Lead­ing the Rough Riders

EQUUS - - Starting From Scratch -

Roo­sevelt had one ex­pe­ri­ence that will likely never be du­pli­cated: In a short pe­riod of time, he helped or­ga­nize and train a mounted cav­alry, then lead it into bat­tle. In 1898, Roo­sevelt was serv­ing as As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of the Navy un­der Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Mckin­ley when the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War broke out. Congress au­tho­rized the for­ma­tion of three cav­alry reg­i­ments for the pur­pose of in­vad­ing Cuba to take San­ti­ago, and Roo­sevelt took a po­si­tion as se­cond in com­mand of one of them. The First United States Vol­un­teer Cav­alry was chris­tened the “Rough Riders.”

Thou­sands of men vol­un­teered. “The dif­fi­culty in or­ga­niz­ing was not in se­lect­ing, but in re­ject­ing men. Within a day or two af­ter it was an­nounced that we were to raise the reg­i­ment, we were lit­er­ally del­uged with ap­pli­ca­tions from every quar­ter of the Union,” he wrote in The Rough Riders.

Rais­ing horses and pro­vi­sions would prove more dif­fi­cult: “Of [the horses] pur­chased cer­tainly a half were nearly un­bro­ken. It was no easy mat­ter to han­dle them on the picket-lines, and to pro­vide for feed­ing and wa­ter­ing; and the ef­forts to shoe and ride them were at first pro­duc­tive of much vig­or­ous ex­cite­ment…. Half the horses of the reg­i­ment bucked, or pos­sessed some other of the ami­able weak­nesses in­ci­dent to horse life on the great ranches; but we had abun­dance of men who were ut­terly un­moved by any an­tic a horse might com­mit. Every an­i­mal was speed­ily mas­tered, though a large num­ber re­mained to the end mounts upon which an or­di­nary rider would have felt very un­com­fort­able.”

He added, “My own horses were pur­chased for me by a Texas friend…. The an­i­mals were not showy; but they were tough and hardy, and an­swered my pur­pose well.”

De­spite the speed with which the vol­un­teer reg­i­ments were or­ga­nized, they per­formed ad­mirably, wrote Roo­sevelt, “In less than sixty days the reg­i­ment had been raised, or­ga­nized, armed, equipped, drilled, mounted, dis­mounted, kept for a fort­night on trans­ports, and put through two vic­to­ri­ous ag­gres­sive fights in very dif­fi­cult coun­try, the loss in killed and wounded amount­ing to a quar­ter of those en­gaged. This is a record which it is not easy to match in the his­tory of vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

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