But he was not aware of the true condition of the roads. There were no roads.
Continuing The Cuban Campaign,
with a selection from The Rescue of Cuba by Andrew S. Draper published in 1899. This selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Cuban Campaign.
Place: Santiago Area
In a moment, the water was covered with small boats. Men jumped overboard and swam to shore in their eagerness to be first upon the land. Soon the beach was black with American soldiers. The Spaniards had fled in haste, leaving their camp equipment, and in some cases their breakfasts, behind them. Then the unloading of the transports began. Men with little or no clothing upon them went to and fro, between the ships and the shore, carrying arms and supplies. The artillery was landed at the one little wharf of an iron-company. The horses and mules were pushed overboard and left to swim ashore; though some of them swam out to the open ocean and could not get back.
In a short time four men were seen climbing the mountain side hundreds of feet above the level of the sea. Soon the tiny figures were attracting the attention of the crowd. They were making for the blockhouse at the highest peak. They could be seen to stop and look into the fort for a moment; then to reach the house. Directly “Old Glory” appeared waving against the sky. In an instant, every steam-whistle in the great fleet, for miles around, was shrieking, and every man on the decks and in the rigging of the ships, in the water and on the shore, was shouting for the flag of freedom and for what it represented and proclaimed.
The little army was stretched out upon the shore, and that night its camp-fires sparkled for miles against the black back ground of the hills.
The advance upon Santiago was begun immediately. General Shafter understood clearly that he had more to fear from climatic sickness than from the enemy’s bullets, and determined to finish the fight with the greatest rapidity possible. Consequently, he did not wait for the unloading of all his supplies, but pushed his men forward over the mountain-paths with only such outfit as they could carry on their backs, intending to follow them closely with the heavy artillery and the baggage-trains.
But he was not aware of the true condition of the roads. There were no roads. What were called such on the maps were at best only bridle-paths, and more often mere mountain trails. These trails passed over rocks, fallen timber, through swamps, and over bridgeless streams. The soldiers, as soon as they began to march, found themselves an army of mountain-climbers. The sun burned in the breathless glades like a furnace. It was the rainy season, and each day showers of icy coldness would pour down for hours; and when the rain ceased the sun would beat down more fiercely than before, while the humidity was almost insupportable. Sun-baked paths suddenly became mountain torrents; at one hour, the men were suffocated with the fine dust, the next hour they were wading in mud above their gaiters. Strange insects buzzed about them, and they were followed by an army of disagreeable attendants with which they soon became familiar — clattering land-crabs, the scavengers of the country. The progress of the troops was a crawling rather than a march.
The Spaniards withdrew as our soldiers advanced. Most of our men never had heard a gun fired in battle, but now they expected the conflict to begin at any time. There was no trepidation; they made little noise lest they might not get near the enemy. But if the army moved slowly, events moved rapidly. On the second day, even before the whole army was ashore, the first battle with loss of life occurred. The troops were advancing by different paths to take position on the line of battle that was to surround the city. Near the center was the First Regiment of United States Volunteer Cavalry, popularly called the “Rough Riders.”
This regiment of cowboys and ranchmen, with a sprinkling of college youths and young men of wealth and social distinction, was commanded by Colonel Leonard Wood and Lieutenant- Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. The former had been a surgeon in the regular army with military training in Western campaigns on the plains. The latter was one of the best-known young men in the Re public; famous for his courageous honesty in politics and for his patriotic energy in civil administration. He had resigned the office of Assistant Secretary of the Navy to organize this unique and picturesque regiment under the command of his friend Colonel Wood. The Rough Riders had left their horses in Florida because of the difficulty of transportation and the lack of open ground in Cuba. As they were threading their way on foot over the hills, their trail joined that of the regulars at the place called Guasimas. There they received a sudden volley from the enemy concealed in the thick glades, but they held their ground and re turned the fire. They were unable to see their foes, whose smokeless powder gave no trace of their location; but through the tall grass and brush they steadily pushed on in the face of the drop ping death, firing with calm precision. One after another of the Riders dropped dead or grievously wounded, but these young men, who never had been under fire, no more thought of turning back than a college team at a football game. Their colonels handled carbines like the men and were at every point in the line they had deployed through the brush.
Soon they were joined by the colored regulars, and then they fought together. Among the Rough Riders and the regulars engaged there were about one thousand men, and they were fighting four thousand Spaniards.
The wounded that could walk were urged to go to the rear, but most of them refused; and, sitting at the foot of the trees, continued their deadly marksmanship at any sign of the Spanish. When there was an opening in the glades the men crouched and crawled toward the enemy; when there was a little protection of trees, they dashed forward, firing as they went. The Spaniards did not understand this kind of fighting. According to their rules, after such murderous volleys as they had poured into the Americans, their enemy should have fallen back. Instead of this, as one of the Spanish prisoners said, “They kept pushing forward as if they were going to take us with their hands.”
Continued on June 19th.
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