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In 1898, as the Spanish-American War was escalating, Theodore Roosevelt assembled an improbable regiment of Ivy Leaguers, cowboys, Native Americans, African Americans, and Western Territory land speculators. This group of men, which became known as the Rough Riders, trained for four weeks in the Texas desert and then set sail for Cuba.. "Roosevelt kept a detailed diary from the time he left Washington until his triumphant return from Cuba later that year. The Rough Riders was published to instant acclaim in 1899....
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Rough Riders

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In 1898, as the Spanish-American War was escalating, Theodore Roosevelt assembled an improbable regiment of Ivy Leaguers, cowboys, Native Americans, African Americans, and Western Territory land speculators. This group of men, which became known as the Rough Riders, trained for four weeks in the Texas desert and then set sail for Cuba.. "Roosevelt kept a detailed diary from the time he left Washington until his triumphant return from Cuba later that year. The Rough Riders was published to instant acclaim in 1899. It is exhilirating, illuminating, and utterly essential reading for every armchair historian and at-home general.
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Editorial Reviews

An expanded, illustrated edition of Theodore Roosevelt's 1899 memoir of the Spanish-American War, with a biographical sketch of Roosevelt, sidebars exploring aspects of the Rough Riders' legend and the war, and some 175 b&w and color illustrations including photos, paintings, cartoons, and songsheets. An epilogue tells how Roosevelt's popularity as a result of the war won him the White House, and summarizes subsequent achievements and disappointments in his personal and professional life. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679641865
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/1/2000
  • Series: Modern Library War Series
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 820,015
  • File size: 837 KB

Meet the Author

Theodore Roosevelt--the naturalist, writer, historian, soldier, and politician who became twenty-sixth president of the United States--was born in New York City on October 27, 1858, into a distinguished family. He was the second of four children of Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., a wealthy philanthropist of Dutch descent, and the former Martha ('Mittie') Bulloch, an aristocratic Southern belle. An endlessly inquisitive young man, he was especially interested in natural history, which became the focus of his first published works, Summer Birds of the Adirondacks (1877) and Notes on Some of the Birds of Oyster Bay (1879). Upon graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard in 1880 Roosevelt briefly studied law. The next year he was elected to the New York State Assembly on the Republican ticket and soon made a name for himself as a historian with The Naval War of 1812 (1882).

Following the death of his wife, Alice, in childbirth in 1884, Roosevelt sought change and headed west to ranch lands he had acquired in the Dakota Territory. The young outdoorsman chronicled his years in the Bad Lands in Hunting Trips of a Ranchman (1885), the first volume in the nature trilogy that eventually included Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail (1888) and The Wilderness Hunter (1893). After failing to win the New York City mayoral election in 1886 as a self-styled 'Cowboy Candidate,' Roosevelt married childhood sweetheart Edith Kermit Carow and retired for a time to Sagamore Hill, his estate at Oyster Bay, Long Island. He wrote Gouveneur MorrisLife of Thomas Hart Benton (1887) and conceived the masterful four-volume history The Winning of the West (1889-1896).

Roosevelt returned to public life in 1889. Appointed Civil Service Commissioner he spent the next six years in Washington energetically pushing for reform of the government system, all the while propelling himself into the national spotlight. In 1895 he accepted a position as member, and later president, of the Board of Police Commissioners of New York City. Known as 'a man you can't cajole, can't frighten, can't buy,' Roosevelt continued to enjoy growing prestige nationwide, and within two years he was named assistant secretary of the navy under President William McKinley. Resigning this office in May 1898 at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt helped organize and train the 'Rough Riders,' a regiment of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry whose legendary exploits he recorded in The Rough Riders (1899). A popular hero upon returning from Cuba, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York in November 1898, and two years later he became vice president of the United States in the second administration of William McKinley.

The assassination of President McKinley in September 1901 placed Roosevelt in the White House, and he was elected president in 1904. For the remainder of the decade he embodied the boundless confidence of the nation as it entered the American Century. He promised a square deal for the workingman, brought about trust-busting reforms aimed at regulating big business, and instituted modern-day environmental measures. The first American leader to play an important role in world affairs, Roosevelt guided construction of the Panama Canal, advocated a 'big stick' policy to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, and sought to keep the Open Door course in China. In 1906 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for resolving the Russo-Japanese War.

