July 19, 1898
Theodore Roosevelt Decries the Deprivations Suffered by Rough Riders Just Two and a Half Weeks After San Juan Hill
A grateful father, William Tudor of Boston, wrote as follows to a newspaper under date of August 9, 1898:
“At the time of the long journey of the Rough Riders from San Antonio, Texas, to Tampa, made unbearable from the excessive heat and deficient food, my son, now slowly recovering from typhoid fever, taken in Texas, was prostrated by a sudden and violent attack of vomiting, brought on by the hot weather. Colonel Roosevelt, hearing of this, gave up to him his berth in the sleeper, taking the boy’s place with the other men during the remainder of the journey.”
-Alexander K. McClure and Charles Morris, The Authentic Life of William McKinley Our Third Martyr President Together with a Life Sketch Roosevelt (Washington. D.C.: W.E. Scull, 1901), p. 479
Some two and half weeks after he led the electrifying charge up San Juan Hill, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the man of the moment, writes to a father about his sick son – and all the other sick and ailing members of Roosevelt’s now famous cowboy cavalry. He hated to leave young William Tudor behind, he says, but the boy’s health did not warrant taking him (further) on a trip that has proven so arduous that of the six hundred men with which he landed, less than 300 remain; “the others have been killed, wounded or sent to the hospital for fever and dysentery.” Indeed, his Rough Riders, even as they are being hailed heroes back home, are, in Cuba, suffering from government neglect. “My men are barefooted and in tatters. I cannot get clothing for them… The men cannot as a rule swing their hammocks. Four or five men, or even forty or fifty, could swing but not four or five thousand…”
He thanks Tudor for offering to send “delicacies, such as rice and oatmeal or potted meats and canned fruit” but what they really need is for the government to give them “decent and adequate transportation, together with shoes, trousers, drawers, socks and, above all, enough food of decent quality, especially for the sick.” The hospital services, too, have broken down. “In camp there are now over 100 men down with fever and they have to eat hard-tack, bacon, and coffee without sugar. I cannot even get them oatmeal and rice.” About a third of the time the men are sleeping “on the bare ground without so much as a blanket and drenched through by the tropic rains.” Yellow fever has broken out and relentless heat and miasma, Roosevelt declares, are now their chief enemies.
Roosevelt also explains that “not a single man has been made an officer in this regiment because he was an athlete and that, of the athletes that have been made officers, each has more than justified his choice. In the first fight we were neither surprised nor ambushed. We simply drove the enemy from thick cover in a pass, with the loss to be expected in such an operation.”
Two months later, however, the anguish of the battlefield had given way to the sound of thousands cheering: Roosevelt, the newly anointed hero of San Juan Hill, was running for Governor of New York, and in a letter to Rough Rider and actor, Mason Mitchell, he asked Mitchell to give a "dramatic" presentation about the Rough Riders.
Typed Letter Signed, with three lines in autograph, 2 pages, quarto, “In Camp,” near Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, July 19, 1898. To William Tudor, Esq., in Boston.