The Rough Riders were the most famous of all the units
fighting in Cuba during the Spanish, American war. The Spanish,
American war started by America wanting to expand their influence
in the western hemisphere. To do that they would need to gain
action politically or militarily in Cuba (a Spanish ruled
The first battle of the war was The Battle of Manilla.
Which was a naval strike on the Manila harbor. Led by Commander
George Dewey, the Navy won the most glorious victory in the
history of the Navy. However this didnt end the war.
In order for America to force the Spanish out, a military
invasion on Cuba would have to take place. More than 250,000
soldiers rushed to volunteer for service. Soldiers gathered in
Florida and waited impatiently for supplies and transportation.
Some individuals organized and outfitted their own regiments.
Teddy Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the
time, he resigned his post and formed a voluntary cavalry. As
soon as word spread that Roosevelt was looking for volunteers,
the War office was swamped with requests of people wanting to
volunteer. 23,000 people applied and only 2,000 were accepted.
Those 2,000 volunteers were unlike any calvary the army had ever
seen before. The calvary was made up of football players, full
blood Pawnee Indians, aristocratic English dandies, trail wise
cowboys, polo players, Rhodes Scholars, and policemen.
Roosevelt assembled his men in San Antonio, were he whipped
them into army shape. Day after day, they marched, rode, shot,
and paraded under the hot climate of Texas. Within a few weeks
Roosevelts calvary was ready to break the grip of the Spanish
rule on Cuba.
With the July temperature climbing above 100 degrees, the
soldiers journeyed off through the thick jungle toward the city
of Santiago. Wearing uniforms of wool, the men struggled against
the heat. Many soldiers who brought rations of food along often
discovered that it had spoiled. Soon many of them became ill
from malaria, fever, and dysentery.
After a few brief encounters, the Spanish and American
armies confronted each other at the San Juan hills. The Spanish
highly defended the hills along a ridge east of Santiago.
Roosevelt scouted up and down the lines. I had come to the
conclusion that it was silly to stay in the valley firing up at
the hills…the thing to do was to try to rush the
entrenchments, he said. With a pistol in one hand an a saber in
the other, he rode up toward the top with his soldiers following
on foot. They went all out toward the top, even though they were
being slowed by the Spanish Roosevelt kept leading them on and
eventually captured the top of Kettle Hill.
The battle for Santiago was the last major conflict over
Spanish ownership of Cuba. Roosevelt and the Rough Riders forced
the surrender of Santiago. Unlike George Deweys battle this
battle came at a costly price. Out of the 568 rough riders
landed in Cuba, only 339 were fit for service. All the rest were
dead, wounded or sick. That July 1st was by far the most
glorious day in Roosevelts storied life. Roosevelt became the
most famous man in America that day.
One problem with capturing Cuba was a disease called yellow
fever, which was carried by mosquitoes. During the course of
action, 29,000 Americans were exposed to it. Back then there was
no known medicine that could fight the disease. So the big
question was, what to do with the troops? Their decision was to
move the soldiers to Montauk. Montauk was a completely isolated
city. The medical wisdom back then was strange. They believed
that the disease was airborne, and since Montauk was on the coast
the shore winds would carry the disease out to sea.
The 29,000 Spanish American veterans set sail from Cuba for
Montauk. They arrived at what they still call Rough Riders
Landing, on Fort Pond Bay, on August 14,1898. A small yet
enthusiastic crowd awaited them. The crowd roared as the hero of
San Juan Hill, Theodore Roosevelt stepped off the ship. A
reporter asked how he felt, Roosevelt replied Im in a
disgracefully healthy condition! Ive had a bully time and a
bully fight! I feel as strong as a Bull Moose!
Frightening headlines began to take place, It is Murder
That is Being Done at Montauk, was one of them, however the
problems were real. Montauks barren landscape was problem
enough, hundreds of tents had to be pitched, miles of telephone
wire run, wells sunk, latrines dug, and field hospitals and
Thank God there was lots of unexpected help that began to
arrive. The most important was the Womens National War Relief
Association. Thanks to them, the soldiers were so much improved
in health that by the beginning of September they were able to go
*World Book Encyclopedia. Vol. R