After leaving office in 1909 he took an almost yearlong hunting trip to Africa and described his adventures in African Game Trails (1910). In 1912 he made a bid for reelection on the progressive Bull Moose ticket but lost to Woodrow Wilson, who became a bitter enemy. Afterward he completed Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography (1913) and Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914), an account of his explorations in South America. With the outbreak of World War I, Roosevelt became an outspoken advocate of United States military preparedness in books such as America and the World War (1915). His last work, The Great Adventure, appeared in 1918. Still entertaining the idea of running again for office, Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep at Sagamore Hill on January 6, 1919.
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Read an Excerpt

During the year preceding the outbreak of the Spanish War I was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. While my party was in opposition, I had preached, with all the fervor and zeal I possessed, our duty to intervene in Cuba, and to take this opportunity of driving the Spaniard from the Western World. Now that my party had come to power, I felt it incumbent on me, by word and deed, to do all I could to secure the carrying out of the policy in which I so heartily believed; and from the beginning I had determined that, if a war came, somehow or other, I was going to the front.

Meanwhile, there was any amount of work at hand in getting ready the navy, and to this I devoted myself.

Naturally, when one is intensely interested in a certain cause, the tendency is to associate particularly with those who take the same view. A large number of my friends felt very differently from the way I felt, and looked upon the possibility of war with sincere horror. But I found plenty of sympathizers, especially in the navy, the army, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. Commodore Dewey, Captain Evans, Captain Brownson, Captain Davis--with these and the various other naval officers on duty at Washington I used to hold long consultations, during which we went over and over, not only every question of naval administration, but specifically everything necessary to do in order to put the navy in trim to strike quick and hard if, as we believed would be the case, we went to war with Spain. Sending an ample quantity of ammunition to the Asiatic squadron and providing it with coal; getting the battle-ships and the armored cruisers on the Atlantic into one squadron, both to train them in man'uvring together, and to have them ready to sail against either the Cuban or the Spanish coasts; gathering the torpedo-boats into a flotilla for practice; securing ample target exercise, so conducted as to raise the standard of our marksmanship; gathering in the small ships from European and South American waters; settling on the number and kind of craft needed as auxiliary cruisers--every one of these points was threshed over in conversations with officers who were present in Washington, or in correspondence with officers who, like Captain Mahan, were absent.

As for the Senators, of course Senator Lodge and I felt precisely alike; for to fight in such a cause and with such an enemy was merely to carry out the doctrines we had both of us preached for many years. Senator Davis, Senator Proctor, Senator Foraker, Senator Chandler, Senator Morgan, Senator Frye, and a number of others also took just the right ground; and I saw a great deal of them, as well as of many members of the House, particularly those from the West, where the feeling for war was strongest.

Naval officers came and went, and Senators were only in the city while the Senate was in session; but there was one friend who was steadily in Washington. This was an army surgeon, Dr. Leonard Wood. I only met him after I entered the navy department, but we soon found that we had kindred tastes and kindred principles. He had served in General Miles's inconceivably harassing campaigns against the Apaches, where he had displayed such courage that he won that most coveted of distinctions--the Medal of Honor; such extraordinary physical strength and endurance that he grew to be recognized as one of the two or three white men who could stand fatigue and hardship as well as an Apache; and such judgment that toward the close of the campaigns he was given, though a surgeon, the actual command of more than one expedition against the bands of renegade Indians. Like so many of the gallant fighters with whom it was later my good fortune to serve, he combined, in a very high degree, the qualities of entire manliness with entire uprightness and cleanliness of character. It was a pleasure to deal with a man of high ideals, who scorned everything mean and base, and who also possessed those robust and hardy qualities of body and mind, for the lack of which no merely negative virtue can ever atone. He was by nature a soldier of the highest type, and, like most natural soldiers, he was, of course, born with a keen longing for adventure; and, though an excellent doctor, what he really desired was the chance to lead men in some kind of hazard. To every possibility of such adventure he paid quick attention. For instance, he had a great desire to get me to go with him on an expedition into the Klondike in mid-winter, at the time when it was thought that a relief party would have to be sent there to help the starving miners.

In the summer he and I took long walks together through the beautiful broken country surrounding Washington. In winter we sometimes varied these walks by kicking a foot-ball in an empty lot, or, on the rare occasions when there was enough snow, by trying a couple of sets of skis or snow-skates, which had been sent me from Canada.

But always on our way out to and back from these walks and sport, there was one topic to which, in our talking, we returned, and that was the possible war with Spain. We both felt very strongly that such a war would be as righteous as it would be advantageous to the honor and the interests of the nation; and after the blowing up of the Maine, we felt that it was inevitable. We then at once began to try to see that we had our share in it. The President and my own chief, Secretary Long, were very firm against my going, but they said that if I was bent upon going they would help me. Wood was the medical adviser of both the President and the Secretary of War, and could count upon their friendship. So we started with the odds in our favor.

