSEVELT: I did not at once reply to your letter of September 23d, because I waited for a time to see if there should be need among any of our Rough Riders, of the money you so kindly offered. Some of the boys are poor, and in one or two cases they seemed to me really needy, but they all said no. More than once I saw the tears come to their eyes, at thought of your care for them, as I told them of your letter. Did you hear any echoes of our Indian war-whoops over your election? They were pretty loud. I was particularly exultant, because my father was a New Yorker and I was educated in New York, even if I was born here. So far as I can learn, the boys are taking up the dropped threads of their lives, as though they had never been away. Our two Rough Rider students, Meagher and Gilmore, are doing well in their college work.

“I am sorry to tell you of the death of one of your most devoted troopers, Bert Holderman, who was here serving on the Grand Jury. He was stricken with meningitis in the jury-room, and died after three days of delirium. His father, who was twice wounded, four times taken prisoner, and fought in thirty-two battles of the civil war, now old and feeble, survives him, and it was indeed pathetic to see his grief. Bert's mother, who is a Cherokee, was raised in my grandfather's family. The words of commendation which you wrote upon Bert's discharge are the greatest comfort to his friends. They wanted you to know of his death, because he loved you so.

“I am planning to entertain all the Rough Riders in this vicinity some evening during my holiday vacation. I mean to have no other guests, but only give them an opportunity for reminiscences. I regret that Bert's death makes one less. I had hoped to have them sooner, but our struggling young college salaries are necessarily small and duties arduous. I make a home for my widowed mother and an adopted Indian daughter, who is in school; and as I do the cooking for a family of five, I have found it impossible to do many things I would like to.

“Pardon me for burdening you with these details, but I suppose I am like your boys, who say, 'The Colonel was always as ready to listen to a private as to a major-general.' “

Wishing you and yours the very best gifts the season can bring, I am,

“Very truly yours,


Is it any wonder that I loved my regiment? (pp. 234-6)

And yes, that offhand comment about “your election” is the only time the text even hints that the book came from the pen of Governor Roosevelt of New York.

Next: The post-game report...with a few pointed comments.


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