12/1/09 - teddy roosevelt

In today's excerpt - 39-year-old Teddy Roosevelt leads the charge up San Juan Hill. Roosevelt, who was Assistant Secretary of the Navy when the Spanish American War started in 1898, unexpectedly resigned his position to enlist in the Army, and displayed genuine heroism during a key battle of the four month long war. Roosevelt was decidedly pro-war at a moment when President McKinley, and much of the country were greatly concerned that the war was unnecessary and would be the unfortunate commencement of American imperialism—and in fact the war resulted in the acquisition of America's first colony—the Philippines:

"[After the explosion of the USS Maine President William] McKinley called for 125,000 volunteers to augment the 28,000-man regular army. Young men from every section of the country rallied to his call. They were anxious to prove themselves equal to the task and worthy of their place as Americans. Among the first to volunteer was the man who had perhaps been the leading advocate for war—Theodore Roosevelt. Everyone was astonished by this act. ...

"President McKinley twice attempted to change Roosevelt's mind, to no avail. 'One of the commonest taunts directed at men like myself is that we are armchair and parlor jingoes who wish to see others do what we only advocate doing,' declared Roosevelt. 'I care very little for such a taunt, except as it affects my usefulness, but I cannot afford to disregard the fact that my power for good, whatever it may be, would be gone if I didn't try to live up to the doctrines I have tried to preach.' ...

"The press ... dubbed the [first of the three regiments engaged] 'Roosevelt's Rough Riders'—a name T.R. did not relish because of its obvious reference to Buffalo Bill's Wild West show—and the men were anxious to see their namesake lieutenant colonel. Many were at first unimpressed with his somewhat comical appearance, but that quickly changed. Lieutenant Tom Hall sized him up immediately: 'He is nervous, energetic, virile. He may wear out some day, but he will never rust out.' ...

"Colonel [Leonard] Wood noted 'that this is the first great expedition our country has ever sent overseas and marks the commencement of a new era in our relations with the world.' For the men, however there was little thought of world politics, just much card playing and even an occasional chorus of the Rough Rider's adopted theme song—'There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.' ...

"[In Cuba during the heat of the battle] an assortment of officers, foreign observers, and journalists watched [the charge up San Juan Hill] in amazement. The foreigners were as one in condemning the folly of the charge. 'It is gallant, but very foolish' said one officer. Melancholy New York World reporter Stephen Crane was lost in the glory of it all. 'Yes, they were going up the hill, up the hill' Crane wrote. 'It was the best moment of anybody's life.'

'It was certainly the best moment of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt's life. He was the only man on horseback, but his life seemed charmed. 'No one who saw Roosevelt take that ride expected him to finish it alive,' wrote correspondent Richard Harding Davis. 'He wore on his sombrero a blue polka-dot handkerchief, la Havelock, which, as he advanced floated out straight behind his head, like a guidon.' Like Crane, Davis was overcome by the sheer emotion of the charge. 'Roosevelt, mounted high on horseback, and charging the rifle-pits at a gallop and quite alone, made you feel that you would like to cheer,' he declared."


Paul Andrew Hutton


Theodore Roosevelt: Leading the Rough Riders During the Spanish-American War


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