Today in Military History: January 16, 2001
Today I write about another military-historical event that is only obliquely related to war. It involves the youngest man to become President, and his short service as an officer in the Spanish-American War.
Teddy Roosevelt was a human dynamo, a self-made man. By 1898, he had been a writer, a rancher, a deputy sheriff, a New York State assemblyman, a member of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, president of the Board of New York City Police Commissioners, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Ten days after the Maine blew up in the harbor of Havana, Cuba the Secretary of the Navy went out for lunch, leaving Teddy in charge for four hours. Roosevelt told the Navy worldwide to prepare for war, ordered ammunition and supplies, brought in experts, and went to Congress asking for authority to recruit as many sailors as he wanted, thus moving the nation toward war. Roosevelt was instrumental in preparing the Navy for the Spanish-American War and was an enthusiastic supporter of testing the U.S. military in combat, at one point saying, “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.”
Col. Theodore Roosevelt, by B.J. Fulk (1898)
When war came, Teddy resigned from the government and began forming a regiment of volunteer cavalry, formally known as the “First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment;” they were composed of Native Americans, college athletes (many who were classmates of Roosevelt), cowboys, and ranchers. The newspapers dubbed them the “Rough Riders.” Roosevelt was appointed second-in-command of the unit. However, once the unit arrived in Cuba and several officers fell ill, the Rough Riders’ commander was promoted, thereby placing Teddy in charge.
Battle of San Juan Hill
On July 1, 1898 the Rough Riders and several other Regular Army units charged Spanish entrenchments overlooking the city of Santiago, driving the enemy from their positions. Teddy led the charge as the only man on horseback. With the help of fire support from a battery of Gatling guns, the Americans took the San Juan Heights – also known as “Kettle Hill” – and Roosevelt achieved much of the renown for leading the charge and his enthusiastic conduct during the fight. [I will likely be writing more about this battle in the future on the Burn Pit…]
Credit : Siggurdsson for www.burnpit.us