Tuesday, December 01, 2009

delanceyplace.com 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

Paul Andrew Hutton, "Theodore Roosevelt: Leading
the Rough Riders During the Spanish-American War,"
American History Magazine online.


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