Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Rough Riders Go Ashore in Cuba and the Rough Rider Legacy Lives on

On this day, June 22, 1898, the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry went ashore at Daiquiri, on the southeastern tip of Cuba, east of Santiago de Cuba, the strategic port city of Spain’s colony and harbor to the Spanish Fleet. With limited transport, the Rough Riders had been ordered to leave the enlisted men’s horses and one third of the troopers behind in Tampa.

The transport ship Yucatan launched its wooden boats loaded with the remaining Rough Riders toward the rickety steel and wood structure that made the claim of dock at the remote landing site. The landing force encountered no resistance, but the swell of the sea. One of Theodore Roosevelt’s two horses “Rain in the Face,” was killed being unloaded. “Texas,” outlasted the action in Cuba to join T.R. at Sagamore and the White House.

Here’s the action at Daiquari in T.R.’s own words.

“There was plenty of excitement to the landing. In the first place, the smaller war-vessels shelled Daiquiri, so as to dislodge any Spaniards who might be lurking in the neighborhood, and also shelled other places along the coast, to keep the enemy puzzled as to our intentions. Then, the surf was high, and the landing difficult; so that the task of getting the men, the ammunition and the provisions ashore was not easy. Each man carried three days’ field rations and a hundred rounds of ammunition. Our regiment had accumulated two rapid-fire Colt automatic guns, the gift of Stevens, Kane, Tiffany, and one or two others of the New York men, and also a dynamite gun, under the immediate charge of Sergeant Borrowe. To get these, and especially the last, ashore, involved no little work and hazard. Meanwhile from another transport, our horses were being landed, together with the mules, by the simple process of throwing them overboard and letting them swim ashore, if they could. Both of Wood’s got safely through. One of mine was drowned. The other, little Texas, got ashore alright. While I was superintending the landing at the ruined dock, with Bucky O’Neill, a boatful of colored infantry soldiers capsized, and two of the men went to the bottom; Bucky O’Neill plunging in, in full uniform, to save them, but in vain.”
(The Rough Riders – Theodore Roosevelt – 1899)

As we remember the Rough Riders in Cuba, I pause to say thanks to all of the amazing people we’ve met at places in America that keep the Rough Rider legacy alive. Here are a few, with more to come in the months ahead:

By far, the most impressive collection of Rough Rider artifacts that we have seen to date are enshrined at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City. At the birthplace, one can walk back in time, and, if listening closely, hear the battle in its horrific glory. Ranger Amato and his staff are a national treasure, too!

We expect that Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelt home on Long Island, will display some treasures as well. Our visit in February was on a Monday, a day when the historic Oyster Bay home is closed, though the grounds are open. Perhaps you might like to be in Oyster Bay in late October, when the entire community will celebrate TR’s 150th birthday. Check out

Gianna Russo was a gracious host at the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa, Florida. Now a part of Tampa University, the old Plant Hotel is where one journalist wrote before the Army sailed for Cuba that the U.S. had an army of occupation and it was occupying the front porch of a grand hotel in Florida.

Ray & Gerry Coffey and Melissa Beasley hosted a service day at Pond Spring, the home of Gen. Joseph Wheeler near Hillsboro, Alabama. Joe Wheeler, a veteran of Lee’s Confederate command, led the cavalry in Cuba and was instrumental in getting the Rough Riders into action. The Coffeys invited us to their beautiful home, an old school house and shared refreshments and insight. Delightful!

In San Antonio, Texas, we enjoyed the hospitality, tour and stories shared by Ernesto Malacara of the Menger Hotel, across the street from the Alamo, a place overflowing with T.R. and Rough Rider history and lore

San Antonio was a “two-fer” for who could pass up the Ft. Sam Houston Military Museum, a fantastic display of a century and a half of national service and sacrifice run capably and shared generously and enthusiastically by John Manguso and Jacqueline Davis

Most of T.R.’s Rough Riders were men from New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma and the Indian Territory. Throughout our time in the Southwest, the legacy of the Rough Riders was always near. In Las Vegas, New Mexico, Linda Gegick has a gem of a municipal museum with what is likely the largest Rough Rider memorabilia collection in the world.

Finally, a trip to Prescott, Arizona, where Mayor Buckey O’Neill rallied the men of Arizona Territory to enlist with him and get to the front lines in Cuba. Captain O’Neill commanded Troop A, overwhelmingly horse and rifle men from Arizona and New Mexico with a sprinkling of T.R.’s friends from New York, Massachusetts and Chicago tossed in. O’Neill was killed by a Spanish bullet right before Roosevelt led the first charge up Kettle Hill on July 1, 1898. In his hometown of Prescott, Arizona, a splendid Rough Rider memorial graces the north lawn of the Yavapai County Courthouse. Nearby, history is kept alive at the Sharlot Hall Museum by the talented director, John Langellier, a re-enactor himself.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are certainly tremendous places to visit to learn more about the enthusiasm with which men sacrificed their lives that the people of Cuba might throw off Spanish chains and that the United States might claim greater dominion for the cause of Liberty in the Western Hemisphere.

One hundred and ten years ago today, two men in the 10th Cavalry died by drowning at Daiquiri. Risking his own life, Captain Buckey O’Neill dove in the surf in a vain attempt to save Private John English of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Corporal Edward Cobb of Richmond, Virginia. It mattered not to this son of Irish immigrants that the soldiers he was trying to save were colored or Negro troopers. They were brothers in arms and men for whom risking one’s own life was the right thing to do. We remember them, and a hero named Buckey O’Neill today.

No comments: