Teddy Roosevelt And The Rough Riders
Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders 'Teddy's colts,' at the top of the hill which they captured in the battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish American War in 1898. Source: (Corbis via Getty Images)
Who Were The Rough Riders?
A ‘Rough Rider’ was a member of the United States’ 1st Volunteer Cavalry during the Spanish-American War. The group was recruited by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt and consisted of police officers, cowboys, and miners, among others. Roosevelt was second in command to Colonel Leonard Wood. Their unusual and flamboyant escapades received a lot of press attention.
The Spanish-American War
The United States was paying close attention to what was happening in Cuba under Spanish rule. Reports of serious cruelty and treatment of the Cuban citizens were disturbing. Roosevelt, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, geared up the Navy for war with Spain.
The battleship USS Maine was sent to Havana, Cuba. It sat anchored in the harbor for two months when it suddenly exploded, killing all 262 sailors aboard. The explosion was caused by a mine. Although Spain denied being responsible, the explosion of the USS Maine was the catalyst to the war being declared.
Why Did the Rough Riders Gain the Attention?
From the beginning, the Rough Riders were notorious. The group consisted of all different types of men, some well known before joining up with the Cavalry. Their training consisted of learning to fight from horseback using small pistols. The training was intense and when they were called to go to Cuba, they were ready. Due to limited transportation, the Rough Riders had to leave their horses and a third of the group behind. They had to go to battle on foot. During the war, the Rough Rider’s unconventional attacks and the description of these to the press, by none other than Roosevelt himself, are what produced the illustrious image.
The Battle of Kettle Hill and Charge Up San Juan
When this famous battle took place, the Rough Riders only had 500 men left in the cavalry. They along with the third and tenth Cavalry regiments received orders to take the hill. They were losing men quickly, as the Spanish had the advantage of being at the top of the hill. Roosevelt realized that the only way to win the hill was a fast assault from the front. He was on his horse and took the lead at the front of the line. He began yelling and soon all the men were yelling as they took off up the hill. Roosevelt was riding among his men yelling for them to keep going. Men were quickly being killed by the Spanish rifles. They heard rapid gunfire and thought it was over, but Roosevelt realized it was the Gatling Guns the Americans had brought. This urged the remaining men to continue the charge. As the Gatling Guns continued, the Spanish fire became less and less. Once the Rough Riders got to the top of Kettle Hill, it was almost deserted. They were able to see that the other hill had just raised the American flag. As both hills cheered, the Spanish were still trying to retake the hill. If it were not for the Gatling Guns, they may have succeeded. At this time, the Battle Of San Juan Heights had been won.
After the War
Theodore Roosevelt called the day of the Battle of San Juan Heights, ‘The Great Day Of My Life.’ The Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Spanish-American War. It was from this treaty that the United States was given control of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The war, also known as ‘The Splendid Little War’ was ten weeks long. Roosevelt became a politician as he returned a war hero and celebrity. He was elected president three years later.
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