At first we had great difficulty in knowing exactly what to try for. We could go on the staff of any one of several Generals, but we much preferred to go in the line. Wood hoped he might get a commission in his native State of Massachusetts; but in Massachusetts, as in every other State, it proved there were ten men who wanted to go to the war for every chance to go. Then we thought we might get positions as field-officers under an old friend of mine, Colonel--now General--Francis V. Greene, of New York, the Colonel of the Seventy-first; but again there were no vacancies.

Our doubts were resolved when Congress authorized the raising of three cavalry regiments from among the wild riders and riflemen of the Rockies and the Great Plains. During Wood's service in the Southwest he had commanded not only regulars and Indian scouts, but also white frontiersmen. In the Northwest I had spent much of my time, for many years, either on my ranch or in long hunting trips, and had lived and worked for months together with the cow-boy and the mountain hunter, faring in every way precisely as they did.

Secretary Alger offered me the command of one of these regiments. If I had taken it, being entirely inexperienced in military work, I should not have known how to get it equipped most rapidly, for I should have spent valuable weeks in learning its needs, with the result that I should have missed the Santiago campaign, and might not even have had the consolation prize of going to Porto Rico. Fortunately, I was wise enough to tell the Secretary that while I believed I could learn to command the regiment in a month, yet that it was just this very month which I could not afford to spare, and that therefore I would be quite content to go as Lieutenant-Colonel, if he would make Wood Colonel.

This was entirely satisfactory to both the President and Secretary, and, accordingly, Wood and I were speedily commissioned as Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry. This was the official title of the regiment, but for some reason or other the public promptly christened us the 'Rough Riders.' At first we fought against the use of the term, but to no purpose; and when finally the Generals of Division and Brigade began to write in formal communications about our regiment as the 'Rough Riders,' we adopted the term ourselves.
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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Modern Library War Series
Introduction by Edmund Morris
List of Illustrations
I Raising the Regiment 3
II To Cuba 25
III General Young's Fight at Las Guasimas 45
IV The Cavalry at Santiago 69
V In the Trenches 97
VI The Return Home 121
App. A Muster-Out Roll 145
App. B Colonel Roosevelt's Report to the Secretary of War of September 10th 191
App. C The "Round Robin" Letter 199
App. D Corrections 203
Index 217
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Led by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, "the Rough Riders," joined other U.S. Army regiments in attacking entrenched and well-armed Spanish forces in Cuba on July 1, 1898. In The Rough Riders, his gripping account of the genuinely heroic performance of his regiment during the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt observed proudly from the vantage point of the immediate aftermath of that ferocious and decisive battle: "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." Roosevelt had commanded his troops with remarkable energy and poise and courage. Shrapnel had struck his wrist; a bullet had "nicked" his elbow; all around him men had been killed or seriously wounded. He would never cease to remember the day he helped drive the Spanish Army from the San Juan Heights as his "crowded hour," as "the great day of my life."

Theodore Roosevelt, the second of four children, was born in New York City on October 27, 1858, had six children of his own (one with his first wife Alice, who passed away at a young age, and five with his second wife Edith), and died at Sagamore Hill, his permanent home in Oyster Bay, New York, on January 6, 1919. During this sixty-year lifespan, Roosevelt wrote prolifically, producing over fifty volumes in a wide array of fields, most notably history, natural science, and political and social advocacy. One scholar, writing in 1980, has labeled Roosevelt "perhaps theoutstanding generalist of his era." Prior to publishing The Rough Riders in 1899, Roosevelt had authored important works of history - most impressively The Naval War of 1812 (1882) and a classic four-volume narrative study of the American frontier, The Winning of the West (1889-1896) - and three books centered on his own experiences during the mid-1880s as a rancher and hunter in the Dakota Badlands. Thus, The Rough Riders, both a revealing personal memoir and a compelling historical narrative, exhibits the talents of a seasoned historian-memoirist.

Roosevelt kept a pocket diary, in which he entered sparse jottings, during his months as a military officer in 1898. Under the editorship of Wallace Finley Dailey, the full contents have recently been published in Pocket Diary 1898. As a sample, the entry for July 28 reads in its entirety as follows: "Crockett; the wound; the coffee; rescue by Russell. The parson Morrison. How he ground coffee." In combination with his exceptional memory, this diary enabled Roosevelt to craft The Rough Riders.

