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One last Rough Riders sidebar before squaring myself to the new task at hand. By accident, I stumbled across the Wheeler Plantation webpage--as in the family of General Joe Wheeler, who was commander of the cavalry in Cuba--and there's a very informative essay about the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Regulars. There's also a fascinating (and, we can assume, more honest) alternate version of the Roosevelt "so I pulled out my gun" story we rolled our eyes at in Chapter 4.

The turn of the twentieth century was marked by rapidly growing racial tension and hostility. Many examples can be found of attempts to discredit the service of African-American soldiers during the Spanish American War. For example, after of the battle of San Juan Hill, Col. Roosevelt stopped two black cavalrymen as they moved to the rear. Roosevelt accused the men of cowardice and ordered them, under threat of being shot, back to the front, whereupon he learned that they were under orders to get shovels and other implements to help dig fortifications for the expected Spanish counter-attack. Roosevelt apologized to the men for not believing their story and hands were shaken all around. Two months later, at the ceremony disbanding the 5th Corps Cavalry Division at Camp Wikoff, Montauk Pt, N.Y., Col. Roosevelt shook hands and said farewell to every member of the Rough Riders as well as those of the 9th and 10th Cavalries.

Imagine the Buffalo Soldier’s sense of dismay when, after the war, Roosevelt retold the incident at San Juan Hill in "The Rough Riders" as:

"Under the strain the colored infantrymen (who had none of their white officers) began to get a little uneasy and drift to the rear… This I could not allow."

As commander of the Cavalry Division, General Wheeler made no racial distinctions in his praise of the men under his command. In his after action report following the battle of Las Guasimas, June 26, 1898, General Wheeler wrote

"I was immediately with the troops of the 1st and 10th Regular Cavalry, dismounted, and personally noticed their brave and good conduct…"

It's as true now as it was then: sometimes the truth gets trampled under the hooves of a "good yarn."


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