July 19, 1898

Theodore Roosevelt Decries the Deprivations Suffered by Rough Riders Just Two and a Half Weeks After San Juan Hill

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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.

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Transcript

In Camp near Santiago de Cuba
July 19th 1898.
 
William Tudor, Esq.,
37 Brimmer St., Boston, Mass.
 
My dear Tudor,
 
This is the first chance I have had to answer any of your letters, for all of which I thank you much. Naturally, you feel very badly about your boy being left behind, and I hated to leave him, but his troop officers (who could have had no prejudice in the matter, except that they all liked him better than the man they sent in his place) decided that his health did not warrant them in taking him on a trip in which as a matter of fact the strain has been so intense that of the six hundred with which we landed less than 300 remain; the others have been killed, wounded or sent to the hospital for fever and dysentery. I would also like to state 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
 
You are more than kind and I wish there was anything I could get you to do, but what we need now most is what, I fear, only the government can give, that is, some kind of decent and adequate transportation, together with shoes, trousers, drawers, socks and, above all, enough food of decent quality, especially for the sick.
 
The transportation, the commissariat and the hospital services have broken down utterly. In camp there are now over 100 men down with fever and they have to eat hard-tack, bacon, and coffee often without sugar. I cannot even get them oatmeal and rice. The government should give us at once adequate transportation and should make Gen. Shafter use it. My men are barefooted and in tatters. I cannot get clothing for them. We find that 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, excepting in permanent camps, and there we find it better to build little bunks. Any supplies of delicacies, such as rice and oatmeal or potted meats and canned fruit that could be sent to us would be most gratefully appreciated, but I have not the slightest idea how you could send them, for I have no idea of our movements, whether we will be kept here all summer or sent away. It depends, I suppose, whether yellow fever breaks out among us. Two of the men of my regiment have already died of it, but they were in the hospital four miles off and it is possible that the regiment may escape.

Faithfully yours,
 
THEODORE ROOSEVELT
 
P.S. Under the actual conditions of fighting and marching, a third of the time we sleep on the bare ground without so much as a blanket and drenched through by the tropic rains. The sun has been one of our two chief enemies -- miasma, the other. As for drinking oatmeal in water -- you might as well advise me to drink nectar.