Roosevelt's diary is replete with candid references to the War Department's (and President William McKinley's) "utter confusion," "blunders," "maladministration," "folly," and "mismanagement." In The Rough Riders, Roosevelt was naturally more circumspect on this subject; nonetheless, he did address it pointedly, as when he referred to "a campaign in which the blunders that had been committed [by the War Department] had been retrieved only by the valor and splendid soldierly qualities of the officers and enlisted men." More consequentially, in early August 1898 - with the Rough Riders and other U.S. forces languishing in Cuba in extremely unhealthful conditions more than two weeks after the surrender of Santiago - Roosevelt took the lead in a common effort among the officers to induce a withdrawal order. He sent a letter of his own to Major-General William Shafter, the commander of the expedition, and joined other high-ranking officers in a circular letter to Shafter, who wholeheartedly supported their stance. Both of these carefully worded yet powerfully unambiguous letters (see Appendix C) were made public via the press, embarrassing authorities in Washington and prompting an order for the troops to return to the United States. Back home with his regiment, at Montauk on Long Island, Roosevelt then wrote a lengthy and frank report to Secretary of War Russell Alger about the Rough Riders' wartime experiences (see Appendix B).

As an ill-suited cabinet official who was subsequently compelled to resign due to incompetence, Alger apparently developed a grudge against Roosevelt. In recognition of Roosevelt's leadership and bravery on July 1, the entire U.S. chain of command in Cuba recommended the colonel for the Congressional Medal of Honor (see Appendix E). But this recommendation was rejected, and Roosevelt was denied the award. In The Rough Riders, Roosevelt characterized the Medal of Honor as "that most coveted of distinctions" - and he did indeed covet it.

Nearly a century later, in 1996, for reasons unrelated to the Roosevelt matter, Congress repealed the statute of limitations pertaining to military decorations. This action sparked a campaign to rectify, however belatedly, the injustice suffered by Roosevelt. Representatives Paul McHale, Rick Lazio, and Steve Buyer and Senator Kent Conrad played leading roles, securing the unanimous passage of favorable legislation by both houses of Congress in October 1998 and, in Conrad's case, meeting personally with President Bill Clinton to encourage a positive decision. Also directly engaged was the Theodore Roosevelt Association, represented most actively by Executive Director John Gable (upon whose published account this paragraph is largely based) and, especially, Tweed Roosevelt, Theodore's great-grandson. In an initiative coordinated by Edward Renehan, a group of fifteen recognized authorities, including a number of prominent historians, weighed in with a jointly signed letter to President Clinton and the secretaries of defense and the army; it was time "to right a century-old wrong," they declared in conclusion. Finally, in response to an army panel's recommendation, as well as to the congressional bills and Conrad's personal representation, on January 16, 2001, Clinton - correcting, in his own words, "a significant historical error" - awarded the Medal of Honor to Roosevelt posthumously, presenting it to the Rough Rider's family in a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Over the next twenty months, Roosevelt's medal was displayed publicly at various sites across the United States. Then, on September 16, 2002, it was delivered by Tweed Roosevelt to President George W. Bush in another Roosevelt Room ceremony, thereby becoming a part of the permanent collection of the White House.


The Rough Riders not only is an excellent work of history; it also recounts events that - soon after they occurred - would have a profound impact on history. Accomplished author and military hero though he was, it was in public service that Theodore Roosevelt made by far his greatest mark. And it was his time with the Rough Riders that created the opportunity for him to rise to the highest levels of American government. It is a reflection of sound historical as well as artistic judgment on the part of David Grubin, producer and director of the four-hour 1996 PBS video TR: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt, that he begins by identifying July 1, 1898, as the day that made Roosevelt "one of the most famous men in America and would catapult him into the presidency."

Roosevelt returned from Cuba a national hero. (The serial publication of The Rough Riders in Scribner's Magazine during the first half of 1899, followed by three printings of the book by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1899 and twelve additional printings during Roosevelt's lifetime, would play a considerable part in spreading and sustaining that image.) Roosevelt had previously held, and performed with distinction in, several positions in local, state, and national government - most recently as assistant secretary of the navy, the post from which he resigned to take up arms against Spain - but new horizons were now open to him. Right away he was handed the Republican nomination for governor of New York by a scandal-ridden party leadership - that leadership's desire for victory took precedence over its uneasiness about the colonel's independence - and he defeated his Democratic opponent by a narrow margin. As governor in 1899 and 1900, Roosevelt achieved a very admirable reform record, often acting in defiance of the wishes of Thomas Platt, the state party boss. Platt proceeded to push successfully for Roosevelt's selection as William McKinley's running mate in 1900, hoping that vice presidential obscurity would befall the Rough Rider. But when McKinley died from an assassin's bullet on September 14, 1901, Roosevelt suddenly became the youngest-ever (then or since) U.S. president. Clearly the crucial first link in this fascinating chain of events was Roosevelt's heroism in Cuba. Without it there would have been no governorship, no vice presidency, no presidency.

Of course, if Roosevelt had been a status quo president in the mold of McKinley and of McKinley's predecessors of the 1880s and 1890s - or even if he had been a failure as a reformer and as a statesman - far less historical significance would attach to the story of the Rough Riders. Roosevelt, however, proved to be a dynamic, farseeing, and politically effective chief executive - a self-styled and authentic "practical idealist" - who left an indelible imprint on the history of the United States and the world.

President Roosevelt's policies on corporations, labor unions, and the American citizenry in general came to be known as the Square Deal. Roosevelt believed firmly in the relative efficiency of large-scale enterprise, but he believed just as firmly that the national government needed to be empowered to supervise and regulate big corporations in the public interest, and that trade unions and the countervailing power they represented were a modern necessity as well. Despite his high-profile, successful antitrust actions against the Northern Securities Company, the Standard Oil Company, and other large corporations, Roosevelt was fundamentally more a regulator than a trust-buster. Such landmark laws as the Hepburn railroad bill, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the Meat Inspection Act were the first major contributions to the system of federal regulation of business on behalf of the citizenry that became and remains an important aspect of modern American life.

Theodore Roosevelt was also the foremost environmentalist president in U.S. history. His conservation policies provided a vivid demonstration of the Rooseveltian concept of stewardship, according to which a primary duty of the president is to act for the benefit of the American people as a whole, future generations emphatically included. The two principles at the heart of Roosevelt's conservation policies were controlled utilization and preservation, both of which he implemented with enormous determination and vigor right up to the end of his second term in March 1909. The results were more than 150 million acres of new forest reserves, the first twenty-four federal irrigation projects, the first four national game preserves, the first fifty-one federal bird reservations, the first eighteen national monuments, five new national parks, the appointment of four major conservation commissions, and, during the final year of Roosevelt's presidency, the convening of three major conservation conferences. This was truly a breathtaking record - a record that by itself would be sufficient to mark Roosevelt's presidency as a very beneficial and important one.

President Roosevelt's accomplishments in the arena of diplomacy also were extraordinary. Indeed, as a hands-on diplomatist of great discretion, acumen, and vision, Roosevelt may have been the greatest practitioner of statecraft in twentieth-century U.S. history. Having been an avid and articulate proponent of strengthening America's military capacity long before his presidency, Roosevelt fully grasped the complex and far-reaching implications of the United States' recent emergence as a great power (a process in which the Spanish-American War had been a watershed event). He sharply increased the size and the efficiency of the American navy, secured permanent U.S. control of the Panama Canal Zone, began building the canal, and established U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere. He adroitly cultivated a special relationship between Great Britain and the United States (an undertaking in which his close friendship with the Briton Arthur Lee, the origins of which can be found in The Rough Riders, was a substantial asset), while at the same time maintaining amicable relations with Germany and Japan, the two powers he viewed as America's most formidable potential enemies. His skillful mediation brought an end to the Russo-Japanese War (and won him a Nobel Peace Prize), and his deft behind-the-scenes diplomacy facilitated a peaceful resolution of the highly dangerous Franco-German crisis over Morocco. Overall, the twenty-sixth president was almost uniformly successful both in dealing with specific foreign policy challenges and in advancing his broader objectives. Moreover, his statesmanship significantly enhanced the United States' image in the world. It is worthy of note that the perspicacious Roosevelt based his foreign policy on sophisticated versions of the very principles - global U.S. interests, credible deterrent power, and an Anglo-American partnership - that would guide later American presidents to victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. And, to date, the forceful U.S. response to the ongoing threat posed by terrorists and rogue regimes also can readily be characterized as Rooseveltian.

In summation, The Rough Riders stands as a classic and thrilling work in the field of military history. Additionally, from a broader perspective, it recounts a true story that made possible one of the most dynamic and most constructive presidencies in the history of the United States.

William N. Tilchin teaches history in the College of General Studies at Boston University. He is the author of Theodore Roosevelt and the British Empire: A Study in Presidential Statecraft (St. Martin's Press, 1997) and numerous essays on Roosevelt's presidency and related topics.
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